Canadian bluesman Doc Maclean’s tours to SA are remarkable affairs, not least because they involve dozens of performances and trips to places most South Africans have probably never been to themselves.
Doc Maclean’s Cross Bones Blues Tour (Western Cape Dates)
Oct 13 Karoo Saloon, Barrydale, West Cape
Oct 14 Koedoeskloof Country Lodge, Ladismith, West Cape
Oct 15 Karoo Saloon, Barrydale, West Cape
Oct 16 Barleycorn Music Club, Cape Town, 11 Lansdowne Rd, Brookside
Oct 18 Gumstone Creek, Kommetjie Noordhoek Cape Town. with Tim Parr
Oct 19 Die Boer Theatre, Durbanville, 6 Chenoweth St., 7551, Western Cape w. Albert Frost
Oct 20 Alma Café, Cape Town, 20 Alma Rd., Rosebank
Oct 21 Alma Café, Cape Town, 20 Alma Rd., Rosebank
Doc Maclean, it turns out, is also a fascinating interview subject… there’s a particular sort of intuition to be found in the words of a true storyteller, even when those words are lightly dusted in a warm humour… like any great storyteller, it is clear that Doc Maclean is also a prodigious gatherer of insight. Which might explain a touring schedule that takes him to places you would not expect.
What’s to be found in a relatively small and far-flung location like Nieu-Bethesda or Pringle Bay for a hard-travelling veteran Delta Blues-man like Doc Maclean?
“People, stories. Penguins!”, he declares to THE SHOW. “Unusual people with unusual stories. Unusual penguins. People who appreciate the fact that I’ve humped in to do a show. I bring the blues to places that will never see a big touring show, and they give back to me as audiences.
“When I return, I’m playing to friends, and these stops become important in ways which go way beyond delivering a show.”
I find the magic and the strange, the secret lives of places
The Doc is a poetic interview subject, as meditative a talker of motivations as he is a storyteller. As a traveller he remains curious about the world and its stories: “I find the magic and the strange, the secret lives of places – and these keep my mind busy and my art fresh.
“I used to think that maybe I was searching for something, but now I’m not so sure what it is, or if it will ever be found. The fleeting moments of glory. Maybe that’s what’s discovered. Or maybe it’s the aftermath; decadent remains reaching out to offer me a taste. I play the big places to stretch the tour across the map, and to route myself through places with odd names and pretty girls.”
Fifty shows is a big world tour for most, let alone in one country. Where does the energy come from after 45 years (or more)?
“When the credit card bills come in, or the mortgage is due, I get an incredible surge of energy! I book my own shows, roadie my own gear, and self-drive everywhere. I love playing the shows. Everything else around the edges has become hard work.
“I’ve always been a live, performing artist, it’s what I do – and to make a living at it necessitates a whole lot of shows and a whole lot of travel. Brownie McGhee was one of my mentors. I learned a lot about touring from him. I guess I’m one of the few, old school troubadours left. I do maybe two hundred or 250 shows a year. I’m the King of the Big Tour of Small – I’ve got to pay my bills the same as anyone else.”
It’s a complicated world – especially in Africa
Doc Maclean hails from a tradition of travelling to find music, to play music. Along that road, there must be a sense that there are certain things learned or sought there – life lessons, perhaps, or even worldly wisdom… music… stories… history…?
“As I get older I’m looking for a higher degree of truth in the music. I don’t have much patience for the superficial, dress-up stuff. I want to hear real stories, told in somebody’s real voice.
“And blues itself… I’m beginning to think that it’s more of a spiritual position than a structured musical form. I like it close to the bone. To have real value. On some level, at least, to somebody. So that’s what I’m looking for when I’m playing, and when I’m listening.
I’m aware of that when I bring what I do to Africa, and play behind so many locked gates and electric fences
“Now I’m wrestling with the idea that most of the music we hear is very much “first world” in terms of its origins and values. Even hip-hop. There’s a whole lot of music that comes from privilege, or the privilege of being in an advantaged place relative to others in the world.
“I’m aware of that when I bring what I do to Africa, and play behind so many locked gates and electric fences. It’s a complicated world, especially in Africa… I’ve learned to listen to every story. I’ve learned to follow the wheel of the heart. I’ve learned that there’s usually danger of some sort that comes with freedom. And I’ve learned that it’s worth the risk to take that freedom and roll down the highway with it.”