REVIEW : Mieliepop Songtuary, Tolderia Estate. 26-28/10/2012


I’ve been very fortunate to attend most of the top music festivals in South Africa with The Sick-Leaves during the past 6 years. After releasing Breaking Away in January this year I decided to do something fresh musically.  Hence my side project, Tenkai Pennies (with Andra Cilliers) was born.  After making it on to the line-up we were extremely excited to play at this year’s Mieliepop Songtuary festival, at Tolderia Estate, close to Lothair, in south east Mpumalanga.

After a longish drive from Pretoria I arrived at the festival round 4-ish on the Friday afternoon. It looked spectacular. Tents and cars were lined up on both flanks of the man-made dam and the stage looked mightily impressive. I’ve been to this place countless times before in my life since 1982, when back then there was nothing except a spruit, veld and trees. I don’t think the owner, Andre van Rooyen, at the time, could have envisaged the amount of time, energy, money, toil and love he would pour into Tolderia over the next 29 years to create this world class estate.

Even before the dam was built our families would have social gatherings at the “grot” / cave. Back then it looked nothing like it does today. Access was through the veld, there was no concrete, everything was natural. After the dam was built a semi-permanent gazebo was erected on the eastern side next to the dam wall. A bit later the “old / main house” was built on the northern bank of the dam, which was a massive improvement. As a kid this house fascinated me endlessly due to it’s northern wall being a massive sandstone rock. The huge lawn grew ever larger over time and a heated swimming pool and fake cave was built later on adjacent to the house.

The next phase of development would be the current festival site. The spruit from the waterfall to the dam was dug deeper and wider to accommodate a motor boat.  Then the fake cave, bar area and swimming pool followed, with the 4 luxurious lodges being the most recent development. May I add – EVERYTHING that’s man made at Tolderia was designed and built by Andre van Rooyen. It’s quite astonishing if you take a minute to think about it.

After pitching my tent I met up with everyone else and made a dash for a viewpoint to capture a photograpgh of the setting sun painting the clouds pink. Overcast weather was predicted for the rest of the weekend so I knew this was probably my only chance to get a good picture of the site.

Mieliepop Songtuary 2012, Friday evening. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

For me Friday night’s highlights were Mechanics Of Happiness, who impressed with a tight melodic rock set; the exceptional Shotgun Tori who delivered an emotional vocal rasp so vicious that it sent the moon cowering behind the clouds; and Howlin Shibanski‘s slick and dirty blues.

We played at 10pm. The crowd was fantastic, but a right nightmare was had on stage. LOTS of technical difficulties. The show must go on though and we did the best we could. A special thanks to Brenda Burnit who helped us out on percussion and mandolin and to Andra of course who is a pro. It’s a real privelege and joy to share a stage with her.

The Aidan Martin Band (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

The next morning I waited for the sun to nuke me out of my tent, but it never happened. Typical Ermelo “oosteweer” (overcast and drizzly weather) was on the menu for the day. With our show done I could relax and take some photos. We made our way to the stage mid-morning and were treated to an Uriah Heep sound check. Amazing to behold. Naming James played an energetic and well received set to get the crowd going. I made a dash for my tent to catch a quick afternoon nap; a huge amount of lost sleep during the week had left me feeling worse for wear. It didn’t last long though as I was woken by that magical sound of a blues/rock trio. A super tight guitar and bass riff of immense swagger got me scrambling to the stage and I was just in time to catch the last bit of Aidan Martin‘s set. What a band. It’s beyond me how this guy is still so anonymous. But that will change soon. To me they were the musical highlight of the weekend and I’m bummed out that I couldn’t see his whole set. He struck me looks and soundwise as a cross between Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin during 1970. It’s as if he has been kept in an ice tomb for 42 years and unleashed upon us in 2012. Top bloke as well.

The Smoking Mojos (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

The Smoking Mojos were hugely anticipated and they delivered their double axe blues with precision and passion. Two power outages during their set must have been horrible for the band, but this only seemed to increase the crowd’s appreciation and love for them.

Jeremy Loops (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Over the course of the weekend the most love and adoration, for a local artist, was reserved for Jeremy Loops. This guy knows how to work an audience and had them eating out of his harmonica and loop pedal in a matter of seconds. He specializes in feel good music and it’s perfect for festival vibes. The only criticism I can direct at Saturday’s line up order is that he didn’t play just before Uriah Heep, as BCUC was a bit of a downer. I headed for the hill across the stage and took some magical shots of the festival ground bathed in darkness.

Stage. Saturday night. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

The funniest moment came when Uriah Heep’s entry music started to play. As I stood next to the sound and light desk, their lighting engineer was as livid and animated as a cobra in its last death throws of a losing battle against a badger. The MC was hanging around on stage and he wanted her OFF. It was funny because it shows their professionalism in producing a flawless show and how much the aura and visual appeal matters in rock’n’roll. The band rode to the side of the stage in an old 60’s Volkswagen Combi that was led by a Harley. They were all dressed in clothes displaying biker insignia.

Mick Box / Uriah Heep (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

What a show these elder statesman of rock gave! They weren’t here for an African safari, they were here to entertain. It was a real treat and experience to have backstage access and see them perform from such close quarters. Mick Box pretty much stands still throughout the performance, but delivers brutal guitar riffs and scorching solos without batting an eyelid. What impressed me most was how massive their guitar-organ/keyboard sound was. The arrangements are flawless and their vocal harmonies pitch perfect. The crowd must have been one of the smaller ones they have played to in their illustrious career, but they genuinely seemed to enjoy every moment on stage. A top show and one I’m very glad I saw.

Dan Patlansky (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Dan Patlansky had the unenviable task of following Uriah Heep and he did a stellar job. He never ceases to amaze me. There seemed to be a bit of anger in his playing that gave the show an extra edge. Whether it was due to his slot being moved from before Uriah Heep to after, or the stage hand trying to remove his carefully placed sound deflector (in front of his amp) just before the show started, I don’t know, but it was great to see that emotion. When it comes to the blues he’s very much THE GUITARIST in SA right now. Phenomenal. Credit must also go to his band who is rock solid behind him.

I own this place. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Sunday came too early and it was all over. I want to congratulate the organisers on running a near flawless festival that is very much still in its infancy. It’s hard to comprehend how many logistics there are to keep track of, how many problems arise during an event like this and how they immediately must be addressed, solved and fixed. My hope is that this festival won’t become too big and that it will retain its exclusive feel. Here’s to Mieliepop 2013.

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