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Tom Townsend Live at Scarborough Spa

The previous evening Tom had travelled to Redcar Rhythm & Blues Club to play to an audience of 150, and he’s busy with final preparations for the Top Secret Blues Festival this week at the Cask Inn. We meet at the Watermark Café ahead of an early evening performance with his Blues Band as part of their regular Sunday Jazz and Blues programme.

So what are you looking forward to about next week's Top Secret Blues Festival and how did your involvement in it all come about?

The Thursday night Blues Club came together in 2008 when Mark Horsley, the promoter, contacted Paul Tilley originally, hoping to arrange some sort of regular night. Paul was a bit busy at the time but suggested me as an alternative, and so we met, outlined a rough plan, and Mark is the sort of man who runs with an idea and gets it done in a few days! We timed it for after Acoustic Gathering so we could start promoting it during that, so it all came together from there. I

t’s fun calling this a Top Secret Festival; at the gig in Redcar last night I went on the mic and started mentioning it and the audience all spontaneously went, ‘shhhh!’ It was really funny, they took me by surprise! It’s the third festival we’ve done so we hope to bring new faces in, and still provide treats for the regular Thursday night attendees too. That includes changing things around, like the Blues Band are playing on the Saturday so on the Thursday we’ve got the Adams and Greaves band (with Nick Boyes and myself involved). They’re great songwriters, great style, quite folk and rootsy, but for the Festival we’ve worked up a Blues set, still in keeping with the band’s style but something the regulars haven’t seen before from us.

I’m looking forward to being able to meet and jam with these amazing artists – kind of connecting to the next level. I’m excited about seeing 24 Pesos, they’ve been before to the first festival (at the Stephen Joseph Theatre) but I had other gigs and couldn’t see them. We’ve been listening a lot to recordings of the acts coming to us. I’m really liking the sound of Jo Harman, she’s powerful, almost Shirley Bassey-esque, this big sound, a beautiful inflection in her voice. And I’m really looking forward to the jam session on the Sunday, it’s going to be involving everyone.

And your other projects?

The Groovesocks is sort of on a backburner, most of the members have gone off to do different things, though Nick Boyes and myself are still around. We have too much else going on really to rehearse a new line-up right now; but we have a function band set up with Mark Gordon and Rich Adams, we do a range from nice groovy Stevie Wonder to cheesier things like Crocodile Rock, Brown Eyed Girl… They’re such great musicians to work with so it’s always fun.

I’ve also got a night at the Stephen Joseph Theatre coming up, I love playing there, and have some exciting collaborations planned – I’m hoping to have Alastair James to play some of his own music but with our band – I’ve always wanted to hear his stuff with a band behind it, I listen to his songs and I think they’re fantastic. And hopefully Laura Welburn will come out and sing too. The Tom Townsend Blues Band is augmented and kind of turns into the Laura Welburn Band, and I just want to carry on focusing on getting those bands really tight. Then there’s Tilley and Townsend on Wednesday nights at the Tap & Spile, the Adams and Greaves band, and trying to find time to write more of my own stuff…!

What inspires your writing?

I draw influences from everywhere. I listen to people like Taj Mahal, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Steely Dan but I also love jazz and 'old timey' country. I’m listening to Norah Jones a lot at the moment, her second album, Feels Like Home, is just amazing, it’s one of those that you listen to and it just makes you want to go and play and write songs. I like a lot of different styles of music to listen to but for writing, I tend to gravitate towards the acoustic side, with the roots in blues, jazz and country.

Who has been a big influence on you?

Well my Dad got me gigging from an early age, sitting in with his band, literally just having to try to keep up and follow them! Being there taught me to listen, to really use my ears, it helped me be able to dive in even if I’ve never played with a particular person before, so I got to collaborate with more artists through that. I’ve always known people like Mark Gordon and Paul Tilley and looked up to them, I’ve learnt so much from them about music, especially drums from Paul. I find everyone brings something, whoever you meet there’s always something to learn. My Mum has been a huge support in terms of morale and organisation / motivation, too. I’ve been lucky with the supportive environment I’ve had growing up. School as a whole wasn’t always a great experience for me, but I had some wonderful music teachers along the way who gave advice and inspiration that has always stuck with me.

Seems like now you’re passing that on, trying to support other younger musicians, giving them support slots. For example, Seafret supported you at the SJT one year then the next year were headlining their own gig there.

I think it’s something that is very special in the area and needs focusing on, celebrating more, there is such a lot of talent around; I know I went through this myself as a teenager, but I think if people allow a cliquey attitude to develop, that can get in the way of it being ‘everybody in it together’. There’s lots of good stuff that could be even better with more exposure, more opportunities at each other’s gigs. That was how I got the chance, even as an eleven year old and I wasn’t necessarily very skilled at that age but I got the opportunity to learn and perform.

Seafret are just astonishingly good, such mature sounding writing and guitarist Harry, I watch him transfixed, he never puts a note or a finger-pick out of place! Alastair James too. He told me I’d been one of the inspirations for him to start playing and that just meant such a lot to me, it really did – it reminded me how important it is to support others. To be honest, I’m envious of some of his songs, I wish I’d written them!  

Tom Townsend on Facebook

website: tomtownsend.co.uk

Blues Club on Facebook

Website - scarboroughbluesclub.co.uk