Al Paton's voice spills out onto the Zula Bar crowd as he slams out another chorus on his well-worn guitar. His music is clearly influenced by bands like Dave Matthews and Counting Crows.
The song he's playing is a simple acoustic guitar number, but it shows Paton's strength as a songwriter. His lyrics are fresh and honest, almost African in their story-telling style, relating his version of life, a lover or some crazy dream.
In the next song, I'm taken back to the deserts of Namibia where he grew up. Apparently, from the age of 7, he had a recurring nightmare of wanting to be a pianist. Although I know the truth is simply that he banged away at the old family piano until it finally broke down, which forced him to take up the guitar.
Somewhere along the way he must've learned to drum too, because the set finishes with a dramatic solo on an African drum. Nice touch. It feels like it could on for longer. All night in fact, if people's reactions were anything to go by.
Afterwards, we chat and I find out that in high school, college and his twenties, he played in a number of rock bands, writing songs and winning a few of those nameless 'battle of the bands' titles. As he progressed, his bands added a few regional and international music awards to that list, including first place in both NBC's Music Makers Contest and Stage Magazine's Recording Sponsorship, with the band Desert Velvet.
Since then, he has reached the top 40 pop rock charts on Garageband.com with the song 'Matchstick Man' and was awarded Top 15 Lyrics of all-time in pop-rock. 'Always' (with Desert Velvet) and 'Peachy' also made the top 20 of the Vivacious Voice National Songwriting Contest.
I also hear the story of how he co-wrote the lyrics for the Western Cape's National cricket team song (the Cape Cobras), with his mother, Lesley Paton! The song was a collaboration with Gabi Le Roux (Mandoza, Jack Hammer) and Clive Ridgeway (Judith Sepuma).
Also surprising, in 2010 he featured in Ross Dix-Peek's list of Prominent Rhodesian-born Men and Women (1890-1979), alongside Nobel Laureate Albert Luthuli and AC/DC producer Mutt Lange. "That's a bit much though," he admits, "I just play a guitar."
If a guitar's all it takes, there may be hope for us yet. As I step out of the bar into the warm Cape Town night, I'm tempted to go home and dust off the old 6-string in the attic and hack out a tune. Fancy a jam Al?
Paton currently lives in London, UK and performs regularly.
Al Paton’s tracks