Meet North East Musician RJ Thompson who has Performed with Jools Holland
Starting his journey in North East pubs and clubs, RJ Thompson has gone on to perform all over Europe, including as support for musical legend Jools Holland
Tell us about yourself and your background.
Where to start! I’ve lived my whole life in the North East – either County Durham or Newcastle. I married my high school sweetheart, had two kids and got a dog. I’m a massive NUFC fan. I just like to spend most of my time in front of a piano, guitar or notepad.
How did you get into music?
I grew up in a musical household. My dad plays guitar, my mum sings, my brother plays piano. I didn’t really have a choice but to start learning drums when I was about six or seven. When I hit my teenage years though, I grew obsessed with bands like Nirvana, Oasis and Stereophonics. That’s when I picked up a guitar and started writing songs.
How would you describe your music?
Nowadays I’d say it’s indie pop, or synth pop, or alternative pop. I read a few years ago that someone described me as “synth Springsteen” which I thought was funny – they nailed it with that one!
Who inspires you?
Musically I love artists that sit just on the borders of mainstream and alternative. People like Beck and Bleachers. They harness all their creativity and quirks into songs that have no exact defined genre. They just make what they want to make. I find that inspiring.
Talk us through your career highlights so far.
I’ve been doing this for a long time, nearly 20 years, but it’s only in the last three or four where things have really become ‘successful’ in the truest sense. Over the years I’ve been lucky to have little pockets of success – I toured Europe a few times and I got the chance to perform at the Royal Albert Hall with Jools Holland. All of that was amazing, but it’s only since I released my second album Lifeline back in 2020 that I really started to feel a connection to audiences, I think. That album ended up hitting Top Five in the UK Album Charts, which was an insane thing to me – something I’d never dreamed possible.
What can you tell us about your new album?
After Lifeline did so well, I released another record called Yearbook which hit Top 40 again. All of that led on to the chance to go to Abbey Road Studios for a couple of days to record ‘something’. The band and I decided to record a full live album across the two days, and film the whole thing too. Above all of my other happy memories in music, those two days stand out as the best, by far. Standing in Studio Two, where the Beatles and other legends recorded years before, and getting to record with a bunch of mates – it was special.
How do you hope listeners react to it?
I hope they can hear exactly what it was – 10 songs, live and unedited. A bunch of mates having the time of our lives in the most famous recording space in the world. I think it’s the best record I’ve ever made, the most honest, and the most vibey.
Favourite place to walk in the North East?
Easy! Hamsterley Forest.
An item you couldn’t live without.
I’d love to think of a cool answer to this, but truthfully it would probably be my phone. Not because of social media or anything, just because I use it daily for jotting down or singing down ideas.
A book / series / podcast you recommend.
I’m not a big reader, but in terms of series Russian Doll on Netflix is cool, and Only Murders In The Building on Disney+ – that’s Steve Martin and Martin Short at their best. In terms of podcasts, I’m very much into comedy. Smartless with Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes is brilliant. Conan Needs A Friend is great. There are loads of good ones. There’s some good football and NUFC ones kicking around as well. Pod On the Tyne is fun.
Advice you’d give your younger self.
Write, write, write. I used to think that to be a songwriter, or writer in any sense, you had to wait for inspiration to strike. While that is sometimes true, it’s only when I started to really set aside the time for it, when I found much success. I’m in a routine now of writing ‘something’ every day. Set aside an hour a day, write something.
What’s next for you?
Once the Abbey Road album is out, I’m putting my focus into something else entirely for a few months. My friend and I have been talking about writing a script for a TV show for years, so my energy is focusing on that direction for a little while.