FEATURE: Tom Williams – Five Favourites | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Before his gig at Stockton’s The Georgian Theatre on Saturday 2nd February, we caught up with Hastings-based songwriter Tom Williams. A guitar and songwriting teacher when he’s not touring, his last album, All Change was voted one of BBC 6 Music’s top 10 records of 2017 and his new album, What Did You Want To Be? is out March 2019 on his own Wire Boat Recordings label.
Tickets to the gig can be found here. Over to you Tom…

The theme is favourite lyrics and it’s worth noting that these change daily, but these are a couple that have stuck with me for a while.

Bruce Springsteen – Downbound Train

‘Now I work down at the car wash, where all it ever does is rain
Don’t you feel like you’re a rider, on a downbound train’

It seems ridiculous to say when you bear in mind how many millions of records Born In The USA has sold (30+ millon) but it’s an underrated album. Certainly by Springsteen fans. It’s the first Springsteen album I ever heard, my Mum is a huge fan, and the writing on this album is some of his very best. This line on Downbound Train is just magic. Such a beautifully astute way of extending the storm cloud over the head image but while framing it perfectly in Bruce’s world of blue collar America in the 70s/80s. The lone figure in the carwash, always in the rain while the sun shines all around them. Such a perfect image and so perfectly melancholy and melodramatic, it’s both understated and hysterical, genius.

Bob Dylan – Desolation Row

‘Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke
All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
Right now, I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row’

My English teacher gave me, Bringing It All Back Home when I was about 15 and it blew my mind. I listened to it for months, especially, It’s Alright Ma… and eventually graduated to Highway 61 maybe via a Greatest Hits, I forget the whole journey! For me, Desolation Row at the end of Highway 61 is the sister song to, It’s Alright Ma… and while I always adored the latter, the former always confused me. I never could get to grips with the hundreds of literary and cultural references or the significance of what they were doing, but I later came to appreciate it as some kind of nightmarish/hilarious Sgt Pepper meet Hieronymus Bosch scene which continuously unfurls, mutates and evolves as the song continues. In the last verse it seems to be rudely interrupted by an intensely personal grievance, like a fist through the television screen. I love the sharp cut, it’s very avant garde. It also reminds me of my favourite early Dylan, songs like, ‘Don’t Think Twice’ where he’s really sarky, mean and bitchy. Break up songs dripping with a hurt and genuine pain but also an awareness of foolish pride and ego. Very relatable!

Joni Mitchell – For Free

‘Now me I play for fortunes
And those velvet curtain calls
I’ve got a black limousine
And two gentlemen
Escorting me to the halls
And I play if you have the money
Or if you’re a friend to me
But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good, for free’

I’ve known Joni’s music for years but haven’t connected with it as much as I have in the past year or so. This song in particular always blows my mind. Not only do I adore the tone of the clarinet solo at the end (is it a clarinet?!) but the fact that someone as talented both vocally and instrumentally as Joni Mitchell can write a song like this about imposter syndrome, gives us all hope. The humility and the strength of melancholy and feeling that roars through her music is truly awe inspiring. In some songwriters there’s an occasional trickle of magic through their work and that’s enough so keep you captivated but with Joni she’s a spring all of her own.

Bright Eyes – Landlocked Blues

‘We made love on the living room floor
With the noise in the background from a televised war
And in the deafening pleasure I thought I heard someone say
If we walk away, they’ll walk away’

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning was one of the first contemporary albums I pored over like I did the Dylan albums I’d been leant previously. The singles were great and they lured me in, Lua and, First Day Of My Life were all over MTV2 and Q music channels at the time but this was the major song for me. Every verse is perfect but I always loved this one in particular with Bush’s war in Iraq serving as the unsavoury backdrop. Conor Oberst’s recent album, Ruminations was the first in a while to scale the heights that, ‘…It’s Morning’ did but he’s still as powerful a writer as ever. Always an inspiration.

Jason Isbell – Elephant

‘She said, “Andy, you crack me up”
Seagram’s in a coffee cup
Sharecropper eyes, and the hair almost all gone
When she was drunk, she made cancer jokes
Made up her own doctors’ notes
Surrounded by her family, I saw that she was dying alone’ 

When I first got into Jason Isbell, it was his character writing that spooked me the most. It sounds trivial but his writing about genuinely uncomfortable subjects, characters and situations really threw me, especially when nestled in the fairly conservative and run of the mill subject matters of alt-country. I had grown up loving Ryan Adams and the vocal similarity also threw me so I was relatively late to the party. Elephant, Yvette and Speed Trap Town are all novels in 3 minutes or less and real highlights for me. Something to aspire too for sure, must try harder!

Tom Williams is at Georgian Theatre, Stockton on Saturday 2nd February.

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