So where do YOU go to my lovely? 60’s chart topper Peter Sarstedt gets a taste of the TreeRoutes projects in the KZN Midlands
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Singing for the birds - ‘Green Music’ does its bit for conservation.
60’s chart topper Peter Sarstedt visits the KZN Midlands
by Alan Cooper
Peter Sarstedt sipped his orange juice – regular, not frozen – and surveyed a chilly, mist-shrouded KZN Midlands landscape through binoculars. “This is just like the weather back home,” he said.
Given that “home” for the 60s pop icon-turned conservation ambassador is the rural outskirts of London, the remark was probably not entirely complimentary.
“Not like Jo'burg at all. It's really hot there,” his wife Jill concurred as she adjusted his scarf. “You're singing tonight, Peter. We don't want you to lose your voice.”
The couple had arrived in Howick that morning from Johannesburg for the second leg of a national tour as guests of paper and pulp multi-national, Sappi and it was clear their stylish safari gear was not quite up to the rigours of a late spring cold snap in the Midlands.
The irony of the situation was not lost on his hosts, several of whom sported rings under their eyes from sleepless nights battling forest fires. For the foresters, this was a welcome, if all-too-brief, break in a seemingly endless spell of hot, dry weather, all-too-reminiscent of the conditions that had helped spark the devastating fire-storm of June 2007 that destroyed almost 5,900ha of plantations worth hundreds of millions of Rands.
Sarstedt, now 67, opted out of the mainstream pop scene in the early 70s, so he never went on to make the kind of money some of his contemporaries did and he describes the wealth of today's stars as “obscene”. But he's clearly grateful for the steady royalty income which has allowed him to pursue a keen interest in conservation.
“Where Do You Go To” featured in the 2007 Wes Anderson films Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limited which sparked renewed interest in Sarstedt's music.
The following morning dawned unpromisingly misty, but soon cleared and the Sarstedts were treated to a memorable sighting of a pair of Blue Cranes at a dam on Sappi land just outside Howick, much to the relief of both their hosts and the 50/50 crew.
The entourage then travelled the 66km to the town of Bulwer, location of the Marutswa Forest, home to the endangered Cape Parrot. Like the Karkloof Conservation Centre, Marutswa is a project of TreeRoutes, a partnership between Sappi and the WWF. TreeRoutes develops conservation projects around the country in collaboration with rural communities who live near threatened indigenous forests and wetlands.
Marutswa, with hundreds of metres of aerial boardwalks, lookout jetties, decks and view points, gives visitors an unrivalled view of the forest's various layers, including the canopy, and of the birds who call it home. Apart from the Cape Parrot, sought-after KZN mist-belt forest bird species found there include Orange Ground-thrush and Green Twinspot.
Fortunately the gods and the sun also shone down favourably on the visitors and the previous day’s misty skies were replaced by ideal bird-viewing conditions. Sarstedt needed little encouragement to treat the delegation, staff and visitors to a sample of his 26-verse “Green Alphabet” song. They were rewarded by a sighting of the elusive Cape Parrots who delivered a highly vocal response, showing off their distinctive green plumage amongst the foliage of the majestic Yellowwoods.
“It's really encouraging to visit centres like this at Marutswa and Karkloof to see how businesses like Sappi and local communities are working together to conserve South Africa's natural heritage,” he said.
With a successful KZN trip under his belt, Sarstedt moved on to the final Cape leg of his tour, with concerts in Cape Town and Franschhoek.
He was in South Africa in September and early October as a guest of Sappi to help raise funds and awareness for various environmental conservation organisations. He previously visited the country to provide support, along with Sappi, for the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre at De Wildt in the North West Province.
André Oberholzer, Sappi's Group Head Corporate Affairs said, “We invited Peter back to South Africa to add a new dimension to our long-standing support for the arts, community development and conservation. “Peter’s wonderful music and his passion for conservation will help generate much needed funds and awareness for a number of very worthy causes across the country,” Oberholzer said.
The causes included the cheetah centre, Birdlife South Africa, the Freeme Rehabilitation Centre, the Pilansberg Wildlife Trust, the Two Oceans Aquarium Cape Town Harbour Seal Project, the Bergvlam Wetland Rehabilitation project in Nelspruit, in conjunction with the Innibos Arts Festival, the Water Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort and the Sappi Green Ambassador Recycling programme.
Sarstedt also held several workshops for aspiring musicians, in keeping with both Sappi and his support and encouragement of music in South Africa.
But for Sarstedt, unaware he was standing virtually at the epicentre of that inferno, the conditions were not conducive to bird-spotting, which was, after all, one of the reasons he'd been invited to the area, famed for its abundance of bird life. And it wasn't providing exactly riveting footage for the television crew recording a slot for the conservation-themed programme, 50/50.
Normally, there'd be plenty to see. In fairer weather the well appointed bird hide the party was crowded into at the Karkloof Conservation Centre is a magnet for birders. The Sappi-backed centre is a lynch pin of the Midlands Birding Route and all three of South Africa’s species of cranes - the Blue, Grey-Crowned and Wattled Crane - are found in the area and enjoy protection by locals.
But none were in evidence that day. The crew had earlier captured some heart-warming footage of the Sarstedts with some rescued baby deer at the nearby FreeMe Rehabilitation Centre. But Sarstedt's interest in birds was the main reason they'd driven down from Gauteng and at the moment it was looking like it would be a largely wasted trip.
That evening Sarstedt, his voice intact, performed a gig for local landowners meeting in the area, followed by an unplugged session for Sappi foresters and their partners over dinner.
The singer shot to prominence in 1969 with his UK number one hit “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?”, which he performed that night, along with “Take Off Your Clothes”, “Hemingway” “Frozen Orange Juice” and other old favourites.
Despite the popular mythology around “Where Do You Go To”, Sarstedt insisted it was not written with actress Sophia Loren in mind. “Yes, it's a portrait of a poor-born girl who becomes a member of the European jet-set. And yes, there's reference to her growing up on the 'back streets of Naples', so I can see why people may think it was written with Sophia Loren in mind. But that's just a co-incidence. I really wasn't thinking of anyone specific.” His wife nodded: “Thanks goodness you did write it, though, Peter. It's been a nice little pension pot.”
Eco-tourism = Community + Environment