Words: Sam Taylor.
When most of us get to 18, we’re only just getting ready to start on life ‘proper’. Not Tom A Smith – he’s been playing gigs since he was knee-high to a bassist, and it shows. With a bunch of festivals on his schedule and widespread acclaim for his recent ‘EP1’ release, we caught up with him ahead of his appearance at Barn on the Farm to get to know more.
Hi Tom! How’s it going, what are you up to today?
Hi I’m doing amazing! I’m currently on my way to Switzerland to start my mini European festival tour, where I will be playing on line-ups alongside Mika and also Green Day in Czech Republic.
When did you first realise you wanted to make music, was there a moment you can pinpoint?
I started getting music lessons from the age of four and started with guitar. Getting lessons from great guitarists like Bondy, now known for playing in Catfish And The Bottlemen. So, it’s all I’ve ever known, really. I had my first gig at 8 at the iconic Newcastle venue The Cluny. I remember being ridiculously nervous and hating the set, but the second I finished, I wanted to go back on and do it again, so it was probably then when I realised this is what I want to do.
How did you approach finding your sound, did you go through a lot of experimentation?
When lockdown started, I was very bored and spent all day playing FIFA. One day my dad said I should try writing a load of songs. I decided to treat each day like a school day and was writing and recording demos pretty much every day from 9-5. I think I wrote near 200 songs in that period, and that really helped me gauge my sound and the sort of music that I enjoyed to create.
How did you start getting your music ‘out there’?
From a bit of complete luck, John Kennedy from Radio X asked if he could play one of my songs on his show. I was over the moon, so kept writing tunes and sending them to him, and he kept on playing them!
You’ve not long released your single ‘Could I Live With Being Fake’ – where did that one come from? Was there something specific that inspired it?
The song ‘Could I live With Being Fake’ is a song I wrote about the decision of whether to be authentic and do what you love doing for enjoyment and hope you can gain success that way. Or risk being ‘fake’ in order to better your chances of doing well or gaining fame.
What do you most enjoy writing songs about, generally?
Being only 18, it’s safe to say I haven’t really got a lot of life experience and things to write about. I do have quite a few political tunes, but I also like just writing a nice love song.
What’s your favourite thing about being a musician?
My favourite thing about being a musician is performing live. I love seeing how people react and engage with the songs you have written when you’re onstage.
You’re playing Barn on the Farm this year – are there any acts you’re particularly looking forward to seeing, or catching up with there?
I’m really looking forward to seeing James Bay. I wanted to see him NBHD Weekender, but unfortunately, our sets were clashing. I did a few shows with him when I was around 11 or 12, including at Tynemouth priory, which was to around 8,000 people. So he has done an awful lot for me, so really looking to seeing him live again.
Do you go to festivals you’re not playing? What have been your faves?
I’ve spent a lot of years playing festivals and only really go if I’m on the bill. When I was 10, I managed to get myself a small set at Glastonbury, and I have been a couple of times since then again. I’m buzzing to be playing it again this year, and it has to be my favourite festival.
Have you ever discovered a new favourite up-and-coming band at a festival before?
I have caught Dylan John Thomas at a few festivals in the last couple of years and really love his sound. He’s got some proper bouncing festival tunes, and he’s smashed his set every time I have seen him. I also love Yard Act and have seen them at a few festivals this year, and they’re smashing it!
If you were booking your own festival, who would you like on the line-up?
I have just finished touring with Brooke Combe, and she is fantastic, so I’d definitely have her on the line-up. I’d need a great headliner, and I’m about to do a show at Hyde Park with Elton John, so I could see if I can get him on the bill.
Is there anything else we should know?
I have a new single called ‘Never Good Enough’ coming out on 8th July, which has Alex from Fat White Family playing saxophone on it, and also James from Eliza And The Bear doing some backing vocals. I’m really looking forward to people hearing this one! ■