By Deva Lee and Rogan Kerr
Strolling around De Tap Huijs barefoot, Rory Eliot prepares for his show that night. He begins telling the story of his life, and his animated gestures, teamed with his anecdotal descriptions, make him nothing short of entertaining both offstage and on.
Eliot’s music career started in high school: he remembers playing “Far Beyond” when in standard eight. Eliot decided to make music his career because he believes it has the power to change your outlook on life. “Songs are all about encouragement and self-realisation,” he says.
Eliot soon met Chas Smit, who according to Eliot was already a “mean guitarist” and eager to start a band. They formed Plush and began touring South Africa, recruiting fans wherever they went. “We did a lot of the things we had promised we’d do,” said Eliot.
Plush ended in 2005 when Smit was killed by a drunk driver. After this, Eliot stopped playing for six months. He explains that Smit’s death sent him into “a long period of self doubt”. Eliot and Ben Peters (then Plush’s drummer) started playing again in 2006. Eliot had been touring solo for a while before this, writing new songs and seeing new places. “Life deals us cards, and we just got to roll with it,” says Eliot. At the start of 2007, they hooked up with bassist Louis Roux and began recording their first single, “When Grace Grew Tall”. “It’s a song about God’s grace in my life,” says Eliot.
It’s Eliot’s first performance in Grahamstown, although not his first visit. He performed at some of the theatres during Festival a couple of times when he was younger. After suffering a burnout because he was doing three professional productions a day, he landed in Settlers Hospital and had to spend the night. Eliot says that his main ambition is not fame. “Sure I want success, but that’s because I wanna reach more people,” he explains. This is one of the main reasons he paid G-town a visit. “I love [playing for] the varsity crowd” he says. “It’s such a perfect opportunity to target people who are making big choices right now.” And as he told the crowd at the gig, it was one of the places he and Smit had planned to perform in.
The gigs present a narrative of Eliot’s life, as he keeps a dialogue with the crowd throughout. It is the familiarity created that has helped to ensure a loyal fan base. Eliot’s new band is named The Reason, because “there are so many reasons for my present circumstances,” he says. “We call them co-incidences but they’re not,” he explains when referring to how his current band got together.
Louis Roux, the new bassist, saw Eliot and Peters perform in Jo’burg and was so moved by the experience that he had the courage to go home and tell his mother that he was dropping out of third year law to follow his music career.
Roux’s presence can be felt most on the track “Jet Life”, adding a dimension that definitely gives the song new worth. Eliot describes the transition in sound from that of Plush by saying: “It’s the essence of the music that I write that made Plush, and it will survive until I’m dead and until all the feelings that I have, have faded away.” “The sound may have changed, but the songs are the same in essence,” he says.
Eliot has since worked on the Wandering Star project, which informs young people about alcohol abuse. “I have nothing against drinking, but the chances are very slim that you’re gonna find me drunk somewhere,” he says.
Rory Eliot and The Reason still perform many songs from the Plush albums, although there isn’t a new guitarist. “I play the Plush songs because I love them, and just because Chas died, doesn’t mean they died too”. Eliot says, “We don’t want them to fade away.”