Exposure: Tom Walker – 'The last two and a half years has been a whirlwind of it all piecing together nicely'
- David Pollock
- 9 January 2018
The Glasgow-born singer looks ahead to a busy 2018
Born in Glasgow and bred in Manchester, Tom Walker released his debut track in 2016 and his reputation has only grown since then, with his most recent single 'Leave a Light On' being a collaboration with co-writer and producer Steve Mac, who also had a hand in Ed Sheeran's 'Shape of You'. He's also one of the longlisted artists on the BBC Sound of 2018 list, which will be announced this week.
Tell us about the Glasgow connection.
My parents were born in Glasgow, my mum grew up in Cumbernauld and my dad in Kilsyth. I was born there too, I lived there for about three and a half years, and more recently I've been able to go back more and see my family; my cousins, my gran and grandad. I love going back, it's my favourite city. The extended family all come down every time I play King Tut's, it's like a reunion. I've played there three times in a row, and it's Oran Mor next. Now I say I'm from Manchester because it's easier, no-one's ever heard of where I'm from. It's a tiny little town outside the city, there's two shops and a pub and that's it. A big farmer's market, middle of nowhere, that kind of place... Don't get me wrong, a wicked place to grow up, I spent all my time riding bikes, climbing trees and playing instruments in my room. But it was just a bit boring.
When did you start writing and playing music?
My dad knew enough guitar to teach me how to play (Deep Purple's) 'Smoke on the Water', and that was it. My sister's an amazing singer and flute player, but she's amazing at everything else too, so she pursued something a bit more academic. But music was the only option for me, I was really good at it and really shit at everything else. Dad took me to gigs with him, my first one was AC/DC in Paris, I was about ten or eleven, and we went to loads of gigs at the MEN Arena (in Manchester) - Foo Fighters, Muse, Underworld, Prodigy, UB40, all sorts. I've been playing since I was twelve, my dad bought me a guitar, then I got a drum kit when i was 14, then a bass, then some recording gear. Nobody in my town played, so I had to play all the instruments myself and multitrack them together. That evolved, at first it was just all guitar solos, a Joey Satriani vibe. After that, i realised I loved songs and decided to try a few out, it all kind of stemmed from there. Eventually I went to college to do my BTEC in music nearby in Northwich, then I moved to London to do a three year degree in songwriting and performance.
Who did you want to be like, as an artist?
I listened to a lot of Paolo Nutini growing up, that first album (2006's These Streets) was everything to me, and Arctic Monkeys too. The reason I got into songwriting was because of both their first albums, they're what got me thinking I could have a go at it myself. What was it about Paolo I liked? He was a massive influence on my mates and a lot of people my age. The songs are absolutely bangin', and then that second album (2009's Sunny Side Up), it had so many influences and the band he played with were so good. He has sad songs, he has upbeat songs, I think 'Pencil Full of Lead' is my gran's ringtone. Everyone of every age just loves his music, he's a massive influence.
How did your big break come?
I finished uni and I was lost for a bit, just working through the week and trying to do music on the side, but not sure how to get my foot in the door. One of my teachers at uni sent one of my tracks to a guy who sent it onto my management, and they put me in writing sessions with their in-house talent. They saw I had a knack, so I started developing as an artist with them. A year later I had a deal with Relentless and Sony, a year after that I signed my publishing deal with Universal. The last two and a half years has been a whirlwind of it all piecing together nicely. It's weird, people ask me advice, but all I can say is, once you're through the door and if you're talented and you really want to do it, then it's easy. But it's trying to get to know somebody who can help get your foot through the door, that's the hard task.
What have been the highlights so far? And what are you going to do next?
I did a US tour with The Script, which was unbelievable. We did 17 dates over 24 days, driving 7,000 miles across America in a Chevy Suburban. I played Radio City in New York to 6,000 people, warming up for them, then I got to see the road from New York to LA. It was sick, one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. I'd like to play the MEN Arena… Quite a big ambition, that, but I grew up seeing so many artists there, and it's a lifelong dream, ideally in the next two years. I'm recording my album at the moment, I'm working with a guy called Mike Spencer on a track called 'Angels', he's worked with some amazing people (among them, Rudimental and Kylie Minogue). It's building up nicely, I'd say I've got about 80 percent of the album done. I've got a title for it, I just need to get it finished. It's called What a Time to Be Alive.
That's a good title.
It is, isn't it? It's fuckin' mental at the moment. But in a good way. It should be out around the second half of the year, but I don't want to set a date because I want to take the time and make sure it's right. I've got a bunch of good songs I could put out, but an album is a proper statement. All my favourite artists have made proper albums, so I want to make sure I do the same thing.
Tom Walker plays Oran Mor, Glasgow, Thu 29 Mar. The BBC Sound of 2018 top five will be announced between Mon 8 and Fri 12 Jan on BBC Radio 1.