When you multiply the power of Tom Baxter's writing by the intensity of his performances, strange things happen. One night this summer, he was playing a gig in Ireland when a girl was so moved, she proposed to him.
Real songwriting will always make its presence felt, and that's why it's time for Tom Baxter to reach the massive audience he deserves. So the famous and newly reenergised Charisma label is proud to present the English singer-songwriter's second album 'Skybound' as the first essential album of 2008.
'Skybound, out on January 7, is a collection of ten extraordinarily powerful compositions, from which the unforgettable love song 'Better' will appear as a single on December 3. That follows its prestigious appearance on the soundtrack of the Simon Pegg/Dylan Moran comedy movie 'Run, Fat Boy, Run,' directed by David 'Friends' Schwimmer. It also comes on the heels of an extensive October tour of the UK and Ireland by one of the most acclaimed live performers of recent years.
'Skybound' is a worthy sequel to his 2004 debut 'Feather and Stone,' which built via word of mouth and his own irresistible live shows to impressive UK sales of some 70,000. Baxter co-produced the new album with Jeremy Stacey, known for his work with Nerina Pallot, Sheryl Crow, Roddy Frame and others.
But Tom didn't just make 'Skybound' in the conventional sense. He truly exemplifies the phrase "creative ownership," since he funded the recording of the album, for his own Sylvan label, by calling on his complementary talents as an accomplished artist.
During the making of the CD, he set about creating ten individual canvases as his own visual interpretation of each song. All ten canvases were sold to eager admirers, and once the album was finished, the artwork went on display in late May at the Richard Dennis Gallery in Kensington, west London.
"It was a way of being able to get the record to a bigger audience," he explains.
"I did it because (a) It funded the music, (b) I wanted to do some artwork and (c) because it all interlinked." It's an unusual multi-media template that Baxter intends to use again. He's already working on a new art project, which will be tied to his next album. "It's really been good for me, and it's how I intend to continue in terms of music, because it keeps me fresh. One thing feeds off the other."
Even before you see Tom's art, the songs paint a vivid canvas of their own. 'Skybound' was recorded at Stacey's studio in Chelsea, where at the end of 2006, the ten basic tracks were recorded in a mere five days. The material plots an emotional expedition from adolescence to maturity, on such towering documents of love, passion, desperation and redemption as 'Better,' 'Tell Her Today' and the overpowering 'Half A Man.'
'Better,' in particular, has already reached across the Atlantic. The song found its way to David Schwimmer from the live recordings Baxter made of his shows at the Amadeus Centre in west London last autumn. "Via my manager it got to David, he put it into the film and it stayed there," he says.
If Tom's songs are new to you, the craft of writing them has been his life. He was born in Suffolk, but his early years were spent in Cornwall. "My mum and dad were both musicians as well, they did the '60s folk circuit for years," he remembers. After lots of temporary homes, they eventually bought a rundown hotel business in the Suffolk town of Bungay called the Kings Head, and there he spent the rest of his teenage years.
"They worked really hard at doing it all up and innovating a really creative place. It was essentially a hotel, but out the back we had an old-fashioned ballroom and a nightclub beneath it called 'Charlie's Bar.' That became a really popular place to hang out." His brother Charlie learned the drums, Tom learned the guitar and by the time they were in their early teens, they'd put a band together.
When he was 19, Tom moved to London to go to music college, which turned out to be more about scuzzy outskirts than buzzy metropolis. While his mates began to get jobs, cars and lives, he was gigging hard and banging away at locked industry doors. But it was the start of the process of developing from mere musician into fully-rounded songwriter. "I did lots of different things to pay the rent, and as hard as it was, I avoided getting a proper job because I knew I might just get stuck in it."
He was playing covers in the front bar at the Bedford in Balham, south London, when the tide turned back in favour of singer-songwriters. As he started to introduce his own material, a groundswell began that's been bubbling up ever since. 'Feather and Stone' set the tone, and now 'Skybound' delivers on its promise. Witness it live, and you're part of the rare experience of an audience totally captivated by what they're watching. If a pin dropped, you'd hear it.
"I definitely feel there's a real rapport now with the audience, I think that's because I'm very at peace with performing and making the music," says Tom. "I try to go into a zen-like state when I'm performing, because it's important for me to realise that everybody has the potential to be affected by music. As an artist, that's my aim. I just want to write more cracking tunes."