A Sunday afternoon, with just the perfect hint of a breeze keeping Bloemendal’s Bon Amis lawns cool. In pride of place, with a perfect view of the stage is a young man with blonde hair, lounging back with his head propped up to take in the action, and slugging back a drink. A very young man, in fact: Hayden Christian Carstens, son of Sama-winning, world-touring singer Arno Carstens and his wife and manager, Melanie. Born on May 4, 2012, the two-year-old is loving his bottle, and keeping an eye on dad. As soon as the set finishes, without so much as a backwards glance at mother, uncle or friends, he toddles off on a beeline for backstage.
Arno has just played a superb set of new songs, sprinkled with big band arrangements of Arno Carstens and Springbok Nude Girls hits; but it’s also a new era for the singer-songwriter.
“I never used to think about it, about what my influences are, because even if you asked yourself the question, there wasn’t really an answer,” he says. “Then I heard Kanye West and Yeezus and I thought, ‘He’s going to have a child soon, and he’s got an album about girls sucking dicks.’ I love the music and production on the album, and I think Kanye can be good, but I just thought, ‘Is it really necessary? Do you really want to be doing that?’ Because it feels like it’s self indulgent and with lyrics that are just trying to shock people. It’s a known fact that most big rock stars’ children think their parents are wankers, so it’s about the words and the images that you use – like if I was Marianne Faithful’s son, and I heard Why’d You Do It?, I’d be really proud of her having written lyrics like that. It’s brilliant.”
The pre-mastered recordings for Carstens’s new album, Lightning Prevails, reveal flashes that should make young Hayden proud one day. “Good morning, sunshine / Wipe the tears from your face / I would love to hear you whisper words / Devoid of fear / Write it in neon / Write it on the walls / And just keep on smiling,” sings Carstens, 41, on Good Morning Sunshine, an almost Appalachian folksy duet. “It’s too late in the day / For us to start crying,” answers Laurie Levine, fellow Sama winner, before they both sing the refrain in this anti-saccharine ballad: “Come in or come out / Come in or get out.”
Carstens had planned to take a year’s break from creating a new album, and wanted to put out an album of acoustic versions of his solo songs, his work with his band New Porn, and some Springbok Nude Girls material – partly inspired by his extensive touring as a three-piece, double-bill shows with guitarist Albert Frost, and doing acoustic tours with vocalist Francois van Coke.
After a while of tinkering in the studio, he realised that the stripped-down versions weren’t achieving what he wanted (“It was a nice idea, but redoing good songs, and maybe not doing them that fantastically, is a sin.”) Instead, working with award-winning producer and soundtrack creator Dan Roberts, they produced a brass and string infused collection of new songs, a reprise from the AC/DC canon – and entirely rearranged versions of two previous hits. For Lightning Prevails, Carstens’s Another Universe segues from Pondoland-style berimbau into bowed violin, and Springbok Nude Girls’ Bubblegum On My Boots is a delicately victorious soundscape of strummed guitar, washes of strings, and tinkling bells.
“I know what people are going to say,” Carstens says. “I was reading the Huffington Post and with The Boss releasing his new album, there’s their big headline, ‘Does Bruce Springsteen still have it?’ So, Highway To Hell (a re-arranged acoustic version of the AC/DC classic) that we’ve already released as the first single is meant to give the vibe that this is not, ‘He’s going to abracadabra you with this massive new album’. This is a take-a-break album, not an album made that’s trying to be hip or cool for radio. Even if it just sells purely to the people who come to gigs, then that won’t bother me. Actually, maybe that makes it a bit unique, and cool in a different kind of way.”
This year also marks the 20th birthday of the Springbok Nude Girls. “We wanted to mark it, and with a plan to play all the big festivals, but it means flying (bassist) Arno Blumer in each time from London. We’re booked for Up The Creek, and KKNK and maybe Oppikoppi. We’ll see what else comes with that tour.” In between those shows, Carstens tours his Lightning Prevails material with a big band that includes trumpet, trombone, violin and female vocals, as well as the usual lead and acoustic guitar, drums and keyboards.
• Carstens plays his “Big Band Summer Sessions” on Thursday (5pm, Bay Harbour Market, 31 Harbour Rd, Hout Bay, 082 5705997; tickets R150 from Quicket.co.za). More details of other dates this month on ArnoCarstens.com.
Springbok Nude Girls play Up The Creek with Gangs of Ballet, The Plastics, Gerald Clark, Jeremy Loops , Piet Botha, Akkedis and more (Friday January 31; Breede River outside Swellendam). Festival runs from Thursday January 30 to Sunday February 2, also featuring Bed On Bricks, Taxi Violence, Beatenberg, Matthew Mole and Dave Ferguson. A weekend ticket is R650 from Plankton.mobi, R700 at the gate (cash only if available). Children under 13 free – ID required. UpTheCreek.co.za. - Weekend Argus