Syd's no sissy about death

2011-03-06 10:00
Sally Scott
Regrets, he’s had a few?... but terminal cancer raging through his already emaciated frame is a mountain.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Syd Kitchen, a legend both here and in international acoustic music circles is in his usual ballsy way fighting this new fight – with dark humour, large dollops of whisky, the ever-present ciggie and (when he feels the need) morphine.

He has stage-four terminal cancer which has spread into his lymph nodes and liver.

Typical of Kitchen, he says he is “not scared to die”.

Then again, he relates a recent exchange he had in oncology.

As he was leaving, the “sweet” ­receptionist said something along the lines of “have a nice day”.

Replied Kitchen under his breath: “f*ck you, I’m dying ...”

Yes, the man does not intend to go quietly: “When the time comes, the grim reaper will have to come and fetch me ...” but he is ready to go having at just 60, packed plenty into a full life.

As he puts it: “I’ve lived life, I’m proud of my credibility and what I’ve done – more than most my age. I’ve filled up three lifetimes in a way.”

If you google Kitchen, the ­description reads: “Since the 1970s, Syd Kitchen has remained an innovative, active, non-compromising part of the South African musical landscape.

An acclaimed teacher, thinker and published poet, he performs extensively at festivals and clubs, both solo and with various combinations.”

Internationally, over the years, he has become a familiar face on the acoustic scene – gigging from Paris to LA, from the UK’s ­Glastonbury Music Festival to the Edinburgh Festival and last year in New York, with a slew of big names including Hugh Masekela, Anton Fig and Abdullah Ibrahim.

It was in New York last year that Fool in a Bubble, the full-length documentary on his life produced and directed by ­Brooklyn-based filmmaker Joshua Sternlicht, premiered.

The film also showed at the 2010 Durban ­International Film Festival. ­Kitchen’s album of the same name was also launched.

For the “warts and all” production, a doccie team followed

Kitchen, capturing slices of his ­career and life. This included ­memories of a childhood rape and footage of South Africa’s longest running music festival, KwaZulu-Natal’s Splashy Fen.

Kitchen has played every Splashy and plans to make it his 21st this Easter.

Personally, Kitchen seems at peace with life. As we chat over whisky we are often interrupted by calls from well-wishers.

He sits surrounded by family: his daughter; brother Pete who is over from the UK; his young wife, Germaine, of two years is due home from work; and a good friend is coming from Las Vegas.

Professionally, June sees the ­release of an extraordinary tribute album to enigmatic British jazzy/folk singer John Martyn.

Kitchen’s Afro-vibe version of Martyn’s song Fine Lines, which he recorded in Scotland, is one of the tracks.

Martyn died two years ago at 60. Kitchen was approached to record for the album.

“Apparently John Martyn was quite a fan of mine; he particularly loved my song Africa’s Not for ­Sissies.”

You may not have heard of Martyn, a cult muso with 40 years of making music, but on the album Kitchen is in the company of a few high-profile fans of Martyn, including Eric Clapton, Beck, The Cure’s Robert Smith, Snow Patrol, Phil Collins and David Gray.

“I’m proud of my work on that album.

I’d like to be around when it comes out.”

He has no illusions about the ­prognosis.

“I understand the seriousness of where I am, I’ve hooked up with a hospice, I’m starting day-care next week.”

But he is not giving up.

There are two gigs coming up in the next few weeks, one with muso soulmate Madala Kunene.

He intends to be on stage at Splashy during Easter, as part of the much loved Aquarian Quartet, with his mates – Steve Newman, Tony Cox and Greg Georgiades.

And if he was to write his own epitaph? “All is as it must be.”