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Music is always better live in Knysna

A highlight for Better Live was the opportunity to host three Freshlyground gigs for one of the band’s last tours in September 2019 – one at St Francis Links and two performances in Knysna. Front row (from left): Jackie Barham, Zolani Mahola, Dominic Morel, Chris Bakalanga and Peter Cohen. Back Row (from left): Julio Sigauque, Simon Attwell, Josh Hawks and Keith Farquharson (sound engineer)
FRESH SOUNDS: A highlight for Better Live was the opportunity to host three Freshlyground gigs for one of the band’s last tours in September 2019 – one at St Francis Links and two performances in Knysna. Front row (from left): Jackie Barham, Zolani Mahola, Dominic Morel, Chris Bakalanga and Peter Cohen. Back Row (from left): Julio Sigauque, Simon Attwell, Josh Hawks and Keith Farquharson (sound engineer)
Image: LUCY MOREL

We are spoilt in Knysna with A-lister musicians performing all year round.

But these music events don’t just happen.

A lot of hard work and experience goes into the gigs we are lucky to have here.

This is where the charismatic Dominic Morel and his music company, Better Live, come into the picture.

Morel and his wife Lucy dreamt of living here and so, in 2000, they left the frenetic pace of Cape Town and made the move to Knysna, where Morel now runs 2Heads Advertising Agency.

During his time in Cape Town, Morel had rubbed shoulders with local bands like Lithium, Springbok Nude Girls, Nine, Bright Blue, Robin Auld, The Usual, Armed Populous and The Blues Broers (to name a few).

He was the guy who designed the posters, merchandise and demo covers for some of these artists.

“I came to make friends in the music industry — and also saw how much work goes into a live event.

“I would watch the crew  loading in, the prep, sound checks, and thought this has to be the coolest job in the world,”  Morel says.

Shortly after moving to Knysna, Morel connected with Jackie Barham, who shared his passion for music.

“I remember her convincing me to buy a ticket to see The Black Cat Bones (I’d never heard of them).

“A few minutes into their performance, my jaw dropped to the floor!

“I’d never seen a stage presence like this ever,”  Morel recalls.

Over time, Barham introduced Morel to even more live music at festivals and local events, and he says he was “like a sponge soaking it all up”.

Morel and Barham invited South African bands — music that they both felt was world-class, like Crimson House, Dan Patlansky, the “Bones”, Matthew Mole, The Parlotones, Jesse Clegg and countless others — to play in Knysna.

Thanks to this team, the Canadian band Neon Dreams have also performed here ... twice.

In 2015, they hosted the first Knysna Blues Festival and it was sold out that December.

This flagship event has had seen seven iterations since then — with the eighth one planned for December 2022.

In 2016, Better Live, Morel and Barham’s company, came to be.

“The name says it all because music is always better live,” Morel says.

Riaan Smit, frontman of Crimson House, was somebody who motivated Morel to grow his business and go big.

From initially renting equipment and hustling, Better Live now boasts top-notch in-house equipment to lure bands (many of whom do not travel with all the paraphernalia needed) — from drums and lighting, to sound equipment and, most recently,   two stretch tents and staging.

Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown clobbered the music industry and after growing to an impressive 39 major events in 2019, the company was only able to host three gigs in 2020.

Morel says they jumped at the opportunity to present safe and enjoyable events in 2021.

There’s nothing like live music, Morel says.

“It’s the fact that someone has taken the time, effort, decades of practice and skill to come and entertain me (and hundreds of others).

“I love that there is a lyric or a mood of music for every occasion, be it happy, in love, sad, angry or any other feeling.

“I also love the melancholic nature of music that allows you to relive the good times in your life.

“But most of all, it’s about that connection with the artist: the ‘wordless’ bond and exchange between performer on stage and you, in the audience.

“And, as Jackie likes to say, ‘you can’t download that experience’.”

About the only thing that makes this business stressful is that people tend to book at the last minute.

“I would ask that people book early because it takes massive commitment to announce a show,”   Morel says.

During the Covid lockdown, when the music died, Morel focused on another passion.

He built and grew a 68-tank fish breeding facility in his garage and launched Knysna Aquatics — which now sends rare freshwater fish species to shops all over SA.

On the cards for 2022: music event organiser at the 2022 Knysna Oyster Festival (July 1-10) and the eighth annual Knysna Blues Festival in December, a weekend festival and camping experience for the Heritage Day long weekend in September, a new jazz festival and an Afrikaans music extravaganza.

Watch @BetterLiveSA on Facebook and Instagram and  the website www.betterlive.co.za 

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