Experienced music fans can get an inkling they are onto the next big thing when they see an artist a few times over the months and it’s clear the audience, venue size, the number in the support band are all steadily growing.
I first saw Tom Grennan live in October 2016; at that point he was playing at the Neighbourhood Festival in Manchester. It was mid afternoon and as we needed a break and a proper pint of real ale, walked into a bar called the Thirsty Scholar and heard Tom singing to a couple of dozen mesmerised people, while yet more punters were deciding on their options on the pumps. I was one of those in the market for a pint of Thornbridge but I recognised Tom had quite a voice and I jotted down his name. Who says men can’t multi task?
Second time of seeing the man in February 2017, Tom was playing in an upstairs room in another Manchester bar, Gullivers. This time he had the room to himself (the pure beer hunters were at the bar downstairs) and perhaps 120 people hung onto his every song.
My third experience of seeing Tom in April 2017 at Live in Leeds; this time he was in a mid-sized hall at Leeds University and accompanied by a full and experienced backing band. Tom was still only on a late afternoon slot but the place was almost full and buzzing.
What’s the music about?
Tom Grennan has a very marketable deep white soul voice; that kind of memorable voice which has recently cut through the music best sales charts around the world when deployed by the likes of John Newman and Rag N Bone Man. While the music industry giants backing Tom may want him to play it safe with more traditional soulful ballads, Tom is a streetwise young lad of 21 and not beyond chopping in a bit of scat with its cutting, halting vocal delivery style or to expose an Arctic Monkey style cynicism in his voice, which moves his music slightly beyond “safe mainstream”.
Tom’s biggest impact to date has been with the lead guest vocal of Chase and Status’ 2016 single All Goes Wrong. The song gives a good example of the Grennan style; a big bold voice with a very current vibe. Tom also performs a solo version of the song although here he ditches much of the surplus electronic and offers a stripped down purer sound.
Influences and History
In terms of personal musical tastes and influences, Tom was introduced to Grime music by his brother and admires Amy Winehouse and quite a few of the UK guitar indie bands such as the Wombats and Two Door Cinema Club. That mix comes through in his music, although with that big voice lending itself to heart-wrenching ballads, he’s always going to veer towards more traditional R&B with a twist.
It all started when still finishing off his school studies, Tom stood up at a house party to sing while rather the worse for wear and stunned his mates by unleashing that voice from deep within. Tom was immediately asked to join his friend’s band (The Jebs, a Bedford UK based guitar 4 piece) and found as well as sing, he had quite a flair for the stage.
Although The Jebs made some progress and played as support to a few memorable bands (including Catfish and the Bottlemen) the videos of songs still available to view on the likes of You Tube show pleasant Arctic Monkeys wannabees but hardly cutting edge, original or striking. Likewise, the teen Tom’s vocals are good but undistinguished; he was yet to find his style. One video which is likely to go viral if the boy goes huge is The Jebs Live on local Bedford Radio Diverse FM (it’s still on You Tube). I suspect Greenan’s record label (Insanity/Sony) didn’t see it before they signed him up.
Live Tom Grennan
Live Grennan is clearly delighted with the way his career is going as he obviously gets a buzz from the reception he receives and it feels like he’s not quite used to his audience singing his lyrics back to him just yet.
Tom’s enjoyment of the performance and how he loves to share his songs shines through. He dances like a marching man, arms and legs pulsing forward and during the gaps between songs he exhorts the audience to let down their guard and party with him; “Let’s Party, Innit” as Tom yelled during his April 2017 Live at Leeds performance. That vocal meanwhile sends shivers down the spine; it’s so pure, strong and clean.
I spoke with Tom for just a little while before his gig in a room above Gulliver’s Bar in Manchester in February 2017. Tom is a very affable man; a real regular geezer and clearly into the things most British 21 year olds enjoy, and really keen to give everyone a good time. Being from Bedford, there’s a broad cockney London type accent.
Before the gig Tom had a word for anyone downstairs in the bar waiting for the set to start, warming up his audience with his accessibility and relaxed style. He even nipped out into the cold by the front door for a cigarette and a chat with a few more gig goers. That cigarette thing is a somewhat unorthodox style of vocal exercise before a music set, but it seems not to mar this man’s singing abilities a jot.
Grennan obviously has style and it’s the sort of accessible style that can be bought in the high street chains. He often wears tailored trousers and smart t-shirt although he’s quite happy in tracksuit bottoms. Grennan has already completed some fashion shots, and I can see him making a lucrative sideline in this area.
At the moment Tom has yet to release a full album but there’s already some live music standards amongst his songs destined to stand the test of time. As well as the muted solo version of the Chase and Status classic, All Goes Wrong, the big Grennan song is Something in the Water. It’s a beautiful love ballad with a nice simple but complex lyric. I love the line; “I’ve got halos made of summer, ribbons made of spring”; they really bring out the feeling of a young man optimistic for love. Sweet Hallelujah is another classic; a tale about meeting someone and moving forward.
Tom was badly and randomly attacked on the street as an 18 year old teen and threw much emotion into his song writing as he recovered complete with a metal plate in his jaw. It gave him the tools to get the emotion released, and the resultant strong lyrics give our boy the complete package.
Sweet Hallelujah – Tom Grennan
“Blinded by the force of falling in love or
leaving it all behind but
the fear of the unknown, and who to follow
leaves me howling at the skies.”
Future direction: original artist or modelled by committee?
My hope is that Tom seeks to retain his individual musical style and influences as the “slight edge” in his music is part of the pleasure and joy. Unfortunately the road to hell is paved with good intentions and there are plenty of failed or halted music careers marred by the good and honest intentions of a music rep advising the artist to “play it mainstream”.
The main song on the second Tom Grennan EP Release the Brakes is Praying, which although a worthy addition to the roster feels a little undistinguished. A quick search of the song reveals it was co-written with Charlie Hugall (who worked with Ed Sheeran and Florence and the Machine) and Tre Jean Marie (who has written stuff with Craig David). It’s clear the big guns are out to help Tom take over the music world, but I sincerely hope they don’t lose his unique style during the attempt.
Catch him while you can
Given that Tom is so early on in his career, live concerts at the time of writing are lasting around 45 minutes to an hour as there aren’t too many songs for him to share yet. Tom has released just 2 four track EP singles.
On the bright side the scarcity of material means that concert tickets are also modestly priced although I’m sure that won’t stay the same for long. Likewise, downloading Tom’s entire recorded collection hardly breaks the bank.
Personally I detest watching an act in a hall with 20,000 other souls from a distance measured in hundreds of metres and at a price measured by the tenner. In my world if I’m more than 8 rows from the artist and it cost more than £15 then it’s not music and it’s not fun. My advice therefore is to catch the Grennan Express while it’s still small and affordable.
Tom Grennan is playing at a number of the town festival weekend gigs up and down the country (including Dot to Dot in Manchester, Nottingham and Bristol at the end of May) and already has dates signed in for the autumn. Dear reader, you know what to do.
Written by Chris – Halfway to Nowhere Contributor