PAULA TERNS. Internationally acclaimed tunes, surprising art... and half of Paula Terns claims a reasonable proficiency on the football field. Only, being South African, they call it soccer.
Yes, the Paula Terns. Spelt Parlotones. And there they were up in the clouds, next to the Sky Bar at the Holiday Inn in Sandton on Thursday night (while Orlando Pirates were seeing off Kaizer Chiefs in the Vodacom Challenge), where drummer Neil Pauw was showing off his ability as an artist; using only brushes, trowels, scalpels, computer graphics, melted plastic... and a skottel braai.
A skottel braai? Yup, the Ringo Starr of the Parlotones (above, right, withJuli and I, the proud owners of his newest work) uses a bloody barbecue to heat materials for his paintings, carefully planned by laptop computer during endless tours of Europe and America before being translated to canvas with loving care at his studio in Johannesburg.
One of them now hangs on our lounge wall in Centurion. It’s called “The Passion of Missy Rose”. A striking winged fire fly with an angel’s innocence. Pauw, perhaps the least affected pop star in the history of modern celebrity, was at pains to explain the motivation behind his work, the pleasure he gets from his art, the blood, sweat and gently simmering plastic he puts in to his vivid canvasses.
From “Flowers”, a heartbreaking image of a young boy with red blooms, to “Broken Star”, a big bang explosion of plastic and colour, the Parlotones art exhibition in the Cullinan Suite, nine storeys above Sandton, was, surprisingly, high art.
And Pauw’s part-time efforts as South Africa’s Pablo Picasso went like carefully braaied hot cakes. Lead singer Khan Morbee snapped up “Two Hearts”, a joining of two beings with five prominent toes, “because when we rehearsed at Neil’s house, it haunted me”. A partner from Spoor & Fisher, the prominent legal eagles who look after the Parlotones trademarks, claimed “Flaming Lips”, a surreal gathering of ideas and swirling textures.
The sold stickers were spreading like copies of “Eavesdropping on the Songs of Whales”, their latest release. Neil’s brushes created the cover for the album. Bustling band manager Raphael Domalik plans to auction the original to help save South Africa’s rhinos.
But we’re getting too arty-farty in a nation where the battle between sport and art is an unequal one, generally dominated by studded boots and smelly shin pads.
Even more striking than Pauw’s carefully braaied paintwork is the impression left by South Africa’s awesome foursome as they work the three rooms of the Cullinan Suite, hob-nobbing happily with journalists, critics and the hoi polloi of Egoli’s northern suburbs.
Neil, who signs his paintings with a drum motif, is taller than expected, red-bearded, strong. He talks easily, earnestly; about art, the universe and everything. No airs and graces. When I accidentally refer to his cool quartet as “a boy band” he issues only a wry smile.
This is no overnight pop sensation. These guys have their own Parly Army, they fill stadiums locally and are pushing hard overseas. Particularly in America.
“The Viper Room in the States was incredible,” Neil grins after a discussion of his provincial-level skills as a Florida Albion midfielder, “To play there, in such a well-known venue, with the humidity dripping off the ceilings... amazing. They had 300 fans in a venue which holds 250. And they all knew the words.”
From drums to bass guitar and Glen Hodgson , who stops to talk about the band’s next visit to Britain in November. His brother Paul, the lead guitarist, completes the roll call.
And finally to Khan, the charistmatic lead singer. He’s tiny, nearly hidden beneath a knitted grey beanie, donned to ward off the effects of the Highveld winter. Johannesburg’s glitterati clamour about him. But there is no arrogance here, no pretention. Simply football.
“We still play five-a-side when we can,” he grins, “All four of us went to Westridge High which was mainly a rugby school, but Neil and I played at Florida Albion. I’m a good footballer, but you know what it’s like when it’s art versus sport.
“I didn’t have a problem with it. I’d go straight from drama class to soccer training. No problem. I love the game. But for me it was always going to be music.”
Later Neil, between portrait sales, assures me: “Khan’s probably better than I am at football now. But I achieved more... I was picked for the provincial team!”
But the Parlotones aren’t just about music, art and football. There’s wine too. They’ve put their name to three boutique blends: “Push me to the Floor”, “We Call This Dancing” and “Gigantic Mistake”.
Khan says: “I had a dream. My love affair with wine began when I realised that it had accompanied me throughout both momentous occasions and moments of heartache. But I guess I will have to wait a while before I can actually afford the wine farm.”
Not that long. Paula Terns’ unique combination of music, painting, wine and good company could take them as far as they like. And they’d still stop to talk football.