cape town tens

The Cape Argus (8 February 2009)

8 March 2013

“Light years ahead of the pack”
8 February 2009
Evan Milton, The Cape Argus, South Africa

The Lightyears are a hardworking indie pop group with a special link to South Africa…

British indie-pop band The Lightyears are in Cape Town to play the Cape Town Tens afterparties, hang out with their South African flatmate Andy Skinstad – and launch Johannesburg, a song inspired by a tale of two Zimbabwean refugees.
The Lightyears’ pianist and songwriter Chris Russell saw a BBC documentary about two young Zimbabwean brothers who had fled the crippled country after their parents were killed, allegedly by government militia, and trekked on foot to Johannesburg. Leaving with nothing – mugged, beaten and with their shoes stolen along the way – the boys, younger than 15, sustained themselves on their trek with little more than the hope that South Africa’s City of Gold was rumoured to be a place where they could get food and shelter.

“Even though this story was obviously a million miles away from anything I’ve ever experienced, and told of hardship I couldn’t hope to understand, something about it struck a chord with me,” Russell wrote on the band’s online journal, noting that it reminded him of the story behind one of his favourite songs, The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.
The origin of the 1969 ballad lies in a tale associated with Father Edward J Flanagan, the founder of Boys’ Town: a street urchin staggering along carrying a younger child on his back is asked about his heavy load and replies, “Why Mister, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”.

Described as “Toto meets Graceland-era Paul Simon via classic Bob Marley, sung by Crowded House”, The Lightyears have crafted a moving indie-pop slow song in Johannesburg. When Russell played it to his London flatmate, a South African, he suggested that the band should get to South Africa and launch the song here. The flatmate just happens to be one Andy Skinstad, brother of local rugby hero Bobby Skinstad, and one thing led to another.

It’s not The Lightyears’ first music/sport pairing. Last year, the band re-recorded Posh We Are, the football anthem for their local club, Peterborough United.

“The original was written 30 or 40 years ago,” explains Russell. “A local charity wanted to re-record it and update it to raise money for kids and sport. We were thrilled to do it, and then we did a lot of press in the local area to launch it. We played the stadium, in one of the last season matches – thrilling again.”
Russell is speaking via cellphone from one of Cape Town’s beaches.

The Lightyears are Russell, brothers George Owens (lead vocals, guitar) and John Owens (bass player), and Tony Lyons (vocals, drums). Described as “Babyshambles without the drugs – and with better manners” by one Irish reviewer, the band found themselves winning a British Indy Award in 2007 for “Best Pop/Rock Act”.

“We were stunned to be nominated as we weren’t expecting it at all,” says Russell. “We really didn’t expect to win, which is what I think people generally do in these situations. We were on tour in New York and we were listening on the phone… Then we won, and our friend Andy picked up the award. It was great, because it meant we were recognised for what we were doing, and we’re an independent band with no record label, managing and repping ourselves.

“A couple of months after that we got to record a few tracks with Hugh Padgham. He’s produced for Sting and sold 50 million records with Paul McCartney and Genesis. Not a lot of bands get that opportunity when they’re up and coming.”
It’s not all sunshine and roses for the band, though. “In the UK it almost seems like there are more bands than fans. On the one hand it’s great because people are really hungry for live acts. But, because of the UK’s thriving music scene… it is very competitive.

“London has a massive concentration of bands… So it’s good to get your face shown elsewhere. We like to get to different parts of the world, and test out different markets.”

The band is starting to see success in America, especially the East Coast, and in Asia, especially in South Korea. “We go to America once a year and I think we have a certain appeal, partly because we are British. We have a loyal fanbase in Philadelphia where it’s as if we’re playing to people who know us really well and always pack out the venues.”
In South Korea, the band was invited to play an annual fundraiser hosted by the British ex-pat community to raise funds for charity.

With the beach wind picking up, and Russell and bandmates needing to prepare for their debut South African gig – at the city’s new Speedway 105 Cafe – the interview draws to a close. “I wish I could conduct all my interviews from the beach,” laughs Russell, and goes on to enthuse about the band’s few days so far in the Cape.

“In Hermanus we had a braai which was fantastic. It’s a bit of a shock coming from winter in England with the worst snow, and to be sat here on a beach in the blazing sun. You probably get used to it if you live here, but for a Londoner, let me tell you that i’s amazing.”

The Lightyears play the Cape Town Tens after-parties on Saturday 7 February and Sunday 8 February at Hamilton’s Rugby Club in Green Point (see Download the song “Johannesburg” from

Thank you Cape Town!

6 February 2012

They're not going to be happy when they find out Green Day have cancelledThanks to the amazing crowd at this year’s Cape Town Tens gig… what a belter! Apparently it was a record attendance too. Check out this tiny video Tony shot from the back of the stage.

On the right you’ll see what it looked like from where we were standing. What a beautiful bunch. In fact, let’s face it – you okes in Cape Town are hogging all the decent genes.

Anyone who can write in and tell us where in the crowd George’s mum is standing gets a free CD*.

(*George’s mum, you can’t enter.)

Lightyears return to South Africa

23 January 2012

The crowd at the 2011 Cape Town TensOur fourth Cape Town tour kicks off at the end of the month.

We’ll be heading back to CT to headline at the Cape Town Tens on Saturday 4 February. This has always been one of our favourite international gigs and has repeatedly proved to be pretty much the greatest party on earth (apart from those parties you had as kids where one of your chums would hire out the top floor of McDonalds in Reading. Man, were those parties ACE.)

Click here to read my previous South Africa tour blogs.

To our South African friends – we’ll see you all out there!

Lightyears to return to Cape Town

27 January 2010

FHM model Roxy Louw crowd-surfing at our last Cape Town gig!Our 2010 Cape Town tour kicks off next week. We will be returning to South Africa to headline at the Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament (sponsored by Castle Lager) at Hamiltons RFC on 6 and 7 February. Last year’s event was an absolute blast and the word on the street is that it’s only gonna get better this time round!

Click here to buy tickets to the CT Tens.

Click here to read press on our 2009 SA tour.

Click here to read my 2009 Cape Town Tour Diary.

And to those of you in Cape Town right now… looking forward to seeing lots of you there! Woop woop!

Our Top 20 Moments Of 2009

16 December 2009

Christmas Time is here again and there’s enormous excitement in the air. There’s an outside chance that Rage Against The Machine will beat the X Factor to Number One on Sunday and the weather-man says that snow’s a-coming. Things literally couldn’t be any better.

We thought we’d add to the general feeling of goodwill and festivity by recounting our favourite and most memorable experiences from the past year. Most of them – whether in London, Cape Town or the USA – involved the support of our fans and we’d like to personally thank everyone who has helped us make 2009 one of our best years yet. You guys rule.

So here, in no particular order, are The Lightyears’ Top 20 Moments Of 2009:

1. Stepping out onstage at Wembley Stadium for the first time in front of 45,000 people

2. Winning over an audience of leather-clad Norwegian bikers at the Speedway Cafe in Cape Town

3. Performing a barbershop medley of British seaside tunes in front of the British Ambassador in Seoul

4. Writing a song for a national ad campaign (“Come With Me” is released on Universal Records in January)

5. Spotting our faces in train stations and on the side of buses

6. Performing for a full-house of fans, friends and family at The Lightyears’ Christmas Party

7. Playing to a crowd of thousands on a hot summer’s evening in Union Square, Manhattan

8. Working with top producers Bacon & Quarmby (David Bowie, Finley Quaye, Sugababes) on the studio release of “Come With Me”

9. Watching South Africa’s foremost FHM model Roxy Louw stage-dive into a crowd of boogying revelers at our Cape Town Tens gig

10. Being invited back to Wembley Stadium

11. Drinking Pina Coladas by the pool at the Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town

12. Seeing ourselves on TV (click here)

13. Touring the country with Josh’s Band

14. Finding out we’ve been immortalised on canvas!

15. Spotting The Lightyears in the New York Post

16. Dressing up as intergalactic space rockstars for a Forbidden Planet tribute gig

17. Selling out our latest album London, England on the US Tour

18. Celebrating the end of the Korean Tour with a Lightyears night on the tiles

19. Appearing on the same bill as Diversity, winners of Britain’s Got Talent

20. Partying with the LYs American Fan Club in Riverton, New Jersey!

“We’ll always have Cape Town, boys…”

1 July 2009

South Africa's hottest supermodel stagediving to the LYsSATURDAY 7 MARCH, 9.30am (Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa):
It’s the morning of the gig. The moment this whole week has been building up to. Last night we spent a few nerve-wracking hours getting to know the rugby players who will constitute a large proportion of our audience tonight and, whilst we escaped without any broken bones, we all remain a little nervous about whether or not we’ll win them over at the gig.

On the way to breakfast in the hotel I spot several copies of the Cape Argus, one of the city’s foremost broadsheets, resting on a side-table. Our interview ought to be published today. As I rifle through the pages, I discover that indeed it has been. I read the article over a breakfast of roasted duck pancakes with hoisin sauce, sushi, avocado salad, quail’s eggs, freshly-brewed black coffee and a few slices of exquisitely rare prime beef-steak (click here to find out where the Table Bay breakfast placed in my International Five Star Hotel Breakfast Richter Scale). The article’s great – the journalist has really done his homework and has some nice comments to make about the band and our recent track “Johannesburg”. Click here to read it.

After a few hours spent relaxing by the pool, we jump in our wicked tour-bus and head for Hamilton Rugby Club. It’s a scorcher of a day and, when we arrive, it becomes very evident that those not involved in the tournament have been hitting the drink pretty hard since early in the day. Saying that, the players themselves (aside from those taking it very seriously) have clearly been doing much the same thing and so the stage is set for an epic night in the beer tent.

We kick off around 8pm. Our plan is to mix up some of our original tunes with a bunch of crowd-pleasing covers, saving “Johannesburg” until the beginning of the second set. We start at a fairly chilled pace but, within about 20 minutes, the tent is full to bursting and the people are demonstrably ready to let loose. As we begin chucking in upbeat songs of our own such as “Emily”, and pot-boiling covers like “Bohemian Like You” and “A Little Respect”, the atmosphere is really starting to cook.

Our nerves fade away as the crowd surges towards the stage and the energy we’re giving out is matched easily by the energy coming back off the audience. It’s smiles all round. I can tell that we’re winning them over. After a short break we return with Set Two, which is where we properly seal the deal. We kick off with “Johannesburg”, explaining the story behind the song and, I’m happy to say, inspiring a mass sing-along from people who have never heard the tune before. As Alex James writes in his autobiography “Bit Of A Blur”, you know you’ve got a good song on your hands when the crowd are singing along by the end of the first chorus. And they were.

As the evening draws on and we get louder, the people get rowdier and the sun drops lower, I’m riding on a wave of adrenaline. People are hugging and kissing and dancing with each other. The police are hovering outside. Fully-naked men are throwing themselves across beer-flooded picnic tables. It’s magnificent, rip-roaring rock ‘n’ roll chaos.

Suddenly, I realise what I have to do next.

My first ever stage-dive.

The circumstances are primed. Two thousand party animals are writhing as one in front of me. I’ve drunk just the right amount of beer to blunt the hard edge of caution whilst remaining capable enough to avoid grievous injury. I am poised. I am ready to fly.

Then, out of the blue, I am beaten to it. By an FHM supermodel.

And not everybody can say that.

Roxy Louw, South Africa’s foremost supermodel and a regular in lad-mag FHM, has mounted the stage during my period of prevarication and launched herself spectacularly into the crowd. I watch her surf about on the turbulent sea of excited hands, amused by the huge mob of pissed-up blokes virtually goggle-eyed at the opportunity to legitimately grope one of the world’s hottest women.

Whilst in some ways I can’t help but feel like a bit of a disappointment after the delivery of a supermodel, I resolve nevertheless to join the throng. After a run-up that would make Evel Knievel jealous, I bounce in a high, smooth arc from the stage onto the moving platform of heads and hands. What a glorious moment. Everybody is singing around me. I have come home. This, as they say, is it.

It’s a hot and sweaty night that sees many more stage-dives and a slew of encores. The organisers manage to keep the police at bay (just) and ask us to come back and play again tomorrow night. Sporting legend Bobby Skinstad calls us “the best band in the world”. He’s never seen Toploader play live, of course, but we’ll forgive him that.

“The real stars of Day One are The Lightyears, who blow the marquee apart with a roaring display that sees four encores and has the police sent to check noise levels dancing in the crowd…”
RUGBY 365.COM (read full article here)

SUNDAY 8 MARCH, 10am (My hotel room, Cape Town):
When I wake up, I have the fear. That distant, indefinable fear you sometimes get the morning after the night before, when the heady cloud of a hangover keeps you from pinpointing exactly what it is you did last night that you’re about to begin regretting.

At breakfast, I’m halfway through my smoked salmon, toasted muffins, hollandaise sauce, tuna steak and home-made guacamole when it slowly but surely dawns on me. After we left the stage yesterday following our fourth encore, I was approached by a promoter interested in booking us for a show in Johannesburg later in the year. I gave him my business card but he didn’t have one himself so he wrote his landline and mobile phone numbers down on the nearest available piece of paper – which happened to be a flyer for a local strip-joint. I didn’t think a great deal of it at the time, popping it down on the desk in my hotel room before crashing into a deep and happy sleep.

Something important, however, has just occurred to me.


The time I’ve spent in this hotel thus far has confirmed to me that the housekeeping staff are ruthlessly efficient when it comes to clearing up after messy British rock bands. Anything that appears to be rubbish is likely to be binned pretty sharpish. And there’s a good chance that the crumpled flyer in question, decorated with its illegible scribblings and tacky, pornographic imagery, would be immediately deemed as fit only for the bin. And this could lose us a potential gig in Johannesburg. I have to do something.

Making my excuses I dash out of the breakfast room and pelt across the lobby to the lift. I don’t know if you’ve ever spotted this but lifts rarely respond quickly enough when you’re in a hurry. When I finally make it back to my room, it immediately becomes clear that I’m too late. The beds are expertly made and the room is spotless. They’ve been. And they’ve taken the flyer.

The odds are stacked against me but I’m hoping against hope that I’ll be able to trace the flyer by working out which member of staff cleared out my room. It’s a long shot but I’m left with little choice. The concierge ought to be my best bet, I figure, so I head back down to the lobby, take a seat at the front desk and ring the bell. Presently the concierge appears wearing a neat uniform and a funny little hat.

“Can I help sir?” he asks, sitting down opposite me.

“Ah, yes, that would be great thanks. You see, the thing is, I left a really rather important piece of paper in my room this morning and I think the housekeepers have thrown it away.”

“Oh,” he replies, his expression dropping.

“… Yes, I know. Bit of a stretch, I realise that, but I was wondering if the housekeeping department would be able to keep an eye out for it in case it turns up?”

Duty-bound to humour my doomed mission, the concierge produces a small notepad from his top pocket and clicks the end of a shiny silver pen.

“Could you describe it for me?”

At no point in this little crusade had it occurred to me that, in order for the hotel staff to “keep an eye out” for my lost flyer, they’d need to know what it looked like. And what it looked like was, to be brutally honest, an oiled-up pole-dancer with her baps out.

“OK, erm, so…. this is what it looks like…” I stammer, stalling for time, searching for a polite way of describing a photo of a nude sex-worker. “So, it’s black, and sort of gold round the edges. Rectangular, probably a little crumpled. There are some important phone numbers written on it. It’s maybe eight inches long, three wide….? And, erm… I guess that’s about it.”

A short pause.

“And there’s a fully naked chick on the front.”

The concierge raises his eyebrow. “And you say this leaflet has very important phone numbers on it?”

“It does,” I reply.

He allows himself a wry smile. “Yes, I wouldn’t want to lose phone numbers of that nature either”.

Oh god. They think I’m a pimp. But it’s too late to back-pedal now. “No,” I offer with a nervous laugh, “I guess not.”

Note to self: mistakenly introducing oneself as a pimp to the concierge at a five-star hotel – even if it is Snoop Dog’s hotel – may reasonably be considered an unwise move.

SUNDAY 8 MARCH, 6.30pm (Hamilton Rugby Club, Cape Town):
Today we swagger into the Cape Town Tens exhuding an easy confidence, satisfied that last night’s high-octane performance has permanently ingratiated us with the locals. As we stroll through the front gates of the club, suited and booted and carrying guitar cases, the MC momentarily ceases in his commentary of the current rugby match to announce “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Lightyears have arrived!”. To my childish delight this prompts spontaneous applause from all round the ground. This is definitely the closest we have ever come to “Elvis has left the building”…

Today’s gig starts with the laid-back swing of a Sunday evening, but before long it has erupted into a party to rival last night’s performance. There’s more stage-diving, plenty of sing-alongs, police hovering outside and a lot of sweating. Afterwards we hit the clubs for our final taste of the Cape Town lifestyle, and are able to beat the queues at Cafe Caprice, the city’s trendiest night-spot, on account of arriving with Bob, who is pretty much regarded here as the country’s answer to David Beckham.

Standing outside the club several hour’s later, watching the waves lap at the beach and feeling the warm night air on our faces, we reflect on the tour.

“We’ll always have Cape Town, boys,” muses John, prophetic as ever.

Bob’s brother Dan, A.K.A. The Commander (and something of a legend about the town), throws his arms round us and nods his head in agreement.

“It can only get better boys,” he says, “it can only get better. Which, when you think about it, is actually quite scary.”

Which, I reflect, is exactly how I like it.

Chris Lightyear

Lightyears invited back to South Korea

27 March 2009

The LYs in South Korea, June '08Following the news that we’ve been invited back to South Africa next year to headline at the international rugby Tens Tournament in Cape Town, we’ve also been asked out to South Korea this June to perform at The Queen’s Birthday Ball in Seoul. 

The QBB is an annual fund-raising venture that takes place at The Grand Hyatt Hotel and consistently raises huge amounts of money for Korean charities. The theme for the event changes every year, with past themes including the Chelsea Flower Show, Phantom Of The Opera and Harry Potter.   

This will be our fourth consecutive year performing at the QBB and we’re honoured to be invited back. Last year’s trip to Korea figured in my Top 50 Moments Of 2008 so we’re hoping to have an equally successful trip this time round!

Click here to read my Korea 2008 tour diary.

“The Lightyears – back once again by popular demand”

We are staying in JACK BAUER’S hotel…

9 March 2009

Johnny Lightyear chilling on the beachTUESDAY 3 MARCH, 3pm (Brass Bell Restaurant, False Bay, South Africa):
I am dressed in shades, boardies and flip-flops. I am starting to look quite tanned, having spent a decent amount of time on the beach over the past few days. I am exhuding an easy, care-free demeanour on account of the sunny weather and the leisurely pace of the Cape Town lifestyle. I am drinking a crisp gin and bitter lemon. The afternoon waves of the Indian Ocean lap hungrily at the walls of the famous Brass Bell restaurant in False Bay, where we’re enjoying a few cocktails and a plate of delicious fried calimari.

Bearing all this in mind, I find it very hard to reconcile the fact that, glancing across the road to a world news poster nailed to a lamp-post, I can read the words “SNOW SHUTS LONDON”.

That’s right – were we at home right now, we’d be building snowmen and perhaps even doing some sly a-wassailing. Yesterday London experienced its most severe snow storms in 18 years. The whole of the capital ground to a halt, which in theory ought not to have affected us all the way out here in South Africa, but as it happened we were waiting for Tony to leave Heathrow and come out to join us in Cape Town. The airport cancelled a staggering 800 flights. Only six actually left the runway and Tony, the jammy rascal, was on the sixth. Which was just as well, as tomorrow night we’re headlining at the Speedway 105 Cafe and we’d been rather relying on Tony’s presence to complete the line-up!

It’s been a wonderful few days. Aside from a few casual, sun-kissed meetings and the odd telephone interview, the business end of the tour hasn’t really started yet. We’ve made the most of our long weekend of freedom with afternoons on the beach and evenings on the town. Yesterday we took a day trip out to Hermanus, a beautiful coastal resort about an hour outside Cape Town, where we walked along the cliffside and Andy cooked us a traditional South African braai, complete with fresh steak, calimari and a dollop of local hospitality.

Yesterday evening I was interviewed by a journalist from The Argus, one of Cape Town’s foremost daily papers (click here to read the article). I conducted the interview strolling along the sand, listening to the ocean and watching the sunset. If only, I thought, I could conduct all my interviews from the beach. What a life that would be…

WEDNESDAY 4 MARCH, 9pm (Speedway 105 Cafe, Cape Town)
Tonight we are playing our first fully-fledged show in South Africa – a headline slot at the Speedway bikers’ bar – and I’m delighted to report that there’s a full house in. What a genuine pleasure it is to visit a new territory, set up camp in a new venue, and watch as the place fills with an audience of complete strangers. I’m excited about performing again and it’s great to have Tony back on the team.

The Scandinavian motorbike club from Saturday night have returned, which I find extremely flattering, since by their own admission they don’t normally listen to anything except Motorhead and AC/DC. Could be an interesting audience. Will we win them over? 

Well, yes, as it turns out. Although for a while it’s looking dicey. We decide to split the evening into two sets, starting with 45 minutes of Lightyears originals and ending with a set of dance numbers. We chuck in “Beat Alive”, “She’s The One”, “Fine”, “Sleepless” and “Emily” too. The crowd respond really well to our songs and the first official airing of “Johannesburg” proves a hit as well. During the break I’m standing at the bar waiting for a beer when the bikers’ ringleader taps me on the shoulder.

“Do you play heavy metal?”

Jings. Should I lie? Mainly we’d been planning Jerry Lee Lewis, Van Morrison and The Monkees for set two. Is there any way in which “I’m A Believer” could be considered metal? Probably not.

“Erm, d’ya know, I’m afraid to say we don’t. It’s not really our ‘thing’.”

“Come on,” he replies, throwing back his big scary Norwegian biker’s head. “Led Zeppelin! You must do some Led Zeppelin! It is the classic of all times.”

I heartily agree with him that, yes, it is the classic of all times – but sadly it’s just not in our repertoire. He’s pretty persistent though and so, by the end of our conversation, I’ve agreed to ‘see what I can do’. I have no idea what I mean by this.

Racking my brains, I remember that last year, when we were on the bill at the launch of State music magazine in Dublin, I played a set of ‘Easy Listening Heavy Metal’ on the grand piano, comprising a whole host of rock classics performed in a lounge style. And one of them was “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin. Was this a good idea? Would the bikers appreciate the irony?

Dash it all, I thought. I have no choice. This is the only thing we do that even vaguely resembles Led Zeppelin. It will have to suffice.

And so it is that, twenty minutes later, to break up the set, I make an announcement. 

“The extremely fine ladies and gentlemen in the corner there have requested some Led Zeppelin, and we’ve never been a band to let people down. So here’s ‘Black Dog’ – Track One, Side One from the classic album Led Zeppelin IV……”

I’m glad to say that the ensuing performance – although perhaps not quite what they were expecting – prompts enthusiastic applause from the petrolheads and I come to the conclusion that we’ve got away with it. This is later confirmed when we encore with “New York, New York” and it brings the house down. Andy’s brother, Dan, confesses to me after the gig that the sight of twenty leather-clad bikers singing their hearts out to Frank Sinatra brought a tear of joy to his eye and was something he would never, ever forget. 

Pina Coladas in the hotel poolTHURSDAY 5 MARCH, 1.30pm (The Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town):
Today we check into the hotel where we’ll be staying for the remainder of the tour. I’ve been looking forward to this moment. By reputation, the Table Bay is the finest hotel in Cape Town and, in fact, one of the top hotels in the country. It’s a glorious day and the sun is beating down as we arrive outside the front entrance and unload our luggage and instruments. Spotting our guitars, the concierge immediately saunters over.

“Hello sir, how are you today?”

“I’m extremely well thank you,” I reply, absolutely meaning it.

“You’re musicans, right?” he points out, astutely.

I nod in agreement and this prompts a barrage of stories about previous musical residents of the Table Bay. “We’ve had all kinds of bands checking into the hotel over the years,” he explains.

“Who was the last musician to stay here then?” I ask, testing the water.

“Snoop Dogg,” he begins, casually. “We’ve had Kanye West too. And Maroon 5 were here last month. Plus we’ve also had Counting Crows, Robbie Williams and Michael Jackson. The Table Bay is the only place Michael will stay when he’s in Cape Town. I’ve met him personally.”

He can see I’m impressed. But he’s not done yet.

“Oh, and Keifer Sutherland. Keifer Sutherland often stays here. Nice fella.”

We are staying in JACK BAUER’S hotel. 

Rock and roll.

THURSDAY 5 MARCH, 7.30pm (The Toad In The Village, Noordhoek, Cape Town):
We are at The Toad In The Village, a bar/restaurant in the rather quaint Noordhoek, owned by legendary former Springbok captain, Bob Skinstad. We’ve been invited along to the launch party for the ‘Noordhoek Vikings’, one of the teams taking part in the Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament this weekend. This will be our first proper experience of hanging out with large gangs of rugby players.

We turn up early and take our designated seats at a long, wooden dining table by at the far end of the room. The other half of the table is empty. It transpires that we are to be joined shortly by six or seven professional rugby players from the ‘Sports Illustrated Legends’ team, a side headed up by Bob himself, along with Robbie Fleck, another former South African international who is also involved in organising the tournament. The guys are coming along tonight to meet the rest of their team-mates and sink a few* lagers.

We’ve been there for about 15 minutes when a group of enormous blokes appear through the main entrance and head towards our table. As they arrive, I stand up to introduce myself to the guy at the front. The blood drains from his face. 

“Who are….. what is…. erm…?”. He seems shaken. “What position do you play?”

Odd greeting, I think. My next thought concerns how powerful, almost debilitating, his handshake is. He still looks a bit freaked out. Then the penny drops. Blimey. They think we’re on their team

“Oh gosh, gosh no. Hah! No. I’m not a rugby player. Golly. No. Imagine that! You’d probably snap me in half. I mean, look at you, you have arms like anacondas.”

Actually, I didn’t say that last bit. But I did think it. Danny later tells me that he was transfixed for the entire evening by the sight of me sitting next to a bloke whose biceps were WIDER THAN MY HEAD. I could have climbed inside his arms and made them my home. “You look so tiny,” Danny kept saying. Yeah, whatever mate. I could play rugby. I just choose not to.

By the time I have finished shaking hands with all seven of them, the bones in my right hand have been ground to a fine powder. I may never play piano again.

FRIDAY 6 MARCH (Hamilton Rugby Club, Cape Town):
Earlier this evening we sat down to a truly delicious dinner on the harbourside near the hotel. Tanned, rested and fully settled into laid-back Cape Town life, we sat round the table beaming at each other, soaking up the warm night air. John summed up the feeling most succinctly when he said: “I can’t ever remember being this happy”.

Despite being so chilled out we could almost have sat there until sunrise, we decide to head over to Hamilton Rugby Club (where the Cape Town Tens are kicking off with an evening of hardcore boozing) to show our faces and generally get a feel for the vibe of the tournament. The matches themselves don’t start until Saturday but, as the recreational side of the event is generally considered equally as important as the sport, we figure it would do us good to get a taster before things kick off for real tomorrow morning.

When we turn up we are greeted by a sobering sight – 600 huge rugby players, standing around, necking pints and challenging each other to violent drinking games. Once again we are suddenly made very aware of how much we stand out. Feeling like Year 7s who have just accidentally wandered into the Year 11 common room and are met for the first time by that bewilderingly unfamiliar cocktail of sweat, Lynx deodorant and Tizer, we head cautiously for the bar, trying our hardest not to make eye contact with anyone

We are mere seconds from our destination when the mission fails. We’ve been spotted. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those wildlife programmes where leopards are filmed hunting gazelles, but this is pretty much a human equivalent. Looking back over my shoulder I see young Danny Morriss being picked off from the herd by a man off such terrifying visage that I can actually feel my sphincter tightening. He seems to be trying to engage Danny in conversation, although the sounds coming from his mouth are definitely not words and his only other method of communication is to squish Dan’s immaculately-engineered mohican with his enormous hand until it’s entirely flat on his head. I am genuinely torn between the two conflicting instincts in my gut – one is telling me to stick by my friend and wade in for rescue, the other is telling me to sod Danny and run away screaming like a tiny little girl.

For the first time, I am beginning to feel quite nervous about this weekend’s gigs. These people will be our audience. Will they accept us as their own or will they weed us out as the namby-pamby pretenders we are? And if they do accept us, will we have to drink our own urine through a plastic funnel as part of some kind of dreadful initiation ceremony? At the moment, they’re curious about us because we’re quite demonstrably outsiders – but maybe once we’ve been up onstage, we’ll have more authority.

“Do you think it’ll be better once they know who we are?” I ask George, praying for the answer ‘yes’.

“No mate,” replied George, “it’ll be worse. Because they’ll know who we are.”


Will we survive a weekend boozing with rugby players? Will Cape Town rock to the sweet sound of The Lightyears? Stay tuned for Part 3 of my South African tour diary, coming soon to

* a “few” to me is approximately three. To a rugby man, it is somewhere in the region of twelve.

The tour has begun…

2 March 2009

The Lightyears hit Cape Town!FRIDAY 30 JANUARY, 2.30am (International Airspace, somewhere over Africa):
This is one of my favourite parts of any tour. I am on the plane, 40,000 feet above the ground, cruising at speeds of 600 mph. I am approximately four gin and tonics into an evening of steady boozing, courtesy of British Airways. Our hot-off-the-press recording of “Johannesburg“, finished only yesterday in Tony’s home studio, is playing in my ears. In a few hours we will land in Cape Town, South Africa, where anything can and will happen on this, the latest instalment in our ongoing International Rock & Roll Juggernaut Tour. Right now, the distinct aroma of possibility hangs expectant in the air. Although come to think of it, that might just be Danny. Soundman Danny drinks British Airways out of Jack Daniels

The Lightyears are about to land.

FRIDAY 30 JANUARY, 7.30am (Hertz Car Rental, Cape Town, South Africa):
Cape Town is gloriously warm. Emily and Skinny meet us at the airport with glowing tans (they’ve been in South Africa for a month already), a shining example of how we hope to look by the end of our ten days here. Job number one is to sort out the hire car, so George and I saunter over to the Hertz outlet to pick up the keys.

Now, until we’re at the stage where we get to travel around in a double-decker blacked-out nightliner replete with arcade games, plasma TVs, strippers and a ready supply of mind-enhancing hallucinogenics, we are somewhat restrained by having to work to a budget. Luckily, Tony’s dad is in the motor trade and was able to find us a great deal on a nifty little vehicle known as the Volkswagen Chico. For only £11.50 a day we would be licensed to career around Cape Town looking like refugees from Staines in an automobile that can really only be described as a “chavwagon”. In other words, if you’re driving this car and you don’t have So Solid Crew pumping out of the sound system, you’re doing something wrong. 

Standing at the service desk and waiting for the clerk to finish scanning our credit card and checking our details, we begin to share a collective concern that maybe everything isn’t going to go as planned. He keeps giving us funny looks out of the corner of his eye and it suddenly occurs to me that, dressed up in shades and shaggy haircuts and surrounded by guitars, we are very obviously in a band. And would you hire a vehicle to a bunch of foreign reprobates in a rock band? Exactly.

“So…..” the clerk muses, “four guys, eh? Musicians?”

“Erm….” (no sense in lying – I mean, I could say we were ballerinas but unfortunately the evidence to the contrary is damning), “yep. Just in from London”.

“London, eh? Well, thing is, we don’t have any Chicos left”.

Bugger. We’ve been rumbled. Push-bikes it is then.

“Can I interest you in one of these?” he offers with a nod, pointing at an A4 laminate featuring a whole range of cars we couldn’t possibly hope to afford. Before we can utter an objection though, he cuts us short. “Same price,” he says, a twinkle in his eye.

Surely not. The man is indicating an 8-seater VW Transporter – our ideal car.

Throwing each other furtive glances like 12 year-old boys who have just been told it’s OK to shoot at cats with their dad’s rifle, we garble some “thank you”s, grab the keys off the clerk and leave hastily before Ashton Kutcher’s able to turn up and tell us it’s all a big joke. 

I don’t know exactly who that guy was but I can only think he must have been Santa, gripped by an out-of-season rush of altruism. For the car that he has gifted unto us is a shining stallion of wonder. A glorious, pimped-out, brand new, 2.5 litre, 4-motion hunk of beautiful steel. And it’s all ours. Out of respect, we name it “Chico”.

The tour has begun.The LYs pose in front of Table Mountain

(n.b. Tony, who is hiring an alternative car as he’s not flying out for another few days, will almost certainly turn up in Cape Town to pick up his Chico and receive, well, an actual Chico. Which will look puny alongside our behemoth. This thought alone keeps me roundly amused for several days. At times I would even wake up at night, remember it, and chuckle surreptitiously to myself).   

SATURDAY 31 JANUARY, 9pm (Speedway 105 Cafe, Cape Town):
Our main reason for being here in South Africa is to headline at the after-parties for the first-ever Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament next weekend. However, never a band to rest on our laurels, we have already booked another couple of gigs for the coming week at Speedway 105, a bikers’ bar in the centre of town. Tonight we are performing unplugged on the balcony and on Wednesday (when Tony has arrived) we’ll be playing a full band show inside. Auditioning for Grease 3 in the Speedway car park

Speedway is run by identical twins Dave and Paul Van Der Spuy, veritable movers ‘n’ shakers on the Cape Town scene. They’re also absolute chaps. They have the banter of Morecambe & Wise and the hospitality of saints. Dave’s wife, Janie, works in PR and is on the case with promoting “Johannesburg” to the local press, and between the three of them they have pretty much made Speedway our home from home in South Africa. The vibe this evening is pretty laid-back, and George and I are sitting on stools on the balcony, knocking out a string of acoustic tunes for a mixed audience of bikers, drinkers, regulars, friends and the rest of The Lightyears’ entourage.

It’s a great opportunity to try out “Johannesburg” on a native audience – and its maiden voyage proves successful. The song is simple and uplifting, I guess, which makes it very accessible, especially here in SA where the significance of the story behind it becomes even clearer (check out my blog “The Story Behind Johannesburg for the full tale). Later in the evening, Janie tells me she found it very moving and is confident we can get some good South African press on the band, using the song as our angle.

Liberated by the easy atmosphere and unplugged setting, George and I bust out some old tunes which don’t normally get an airing at LYs gigs – “Snog Song”, for instance, which we wrote years ago with our good friend Ben Scriven. It’s a song about inventing a love potion and getting jiggy with the Queen. Obviously. Try requesting it at a Lightyears gig one day – we’d be duty-bound to play it… Performing at Speedway

Afterwards things a get bit hectic when a group of Norwegian petrolheads start tearing up the tarmac with their enormous bikes. Danny, who knows a lot more about bikes than I do (not hard), explains that they are “doing burnouts”. When I ask him what a “burnout” is, he says “Wait and see – but there’ll be tons of smoke and a lot of noise”.

FYI, a burnout is essentially the biker’s equivalent of a crop circle – revving one’s engine and spinning the back tyre round in a perfect circle, on the axis of the front wheel, to leave a dark circular imprint on the tarmac. I think this a bit like when cats wee on stuff. It’s an imperial venture, in other words. It says “Me and massive bike have been here and there’s nothing you can do about it”. 

Unless you’re the local law enforcement agency, that is. Sure enough the cops have made an appearance within about twenty minutes, attracted by the noise. Driving in through Speedway’s main gates, they slowly circle the parking lot like a predatory steel shark and, once satisfied that they’ve made their point, disappear back into town.

The bikers, who personally I wouldn’t mess with, wait a cursory eight minutes and then return to the business of decorating the car park. This is brilliant! Will there be a ruckus though, I wonder? Who would you back? Probably the petrolheads. They’re Scandinavian and there are about twenty of them. The cops looked like they were all talk and no trousers. Having said that, when they return shortly afterwards and repeat their shark routine, it proves sufficient to put an end to the burnout competition and everybody retires inside to watch the arm-wrestling. 

There’s always something going on at Speedway. Gotta love the place… 

SUNDAY 1 FEBRUARY, 11.30pm (Cafe Caprice, Cape Town):
We are out clubbing in Cafe Caprice – a place justifiably known as “the jewel in Cape Town’s crown” that represents the centre of the city’s Sunday night social scene. The people in here are ALL beautiful. Big, bronzed Adonises of men and gorgeous, glowing women, pictures of youth and vitality. It’s like actually being in an episode of “The O.C.”. 

Whereas in England we while away God’s day with a back-to-back marathon of Songs Of Praise, The Antiques Roadshow, Last Of The Summer Wine and a toasted crumpet, Sunday is big business in Cape Town. Everybody parties here on a Sunday. We spent the early half of the evening at coastal hangout La Med, where local band Goldfish play a residency to an ample and enthusiastic crowd, week in week out. I mean, I say “local” – actually they are fast becoming one of the country’s hottest acts. Definitely worth a look – imagine Lemon Jelly meets Fatboy Slim. Click here to visit the Goldfish website

At La Med we meet Cape Town Tens organiser Ron Rutland, an absolute chap and the man responsible for flying us out to SA. He seems relatively calm on the surface; however, being only five days away from the first ever CT 10s tournament is evidently starting to take its toll on his sanity. There’s a lot riding on this and Ron is the man at the helm…

After a few beers at La Med we hit Caprice, on the advice of the legendary Dan Skinstad (A.K.A. “The Commander”), who seems to be something of a celebrity round these parts. Dan has a natural entourage at Caprice and we join them for a few bevvies to see the week out. Later I learn that, during our time in the club, George ended up in a fairly extended conversation with star cricketer Herschelle Gibbs, a member of the national team. At no point throughout their chat did George have any idea who the guy was. In fact, I believe his closing gambit was “So, tell me – what exactly is it that you do?”. I can’t imagine Herschelle is a man accustomed to being asked that question, what with him being generally considered one of the finest athletes in his country’s history.   

It dawns on me that, for a band who (Tony aside) know very little about sport, we’ve met some top flight sports personalities. Bob Skinstad and Robbie Fleck organise the Cape Town Tens with Ron and both happen to be global sporting legends from their days playing for – and in Bob’s case, captaining – the South African rugby team. Later in the week we will meet more rugby superstars in the guise of former Canadian international Eddie Evans and Italian Number 8 Matt Phillips. A couple of years ago we stayed in the same hotel as the Dutch national football team (in one particularly memorable incident, Tony stood next to Marco Van Basten in a lift and actually used the phrase “Do I know you?”). We have performed for Manchester United and Alex Ferguson, hob-nobbed with Peterborough FC director and all-round sporting hero Barry Fry and now George has failed to recognise one of the world’s most famous cricketers in a club. So all in all we could make a lot of fanatics very jealous, even though as a general rule we don’t know our silly mid-ons from our bogeys.


Stay tuned for South Africa Part Two – and find out what happened when we tried playing Frank Sinatra to 30 pissed-up Scandinavian bikers…

Chris Lightyear

South African media praises The Lightyears

18 February 2009

The LYs entertain the crowd at the Cape Town TensOur recent tour to South Africa was one of the highlights of our careers so far. The gigs were superb, the crowds were incredibly receptive and, most importantly, the food blew my mind. 😉

Due to the interest surrounding our release of the song “Johannesburg”, as well as our status as INDY Award winners and our previous international touring adventures worldwide, we attracted quite a bit of press attention whilst we were out there. Follow the links below to read more:

“The Lightyears have crafted a moving indie-pop slow song in Johannesburg…” (read more)

Johannesburg, with it’s strummed acoustic guitars and surprisingly uplifting chorus, appears to be hitting the right notes with locals…” (read more)

“The real stars of day one, though, are English band The Lightyears, who’ve flown in from London to play the tournament, and blow the marquee apart with a roaring display that sees four encores, and has the police sent to check noise levels dancing in the crowd…” (read more)

“When The Lightyears hit the stage after Saturday’s rugby and played that first song, I thought the roof of the beer tent was going to fly off! It was without doubt the best party I have ever been to in my life…” (read more)

“The Lightyears are an internationally-renowned pop-rock band…”

“The best band in the world!”

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