1st December 2014
Q: Tom it’s good to see you. You won’t remember but we first met back in ’81.
TB: Really? Where was that?
Q: September 26th, 1981 at the Futurama Festival in Leeds. I was part of the P.A. crew.
TB: Wow! In the big tram shed?
Q: Yeah that’s it. That’s where I first saw you.
TB: Echo and the Bunnymen were on that.* I’ve got a funny feeling that’s where we met there manager who also managed Teardrop Explodes and we very quickly toured with them after that. He probably saw us and thought we would be a good opening act.
Q: It’s a well publicized 28 years since you last performed Thompson Twins material live and 28 years since you were last here.
TB: I had been invited to come here with the Dub stuff that I was doing but never got around to it. Scheduling, laziness and other things going on that made me think ‘Do I really want to jump on a plane right now?’ It was one of the things you get out of the habit of doing but now I’m back in it, it seems like such an obvious thing.
Q: I don’t think anyone could accuse you of being lazy.
TB: True. I had kind of given up the whole touring thing at this level. It was all little labours of love, arts festivals and things that interested me for a long time and it was a convenient balance with other things in my life. I certainly hadn’t been on a tour bus for a long time but now we are back into that.
Q: Are you enjoying it?
TB: Yeah. A lot more than I thought I would actually. I thought total comitence was not the thing to do but I’m finding it fun. I’m also older and a little bit wiser. (laughs)
Q: I presume you had offers in all that time to perform the Thompson Twins material and turned them down so what made you decide to do it this time?
TB: It took me a little bit by surprise actually. Last year I did some work with a Mexican Pop star named Alex Syntek who is not known very much outside Mexico but is a megastar there. He wanted to do a song with me which I thought would be interesting as I still like to keep my foot in the door with Pop music. He’s very enthusiastic and I like the way he seduces you into a project. He said ‘Why don’t you sing on this? You do one bit and I’ll do another.’ It was shameful but I thought I hadn’t sang on a record for 25 years and I wondered if I could still sing (laughs). It was an ideal opportunity to just test the water a bit and I thought it’s in Mexico so if it’s no good, no one will notice (laughs) but I did it and it felt like I had crossed some weird line and I enjoyed it. Then Howard Jones got in touch with me and said they were doing a tour in America but that they were still looking for a headline act and was I interested and as I had just done this thing in Mexico, I thought I should at least take it seriously. I was so disconnected from the Thompson Twins era however that I can only explain it by saying I had to go to a record store and buy a Greatest Hits CD and take it home to see what songs they wanted to hear.
TB: Yeah – it had gone from my mind totally but I listened to it and thought ‘Yeah, some of this is great. I could get into this’ and I made a set list that night and started to re-record the songs in order to rehearse to find out if it was going to work and it just became a rolling project from there. I asked Howard when we were going to start the US tour and he said after Rewind and that was a baptism of fire. I
The nostalgic Eighties
Q: I saw the interview you did at the Rewind Festival where you mentioned that at one point when talking to Howard Jones you didn’t know what the Rewind Festival actually was, did the size and popularity of that festival when you played their surprise you?
TB: Yes, completely but I don’t think that is because I was tuned out, it was because most people don’t know it’s going on. It’s a big event where they get up to forty thousand people in Henley which is an hour from central London and you would never know it was taking place. They don’t advertise; it’s word of mouth.
Q: There seems to be a massive demand for eighties music at the moment: what do you attribute that to?
TB: It’s demographic I think. People who were digging it when they were kids now have a bit of spare time and spare cash but because the regular festival scene ignored them, they set up their own thing and it’s grown independently. The eighties scene has got its own kind of ether and other people are just beginning to pick up on this. I’ve noticed for example that Glastonbury is beginning to put on eighties acts having ignored them for decades.
Q: What do you recall of Live Aid?
TB: I remember it very clearly. I’ve had those memories triggered actually because I’ve just read Nile Rogers’ autobiography and he of course was in our band because we were working with him at the time. We put our band together in New York with players that he knew
Q: How come you were on in Philadelphia and not Wembley?
TB: Well it’s because we were making an album in New York at the time and to go all the way back to London would have taken a week out of the schedule. We were mixing so we used the recording room as a rehearsal space and it ended up being a bit of a drop-in place. We had Mick Jagger coming in to hang out and all this kind of stuff. The band was essentially the David Letterman band without Paul Shaffer. Felicia Collins was on guitar and she ended up joining the Twins before going back to the Letterman band. Nile was of course our first guitarist and there was Steve Stevens from Billy Idol’s band. A fantastic line-up.
Q: For me, one of the great strengths of the Thompson Twins was that in those days, for most bands, production and the producer seemed to be me important than the band and the songs, whereas the Thompson Twins records were the opposite. You were the co-producer of those records, was that something you were aware of and strove for?
TB: Well I’m glad you said that. Of course the songs were incredibly important and I think that’s one of the things that made the Thompson Twins different. We didn’t just show up and have someone say ‘We have this great song for you. We’ve cut the track and all you have to do is sing and it will be a hit’. We actually wrote the songs, did the arrangements, we produced. We were involved in every stage so to that extent, it was real. There was nothing fake although we were accused in every possible way of being fake, a sham, superficial and all the rest of it; the Thompson Twins were 100% real. We did every possible thing on our own and that comes through on the record.
Q: It doesn’t sound dated as well.
TB: You’re right it doesn’t but also some of it does sound very much of the era. We recently put out a CD of remixes and rarities which attempts to strip down and do instrumental versions of the material and it shows the beginning of an era of experimentation of electronics. It was very clunky and analogue based.
Q: There were two sets of musicians around that time; the Duran Durans and Culture Clubs who were on the front pages and then those like yourself and Nik Kershaw who were happy to just make good records and sit in the background. Were you never interested in the London club scene?
TB: No I had Alannah and Joe in the band to do the clubbing for me. (laughs) they were party animals. Me not so much.
Bits and Pieces
Q: Will we ever hear any of the third Babble album?
TB: Hmm…people ask about that. The thing is, the third Babble album didn’t really exist: it was a series of demos. There was probably a half a good album there and that’s one of the reasons it never got released. There wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. Somewhere the demos exist but it’s probably best left as a mythological third album.
Q: The Holiwater film; do you know of a release date yet?
TB: The film hasn’t been finished. Oddly enough, the director was here last night because he’s in Japan at the moment. I think it’s one of those labours of love that will be forever adjusted, finessed, remade and never finished because it’s got a little out of control. We had a long wait. We recorded the first album and then waited ten years before we had to insist on releasing it because the film was never going to be finished. I got frustrated about that but I have to thank the director Andrei Jewell because he bought us together in the first place and started the ball rolling. In a way, the music overtook the film because we became really electrified with the opportunity to work together.
Q: You’ve been to the Ganges haven’t you?
TB: Oh yes! Many times.
Q: Is it really as critical as the film says?
TB: Yes it is and you can also say it’s litmus of what is happening globally. The waterways which are vitally important to us are in a mess and the oceans too. The Ganges is a particularly good example because it underlines our folly. It shows how on one hand we can revere our water and in the case of the Ganges, even worship it, while at the same time, dumping every kind of conceivable shit into it. How more stupid can we be?
Q: The trailer says that the Ganges will not reach the sea by 2025: That scares me.
TB: I think you’re right to be scared. The situation has to be really well understood but everyone, without really understanding it, can do a lot to help. There is hope there and I think there is also hope in refusing to be brow-beaten by the baddies all the time. That is some kind of optimism when people think it is worth doing the right thing otherwise it’s too easy to slide into ‘What’s the point?’ The world is media managed as well and we’re not told the whole story about everything so it’s important to use these images like the Ganges as a way of bringing attention back.
Q: Your Bailey-Salgado Project is an excellent marrying of music and visuals. Are you interested in what’s out there in space?
TB: Instinctively yes but I didn’t know as much as I needed to know in order to do this project so one of the great side effects of that project was me having to learn a bit of basic physics and astronomy. We had great fun doing those. It was almost an accidental project that I thought would last a few days or maybe a week or two and we’ve now made twelve short films over the last four years. We occasionally perform them; they never really get screened on their own and they are always screened with some kind of lecture and performance. Great fun to do.
Q: Are we alone?
TB: (laughs) Well of course the mathematical proposition is that we are not. It is extremely likely that there are all sorts.
Q: You’ve had a few record deals in your time both as an independent and with major labels, would you say this current music business, the ‘death of the majors’ as they say is a good thing or a bad thing for a new artist?
TB: Well I hardly recognize the music business. Having kind of left the mainstream commercial part of it for so long and then dipping back into it and looking for the familiar signposts – they are not there. I have really dropped out of commercial mainstream culture: I don’t own a TV for example and haven’t had for ten or twelve years so I’ve never seen The X Factor or America’s Got talent or any of those shows that seem to be running the music business now. It feels good to me not to have seen them because everyone is telling me what a disaster it is but I do see the results of that in terms of when you look at the charts and hear the music that is being produced. You see the finesse but the lack of experimentation, the lack of excitement, the obsession with certainty, it’s got nothing to do with music at all. So I don’t see it as a healthy situation. Sure, a little bit of pizzazz, some bright lights and fancy clothes or whatever is all part of the gig but it cannot be the fundamental foundation of it. There has always been a little bit of an ingredient of it and there have always been those groups that were the brainchild of some crazy manager and there have always been those people who have not been bothered to get into their own creative challenges but we could always maintain a balance. Now it has completely crashed onto one side. Ok, I’m fine but what about someone who is 21 or 22 years old? They have learned to play guitar, written some good songs and wants to go out and make a career as a musician. Where the hell do they start apart from queuing up to be on some dumb TV show? It’s absolutely demeaning and it damages the health of the situation. I can be nothing but critical about it. We’ve already had enough of that.
Q: How about songwriting and production? When I listen to Thompson Twins stuff, the production where you give a song a lift in the middle and then drop it back down again all seem to have gone.
TB: For me those were the very reasons for writing a song. To create that experience of the tension and the release, the lift and the reaching for a high note, those things made a song beautiful. It demanded your attention and participation and what’s more, if you were going to write Pop songs, why not engage with the task and say ‘What does it take to make a fantastic song?’
Q: Tom Bailey, thank you very much indeed.
TB: Thank you and it’s good to meet you after all these years again.
* The complete line-up for the two day festival in 1981 was:
Echo & The Bunnymen
The Thompson Twins
Theatre Of Hate
Wall Of Voodoo
Way Of The West
The Professionals (ex Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook)
Inner City Unit (Nik Turner from Hawkwind)
Miles Over Matter