Tom Bailey Of The Thompson Twins On Coming Back, MTV and His Favorite Song

Of all the bands in the 1980s, The Thompson Twins harbour a wistful and glorious memory for me. Across their albums starting from Quick Step And Side Kick, Into The Gap, Here’s To Future Days and Close To The Bone, they made music that both my brain and my feet can dance to. They were inventive, clever and visually striking. I loved this band dearly. The Thompson Twins played their last gig in 1986, released their last album in 1991, and never succumbed to pressures to hit the reunion circuit after that. Until now – lead singer/songwriter Tom Bailey is going out on the Retro Futura Tour with Howard Jones, Midge Ure and China Crisis.

Eric: Every time I saw a retro tour announcement, I was always hoping that the Thompson Twins would be a part of it. You seem to have held firmly on keeping the Thompson Twins in the past. What led you to becoming of this years tour?
Tom: Well its a strange turn of circumstances really. I have been, of course I’ve always been making music of different sorts and I have been firmly of the opinion that I wasn’t going to revisit the Thompson Twins. We’ve obviously had the offers and people have tried to twist our arms to reform and do all that, and we discussed it, but it never really appealed in terms of reforming. And in fact, it has been so long since I have been singing on a pop song, that I pretty much given up hoping that it would ever come to pass. But anyway, by chance about six or seven months ago when I was in – asked again to consider it, I was working writing a song with a Mexican artist called Alex Syntek and we wrote a song in the style of The Thompson Twins and he said why don’t you sing on this? And to my shame I thought, this is kind of the safe way of dipping my toe back into the water and see how it goes. And of course, I enjoyed it. And then shortly after that Howard Jones invited me out to dinner and said, hey what do you think about touring in North America next year? And it kind of one and one came together and made about three or four in my head. I thought obviously I’ve had to wait for the circumstances to push me over the line.

Eric: Or Howard Jones asking you in a fine vegetarian restaurant. If you don’t have fun, after all this time, you can now say that he’s the only to blaaaame.
Tom: Ha! Well that’s right.

Eric:Through your work after The Thompson Twins split, whether it was the Bailey-Salgado Project or the International Observer Projects, I thought you didn’t have any unfed desires to re-visit it. You achieved what you had wanted to achieve and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of bands that had that philosophy. Not just from the 80s, but in general where they had bad breakups or had unfilled desires or they thought that the audience didn’t get them so now maybe here’s another opportunity. But you’ve been pretty OK with the legacy of The Thompson Twins.
Tom: Yes I mean The Thompson issue was never really concerned with reinventing and certainly not reinvigorating the band’s career. I didn’t want to do that again until quite recently. And its come as a surprise to me. And I think there is also another thing that is not quite so simple and also maybe not quite so positive, which is after the success of a group like the Twins, or any group, I think artists go through a period of denial where they say to themselves, “well I don’t do that kind of thing anymore.” [laughs] And now I am doing other things and it may not be a successful, but, so be it. It is artistically credible. Its what creatively challenges me at the moment or whatever. So you go into this frame of mind where you put it behind you and never to be revisited. And I think I have come to live that way for a long time. And also what comes about is an appropriate moment to take a retrospective look at your artistic life and say let’s just re-imagine some of the work that we were doing thirty years ago. See how it can be approached with the influences of the last thirty years brought to bear upon them. It’s not been difficult, it’s been surprising easy, after all of the talk and refusal and distance and resolution never to go there. Actually once I started to look at this again, I found myself enjoying it so much that it is pretty natural.

Eric: You brought up looking back and you’re married to an artist, Lauren Drescher who does a lot of photography and painting shows. That’s kind of what is expected of them – you put your past work on display. Here it is, and here’s the name. Is being married to her – did that change your outlook a little bit?
Tom: Yes, you’re absolutely right. Within the visual art world a retrospective exhibition is considered to be a triumphal mark of having existed so long in a career. Why can’t the same thing be of value to a musician? Of course lots of people do this, it’s not like I suddenly invented this way of coming back. It’s just that I was dragging my heels for a while, mostly because I had a lot of other things to do. I’ve been very busy with other projects and that’s kept my need to be creatively challenged well exercised. I really wouldn’t be doing this, had I not – if the circumstances hadn’t brought me to this, I wouldn’t be doing it. But, that being the case, I’m amazed at how much I’m enjoying it.

Eric: What people can expect when you perform? You’re bringing 4 women with you?
Tom: It’s very high tech, we’re all electronic. It’s essentially three keyboards, electronic drums and guitar played by four people. And interestingly, yes, all the band are women. It’s an all-female band, which is an interesting dynamic I think we’re celebrating. I remember we always used to try to look for great female instrumentalists back in the day. It was hard, usually they were backing vocalists and not much else. Where as now, there are so many amazing women players out there. So, that’s happened almost without trying. In terms of the material, I’m really concentrating on the hits era of the Twins at the moment. Because we’re doing a 5 band show, it’s not like we can play for hours upon hours. Each band has relatively short sets to get through. I figured that I have to take the boxes that people have come to tick. They dont want to hear obscure things that I wrote a couple of months ago. They want to hear the great Thompson Twins hits.

Eric: I do. I do. I want to hear the obscure ones. I’ll sit there for hours.
Tom: For that you may have to wait another year. [laughs]

Eric: This year, it’s the 30th anniversary of Into the Gap. A few weeks ago I posted on my website, I did some fun facts about the band and that album. It made it onto the Facebook fan page. I got so many hits on it, it was astounding how many people clicked through on it. Not because I didn’t think they were any fans, but that people’s memory of that album still struck in a lot of really good times for people. What’s your best memories of making that album to begin with?
Tom: Well, I think we were at our peak of songwriting maturity in a way. We made the very keyboard synth oriented album with Sidekicks. With Into the Gap, we followed the same process of going to the Bahamas to cut the tracks, then back to London and overdub and mix. Although in that sense it was exactly the same, we started to broaden the instrumentation and start to use more pianos and guitars. I think that reflective of our emotional breath as well. We suddenly were able to write songs that didn’t depend on just a dance rhythm and a corky idea. They were actually – they had some emotional depth as well. I think “Sister of Mercy” came out of that whole era. They’re amongst my favorite songs to date. It really was great fun to make. We made “Hold Me Now” before we started the rest of the album. We had a peculiar experience of making the rest of the album whilst “Hold Me Now” was climbing up the charts. So it set a very high bar for us. We had gone up several notches since the last releases.

Eric: Why do you think there’s suddenly so much interest in the 80s music? Is it just nostalgia, or people rediscovering the music of fresh?
Tom: I think it’s a bit of both a way. There was a period in the 80s of great interest. There was a lot of flow back and forth between the UK and North America. That a lot to do with the appearance of music TV. MTV and other stations that were suddenly grasping the vitality of these ideas in music and had powerful they were. Of course that led a generation of people glued to their TV set [laughs].
Eric: For sure. Imagine being someone in Cleveland, Ohio and you get MTV, and all of sudden they see you and Kajagoogoo and Duran Duran. They came right to you through the TV, rather than if you waited for them to tour in your city, if they did at all. But then so many bands based their stops in America on the heaviest concentration of MTV viewers.
Tom: Yeah, and it did create those global connections that never really been disconnected. They’re there forever, in a funny way. Maybe that’s the reason. For anyone lucky enough be the first generation where that kind of global connection took place. Because music was suddenly not only on the radio, but it was also on TV and all the magazines and newspapers as well. And now, in some small way, we’re back again, coming to your city.