Heineken Symphonic Rocks: This time it’s Cape Town & Joburg

After last year’s success, Heineken Symphonic Rocks returns to blend contemporary hits with the power of classical instrumentation, and featuring Flat Stanley, Arno Carstens, Loyiso, Tumi, Ard Matthews and more.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 07/31.

Heineken Symphonic Rocks: This time it's Cape Town & Joburg

The first Heineken Symphonic Rocks concert saw a full-house of rock and pop fans experiencing some of their favourite South African hits backed by a full orchestra. For 2011, Symphonic Rocks grows to embrace rock, pop, R’nB, adult contemporary, hip hop and electro-dance acts – and to include performances in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. John Walton will conduct the sixty-five piece orchestra as they back Flat Stanley, Just Jinjer’s Ard Matthews, Springbok Nude Girls’ Arno Carstens, rockers Zebra & Giraffe and CrashCarBurn, R’nB star Loyiso and conscious hip-hoppers Tumi & The Volume. In Johannesburg, electro-dance sensation Locnville and Freshlyground vocalist, Zolani Mahola are also on the bill. And it’s all the brainchild of Andy Mac, visionary frontman for Flat Stanley.

“It’s no secret to anyone who’s known me for a while, or who knows the Flat Stanley story, that I’ve always been very passionate about including stringed instruments in the arrangements of some songs,” says Mac in between recording takes for the new Flat Stanley album. “I got quoted years ago saying that it was my dream to see Flat Stanley play with a full string orchestra. Whenever we played bigger shows, we’d try to include four or five strings, voilas or cellos. I’ve always been fascinated by what happens to popular contemporary music when it’s played with a symphony orchestra and I spent the last few years trying to hatch a cunning plan on how to make it happen. The costs and the logistics and then general amount of effort that goes into making something like that happen are prohibitively high for most bands and artists, and that’s really why it hasn’t happened before often – if ever – in a South African context.”

The 2010 show featured Watershed, Louise Carver, aKing and Gang Of Instrumentals, as well as Ard Matthews and Flat Stanley. Mac goes on to note that, with the inaugural event being a sell-out success, there was a great deal of excitement about the 2011 show and sufficient interest from Gauteng to grow Symphonic Rocks to a two city event. “People in the music industry were a hundred percent supportive about the idea but, especially when you think about how much it takes to organise the show, like taking a good six months just to write the parts for the orchestra, there was a mixed feeling about whether it could be a commercial success,” confesses Mac.”Tickets were sold out ten days before the event and it was one of the hottest tickets in town that weekend. On the night, I could not have dreamed or hoped for a better atmosphere and a better emotional or artistic experience and, within days of completion, we were talking about a show in 2011. But before the first show, I’ll tell you that there was a moment of self doubt and hesitation, something that I think is customary for most artists.”

I quip that it must be quite a task preparing for the two-city event, especially since Mac is currently in the recording studio with the power team of Brian O’Shea and Chris Tuck, the music production pair who last worked together on Saron Gas before that South African band was renamed to Seether as it took America by storm. “Don’t even joke,” he exclaims. “We’re also shipping the entire 65-piece orchestra, the nine-piece house band and a five-piece vocal ensemble to Johannesburg. It’s like a  travelling circus but, fortunately, we’ve got Kulula.com on board. And let’s just that with 80 to a hundred  musicians on a plan also sponsored by Heineken, things should get interesting at thirty thousand feet!”

Translating the contemporary music into pieces that work well for orchestra is, clearly, no mean feet. “Myself and John Walton, who arranged all the music for the first show and conducted it, agree that any genre of music can benefit from having an interesting orchestral arrangement of its songs, and we want to explore those kinds of contours and tapestries,” says Mac. “That’s great because it means there’s no genre off the table in terms of who could potentially play Symphonic Rocks in years to come. That’s also one of my favourite moments – when the pop and rock and hip-hop musicians get to that first day of rehearsals and get to hear a song that they themselves have written being played by a full orchestra. There were a lot of goosebump moments last year, and it will happen again this year.”

Melding the strict modes of classical music with the contemporary energy of more recent styles also has its interesting moments. “The classical musicians can be very intimidating, and that’s one of the more humorous aspects of the show – the technical questions,” laughs Mac. “You’ll have someone saying, ‘I see that one song is in D-flat major,’ or whatever, and then saying, ‘Do we continue in that?’ Then you have to ‘phone the band and ask, and they’ll say, ‘Dude, we just play it the way that we play it.’ There’s a bit of head-scratching and then they figure it out – and it really is a beautiful when such people come together to make the music work.”

Symphonic Rocks is in Cape Town on Saturday 1 October at The Grand Arena and inJohannesburg on Friday 7 October at the Big Top Arena, Carnival City. Tickets cost R225 to R275 from Computicket.com. See the highlights of last years show, and get full details of the 2011 event at SymphonicRocks.co.za. Andy Mac and Flat Stanley are currently recording final takes for their first studio album in three years, working with Brian O’Shea and Chris Tuck, who are working together again for the first time in almost a decade.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 07/31.