Brandon October has played more shows than he can remember, but he'll never forget his worst.
Headlining a festival in George, he takes to the stage after Amore Vittone has wowed an audience of some 2000 people packed into a big top arena.
"I walk out, sing the verse, chorus, and the second verse, and the tent was empty," he chuckles.
"I've never had something like that happen to me. And now you don't know — is it me they don't like? It can't be the songs because I didn't even get into the thick of things. And for months after I'd just question myself until I came to the conclusion: I can't actually compel people to listen," he says.
But the experience made him stronger.
"You think: 'Do I throw in the towel here or do I use this and see it as the worst possible thing that could happen to me and just use that disappointment and try turn that into something that fuels my ambition?' and that's what I did.
"It's still something that stays with me. Am I angry? I was for a while. Am I disappointed? I still am. But I've learned so much which is why I've got to this place. Things happen and disappointments come and there are some joys and some gigs that are really great and some that you don't enjoy but you do them — and from there other things come."
Now October — whose CV includes runner-up on the first season of Idols, Supersterre presenter, SAMA-nominated debut album, staple of Huisgenoot's Skouspel shows — is back with a new album, a new sound, and a new look.
"I thought: 'You know what, we're starting clean slate here, so where do you go when you want to go clean slate from largely ballads? You go to the rock realm of things.'
"So that's what I did —I love Queen and U2 and all of those things you can really get your voice into. So this album is the beginnings of a new direction."
Although the collection — his third studio offering — boasts a variety of musical styles to showcase his vocal diversity, he's proudest of the rock-out moments.
"People don't know me for that," he admits. "I was always singing a ballad here and a ballad there and the rock stuff was something I wanted to bring in — as well as the blue nail polish and the change in look, after years of trying to be someone that I thought people wanted to see.
"That wasn't Brandon, ever, because this is me — the bloke who went to work dressed in crazy clothes. Way before David Beckham dreamed of wearing a skirt I was doing that s**t. And I thought: 'What's happened? What happened to that guy? And now you're some nowhere kind of guy'.
"And I went back to that — going back to that brought all these new songs. And so the follow-up album is going to be based on the rock stuff.
"I love singing those crooner songs - I grew up with Johnny Mathis and with Nat King Cole so they come naturally — but that's not where I am. I love to sing a kickass rock tune, just have the band come in and that Freddie Mercury alter-ego comes out."
But the change — in both look and sound — isn't so extreme as to frighten off his fanbase, something he worried about briefly.
"I did think about the possibility of losing fans for a second, but then I thought: 'If you've got to be somebody else, you're never going to be happy. Rather be yourself and lose a few fans along the way but you'll always be true to who you are."
In fact, he's found that even his older fans have gone with the change.
"People don't think it's so out there that I've become a different person — if I'd gone for black nail polish it would have looked all goth, but the blue is something to talk about and it's fun."
And, besides, October is looking to take his career abroad, hoping to follow locals like Chris Chameleon and Amanda Strydom into Belgium and The Netherlands.
"My ultimate goal, what keeps me going, is beyond the shores of South Africa. I've got Madison Square Garden in New York on my mind," he says. "I've even had dreams about it — not only am I playing Madison Square Garden, but the show is being televised worldwide, and Barbra Streisand is the support act," he laughs.
"I've never not enjoyed music but I needed to find a shield that all that negative stuff could bounce off of, otherwise it's hard. And if you don't have a rudder you'll be bobbing about like a bath duck — so my rudder is Madison and that's where I'm headed."