After spending 17 years in London, British singer-songwriter and landscape photographer Tom Moriarty relocated to a village in the Var department of south-eastern France. The sea’s just an hour away, he says, likewise “proper mountains”. Having not long rereleased his 2012 debut album Fire in the Doll’s House, the gravelly vocalist talks beauty, the accident that left him concussed for six months and his book, What Just Happened: The Battle For The 21st Century And The Rise Of The Corporate Empire.
You’ve moved to the mountains in France – are you spending a lot of time on your own?
Yes, I guess I’m ok with that. It’s a place of beauty, an inspirational place. I do a lot of writing here; when I’m in the forest or walking up in the mountains, I take my guitar with me a lot of the time. This is the ideal place for that.
You’ve got your dog with you as well.
Oh yeah, Watson, he’s with me all the time.
Being in such an environment must help your photography too.
Yeah, thanks for mentioning, it really does. Photography is interesting. You can find beauty in the most unlikely of places, you just have to be open to seeing it. Obviously I’m very lucky here because it really is one of the most beautiful parts of the world I’ve ever visited. With a lot of the photos I take that people really appreciate, I have to say ‘if you were there and took that photo you’d probably get something pretty cool.’ But I go out and search for it and I’ve worked hard on technique, composition, light and stuff like that. It seems to be getting some attention.
You were a musician long before you became a photographer.
For sure – the photography is a recent thing I got into in my last year in London. I started playing piano when I was four, guitar when I was five, and I started writing songs not long after that.
You talk about finding the beauty with photography, is it a similar thing with your music?
When you’re creating music it’s coming from within… so do I look for beauty? Yeah, I guess I do. I search for beauty in melody and chord changes. More importantly you search for soul; I would say when it comes to singing, the best thing you can do is get out the way and let your soul do the singing, and there is some beauty in that.
You’ve just rereleased Fire in the Doll’s House – how come?
When I released the original version there were a lot of people around me – managers, marketing, PR – and it was a little bit compromised in terms of the songs that were on there. I got to the point where I was thinking how important it is that a piece of work such as an album is the best it can be, and just decided there are some songs on there that don’t belong there – they belong somewhere else, but not on Fire in the Doll's House. And there were some songs that didn’t make it on, and I thought in terms of telling a story, in terms of a journey through the album, it was time those songs joined their family.
There was something of a delay to the rerelease.
In 2014 I had an accident. I fell over, hit my head and had concussion for six months. That pretty much took me out for that year and then the following year was about getting my life back together. After that I came here, the beginning of this adventure.
Did you have to learn to play again?
It wasn’t that, but concussion like that does affect everything: your memory, your stability, your hearing, your vision. For a while I wouldn’t recognise faces that are really famous. I was watching TV and Prince William was on, I didn’t know who he was, I thought I recognised him but had no idea what his name was. So it was pretty tricky going through the process of recovery. I didn’t play much; it took a good 18 months-two years to get back to performance level.
Tell us about What Just Happened.
Back in 2011-2012 I was involved in the Occupy movement, I was one of the founding members of Occupy London. Do you remember? We were camping outside St Paul’s because the then dean allowed us to be there. The London Stock Exchange is right next door. We were there for five or six months. During that time, being part of that, I was very much aware of the way the economic system is likely to concentrate wealth in the hands of the very few at the expense of the very many. That’s kind of the bottom line. And actually what we’re seeing now with that Brexit crap and various other ills in society and the rise of the far right, is very much down to the functioning of the ultra-capitalist machine. There were lots of interested people who would visit the camp – economists, writers – and give talks. We would listen to them and have discussions; very positive – ‘let’s talk about it, let’s find a solution to the situation.’ Totally contrary to whatever the newspapers were saying about us. Because of all that I started writing a book. I would read the papers every day, pretty much all of them, and select a story that illustrated the effects of ultra-capitalism; the gradual corporate takeover whereby more and more power is transferred into the hands of unelected boardrooms, bankers and billionaires. When you look at the world and read the stories coming in – hedge fund managers spreading rumours so they can cause economic turmoil in France, for example. There’s lots of other stuff to do with big corporations taking over; buying land in Africa from underneath the feet of the people who live there, thereby taking away their food. You can find this kind of stuff everywhere – it’s probably easier if I send you a copy.
What else have you got on?
There’s always something. Because of that accident I’m playing a bit of catch-up so I need to get on with stuff. I quietly released a record a couple of months ago called ‘Better Than This’ from a forthcoming album that will be released at some point – I haven’t quite decided yet. It’s an observation on the world, on humanity, because right now there’s a few people trying to make out we are less than we are when we are actually more than they would like us to think. Our battle now is against those people – I think we know who I’m talking about; the rise of the right is a bad thing. I wasn’t planning on releasing that record for a while but I just thought ‘let’s put it out there, let’s say something.’ As a writer and singer I'll use whatever talent I have to put across a positive message, to maybe push things in a better direction, even in a small way. Sometimes people will say to me ‘I’m doing a protest about climate change but it feels as if I’m not getting anywhere and it’s not making any difference.’ Every single little thing makes a difference. We’re part of a wave and the more people that are part of it, the bigger the wave is.