You know someone is a music fanatic when they choose their job so that they can see a lot of music concerts. This is False Bay Echo reader Charl Barry who opted for working for SAA and now has “a whole damn museum of rock ‘n ’ roll” and a host of fabulous memories.
It all started with a bit of deprivation. Charl grew up in the little dorp of McGregor. If he wanted to buy music, he would have to hitch to Robertson, then hide in the freight train to Worcester and beyond to buy his precious bit of vinyl. Yes, boys and girls, those were the days you actually bought music, and bought records, not downloaded music from the internet.
“If you open that record and the plastic crackles, it talks to you! You take that record out of the sleeve and you can read what’s on the sleeve ” All pleasures denied us in the days of downloading.
And those were the days when your music knowledge was limited to what was played on the few government-controlled radio stations. They got cross quite a bit and music was censored. So for questing teens, LM radio, broadcast in scratchy shortwave from Mozambique was the best they could do.
Charl’s music quest was sparked when he went to boarding school and heard the music being played by the older pupils. At that time everyone was listening to Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. And then when he was in the army, in the days of compulsory conscription, he would walk around the tents and hear music coming from all of them.
There weren’t many specialist record shops – you would buy records from OK Bazaars and CNA – so for a questing music lover there was one solution: join SAA as a flight attendant.
“I joined the airline for a simple reason – to go and see music,” he said.
A highlight was Led Zeppelin in Germany.
“In 1980 I saw the last Led Zeppelin concert. It was my childhood dream to see them. From then on I went to concerts and concerts and concerts!” he said.
Crisscrossing the world had other advantages. After the lack of record availability in South Africa, Tower Records in London was absolutely mind-blowing.
And everyone knew of his interest in music, so many connections were made with people who knew people in the music world, and sometimes with the people in the music world. SAA would schedule him to be on the flights of musicians.
He met Richie Havens, the musician who opened the iconic Woodstock, Quincy Jones (who wrote a complimentary letter to Charl), Rick Mason from Pink Floyd, Robbie Krieger from Doors and that’s not to mention South African musicians whose work he praises highly.
How’s this for a reminder of a flight? A bottle of Jack Daniels with three Rolling Stone signatures. First Keith Richards signed. “But he was so out of it he messed his signature.
Ron Wood signed as well and then forged Keith’s signature!”
That’s not all he has signed. Posters for concerts – signed by the artists themselves. Records? Signed. His skin? Signed.
Well, almost. Tattooed on his one arm is a representation of Piet Botha’s anti-war song Goienag Generaal (Goodnight General), part of the Afrikaans protest music movement, about the psychological effect of the border wars in Namibia and Angola fought by South Africa’s compulsory conscripts during the apartheid years.
His music and music memorabilia collection is almost too much to grasp. There’s the complete set of Rolling Stones releases – all 150 albums, mono and stereo, released with their different covers, banned and changed, British and American versions; Pink Floyd seven single See Emily Play; a boxed set of CDs, in paper sleeves, replicating every Beatles single, in chronological order; the White Album by the Beatles, numbered and printed in white; and the Janis and Elvis LP which was available in South Africa but pulled by Elvis Presley’s manager because Janis Martin’s name was in front of Elvis’.
His most precious record is the LP Astra by Freedom’s Children, a 1960s South African rock band people still rave about.
“EMI burnt down in the 1970s so all the master tapes of music of South African bands were destroyed. So you can’t find any copies if you don’t search.
“Downloading is the norm now. The whole thing of collecting records is the hunt – the hunt and the find! Once you have got it you file it,” he said wryly.
And his collection? Not for sale.
“It will never leave my family. I have specified in my will that my collection can’t be broken up. Luckily my son and my nephew are both interested in music.”