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 Jeremy Taylor - Ag Pleeze Deddy - Songs & Reflections - 1992

Piece of Ground
Jeremy Taylor - Songs & Reflections
Jeremy Taylor - Songs & Reflections

As befits any young man with a liberal conscience, and every folksinger, I identified with the underdog, the victim, the unfortunate, the lost and the lonely. I can still identify with them because I have known what it feels like to be all those things. What I cannot identify with any more is the self-pity that goes with it. There is nothing laudable about being a victim.

I suppose that life deals us certain cards to play. If we get a lousy hand it doesn't matter; what matters is how we play that hand. We may go through really bad times, be full of sorrow or just plain depressed, but that is our battlefield, that is where we must make our stand. It is so tempting to latch instead onto some other challenge, a social problem, nuclear disarmament or human rights, anti-blood sports or anti-apartheid, all possibly worthy objective in themselves but pursued at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons they can turn us into idiots.

"He who would do good" wrote William Blake, "must do so in minute particulars. General good is the plea of the scoundrel, the hypocrite and the liar." It is also the plea of most political ideologues who do not hesitate, and often in the name of "the People", to persecute in minute particulars for the sake of the general good. The idea that heaven on earth is possible through the implementation of a political ideal is one of the most destructive ideas we have ever played with.

In seeking to regulate the affairs of man there is still no better point of departure than the Old Testament view that we are creatures who have fallen from grace. I have only to spend a day in front of a television screen anywhere in the world to rediscover that man is a barbarian, and that civilized behaviour is the exception and not the norm. Any ideology that fails to take account of this fact is doomed only to perpetuate the barbarism.

As good-doers, or do-gooders, we must ask ourselves whether our main concern is to do good, or to feel good. And I suppose that is why I can't sing this next song any more, not because it is a bad song, or factually untrue, but because it began to inspire a certain feeling of self-righteousness in me when I sang it, especially when singing to the converted.

But not to begin with; then, I was just plain scared. I sang it first in 1963 on stage at the Alexander Theatre in Johannesburg. Every night I was afraid that I would hear a shot ring out from the back of the auditorium, or worse, that I wouldn't hear it and would just go down like a sack of potatoes.

It was good to sing it then, and I think it was right to do so. It used to split the audience down the middle. It may be hard to believe today but then half the audience hated me for it. (I think half the cast were a little unhappy about it too!) Even those who paid lip service to its sympathies disliked being made to feel uncomfortable.

A few years later, Miriam Makeba recorded it in America and included it in her repertoire of freedom songs. She sang it one night in the Albert Hall in London and made a little speech about who had written it.

I continued to sing it around the world, when I got mad at being exiled from South Africa, but I became increasingly aware of the pointlessness of my singing it anywhere but where it belonged - at home. Once I could sing it in safety it wasn't worth singing. And when I discovered it was being sung by others with a clenched fist in the air I knew it had been hijacked forever in the service of the general good.

Piece of Ground
Words & Music by Jeremy Taylor - 1960 © 1963 Burlington

When the white man first came here from over the sea
he looked and he said this is God's own country
he was mighty well pleased with this land that he'd found
and he said I will make here my own piece of ground

Now the land was inhabited so I've heard say
by little men who painted on the rock face by day
they stuck to their land so he hunted them down
and left them to rot on their own piece of ground.

Many's the battle he still had to fight
many's the family that died In the night
for many were the black men that lived all around
and all of them wanting their own piece of ground.

So northwards he trekked and northwards he rode
over veld and tough countryside onwards he strode
in the Free State and the Transvaal his oxen outspanned
and he planted the seed in his own piece of land.

Then one fine day in 1883
gold was discovered in good quantity
the country was rich, much richer than planned
and each digger wanted his own piece of land.

Now the diggers were few and the gold was so deep
that the black man was called 'cos his labour was cheap
with drill and with shovel he toiled underground
Fourpence a day for ten tons of ground.

Now this land is so rich and it seems strange to me
that the black man whose labour has helped it to be
cannot enjoy the fruits that abound
is uprooted and kicked from his own piece of ground

Some people say now don't you worry
we've kept you a nice piece of reserve territory
but how can a life for so many be found
on a miserable thirteen per cent of the ground?

Some people say now don't you worry
you can always find jobs in the white man's city
but don't stay too long and don't stay too deep
or you're bound to disturb the white man in his sleep.

White man don't sleep long and don't sleep too deep
or your life and your possessions how long will you keep?
For I've heard a rumour that's running around
that the black man's demanding his own piece of ground.

Tsotsi Style

In the early sixties Prime Minister Vorster was busy screwing the lid down forever tighter on the cooking pot. It wasn't until P W Botha came along that someone flicked the pressure valve and the steam started pouring out. Today we seek integration as a matter of necessity; in the sixties we did it for fun. There was always an edge of ex-citement that comes with defying the law, but it gave a slight air of surrealism to relationships across the colour line. In any event it was enjoyable, and mixing with black musicians was a great thrill for me.

I went to jazz concerts in the townships. They were held in small halls. Not like the big rock concerts of today. You could count the whiteys present on the fingers of one hand. There were musicians like Kippie Moeketsi, Dudu Pakwana, Mackay Davashe, and Dollar Brand who burnt holes with his eyes in white peoples' heads. Ek was bang vir daai een. And I remember driving a young eighteen-year old trumpeter home one night from Alex to Orlando (or was it the other way round?). His name was Hugh Masekela.

Many years went by before I was to meet him again, in London, and by then he was famous. Kipple died of drink. Drum Journalist Can Temba went the same way, and Nat Nakasa committed suicide in New York. Lewis Nkosi fared better. He was the first man to take me to a shebeen. He seemed fiercely intelligent, proud and ambitious. I imagine he is doing very well today somewhere, probably in America, but you never know. I liked him. Dollar has gone from strength to strength and to a new name. Even when transplanted, the writing and music of these men remain unmistakably South African, and, in Dollar's case, unmistakably Cape.

But I shall never, ever, forget the night I first heard a strolling penny-whistler. He was pacing along Oxford Road in Illovo where I was staying with my first pair of in laws and preparing to go to bed.

The magical notes soared like birdsong in the darkness and I could hear them coming nearer. He walked past the house and the music began to recede. I pulled on my clothes and rushed out after him. I must have followed him for an hour or more, reveling in what was the most joyous sound I had heard since New Orleans jazz.

That was 1959 and in the following few years a host of penny-whistle bands emerged from the townships and came wandering through the white suburbs.

I learned to play penny-whistle so I could join in with them and had some wonderful times. The musicians, of course, could not believe that a white boy could pull a penny-whistle out of his inside pocket and blow along with them. They would literally roll on the ground with laughter and pleasure.

I wrote a kwela song in 1961 and teamed up with Lemmy Special to record it. Lemmy could play in any key on any whistle. He was a genius. It was a privilege to play alongside him.

Tsotsi Style
Words & Music by Jeremy Taylor - 1960 © MPA 1962

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Splits Makhulukhanda speaking! With the help of the King of Kwela, Lemmy Special, I am going to play you my number one hit song of the year - Tsotsi Style!"
When I came into Jo'Burg in 1953

I wasn't used to town or city ways and this is what happened to me they take advantage of my ignorance and my simplicity and my big wide innocent smile they pretend they's making friends by me pick me pocket in the meanwhile.

I didn't know it was
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style
Enyameni yenja! Emakishini! Tsotsi style
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style
Ngangisilima! Tsotsi style.

I go to the big department store find myself a damn nice job
driving around the delivery van bring home a nice few bob
one morning I go out as usual saddle my plenty new bike
A guy says "You go work, we cut your throat - Don't you know we's all on strike?"

you can't do nothing about
Tsostsi style, Tsotsi style
Sitelekijie! Tsotsi style
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style
Timlela! Tsotsi style.

So what can I do, can't go to work sit around at home all day
soon get the sack, got no more job lose my self-respect and my pay I got no more food
in my stomach tell me, what me do?
the Skebengas got all the money so I become a Tsotsi too

I make my living in
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style
Stovepipe trousers! Tsotsi style
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style en duck! Tsotsi style.

The next few months me busy
making money might fast
selling the white man's tshwala
I guess it was too good to last in the end the cops caught me red-handed
pinching a new Chev Corvair
and in a couple of hours I was landed
in the middle of Marshall Square

and all because of that
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style
Ngi botshwe kabe! Tsotsi style
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style
Ngesinsimbe! Tsotsi style.

When I come out of prison
there wasn't much I could do
so I bought a B flat penny-whistle
and learned to play a tune or two
very soon I was making records
for Gallotone Africa
making legalised money as a top penny-whistle star

so now I'm swinging in
Tsotsi style, tsotsi style
Lethi flutiyami! Tsotsi style
Tsotsi style, Tsotsi style

...more of his lyrics >>

...read also Jeremy Taylor Singer / Songwriter >>

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