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A Conversation With Tom Bright: How Young We Were

Words by Asha Krishnan

“How Young We Were” is the next single from Tom Bright’s second album. The song is like a hug, like words of advice from an older and wiser you. When I asked Tom about how this song came about, he tells me that “this song is based on a good friend of mine.” They had been in a relationship for thirteen or so years - since he was sixteen years old. They had grown up together, but as people do, they grew apart. Tom responds to this loss by sitting with his guitar. He wanted to write a “positive, reflective song that’s not the usual type of break-up song.”

“And as soon as we could, I got to the producer Ed Harcourt’s place at the end of July. We nailed the whole album (13 tracks) in three, 14-hour long days.” He notes my surprise and laughs for what would be the first time of many during this conversation. “Yeah, it was some effort, but you capture the moment. You know?”

Strings play over the entire track and are the key to the nostalgic, warm sound that Tom has created. “It’s Gita Langley on violin, and she is absolutely phenomenal.” He wanted this looping violin going over the top to “kind of take you away.” “We essentially pressed record on her, let her play and then he [Ed Harcourt] cropped one part of it, put it through a tape delay and it’s great. It really makes the track actually."

Tom’s story is one of the most unique I’ve heard, and it’s one that has to be shared. “When I was eighteen, I was the youngest pub landlord in the UK.” He tells me. He chuckles when seeing my reaction. “Yeah, it was like my university honestly. We had the pub until I was nearly twenty-three, and I learned so much about people.” He picked up the guitar for the first time when he was twenty-two. I’m surprised, again, he chuckles, again, you get the picture. “Yeah, it’s not easy.” Starting late, he says “you’ve got to play catch up. A lot of people are giving up by the age of twenty-two but I don’t know...I just felt this burning desire to pick it up. Like I had things to say and stories to tell, but I didn’t have the tools to express them. I got obsessed and started playing it all the time.”

“It wasn’t long after that we decided to move out of the pub industry. Then I moved to Australia on a one-way ticket. Got a guitar there for fifty dollars, worked café jobs. Formed a band and started writing my first songs and playing my first gigs.I broke out of a small community, where everyone knew me. And I was just on my own for a year of my life, so I felt very free. That really helped me to get creative and not care what anyone thought. So, in that way it definitely shaped the rest of my life. I came back a totally different person, and I knew what I wanted. No matter how ambitious it sounded.”

Following his journey back to London a year or so later, Tom was still living with his backpacking mentality. Still, he says, he wanted to make a real go of it. “So, seven, eight years later, here we are now. I’ve noticed that Tom is fond of numbers. He tracks his progression in hours, days, dollars. He keeps time-stamped mementos wherever he places his guitar.

At this point in time, Tom is releasing his second album, ‘Legacy’, after enjoying a multitude of success on his first album ‘Self -Service checkout’. He has played countless gigs all over the world: from Glastonbury, to Vivaldi’s courtyard in Venice. He is also releasing this next single at the same time he runs his radio station, Islington radio. He strikes me as someone that thrives only when he is working on too many things. I see something of myself in that.

“Self-service checkout” was released last year, and this album seems to be an evolution from the first one. I asked him about the growth from his first album and Tom mentions that “with album one there’s usually a character, it’s very observational. When you’re in a pub everyday, you see all walks of life: depression, unhappy relationships, heartbreak, joy, friendships. I was always observing, always creating these stories in my head. And some of them became songs.” ‘Lighthouse’ is a song that Tom wrote, inspired by a story told to him by a social worker who, for a living, rescues abused children around the Midlands. In his music, Tom tells the old-time stories of people that pass through his life. He also creates his own characters, using them to communicate parts of himself.

It is clear that a lot of thought has been feathered into the journey between the two albums, but when asked about how he generally works, he responds, “I’m very much a do-er. People spend so long thinking about things, putting plans into place. But really, you’ve just got to crack on.”

“Songs like ‘Storm in a teacup’ and ‘Legacy’ have come out in one sitting, where I’ve sat down and the whole thing is done in half an hour from start to finish. ‘Blood on Water’ took me about three or four months.” Tom would be working on it. He’d hit a brick wall and he’d put the song away for a while. Then, one night he’d wake up at 3am in the morning and finish it. A typical artist.

“I reckon a lot of people don’t know when a song is finished. And they just go round and round and round tweaking.” Tom’s approach is different. “You’ve got to just think, ‘this is the song. It’s not mine anymore, it’s for the people.’ I think I’ve perfected that one. If I over analysed any of my songs I’d probably always find things to improve.”

“I’m on a massive mission in my life.” Tom says with a certain glint in his eye that promises he’s telling a certain kind of truth. “I’ve had a very interesting time. Been through some really hefty challenges as a kid, and I just feel like I was put here to leave a very positive mark to motivate and inspire the people who need it. And a lot of people need it, especially at the moment. We’re all leaving a legacy.”

‘How Young We Were’ is out now. Listen here.


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