Stories Behind The Songs

Indifferent strangers 1984
Robbi Robb is one of South Africa’s musical giants, and my personal rock hero. He continues to write songs that shift the fibre of my being. As a young rock ingénue of the 80’s in SA I had the honour and benefit of forming a connection with him. Ella Mental and Tribe after Tribe frequently went on double bill tours around South Africa during 1984/85 and on one occasion at the Summit Club in down town, seedy Hillbrow, we produced a double bill show where both bands were on stage simultaneously for the opening and closing of each act – a seamless transition that lasted over two and a half hours, leaving both the audience and the bands breathless and exhilarated. It was at this performance that Robbi and I performed a duet of Indifferent strangers for the first time. 4 years later Ella Mental were in LA to record an album for Warner Brothers and we reconnected with Tribe. It was here that Robbi ‘gave’ me the song to record for some time in the future. It has taken over 20 years for me to do so and I hope that it is a satisfactory rendition. Namaste, Robbi.

Green World 1989
I lived in Ireland from 1986 – 1991. During this time I met many remarkable people, some of which I remain friends with till today. One such friend is Josie Ravenwing, an extraordinarily gifted spiritual teacher and healer. At the time, Josie was traveling through Europe, facilitating workshops that incorporated personal power resourcing with a number of traditional Native American rituals. I had the benefit of her presence and wisdom teachings in my home as whenever she traveled to Ireland with her partner, Tim Casady they stayed with us. One evening we were jamming in our lounge and Tim Casady brought out some lyrics that he had written and they formed the basis of what has evolved since into Green World. During the recording process it was fantastic to have my daughter, Amber and her father, Tim Parr singing the backing vocals on the track.  I believe that the message that Green World conveys remains as relevant today as it was then.

Autumn 1990
When I arrived in Ireland in the cold winter of 1986 I never imagined that I would learn to cherish living there so much. The memories of experiencing the changing seasons there are etched in my DNA. I was born and grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, where the seasons seem to merge from one into the next; rain can fall in mid summer and hot ‘Indian’ summer days may pop up in winter. Ireland was the country where I reconnected with spiritualism.  Each season brought with it change: a different aspect of work, creativity, death and rebirth. Native American teachings speak of the value of reflecting on the changing of the seasons through practicing conscious intent and prayer. I have found the Sweat lodge to be the place and space where I can regularly connect with the unseen mysteries of the Great Spirit that surrounds all.

You Know 1990
In 1986, Ella Mental had been freed up from their contract with EMI (SA) to launch their international career from Dublin, Ireland. The flamboyant Irish impresario, Billy Gaff had big plans for us! The band had a rough ride adjusting from leaving SA to finding their feet living Ireland. Hoping to snap up a recording deal with an international record company we had performed some showcases in Dublin. There was interest however our hopes were put on hold as Billy got chewed up in a media frenzy over his connection to the Elton John rent boy scandal. Unfortunately, his lack of focus, not to mention an expensive court case resulted him having to withdraw his support. The current, extremely successful line-up of Ella Mental dissolvied: Herman left for his home town, Zurich and Adrian went back home to SA. Tim and I decided to stay and kept believing in the possibility of ‘cracking the nod’ and getting a deal. The inimitable Frank Murphy, generously offered his support and we kept the roof over our heads! Billy and Ella Mental were re-united when Warner Bros saw the current line-up in a club in Dublin and started showing more than a genuine interest in signing us. We recorded the eponymously named Ella Mental album in 1988/89 in Los Angeles. Disappointingly the relationship turned sour within a year of release of the album and Billy and Ella Mental parted company. In a fit of frustration I wrote this song. Oh boy, Rock ‘n Roll is tough! I still think Billy was an amazing person to work with and I am grateful for the adventure we had

Don’t shout it 1991
Tim (Parr) had just returned from a tour in America with Tribe after Tribe and I was pregnant with our second child when he started developing this composition. Once the first verse was complete I found the hook line and the rest of the lyrics naturally came and fell into place. This song remains, in my mind, one of the best collaborations of our 11-year musical relationship. It reflects the difficult transition we were experiencing at the time. I was having serious doubts as to whether I could continue being the rock ‘n roll gypsey given the responsibility of 2 children and Tim remained passionately committed to life of a musician. It would mark the end of an incredibly exciting, challenging and life changing relationship.

She says 2009
I have a collection of my scribblings, kept in a box, going back to 1980 and from time to time I haul out the box and read through them. Often it just makes me laugh- the innocence, the gullibility, the earnestness that was outpouring. She says was not one of those days- I found a number of pages from different stages of my life and suddenly I could see/hear them all hang together in a song. Some are personal reflections of my own relationships, others, observations of friends in difficult and challenging times. The “Annie” I refer to in She says is in honour of one of my favourite rock goddesses, Tina Turner, long suffering wife of Ike and single mother. I wanted to sing out for the countless mothers who single handedly manage to survive abusive relationships and still do a good job of bringing up their children despite their situation.

Bittersweet 1997
October 1996-October1997 was a BIG year for me. I lost 3 dear friends, ended a 3-year relationship and suffered a deeply disturbing personal tragedy. I was shattered and really had no idea how to lift myself out of the deep morass. My innate trust in the goodness of mankind was severely compromised and my spiritual foundation cracking. I felt totally alone even whilst surrounded by caring and kind friends. It was an unbelievable surprise that in the midst of my numbness I found love and solace in the form of a man who became my rock in the roaring tempest of emotional instability. Bittersweet was written by the fireside, in a commune in Woodstock, Cape Town in late June. It was to be the first song that I wrote entirely on my own, it felt like a real achievement and marked the beginning of a fruitful marriage of two water signs forever. The Crab and the Fishes get on swimmingly!

Questions 1994
I came back to SA for a 6-month holiday in December 1991, bringing my beautiful 6-mth baby, Amber and Luke, then 6-years old, to reunite with grannies, grandpa and family. I had every intention of returning to Ireland however I was surprised by the deep pull my homeland would have on me. Sadly, this was to prove be the demise of my marriage and our 11-year collaboration, Ella Mental. It took 2 years before I felt the inclination to perform and write songs again. The Heather Mac band was formed in 1994, we were a real bunch of allsorts-Acclaimed singer/songwriter Edi Niederlander on guitar, Ilne Hofmeyr, who had previously played with E’Void in the UK, and Roger Lucey and The Zub Zub Marauders in SA in the 80’s, on bass guitar and Steve Howells (Asylum Kids, The Dynamics) with his inimitable style and passion on drums. We would hook up for rehearsals in Ilne’s tree-bowered cottage in Hout bay every week. It was here that Ilne played her beautiful instrumental composition on piano and the words I had written found their melody. The lyrics are a reflection of a relationship that I had embarked on with an elegant hobo, known for his sometime excruciating exactness in electronics engineering and the study of all things that live. We were to stay together for 3 years. The relationship was an opportunity for me to explore aspects of myself that had lain dormant for many years, however due to my parental responsibilities was somewhat problematic and unrealistic. The affair ended with an echo of questions, the recurring theme throughout our time spent together. I incorporated the rhythms of South American music, evoking sensuality and whimsy, both characteristics of a belated and long overdue romantic affair.

The way that I love you 1994
The “happy in love” song on the album, was written during a whirlwind romance that had both of us simultaneously embracing ‘the new’ whist recognising our own self imposed parameters of expression. The corny one-step forward, and two-steps back situation. On reflection the relationship was an important ‘turnkey’ for both of us and though it ended, we remain friends today. I love the bluesy feel that we recreated on the recording and listening to it always makes me smile recalling the time I was head over heels ‘in love’.

Jamie 1995
James Philips
22nd January 1959-31st July 1995.
Musician, singer, songwriter, artist, composer, poet, prophet, cynic, satirist and cultural icon. Succinctly summed up by his friend Carl Raubenheimer: “James was a saint who lived the life of a devil” He was all these and to me he was a friend, someone who always made me belly laugh, retold outrageous tales and loved beer as much as me. I got the phone call at 8pm to tell me that James had passed on. The lyrics and melody of Jamie came to me that same night- it was my form of grieving. I still miss you Jamie!

Within 2008
Between 1997 and 2004 I was a full time employee of the corporate world. In what would prove to be the last 6-mths of my tenure, I found myself increasingly challenged, physically and emotionally, by the demands of the job and longing for the world of the performing arts. An opportunity to travel to Brazil presented itself and within 1 week I found myself on a plane to Florianopolis on the southern coastline of Brazil. It was here that I joined a group of fellow South Africans for a 2-week ayahuasca intensive with Luis Eduardo Luna at Wasiwaska, Research Center for the Study of Psychointegrator Plants, Visionary Art and Consciousness. My stay proved to be revelatory and life changing. I wrote the lyrics to Within one evening under an equatorial full moon, sitting in the centre of a labyrinth. It was to be 3 years later that I overheard Mark jamming in the studio on a hypnotic loop and immediately those lyrics had a place to rest. I introduced a Tsalagi prayer into the song and Within was complete. Whenever I am stuck in ennui, or desperate self-doubt I go for a walk on the beach, in the forest or on a mountain and Nature will draw me gently into a silent place of balance within me. I am ever grateful to her for her healing power.

Eventually 2009
My mother is an unbelievably brave woman; her courage in the face of unbearable pain and loss has kept me going throughout my life. Always willing to help in any way, ever loving and supportive. However, there is just one thing that drives me mad about her-she never wants to stop talking on the phone. I have to say goodbye at least 5 times before she registers that I might need to go, be somewhere or do something else. That’s why the first line of Eventually starts with: “Eventually my mother will say goodbye” and so a new song grew from her- I have finally registered that patience is indeed a marvelous virtue and that each day, as I patiently watch my tomatoes grow I know I will, eventually, reap the rewards of my efforts.

Affirmation 2009
Over the last 5 years I have written, produced and directed 3 musical plays for children. All loosely based on African fables and folk tales. The last play, Snake Magic, was to prove to be the most successful, traveling to represent SA at the 10th Festival of Theatre for Children in Cameroon. Affirmation is the final solo song of the heroine, Nikiwe. After immense suffering and heartache, Nikiwe remains stoically optimistic and affirms that whatever life throws at her, she will endure and has the capacity to triumph. The song reflects aspects of my own personal philosophy and was the last song I recorded for the album. I kept it real simple, as performed at The Baxter Theatre in 2009. Accompanied by master drummer and musician Pierre Terreblanche on Jewish mouth harp I hope that Affirmation will serve to remind you of the possibilities…with a little bit of faith and a little bit of magic.