When Farryl Purkiss grew up

A South African musician who took a gamble and worked tirelessly to achieve

He's dressed in an understated striped t-shirt and a bowler hat when I meet him outside Cape to Cuba on Long Street but quite frankly he could be wearing a bin bag and he'd still stand out. He leans casually against the wall with a chiselled jaw and striking brown eyes and he's remarkably composed for someone who will later that evening perform with legendary Crowded House at Cape Town's Grand West Arena.

After being struck with a case of small town syndrome, puking at his first gig and 'that' guitar fiasco Farryl Purkiss certainly has a lot to be proud of as he reaches the big three zero. His self released EP and full length albums have received widespread acclaim, he's toured Australia, Europe, USA and Africa with musical Gods including Finley Quaye and Bob Evans and has won an award for Best Producer at the South African Music Awards in 2010.

As I sit down for a coffee with Farryl he's down to earth if not humble. He strikes me as a normal South African guy who took a gamble and worked tirelessly to achieve.

"My dad was into singer-song-writers including Dire Straights, Crowded House, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and Neil Young"

Farryl grew up in the small coastal town of Umhlanga Rocks just outside of Durban and although his parents didn't follow careers in music it was his dad's taste in music that would influence the folksy, bluesy-tinged melodies he strums today.

"He gave me an old Pioneer hi-fi that had been passed down through generations. At the time everyone at school was going through a phase where they wanted to do Nirvana covers so I sold my dad's pride and joy for R300 to a guy that completely screwed me over. I bought a rip off Yamaha guitar called a 'Yamada' and scratched out the 'd' to Tipex over it with a 'h', which made it look worse. When I was trying to play something one day I lost my temper and smashed it against the wall. In the process, I had formed a bond with the guitar.

"Even though they couldn't help but laugh at my 'Yamada' guitar my small group of friends are like brothers to me. Don't get me wrong they are super competitive but they've always pushed me and supported me in everything I do."

By everything he literally means everything. Not content with becoming an amateur surfing champion, a successful model and studying interior designer Farryl began an exciting relationship with music.

"My first album was written in my bedroom and I never intended to share my songs with anyone"

"I've been surfing ever since I was a kid and when you get to a certain age your dad just throws you in the ocean. Modelling was a great opportunity to get out of Durban to go and live in Cape Town for a year and the money was good. When I'd established myself in Cape Town music entered my life and I feel that I have been blessed.

"I was never pursuing music rather it just happened. At the time I was offered a safe job with an attractive salary and a company car but I chose to take a gamble with music. I didn't want to look back in 20-years-time and think, 'What if?'

"My first gig was supporting Perez in Durban; who are really big in South Africa. Playing to a crowd of 300 I whispered my way through a 20 minute set and my eyes were closed the entire time. I actually threw up with nerves before I went on stage. The experience was terrifying but liberating."

Farryl first began song writing in his late teens when he was growing up and figuring out life so the subject matter was different to what he writes about now. His current album 'Fruitbats & Crows' was inspired by a particularly bad breakup.

"I only realise now that I read the lyrics from a third person perspective how personal the lyrics are"

He's inspired by everything from what happened at the supermarket to his relationships with family and friends. Sometimes his lyrics are even fictional as he loves a good story but having played at lots of festivals alongside some of his idols world travel has become a prominent influence.

"One of the best shows I performed at was in North Paris where the opening act was Hugh Coltman. Accompanied by a ukulele and a bass player Hugh had a tambourine strapped to his ankle and what I thought was going to be terrible turned out to be one of the best shows I've ever seen.

"My tour with Australian singer-song-writer Bob Evans was the most memorable and we played for 28 days in a row throughout the entire East Coast of Australia. I'd wake up, do interviews, do a sound check, perform then go to bed only to do the same thing again the next day in a different city. After a week or so I got into a routine and it became easy."

A lover of good song writing Farryl decided to cover the Bob Dylan song 'Positively Fourth Street'. At the time of writing many of Dylan's followers had reacted badly to his move to the electric guitar as they believed that he had betrayed folk music. The track was in response to the fans who said that they would stick by him no-matter what.

"I play an acoustic version of  'Positively Fourth Street' that had to be passed by Dylan first and just to know that Dylan heard it and approved it is amazing"

Another highlight of Farryl's career was when he was presented with the South African Music Award for Best Producer in 2010.

"I didn't have any idea I was going to win and I was completely unprepared. I remember them calling my name and running on stage to say 'thank you'. Then I was backstage clutching this award."

After politely posing for some photographs with us Farryl headed to do a sound check with Crowded House, to continue writing his latest album and to jet off to Japan, Australia and the USA. Watch this space.

By Lisa Nevitt

Read more about our chats with Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor and lead singer of the Parlotones Khan Morbee in our Interviews Section.

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