Godfathers of Pop – Tom Bailey Interview
He may be best known as the founder and lead singer of Thompson Twins, but the infamous trio are just one chapter in the ever-unfolding story of Tom Bailey’s musical adventures.
After the Twins came his ambient-house outfit, Babble, and production for Debbie Harry. More recently, there’s his dub soundsystem International Observer and travels around India with The Holiwater Project. We tracked Tom down to Varanasi, a city on the banks of the River Ganges, to find out more…
You’ve shied away completely from the Eighties cheese circuit (and I’d like to applaud you for doing so). What are your views on the increasingly retrospective music world we live in?
I think the retrospective point of view of the music world isn’t just – as is often claimed – because we’ve run out of quality in new music. There are two other big reasons. One is that, for the first time ever, more or less the entire history of recorded music has been digitised and made easily available. So it’s not surprising that this has influenced taste – and I don’t see that as a bad thing.
Secondly, the enormous influence of TV talent shows as the modus operandi of the pop industry has killed its taste for innovation and experimentation. This has been a disaster for the growth of new music, because the system creates conformity. That’s a great pity.
I recall you once told Smash Hits that the biggest lie you’d ever told was Thompson Twins. What were you thinking and would you say that’s still the case?
I don’t recall that quote! I remember once saying we were going to Egypt to write what became the Quick Step And Side Kick album, just to get the press off our backs. But in fact we were in Norfolk.
If you ever decide to have a Thompson Twins reunion, shouldn’t it be a whole festival rather than just a concert? Maybe a set from the A Product Of-era seven-piece, a set from the classic trio, a Queer-era dance set, a chillout tent with Babble…
I like the idea but it’s extremely unlikely to happen. Maybe one day.
I loved Doctor! Doctor! for its dubbed-out B-side, Nurse Shark. How did you view B-sides in general? As a chance to subvert? To play around with new ideas? Or maybe neither and just as another job to do?
I think you’re right that B-sides were a great opportunity to experiment. Sometimes, because so little time was spent on them, they carried a care-free freshness, which is a rare thing. “Remix” versions of tracks were also quite a big thing in those days, and coming up with a radical, sometimes unrecognisable dub of an existing track was part of the creative fun.
Have you ever considered a solo album? Your few solo tracks that have emerged over the years have pointed the way to a catalogue that would stand alongside the likes of William Orbit or Biosphere.
I’ve never thought of a solo album but, these days, much of my work is done alone – the last three International Observer albums [2005’s All Played Out, 2007’s Heard and 2009’s Felt], for example. But I do work with others, too.
There are some intriguing collaborations in the Thompson Twins story. Could you tell us your memories of working with Madonna (who joined forces with the group for Live Aid) and Grace Jones (who sang backing vocals on 1983’s Watching single)?
Madonna, I don’t remember much about but Grace was great fun. I loved her early records and the music/art/fashion nexus she created with her collaborators.
If you could make a playlist – drawing on your entire history – for our readers who might only be familiar with Into The Gap, which tracks would you choose?
I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly come up with a representative 10 tracks.*
*Ok, we’ll do it for you. Classic Pop‘s 10-track Best Of Tom Bailey is available on Spotify at http://sptfy.com/fv