Backsberg picnic concerts: Koos Kombuis, Black Cat Bones, Robin Auld – and ‘Oom Sydney’

The fourth year of Backsberg Picnic Concerts sees Robin Auld, Koos Kombuis and Black Cat Bones in a relaxed, intimate and – most importantly – not too crowded setting. When Die Antwoord played, and Locnville arrived by helicopter, it was a little noisier. Now, it’s the perfect Sunday afternoon, as the farm’s Simon Back explains.

Francois van Coke and Jedd Kossew at the 2013 Backsberg Picnic Concert series.  Pic courtesy Sean Furlong Photography: seanfphotography.blogspot.com

Francois van Coke and Jedd Kossew at the 2013 Backsberg Picnic Concert series. Pic courtesy Sean Furlong Photography: seanfphotography.blogspot.com

This feature by Evan Milton was originally written for the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/03/03.
There’s a picture, somewhere, on someone’s ‘phone, of a line of little 50ml brandy bottles arranged like a Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail, from the Backsberg cellar to the manager’s cottage. That happened a long time ago, in the summer of 2010 after the wine estate hosted “Sonic Summer“, an eclectic bill that saw the recently stellar zef-rappers Die Antwoord and house-masters Goldfish, both back on South African soil and one of the first ever live shows by electro-pop master producer Jax Panik. It even had Locnville, who arrived by helicopter, much to the delight of hordes of eager teens, and the amusement of more than a few parents, wisely keeping to the shade with a top up of the winery’s fine wares.
No names need be mentioned of which rock ‘n roll reprobates lined up those taster bottles of ‘Oom’ Sydney Back brandy – which, incidentally, has a handful of International Wine and Spirits Award medals, and a Michaelangelo Award to its credit – but it had the implicit turning-a-blind-eye blessing of Backsberg marketing manager Simon Back. The anecdote serves to prove a point: as much as Backsberg is about wine, and the conviviality of those who share it, it is also a place that understands music and musicians, and the people who come to hear them.
“It’s important for us that we’re doing it for the right reasons” – Simon Back, Marketing Manager of Backsberg and founder of the Backsberg Picnic Concert Series.
Happily, the Backsberg Estate Picnic Concert Series are smaller affairs than “Sonic Summer“, and a perfect way to wind down a weekend. Although they have a capacity of three- to four-hundred, there are generally around a hundred or two people casually scattered on the estate’s plush lawns, some under the shade of the trees, while some soak up the sun. A simple stage constructed with wine barrels serves to host the laid-back, acoustic versions of the artists who play, with more attention paid to good sound than to sponsor’s bunting or other frippery. Also key to a good concert: the artists who play there are palpably happy to be there. For audiences, the sensible arrangements around getting wine, soft drinks, and picnic snacks make a difference too. It’s all the brainchild of Simon Back, grandson of the “Sydney Back” on those brandy labels (hence the “Oom Sydney” moniker), son of the farm’s owner and nephew to renowned South African wine personality, Charles Back.
  • Acoustic artistry
Back conducts the early morning interview via Skype from London, where he’s just touched down to meet with a series Backsberg importers, before heading to Europe for more of the same. He’s wistful about having had to miss last Sunday’s Picnic Concert band, The Blues Broers. “The crowd just kept asking for encores, and they kept playing them, long into the evening,” he reports. “For some bands, you’ve got gigs that you just do, and then you’ve got gigs that the band really enjoys. After Blues Broers played in 2012, you could just see they loved playing at the farm – and a lot of bands do. We had to have them back.”
The Sunday before that it was Francois van Coke, frontman for Afrikaans rockers F*kofpolisiekar, and Van Coke Kartel, playing an acoustic gig, accompanied only by VCK guitarist Jedd Kossew. “His voice was really crisp, and he just sounded great, delivering a really strong performance,” says Simon Back. “For some artists, who are used to rocking out with a whole band behind them, there’s a way that a vulnerability comes through when they’re playing acoustic. We’ve seen that our audiences love that; getting a chance to get closer to the songs, just like you’re physically closer to the musicians.”
  • Black Cat Bones and Koos Kombuis at Backsberg
For March, the Backsberg Picnic Concert series features Robin AuldBlack Cat Bones and Koos KombuisAuld returns from his new home in Britain to reprise the “Zen Surfer” songs that won over a generation, and also more recent singer-songwriter material that explores themes of love, life, living between continents and, perhaps, the nature that binds this all. Black Cat Bones play no-nonsense dirty rock ‘n roll and are in the running for the annual MK Award as South Africa’s “Best Live Act” – imagine Neil Young’s Crazy Horse birthed between South Africa’s mine-dumps and her bushveld, and still dusty from yet another long trans Karoo trip. Afrikaner troubadour legend Koos Kombuis will present a storyteller-style show, drawing on equal parts of his agit pop protest past and more recent acerbic observations of the Rainbow Nation. Each headliner also picks an “up and coming” artist, or a collaborator, as an introductory act. For Robin Auld, it is singer-songwriter Andy Lund (“Fall From Grace“); for Black Cat Bones, it is brooding lyricist Stefan Dixon (“For No Apparent Reason“) and for Koos Kombuis, it is Namibian-born blues mistress Andra.
“This is the fourth year that we’re doing the concert series and, when I started out with the concept, we were one of the few people doing it,” says Simon Back. “Subsequently, a lot of wineries and any venue that can host a concert seems to be presenting something similar. I’m not making the suggestion that they copied me, but it’s important for us that we’re doing it for the right reasons. The venue and the setting are a particularly beautiful place to experience music, and I’d like to think that we’ve got some great wines to accompany it too. As a winery, we work hard to make sure every single event works, but we’re also in this for a long time. We want a series that’s carefully curated, and one that’s giving really good value to our guests, and the musicians.”
This feature by Evan Milton was originally written for the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2013/03/03.
The Backsberg Estate Picnic Concerts feature Robin Auld and Andy Lund on Sunday 3 March; The Black Cat Bones and Stefan Dixon on Sunday 10 March; and Koos Kombuis and Andra on Sunday 17 March (gates 3pm; opening act 4pm; main act 5pm; tickets R85 from TicketBreak.co.za/Backsberg; R100 at the gate; R60 at gate with valid student card. Children under 12 free, when accompanied by an adult). Details Facebook.com/BacksbergConcerts and Backsberg.co.za.
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