Guitar on his shoulder, ponytail, and wooden beads at his neck and wrists: twenty-one-year-old Matthew Thomas is the contemporary bard who has just landed in Gibraltar from Newcastle, and is offering guitar lessons in exchange of a modest fee, which he calls ‘donation’, to spread the love for music and for the instrument.
“I only teach beginners because I want to get them started in music, on their feet and walk alone, so that when they are ready, they can follow their own path. I introduce them to guitar, like my Dad introduced me when I was eleven,” Matt says. “I am mostly self-taught, but in the past year I went to college to learn how to make music, not just play it.”
His students select him, either contacting him on his Facebook page or just stopping him in the street and hiring him for lessons: “Students must connect with the teacher in order to channel their potential, so I often offer a free lesson to get a taster of each other, and my charge varies according to how much they can afford, and how willing they are to take guitar seriously.”
“With music, you never stop learning.”
His philosophy is: “Music is as ancient as thoughts, as natural as air, but when you think about it, you lose out on its instinctual nature. When music becomes as natural as walking, you realise how essential it is to life, and you can hear rhythm and melody everywhere. The universe is one song.”
Matt conveys his feelings through music, for his audience to understand his world: “Music is fluid, and I like to change tempo mid-song, so it flows and adapts to the evolution of my feelings and life pace. Tempo changes control, and are controlled by, emotions, and the guitar allows to adapt it to your heartbeat, when your fingers move in synchrony with it. With music, you never stop learning.”
Music is therapy for him: “It is my emotional control, and I play it for those who want to feel what I feel. To do so, I need their ‘permission’ to share my feelings with them.” Here’s where busking comes into play: “Busking on your own is hard, because the audience can spot your flaws and be merciless in their comments. They don’t just ignore you, not tossing any pennies in your hat, but they scoff at you. If you aren’t confident enough, it’s like bleeding in shark-infested waters. On the other hand, busking with a friend, besides being more lucrative, is a life lesson about human interaction: showing how you are enjoying each other’s company and talent is pivotal to attract the attention of the audience into partaking in your enjoyment.”
You don’t choose your guitar, she chooses you.
Matt is originally from England, having lived in Kent, Devon, London, Sheffield and Newcastle, his last abode before moving to Gibraltar: “I was fortunate to come here for a month in August, so I explored the local music scene and made friends. I returned to England for another month, and finally moved here for what I expect to be a while.”
The northern shore of the Strait of Gibraltar is Matt’s home now, but he wants to expand his horizons and travel overseas, as soon as possible: “In England my vision of the world was limited, filtered by what media and education present to teenagers, but I’d like to experience different cultures first-hand.”
He wants to figure out who he is, while driving his caravan from country to country, continent to continent, busking and teaching for food; a modern minstrel, composing music about what strikes a chord with him: “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could write and record albums about the place I visit, and the feeling they inspire to me, to share it to my audience?”
He experiments with blues, and a bit of improv, as well as spoken word and storytelling for street theatre: his most treasured composition so far is a reality-check remake of a popular fairytale, titled Hänsel Regrettel, whose genesis he describes as “just me being silly and foraying well out of my comfort zone”.
Here, he plays all the characters in the story (the children and the wicked witch) in different tempos and voices, but the witch wins, and Hänsel regrets his curiosity and gluttony, a real-life lesson to warn kids about accepting candy from strangers.
His guitar is Matt’s life companion: “You don’t choose your guitar, she chooses you, like wands do in Harry Potter. My guitar was given to me by my roommate’s girlfriend: she didn’t know how to play it, so she lent it to me, and when she saw how we were made for each other, she let me keep it, because her guitar had chosen me. It needed repair, so I dissected it, adapted it to my style and made it an extension of my personality. A guitar will last you a lifetime if you treat it well, but as a musician, I’d like to collect more than one in my lifetime.”
Like Matthew Thomas on Facebook for updates on his music or to hire him for lessons.