By Marley/Derek

The beautiful thing is, music can be like a time machine. One song – the lyrics, the melody, the mood – can take you back to a moment in time like nothing else can.

Andrew Kay was one unique musician and a much loved person all around. For the last few years, Andrew has been battling kidney disease. The news of Andrew’s passing broke on Monday 03 July 2023 and many dedications came in from across the world. At Small Town Music we were involved in a fundraiser for him in 2016 called “The Benefit of Mr K” where the Lowveld music community came together to raise monies for this remarkable star. However, we were too young to have experienced the ziggie dust that Andrew was and we asked Danny de Wet (who recently wrote a book about his own life in SA music) for a tribute who in return introduced us to Derek Davey.

Derek wrote a beautiful piece;

A young Andrew Kay – photo supplied by Danny de Wet

My first memory of Andrew Kay is from 1985, at Rhodes University. Andrew lived in a ‘digs’ near the township in Grahamstown, and he’d found a group of black musicians to play with, called The Jazz Pioneers. I was in my first year, and when I saw the band play at a party he had organised at his digs, I was blown away. I realised that I had found the ‘cool’ scene at Rhodes; people who were into experimental art, and who knew how to have a good time.

Andrew left university before I did, and I next encountered him when a band I played with came up to Joburg to play at the Summit Club with his band, called the Skyt Muties. It was a pretty dingy dive, but we had a good time, and he convinced us to come up to the City of Gold after the gig. He was wearing shorts and a leather jacket, and shared some hilarious anecdotes about working in the film industry. The following year, we came to live in Joburg on his advice, seeking fame and fortune in the music game.

The Rhodes alumni stuck together, so I got to meet Andrew over the next few years: he came to see my gigs and I saw many of his during the 90s.  When he went back to varsity to study music, he invited me to partake in a conceptual gig he did as part of his honours degree. I played didgeridoo, he played piano, and he attached a microphone to his partner’s belly to pick up the sounds of his daughter’s heartbeat, which became part of the tune we were creating. What really struck me was the way the audience sat and listened: you could literally have heard a pin drop. A far cry from our usual drunken rowdy fans!

In 2000 I lived in the same house as Andrew, and played in the same band, a later iteration of the Muties. It was a pretty dodgy digs, with several desperate characters who drifted in and out of its rooms, a resident ghost, and very little in the way of furniture. One night I woke up in the early hours of the morning, because I could hear two people playing in the lounge. Andrew practised on his piano and guitar a lot by himself, but who was the other person? When I came into the room to enquire, it was just him, but he swore that he had just seen John Lennon’s face in a cushion!

Mr Kay moved to Kaapse Hoop and what was then called Nelspruit a couple of years later with his wife Ciska, where he fathered two children, James and Hannah. He taught possibly hundreds of kids how to play the guitar, recorded several albums, including Peace and Love, Sweet like a Lemon and One for the Road, and did countless gigs. Some of the musicians he played and recorded with came from the nearby townships, where his song Number One Tombazaan became quite popular. His music and his vibrant personality were soon stamped on the Lowveld.

In 2012 Andrew and I travelled across Mpumalanga and Gauteng on the Mad Easter Tour with Muties drummer David Pickover. Andrew arrived in Jozi sick as a dog, and we all caught flu, but the tour nevertheless yielded some memorable gigs. I played bass after years of hitting drums, and Andrew’s complex songs were never easy to learn. The ill-conceived tour was my dream, and it ended up being a costly affair, and damn hard work. The poster was great, though!

Andrew at the Benefit of Mr K –
photo by Small Town Music

Andrew suffered from kidney failure for most of his last decade on this Earth, but he fought it tooth and nail, and never let it overwhelm him. He carried on doing gigs as long as he was physically able, and after that, he still managed to record many songs. Despite his pain and struggling with sleep, he always had a smile for his friends and family. A mate of mine called Tilo von Brandis and I came to visit him several times, and during our visits – and when Andrew came to Joburg for operations – Tilo recorded a couple of videos of Andrew and I playing his new songs. As I also have kidney problems, we jokingly called the duo The Renal Bros; the videos became quite popular on social media. I’m the only Renal Brother left now. I miss my mate deeply, but I know he led a full life. He told me tales of how he gigged in England and Ireland, on trains and in pubs, with a motley crew of raggedy musos. He had some profound experiences in Jerusalem, playing with locals on the streets. His song Bernaldus recalls his jams with James Phillips at Rhodes.  His songs about his roots reveal that he was always a family man. He was always generous and loving, even when he had fuckall. I’m damn sure he’s gone to a better place.

Andrew and Ciska at The Benefit of Mr K –
photo by Small Town Music

Andrew’s memorial was held in Kaapsehoop on Saturday 08 July 2023 where family, friends, musos and more came to say goodbye.

You are now ziggie dust, we hope that the heavenly gig with Bowie, Mercury and more is the one you have been waiting for.

Untill then Mr K.

“Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies”
Marley is the founder and owner of Small Town Music. Born and bred in Nelspruit aka Nelsparta. Marley loves music (rock being a firm favourite), tattoos, festivals, animals and South Africa. Self-taught photographer and writer.