On 18th April, eleven excited Castaways pitched up at the Charles Holden Pub in Collier’s Wood for our “Studio Day” with Tom Robinson. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, everyone was in great form. Notwithstanding the fact that most of us had never met before, it was the easiest “blind” meet up I’d ever experienced. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, happily introducing themselves and others, and it wasn’t long before we all felt comfortable in our new little group.
The doors opened and in walked the man of the day; easily recognisable, startlingly tall and brimming with energy, Tom wasted no time in getting to know each and every one of us (he knew some of the diehards like Terry from days of old). There were no awkward moments, no looks of ennui – here was a man who genuinely wanted to get to know his fans, and more-so, wanted them to get to know him,. Tom was totally “cool” from the off; a truly congenial guy, willing to be quizzed and questioned, who genuinely wanted to hear our thoughts, and receive honest feedback. Actually the word genuine recurred incessantly throughout the day both in respect of Tom and his music.
And then there was Lee (Forsyth Griffiths). For all I knew he was just another one of us “Tom-cats” – that showed how much I knew (more of which anon). All was a sea of mirthful calm until Lee started pacing up and down like a caged tiger. The catalyst for this was the disappearance of his jacket. Luckily, he had the wit to scour the beer garden of the pub, wherein he found Mr Idiot Lightfingers; light in finger enough to pick up the jacket, but, idiotic enough to hold it in his lap out the back of the same pub from which he’d lifted it. Twat. Anyway, positive resolution.
In the meantime, whilst Lee was doing his best Poirot, we were sauntering down to the studio with our host. After a chat filled 15 minute stroll we arrived at Gerry’s studio – fairy-lit, inviting, and drink laden (nice one!!).
For those of you that don’t know Gerry Diver, he is an Anglo-Irish (haven’t used that term since I wrote my last assignment on Yeats!) producer and musician, best known for the “Speech Project” and his work with Damien Dempsey, Sam Lee, Lisa Knapp and Christy Moore. (You can find out more here – https://www.facebook.com/speechproject ; https://speechproject.bandcamp.com/ ).
Gerry warmly invited us into his recording hub where we were immediately (and yet again) put at ease by our hosts, who offered us refreshments and snacks to get the “party started”. Kicking back with a vino (not yet collapso), beer or bev of choice, we had an informal chat with Tom and Gerry (oh lord – just copped that one now!) about how they came to know each other, how the collab got underway, the background to the studio and so on. A very chilled Q & A was followed by another round of whatever tickles your throat, all the while we were able to click, snap and photo-bomb everyone and anyone in the room. Seriously, that is how laid back this gig was!!
We were joined by the lovely Kate de Ban, film & video producer//photographer and Tom’s official snapper for the afternoon – Kate has kindly given permission for some of her work to be posted on here! ()
The time came for the “World Private Premiere” of Tom’s first album in 25 years (yes, really, it’s been that long – and long awaited). Gerry talked us around the intro and off we went, the room full of expectation, anticipation, curiosity. They had agreed the playlist for that day – this may not end up being the final track list or order of play.
Track 1 got us off to a strong start; plenty of guitar and attitude. The tempo slowed down to a mellowed out ballad for the second offering. However, the third track ripped up the joint – it was searing and punchy and full of clout. And we LOVED it. Now for the benefit of those who weren’t there, it needs to be pointed out that full personnel line up for this album was no more than five perm musicians:-
TOM ROBINSON, VOCAL, BASS GUITAR, PIANO
LEE FORSYTH GRIFFITHS, VOCAL, BACKING VOCAL, GUITAR
ADAM PHILLIPS, GUITAR
ANDY TREACEY, DRUMS
GERRY DIVER, PRODUCER, VIOLIN, SPECIAL EFFECTS, SAW GUITAR*
That’s it – no more, no less.
For the techie geeks amongst you, the recording software used was Presonus Studio One; 99% of tracks are live instruments. The MO was in the main to start with vocal and guitar, and build up around these using an iMac. For the hard-core out there, Gerry used U87, Sony C48 and AKG mics, outboard compressors and pre-amps!
Gerry worked his way down the playlist track by track. By now there was a FRISSON in the room, a little bit and then more, of an electrical charge was buzzing through us all. We knew it was going to be good, but we had no idea it would be this good. Good? GREAT. FANTASTIC.
I might as well ‘fess up now and admit that I hadn’t a notion of how good, bad or indifferent it was going to be. You see I was not a Tom music fan; I was a Tom “The Voice on the Radio” fan. And up to the 18th April, I had only ever heard one of his songs – ” War Baby”. It was from back when. I watched a clip of it, before travelling over (live with another song called “Martin”) and that was my knowledge of Tom’s repertoire.
What was amusing was that during the chat n drink we’d had earlier, Lee had stated that everyone knew Tom from the song “2-4-6-8” – he was famous for it seemingly. I didn’t want to disillusion him – the only “2-4-6-8” I’d ever known, was the one that was followed by “who do we appreciate”!! (When I got back home, I made a point of listening to this song, and when I heard it, I recognised it, but had never known who the singer was, probably hadn’t paid attention if I’m honest).
Gerry cracked on with the tracks and then it happened. That rarest of magical moments – and it didn’t just happen once, it happened twice. Firstly with “Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall”, the first single from the album which is streaming now on Spotify and which will go on general release on Tom’s 65th Birthday June 1st. The song came on and I can’t even bring myself to tell you how it felt to listen to that spine tingling vocal on that song whilst sitting opposite Lee.
There was this unassuming guy, avoiding everyone’s gaze, whilst we were sat there listening to this amazing voice creating the most beautiful, heart rending vocal. The track finishes with Lee pleading “Don’t Jump”. Silence.
There was silence in the room. We were speechless with emotion, with the unexpected effect this bolt out of the blue had had on us. Spontaneously we started clapping. I think the guys knew this was no sycophantic way-hay moment. I think they knew just then, in real time, that they’d hit the musical jackpot. That once in a blue moon song that just sweeps people away in a current of raw emotion. I’m glad I was there, dammit I’m proud I was there. All of us were. It was a MOMENT. One that none of us will forget.
All the songs bar “Don’t Jump” and one other were still rough mixes. “Don’t Jump” was the final edit. The other was a demo called “Only the Now” and was the catalyst for the second magic moment of the day. Here was a song – simple, pure, true, unadulterated. An unwashed vocal with an acoustic guitar instrumental – clean, fresh, off the huff. Tom had only written the song a few weeks before. He laid down the demo, which was simplicity and yet not. It is a song with a heart and then some. It reduced some of us to tears, all to silence. When we found our voice, it was to plead with the guys not to touch the song; to leave it as it is, a sentiment even echoed by Lee. It is a wonderful piece, and I live in hope that if it does have to be edited for the album, that at least the original untouched demo will see the light of day in the form of a rarity or b-side. Everyone needs to hear this song in it’s “virgin” state.
What else to tell you about the album – well they started recording in November 2014, and should finish up in the next month or two.
Whilst “Don’t Jump” is due out 1st June, the album itself won’t be released until Autumn. The album features a list of contributing artists to bring the yellow into any artists’ eye:-
MARTIN CARTHY http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Carthy
DRUM ROLL PLEASE –
SIR IAN MC KELLAN
Anecdote – Gerry plays Saw Guitar on the album – and when I say play, I mean he whistled it – if you ever get to meet him, a Saw Guitar request should be top of your priority list!
And that’s all I can really tell you about the album for now…if you want to know more, you’ll just have to go along on 9th May and ask all the questions we didn’t think to ask! (Now that you know all this info!!). If you do go, you won’t regret it!
We picked ourselves up and dusted off the emotion when Tom cracked open more wine and beer. There was a buzz. We were elated. That was special, very special, and we had been very privileged to have been a part of a moment in musical history. The stalwarts among us – Terry, Andy, Amanda – declared this to be the best of the best that they had ever heard. Tom’s voice has withstood the test of time; his bolshiness is still in-yer-face, and his lyrical prowess is still A-grade. This is a cracker, trust 11 people 100% on that one.
Glug, laugh, glug, chat. Kate was doing a photo/video session outside, so we took it in turns to go outside and “pose” or stay indoors and chat about the wondrousness we’d just witnessed. Then came the totally fun bit – the group backing vocal. Lead by the TOM on the Baton, we partook of a rather rousing group rabble-vocal about the “Mighty Sword of Justice” and boy did we CUT IT! (Takes bow on behalf of group!). It was top fun! We did two versions – the standard sing-along-a-Tom group backing vocal followed by the Demonstrator-Sees-Red vocal. It was great craic and a great way to wind up the day.
Or so we thought.
We hung outside, finishing off our drinks, getting personal photos with Tom and just generally chit-chatting. Yapping away to Gerry – who is, one of the most laid back chaps you could ever hope to meet – nothing was too much trouble – amiable, personable, funny and enormously interesting – we noticed everyone had disappeared back inside and so, in we went for a nose. Cue impromptu gig – and back down sat we – in silence, in awe, aware of the fact that we were well beyond “closing time” and thankful for every further drop of music that Tom, and Lee were prepared to pour out to us faithful.
Lee treated us to a rendition of “Astronaut” – comes with an anecdote – you’ll have to go on the 9th and find out for yourselves. Here it is, check it out
Lee is so much more than Tom’s backing vocalist – he is a very important part of the process and it is clear there is a strong synergy between their two very like minds. Lee has his own solo career in it’s own right and you can check it out here on Soundcloud.
Tom gave us renditions of oldies but goldies on both piano and guitar – and oh my can the man play! Here’s a snippet of “Closing the Door”.
Thanks to Andy Simons for allowing inclusion of his videos!
The evening finally came to and end. Eleven people left Collier’s Wood feeling blessed, privileged, happy, content, proud. It was the best of days, something for the memory chest, an intimate “concert” we will none of us ever forget.
The laughs, the tears, the surprise, the feeling of being present in the right place at the right time, of witnessing something very, very special. If I could do it again I would, but I’d never get that element of surprise back again. That is still open for those of you that weren’t there, that can still enjoy the novelty of having this special time with Tom on 9th May. I would urge you to go, I know all of us that were there on 18th would.
You will never have this moment again…I’m glad I had mine.
I’ll leave you with the new single – “Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall”
You can order your copy of Tom’s forthcoming album, bag yourself a starring role in a Tom video or get yourself on-board for the next and final studio day on 9th May London here – http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/tomrobinson
Special thanks to:-
Tom – You are a total gentleman, a genuinely lovely guy, and, for me, your voice now extends beyond the radio. #converted
Gerry – For taking the time to answer a plethora of questions, for opening up your studio to strangers, for great conversation. #cheers
Lee – For being you, for being so talented, for pointing out my Irishness, and standing on my toe. The pain will live with me. #teeshirtprinted
Missis Trellis – For organising a wonderful day, and being a 100% genuinely cool cat. #appreciative
Kate de Ban – For the use of your photos, and for your patience with us novices. #shutterbug
Andy, Terry, Amanda, Malek, Viv, John. Valerie, Sandro, William , Jonas – thank you for your company and conversation. #Castaways180415