BILLY SUTER chats to tall and talented Durban multi-instrumentalist ANDY TURRELL, seen in countless supper theatre musical productions and now starring alongside singer-guitarist John Ellis, of Tree53 fame, and singer-keyboardist Evan Cullum, in Billy Joel Meets Sting. The tribute show, which debuted to excellent reviews in October 2020, is to be staged at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre at the Allan Wilson shellhole in Pietermaritzburg at 2pm on Sunday, March 28. It will then be staged from Thursday, April 1, to Sunday, April 4, at the Rhumbelow branch at Tina’s Hotel in Kloof, nightly at 7.30 and at 2pm on the Sunday. Tickets cost R160. Call Roland at 082 499 8636 to book or for more details.
HOW did the Sting/Billy Joel tribute show come about and what are you most looking forward to about performing in it?
Evan called me and spoke about doing the show with John Ellis and keeping it a stripped-down tribute to Sting and Billy Joel. We have all worked together numerous times and get on well as people, so it’s always a pleasure.
We have put our creativity into the songs and done some interesting arrangements. I think it’s going to be fun!
Will there be some form of narration and/or audiovisual elements to this show, or is it more a straightforward collection of songs? Also, any surprises?
We are thinking of audiovisual accompaniments, but there is also an idea to maybe keep them out. Evan and John are such characters and are very entertaining! And I think people will enjoy being entertained by, and engaging with, three real people on a stage. As for surprises, there will be a few, but Evan threatened to withhold coffee if I say anything more about them.
Are John and Evan sharing vocals, and who will be playing what instruments?
John and Evan are handling frontline and harmony vocals. Evan is on keyboards and will also feature on another instrument (I’m not at liberty to say what). John will be featured on guitar, ukulele and a surprise instrument as well. I will be on drums and percussion.
What are some highlights of the show and what songs are most special for you?
For me, one highlight is the song We Didn’t Start the Fire. We all contributed to the arrangement and workshopped it and I think (and hope) our version will pay respect to the original while sounding unique. Another highlight for me is the You May Be Right. Everyone loves a good stomper and it’s a fun song to really climb into!
One of the most special songs in the show for me is Piano Man. I know most people love or hate it, but it is an incredibly well-written song. As a musician, I can relate to the picture Billy Joel paints with his lyrics. Also, the chord movements, the arrangement and the use of mandolin and accordion create such atmosphere.
What was the last show you performed in Durban and how have you kept sane during lockdown?
The last show I did was The Reals band’s 2019 Christmas show, Silly Season Showdown, at the Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo.
During lockdown, I have been trying to get better at guitar during the quiet time and getting my hands dirty in the garden. There is much to be said about gardening… doing physical stuff and seeing the literal fruits thereof, does help keep you sane.
Where and when were you born? Where were you schooled? And at what age did you first become interested in musical instruments?
I was born in Durban in 1981, went to school at Sherwood Primary and then George Campbell High School for Grade 8. When we moved to Greytown, where I finished school.
My dad, Glen, has always played in bands, so I have been around that environment since as long as I can remember. My first love was the drums, but through my dad’s interest in guitars, I became interested in (then obsessed with) guitars when I was about 15.
It was initially Hank Marvin who caught my ear. Such an unassuming-looking guy who made such strong and bold sounds. It was quite a revelation. You can really express so much with just six strings.
What formal musical training have you had over the years and do you teach as well as perform these days?
I don’t have any formal training in music. I have a very limited knowledge of the theory side. I picked up the ‘nuts and bolts’ of playing from listening, playing and asking questions of other musicians.
I teach guitar to beginners, mostly kids, but because of lockdown, it’s been very quiet. I taught at Atholl Heights Primary School, but have been teaching a few one-on-one students from home.
What variety of instruments are you able to play nowadays,which do you most enjoy playing and what instrument would you still like to master?
I play drums, some bass and guitar. My main instrument is guitar. I also dabble with the bagpipes (very badly), but I enjoy blasting away.
I would love to get more accomplished on guitar, particularly, but it is such an incredible instrument that I don’t believe one can truly master all aspects of it – and I like that and there is always something new to discover with it.
How many stage shows have you performed in to date – and which one has been particularly special or otherwise memorable for you?
I have no idea! I honestly don’t know. The first show I appeared in was The Guitar that Rocked the World, at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre in Durban.
It was special for a few reasons – it was my first professional work; I met very special people that I still bump into; and I met the incredible Rowan Stuart (who was a teenager when he starred in that show). Rowan and I have remained friends and worked together since then.
That show saw me learn so much about playing guitar, and pretty much about life too.
I also was in an Eagles tribute show which I really enjoyed.
What have been some unintentionally amusing, embarrassing or otherwise memorable moments onstage?
Ha, ha, ha. One embarrassing moment was having flu during a show. My nose was running and it was a case of sniff and fluff the solo, or play it and risk an illuminated ‘loogee’. I fluffed the solo.
There have been a few moments in shows where a moment just works, the musicians gel and it sounds really good, and you can’t rehearse it. It just comes out, right in that moment.
What guitarists do you most admire?
I like guitarists who play with conviction. One of my absolute favourites is Derek Trucks. His skill, taste and ability are things I could only dream of. His whole ethos just works. He is the consummate musician.
Another favourite is Robben Ford. His take on the blues is very refreshing and he is a really wonderful, down-to-earth man.
How much recording have you done over the years, guesting for others or on your own? And of these recordings,which stands out and why?
I haven’t done much recording work. I have played on some material as a side guy, but not much.
I recorded an album with Rowan Stuart when we were in a band called Cynosure. It was a great band, very different to what most local bands were doing. It was a trying experience for me, playing with a click-track for the first time.
I also recorded two albums with Dan Patlansky. I remember getting pneumonia during the first one. Joburg winters.
What has been the best place you ever visited?
Barcelona. I have a friend who was living there at the time. It’s such a beautiful city, with such a rich history.
What five words would you choose to best describe yourself?
Tall. Obsessive. Quirky. Quiet. Shy.
The most famous person you have met – and who would you give gold to meet and why?
Dozi is the most famous person I have met. I would give gold to meet Derek Trucks. I would love to know if he is as amazing in person as he is on stage.
Hobbies, pastimes and favourite things?
I love working with my hands, so that usually means working on my Beetle (as you do) and doing maintenance on my instruments. During lockdown, with the help of my dad, I made my first tube guitar amp… and it actually sounds pretty good!
I also really love listening to music on my bed with headphones on (a must).And, more recently, being in the garden and growing veggies.
What has been the most surprising thing someone has said of you?
Someone once said I look like I’m laidback and calm onstage. I’m not, at all.
What are your fears and phobias?
My fear is that people will see I’m not the musician they think I am. ..ha, ha.
My phobias? Stepping on a really poisonous snake while working in the garden. Silly, I know, but it’s the truth. Also, I am not great with big spiders.
Who are your favourite fiction heroes and real life heroes?
Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. He got the girl and learned humility. Everyone likes a happy ending.
In real life, I but I would again say Derek Trucks again. He has the musical respect of the greats, plays the music he feels passionate about, and makes his living doing it.
What are five things (however trivial) that most people are unlikely to know about you?
I’m allergic to shellfish and rocket. I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I have a thing for old Hammond organs, although I can’t play one. I have one nephew and one niece. My cat’s name is Baxter.
If you were not a musician, what other career path do you think you may have followed?
I would have loved to have been a commercial pilot. Or maybe do something in electronics.
Your motto in life?