Tom Bailey, English singer, songwriter and member of the Thompson Twins chats with Kevin Cooper about his favourite Thompson Twins song, Madonna being his backing singer at Live Aid, his debut solo album Science Fiction and his forthcoming tour of the UK with Culture Club.

Tom Bailey is an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer. He came to prominence in the early 1980s as the lead vocalist for the new wave band Thompson Twins, who released five singles that entered the top ten charts in the United Kingdom during the 1980s, including Love On Your Side, We Are Detective, Hold Me Now, Doctor! Doctor! and You Take Me Up.

Bailey formed Thompson Twins in 1977 with guitarists Pete Dodd and John Roog, together with drummer Jon Podgorski. The group eventually ended up as a trio with Bailey on vocals, guitar, bass, and keyboards, his then girlfriend Alannah Currie (percussion, saxophone, and vocals), and Joe Leeway (percussion and vocals). Subsequent to the marriage of Bailey and Currie, Thompson Twins released their final album, Queer, in 1991.

Bailey was the only classic member of the band to have formal musical training. From 1994, Bailey was also a member of its later incarnation, Babble, releasing two commercially unsuccessful studio albums.

Between 2001 and 2015, Tom Bailey released several dub/electronica albums under the name International Observer. His latest collaboration is the Bailey-Salgado Project, an audiovisual ensemble formed with José Francisco Salgado.

On 25 April 2017 the official Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey website announced that Bailey was currently recording his debut solo album titled Science Fiction, which was released last month.

Whilst busy touring America with Culture Club, Tom Bailey took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Tom how are you today?

I’m very good thanks you Kevin, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are welcome and just out of interest, where are you calling from?

I’m actually based in Nottingham, just down the road from Chesterfield where you spent most of your time as a youngster I am lead to believe.

Yes that’s correct. That was a long time ago now. At this moment in time I am sitting here in New Jersey looking across the Hudson River at the Manhattan skyline.

Do you have the sunshine and the heat that we are currently enjoying here in the UK?

Yes we have and I have to say that I have been touring for a year and have had to contend with really high temperatures. I hear that is also the case over there in the UK so tell me, has the weather not broken as yet because I did read that a couple of festivals had been cancelled due to high winds and rain? Obviously there are some storms around as we speak.

Without going into the politics with you, let’s just say that quite possibly someone pulled the plug on some Festivals a tad too early.


Yes, and in fact there have been a hell of a lot of complaints relating to one particular festival posted all over Facebook. Jay Kay of Jamiroquai announced after only a few minutes on stage that he wasn’t prepared to carry on due to the rain and people in the audience started throwing bottles at him and the rest of the band. But to answer your question, it is a little cooler at the moment but we are being told that the temperature is due to get hotter once again.

Oh dear, well okay, perhaps we should move onto something a little lighter (laughter).

That’s a great idea so let me ask you, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that at this moment in time I am very happy. I am enjoying the current tour where I have been touring with Culture Club and The B52’s which in my opinion makes a great line-up. The crowds have been turning up and loving it so what’s not to like (laughter). Don’t get me wrong, it is also extremely tiring as well, but in another week and a half we will have finished the first leg of the tour then we have a bit of a break, and then back out all over Europe. So this will be a year of concerts for me as well as releasing the new album.

I would like to speak to you about the new album together with all manner of tours so shall we speak about the new album first?

Sure, whatever Kevin, you are in charge (laughter).

Well I have to say that I have been playing the new album, Science Fiction, for a couple of weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a fantastic piece of work.

Thank you so much, that is so very kind. I am really glad that you like it. I really did try to get totally back into the whole pop thing for this record and people who have heard the album are saying that it kind of picks up from where I left off back in nineteen eighty whatever (laughter). Although I have been making all of this other kind of music in the intervening time, there is a particular pleasure attached to pop music for me. I don’t know what it is although I know that there are certain disciplines which only apply to pop music and for me it is nice to use those disciplines once again after all of these years. I love the form and I am deeply respectful of any song that can make a point in three minutes and fifteen seconds but can still get you stamping your feet and singing along. That is a wonderful thing.

You have briefly mentioned the timescale so I have to ask you, why now, what has prompted you to make the album now?

Well as you know one thing leads to another in the sense that I had been avoiding mainstream pop music for so long partly because there were other things for me to do but also partly out of some weird denial that I had conjured up within myself (laughter). It’s kind of like, that was then and this is now (laughter). And then what happened was I did actually do some work on a pop record with a Mexican artist, and I realised that I was enjoying it so much that it had dragged me back across the line. After that I played some shows in America with Howard Jones where we were both playing old hits and again, I enjoyed it so much.

The nostalgia thing is very powerful; it is a very powerful emotion and people come along and there really were tears in their eyes every night. So it is a powerful thing but I also wanted it to be like a current creative challenge for me as well. So the most obvious thing for me to do was to write some new songs. I suppose that you would also call it a career thing where I wanted to put out a record as Tom Bailey and not as the Thompson Twins.

Are you happy with the album and the reaction that it is getting from the fans?

Yes, yes I am very much so. Obviously the music industry has changed almost beyond recognition since the last time that I made a pop record so it is not all about playing live and hoping that your fans buy the record rather than selling gazillions of records in order to be able to put food on the table (laughter). People just don’t do that anymore, so things have really changed. However, I am very pleased with the way that it has been received. I guess that I am really making it for the fans but hoping that other people will pick up on it as well.

I know that favourite tracks change like the weather but at the minute I have got two go to tracks; the first one is Shooting Star and the second is Feels Like Love To Me. I really do think that they are both fantastic.

Wow, thank you, thank you very much. To be honest with you I have actually started slipping Shooting Star into the live sets (laughter). I feel that it is a real stomper for me to play that song on stage. They are both complicated songs in the sense of what they are about and are unexpected subjects for pop songs (laughter). Shooting Star is really about questioning this thing where everyone loves the party animal who is larger than life, right up to the point when they try to straighten out their life and then they suddenly become no fun anymore. It’s a necessary thing; the people who are the kind of crazy life and soul of the party, who either burn out like a shooting star or they have to get their lives together in order to survive. It was just me looking at that situation as an idea for a song.

And then, Feels Like Love To Me is an even weirder idea actually. I saw part of a documentary on the BBC website about sex robots. But the interesting thing for me was, and I have heard of this in other areas as well, that people have emotional relationships with machines. So what I am saying is if it feels like love to someone, what is the difference between that and what we would call real love between two human beings, so that is what I am really looking into there. It is more of a philosophical question (laughter). And once again, I apologise because it is the weirdest subject for a pop song (laughter). For some reason the way that I did it seems to dreamily invite people into the song and that is how it happens (laughter).

Do you have a particular favourite track on the album?

Not really, although it is the ones that get less exposure perhaps that I become more protective of, songs like Blue. However, I am very pleased with the title track together with the Latino influence to What Kind Of World but on the whole I am very pleased with it all round.

How long did it take you to write and record the album?

It has actually taken me a couple of years to make the record and for a while I was throwing out as much material as I was keeping. What happened was, when I landed on the star gazing metaphor, the idea that you look out to the skies, you look out to the cosmos in order to better understand what is going on in your own life. Once that happened then suddenly the album just kind of flowed. That’s why I used the title Science Fiction in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I am not really a big fan of science fiction books or movies; I have read a few and seen a few but it’s not my bag particularly, but I love the idea that it’s a kind of conceit that you use wondering about the future as a way of examining the present. For me all science fiction is about now and not about the future (laughter).

Are you happy now recording out of a suitcase?

Yes I am, very happy. Some people will be thinking ‘that’s not quite right. You should be in some fancy studio for three months recording a couple of albums’ but it was the same thing back in the 1980s when we were using drum machines and synthesises when we became designers of pop music. Everyone said “oh that’s not right because they are not using real instruments”. They totally missed the point and technology in both those cases was a fantastically liberating thing. What’s really going on, the real creativity takes place in your head of course. However, the technology allows it to find an expression. So for me it is wonderful that I can now work wherever I am in the world.

I am in a hotel room right now and when I have finished speaking to you I will carry on making some music. I no longer have to wait until there is a three month gap to get into a studio (laughter). Back in that day that was all that we ever thought about, ‘please will some record company send us into the studio to put some tracks down’. It really was a strange trap, and as a result it was as though we were caged birds. However, I find that if you are sufficiently able to use the technology to your own creative benefit then it is a really liberating thing not to have to wait for that opportunity anymore. What you have to remember is that ideas can come to you in the middle of the night and you want to pounce on them (laughter).

You have mentioned the fact that you are continually making music so I have to ask the question, are there any thoughts on a follow-up album as yet?

Let me just say that I am not promising anything but I would say two things. First of all, it has taken me almost thirty-eight years to open that door again so I am not going to slam it closed anytime soon because I am enjoying it, and I loved making the new record. And the other thing is that I have actually written a couple of things since the album was released so it has just become part of what I do now. However, I do also have to give attention to my other projects, International Observer, Bailey-Salgado Project, and all of those other things that I love doing on the side and have distracted me for so many years now away from pop music. Let’s just say that it is a complicated mess but I quite enjoy it (laughter).

Now being male I have to ask, was it out of choice or was it completely by accident that you now have an all-female band?

(Laughter) well what can I say, it was sort of accidental. When I first decided to put a band together I called my old drummer Geoff Dugmore and he agreed to do it but then he was offered some enormous Japanese heavy metal concert series or something which he really wanted to do and so I said “okay Geoff you have to do that” (laughter). However, that meant that he couldn’t do the first concerts on the tour. Geoff then suggested that I contact Emily Dolan Davies to see if she was free to play the drums on the tour. At that point I had already been speaking to Amanda Kramer as a keyboard player and I suddenly thought ‘well that’s interesting, it looks as though circumstances are turning this into an all-female band’ (laughter). So at that point I kept searching for more female players.

Back in the day we always used to try to have a good mixture of both men and women in the band for our live performances but these days, I have to say, there is a lot more talent around. Back then it was difficult to find female players; they really were a rarity with the exception of backing singers. The females seemed to have been confined to that role. Nowadays there are great drummers, great bass players, so to be honest with you, my all female band is really a sign of the times. The other thing is, I don’t really like the kind of acquisition that I am surrounding myself with arm candy or something (laughter). It’s not so much that but I am fascinated by the idea that it is time to break down the iconography of pop music being four guys on a stage playing bass, drums, guitar and vocals.

That really does have to change if it is going to be of relevance. And of course women, especially young women, are massive consumers of pop music but they are edged out of its creativity all of the time so to me it seems like a really obvious thing.

Before we get onto the forthcoming tour with Culture Club, back in June you supported a-ha so I have to ask just how did that go?

I enjoyed it a lot and I have to say that it really was great fun particularly the shows where Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark were on the bill as well because we are old mates. I had never actually met a-ha before the tour so that was very nice. It was a slightly odd tour in the sense that they were all enormous venues and they were all football grounds, but they were all in, what we technically call, tertiary markets (laughter). We didn’t play in the usual cities that we would normally play in so that was interesting. I guess that the promoters realised that if you can book a place like that then people will drive to it.

Are you trying to tell me that you didn’t enjoying performing in the likes of Doncaster (laughter).

(Laughter) I have to tell you that I loved going up to Doncaster because that is my old stomping ground, but I do know what you mean (laughter).

Joking aside, didn’t you have a special moment at the sound check in Doncaster?

Yes I did, I really did. My father is ninety-four years old and he currently lives in Sheffield. He is a bit too old to come to the gig but he did come to the sound check in Doncaster; can you believe that. It was just him, standing in the middle of the football ground with us playing to him. It really was the most fantastic moment. His profession before he retired was a doctor so we performed Doctor Doctor for my dad.

Did you play any of the new songs from Science Fiction during the tour?

Yes I did, I managed to squeeze a few onto the set list.

And just how did the fans react to them?

The fans seemed to enjoy the new songs that I managed to play on the tour. The thing is, whenever we have a short set I can’t be filling it full of new material they have never heard because they want to hear the hits. However, I reckon that if I throw a few hits in there then that gives me the opportunity to play some new material as well. So the longer we get, the more new stuff I can include. I try to play at least one new song at every concert and sometimes two or three.

Coming right up to date, later in the year you will be supporting Culture Club here in the UK. Are you looking forward to that?

Well I am, yes. I am already out on the road with Culture Club over here in the States so that is nice; we have made a good connection. Everyone is having a good time working together, and of course it is going to be fabulous playing with them over there in the UK as well. I must say that Culture Club are on top form; Boy George is singing amazingly and gives everyone a great concert show. I am really looking forward to playing some of the places in the UK that are long overdue simply because we haven’t played them for such a long time. I really am very keen to get back out on the road in the UK, I can’t wait.

Well I recently spoke to Roy (Hay) and he told me that we have to thank him for you being on the tour after a drunken night down under in Australia (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right, and I can honestly say to you that at least one of us was drunk (laughter). We played some shows with them last November and December in Australia. It is always the case that you never know exactly just how you are going to get along with people but there is a lot of friendship now between my touring team and theirs. We all love each other, it’s fantastic.

Now that you are once again writing, touring, and more to the point, enjoying being back involved with the music business, will we at some point see a Tom Bailey headline tour?

Well that is a question being invited (laughter). Obviously if I were able to market myself as the Thompson Twins there would be a lot more immediate interest and one of the things that I am hoping for with this album is that people start to recognise and respond to my name as a solo artist as well. Then we will see how it goes, because being honest I really would love to play a solo tour. However, by the same token, what I do on stage is quite complicated and is therefore resource heavy and if I find myself playing in tiny little places it simply won’t work out and I will find myself losing money. So I will just have to wait and see and hopefully be invited to do just that.

Taking you back, if I may, to Saturday 13th July 1985 and to the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia; what can you remember about Live Aid? Everyone who I ask about performing at Live Aid tell me that they can’t remember a thing, it was a blink of the eye moment and it had gone.

Well I remember everything (laughter). Why do I remember everything, well it’s because I am Mr Sober, I don’t drink or take drugs so maybe that is the explanation as to why everyone else can’t remember a single thing about the day (laughter). It was a very exciting day, for all sorts of obvious reasons, but also, we were at the time working on a new album in New York with Nile Rodgers. To me it felt like an impossible interruption to our recording of the new album, having to take everything back with us to London so I asked the powers that be if we could play in Philadelphia. They said that we could which was great but we didn’t have our regular touring band in the States with us but we were surrounded by great musicians at that time; Nile Rodgers and Steve Stevens from Billy Idols band.

Also I knew quite a few of the people from the David Letterman band that played every night on that TV show and they had the night off because obviously they were going to broadcast Live Aid instead of the show. So they all wanted a gig (laughter). So I kind of cobbled together this all-star band which ended up including Madonna (laughter). Madonna and I had made a backstage deal to perform on each other’s sets. So we sang backing vocals for Madonna and she sang backing vocals for us. I can now joke that I gave Madonna her first big break (laughter). After all it did all seem to go well for Madonna from that moment on (hysterical laughter).

(Laughter) yes it did but a certain Mr Rodgers isn’t doing too badly.

Nile is fantastic although he has seen some dark times because of drink and drugs and stuff. I played with him eighteen months ago now and I have to say that he is in the most fantastic form. He has even been through a major illness as well but I found him to be totally together. He is loving his work and he is loving life. He really is such a fantastic guy.

The Thompson Twins were active from 1981 to 1993. What was your favourite period of the band?

To be honest I didn’t really have one but the time that you have your first crazy rollercoaster ride with the first hit taking off, that really is magical because it doesn’t happen twice. Subsequent hits never take you by surprise (laughter). When the record started to take off, someone in the marketing team at Arista Records said “you should enjoy the next couple of weeks because this only ever happens once”. So I did take heed of that and it was a remarkable thing. After that what happened was a party started which didn’t stop for ten years (laughter). It is interesting now in that some of my band and crew are young enough not to have been born when some of the Thompson Twins hits were written (laughter). So I have to look after them.

They are potentially naive about the ways of the world and so I told them that you can’t go out on an American tour as long as this and party every night, not if you want to survive. Sometimes that means saying no to the action and going back to your room and let me tell you there is a lot of that I remember from back in the day. You simply have to turn away from the parties (laughter).

Do you have a favourite Thompson Twins song?

Well there’s a funny thing because obviously I love all of the hits because they connect totally but in America there was a movie called Sixteen Candles which to my shame I never saw but they used a track of ours called If You Were Here during a very romantic scene in the movie. And as a result of that the song became massive here in the States. Whenever I play the song live it always gets a big response. I like the song all the more for being a non-standard hit record; it was never released as a single or even played on the radio but despite all of that it made a very big connection with the fans. I have recently written a couple more verses for that song and I really do enjoy singing it.

What was the first record that you bought?

Well I bought my very first record when I was just nine years old and it was the Light Cavalry Overture which is the overture to Franz von Suppé’s operetta Light Cavalry. I know that is going to embarrass me but it goes to show just what an unbearable classical nerd I was at the time (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Well I’m not really sure what my first concert was, but as you know I grew up in Chesterfield, Derbyshire which isn’t that far from you. There was a guy there called Dave McPhee who was a local DJ and promoter and I also believe that he had a role in Joe Cocker’s early career. He ran a record store called Some Kinda Mushroom which I always thought was a fantastic name for a record store. The store was located at the junction of Sheffield Road and Newbold Road on the outskirts of the town centre. Dave used to put on concerts on a Saturday night at The Victoria Ballroom in Chesterfield. He brought all of these amazing blues and progressive bands many of whom went on to become mega famous, bands such as Free, Yes and Pink Floyd, can you believe that they would be playing small gigs in Chesterfield (laughter). So I was very lucky to see bands such as that. I can’t remember which one of them I saw first but I saw almost all of them in a sequence of Saturday nights and I have to say that it blew my mind.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

(Laughter) that’s easy as I cry every night. I cried last night in Pittsburgh in front of thousands of people all singing Hold Me Now.

On that note Tom let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been great. You take care and I hope to see you here in Nottingham on Friday 9th November.

It’s been a pleasure Kevin, it’s been great talking to you. Have a great summer and I will see you there.