Redbrick Music Writer Rosie Crabbe caught up with Tom Grennan at his recent Birmingham show and gives us the lowdown of the evening
Tom Grennan’s rise to the forefront of the British music scene has been rapid. Since the release of his first EP at the end of 2016, he was shortlisted for MTV Brand New in 2017, and his 2018 debut album Lighting Matches reached the UK top five. His tour has sold out on every date, so I was eager to see what Grennan’s live show would bring to the table, as well as getting the chance to chat with him before the show.
He is arguably one of the biggest musicians ever to emerge from Bedford. This may not sound like much, but with the likes of Don Broco enjoying increased popularity in recent years, Bedford is beginning to make something of a name for itself in contemporary British guitar music. If for some reason you ever find yourself there, get yourself down to Esquires, a much-loved independent venue. Having lived in Bedfordshire since I was eleven, I ask Grennan whether his hometown had helped to inspire his music. ‘I would say that my creative brain expanded after I moved to London, really, but Bedford is still my home. I was always creative when I was younger, and went through phases where I learnt quickly. Some of the stories I heard growing up were inspiring for me.’
Grennan released his first EP, Something in the Water, in 2016, and his big break came when he featured on the Chase & Status track ‘All Goes Wrong’. I ask him if we can expect any more collaborations in the future: ‘Maybe! Who knows? Nothing’s been put on paper yet, but I’d love to work with more people.’ Who would be his dream collab? Grennan does not hesitate for a second: ‘Kendrick Lamar.’
Genre is a matter of contention for Grennan, and he insists that he does not agree with all the labels he is given in the media – ‘I hate the word indie, because I’m not an indie person, and I’m not an indie musician.’ Despite this, he remains enthusiastic about his contemporaries – ‘I haven’t had the chance to listen to much recently with the tour, but there’s so much good guitar music about at the moment – I’m into Blossoms.’
Recently, Grennan’s single ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For’ has been featured on FIFA 18. His face lights up when I ask him about this: ‘FIFA has millions and millions of fans, so to have been put on that platform is amazing. A lot of people say that they’ve heard my song on the game and that’s how they’ve got to know my album, so it’s definitely helped me out.’ Grennan trained as a professional footballer before turning to music – ‘I played for Luton for a bit, which was cool.’ I tell him that my dad is a keen supporter. Grennan may have been based in London for the last few years, but speaking to him, I get the sense that he is grounded and mindful of his roots, approaching his music with a no-nonsense attitude.
His 2018 debut album Lighting Matches has reached the UK top five, and his tour sold out on every date. ‘It’s very nice, very humbling to know that people out there want to come and see me and are listening to my music.’ Grennan’s gratitude is reflected in his set at Birmingham’s O2 Academy later that evening, which was a spectacular display of showmanship.
The venue was buzzing long before his performance began, with enormous queues outside the venue. As an ageing fourth-year student, I have visited the Academy many times over the years, but had never seen it so busy – especially not on a Tuesday night. Support from rising soulful star Elli Ingram set the tone for what proved to be one hell of a show, surpassing all expectations.
The atmosphere was electric when Grennan finally took to the stage, making an aptly sudden, exciting entrance. He opened with the stripped-back ‘Sweet Hallelujah’, and I was immediately struck by the power and distinctiveness of his live vocal. The crowd adored him from the get-go – even from my position towards the back of the stalls, people were singing along to every word. His second song was his fourth single, ‘Royal Highness’, which was lively and upbeat- the audience enjoyed a boogie. Grennan had us in the palm of his hand from the offset.
‘Make ‘Em Like You’ has one of the catchiest hooks from Lighting Matches, and this was reflected in its enthusiastic reception. The soulful influences on his music became apparent when the opening bars to ‘Barbed Wire’ started. He boasted an impressive band, featuring chic backing singers, who I was particularly captivated by during ‘Run in the Rain’, one of Grennan’s ballads. He also had a brilliant guitarist to complement his own playing, who was almost as charismatic as the singer himself.
The mood shifted to one of seduction as Grennan began to sing ‘Secret Lover’ – he appeared to stand on his drummer’s kit as he took his own kit (well, his shirt) off, and the lighting changed to an alluring magenta hue. ‘I fucking love it here,’ he said with sincerity. ‘Keep the energy going.’ Grennan never lost momentum, maintaining his dynamic stage presence throughout. His humility was also apparent – about halfway through his set, he announced: ‘I’m a very lucky boy and it’s because of you.’ The evening reflected a mutual passion and gratitude between the artist and his audience, which was a real joy to behold. He later told the crowd that their energy ‘beat [the crowd at his earlier tour date in] Brixton’, which thrilled them.
Grennan closed the main part of his set with his third single ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For’, which features both on FIFA 18 and Sky Sports, and the atmosphere reached fever pitch as he crowd-surfed. He was refreshingly open about his encore: ‘Back in two seconds, don’t go anywhere’. When he reappeared, the opening piano track to ‘All Goes Wrong’ (his collaboration with Chase & Status) had the crowd brimming with anticipation, and the song was one of many highlights of the show. He finished off with his debut single ‘Something In The Water’, an excellent choice – it is my personal favourite of Grennan’s repertoire, and gave a nod to his beginnings. The closing lines (‘Yes I’ve fallen in love again / With you, with you, with you’) felt pertinent – his appreciation of the Brummie crowd could not have been clearer.
‘This is one of our favourite fucking cities. We’re gonna do this again, bigger, better, and with new music.’ If Grennan’s performance is anything to go by, you can be sure that he’ll deliver on his promise.
‘Lighting Matches’ is available now via Insanity Records.