COMING from a musical family, many people expected Tom Townsend would one day pick up an acoustic guitar and follow his father’s footsteps. So it may be no surprise to some that Tom has fast become one of Scarborough’s best known and loved musicians, and one of the key players in the current thriving music scene in the seaside town.
Born in 1981 in Scarborough, Tom grew up in the town and his passion for all things music was ignited from a very young age.
His father is the popular local folk singer and guitarist Vince Townsend and is heavily credited for getting his son into music. “My dad was my main influence musically. I grew up being constantly surrounded by music and different instruments and I used to go to my dad’s gigs, and go to lots of gigs with him. He was great for giving me a well rounded education of music and everything that goes with it. He introduced me to music almost chronologically, from blues to rock and roll to the Beatles, so my dad gave me a very good background to music and a foundation to start on.”
Tom picked up the guitar for the first time at the age of nine: “I tried a couple of instruments out, but it was the guitar that felt natural. The moment I realised I wanted to play the guitar was when my dad put on That’ll Be The Day, by Buddy Holly. The first guitar lick in that made me turn around and say to my dad: ‘I’ve got to play the guitar.’ ”
His transition from this memorable decision to getting into the local scene proved to be quite fluid and a natural step from going to various gigs around the town and being introduced to musicians by his father.
At 11, Tom got his first taste for performing at a Buddy Holly tribute gig his dad organised at the Jolly Roger public house in Eastborough (now known as the Merchant). The youngster was hit with nerves: “I was thrown in at the deep end and I remember being absolutely petrified. I think I got up, played a few bars and thought “I can’t do it”.
Luckily, Tom got over this initial fright and played throughout his teens in a number of local bands and with his father’s bands. Tom started up his first band at the age of 12 in a covers band. “We were playing gigs around the town and it was all quite unusual as we were only 12.”
Although he loved playing covers, his creative flair and individuality was clear as Tom started writing his own songs at the same age. In his own words he was always “messing about” with music and lyrics, and was very interested and enjoyed working out different techniques and sounds, how they were played and how he could learn from that to cultivate his own unique sound that would incorporate a variety of influences and genres.
Even now, Tom’s encompassing music taste inspires him to say: “I get inspiration for my songs from everywhere, from an absolute obsession with music and different styles, which there are so many of, and when I’m writing I like to bring that together – something that people are going to enjoy, but nothing too over the top.
“I want to get people’s emotions and that’s why I love writing.”
Tom turned professional at 20 and for a period played in a local hip hop band named Frequency before starting his own blues band called The Lost Blues Club in 2002, and played regularly around Scarborough and the North of England, gaining a good reputation and cementing himself as a popular local musician in his own right.
His most interesting and memorable gig came in 2008 when a chance encounter with a school friend led to the musician drumming for Gugun, an Indonesian blues guitarist, in Indonesia and also touring with him around the UK and Ireland. “It was really cool and being in a band like that was great. We got treated like proper rock stars which was great!”
Nowadays Tom spends his time alternating between his two bands: The Groovesocks and The Tom Townsend Blues Band. Tom takes on the vocals and drums in The Groovesocks, a four-piece cover band with fellow musicians Simon Coles, Julia Wray and Nick Boyes. He met his bandmates naturally through attending gigs and meeting various local musicians.
His other band, The Tom Townsend Blues Band, play vintage blues with a modern edge every Thursday as the resident band for The Cask’s Blues Club. Tom takes on the guitar and vocals with his bandmates Paul Tilley, Mark Gordon and Nick Boyes in a slot that he has loved doing from the very start: “The Blues Club is always a great gig and I really enjoy playing at the Cask as there’s always a great audience.”
Tom’s passion for making blues more popular in the town has become a mission as he is heavily involved in the organisation of Scarborough’s first Blues Festival at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in March. “This is going to be fantastic and really building up blues in Scarborough. We’re going to try to make it the first of many. I am really excited about it and looking forward to it, and the Tom Townsend Blues Band are going to be playing in the restaurant for the festival. I’ve worked in a few cover and function bands, but I really enjoy playing blues, jazz and funk so this is going to be great.”
Alongside this, Tom has been very busy making his first full length album due to be released at the end of February. He has recorded it in Scarborough and played most of the instruments on the tracks himself, working alongside local arranger and producer Simon Coles. The musician is very excited about the album: “I’ve done covers for so many years, so it’s great to have a full length album with all my own songs, and be able to push my own songs.”
The album is typically in keeping with Tom’s style and incorporates varying musical genres, going from singer-songwriter stuff to jazz/blues. In his own words: “With this album, I tried to get it all in there and avoiding it being too much of any one thing.” His working style for the album has been influenced by one of his favourite musicians: “Stevie Wonder has been a huge influence for me, the way he writes his own stuff and then plays it himself. For this album I worked on the same principle – because it gets the sound I want. It’s easier as I don’t have to recreate the sound and then tell a band how I want it to sound like. This way I can get it spot on.”
The main concentration for Tom for the early months of 2011 is the album launch, where Tom will perform his new songs with a full eight-piece band around the town. His first gig to promote his new material will be at Fibbers in York on January 29 supporting Walter Schreifels.
Tom loves performing in Scarborough and believes the crowd is like no other. He enthuses of the great music scene in the town and the amount of fantastic musicians who he really respects, both professionally and personally. Attending Hamps Tramps gigs at the Scarborians Club in his early life made a big impact on Tom: “I remember seeing this band with a big brass section. They sounded fantastic. I was really inspired by that.”
His five-year-old son Jacob Mason has continued what has now become a family tradition and has caught the music bug. Tom has surrounded the boy with instruments and taken him to the Blues Club where he played some marracas. “He’s loving it and definitely getting into music and has a natural knack for it.”
Tom’s love for music is obvious for all who have seen him perform and he explains how music has got well and truly under his skin: “It is a physical thing for me, it’s something I can feel inside. When I hear a good funky tune, or a serious bit, it gets inside and there is a physical release from playing the drums or making a really good set with a band. It’s an absolute joy.
“Ever since I first started getting into music when I was really young, I’ve always known it’s the only thing I could ever do and wanted to do. It’s such a strong feeling that I’ve never come away from it. I’ve always desperately wanted to do it.
“If I’m not playing, I’m thinking about when I can be playing, what I can be playing and who with and that’s why I love it so much. I’ve never felt anything that gets me so much.”
The Tom Townsend Blues Band will be backing local singer Laura Welburn at the Cask tonight from 9pm.