Songwriter Trippin’ on Midlands vibes

All about the Atom Museum

The Meander Chronicle recently caught up with Winston Owen, who wrote and produced the song, Atom Trippin, apparently inspired by a trip to the Atom Museum in the Midlands. We asked him about his creative inspiration, his fellow musicians and plans for the future … and of course, the dog in the video…

Winston Owen during shooting of the music video for Atom Trippin in Byrne.

Meander Chronicle: In what way did the Midlands inspire the song?

There is something really special about the Midlands for song-writing; a number of my “easiest” songs have been written either in the Midlands, or travelling back from there. The tranquillity just quietens the soul and enables amazing creative flow. When I say “easiest” songs, I mean that the songs were written easily: within 10 to 15 minutes, max, the song was written and done. In one case, the song probably only took five minutes to write and that is because my handwriting is so slow.

MC: Atom Trippin sounds a little hippy-like and not very mechanical engineering-like. In what way does the song relate to the ATOM Museum?

The song is all about the ATOM Museum (laughing). I wrote the song in the late afternoon, after my first visit to the museum. If you listen carefully to the guitar riff in the song, it should remind you of the guitar in Day Tripper by the Beatles, who ventured into quite trippy music as they experimented with …. various things. Because we had just returned from a day-trip, I thought to write the song on the Atom.

The experience there was enchanting and other-worldly as you climb up the winding path to the summit; 1600m above sea level. The views take your breath away, and the vivid greens are other-worldly, like the Faery Glenn valley in the Drakensberg. And you can see the Drakensberg mountains as you climb; in the video, they are snow-capped.

Meander Chronicle: New home for the Atom Museum

When you get to the Atom, it is nothing short of surreal … I felt like I was in another reality, with train engines, airplane engines, military tanks with kids all over them, old machines and the authentic Blacksmiths at their furnaces making stuff and then, later, blowing a real anvil 300 feet into the air. There was even a little room where I found a Scope Magazine from 1967, wherein the main story was of Ms Israel who participated in Ms Universe and then later that year, fought for Israel in the Six Day War. I kept wondering, “Mr. Owen, are you tripping on drugs or have you found yourself in a modern Alice In Wonderland novel?”

The museum was nothing short of surreal … another reality, with train engines, airplane engines, military tanks…

MC: Did the video accurately capture your experience at the Atom Museum and Byrne Valley?

Art is less about accuracy and more about essence. I that regard, I am very happy with the video. The only negative is that it was filmed in winter, so even though it gives that nostalgic feel with the browns and yellows, it does not show the vivid greens of Byrne Valley that you experience for most of the year. Having said that, many people have fed back to me the sense of nostalgia watching the video.

It was my daughter’s first public work in filming a music video. In my view, and from the feedback I got, she did surprisingly well.

MC: Andrew Webster is a professional musician and well-known entertainer. How did you get him to sing on the track?

He also added some nice layers with the acoustic guitar… Andrew is an amazingly accomplished musician and an experienced performer. We met through a guitar club at DHS. He was a few years my junior there. Because my band, Underground Press, had already been performing in nightclubs, I taught him a few things on guitar, but before long he flew past me in skill. We recruited him to join us on a seven-week national tour in the summer of 1990/91.

Special bond

It was a great experience for a 17-year old schoolboy, so he reciprocated a few years later by introducing me to the woman who has now been my wife for 22 years. So, you could say that there is a special bond between us.

MC: Have you performed Atom Trippin live?

We’ve performed the song live on two occasions. The first time was at the Annual Richmond Potjie competition. It was at the end of the night and everyone was drunk and disorderly, so I could have burped into the mic and received thunderous applause. Actually, the same could be said about the second time too, which was at a friend’s 50th birthday party. Both times it was sung by Chris Kirstein who was the frontman for Cope Road 56 back in the 1990s. Chris now lives in Byrne Valley, and built many of the houses there, so the song is quite special to him and has pushed me to do something with the song. So I am glad that it is now recorded and on YouTube.

I would like to perform it live now that it is recorded. It would be nice if Baynesfied asked us to perform at the opening of the ATOM in December.

MC: Why did you ask Andrew to do the vocals and not Chris?

The song is one of those that could fit into a number of genres. At the time of writing, though, there were strong strains of The Beatles: particularly Day Tripper. The Beatles were essentially a pop-rock outfit, and so I wanted to go for a voice that was more suited to pop-rock. Andrew has pop-rock in his genes and his jeans. Chris on the other hand has a strong country-rock voice; there is no pop in him. Interestingly, one of the comments from a muso friend of mind was, “How’s that country throw-back vibe!”. So, I guess we should do a country-rock version with Chris on vocals one day.

Tennyson enjoyed his moment in the spotlight as Best Friend.

MC: Tell us about the dog in the video?

The dog is Tennyson. He is part of the Kirstein family and an appealing part of the Misty Mountain Meander. The line in the first verse to “Best friend’s with me; enjoy the ride” is actually in relation to my wife. However, she was not part of the filming of the music video. We had footage of Tennyson, so my daughter suggested that, as a dog, he become “the best friend” in the video.

MC: Is the girl in the video your daughter?

No, but she is one of my daughter’s BFFs… and the daughter of a good friend of mine. She was over for the weekend, so we said, come along and “enjoy the ride.” She worked much harder than she anticipated and has not come to our house since then. There may or may not be a causal link to that.

Danielle, the BFF, who found herself featured in a music video.

MC: What plans do you have for the song?

There have been various suggestions, including re-mixing it as a dance song, or being used by KZN Tourism to promote the Midlands, or just getting it on to the radio. I am talking those options through with Andrew, and with Colin Peddie from Sonic Studios where we recorded the song.

MC: You live in Durban. How often do you go to the Midlands?

Not enough. I was born and bred on the Berea, which is probably the most vibrant but noisy suburb in Durban. Some people even classify the Berea as part of Durban’s “Inner City” now. So, getting out to the country is essential for the health of my mind, body and soul. Having a close relative with a rustic B&B in Byrne Valley (Misty Mountain Meander) has given a good reason to travel out there more often.

MC: The video was posted by WOW Creations. Will more music videos follow?

WOW Creations is a vehicle that I have set up for the creative stuff that I am planning and doing. The plan is definitely to develop and post more; the feedback from people demands it. Andrew is asking me when we are going to do the next one as there is some great chemistry when we work together. So, hopefully we can get something out before Christmas. But that may necessitate another trip or two to the Midlands. We’ll let you know when we do.