Miriam and that niggly note…

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BY BILLY SUTER

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Twenty questions for Durban-based, British folk singer Miriam Erasmus, who entertains from 6pm to 9pm on Monday, January 23, at Durban’s Windsor Tennis Club, opposite Glenwood Boys’ High School. R50 gets you a game of tennis (from 4pm to 6pm) and the music. Grab a beer or some wine, buy a wors roll or toasted sandwich there, and enjoy this informal bit of fun. A different musical act entertains every Monday.  Phone 082 499 8636 for more details.

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WHAT CAN ONE EXPECT FROM YOU AT THE WINDSOR TENNIS CLUB GIG?
There will be stories of the life of Robert Burns, his poems and songs he wrote or collected, including My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, Ye Banks and Braes and Leezie Lindsay, along with other Scottish favourites like Flower of Scotland and The Skye Boat Song.
I will accompany myself on guitar, giving me the freedom to accept requests if they come along. Most popular are Streets of London and Over Africa.
Having such a wide repertoire of what one may call folk songs is a bonus. I shall also play the recorder and the autoharp, and may include songs like The Rose and Blowing in the Wind.

WILL YOU BE PLAYING TENNIS AS WELL? AND WHAT SPORTS DO YOU PLAY AND/OR ENJOY WATCHING?
I won’t be playing tennis, although I loved playing in my teens, along with hockey and gymnastics. Nowadays it’s walking and gentle yoga.

WHERE HAVE YOU PERFORMED MOST RECENTLY – AND WHERE TO NEXT?
I sing for people of most ages, so my partner John and I have just finished some puppet shows for the Christmas season. The audience enjoyed the last concert I gave at Umbilo’s Rhumbelow Theatre on October 9 last year, Miriam – My Life, My Song. Next on the list is a Splashy Fen “Veterans Concert” in April, followed by Grosvenor Girls’ Senior Citizens Party. Then I am off to the UK again in May.

miriam-erasmus-1
Miriam Erasmus performs in Durban from 6pm to 9pm on Monday, January 23.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR UK TOUR LAST YEAR?
I was in the UK for three months, to get my folk music “fix” and see family and friends there. Half a dozen gigs covered the Chester Folk Festival and an online video show in Ayr. Other folk clubs and visits helped to make the tour a joy, as usual.

WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Sincere. Child-like. Musical. Charming. Down-to-earth.

WHEN LAST DID YOU CRY – AND WHY?
When I fell up the stairs a week or so ago. I cut the ring finger on my left hand with the glass tankard I was carrying, which meant I couldn’t play the guitar for a week. It’s not quite right, but a bit of pain has never stopped me playing.

WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I am very shy, and was a serious youngster, preferring to play my viola in orchestras rather than listen to The Beatles. I trained, briefly, as an opera singer, but when I heard traditional folk music, I was hooked. I hate shopping for clothes at ‘full price’. I’m a real bargain hunter, or make my own clothes. Being unkind scares me. I cannot use soap, or skin make-up of any kind – talk about itching.

YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
Pianist Melvin Peters and I were playing a cabaret show, singing Love Changes Everything. When the key change happened, I mis-pitched the note. There was an awkward silence. I started laughing, and so did the audience. I asked Melvin what note I sang, he said “I think you were in the crack (of the piano notes)”. The audience then started chanting “You can do it!”, and we tried again. It was perfect ,thank goodness, but for the rest of the run, I was ragged about it and we had to do it again several times. Bless Melvin. I still dread that key change.

THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
I met Sir Paul McCartney in the late ’60s when I was teaching guitar to physically handicapped teenagers, at Bradford PHAB club. We did a rowing fundraiser, and he came along.. I have always wanted to meet actor David MacCullum – his father and mine worked together at Glyndebourne Opera House, so I’ve always felt I ‘know’ him.

HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I divide my days between playing musical instruments and singing for fun – mostly to the trees and the local cows. I also enjoy gardening… and my favourite thing to do is knit.

WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
1. I get most frustrated with the “emperor’s new clothes” sycophants. When incompetent people of all genres are feted and get overblown egos. 2. I agree with the “Dunning/Kruger” syndrome (a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher). 3. Fast food. 4. Social media is like a butterfly, never settling on one thing for more than a second or two before the next ‘scroll’. 5. ‘isms – get over them !

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
“She plays the guitar like a man!”

WHERE WERE YOU BORN – AND WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BIRTHDAY?
I was born in Lewes, England, on May 13, 1948. My 50th birthday was special, at -St Thomas Church Hall in Durban. We all pulled together to put on a concert for the Feed the Babies Fund. To be surrounded by so many kind, loving friends was overwhelming.

WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON CALLS TO REINTRODUCE THE DEATH PENALTY IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Let he who is without sin throw the first stone!

WHAT IS THE BEST THING YOU CAN COOK?
Health muffins

WHAT TRAITS DO YOU MOST DISLIKE IN OTHERS?
Dishonesty and being unkind.

IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
I’d have straight teeth, more courage to withstand unkind criticism, and better dancing legs.

TWO HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER?
1. Performing at the 11th Cambridge Folk Festival… I was at the height of my solo career as Miriam Backhouse in the mid- 70s. In four brief years, I had gone from floor singer to headliner as part of the British Folk Music Revival, starring in all the major clubs and festivals. I left that all behind, with no regrets, to marry John and come to South Africa in 1977. 2. It was in 1988, playing Anna in the Bluff Drama production of The King and I, at the age of 40. It was directed by Steven Stead. Steven, his family and friends pulled together the most amazing production wowing the local audiences. The best part was to have my own children as the King of Siam’s children. To learn the craft and discipline of being part of a stage show is priceless.

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY FIVE THINGS FROM FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE, WHAT AND WHO WOULD THEY BE?
Singing lessons from Joan Sutherland. A giggle from a child. A smile from a sad person. An “I love you Gogo” from my grandson. A “thank you” from someone who had a memory triggered after a song I had sung.

THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
We were performing at The Amphitheatre for a Valentine’s function, and for a few moments our little girl went missing. She had wandered off to find “auntie”. Fortunately, she was with that person… but, oh my word, what a scare.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ENSCRIBED ON YOUR TOMBSTONE?
She brought us joy.


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