There is a lot of crap written and sung about life on the road: travelling is fun only if journeys are undertaken from choice but, to be eternally on the move in order to justify one’s existence … that is something else. My friend Brian Finch knew this better than most.
No time left to doubt
No feelings of regret
We got to cross the valley and the mountain high
Before the sun has set
(Never look back)
Brian, who passed away recently at age 72, was a rock ‘n roll troubadour – one of the greatest South Africa has ever produced. Do not feel bad if you have never heard of him; you are either too young or have not been hanging out in the right places.
It was where road warriors congregated that you would find Brian. I do not think there is a HOG (Harley Owners’ Group) or MCC worth the name in this country that has not asked him to play at one of their gatherings. Some did so repeatedly, and Brian came to be seen as one of the biking family.
While this was a source of enormous pride to him, it was also one of great amusement. “Can I tell you a secret?” he asked one night after much beer and tequila. “I have never been on a motorcycle in my life. They scare the hell out of me! But I can see the attraction.”
We must fly as straight as an arrow
We must ride as fast as the wind
Two more days to the border line
Never look back again
Brian went solo after “creative differences” split the Finch & Henson partnership that was incredibly popular in the Seventies and Eighties. Though the two remained close until the death of guitarist-frontman Kenny Henson in 2007, branching out on his own provided Brian with a new lease of professional life. For the first time Brian, an extremely accomplished guitarist himself, could compose songs that showcased his own musical and vocal talents.
With age adding greater timbre to his voice, Brian was pretty much the finished article. He was also a “one-man-band”, something that appealed to budget-constrained gig organisers. Sadly, Brian was never really in a position financially to turn down a booking and he pinged around South Africa … more often than not behind the wheel of a gear-laden bakkie to a gig far from his home. The bakkie would be his accommodation on the way there and back.
Imagine: leave home before daylight and get onto the road to Windhoek in Namibia, grab a burger and pull the bakkie over just before darkness falls. Get up early again, go through the border with all the paperwork that entails and drive another five hours to Windhoek where you greet your hosts and set up for the gig.
Head to a cheap hotel for (if you are lucky) a quick kip, shower, and change of clothes. Return to the venue and perform till the early hours of the morning, consuming vast quantities of alcohol because people keep buying you drinks hoping you play encore after encore.
If it is a two-night gig, you might get to lie in the next morning. Chances are the friendly Namibians will pick you up mid-morning for an afternoon braai, ply you with liquor and drop you off at the gig. The next morning you are off home before dawn. Try doing that between 20 and 35 times a year for 50 years, because that is how long Brian plied his trade.
If that is living for the music, you can keep it.
Text: Jim Freeman | Images: Supplied