Gary Kriel: farewell to a local music giant

21 September 2021

Bassist Gary Kriel will be laid to rest today with the funeral service severely constrained by the trying conditions of Covid-19.

That is the reality of the times we live in. Were it not so, Cape Town and South Africa would be farewelling, in huge numbers one, of the most accomplished musicians – and one of the nicest guys – to grace our music scenes.

Gary died on Friday, aged 82 and since then, social media has been flooded with tributes to this giant of Cape Town entertainment

I had the pleasure of listening to Gary’s fabulous bass playing going back to the Sixties and Seventies. I also got to know him at a personal level. He was one of the “nice guys” I came across when I reported on Cape Town’s music scene.

I could write reams on him but I will let others who had the honour of playing and performing with him, pay their tribute and give an insight into a remarkable individual.

Pianist Gary Hendricks

“I met Gary Kriel at the end of 1957 when I was 14 when he and Lloyd Kirschoff were playing one guitar simultaneously. Five years later we did our first gig together with the Cliff Davis Dance band run by Cecil Hendricks of Kewtown for a non-stop dance in Paarl.

“In 1963, I joined Cecil Martin’s Enterprise Dance Band, of which Gary Kriel was the guitarist. We did a number of gigs in our local dance venues such as the Reo Hotel, the Athlone Hotel, etc and also at a venue House of Kleyweg on the future site of the Marina Da Gama, Observatory Bowling Club, Woodstock Bowling Club, Camps Bay Bowling Club, two engagements at the home of the chairman of Union Castle Lines and an engagement at the residence of the British Admiral representing the Queen in Bishops Court.

“At the end of that year, he left to join Cecil May’s Band at the Catacombs and then left for Swaziland. In the late 1970s-80s, he returned to the Cape Town scene as a bass guitarist. We linked up with each other again in the 1980s after the Club Montreal gig folded up circa 1986-1988.

“In 1993 after Richard Tembo my bass player of choice had a stroke, I hired Gary if and when he was available.

“After 2005, I hired Basil Moses for most of my gigs with Gary being away most the time. When Basil took ill at the end of 2010, Gary linked up with me once again.

“Last year in January, my South Easter Quartet did three gigs at the City Hall for passengers from the Azmara Cruise Liners with Gary on bass guitar, Harry Peacock on guitar and Roy Davids on drums.

“This contact generated 21 engagements, starting in 2021, but these were put on hold for review at the end of 2022. We joked among each other that should any of us kick the bucket, could we be held in breach of contract?

“Gary Kriel had what one could regard as being a “super ear.” He instinctively knew in which direction chord changes would go.

“Even when I played something like Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, he could accurately improvise a bass part. Tony Schilder’s success of the 1980s at Club Montreal and the development of his ‘Cape Sound’ can in great measure be attributed to Gary’s bass style.”

Guitarist Harry Peacock

“It is so sad that Gary’s gone. I spoke to [businessman and community worker] Miles October not so long ago and he raised the possibility of doing another gig.

“I told him it’s only myself and Gary and Gary still alive out of the old school jazz musicians. Cliffie [Moses] is not too well.

“Now this has happened. It was time we did tributes while the guys were still alive. We all jump on the bandwagon when everybody dies. We forget about when they are alive.“I knew Gary for more than 60 years, we have played together for a very long time. What a wonderful bass player he was. You could throw anything at him and he would be able to play the tune.

We could do a gig without rehearsal, we could just get on stage and we play.

“He was a wonderful person, he was a friend of mine, full of humour, nice to get on with.

“I can’t remember when I first met him, it was either late ‘’50s or early ‘’60s at a jam session in Holy Cross Hall in D6. The bass guitar did not come into prominence yet. Only double basses. He was uncomfortable, not that he couldn’t play double bass, it was due to his physical state.

“Our last gig was last year November when my son got married. He played at he wedding. We were hoping to get together soon if he got better. He was in a care home.

“What a musician he was. He helped me through a lot of difficult musical times with the genres changing. He was very quick to catch on new genres, especially the jazz funk type of stuff. I wasn’t into it; I was a straight jazz guitarist.

Singer Zelda Benjamin

“I can’t remember where I saw him the first time, but I was very impressed with his skills on his instrument. I liked what I saw and what I heard.

“He was so easy to talk to; he always had a quip; he was never miserable. Gary would help anyone who needed help with their music.

“When we did gigs, I found that I didn’t even need to rehearse with him. He knew exactly what I needed. He was on the money.

“In the sphere that I performed in, Gary was like ‘standard equipment’ with the band. Everybody asked for Gary.

“On one occasion Gary and I had a two-hour gig – just the two of us – at a high-flier’s place. I was worried that we couldn’t pull it off. He told me not to worry. I came away a very happy person. I shouted songs at him and he played.

“That was the bottom line with us . . . I never worried when they said Gary was going to be there.”

 

 

Related  material:

Gary Kriel: 80 today and still playing a mean bass

 

 

 

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