ThompsonTwins' Tom Bailey (Retro Futura Tour '14)
'Lay Your Hands on Me - Tom Bailey is Back to the Futura!'
Whilst all the 80's acts on display don't need excess amounts of cans of hairspray these days, the artists currently on the RETRO FUTURA TOUR of America are proving that their music is still as good as it gets!
Indeed, the Retro Futura Tour, which brings together a wide range of 80's stars such as founding Thompson Twins member Tom Bailey, Howard Jones, Katrina & the Waves' singer Katrina Leskanich, Ultravox front man Midge Ure and China Crisis, kicked off a few nights ago at New York's Best Buy Theater and is just the start of a 15-date jaunt; which wraps up September 8th in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Sitting down with the chatty Tom Bailey just a day or two into the new US tour, I made that the first question: Touring today, especially now as part of this Retro Futura tour coming to the US, have you found that the US audiences are attune to old school Thompson Twins hits? "We actually did very well, back in the day in the States so this, in some respects, is our natural home audience. But we did a couple of shows over in the UK before coming over here just to warm up and there it was very obvious we were meeting old friends and family. It was like the ultimate high school reunion," he laughs.
"I saw people that were very familiar to me and yet a little bit older," he again laughs. "And the same was had last night in New York. There was just so much shared positivity and warmth. And a kind of shared love for music of that era. Which perhaps gets left out of the more authoritative music. The 80's, it's often left out or even laughed at. But there's an enormous amount of people that think that is where music was really at and that it was the last time that it made any sense to them."
"So, we kind of reconvene that attitude, but I don't happen to agree that the 80's was the only great era for music. It certainly was a golden age, in some respects, and I can argue that for hours and that something interesting was going on there."
"Actually, last night we had three of us stage that had all played at Live Aid, as someone has since pointed out. Midge Ure, Howard Jones and myself. We were guys back then doing it big time. So now we're all back on stage together we've kind of reconvened that era."
Funny you should say that, but before this interview, I sat and listened to all the Thompson Twins albums on vinyl and have to say it transported me back to a time when my life was perfect; when I didn’t ever think that growing up was an option! "Yeah, I know what you're talking about. I think a possible explanation is that it is just simply an age thing. We're probably of a similar age that when we look back to our earlier years we hadn't had quite so many corners knocked off us by life," he laughs.
"And the other thing is that the world back then was a much more optimistic place! I mean what's happened to the world since the 80's is pretty desperate, to be quite honest. So we've inevitably become a little less guarded about our optimism and perhaps a bit more cynical. I think there's space to reinvoke that 80's optimism again. If only to say, Hey, we were so optimistic about the way we could change the world, have we actually lived up to that promise? It's just too easy to go, Ahhh, it's too hard."
So touring today, especially now as part of this Retro Futura tour coming to the US, what have you quickly discovered to be the biggest differences from touring back in the ‘80s and ‘90s? "Well, technologically it's changed quite a bit. Everything's much more miniaturized and kind of cleverer. So we do amazing things on stage that we could only dream of back then. Including some very fundamental things like video, which we didn't have back in the day.The only kind of video we had back then was someone pointing a camera at the lead singer, kinda thing and then projecting it onto a screen," he laughs.
"Now we count video as much a part of the lighting and the stage show we put on here on the Retro Futura show. Which is a lovely thing to have in your tool kit these days."
To this day which is your own favorite Thompson Twins album to sit back and play on a sunny summer‘s afternoon? "Well, I'm going to avoid answering that question by saying there are two that I think are high point for me. I think Into The Gap is the Thompson Twins' big moment, in a way, because our recording and production abilities along with our songwriting had matured to its peak at that point. And also the first Babble album, a project that both myself and Alannah had out just after the Thompson Twins. I think that one still stands as a great piece of work ... and I don't know why but the one after it not so much!"
"So, I guess we all have our personal favorites, but I know for me that the vision was very clear in both those cases and we practiced what we preached and achieved what we were aiming to. And you can't always achieve that kind of clarity, but in those two projects it's right there."
So after 30 years away from the Thompson Twins live scene what was it like performing old school Thompson Twins songs again? "Hey, you can't begin to imagine. I had so disconnected my stuff from that era that I didn't even own a Thompson Twins CD! I had some vinyl, but no record player so I had to go out and buy a Thompson Twins hits CD quickly before anybody recognized me,' he laughs.
"And that was in order to make a list of what to approach song wise. I thought right, I'll just sneak into the store, buy the record, I'll listen to them all and just see what hits me in the gut! That seems a good idea. Because I hadn't even agreed to do it at this point, but people were starting to twist my arm. Although I'd had a meeting with Howard [Jones] who had basically explained the idea. So I said what I have to do is be true to myself as an artist. I have to go listen to this and recreate it in a way that is actually valid to me."
"So, I quickly made a list of nine songs that I haven't varied from since that day, and actually rerecorded them in every detail in order to rediscover what the interior workings of the music was all about. And it all came very easily, which was a nice surprise and it also came very enjoyably, which was an even better surprise. I found out I just loved making this kind of music again and loved singing these songs. And this is kinda where you could say older and a little wiser, but I discovered a connection with the songs that had been, at best, subconscious before. So I could see interpretations quite clearly now that just happened by chance before."
"Basically, there were songs that seemed to be about one thing on one level ... and in once case I wrote extra verses for a song that actually now emphasizes a new meaning entirely."
What song was that? "Strange choice, actually, it's one called 'If You Were Here' and it's the only song in the set that was never released as a single anywhere, but it was in a movie called 'Sixteen Candles.' So I developed a lot of affection for that as a case of romantic songwriting. But to me it was never about boy meets girl, but about truth in the more abstract sense. And whether we've lived up to the trouble we were talking about earlier. So I wrote extra verses to convey that very clearly now."
So why spend 30 years away from the limelight, so to speak? "Well, in fact I haven't actually taken 30 years out of the business as I've been very busy making music every day, pretty much. I've had three major projects that I've been working on during that time and countless others around doing production and stuff. I've done International Observer dub which is a project that is on its sixth album released, the Holiwater Band which is my East meets West Indian project which has just released its second album, and I have a Bailey-Salgado Project with an astronomer and visual artist from Chicago José Francisco Salgado. He makes the most beautiful films about the cosmos and night sky and I set them to music."
"So, those kind of things keeps me busy, it's just that I haven't been dealing with mainstream pop music. And so people are like, Where have you been? Whereas, whereas, and this is my excuse for coming back and doing this, Joe and Alannah when they left the band and never made music ever again, they found other vehicles for their creative challenges. For me it was always about music, so that's what I've only ever done."
Talking of Alannah, I interestingly discovered she continues to make sculptural art-furniture! So I was wondering if you had ever purchased any of her work to sit on at home? "No, I couldn't afford it," he laughs. "But I do go to her openings," he quickly adds.
After you sat in with the house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon the other night, there are photos of you signing stuff thrust at you in the foyer afterwards. Some guys were shoving shed load of LP covers at you which ultimately means eBay! Does that ever cross you mind at the time, perhaps? "No, I don't think about that. I always like to meet fans. People say, oh those guys this and that ... but I had this experience at a warm up gig in Reading before we ended up over here and there were some kids on the street. They looked very scruffy and they wanted stuff signed. And everyone was like, those guys are just gonna sell those things on eBay. They're not fans and they won't show up at the gig. And yet the guy I'm talking about was front and center and singing the words to every song!"
"So, we can get it wrong," he laughs. "And, of course, the one thing we cannot afford to be as mainstream communicators is in any way be selfish about our audience. It's all very well to say I only connect with the pacemakers and the sophisticates. No, it's about ordinary people who love music and get off on it in some way. And you've got to be able to have common ground with those people otherwise you shouldn't be doing it."
I know Cherry Red Records (UK) have brought out the Thompson Twins Remixes & Rarities CD, which you have done the liner notes for. So was that always planned to coincide with this tour? "Well, it was definitely always gonna come out anyway, because they had already scheduled it. But because, by accident they had scheduled it for the same time as the tour I think my manager did a deal and said, hey, we'll get involved and help. Like, for example, me getting interviewed for the liner notes you mentioned. In fact it almost didn't make it in time as everyone at Cherry Red was going on holiday and it was all getting too hard to push to have it ready in time for the tour!"
Will there be a brand new recording from Tom Bailey in the stores soon, perhaps? "I don't know. I really don't know. A lot of people have asked, but I do feel the temptation. But right now I'm concentrating so much on the live show, but maybe when I get back we can throw around a few ideas that we'll see, might well be starting points for songs."
"But, in truth, the one good thing that turned me on to this whole thing was that I got working with this Mexican artist, Aleks Syntek. He was making a very interesting project where he writes the songs with each of his heroes from his youth. I happened to be one of them and other people from this era where also on this album. Which is so big now it's threatening to turn into a double album," he laughs.
"So we wrote a song in the style of the Thompson Twins and he then said, why don't you sing on it. And it's shameful of me to admit this, but I kind of thought, well, no one's really looking here; or at least none of my friends, so why not. So I ended up singing on a pop song for the first time in so long ... and I found that I enjoyed it! So I should thank him for having dragged me across that line."
Back then you had red hair, now it is grey - was there ever a moment for this tour you considered dyeing it, perhaps?! "Well, if I didn't lots of people did," he laughs. "Obviously when you go to a special event you decide to put your best clothes on. And there's a degree of that when I present myself on stage, but I wouldn't start dyeing my hair again, no."
You just put up your own website so are you hands on there and possibly on both Twitter and Facebook also? "You know, circumstances have twisted my arm ... and I actually have only just opened a Twitter account, yes. But I really have no idea why it works," he laughs. "But people become addicted to it and it seems to be a instant way of virally communicating. I haven't had that moment of the light bulb going on and the whole, oh yeah, that's why Twitter is so amazingly big though!"
"Having said that I've been contributing to the new Facebook page. I just think it's a reality of the way we communicate these days. I actually got into it because of having kids! I have two of my own and three that I've adopted and they're spread around the world so I need to stay in touch with them. And scheduling long phone calls and things is not the way to do it with young kids. But it's very easy to say in touch on Facebook and know how they are and what they're up to via the internet. So that's what got me into it really."
"It's a fact that our lives have become fractured in some way. We're spread around, whether geographically or in terms of our attention. It's more difficult to stay in touch with your old friends. So you need things like Facebook. Although I'm afraid I firmly believe that we can exist without it as well," he laughs. "So it's not like the most essential thing."
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine love penguins, so do you also - or do you have any stories, perhaps?! "Well, I've spent a lot of time with penguins, because I lived in New Zealand where they're all over the place there! Not the really big Emperor penguins, but smaller ones. So I was on the beach walking and I'd regularly see penguins swimming around. Sometimes when I went out on a boat into the middle of nowhere in particular, a long way from anywhere I'd just see a penguin floating around," he laughs. "It's a long way from anywhere and yet there it was! And on the beach I would occasionally come across their nests. And occasionally, sadly the remains of a dead penguin. So I've spent a lot of time with penguins, yes!"
And if you could have one for the day and name it, what would you name it? "I think I would just call it 'P,' for short," he laughs, one last time.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Remaining Retro Futura Tour 2014 Dates:
Tue 08/26/14 Toronto, ON Kool Haus
Wed 08/27/14 Highland Park, IL Ravinia Festival At Ravinia Park
Fri 08/29/14 Los Angeles, CA Greek Theatre
Sat 08/30/14 Saratoga, CA The Mountain Winery
Sun 08/31/14 Lincoln, CA Thunder Valley Casino
Wed 09/03/14 Tempe, AZ The Marquee
Thu 09/04/14 San Diego, CA Humphrey's Concerts By The Bay
Fri 09/05/14 Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
Sat 09/06/14 Sandy, UT Sandy City Amphitheater
Mon 09/08/14 Grand Prairie, TX Verizon Theatre At Grand Prairie
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED Thompson Twins CD (signed by Tom Bailey, of course), just answer this question about the man himself: In 1988, Tom worked with a frequent collaborator of the Thompson Twins on this persons only solo album. Who is the person I speak of and what was the name of the album?!
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win an AUTOGRAPHED Thompson Twins CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before January 1st, 2015 with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: THOMPSON TWINS SIGNED CDs to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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