Hell bent and hungry for something new, guitarist and songwriter Tom Bright has literally travelled around the globe for his music. Tom ventured 34,000 km from the UK to Australia and back only a few years ago. He returned with the bare bones of a track that would eventually become “Not The Life She Planned”, a tarnished and raw account of the streets of Melbourne. Now he is rapidly settling into a self-fulfilling urban folk scene, where he can be found either rattling off raspy ballads with his band or recording piano licks with one of his biggest supporters, Mick Jones of The Clash. Curious as to what motivates his nomadic pursuits and how his music has taken off since his return to the UK, I recently had the chance to ask Tom a few questions about the hectic past few years of his career.
One of the highlights of Tom’s return to the UK has been working with a music legend. “Long story short, I was introduced to Mick [Jones] and Dirty White by an artist friend of mine, Mal, who plays drums in The Rotten Hill Gang. From then on, it’s all been pretty organic, and we started working on this bunch of tracks last year.” The Clash rocker and the brash guitar-slinger have formed a remarkable pair, with Jones contributing a piano cameo for his new single “Not The Life She Planned.” For Tom, these collaborations have been invaluable. “They’re the nicest blokes imaginable, and of course, hugely influential and full of great ideas.”
Ironically, “Not The Life She Planned” has garnered Tom more breaks than he bargained for. His first major single, this real-world fable of misfortune is years in the making. “If I was to put a specific date on it, I’d say I penned it way back in October 2012!” explains Tom. “I was living in St. Kilda, Melbourne (AUS). It was a great time and a great city, but the surroundings of the bungalow were pretty seedy back then.” Tom hits the nail hard on the head, forging a pitch perfect account of life in St. Kilda, made even more striking by his prowess as a lyricist and an observer. “There are a few upcoming songs of mine that are written from a first-person point of view, but the large majority are…creating [a] character and telling their story.” It’s a tune replete with wry commentary, echoing the bitter mantra “Life’s a gift, but it can be a git.” He belts out this tale, which could be a new-age “House of the Rising Sun,” telling the story of a girl “covered in tats and piercings” who is so thin she’s “slipping through the cracks in the path.” Tom’s folkloric rebranding of the persona non grata as a charismatic anti-heroine makes this piece feel audacious yet authentic. He asserts that it’s a fitting debut for him: “It feels good to put ‘Not The Life She Planned’ out first, as I feel it’s got a real mix of what I have to offer. The dirty guitars, high tempo, obscure story, growling a poem.”
Since the release of “Not The Life She Planned” in March, Tom has been busier than ever promoting his single and preparing for the eventual release of a full-length album. In the spirit of spreading the word, he flew to Canada in May for a short tour that stopped in Montréal and Toronto. “Canada was superb. It was great to be able to see a bit of the countryside, as well as hitting cities,” says Tom. “The show in [Toronto] was a particular highlight, the venue Horseshoe Tavern was superb, and I can’t wait to go back.”
If Tom Bright seems at home wherever he goes, it’s because he is. He relishes the opportunity to travel, source new songwriting material, and introduce his unique style to other parts of the globe. He lacks the fear of being deemed unpolished or amateur, instead embracing the opportunity to forge a niche: “…the majority of people compliment the originality of the sound I’ve been working to develop. It’s probably a bit grittier and raw than what most other artists would feel comfortable with releasing.” To some, the journey of a songwriter is emotional and fraught with introspection. For Tom, it’s more about reaching out than looking in. Consequently, his style—though brazen at times—is void of insecurity. He watches keenly, makes verse out of his observations, and tells you how he feels without regret.
These days Tom is honing his skills, getting a feel for his audience, and settling into his role as the bard of the underbelly. Though ambitiously well-traveled, Tom is happy to be back in London. “…Like most people living in London, I don’t hail from here. And I just about get by doing what I do, it’s tough, but you have to make it work.” When it comes to finding inspiration, he doesn’t need any luxuries. The less he’s given, the more he can make. Tom revels in anything faded and mundane, especially the people and the stories we see every day but usually overlook. He takes the good with the bad and loves the city all the more. “It’s OK for us to slag the place off, but the minute someone not from London comments on it negatively, we get on our high horse and tell them it’s the best city in the world. Because it is.”
Tom will always defend an underdog or a misunderstood miscreant. His transcendent songwriting harkens back to old folk ballads about gangsters and love and murder—but he’s taken the spirit of these old tunes and reimagined it for a new audience, crafting a sound that is as inventive as it is evocative. He treads the ground of a people’s poet, but more as an observer than an advocate. In each uncharted city, Tom Bright finds purpose. With every walk down the street, he listens for the rhythms of mischief. Where someone else might have an alibi, Tom Bright has a song.
Photo Credit: Alain Bibal