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IN CONVERSATION – Tom Bailey

One of the biggest surprises for me this year was how great former Thompson Twins frontman Tom Bailey‘s first solo album is. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, as the three-piece regularly lit up the charts 30 odd years ago and more, and Bailey has been involved in some fascinating musical detours ever since. I interviewed Tom from the balcony of a holiday apartment at Butlin’s in Bognor Regis. Admit it, you’re jealous really, right?

God Is In the TV: Congratulations on Science Fiction, which is a great album. It does seem, although you’ve released it as a solo record, to bear all the hallmarks of a classic Thompson Twins album, except with a lot more “staring into space.” Why?

Tom Bailey: Well, that did actually become a kind of umbrella concept for the record, and I’d been writing films about astronomy too, which gave me that metaphorical vocabulary. I became interested in the concept of looking up rather than down and, you know, I’ve never actually been all that interested in science fiction before now, but whereas we tend, as a race, to see sci-fi as a fantasy of the future.  If you think about it, it’s not actually about the future at all. It’s about now. And that’s where a lot of the songs are coming from.

With all the Trump stuff going off right now and the never-ending cesspit that is Brexit, I feel like the last two years, in particular, have been the toughest in our social history, with a growing sense of racial intolerance from an alarmingly large percentage of the public. I feel like you touched on that very matter with ‘Come So Far‘…

TB: That song is based on a real story of an Afghan teenager that I heard on the radio. Basically, he was told “if you stay in the village, you will die,” so he made this very difficult, extremely dangerous journey to try to find his promised land, and really it’s questioning whether we have lived up to his expectations as a country. Is this the golden paved paradise he’d expected? Or have we let him down? I could have written about 50 verses to ‘Come So Far‘ so what you hear on the album is a very condensed version. You’re exactly right though about the quite scary situation that’s been developing and we all do have a responsibility to try to help each other. I hope we have enough human intellect to be able to do that.

Ship Of Fools‘, I imagine, is something to do with the present political climate too…

TB: When you think about the Brexit situation, it really does seem to be some kind of absurd joke, so ‘Ship Of Fools‘ is me expressing this absolute political cock-up as a kind of Carry On movie, as performed by Kenneth Williams! Unfortunately, there is obviously a very serious side to it as well, but you’ve got to laugh, because what else can you do?

And ‘Bring Back Yesterday‘ as well?

TB: That’s more a genuine song about regret. How when you have something or someone special, you don’t always appreciate them, and perhaps you even treat them with disrespect without realising that’s what you’re doing; but then when you no longer have it, you realise you’ve lost something that was really amazing.

Going back to the Thompson Twins, you had huge hits both here and in the US, played at Live Aid and were one of the most successful bands of the 80s. Looking back, does it seem a bit surreal now, almost like a different world?

TB: Well yes, especially as I took such a long break from it as well! I guess the fans have never stopped though and they’ve always been there, so even though it’s accidental that the sound is a bit like the old days, I’d say that Science Fiction is for them really. One thing a lot of people have noted is that hearing it is a bit like encountering an old friend – “Ah, I remember these guys!“, and I think that’s a nice thing.

I kind of felt a Duran Duran vibe from some of the tracks. Were they an influence on the album?

TB: Not really, no. I mean, obviously I know them and their work, of course, but I certainly don’t count them as an enormous influence. We have a producer in common though, so that could be where you’re hearing it.

How does a fully fledged pop star find himself turning from the upper reaches of the top 40 to doing dub music instead? I mean, I loved International Observer but it was pretty unrecognisable from what you were known for…

TB: A lot of these side projects I did were just labours of love. When we took a break from The Thompson Twins, I just started doing my Indian stuff and all the dub as they were really just things I’d always wanted to do. There wasn’t really any plan – it wasn’t about high profile success and we weren’t really interested in making a lot of money from it. I was just doing it because I enjoyed it. There was no journey as such.

You’ve always been someone who’s travelled around a lot. Do you think that has fed into your work much?

TB: Really, it has. I can’t stay in one place too long before I have to move on. It’s just the way I have to work. It’s funny because we’ve just been to Montgomery in the deep South and we’ve played more concerts here now than we did in the ’80s. I think we did three, maximum, back then because let’s just say the locals…well, shall we say that we weren’t necessarily welcomed with open arms back then, which was probably down to our extravagant fashion sense, and they were a very specific audience! But some did welcome us, so that gave us a good enough excuse to play there.

So how have the new songs been going down on the present tour?

TB: Really good. It all depends on how much time we get on stage, how many of the new ones we perform, as we know we will always have to play the hits. We always check those boxes. Always!

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Tom Bailey will be touring the UK in November alongside Culture Club and Belinda Carlisle. Dates as follows.

November:
9th – Nottingham Motorpoint Arena
10th – Cardiff Motorpoint Arena
11th – Bournemouth International Centre
13th – Brighton Centre, Brighton
14th – SSE ARENA, Wembley, London
16th – Birmingham Arena
17th – Newcastle Metro Arena
18th – Manchester Arena
20th – Hull Venue
22nd – SSE Hydro Glasgow
23rd – Leeds First Direct Arena

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.