- Category: Music
- Written by Gisele Turner
Tony Cox likes to keeps things casual and friendly. He strolls on stage in comfortable chinos, slops and black T, and greets everyone with a “howzit!” His signature locks are long, white and freshly washed and he keeps a little bush of a goatee. His eyes have the look of a man who has walked onto too many stages to remember, but his forehead is smooth and broad and a secret smile plays on his lips. He sits firmly on the moulded plastic chair, picks up his guitar, shifts into playing position and begins. If you close your eyes you would swear there were at least three guitarists on that stage….
It is always a pleasure to listen to a master craftsman. Tony Cox is a revered veteran of the solo guitar; this fact supported by the number of musos that pitched up to hear him play. Like most music lovers and festival attendees I have chalked up countless experiences of listening to him, alone, in tandem, in groups and alone again. I have a memory of a solo played in a pool of light at the BAT Centre’s Sipho Gumede Hall that goes back 20 years, a thing unleashed, thrashing, sighing and burning up the air.
Today Tony Cox is promoting his latest album Padkos. “So many people call and tell me they went across the desert or they went across the ocean listening to my tracks,” he says. “So I called this album Padkos, food for travellers, food for the soul.” It’s also the first time he has done an album of covers. “I thought if I am going to a cover album, it’s got to be music that means something special to me, something I really want to play,” he continues, because, as we all know, he has created a huge body of original music.
So, two things intrigued me. One, naturally, was what has he chosen to play? What songs made it to his special list? And why? And the other, a more intriguing question, was how was he going to play them? He played tunes that you and I and people of a certain generation are familiar with as belonging to a dated South African repertoire. He played Impi, Ancient Dust, Zambezi, Jabulani, Swinging Safari and Weeping. He played Bring Back Nelson Mandela as an encore. And he threw in a couple of his own number: title tune Padkos, a rasping blues Invisible and the ironic Long walk to Nkandla
But, you can’t keep a good composer down and every song was meticulously arranged to show off his particular skills and bring out the best in the music. Some of them are relatively easy, at least for Tony Cox, and he popped them in between the really challenging numbers which needed a bass, rhythm, lead and percussion to make them sound anything like the originals. With signature licks and hidden changes and unexpected harmonies and rhythm boosts and other impressive stuff.
Tony Cox gets a dreamy look in his eye while he plays; he muses on his sound like a kabuki actor watching himself playing someone else. He makes the music and he listens to it; his ear is acute and tuned and relentlessly demanding of himself. He fine tunes before every song, doing us the favour of turning down the sound. Sometimes, when he’s pulled off a particularly phenomenal feat of virtuosity, he gives himself a knowing look and moves on. He knows what years of uninterrupted practice it has taken to do that stuff.
It’s an hour of extreme guitar. It’s an hour tinged with ironic nostalgia. It’s an hour with a warm, friendly guy who makes you feel at home. Then he rattles your cage. Don’t miss Tony Cox’s Padkos!
Padkos plays the Catalina Theatre Thursday to Sunday – May 22 to June 1 Booking: www.computicket.com Phone: 0861 915 8000
Video by Clive Read of DurbanTheatrePreviews.co.za