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An interview with Tom Grennan

The BBC Sound of 2017 longlisted singer-songwriter talks praise, lyrics, school days and festival sets

"I just used to be a pest."

Sam Bennett


It was only a few years ago, when he was only 18, that Tom Grennan was attacked and hospitalised by a gang of strangers, leading to four metal plates in the singer-songwriter’s jaw that still hurt when winter comes. “I got beaten up basically,” he tells me, saying he “was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He’s spoken of the “mad dark place” he found himself in following the incident; what were you doing with yourself during that period? I ask. “When I was in that place?” He responds. “Nothing.” He elaborates, informing me that he abandoned his A-levels and watched television – “I was just feeling sorry for myself.”

One day he was “listening to a few different things”, he can’t recall exactly which artists or tunes, and decided to write about what he was feeling. The result was ‘Something in the Water’, which is on his first EP of the same name. Last month his follow-up EP, Release the Brakes, came out, breeding a response that has left him “buzzing.”

What means more, I say to the 21 year old, a close friend saying they love your stuff, or a high profile media like The Independent championing you and your material (as it has done)? “A compliment from anyone means the world to me,” he answers. “But recognition from The Independent is sick,” he resumes, using an expression that has come to mean superb to describe what it’s like to be praised on a “big platform.”

We discuss his lyrical ability, which the Bedford born artist says he’s still developing. It’s already impressive, but he doesn’t know where it comes from. He’s dyslexic; he “didn’t do writing at school.” His gift for song words “just happened one day,” he reckons. “I thought: ‘I want to write about what I’m going through and what I’m feeling.’ And I started writing about it and people started to connect with it.

“Nah,” he says when I question whether he liked school. “I liked the socialising part, and messing around. Learning-wise I never was into it, which really annoys me, because I wish I was now. I wish I listened – I just used to be a pest.”

What he does now is what he’s always wanted to do since leaving school. He’d be on a building site with his dad, he says, if he wasn’t doing this. Might he have pursued a football career? (I read he played a bit in school). He gets asked about his football skills, he states first, then he puts it bluntly: “I was alright. I wasn’t good enough to become pro. I played football like any other boy played football.”

He is on the bill for Truck and Reading Festival this year. I wonder if he approaches festival sets differently to other gigs. “I don’t know,” he says, because he hasn’t done one before, unless you count festival appearances with Chase & Status, who he sang for on the track ‘All Goes Wrong’.

“I know when I get to Reading I’m going to be overwhelmed, 100 per cent,” he admits. “Because I remember saying to myself: ‘I want to do that, and I’m going to do that.’ I got the call about Reading, and I was like, ‘Sh*t. My plans are happening. It’s coming true.’ ”

But he’s been “very overwhelmed” during his own tour, he reasons, and that appears to be going swimmingly. The London date this month is sold out, just as the ones in Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow were. The boy who wishes he listened is truly being heard.


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