I’ve been clean 17 years today,” the Johannesburg singer-songwriter declared shortly before opening his mini-tour of Cape Town.
“That said, though, I must tell you there’s a lot to be said for the dissolute life. Noisy bars, cheap box wine, cigarette smoke.”
He was talking about performing in seedy dives – and not losing his sobriety in them. The dodgier the venue, he said, the better his band, Them Particles, performed. A little roughness, with a touch of chaos, enhanced what he termed their “psychedelic gypsy rootsiness”.
The band have, however, been left at home, and Butler will be using his small-scale, sit-down tour to showcase material from his acclaimed 2012 release, the raggedly searing Drink In Everything, and to unveil a few songs he’s planning to include in a new collection which, he hinted, may even be darker than its predecessor.
This is indeed cause for celebration. Butler’s songwriting has clearly been coloured by Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, but he has a noirish edge that is uniquely South African; this is the music of the haunted, of darkened confessionals, narcotic dreams and profound loss.
It’s not all blue ruin. There are flashes of hope and redemption in his often desperate vignettes. “But they’re just stories,” he said. “It’s what I do. I observe.”
Butler will be performing with guitarist Jonny Blundell, bassist Terence Scarr, percussionist Tonia Selley, and backing vocalist Maya-Rose Torrao at the Alma Cafe, in Rosebank, this evening and at The Reservoir, in Constantia, on Sunday evening. On Wednesday, Butler will be performing with Selley and Torrao as Death By Tofu at the Blah Blah Bar in Kloof Street, and on Friday at the Slow Life Cafe in Muizenberg. Booking is essential.