Thompson Twins Singer Tom Bailey, Who Plays the Kent Stage Next Week, Gets Conceptual on His New Solo Album

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click to enlarge Thompson Twins Singer Tom Bailey, Who Plays the Kent Stage Next Week, Gets Conceptual on His New Solo Album
James Cumpsty
During a recent phone conversation, Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins fame, lays out a story that’s just one memorable example of why David Bowie became an international superstar.

“I met him once at a concert that we did together and that’s all. It’s interesting, actually, because I did this concert, a big, big concert back in the ’80s and afterwards, everyone said, ‘Did you meet him? Did you talk to him?’ I said ‘no’ because he arrived by car, and his limousine drove right onto the stage. He got out, I happened to be standing there, he just kind of nodded and then he walked up to the microphone and started singing,” Bailey recalls. He performs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at the Kent Stage. “At the end of his show, he walked away from the microphone, got into the car and then drove away, so he didn’t speak to anyone there. I was thinking about this the other day, I thought, that actually is a way of making a gig exciting. It’s not being there for the build-up, but arriving seconds before you’ve got to be brilliant.”

Bowie himself was a point of inspiration as Bailey was working on Science Fiction, his first album of pop-oriented material in over 25 years. “What Kind of World,” which was the first taste of the album to be released earlier this year, draws inspiration from Bowie as well as an unlikely source — Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

“Stylistically, it’s a little bit of a nod to Bowie. Bowie’s death was a shock to me. Part of the shock, apart from his early passing, was realizing that he was more of an influence, I think, then I had recognized,” he says. “That kind of translates, by the way, into realizing that if someone like Bowie had been an influence and I didn’t realize it, then surely there must be thousands of other people who are influencing me and I don’t realize that either. It was a kind of admission of being open to influence, if you like. And also, because in the chorus, which is talking about going to Mars and things. We all know there’s a famous Bowie song about that, ‘Life on Mars.’ So in essence, I felt free to kind of have one foot in the memory of his work.”

But when you get into the heart of the song, Bailey points out that there are some concerning behaviors and schools of thought that are severely flawed and should be reexamined.

“My curiosity [is] about this idea that we have the technology and the resources to go to Mars, and some people are using it as an excuse to say, ‘If we blow it on Earth, don’t worry, because we’ll survive on Mars,’” he says. “To me, that seems like the most dangerous of dangerous ideas. It’s like saying, ‘Wow, we now have an escape plan, so we don’t have to get this right.’ So really, the song just questions that, over and over again.”

Science Fiction delightfully flies fairly close to the spirit of Bailey’s past work with the Thompson Twins — technologically, it has its feet firmly planted in the present day. As Bailey was working on the album, he saw certain themes developing.

“Three or four songs in, I realized it was a lot of imagery about looking at the sky. There was a kind of cosmological umbrella concept,” he says. “Maybe because over the last few years, I’ve been doing a few science films with a friend of mine where we make films and music about the night sky. That’s all instrumental music, but I think the textural imagery of staring at the sky and wondering how that opens our minds to realizing things about what’s happening back down on Earth, that becomes one of the grand metaphors. It’s not really a concept album, but rather, those kind of ideas tie the songs together.”

But no worries, even with all of those lunar thoughts swirling around in Bailey’s brain, he’s perfectly happy being right here on Planet Earth.

“I mean, I like thinking about the cosmos, but the actual tin can technology doesn’t particularly interest me,” he says. “It’s funny, because I’m a real traveler on the planet, but not really looking to leave it.”

During a 2014 conversation with Scene, Bailey indicated that he was contemplating the idea of making a return to recording pop music, but the circumstances would have to be right. As he found when he started recording the songs that would eventually form the core of the Science Fiction album, things unfolded very naturally. Outside of working with producer Hal Ritson (the Chemical Brothers, David Guetta, Katy Perry] on his vocals, Bailey says the new album was a mobile affair, “totally done on my own and mostly traveling around, laptop and headphone style.”

“The honest truth is that one thing leads to another, you know. I just kind of started out with the process. In doing so, it reminded me that there are certain very specific skills required of a pop songwriter. You don’t just make things up as you go along,” he says. There’s actually boxes that have to be ticked and requirements that have to be fulfilled. I think that very discipline is the thing that excited me. I love the economy and directness of a great pop song. Because I hadn’t been making that kind of music for quite some years, it was like bumping into an old friend.”

For Bailey, he found that he did have a confidence that one might not have expected, based on his past work.

“Maybe I’m being immodest, but I kind of thought, ‘Wow, you know, I used to have skills in this department; why haven’t I used them for all of this time?’” he asked himself. “So I kind of felt good about it from the word go. The album took quite a long time, because I was doing it in between everything else and I was doing an awful lot of traveling during the process of making it, it actually came quite easily in the sense that I was enjoying every minute of it.”

Bailey’s current tour will find him playing tracks from Science Fiction, along with a mix of older Thompson Twins favorites and some deeper cuts, including some songs that go back to the early days of the band. One particular highlight in the Thompson Twins catalog, is “If You Were Here,” a beautifully wistful song that found a greater audience thanks to its inclusion in the 1984 John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. Bailey says the way that song, which first appeared on the 1983 Thompson Twins album, Side Kicks, developed into being a pop culture favorite, was a big surprise.

“I certainly wasn’t involved in that process. I guess it was just chosen by the director or the music supervisor and they used it,” he says. “The first that I knew about it is that we’re in some movie and I probably just rolled my eyes and went on with what I was doing. I didn’t realize that it was going to be such a massive big deal. But I really like that song, actually, it’s one of my favorites. So I was super-pleased to find that it kind of has a special place in the collective memory in the States, not so much elsewhere, but in the States, everyone knows that song very well. When I decided to sing it again, I added a couple of new verses, which has also gone down very well. So there’s an updated version of ‘If You Were Here.’”

Looking back at the success that Thompson Twins enjoyed over the years, Bailey says that MTV was an unexpected factor which brought about an “enormous” change in their lives. “Suddenly, they saw our faces, and we were in everyone’s front room.” As you can imagine, it was quite the journey.

“You never realize at the time, of course, how incredibly unusual and rare it is to have that level of success. A lot of it is just down to timing or good luck as well as hard work and a little bit of inspiration, maybe,” he says. “But at the time, we just kind of accepted that we were on this rollercoaster of success. As if we deserved every second of it. [Laughs] And now of course, with a bit of the benefit of experience and hopefully a bit of wisdom, you realize that’s a rare thing. So the fact that it opened the door for us, the fact that we weren’t kind of just wishing that we had a break and that we actually had the opportunity to [do] whatever we want to, get into a studio whenever we needed to and even have our own studios, those kinds of things, it was just amazing.”

Tom Bailey, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29, Kent Stage, 175 E. Main St., Kent, 877-987-6487. Tickets: $40,
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