I saw Southern Gypsy Queen perform in 2009 at the STRAB festival in Mozambique. Their sound could be described as a little bit of AC/DC mixed with a little bit of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. The band is originally from Molteno, a small town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
Gareth Wilson, Tammy Wilson and Paul Wilson are the current members of Southern Gypsey Queen. The band get their name from “the mother of Rock ‘n Roll”. Southern Gypsey recorded their first self-titled full-length album in 2001. In 2002 the band went on their first South African tour.
Southern Gypsy Queen got their first big break after this when they were put on the line-up at the KKNK festival in Oudtshoorn. Piet Botha (of Jack Hammer fame) saw them playing and offered them his help. After taking them on a national tour he set up a record deal with Wolmer Records. In 2004 Southern Gypsy Queen went into the studio with award-winning producer, Lanie van der Walt to do their second album entitled Sweet Voodoo. The album was released under Wolmer Records and distributed by Bowline Music.
Through this album, many doors were opened for the band on prestigious line-ups such as Oppikoppi, Splashy Fen and other festivals. In 2004 Southern Gypsy Queen was included in Karen Zoid’s summer tour. They also had the honor of playing at the Gito Baloi benefit concert in the same year. Their song Souls of Africa (on the Sweet Voodoo album) is dedicated to Gito and his family every time they play it. In 2005 Southern Gypsy Queen relocated to Johannesburg. They were rewarded with a Levis Original Music sponsorship. Their first music video, Who We Are was also released in 2005.
The video was A-listed on MK89 (now called MK) in time to promote their summer tour. Southern Gypsy Queen also took part in the Kalahari Summer Festival in Botswana and the STRAB festival in Mozambique, the first time the band ventured outside South African borders. Since then they have released Rise Up in 2006 and Be The Lion in 2007. Southern Gypsy Queen are truly one of the best live acts out of South Africa I’ve ever seen.
I recently had the privilege to do an interview with Gareth Wilson of Southern Gypsy Queen. Here’s what he had to say…
What are your thoughts in general about the South African music industry?
I think its hit a bit of a lull at the moment, alot of bands are just riding the tail feathers of some of the groundbreaking bands of yesteryear. Look at the Bellville scene, Fokofpolisiekar came in and changed the way people perceive local music, it was fresh and outspoken, but now that whole scene is just so watered down, every new singer wants to sing like Francois, or dress like Snake. Also the electro craze could be quite exciting if the artist let technology serve the song, rather than just put loops on everything because it is the in thing at the moment, but that been said there are one or two bands pulling it off. Also its been a big year, whether you love or hate them you have to be proud of what The Parlotones and Prime Circle are doing overseas. But there are still loads of the old boys like Taxi Violence, Black Cat Bones, Bed on Bricks, Straatligkinders, etc fighting the good fight. Also how can we ignore the rising of the Afrikaans Rap artists like Die Antwoord and Jack Parow, even though rock has taken a bit of a nap, at least these guys are doing something fresh, even if it does just end up being a flash in the pan thing, it has given us some good laughs.
Southern Gypsy Queen loves to play covers of AC/DC songs. Obviously that’s one of your major influences right?
Yip they are just an amazing act, everything thats good about Rock ‘n Roll. Sadly nowadays the only time we do any AC/DC is if we get some guests onstage and feel like a jam, usually it ends up being something bluesy like Whole lotta Rosie.
What is your favorite city in South Africa to play a gig in?
So hard to say, there are different energies in all of them, the after parties in the Cape definately stand out, but one tour Joburg will be best and the next some random little town no-one has ever heard of.
What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you on stage at a gig?
Having a girl in Grahamstown trying her damndest to give me a hand job while I was singing, still not sure if it was a joke or not, but ill tell you I hit some odd notes when her hands went down my pants.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians in South Africa? Be original, do what feels right. Like most young bands we tried so hard to do what our favourite bands were doing, but that will get you nowhere, use their energy to inspire you to push yourself and do your own thing. It took us many years to realise, melody is everything.
What is the longest that you’ve ever been on tour?
If someone asked you what the highlights in your life are, what would you answer?
Thats so hard to say, life is so much more than music. We have met some great people on our journey and experienced some really heavy things together. But i think musically our highlights are still coming, we are in such a good place, cutting down to a 3 piece was our best move yet, we love playing together and have an amazing album coming out this year, so watch this space. But in all honesty I don’t think a number 1 single or a sold out tour could ever compare to those simple everyday things like holding your niece for the first time, falling head over heels in love or waking up and saying “Wow 5 years clean”. Art imitates life, without those things the music would be pretty bland.
Do you think South African musicians have got what it takes to make it really big in the International Music Scene?
Definitely, and its slowly starting to happen. But i do think its gonna be the bands that have something fresh to offer that do it. The world already has The Killers and Muse etc, and they do their thing brilliantly, why on earth would they sign a Cape Town or Joburg band that sound like generic rip offs.
Running Wolf’s Rant would like to thank Gareth Wilson for giving us some of his precious time for an interview. We wish him and Southern Gypsy Queen all the best with their future musical adventures.
This is the music video for Radio Revolution, a song off the first album by Southern Gypsy Queen.
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