“Good evening, Grahamstown. Thanks for coming. This is my last show in your town. Ever.”
Thomas begins playing a new song, one he says that he has written for his new project in Europe. It is somewhat louder than what his fans are used to.. It is quicker too. He seems to be hitting the strings of his guitar a lot harder. “I used to open every show with metal,” he reminds the crowd.
However, metal is the furthest thing from the intrinsic beauty and fervour with which Thomas plays the guitar, a sound that South Africans have come to know and cherish over the past eight years of his career. Sometimes he is playing the acoustic guitar in his hands with a funk-bass style, slapping the strings with his thumb, the fingers of his left hand scuttling along the neck of the guitar like a dancing crab. At other times he will pluck away at the strings with one part of his hand, while another taps to the rhythm on the side of the guitar box. He can do more with a guitar than one might think possible. He never ceases to amaze his audience with the beauty he ties together with that technical brilliance.
And then he begins to sing. It is the sound of a cry echoing from the mountains. It is the sound of a voice in the wind. It is haunting, filled with mystique, and utterly captivating. Whole tables of diners at Saints Bistro leave their food to get cold on their plates, their forks suspended in mid-air as they start gently swaying to his musical entrapment.
However, between songs, Thomas brings us back to earth with his unending kookiness. “1, 2, 6, 20!” he counts down at the beginning of a song. At another point he notices the size of a woman’s wineglass at a table near the stage, “That could give a home to a fish!”
Dressed in just a plain black T-shirt, maroon chinos and thick, blue socks (yes, only thick, blue socks), nothing about the folk musician is for show. He is open and honest, and just playing what he feels is right for whoever is there to listen. He is polite onstage, apologising to those sitting to his right because his neck “automatically turns left” when he is playing. “Please don’t feel offended.”
There is a sense of sadness in the crowd at the prospect that he will never again perform here. “Use the bow, Gary! It’s your last concert!” someone calls. Thomas, of course, obliges, and begins playing his guitar with a violin bow, the sound of which reverberates through Saints Bistro, through to the street enticing some interested ears, and into the very bones of all present.
He begins to play a song from early in his career. “This is from my first album. It’s called ‘Hell in the Kitchen’, and it has nothing to do with the title.” A table of particularly inured fans know it, and begin jiving in memories of times past – times that will never come again.
South Africa has lost a real musical genius, and Europe is about to have their thick, blue socks blown off.