Bright Blue to perform at Anthems Of Democracy

Bright Blue guitarist and singer Tom Fox is now based in Auckland, New Zealand. He'll be in South Africa to perform with his old band as part of Joburg Theatre's Anthems Of Democracy from April 24 to 27, as part of a line-up that includes Joan Armatrading, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Jennifer Ferguson, Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse, Victor Masondo, Mzwakhe Mbuli and others.

Does Fox have any issues, after a decade in New Zealand and nearly 30 years after the release of Weeping, with that song still being the focal point of nearly all matters Bright Blue-related?

“Not at all,” he smiles.

“The song has a momentum of its own. It was recorded as a B-side. But it’s done amazing things for us, so the marketing is right – it is the high point of what we did and it’s fantastic to have so many people identify with it.”

Did the burden of maintaining the song’s political significance (it was written as a protest against conscription and the apartheid regime in general) contribute to Bright Blue’s disbanding in 1990?

“We had just run our course,” says Fox.

“Bright Blue was a very intimate environment, and we had said all we had to say. We didn’t ever feel any political pressure. It had more to do with the intensity of being in the band.”

So being part of an event called Anthems Of Democracy – that is, a context in which the band’s political input is again highlighted – is not a problem?

“No,” says Fox.

“It’s humbling to be a part of the history and the landscape. And wonderful to be playing with the people we’ll be sharing the stage with.”

Fox’s other musical projects when he was in SA were very varied, from the radio-friendly pop-rock of The Usual to the gritty Swamp Funk Quartet and the contemporary Christian music of Grant Nuss. Fox is not the cocky, strutting frontman type, and in all of the above acts, he was a sideman. Is he happiest there?

“It’s where I prefer to be,” he concurs. “I don’t have the personality to be up front. I like to listen to what others are doing and fill in the groove.”

Fox has found a niche in Auckland that suits him perfectly.

“I have a company called The Soundroom,” he says.

“I met my business parter about a year after I arrived in New Zealand in 2004 and started writing songs and doing bits of work with him. I had to start all over again in a new place, but I’m earning a good living now.”

Bright Blue made their name performing protest music. Is writing such material something of a lost art now?

“It’s been through a period of plasiticity,” Fox muses, “but it’s coming back as the world’s problems develop in interesting ways. And hip hop has always had it. With folk and indie music, it’s more about songwriter’s opinions than real protest music. I hope we’ll go back to it.”

Does creating protest music place more responsibility on the writer to behave and think in a certain way than a straight pop song?

“The older you get, the less you care about potentially making a fool of yourself,” Fox grins.

“I do a lot of commercial stuff all day, so when I sit and write for myself, it’s about relaxing, not trying to make a point. And if something comes out of that and it’s a good song – something like Weeping, which Dan Heymann wrote; I was just pushed into singing it – it’ll last.”

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