Local musician Tom Williams is currently riding high in the charts with his solo album All Change. Ahead of his homecoming gig at The Tunbridge Wells Forum this Friday, Eileen Leahy chatted with him about his success – and seeing an unknown Adele perform in her parka
So Tom, please can you give us a little background on your music career so far?
I played my first solo gig at The Forum in 2006, and started playing there and at The Grey Lady pretty much weekly after that. In 2007, I got a group together called Tom Williams & The Boat and we released five EPs and three albums over the next seven years. I then put out a couple of acoustic albums in 2015, and this year released All Change – the first band album under my own name.
What got you interested in playing in the first place?
I started the guitar when I was 15. I’d learned violin and saxophone previously, but guitar was the first instrument that made me feel connected to the music I was playing. I started writing pretty soon after that and had a little eight-track machine that I would record on endlessly in my room. When I first started playing guitar, I loved early Oasis and the Nirvana Unplugged album, and that’s
what I’d strum along to mainly.
Who would you cite as your musical influences and why?
From a young age it was Bruce Springsteen, courtesy of my mum. Later came Bob Dylan and then Neil Young. Elliott Smith and Ryan Adams certainly helped me through my teenage years, but I always come back to those three, Springsteen especially. Someone said to me the other day that Bruce has the words of Dylan, the spirituality of Bob Marley and the performance of James Brown, and I’d be inclined to agree. He’s a one of a kind.
You’re from Tunbridge Wells – have you found the music scene here inspiring and supportive? If so, in what way?
Yes, massively, because without venues like The Forum and The Grey Lady there would have been nowhere for young people to perform and hang out. Jason [Dormon] and everyone at The Forum helped me to get into a proper recording studio for the first time and to put on shows with big touring acts. They even financed the first vinyl we ever put out – they’ve been amazing. Paul Dunton is also an endless source of energy and enthusiasm, and what he’s done for Tunbridge Wells music scene is undeniable. He’s always been so supportive of everything I’ve done, and I can’t thank him enough for that.
Tell us a little bit about encountering an unknown Adele back in the day on the circuit, and have you played alongside any other famous names?
Adele was one of the gigs that The Forum got me. I was just the local support opening up for a big touring act. Adele was also a support act. She was very late, though, and turned up five minutes after she was meant to be on. She walked through the crowd with a guitar on her back, in her big parka, line-
checked very quickly and played her set. I remember her playing early songs like Hometown Glory and Chasing Pavements, but not many people took much notice. All the kids at the front had their backs turned to the stage just chatting amongst themselves. It’s a reminder that being good enough is not always enough. It also takes an incredible amount of hard work and determination to get your music out there, but – most importantly – a hell of a lot of luck. The list of amazing people who never achieved mainstream success is longer than the list of people who did.
Your solo album has been hugely successful, gaining great support from the likes of BBC 6 Music. What do you think went right with this one?
It’s hard to say. The whole recording process for the All Change album was so bizarre. I had no intentions or plans to record a new album, and was doing a week-long Artist in Residence post at Leeds Beckett University. It was there that I ended up recording an album with the students in the university recording studios. That ultimately led to me being signed to a major label and releasing the album in May this year. It’s been really amazing for that to happen ten years into my career.
You’ll be playing The Forum this Friday – what are you most looking forward to about that?
The Forum was where I played my first gig in 2006, and I’ve played it more than any other venue. I totally adore it, and nowhere makes me more nervous! But I can’t wait. We haven’t played it for nearly four years, so it’ll feel like a homecoming of some sorts.
What does 2018 hold in store for Tom Williams – and has ‘the boat’ sailed away forever now?
I’d love for us to play as much as possible. The band is rocking at the moment and includes three members of the student band that played on the album, plus Ant who was in The Boat with me on guitar. The Boat may have sailed, yes, but we recorded a lot of material so there are many EPs and albums out there for anyone who wants to do some crate digging!
Tom Williams plays The Forum this Friday, September 15, with Suncharmer and Jack Barns in support from 7.30pm. Tickets cost £10 and can be booked via www.twforum.co.uk
Tom’s new album, All Change, is available to buy or download. See www.tomwilliamsmusic.net