Articulating the Lyzyrd

Piet Botha and Akkedis: The Lyzyrd Kyngs – a retrospective

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The English language is a wonderful thing, full of nuances and subtleties – and complexities that make it easy to understand why it is such a difficult language for a total foreigner to learn. One of its quirks is providing words that need only a small change in emphasis to mean completely disparate things.

The word of choice in this narrative is ‘articulate’. When pronounced with the emphasis on the end – ‘articuLITT’, as in Lewis from the television drama ‘Suits’ it means the ability to communicate fluently and coherently. When uttered ‘articuLATE’, as in the very thing you hope your girlfriend never tells you she is, it refers to something having joints or jointed segments – think here of a train winding its way through a series of curves.

For the purposes of clarity – yes, being articulitt – we will misspell the one variation.

So, how does this relate to Piet Botha and Akkedis? A truly South African band, it is also an entity that exists in two forms; semi-acoustic and full-on electric. However, this retrospective will concentrate on the semi-acoustic variant.

Musically articulitt, jointly and severally, the unit comprises Piet Botha (guitar, vocal), Arthur Dennis (lead guitar, vocal), Rudi Dennis (rhythm guitar, percussion, vocals) and AJ Graham (bass). They play a mix of cover songs – ‘Further On Up The Road’ (Johnny Cash), ‘Wish You Were Here’ (Pink Floyd) and self-penned titles including ‘Suitcase Vol Winter’ (JP Botha), ‘Children of Africa’ (A Dennis) and a delightful Afrikaans version of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’.

Almost always on tour, especially during the summer months, they traverse the country in a small van playing gigs in pubs, clubs and wherever there is an audience. Still a fairly loosely knit outfit as Botha has a number of side projects including appearances with Rider From The Storm.

Historically, Botha came via Wildebeest and Jack Hammer and is an icon of the Afrikaans rock movement, playing with or alongside other icons of the genre such as Valiant Swart and Koos Kombuis.

Botha’s musical career started in Cape Town some 30 years ago, but it was with hard rockers Jack Hammer that he started to garner public acclaim. However, it was in 2002 the friendship he already had with the Akkedis Band consisting of the Dennis brothers, Arthur and Rudolph and AJ Graham turned into a solidly professional relationship as well.

Back then, Botha was touring a lot with Jack Hammer and used to bump into Arthur and Rudi who were known as The Dennis Brothers in those days. There was always some kind of jamming going on. Through the years, the bond remained strong, Akkedis came into being, Botha did some solo Afrikaans albums and kept on recording and touring with Jack Hammer.

“The Dennis Brothers played the same pub in Stellenbosch every week for 14 years. It was amazing training for our livers,” grins Arthur. “Actually, it was not bad considering every four years the entire audience would be new.”

Then around 2002 they found themselves in London Town at the back end of a disorganised tour.

“Myself and Johnathan Martin, had gone over, thinking it would be acoustic gigs, small pubs or theatres but then we found the venues rather bigger and we were just two guys,” says Botha. “Fortunately Akkedis Band were there and just volunteered to help us on all the gigs.”

During the next few years they would share stages across SA and Namibia and Mozambique but about three years ago there was a shift and Piet Botha started to tour the Cape more and more using Akkedis Band as backing band for his repertoire.

This soon developed to a new concept being. ‘The Lyzyrd Kyngs’. The name comes from a Jim Morrison poem, ‘The celebration of the Lizard King’. The weird spelling is a combination of ancient English and a serious reference to Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band that has been a source of inspiration for more than 30 years.

“It was natural for us to share our talents, now we have three vocals and a four piece band that can work any room or big stage, both electric and acoustic. It is also wonderful to share each other’s songs and collaborate,” he says.

This is where the articuLATE comes in. Like that train weaving through the curves, there is a sinuous movement through the band that links complex chording, melodic structures and key changes into a tonal tapestry.

From the tight, definitive guidelines of AJ Graham’s bass to the sometimes-acerbic lead guitar of Arthur Dennis, the evening’s tapestry is woven skilfully and with purpose. In the electric version, Rudi Dennis gives up guitar for a drum kit. In the semi-acoustic format his soft-plectrum playing style provides a rich and full melodic background to the more adventurous moments coming from Botha and Arthur.

Now the modern rock era has largely eschewed the rhythm guitarist in favour of a three –piece – think ZZ Top and Rush. Think back to years gone by when acne-ridden high-school wannabees were force-feeding Vox amplifiers with four-chord classics like ‘Stepping Stone’ and the ‘rhythm’ guitarist tended to be the kid in the band whose parents had the biggest house and didn’t mind you practicing there.

Not so here. Not at all. If AJ Graham provides the outline of the musical image, Rudi – as he says: “…colours it in. I like to fill in between the lines.” And, fill in he does from warm pastels musical colours to rich, strident neons.

Botha, hugely accomplished on both acoustic and electric guitars, makes the complexity of the arrangements look simple – covered every step of the way by Arthur, giving the paid ample opportunity for the kind of interplay that comes only with considerable talent and the sort of trust that evolves over time spent in the same comfort zone.

Thus, throughout the band there is movement, constantly shifting but always following….

A rainbow-coloured ‘articulitt’ articulated Lyzyrd. Rock on.

Sources: http://www.pietbotha.com; Brian Currin

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Colin Windell

Colin Windell is an apprentice retiree, petrolhead, rock music addict, lover of fine food and has been writing about cars for more than 40 years.

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