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Open Strings in Westville

Rod and Karen Nichols are the owners of a venue which has recently started up in Westville, and they’ve called it Open Strings. Once a month Rod and Karen open their home and host a major South African act performing an acoustic set. On the bill thus far has been Farryl Purkiss, John Ellis, Syd Kitchen and Nibs van der Spuy. To date Farryl had the biggest crowd of 65, which would see the venue full, although the Nichols say 80 would be maximum.

The Nichols’s back yard is made up of a rock feature surrounding a pool and a big open space under a thatch roof where musicians perform from. It’s a different set-up, in the sense that the audience sits around the performer and in segregated pockets as the landscape of space dictates.

Syd Kitchen

I took the opportunity to perform a solo set opening for SA legend Syd Kitchen, who is currently enjoying the success of Fool in a Bubble – a documentary film about the singer/songwriter/guitarist which debuted at the Durban International Film Festival.

My first encounter with Syd was six years ago at the Forgotten Falls in Howick. I had just finished soundchecking under a marquee where the stage was, and had moved to the back and was chatting to the venue owners. As we were speaking, a long-haired silhouette appeared across the field. He had a guitar case in one hand and his other arm around a young brunette.

As he got closer, I recognized who it was. “We’ve come to play for red wine,” he announced to the owner. “I’ll play first.”

Ryan Calder at Open Strings.

I remember feeling quite intimidated at this arrangement… here was an acoustic legend who was offering to open for me. It just didn’t seem right. But that’s always been Syd. He was very respectful of this young musician plying his wares, which made a big impression on me.

On Saturday night, however, the roles were reversed, and rightly so. Syd is a consummate musician and entertainer royale, and I feel more comfortable opening for him.

The set went well and included old favourites and songs off the new album On The Edge. The small crowd was a mix of ages and races, but they were all engaged and attentive. I really am looking forward to performing with the band again in the coming weeks.

It was a real treat to have Tam’s older brother and his wife at the gig, which I must confess, was the best part of the evening for me… seldom do people travel all the way from the UK to listen to these tunes!


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