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THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE ACOUSTIC GUITARIST (article first published : 2005-07-14)

“When I was young and I’d watch someone playing a guitar, I saw it as a living, breathing thing. The player was only there to let it speak,” said acclaimed acoustic guitar maestro Tony Cox in an interview with Cue, the newspaper of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, where he has just presented his latest show.

Well, in my book, Tony Cox takes the “living breathing thing” and creates even more magic! Durban audiences are privileged to see Tony live with this show, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Acoustic Guitarist, as it is currently running at Catalina Theatre. In the same Cue interview, Tony said: “Any working musician or actor knows the loneliness of being way from home, family and friends, so this is probably the most real of any of my show titles.”

With nothing other than atmospheric lighting for visual effect, this multiple SAMA award-winner sits alone on the stage surrounded by three of his guitars. It’s a familiar image with his distinctive curly greying hair falling over his shoulders as he hunches over his guitar, lost in the music. The image may offer a sense of stillness and concentration but watch the fingers - they’re flying!

Be prepared to be wooed by Tony Cox’s musicianship and blown away by the sheer mastery of his playing. He presents an entertaining programme of differing moods and styles which he links with his usual wry humour. Quipping that bluegrass music equals “a helluva tempo”, he combines this in Bluegrass Safari with kwela music, which always makes me think of pedalling a bicycle backwards because of its hiccup-like rhythm. The combination of styles was electrifying.

He introduces the audience to his baritone guitar made by former Springbok sportsman, Ian Corr, who lives in Morgan’s Bay and makes guitars as a hobby. This instrument produces an exciting deep tone and at times sounds like a whole bank of cellos. I enjoyed A Warm Day in Maputo.

There is much gentle amusement amid the playing – particularly with Major Mynahs which was inspired when Tony and Steve Newman were staying at the Royal Hotel while they were in Durban for a five-week gig. From his hotel room window, Tony could see the trees outside the City Hall that play host to the masses of mynah birds that came there to roost as sunset approaches! There’s also a song inspired by a sweeper who looks after the grounds of a friend’s house. He works through the night although there is often nothing left to sweep. Tony says: “It’s a combination of Zen, sweeping, and the art of staying awake!”

He also plays on a guitar which has to be open-tuned which he bought when he was 18, causing much amusement in mentioning that Dolly Parton also plays an open tuned guitar because her fingernails are too long to do otherwise! For the current tour he has borrowed the instrument from his 18 year-old daughter Thalo, so the Cox talent has obviously been passed on.

While at the festival in Grahamstown, Tony set aside one of his performances to record his latest CD and DVD live. It is expected that this will be released later this year. So, see the show at Catalina, put the DVD on your gift/birthday/Christmas wish list and become a fan … that’s if you aren’t one already!

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Acoustic Guitarist runs at Catalina Theatre until July 23 nightly at 20h00. For bookings or information contact Thandeka or Janice on 031 305 6889. – Caroline Smart




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