If you Find Something you Love, you Never Work a Day in Your Life

We meet Rob Nel: bass guitarist of Macstanley and Capetonian musician by heart

Rob Nel is a bass guitarist from Cape Town. Born on 16th August 1968, he is exactly 10 years younger than Madonna and was born nine years after Elvis died, which should explain his passion for music.

Rob already felt like an artist during his childhood, when he started drawing and painting. But Rob developed a real love for art when he discovered the bass guitar, which gave him the same fulfillment as drawing and painting for an hour. His dad, also an influence, managed a music store, which fascinated Rob – he would sneak downstairs and play every musical instrument there.

“I went to an all boys school where playing the piano was a nerdy thing to do, so that didn’t last long,” exclaims Rob, “Aged 15, I formally taught myself to play bass guitar. At the same time, I played drums and went to an art school in Port Elizabeth.”

“All I want to do is play music”

Bored of high school, Rob dropped out in grade 11, making his own decisions at a very early age. He was conscripted, so he spent two years in the army, as a truck driver, both in Kimberley and his home town of Port Elizabeth. Despite this, he still kept his passion for music alive - he was stationed in Angola for four months and shared a guitar with a comrade. When he left the army, Rob launched himself straight into the music scene. He was involved in small bands, upon his return to Port Elizabeth and established himself as an artist in Johannesburg, where he stayed with his brother.

In 1989, Rob joined established band; Backwater Blues Band. Well-known Joe Mbata (also known as Jo Blu and a former prisoner of Robben Island) was the vocalist. Rob describes this period of his life as: ‘jumping in the deep blue’, as he improved a lot in the first 2-3 months.

Anton Goosen (dubbed the Afrikaans Bob Dylan), hired Rob and his friends to accompany him on his tours, at a time when the alternative scene was prominent. A couple of tours where successful; however, the latter were not. So, he went on to form the band B-World, along with a drummer, guitarist and vocalist. Their biggest hit was ‘Rain’, which was even played on Radio 5 (5FM). When a gig paid them R150, the band was ecstatic.

A band much like the Red Hot Chili Peppers

B-World adamantly refused to play cover versions, which is why some clubs weren’t interested in hiring them. B-World (in the genre of funky rock) wanted to play their own show and, since they were catapulted into success, venues began to make an exception and B-World was suddenly inundated with gigs. People compared the band with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Although B-World is a great word, Rob also associates the band name with hard financial times. “We never made any money and, after two years, B-World split up,” he exclaims, “Nevertheless, our band helped to establish the infrastructure for gigs.”

After one year of living it up in London, Rob returned to Johannesburg, in 1989, to form the band Interzone; a funky, wild and instrumental band that had lots of gigs in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

A return to the Mother City

“Whatever the DJ was playing, we joined in,” says Rob, “The people were mad about us!”

Controversial band name Golliwog, was Rob’s last personal project, from 2003-4. It was at the 206 (next to the Shack) where their after midnight gigs took off. For six months on Saturday nights, they took over the mood created by the DJ at 206 and jammed, to create quite the roaring party. The band also began to write their own material, and with fantastic results – within 12 months, the band was booked for a whopping 14 festivals around the country.

The present day: Macstanley and jazz

Rob joined the Cape Town band Macstanley (formerly Flat Stanley) six years ago, and has since performed at every single one of their gigs. Besides playing bass guitar for the band, Rob works as a freelance jazz musician at weekly gigs.

“I make myself enjoy it,” reflects Rob, on his role as a bass guitarist, “A good bass player is in a supporting position. He is the support, the basis for others and the foundation upon which they rely. I intend to create a solid foundation.”

Although Rob hates pop music, he recognizes the special effect that the genre has on its audiences. On growing up fast, he jokes that he knows less now than he did when he was 17 years old. And on looking forwards, he’s ready for a new band, so watch this space.

By Antonia Heil

P.S. Watch Rob play at the One & Only once a week for the High Tea (15:00-17:00) and also once a month at the restaurant, Trio. In fact, why not book Rob Nel for a session of your own?

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