His unique blend of flamenco and folk has certainly made him stand out from the crowd in the North West’s open mic circuit. It’s this individuality which made him a natural choice for PRS for Music’s new Songs for Manchester initiative. Launched by GoGo Penguin and Everything Everything last month, the collecting society’s new campaign sees five fast emerging, local songwriters spending the next month travelling around the city and writing songs about businesses which support songwriters through buying a PRS for Music licence. We caught up with Tom to ask him about his music and involvement with the campaign...
What made you first start writing your own songs?
My grandma was a beautiful singer and made percussion instruments like rice shakers and drums for me to play with when I was a kid. I grew up with lots of music round the family home. We would sing, dance and play along to old songs by artists such as Malcolm Vaughn, Elvis and Johnny Cash. I had always written songs for fun and I began to take it more seriously when I started learning guitar aged 15.
How did you get involved with the Songs for Manchester project?
I studied Popular Music and Recording at Salford University and that's how I first got the opportunity to explore and experience Manchester. I started out by attending gigs and performing at open mic nights as a Spanish-style instrumental guitarist. I was able to meet people, promoters and performers and use this network as a platform to develop as a singer-songwriter.
Could you explain a little about your campaign songs - which businesses did you choose to inspire your new compositions and why?
I chose businesses that inspired me or those whose memories I could relate to. The owners of Lilly's Patisserie in Ashton-under-Lyne, Chris and Mandy, had their best memories of Albert Square during the Christmas markets, so when writing Dancing With Mandy I drew upon my own happy memories on the square at that time of year. It also helped that ‘Christmas Eve' rhymes quite nicely with 'Patisserie'!
What are the challenges of writing music for the project?
I usually like to take my time experimenting with the arrangement and dynamics after I’ve finished getting down the bare bones of a song. I then test out different arrangements at open mic or folk/acoustic sessions before I gig them. With the Songs For Manchester campaign, the most challenging aspect is hitting all the necessary requirements of the brief while retaining creative integrity as a performer. For me it’s simply to enjoy playing what I have written! Additionally, I’ve found it’s a different kind of pressure compared to playing a gig so it’s been an excellent learning experience for me.
Why is it important that local businesses support songwriters via a PRS for Music licence?
So I get paid! Haha ... in reality, a world without music would be unimaginable. So it’s only fair that songwriters and composers get paid so they can continue working in this valuable but often overlooked profession. However, the main reason why businesses should support songwriters via the PRS for Music licence is simple - music is absolutely vital for a memorable customer experience and therefore, a crucial factor in determining the success or failure of that business. Along with subtle things like lighting and aroma – music can provide a significant, tangible difference in creating an atmosphere for customers.
What are your favourite songs written by Manchester artists?
I'm a big fan of Joy Division. Oasis, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses etc. As for specific songs I think Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town, written about Salford, has to be one of my favourites.
How would you describe your local music scene?
Manchester is thriving and also well-integrated with others across the region. As noted by Band On The Wall, emerging talent from areas like the Fylde Coast, Preston and East Lancashire have been performing to great acclaim in Manchester and networking with the artists based there, arranging gig swaps, touring together and performing at festivals together.
Artists such as Rae Morris, JP Cooper and Mike Dignham are leading by example and have become a real source of inspiration for a lot of locally-based artists and bands in the region by achieving growing national success.
What’s been your most memorable musical moment to date?
My most memorable moments have come not from supporting established or successful artists, performing at festivals, while songwriting or even when teaching or running workshops. It is the experiences performing in care homes and hospitals that I treasure the most. Knowing that I made a tangible difference to people’s lives just by simply singing familiar songs or with some soft Spanish guitar was rewarding beyond expectation.
What have you learnt from being part of this project?
I love travelling and local history, so this project has offered me many opportunities to explore, learn and develop as a person - putting me in the kinds of situations the kinds of things that I believe we regurgitate when we create art. For example, wherever we have performed the local people have always been so accommodating and welcoming, always offering stories, jokes and the best in Mancunian banter! Additionally, writing a high volume of songs for the project has sharpened my skills and I feel I’m able to write more fluidly and concisely as a result. In the same way an athlete would train every day, I think it’s a good habit to get in to and one I will keep up when the project ends.
What are you working on next?
In the short term I will be recording a debut album to follow on from the EP I released in May 2013. In the medium term I will use the skills and experiences I have gained to set up a social enterprise in the region that uses music as a tool of empowerment - offering workshops, performances and tuition/training in care homes and hospitals, schools and youth centres, community centres and music venues. In the longer-term, I would like to study a masters degree in music therapy, which I know from personal experience to be one of the few forms of effective treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s. I would then integrate these skills into the social enterprise.
Visit the PRS for Music Facebook page to find out more about the campaign and how to enter the Songs for Manchester competition. Check out our previous interview with fellow campaign artists Baxter Rhodes, Seamus McKenna, Liam Blake and Matt Fryer.