Telling someone “to catch a wake up” is usually dismissive of their abilities, intentions or a combination of both. Telling yourself, on the other hand, is motivational – exactly what Albert Frost has done with his new album, ‘The Wake Up’.
The legendary (well, in the circles I like to move in) blues guitarist is in a state as we chat backstage at The Barnyard in Umhlanga before the live launch of the album to a Durban audience. He is, quite frankly, terrified and this is palpably obvious in the body language, but it is the eyes that are really telling the tale.
There is so much excitement in those eyes, so much belief in what is to come….
“Some of the ideas included in the album go back 20 years,” he says. “However, most of it has really happened in the last year.”
Back in the 90’s when just 15, he joined the Blue Broers as guitarist – in itself an interesting mix as his father, Frank Frost was the drummer. Sadly, Frank died in 1999 and it was nearly the end for the band that used to rattle the pipes in The Pump House on Cape Town’s Waterfront.
Fortunately the band recovered and Albert grew in the role to become one of the country’s leading blues players. He also expanded his own horizones and has worked with the likes of Arno Carstens, Koos Kombuis and Vusi Mahlasela as well as being a regular member of Riders From the Storm with Mel Botes, Nathan Smith, Piet Botha and Valiant Swart.
He has shared stages with The Rolling Stones, R.E.M. and Simple Minds and performed for Nelson Mandela. Alongside Arno Carstens, he shared the stage with Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and the Pixies.
He’s played all major festivals in South Africa as well as having had the honour of performing solo at the famed Isle Of Wight festival, where he also did a collaboration with James Walsh from ‘Starsailor’.
Some months ago he announced his decision to quit the Blues Broers permanently.
“It really was a hard choice, but I needed to finish The Wake Up and I needed to have no commitments that would interefere with the writing and recording,” he says. “I love the blues, I will always love the blues, but I needed to exand musically out of that niche and The Wake Up is a mixture of things and influences from pure rock to West African sounds, accoustic to electric and all stops in between.
“I needed to be more than just a lead guitarist and this is me ‘coming out’ as a singer and songwriter as well.”
Frost is joined on the album by Jonno Sweetman on drums and Schalk Joubert on bass – for the live launch augmented by Peter Mitchell on accoustic guitar and backing vocals.
“The whole album is self-funded from the recording through to sales and marketing. The good thing is I had total control over the production, which I co-produced with Albert Meinjties and recorded at VH Studios – and I am extremely happy with the result.”
Like Shotgun Tori, Piet Botha and so many other local musicians he spends months on the road playing small and larger venues, festivals and country shows with little or no support from the industry at large or from radio stations, these tours involving moving, setting up and taking down their own equipment and most often all on the same night before hitting the road again.
Getting industry support is a problem going back to the ‘50s. Simply, the return on investment for the record companies comes from sales volumes and by far the largest music buying audience in the country wanted its own from township jazz to the more modern hiphop/kwaito tastes.
At the other end of music spectrum it really was only the ‘vanilla’ pop artists such as The Dealians, 4 Jacks & a Jill, The Bats, Steve Hofmeyer and the like who could generate enough volume to make it worth coughing up for studio time. Mango Groove and PJ Powers both managed to stretch their music across all spectrums and were value for money.
Make no mistake, the local record industry has never been a ‘supporter’ of local music – they’re in it for the money.
Back then there was LM Radio that was prepared to push musical boundaries (when SABC banned all play of The Beatles) and post LM came Capital Radio. Today, the national stations have morphed into an androgenuous mass pumping out insipid music – gone are the adventurous DJ’s such as Chris Prior, Leon Economides and Gavin Buckle, to name but a few.
True, they are all around on streaming radio and even LM Radio has made a comeback – but it is national airplay that generates interest, motivates sales and convinces corporate execs to spend the money on new local talent.
Sure, some less than mainstream artists did make records on the corporate dollar – Otis Waygood Blues Band, Hawk, Freedom’s Childrem, Sugadrive and Baxtop….Oh! and not to forget Rabbitt. However, these remain a few and most did not get the airplay support they needed either.
Imagine, even now, a radio DJ daring to announce a new song by Fokofpoliesiekar!
So, musicians like Albert Frost remain dedicated to their craft – and it is not surpising he is so thrilled with being able to control the end result of his work.
The Wake Up is 11 songs – some he wrote himself and some with Albert Meintjies, Hunter Kennedy and one with Simon Orange. Two he co-wrote with the man he rates as the finest guitarist in the country – his brother-in-law and fellow musician, Robin Auld.
Songs are very often stories and the tracks on The Wake Up are just that – stories from Albert Frost’s perspective that need to be heard. Tales of love, life, record companies or just being ‘Outside’ ‘Tonight’ in the ‘Summer Rain’ enjoying a ‘Modern Romance’ before ‘The Wake Up’ and ‘Leaving Town’, back ‘Against The Wall’ at ‘Sunrise’ with the ‘Morning Pages’ fluttering in the breeze as this place is ‘Home No More’ but we’re still ‘Together’