Attending a performance by the South African Navy Band is always a huge treat. Even more so, when it is preceded by a leisurely picnic on the lush green lawns of Admiralty House. Last Sunday, four of our friends joined us for just such a picnic.
When we arrived in the pretty suburb of Simon’s Town with its quaint village atmosphere just before 13h30, a long queue of fellow-picnickers was waiting impatiently for the gates of Admiralty House to be opened. As it proved a little challenging to find a (legal) parking spot, or at least one that was unlikely to irritate the locals by blocking access to their properties, three of us were dropped off to join the queue in the meantime and to nab a spot on the lush green lawns.
We found the perfect picnic spot, right on the edge of a line of trees. V had calculated correctly that the sun would move across to the left and behind the trees, thereby ensuring us progressively more shade. This was most welcome, as it was a very hot day indeed.
We spread out our picnic blankets, set up four folding chairs (appropriately – given that we were surrounded by Navy sailors – called “Captain’s Chairs”!), and started to unpack all our goodies.
What a tasty looking spread! Olives, tomatoes, peppadews, a large salad, various spreads and dips, loaves of ciabatta bread, and grilled chicken from Woollies! All accompanied by refreshingly cold rock shandy, iced tea, sparkling water, and fruit juice.
When we do picnics, we do ’em right!
C, who happens to be a pastry chef by profession, had baked us some pecan pies, cheese cake and peach pies for dessert. Supreme decadence!
When we had eaten quite enough for one day, we tidied up, tucked the leftovers into the cooler bags with the freezer blocks, and got ready for the performance by the SA Navy Band, which was due to start at 15h00. And so it did. Even in Africa, where everything else works according to that indeterminate concept known as Africa time, the military is known for its punctuality. 🙂
The band members, all in spick-and-span white uniforms, took their seats and launched energetically into their first catchy tune. They played an impressive range of pieces, from more classical military-style marches via big band jazz to African pieces that make you want to leap up and dance to the rhythm of the drums. They also gave us a few unusual treats, that I shall tell you about!
Cdr Leibbrandt, the Director of the SA Navy Band, warmly welcomed us to the beautiful grounds of Admiralty House, before introducing the next piece.
The grey-haired gentleman in the photo below is WO2 Willie van Zyl; he played the clarinet and the saxophone with such passion and energy that he had us all spellbound.
One of the drummers/percussionists made us gasp with his vigorous, enthusiastic and occasionally wild style of playing! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a clear shot of him because there were too many heads in the way! 🙂
One of the most entertaining pieces the Band performed was a most unusual version of the Post Horn Gallop. One of the instruments used was the traditional post horn:
But the other was a homemade instrument called “die tuinslang” in Afrikaans, meaning “the hosepipe” (or translated directly, “the garden snake”). It consisted of a piece of hosepipe (!) connected to a black plastic funnel on the one end, and with a kind of mouthpiece on the other end.
Much to our amazement, WO Mkhize was able to create beautiful music with this odd instrument! It sounded almost exactly like the posthorn, albeit less brassy and more … er… hosepipe-y? … Er… um…
If you don’t believe me or want a copy of the video clip to hear what it actually sounded like, let me know! 😀
This was followed by an exciting, foot-stomping compilation of Johnny Clegg tunes. Two of the band members had dressed up as tribal African dancers, complete with animal skins, ankle bracelets and head gear. They were excellent!
They chose some members of the audience to participate in the dancing, and even persuaded R Adm (JG) Louw, Flag Officer Commanding Naval Base Simon’s Town (!), to show off his African dance moves. I thought it was very sporting of him to play along, and he did get a resounding round of applause for it.
The two dancers returned the Admiral to his seat, and promptly roped in a few more men, to whom they tried to teach the famous Johnny Clegg leg-lift-and-stomp. When this failed pretty abysmally, they got them to perform the Macarena instead, all to the thumping rhythms of Johnny Clegg’s “A Great Heart”. It was very funny!
The group of ladies, who were “on stage” during the next piece, Johnny Clegg’s “Osiyeza”, fared a little better, but – probably to prevent injury – the two dancers decided to let them sway from side to side instead! Once they seemed confident with that, they added on some extra moves, which looked like “throwing a spear at the wildebeest” and “doing a victory dance when you return home with meat for the family”. I think that was the gist of it. 🙂
After the cheering and clapping had died down, R Adm (JG) Louw gave a more formal speech about the role of the SA Navy, reiterating the fact that it is “the South African people’s navy”, and inviting all of us to attend next year’s drydock concert at the start of the Navy Festival, sometime around 05 March next year. He told us that they were expecting an Army Band from Germany to fly down for the festival and to join them for the concert. It promises to be an awe-inspiring event.
He then auctioned off a couple of special bottles of wine in order to raise funds (I can’t remember exactly for what). In that way, they quickly made a couple of thousands. 🙂
After that, it was time for more music!
Another unusual treat was a fabulous performance of a very catchy tune by a pair of talented xylophone players (“xylophonists”???!). Their little wooden mallets flew through the air and ratted and tatted against the wooden slats without missing a beat or hitting a wrong note. It brought back such happy memories of playing the xylophone in the Orff orchestra at school! (Although I doooon’t think I was quite as fast as they were!)
From time to time during the performance, the audience was asked to sing along with some Christmas carols. Sadly, this was a flop. Although everyone had been given song sheets, only one or two handfuls of people actually sang. Perhaps they were struggling to get the right pitch or didn’t want to sing too loudly off-key? 🙂
The children, though, had absolutely NO PROBLEMS singing. Within minutes, a small group of little kids had assembled in front of the band, clustering around two microphones. They sang “Away in a Manger” so lustily and without the slightest trace of shyness, that they received loud cheers and applause from all the adults. Beaming with delight and excitement, they scampered back to their proud parents.
Their enchanting performance was followed by a solo, sung beautifully by PO Twala, and a few more big band pieces that gave the brass players a chance to show off their skills.
And then, all too soon, the concert came to an end with a hand-clapping rendition of “Anchors Aweigh”.
Feeling a tad melancholic, we packed together all our picnic paraphernalia, and joined the long line of people slowly filing out of the grounds of Admiralty House, and ambling down to their cars. I really hope we’ll be able to go again next year. What a wonderful treat this had been!