By Stuart Thomas
There’s a piece of graffiti on one of the desks in GLT that says: “Dave Knowles, Tonight!” It’s surrounded by stars. This could easily have been the life that Knowles would now be leading, surrounded by groupies and stars.
Instead he finds himself surrounded by philosophy readings and music theory lessons in a town that is, this year, at the very beginning of a musical cycle.
Knowles first picked up a guitar at age 12 when he received the classical guitar that had been left to him by his father, which resulted in a few lessons and a very inauspicious beginning. His eyes light up when he recounts the story of receiving his first electric on his 13th birthday. It was at a time when his family was battling financially and he wasn’t expecting anything. He walked into his room, his mother having said nothing, and found the guitar “with a rose on top of it and a little amp next to it.”
Knowles joined the school band at 16, where he took lessons for about a year and learned some basic jazz. Knowles soon felt ready to branch out.
“I was 17 and had enough songs to start a band,” he says. He then approached his friend, whose brother was also interested. Out of this group was to become Chenoby.
They played at their school soon after, “It was at the time that Fight Club had come out and was really popular,” says Knowles. They ended with a cover of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” and, “The whole hall just broke out into this massive fight.” Not bad for a first gig.
Chenoby proceeded to gig locally for two years, a time Knowles clearly enjoyed, “This town rocked in those days,” he says. He describes Grahamstown’s current musical state to that of a ghost town. The band had a little radio play but did not fit into The Finkelstiens and Tweak’s driven mould of the time, despite playing gigs with Wonderboom and Sugardrive. Eventually Chenoby had to make a decision as to whether they should separate and study or attempt at making themselves known overseas.
The music scene in the UK is described by Knowles as being far more competitive than in South Africa. It was this, ultimately, that led to the break-up of Chenoby. Knowles tells of the split, saying that all the members coincidentally bumped into each other on the street that day. Thus Chenoby ended at a misty crossroads in England. The next day they were called up by the record label that signed The Smiths and were asked to submit more of their work. “It just fell apart,” says Knowles but, “It was cool to know it was noticed.”
Knowles then began the period that defined his current musical philosophy. He bought an acoustic guitar and played in London and Oxford, learning from both a Malaysian called Az who, “played by himself but sounded like he was playing with a band” and a busker in Oxford. He feels that these experiences justified the quitting of the band and allowed him to concern himself with “the problem of expression.” This more holistic approach has led him away from the success-orientated goals of a band. This then, is a man for whom fame in a band no longer seems to matter. “I want to be truly satisfied with my ability,” he says. He seems to relish the prospect of this challenge saying “The music in my head is always ahead of my practical ability. You can play a gig and not feel vain and arrogant.”