Interview: Tom Townsend | Living North

Interview: Tom Townsend


Tom Townsend playing acoustic guitar in front of posters
Scarborough-born musician Tom Townsend talks about his upcoming album, learning from his father, and the joy of spilling beer at pub gigs

My dad was musical and he used to take me to a lot of gigs.
I used to go and see his band. He would play old American folk stuff like Woody Guthrie and Tom Paxton. That’s the sort of stuff I was brought up listening to. My dad taught me guitar and then I got interested in the drums. I discovered 50s rock ’n’ roll music, which really appealed to me as a 10-year-old. And it just went on from there really. I got into as many bands as possible and played as many instruments as possible. It was very organic. It seems to be the way my life was always going to go.

I have been playing with other people for years. Doing a lot of other people’s music you get frustrated.
You think, ‘I’ve got an idea of how I want to do things now.’ The new album was a project like that. It was really a vehicle to play and write the sort of stuff I want to write. I’m a huge fan of arrangements and composition, so I hope the songs will appeal to people who are very musical as well.

It’s an absolute pleasure recording with some of the country’s best musicians.
I sometimes pinch myself when I’m recording or playing on stage with them. You find the right musicians and think: ‘They’ll work really well on these tracks.’ Sometimes I feel a bit out of my league, but it’s fantastic.

The more I tried to say, ‘This would fit in with what’s going on currently,’ the more my music sounded contrived.
So I just wrote what came out and that ended up being bluesy and funky. I’m not sure how it fits into the musical landscape, but I think music is such a timeless thing that if it’s good, people will like and respond to it.

I was born and raised in Scarborough.
There’s a slower pace of life up here, and it gives you time to work on things. I absolutely love the area and the audiences are great. I find a lot of the venues are community-run with the cuts to funding in the last few years. They seem to be run by volunteers or a local community group, which is a great way of making everybody feel involved and getting the crowds in.

You get more of a connection with the audience in a smaller venue.
 A lot of the time when you’re in a venue with a stage and lighting you can’t see anyone. When you’re in the pub, everyone’s spilling drinks on each other. It’s a bit more real – a bit more connected. As soon as you finish, people talk to you, which is great. I’ve come very much from that life – just playing gigs in theatres and pubs. One of the great things about Scarborough is that you can make a living out of playing your own music. It’s great that people will pay to hear it and that the venues will pay to put it on.

I’m so used to playing live that it’s second nature.
In the studio, as soon as they hit record, I get what I call ‘red light syndrome.’ I am just not as confident. The studio takes a bit of work, and can be laborious and demoralising. I’m trying all the time to make the process quicker. I’m going to do my next recording with a live band, so we just go in, we play the songs, and we’re out in a day and that’s the album. It’s the polar opposite of what I did last time. I just want to keep it simple. I’ve got a great band now and I want to get them into the studio to record.

I’m writing the next album already.
We’re going to bring out an EP in about six months and then a second album towards the end of next year. But the first album comes out in January. I’m looking forward to that and wondering how people will take it. It’s slightly nerve-wracking to release it, but the more people hear about it the better.

Tom Townsend’s upcoming album is due for release January 2018.

Published in: December 2017

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