Tom Bailey mastermind and co-founder of the Thompson Twins, will be unleashing his very first solo album on July 13th, entitled “Science Fiction”. The first single from the 10 track album, “Come So Far” is a musically extravagant masterpiece with a chronicle. Eileen Shapiro interviews him for Louder Than War!
One of the most orgasmic and audacious anomalies to emerge during the 80’s was the electro-synth-pop, post punk, British band, “The Thompson Twins”. They had a look and an attitude that only The British Invasion could produce, and a string of global super hits including, “Hold Me Now”, “Lay Your Hands on Me”, “Lies”, and “Doctor, Doctor”, to go with it. The band permeated the aperture of MTV with their creative videos, and performed worldwide including “Live Aid”, with Madonna.
After the faction departed, the strikingly handsome bright gingered, multi-instrumentalist, song writer, and producer, as well as frontman, Bailey went on to produce and play keyboards for the New Zealand band, “Stellar” and won the Producer of the Year Award at the New Zealand Music Awards. He also arranges and scores films, records dub music under the name “International Observer,” as well as various other musical projects. He is currently embarking on a massive tour in the U.K. and the U.S., singing the songs of the Thompson Twins as well as some of his new ones. He will be joined on tour by Boy George and the Culture Club and The B-52s.
I had an intimate, in-depth conversation with Tom, and believe him to be one of the most intelligent forces on the planet….
Louder Than War: Congratulations on your new album! How cool is it coming out with your first solo album and doing pop music after 25 years?
Thank you. It is cool.. but I can’t say I haven’t done anything in 25 years…making music, but this is an album of pop songs, I guess. The first time solo. It feels totally natural and I’m enjoying it…so yeah..
For the new album, I feel like….especially “Come So Far” has a theme or a message somehow?
Well, I was just thinking about this earlier, and a lot of the tracks are kind of star gazing. Looking up to the sky. Looking at the Earth, looking around and seeing the same old kinds of problems. One of the things I remember about writing pop is that we had a kind of optimistic way of looking at life back then. Some people think that they had the optimism kicked out of them by all the shit that’s going down in life the last 25 years. I think that there is still a place for the optimism so I tried to rediscover that. “Come So Far”, is specifically about the story of the young guy who tried to make it to London from Afghanistan, because if he doesn’t he’ll die…..and what he has to give up to get here, not only in terms of material stuff, but his culture, his emotional life and all the rest of the stuff. So yeah there are some tough questions being asked. But, music has always had that ability to be superficial in one moment, and get really to the heart of some profound questions in the next. So that’s all right, I like that.
You just did a festival the other night?
“Let’s Rock the Moors”, so that was at Cookham about 25 miles west of Central London. Just as far as you need to go to hit some green fields. It was great, we had a fantastic time. The audience was wonderful, the sun was shining, what can I say?
You might have already, but if you could have your ultimate stage fantasy, what would you need to happen?
Well here’s a funny thing, I was talking about this the other day….I’m the kind that likes to rehearse a lot. I like to get things right, and I like to know exactly what was supposed to be doing when we go on stage. But you do run the risk of making it all to certain, it takes the risk element away, and you do need a risk element I think… so there are all sorts of strategies for building a risk back into a show. They are too complicated to talk about now but I do consciously look at that. There are some things that I’d really like to try. There is an idea that I saw. I went to do a gig with David Bowie. After the gig everyone asked if I got to speak to David Bowie, and I said “no”, and here’s my reason why… this was in a big football stadium in Scotland. It was in an enormous venue with an enormous stage, with ramps going up to it. He arrived in a car, and the car drove up to the stage. He got out of it and walked up to the microphone and started singing. And at the end of the show he got back in the car and then he drove away. He didn’t speak to anyone else backstage, he wasn’t part of the warm-up, or aware of the kind of growing excitement. I’ve never, ever done that and I remembered it the other day and thought, “wow, that would be an absurd thing to do”. To kind of arrive with no sense of buildup in order kind of frightened myself. In other words you stop the stage from becoming a comfort zone. Usually what I do is I hang around for a couple of hours before hand. I sneak a look from back stage. I look at the audience, see what’s going on….those kind of things to get use to the idea that I’m going out on stage soon. I suddenly realized that maybe that is something that I can experiment with moving away from.
Do you get nervous before going on stage?
Well yes, a little bit, and I feel it’s important. I’ve always felt that the day that you’re not nervous, you should quit. It’s a really, really important moment walking on stage and it’s a big responsibility to get it right. Therefore if you just figure it’s another gig, then that’s not right at all for me. It has to be borderline frightening….or it’s not real.
You’ve been playing gigs all around England and you’re about to begin a massive U.S. tour….
That’s right. I’ve got 75 dates this year which is …even back in the 80’s we didn’t do that many dates. It is an interesting moment to be working this hard.
Touring is hard for anyone isn’t it?
It is but also with the benefit of experience you learn to look after yourself. I’m lucky my band is all female so it’s a little bit more kind of nurturing and caring then a bunch of guys in a bus. So in that respect it’s kind of good, and happy, and funny. We have a great time.
Is there a song on the new album that you particularly like to perform live?
I’ve only performed one so far and that was the other night. So I’m beginning to find out about that now. The problem is that somebody in my position can’t face the festival crowd and play a bunch of new songs. They want to hear the hits. So the question is every time I drop a new song, I’ve got to drop a hit. That is the problem. So at the moment I’m trying to do it by degrees. I started with a new song the other day. It went really well. I’ve got a couple of more waiting in the wings, to throw them into the mix as well.
Was there an instance where the whole trajectory of your life was changed?
Wow…there have been millions of those. I think I’ve been lucky. Maybe it’s a question of point of view. If you see every moment as if it’s important then they will become like that. But goodness me I’ve been so lucky, and I kind of continue to live a charmed life. Maybe I should be crossing my fingers or something? I think I’m a slightly odd person because I don’t settle down particularly in one place very easily. I’m constantly traveling. I spend time in three or four places that I like to live and don’t really settle in any of them. Which is hard work too. It also keeps me open to new experiences I think. That would be my answer, that you should be open to dynamic changes every moment of your life. It’s a fantastic thing.
That’s a fantastic answer.
The other thing is…don’t watch TV.
A lot of the artists I speak to don’t watch TV.
I think the thing is that we know there would be no time to do what we have to do. People keep telling me that we are in a golden age of TV right now. They’re all amazing shows and I’m sure it’s true but if I started watching them, for the same reason I can’t afford the time to support a football team, it would just drag the life out of me. So I have to know my boundaries in terms of what I can spend my time on.
Do you have a music idol, someone that you love or loved, or influenced you?
Again so many. I realized when David Bowie died that he was a great deal more influential to me then I recognized. It all kind of came thundering out just because I was thinking or kind of shocked by what I felt was an early passing. That made me realize that if I cannot realize that I am influenced by someone as enormous as David Bowie, I must be influenced by thousands of people that I don’t realize. To me you’ve got to be open to these things and except them without making a big deal. I’m like a sponge.
I didn’t want to ask you this, but I can’t resist…I’ll apologize first, but how did you get the name of the Thompson Twins?
Did you know Herge’s Adventures of Tintin? It was a Belgian cartoon story about Tintin, and there were a couple of characters in that. In fact speaking of not watching TV, there was a TV version of this. There were characters in the English translation called Thompson and Thompson. For some reason they took the name of the Thompson Twins. They were detectives and they were kind of goofballs. They made a mess out of everything that they did and yet in stumbling they somehow landed on the truth. So that was the way we found the name.
Is there a proudest moment in your career, one that stands out above all others?
No, I don’t. I don’t really think that way about that kind of stuff. People ask me those kind of questions, but for me it doesn’t really work that way. To be engaged in it is what I feel best about. When you are engaged in something as an artist I think that you are at your best when you’re not being proud. When you’re being somewhat vulnerable to the idea that you might get it terribly wrong. So walking around feeling proud is not a helpful state of mind. People say “well you’ve sold this many records, or you’ve done Live Aid, what was it like working with Madonna?” It just kind of goes in one ear and out the other. It doesn’t really mean anything to me, so that’s the honest answer to that question.
If you could choose any question to be asked, what question would you want me to ask you?
How do we get out of this mess?
I didn’t tell you that you have to answer the question as well.
Well, I wish I knew. It’s something to do with things that we have already talked about, with trying to be honest and trying to be creative, trying to be optimistic and feeling that giving up is not an option. Really what faces us in the world at the moment is so incredibly tough and frightening, but some people think that: A) there’s no point in doing anything because it’s all going to turn to shit anyway. Some people think it’s all right. Actually one of the songs I’ve written on the album is kind of questioning the wisdom of saying let’s all just move to Mars. We’ve made such a mess of the earth, let’s move to Mars. Well to me that’s not an option either. We have a great responsibility to look after our closest relationships and widest considerations of the whole space that we occupy. I guess at risk of sounding kind a high and mighty, I think that it’s incredibly important in pop music if it has any hope of being relevant. I have to maintain those responsibilities.
Why did you name the album “Science Fiction”?
It actually comes from one of the songs. I had this idea that I could write a song from the point of view of a frustrated lover who’s partner was so engrossed in a hobby of some sort, and in this case it was science fiction books, that I just can’t get their attention. For me that’s a kind of frustrating thing. I thought it was an interesting and unusual idea for a song. But I also realized having written that, that was a kind of a catchy title but a lot of the metaphors in the songs are all stargazing stuff. It’s all kind of looking out to space to the stars thinking, what can we learn from a wider perspective and imagining the big truth out there. It’s partly an affectionate look at the possibilities of science fiction. Science fiction seems to be futuristic but of course it’s really about now. It’s an excuse to think about the mess we’re in now, and how we in any way influence that. That’s what it’s about.
And aside from this album what have you been up to all these years?
Oh, I went for a couple of walks around the park…..You know, when I gave up pop music in the 90’s, there had been a lot of musical projects that I had to leave undone because I was just so busy with the Thompson Twins. So I immediately started to do some film music and some dub music, and engaged my interest of Indian classical music. I’ve been releasing records on those kind of projects, but because they were labors of love, and weren’t meant to be mainstream is why people have never heard of them. A lot of people think I was just sitting in the garden somewhere. I haven’t really sat down since the 90s.
So why now, why go back to pop music again? Many artists are revamping now from the 80’s, why do you think that is?
It’s probably a demographic thing, the reason why a lot of us are at it. Our 80s fans have raised their kids and they want to go out and have some fun again and naturally enough they want to pick up where they left off with their musical interests. So there is a demand to see people like me and other artists from the 80s that maybe didn’t exist 15 or 10 years ago… it’s also for me personally that maybe I needed a break to do other things to clear my head. I thought I’d finished with pop music to be honest. Then what happened is I kind of strayed back into the territory, almost by accident because someone asked me to help them write and record a song with them in Mexico. It felt like a safe experiment, to bump into an old friend. The old friend being, writing pop music. So I did that thinking no one would ever know. It’s a terrible thing wanting to do it in secret but I enjoyed it so much. Then as luck would have it around about the same time someone said, “come on tour and play some of those old songs”. It all became a world wind of inevitability. I found myself doing that. I had no idea that I was going to make a new record. But of course if you enjoy something and the audience is saying “hey what about a new record?” Then I forced myself back into that situation. I realized that yeah, there were ideas and there were unused muscles that needed flexing again in terms of skills of writing and arranging pop songs. It’s a different kind of music from everything else that requires particular disciplines and skills. I suddenly realized that if you can claim to have them then you might as well use them. I ended up enjoying it so much that it was a natural thing to do. A lot has changed since then, back in the day. People were still buying records in the millions in those days. We don’t do that anymore. I think that people steal music or stream it or whatever. So it’s not the same industry that I left behind. But in terms of the creativity, it’s still the same. I’m still getting the same buzz, and waking up in the morning excited to write a song.
How do you think the industry changed since the 90’s?
Well, maybe the Industry had to suffer it’s decline because it had become overblown and greedy and monstrous in so many ways. Sometimes successful artists like myself have to stop and think yeah but what’s it like for new artists who are starting out. The industry wasn’t managing to treat new artists well enough. It still doesn’t incidentally. So it’s not only the reason for it’s decline, but it’s a necessary reason to change everything. You’ve got a find a way that new artist can simply put food on the table, and they can carry-on just being artists. It has something to do with Internet streaming and all this kind of technology. But exactly how all of that is to settle into sustainable reality in music, I don’t know. But I care more about the survival of music than the survival of the music industry. That’s the important way to look at it.
If you could say anything to your fans and followers, what would that be?
I’m absolutely looking forward to seeing as many as possible. It’s going to be great and actually what I realized a couple years back about getting back on stage and singing some of the hits….well I’ll tell you specifically what happened… The very first concert was a little club we went to do a warm-up in. This was in front of a couple of hundred people. It was the night before an enormous festival. Instead of playing to 40,000 people we played to 200. I was super nervous. We were backstage waiting to go on and I had made a recording of a well known song by the Thompson Twins which we weren’t going to sing that night. It was just an instrumental version of it. So it was a familiar piece of music. That was going to be our walking on music. So someone pressed go on that and immediately the audience just sang the song. And I knew that everything was going to be OK. The audience wanted it to be good, they wanted to contribute themselves, they wanted to support you, they wanted to sing along. So suddenly realizing that the audience was there not to question you or have something proven to them, they actually go there with the intention of having a good time, that’s the key to it. For me every concert will be like that.
Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to talk about?
I’m sure we could go on for hours.
Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey live dates:
May 19th Lets Rock the Moor Festival, Cookham
August 19th Rewind Festival, Henley-on-Thames
Tom will be joining a-ha on the UK leg of their 2018 Electric Summer World Tour
June 7th Canterbury. The Spitfire Ground.
June 9th Yeovil. Huish Park.
June 10th Cambridge. The Abbey Stadium.
June 14th Doncaster. Keep Moat Stadium.
June 16th Blackpool. Bloomfield Road.
June 17th Darlington. Mowden Park.
Tom will then join Culture Club and The B-52s for an extensive North American tour before returning to the UK to tour with Culture Club and Belinda Carlisle:
November 9th Nottingham Motorpoint Arena.
November 10th Cardiff Motorpoint Arena.
November 11th Bournemouth International Centre.
November 13th Brighton Centre.
November 14th London The SSE Arena Wembley.
November 16th Birmingham Arena.
November 17th Newcastle Metro Arena.
November 18th Manchester Arena.
November 20th Hull Venue.
November 22nn Glasgow The SSE Hydro.
November 23rd Leeds First Direct Arena.
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.