19 June 2018 (released)
19 June 2018
When Thompson Twins' frontman Tom Bailey made his much-heralded return to pop music at Rewind Festival South in 2014, he could not have anticipated the busy road ahead.
Four years on and Tom is busier than ever, delighting fans at gigs across the world with classic Thompson Twins hits such as Doctor Doctor, Hold Me Now, We Are Detective and You Take Me Up.
In their heyday, the iconic 80s synth band achieved 10 Top 40 hits in the UK and were one of a select number of British bands to break America, scoring seven top 40 hits in the US.
Now, 27 years after the release of the band's final album, Tom is about to release a new album, Science Fiction, which will also be his first ever solo pop album.
When Music-News caught up with him, Tom had just finished a Summer Electric stadium tour with Aha and OMD.
He will soon be embarking on a 40 date tour of America with Culture Club and the B52s, and will fly back in the middle of his tour to perform at Rewind South on August 19, before concluding with a UK leg at the end of the year.
We were lucky enough to see you on your return to performing live after 27 years, when you performed at Rewind Festival back in 2014. Were you nervous back then about how you'd be received?
Well of course, but actually what we did was a kind of warm-up gig the night before in a little club in Reading. I was super-nervous thinking 'what am I doing, am I crazy?' But in fact, I'd prepared a bit of intro music of one of the Thompson Twins songs that I wasn't going to perform, and the crowd just sang it for me, , so I suddenly realised everything was going to be ok. That's the thing, the crowd is so warm and so friendly, an emotional rebonding takes place. It's a reunion in some ways, you know, we're getting together again.
You've said before that performing live again reignited your desire to write pop music again, and now we have your new album, Science Fiction, to look forward to!
It's only my first solo album in pop music. I've been doing all sorts of other things on my own, and with other people. What I did was kind of retire from pop music for a couple of decades. It didn't mean that I wasn't doing things but they're not the kind of things you'd expect to show up in the charts whatever. I'd been involved in making other people's pop records a little bit, and that got me back into it, realising how much I like pop. It's a funny thing pop music. You have to make it infectious but still make it mean something somehow. I just enjoy facing that challenge again, it's the most amazing thing.
There’s a real celestial theme resonating with you and your 80s contemporaries - your new album is Science Fiction, while Tony Hadley’s is Talking To The Moon and Kim Wilde’s is Here Come The Aliens. Do you think there's any reason for this combined fascination?
We've all started looking up at the skies, we're no longer looking down to the ground, that's a funny observation! I've got a great excuse. Over the past 10 years or so, my work has been with a Puerto Rican astronomer and I wrote the music to his films. I guess it opened my mind, more than my eyes, to the idea of astronomy. Of course, the idea of communicating science is one thing and a very important thing, but from an artist's point of view of course, there are lots of metaphors floating around in the sky which you can then use. You bring them back down to earth and use them as a way of looking at emotional content of our lives which is one of the great burdens of pop music.
Have you got a personal favourite on the album and why is it your favourite?
At this stage I'm pretty fond of all of them. I like the title track Science Fiction. It's such an unusual idea for a song, that someone's partner is so obsessed with the story or their literature that you can't get their attention, you can't drag them away from the book. That seems to be a good metaphor for lots of things that happen in relationships where we're frustrated by our differences so that's a favourite of mine.
Have you had much chance to play your new tracks live yet?
I've been doing What Kind of World regularly in the latest concerts. It's all a question of time. Some of the fans want to hear something new but if you get 45 minutes or whatever to play, it means you'd have to kick out one of the old hits for a new song. I'm looking forward to having more time in America when we can add a couple more new songs.
You're releasing your album in an age that is very different to the time when you released Into The Gap in the 80s. How are you finding the experience?
In terms of making the record, and the creative processes we go through, it's exactly the same but I know, that in marketing terms, it's completely flipped on its head because we used to go on tour to promote our album, and now if anything, you make an album to remind people you're out there doing something! Very sadly, apart from the very few people who are selling millions and millions of records, there's no money in recording music anymore. How can new musicians put enough food on the table to commit themselves to that as a career, when Spotify and streaming services have taken over the way people listen to music.and they get a fraction of the pennies? If people drop out of being artists because they can't afford it, then where's the music going to come from? Then it will end up being more and more manufactured by committees and production teams until all we're listening to is corporately-controlled pop music. And at that point it loses its rebellion and to me then, it's lost its point. The idea should be that we can celebrate the power of a new generation taking over the world, which is basically what rock and roll is, right?
Why do you think there is still such an appetite for 80s music and also a hunger for 80s artists to release new material?
There was a lot going on in the 80s and a lot going on in several different genres. There was a big gene-pool of ideas but for me the big thing was the arrival of technology that brought record-making within reach. Synthesisers and drum machines arrived that we could actually buy. Up until that point, they'd been for millionaires only. So the fact that suddenly there was a generation of people with drum machines and synthesisers in their bedrooms, it kind of democratised the whole thing, suddenly a great whoosh of creative output from that generation. And then it's happened again with laptops . Now instead of having to wait to get into a studio to make a record, we can now just lie in bed and do it with our headphones and our laptops.
There were only a select number of bands in the 80s that broke America as part of the British Invasion, and Thompson Twins were one of them. How did you get your break in America?
It was ironic because the Brits took to Synth Pop really easily whereas in America they were really suspicious of it because they were still caught up in kind of guitar rock etc. The breakthrough there I guess was MTV who showed all that stuff but suddenly wanted something eccentric and new-sounding from England. Amongst the groups they picked was the Thompson Twins. I think they needed something to represent the wackier end of video ideas rather than just the glamorous set and so we got chosen. The next thing we're touring, then we make another video, it just goes on and on until you're not only part of the musical mythology of the time but the visual mythology as well. We were very big, there's no denying that.
Was there a moment when you realised that you'd "made-it" in the pop world?
It happens in funny ways. It's like when you're in the supermarket and you hear your record playing in the background or you hear it at the airport or somewhere, it's like 'Wow ,we've got to the heart of the culture' ; when it's not you deciding to play it, it's other people deciding to play it, just in the general ambience of people getting on with their lives..they are the amazing moments I think.
What was it like suddenly being on iconic programmes like Top of the Pops and Saturday Superstore?
I was thinking about that earlier, in a way it becomes kind of normal. It was very exciting, musically and culturally. It was a bit of a golden age and we still did have a sense that music was a vehicle for making the world a better place, and things like Live Aid were able to happen. More tragically, there's been a chipping away of people's optimism about their ability to influence the world, and it's udnerstandable because the world's been through so many horrific things, that we've been aware of globally in the last couple of decades. But oddly enough, the nostalgic elements of my concerts allows me to reinvoke that. Whatever remains of people's optimism is really important to nurture and whatever remains of their spirit of rock and roll. I see it in the smiles of people's faces, but also the tears in their eyes.
Have today's 80s festivals enabled you to see artists from the 80s who you may have mixed with on the TV circuit back in the day, but never got the chance to see perform live?
I've just seen Aha for the first time and met them for the first time. OMD who I think are fantastic, and I've always loved their music, I'd never seen them play. Now we're friends so it's great fun. When we go to America, we'll be touring with Culture Club, who we just did Australia with, and whom we get on really well with. I knew George back then, and he's in fantastic form now. He's really together, a total gentleman and a real pleasure to work with . We're being joined by the B52s, I've always been a huge fan, I love them and their records but I've never ever seen them. What a thrill, it's like getting a free ticket to their concert.
I've always been curious..... why were you called the Thompson Twins when there were three of you?
Of course that name was decided long before it was the three of us, because the original Thompson Twins was four people, then it became seven people, then it was three so it was always inaccurate until eventually Joe left at the very end of the Thompson Twins career, when it was finally Alannah and myself for a couple of records. But no I think it was part of the absurdity of the thing and we took the name because the original characters were people who kind of bumbled, and we totally identified with that.
Have you got any plans after your incredibly busy year, or are you planning a nice rest?
I'm not going to sit down now until December so at that point I'm going to New Zealand where I usually go in the winter. I like to go for walks in the country, I like to be in the garden, all those domestic things that are a relief. Those moments I can spend in the garden are like gold.
I suppose it all depends on what work comes through. This year is so full, I can't imagine next year being as full, but you never k now.
Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey plays Rewind South on Sunday 19 August (tickets available at rewindfestival.com) & his new album Science Fiction is out