In Conversation with: Tom Bright

'Seeing the enjoyment of people singing along to the songs that you've written. It’s everything!'

Singer-songwriter Tom Bright might be one of the busiest men in the music industry. Not content with releasing a stunning debut album ‘Self-service Checkout’ which received immense critical acclaim and garnered him over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, he has also written a book and set up a radio station – Islington Radio.

Emma Harrison spoke to Tom about how he used lockdown to create some of his most revealing work, what he misses most about performing live and how he really doesn’t mind those comparisons to Rod Stewart.

House of Coco

I think you must be one of the hardest working people I know. In 2020, when most people were just chilling in their pyjamas watching Netflix, you were incredibly busy.  You released your debut album Self-service Checkout, you have written a book, performed on Radio X and at Blenheim Palace as well as setting up a brand-new radio station – Islington Radio.

So, talk me through 2020 for you. How was it for you?

Tom Bright

When the shit hit the fan in March, I left London just before the first album came out, going right into making a success of that album campaign which was great. I then wrote the book and got the book out.  

I manage two guys as well so have been doing lots of stuff with them. I am also a big part of the Joe Strummer Foundation as well, I’m an ambassador with those guys and I have curated a couple of festivals in the last couple of years. In August, I moved back to London into a new flat and I set up Islington Radio which just exploded.

Before I moved back to London, I wrote album number two and got that mastered at Abbey Road. Yeah, it was mad!

House of Coco

What do you do in your downtime? Do you have downtime? Do you have your lunch via intravenous drip? I feel like you’re very busy!

Tom Bright

Well! Something else I am doing at the moment is a six-week coaching course, because I do music therapy workshops as well. I need to teach myself how to take the foot off the gas sometimes. Because ultimately when you do go at it at a million miles per hour – you do risk burning out.  I’m now learning to let go a little bit, take time off as we all need.

House of Coco

I am totally with you on this. The hardest thing is learning to do nothing sometimes. Have you ever tried meditation?

Tom Bright

I meditate every day!

House of Coco

Me too! It’s vital. You’ve had such a high level of success in 2020. One element of that was the live sessions on Radio X. How was that for you and how did that come about?

Tom Bright

John Kennedy at Radio X got behind me from the first single from the first album, ‘Bless Our Generation’. It was on rotation on Radio X for a long time and since then he has been a big, big support.

I did a live session during the first lockdown and he also has got behind the first single from the next album as well. It’s a really good pat on the back when you get reputable guys like him who really like your music and get behind you. Yeah, it’s nice!

House of Coco

Music always been such a big passion. When did you think this is what I want to do as a job? Or has it always been ingrained in you?

 

Tom Bright

No, not at all. I had a bit of a different background compared to other people. I was a pub landlord, and I was actually the youngest pub landlord in the UK. Me and my mum and my brother took over a pub in Derbyshire and we were very busy with that place until about 2012 which is when I got a guitar for the first time.

So, I was a late starter! After five years in the pub game, we sold up and I actually got a one-way ticket to Australia. I got a guitar for fifty dollars and started working several jobs and busted my music basically.

I formed a band and did some gigs and eventually was working in a restaurant in Tasmania. Long story short, I moved to London to focus on the music. It was the usual drill, working in cafes and restaurants and the universe kind of shifts a few plates and I ended up working with Mick Jones from The Clash and we ended up doing some good things together.

I have been doing this now for a few years full time – it’s interesting!

 

House of Coco

What a journey so far! So, Legacy your second album was completed during lockdown. When is this out?

 

Tom Bright

‘Legacy’ the album will be released at the end of this year. There’s a really long campaign. Legacy is the first single and then the next single will be ‘How Young We Were’ which is coming out on the 9th of April. Then there is a single in June which is ‘The Man Who Knows (That What He Knows Is Nowt’) – it’s a bit of a tongue twister!

Then there’s a couple more singles in the lead up to the album coming out around October/November but it is to be confirmed. The reason for it being a drawn-out campaign this time is to do with the current climate. It would be nice to be able to tour this album.

House of Coco

Absolutely! Are you looking ahead at touring opportunities? I know some of the people I speak to tell me ‘Well, we’d be speaking to this festival and this venue, but no one’s really committing’ because I suppose nobody knows what the hell’s going on.

 

Tom Bright

It’s such a tough one, you know, the gigs and the tours that were cancelled from last year, I was supposed to be supporting Jesse Malin on tour. I was meant to be playing Glastonbury and all these kinds of things. And then that was going to happen this year. And then already, you know, it starts to look very difficult. I don’t think that we’re going to be doing proper gigs until at least September.

 

House of Coco

I have to agree. I went to one socially distanced gig last year in October. It’s a very tricky thing for venues. It’s a different vibe than we are used to. It was still so good to go to a live gig, but man it was a very different experience to what we are all used to.

Tom Bright

I know! The problem is with doing social distanced things and I did manage to do a few of those around kind of August, September, October time, but it’s difficult for the venue, it’s difficult for everyone involved, probably mostly the venue in terms of you know, they are struggling to stay alive as it is.

So, it’s only got 20 people there due to distancing rules – it’s tough, but I am quietly confident that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’re gonna get there by the summer. I am looking to get a tour together for around October time.

 

House of Coco

That would be amazing. I would love to see you live. So, Legacy the album isn’t out until October, it’s been produced by Ed Harcourt. Talk me through the process of how you wrote the songs. All but two of the songs were written solely by you. What’s your approach to song writing and how did you approach this album?

 

Tom Bright

With this record, I wrote most of it in the shed in Derbyshire around April, May time last year, just as the first album was coming out. There’s songs on there like that, ‘Let Bygones be Bygones and stuff where it’s almost philosophical, the single ‘The Man Who Knows (That What He Knows is Nowt’), which is going to come out after that. It is actually, loosely based on Socrates, because I was reading Socrates Defence by Plato at the time.

So, it’s quite a philosophical record. Observing as I always do, but its more personal than the first album, because the first album is a lot more about a character and their story. But, with this one it’s more self-reflective and a little bit more heartfelt. There is a little bit more thinking about the state of life – where we go from here? Do we change our mentality? Yeah, it’s a reflective philosophical record and ‘Legacy’ which has obviously just come out is a desperate cry of let me crack on with it and try to leave a legacy here.

I think we can all relate.

 

House of Coco

I completely agree, so when you are approaching a song, what comes first? Is it the melody? Is it the lyrics? Does it really depend? Where do you find your inspiration from?

Tom Bright

Every process differs. In a way I’m always writing because I write words down all the time, whether it be on my phone or in my diary. I sit on a lot of different chord progressions, and then I’ll have something written, or sometimes it all comes out in one go in twenty minutes. ‘Storm in a Teacup’ from the first album was like that. That was literally a twenty-minute song that just kind of came out of nowhere.

Sometimes, you know, you can actually write an album and you can hit a brick wall with it and then probably go back to it in a few months with fresh ideas.

House of Coco

Are there any songs that didn’t quite make the first album or the forthcoming album that you have on the back burner? Do you tend to just park them, or do you think this could work for album three, but I might just rejig it?

Tom Bright

So, the forthcoming second album has two songs that are gonna be on there, which I actually wrote quite a long time ago, about five years ago. We arranged it a bit and tweaked it– there’s a song called ‘Berlin’ and a song called ‘Down the Line’ They were two of the first songs I ever wrote. They didn’t make album one because they just didn’t fit with what the story was about. The two co-writes on the upcoming album are ‘Ropes’ which I wrote with my good friend, Sam Brookes. We wrote that a couple of years ago together, and then ‘Chip Off the Old Block’ me and Ed Harcourt wrote that together when we were recording the album.

I was on my way to Oxfordshire to start recording the album and I just started writing this first verse with this chord progression in mind. We were having a bit of a breather in the back garden and I started playing and asked him how you would like to write something’. It’s kind of an imagined father’s/son conversation. So, we did! Everything else has been written by me in a shed in Derbyshire.

House of Coco

Being in the shed is where it’s at – a lot of musicians I speak to are recording in sheds. It’s wonderful. Segueing from sheds to palaces (as you do!) you played a gig at Blenheim Palace last year.

Tom Bright

It was awesome. It really was. It was just after we finished recording this album. Ed was doing a headline show in the grounds of Blenheim Palace. It was an outdoors, socially distanced gig – the chance came up to jump on it so obviously I took the opportunity. It was spectacular. Like, it was unreal. Being on the stage, looking at the palace, I hadn’t done a gig for seven months after gigging every week and it was an amazing, amazing night.

House of Coco

What do you love most about playing live?

Tom Bright

It’s the interactiveness – I am very much a people person and just getting the energy of a group of people in a room when you’re all in it together. Having craic, feeling the nerves, the euphoria, seeing the enjoyment of people singing along to the songs that you’ve written. It’s everything and I think I got in a routine of taking it all for granted.

House of Coco

I think we all did really, but I don’t think we will again. Do you have a favourite song that you either love to play live (when you can) or a song that means the most to you?

Tom Bright

In terms of playing live, with the next album I have not had the chance to play it live, but I love playing ‘Bless Our Generation’ live. Everyone knows the words, and everyone sings along.

One of my best memories is seeing 1000 people sing the chorus back to me. It was mental! So, Self-service Checkout is definitely one of my picks to get the crowd involved. With the song that means the most to me, I think my personal favourite is ‘Blood & Water’ it’s a story which talks about the fragility of life – a breakdown of the closest connection imaginable. You know, there’s a start, a middle, and then a heart-breaking end. It’s one that everyone kind of goes to and that’s the one that means the most.  It took a long time to write actually.

House of Coco

Really? Was it one that you picked up and you put it down again, you just kept coming back to the and it was something that you just couldn’t throw away?

Tom Bright

Yeah! It took a few months, where I got the idea down, I got the first verse and then went back and then the story emerged. It’s a story about twin brothers and they go through their whole life where they are not talking to each other and then one of them is lying on his deathbed. So, it’s a bit of a moving one.

House of Coco

Yeah, definitely. I think it’ll resonate with so many people because there are so many estranged families, friends and lovers out there and this will certainly strike a chord.

Lyrically, this definitely reinforces that life is too short.

You released your first book last year which was another platform for your fantastic story telling. This is a collection of stories and poems.  How did you approach it creatively? It’s a different approach to song writing as there’s no music, it’s just about the words. What made you do it?

Tom Bright

I wanted to do it for a long time. I always write short poems and they might turn out to be songs and they might just sit on my phone forever and do nothing. I was sitting in the garden during the first lockdown, and I started observing the birds and I thought I am going to write a poem about the garden.

Then I started writing a short story about this bloke in the village. He just goes to the local shop and tries to adjust to all the new rules. I thought it was interesting being in a small village in Derbyshire and observing of all life’s changes.

There’s five short stories and poems, it’s inspired by a couple of similar short collections that John Lennon did in the sixties. I actually wanted to illustrate it too, but my drawing is pathetic!

House of Coco

I’m sure it’s not that bad. With any kind of creative process, it’s important to be revealing and that involves giving some of your heart away. Do you find it quite easy to be quite vulnerable?

Tom Bright

It’s hard not to get attached to songs and there is an art to having to learn to let go. I have managed to not be too personally involved with the songs I have written. As a writer, you then close the book and get it out and you think ‘it’s not mine anymore’

House of Coco

Yeah, you’re almost putting it out to the world. Who inspires you musically? And who are you listening to at the moment?

Tom Bright

Musically I have got such an eclectic taste. I love Rod Stewart, I love Sam Cooke, I love Bobby Darin. I love Elvis – the King! Then I also love Blur, Oasis, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Beatles of course!

There’s lots of different things in there that influence me, but I like to put a twist on it.

I know that the song ‘Legacy’ had lots of Rod Stewart mentions which is cool as we did have ‘Ooh La La’ in mind when we were producing it.

House of Coco

I love that song! Such great story telling. Your voice is incredible, you’ve got such a unique tone and you’re very distinctive, as well. I’m sure most people have told you that already.

Tom Bright

I certainly sound like myself and it’s always funny when people ask you that question ‘Who do you sound like’?  I don’t think I sound like anyone which I guess is a good thing. I have got a distinctive voice which everyone highlights, so it must be true!

House of Coco

It’s so important to be distinctive, if you listen to certain artists on the radio you know instantly within two notes who that person is. I think that’s such a good quality to have.

Talking of radio, you set up a radio station last year – Islington Radio. Tell me a bit more about that process and how it came about?

Tom Bright

So, the seed for Islington Radio started to get planted last year around August, as I was moving back to London. A good friend of mine, Terry – we’ve been friends for a long time said how would you like to set up a radio station?

I was like, Yeah, I think that’s a bloody idea. So, I took the reins and quickly got some really interesting people on board like James Walsh and Ed Harcourt. We have just finished recording my album, and I said, ‘have you ever thought about being a radio DJ?’ Then I got Paul Gallagher involved and other people. It just started to develop, and it has been developing at a very rapid pace for the last few weeks and months. We’ve actually just landed a café, so the Islington cafe is going to be opening as soon as we’re able to do so.

So realistically, it’ll be in the summer and there’s going to be a shop in there selling t shirts.

House of Coco

I love it! That’s so cool.

Tom Bright

To be honest, it’s just been really organic. Interesting, great personalities and just building from nothing outwards on mixcloud only. Whilst everyone’s had no schedule, everyone just digests things on demand. So, we’re just going to go on and not put pressure on. It’s a positive thing and there’s some exciting things coming up. We are planning an Islington Radio festival in September, so that would be an amazing way to get some late summer live music enjoyment for people.

House of Coco

So, what else is in store for you in 2021? You have your album out and hopefully some live performances. What else can we expect from Tom Bright?

Tom Bright

Lots of singles, in the run up to the album. The album, Islington Radio which is just growing and growing. I am hoping to write another book and I am writing a comedy podcast at the moment as well, which is quite different. All incredibly positive things and Islington Radio has some really exciting things going on.

House of Coco

You’ve got so many things going on as well. Is there anything that you want to bring in that isn’t on the radar at the moment, or do you have any other ambitions?

Tom Bright

So, there’s something else that I am looking at doing and it kind of relates to coaching stuff I’m doing now. So, there’s a lot of people when you talk, artists in particular who lack a bit of self-confidence and direction or struggle with organisation. It’s about breaking it down – maybe it’s just needing some advice that could help people. We’ll see!

Tom’s next single ‘How Young We Were’ is out on 9th April. His album ‘Legacy’ is out in the autumn. Follow Tom on his Instagram for further

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