By Chelsea Haith
Gary Thomas, guitarist and vocalist known for his eerie soundscapes, is performing his farewell tour of South Africa and will be bringing his indie, anti-folk sound to Grahamstown on Saturday, 14 March. This tour is a goodbye to his South African fans, his old haunts and his current stage name before he relocates to Europe with his wife and new baby.
Hoping to break into a wider market and broaden his fan base, Thomas will be moving to Spain initially, where his wife was born, and from there they will go where the winds of his mystical music take them. “We’ll see where we end up on the road, touring around. We want to get a motorhome in Germany and just mission,” Thomas explained.
Thomas is not the first South African musician to leave SA in the last two years, and he’s off looking for a wider audience with a taste for the obscure. “I feel like its time to take my career to the next level and Europe and the rest of the world are full of festivals, endless venues and audiences on a mass scale who appreciate a bit of dark, weird guitar music,” he said.
His ambitions are as big as his sound and Thomas is changing his stage name and his game completely, growing his sound and letting go of the one-man-band for a bigger complement of talent. “I’m going to take this thing sky high. I’ve honestly never wanted to do something else full time like music, so I don’t see the point in not taking it to level 10. I will also start a band there which will be exciting,” he enthused.
Another reason for his relocation is the restrictive new immigration laws that are forcing his wife and child to go to Spain. Once there they will be barred from re-entry into South Africa as his wife’s visa has expired and it’s incredibly difficult to renew. “[The laws] are destroying the country, economy and families everywhere. My son can’t get a birth certificate here (and he was born here!). So we just decided to say fuck you to Home Affairs and go where my whole family is welcome,” Thomas said.
Born in Durban, Thomas has until recently called Cape Town his home. He assured me that it is not the country, but rather the bureaucracy of Home Affairs and the opportunity of a career boost that is driving his family abroad. “Why not go? It’s a big world out there. We still and always will love South Africa,” he said.
Undaunted by the fresh, untested crowds he will have to woo with his incredible sound and humourous on-stage presence, Thomas looks forward to seeing old faces from his 2012 European tour. “I think music is one of those universal things that people appreciate everywhere, so in some ways playing a new European city is similar to playing a South African town that I’ve never done before. I’m sure there will be fans coming back from the last tour though,” he said.
A regular favourite at The National Arts Festival, Thomas’ live performance goes beyond ‘good’ into the realm of the surreal, capturing dark places in the imagination, evoking images of mist creeping across empty fields and the loneliness of South Africa’s highways at two o’clock in the morning.
Witness one man with a few guitars, a stomp box, a violin bow, a saw and a clever technical rig conjure a sound so full and rich that it pulls strings of memory from childhood and you’ll find that his work speaks to the aching places inside us all. His live performance is best captured on the album Contraption Distoria, released in 2010 featuring winding narrative acoustic guitar telling stories without words. This release was followed in 2012 by Midnight Atlas, which Rolling Stone described as “a virtuoso display of Thomas’ left-field indie-folk mastery.
Thomas is anti-folk, anti-Home Affairs and anti-mediocrity, choosing a nomadic life for a while to be with his family and to build his career as a musician and performer. In his own words, Gary Thomas is on a mission: “I will be changing my stage name, bringing out a new album and setting out to destroy everything.”
Click here to hear some of his sound.