So what’s it all about?
Tom McRae, born Jeremy Thomas McRae Blackall 19/03/1969 is a singer-songwriter, but that description hardly begins to properly locate the real essence of his music. As one critic once suggested, McRae’s snapshots of urban paranoia are hard, minutely crafted sculpted gems.
Or, as McRae states: “A lot of my music tends to be about cheating your destiny and changing what you are supposed to be.
I think 90 per cent of people have a path dictated to them by history, and that was something I was determined wouldn’t happen to me.” McRae was brought up in a tiny village in Suffolk with a population of 250 people. “There weren’t any pubs, but there were two churches, which gives you an idea of what people’s priorities were,” he says.
His parents split when he was eight and he went to live with his mother, who, like her ex-husband, was also a vicar.
“I thought for a long time that the way I wanted to live my life was totally removed from my parents, but I’ve kind of discovered that I’ve probably got more in common with them than I thought.
I think I share with my father the same desire to stand up on some sort of stage and preach to people. But whereas he wears a black dress and sings hymns, I use a guitar and my own music,” says McRae.
“I think we also share a feeling of dissatisfaction with the surface level that the world seems to run on. We’re trying to find a sort of transcendence, to access those other levels. That’s what I use my music for”.
Living in Suffolk was a particular frustration for McRae, and getting to London – “to many people London is England, it’s where everything happens” -became a consuming aim. “I hated the countryside. There was a particular feeling of isolation, that nothing was going on, you can waste away there. I looked for any opportunity to get to London, and took it as soon as I could,” he says.
On arriving in London, McRae started his Journalism studies at Harlow College. During his student days he set about forming a band.
A fortuitous meeting in a recording studio, however, radically changed the direction of his embryonic career.
During a break in the band sessions, McRae played his home-recorded solo demos to producer Roger Bechirian (Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Carlene Carter). He immediately recognised an extraordinary quality in McRae’s work and offered to manage him. Away from the band context, McRae had the freedom to concentrate on his own personal themes.
“They’re about the things that obsess me. Death, life, the fact that you have such a short time to actually achieve anything and that you’ve got this moment, now, to be who you’re going to be,” he says. “Everything right now is about comfort and distraction rather than actually having to think. Although I’d hope to entertain onsome level, I’d rather people felt uncomfortable than simply entertained.”
A deal with db Records soon followed. McRae made his debut with a single, You Cut Her Hair, released in September 2000.
A song inspired by a photo of a bald-shaven Jewish girl during WW2, but also a protest against Tony Blair’s policy.
At the same time, McRae also started a series of low-profile gigs around London, honing his craft in a live context.
They immediately attracted both media attention and a rising audience. McRae’s profile was raised when Scott Walker invited him to appear at June 2000’s Meltdown Festival, and The London Evening Standard even claimed that McRae was “an angel singing the devil’s tunes.” And then came the Tom McRae album.
It was a remarkable debut. which earned him comparisons to Nick Drake and Bob Dylan. Lyrically vivid and musically touching, there are themes of revenge and overtones of bitterness throughout, but it’s McRae’s real intent that’s most striking.
“You can make music without a reason, but it’s just noise. But if you’re trying to find out who you are it’s easier to find out what you’re against than what you’re for,” he says. “A lot of the songs are about that. You do have some power, choices that you can make and while I’m not expecting to change people, you can tap into something that’s already there and move people in the same way I’m trying to move myself.” McRae’s music found a resonance far from his native England, proving the universality of his personal obsessions.
By the start of 2001, for instance, McRae found himself a burgeoning star in France, while word was beginning to spread throughout the rest of Europe. Constant touring also cemented his reputation to the point where The Times newspaper claimed that “the problem with McRae is that he could become a very big star indeed.” Despite the popular and critical acclaim, however, McRae’s music is still rooted in those personal passions that first fuelled his need to be a songwriter.
McRae talks about those moments of clarity in life that are fleeting and difficult to put into words, and the aim is to try and access those emotions and feelings through the music. He’s poured himself into this, you should take a closer look.
Later that year his album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and Tom embarked on a tour through
Europe and America that would last longer than two years.
McRae’s second album Just Like Blood was released at the start of 2003 and drew its title from a poem by British poet Simon Armitage. A poet whom Mcrae feels affiliated with:
“Come clean, come good, repeat with me the punch line Just Like Blood when those at the back rush forward
to say how a little love goes a long long long way”.
Released over three years after the appearance of his debut, the album added subtle instrumental touches to “sweeten” the sound. The focal point of the album remained McRae’s increasingly authoritative songwriting, however, with “Stronger Than Dirt” and “Karaoke Soul” noted stand-out tracks.
A tour followed in fall 2003, Tom left England, signed a new recording contract with the BMG conglomerate the next year and the recording for the third album started during the summer of 2004. After leaving England, he rented an old Italian villa, the Paramour Estate in sunny L.A. Written and recorded over a period of mere weeks with the members of his touring band, it would still take more than 6 months before the album came out. To fill in the gap, Tom went on an accoustic tour in the US and Europe, during which a few of the new songs were tested and played live.
All Maps Welcome, produced by Joe Chicorelli , was finally released in May 2005.
Where his debut was narcotic in its quite intensity, All Maps Welcome leaves you hypoxic. Track after track fights towards high peaks with honest struggle and determined triumph. Which isn’t to say that McRae resorts to gratuitous climax. Instead, he is equally adept at soaring in near silences (My Vampire Heart) as he is in voice-straining mega-choruses (Silent Boulevard).
Despite great and promising reviews the album selled poorly, spawning only one single on vinyl (!) and with
no record-company campaign to support it and bring it under attention. This resulted in the foundation of the
street teams. Forum members could then distribute flyers and hang up posters to support their favourite artist.
Promotional items were promised by BMG, but again they failed to give their support. Fans were forced to create
their own flyers and posters, and were asked to be at venues if possible. This was especially during the Tori Amos tour.
After the promotional gigs he supported Tori Amos on some dates of her Original Sinsuality tour, whereafter the band visited festivals,
while his own shows followed later in Autumn again both in the US and Europe.
Despite the low sales and media attention, most dates of this Autumn tour were sold out, which was a surprise.
After the tour Tom left BMG and signed a new record deal with V2music in March 2006.
Tom moved from Sunny L.A. back to London and started working on the follow-up to AMW.
The new album “King of cards” was scheduled for the 30th of April 2007 but got pushed back to May 14th.
Instead, an iTunes only ep was released feat. 4 songs from the upcoming album.
V2 promised several formats of King of cards, including a digipack edition and a vinyl version,
but none of those ever saw the light of day.
The release was followed by a tour across Europe, which started in May and continued until December,
with a few festival dates during the Summer. “The strongroom sessions” ep was released,
including several accoustic versions of KOC songs. It was only available at the
merchandising stands and through the website, where the first copies were signed ones.
Tom also started to work on new material during the summer,
and a couple of new songs “Alphabet of hurricanes”, “Knew a girl” were played live during the Autumn tour.
In early 2008 Tom announced the European Hotel Cafe tour, which he already was planning on doing as early as summer 2007.
Not only US and UK this time, but also in mainland Europe the tour will create havoc everywhere they go,
featuring Catherine Feeny, Jim Bianco, Brian Wright, Cary Brothers and Greg Laswell.