With his swept back hair and perpetual stubble, with his jeans rolled at the cuff to reveal well-worn black boots, with his stoic outlook on life and the truth on his sleeve, Mick Thomas resembles many of the characters he’s portrayed in song over the years. Characters who’ve had to battle to survive, who have loved and lost, who have travelled and wandered, who have stayed in the same place and stagnated only to be reborn as something they’d perhaps never dreamed of. He’s sung about them all over the past three decades and he’s become a part of the stories he’s told.
During this time, Thomas has become an incredibly important part of the Australian musical landscape as well, his unique way of conveying not only a story, but the essence of said story, in song, is matched by very few, and watching him play, listening to his lyrics, you feel like you’ve known him for a long time, that you could walk up to him and he’d greet you like a long-lost friend and you’d drink beer and talk about life until the sun came up the next morning.
I’ve interviewed Thomas perhaps three times over the past few years, and each time it very quickly becomes a conversation, as opposed to an interview, such is the ease with which he talks about his music, about the processes involved, about the songs that make up whichever album he’s releasing at the time. I think the reason this happens, aside from his natural predilection for ‘having a yarn’, is because of this music. It quickly reaches over to take you by the hand and it sits you down and tells you a story. Sometimes it’s a story you might not like, but it’s music that is unflinchingly honest, and so it pulls no punches and this is part of its appeal, and you feel like you know, quite well, the man who’s written it.
A week or so before I chatted to Thomas this time around, I put on his new record, The Last Of The Tourists. I was cleaning up around the house at the time and to be honest, I was expecting little more than some ‘nice music’ in the background whilst I rearranged CDs, swept the kitchen floor, washed the dishes. I didn’t end up doing any of those things though, because from the first note of opener, ‘All The Roads’, I was drawn into another world, one of such acute optimistic melancholy, that I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my life and I was floating in a void. But it was a comfortable void, you know?
I felt like I was sitting on “the western”, that “sluggish beast”, stuck in traffic on my way home (‘All The Roads’). I could hear that bird outside my window, every morning, I could hear it vividly (‘The Clamorous Warbler’). I felt the emptiness, the end, the yawning gap between now and when it begins again (‘The Last Of The Tourists’). I felt it all, and this surprised me a lot, because I don’t often find myself being moved by music like that. Uplifted and inspired and excited, yes. But not often moved to the point of just sitting on the couch and listening. Such is the power of Mick Thomas’ music...
Samuel J. Fell