Milk floats and beautiful songs are floating Norfolk musician's boat

Paul and Bluebell

Paul and Bluebell - Credit: Chris Taylor

In this story of friendship, adventure and community, Danielle Champ speaks with Paul Thompson about his musical journey and the unique ways in which he shares his music with the world

Paul Thompson was at a roundabout in Aylsham 30 years ago, hitchhiking back to Sheringham when a car pulled over and offered him a ride. “I’m headed in that direction,” said Tim Jefferson, a stranger to Paul at the time. 

However, the drive back to their hometown made quick change of that. It just so happened that both Paul and Tim were musicians in their own right; Paul, an energetic 18-year-old had begun to make his mark on the music scene, while Tim, at 34, was an established music teacher in Norfolk.

I sought after Paul, having read up on his musical bio and learning about his fascinating affinity for a life on the road.

From what I saw on Facebook, he looked shy, like a deer stepping tentatively alongside a busy road, very aware of the dangers surrounding it. I had no idea that his story would be so closely entwined with friendship, adventure and the love of travel.

Paul tells me during our interview that a few of his craziest adventures happened with Tim. A few years after their encounter at the Aylsham roundabout, Tim was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, yet his condition did not inhibit his passion for an audacious, music-centric life. 

This gave the muso-duo an idea for an adventure that would send them into the depths of Scotland. “When Tim received his disability scooter, we got friends to take us up to John o’ Groats and we were going to travel the path to Land’s End; him on his scooter and me on a bicycle.” 

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With a tiny trailer overloaded with tents, supplies, bagpipes, a mandolin and a guitar, the two soon realised that Tim’s ill-equipped scooter would not make it,.

“We ended up burning his scooter out and the motor sort of… caught on fire and we were stranded in Loch Ness.” 

This, for Paul, was one of his fondest memories of his dear friend.

Tim died from complications, aggravated by MS in November of last year, at the age of 63, yet his memories, values and love for the music industry is still tightly woven into Paul’s career.

A month after his death, Paul released his Lonestar EP, a dedication to the friend he loved and lost. The three-track piece was recorded and produced by Paul in isolation. It is a gentle sonic experience, like walking the beach at sunset.

The opening track, Mid Winter’s Night, is a delicate soundbite that exhibits how Paul’s soprano abilities are easily comparable to the likes of Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam.

Paul's cabin studio

Paul's cabin studio - Credit: Paul Thompson

This then fades into Lonestar, the EP’s debut single. Although the piano and guitar instruments are simple melodies, Paul manages to blend together ephemeral moments with a complexity of emotions and memories, and then we have the merriment of Under the Lights, an original Christmas song.

“I’m just going to leave it up on the website and then all the proceeds made from the album are being donated to the MS Society,” Paul said. Paul is the kind of person you suspect treads the earth lightly.

During our interview, he sits against a pastel pink floral backdrop, with hair full and swept. He’s a Norfolk man and a singer/songwriter whose music has taken him across the world. In the summer of 2011, he hopped his way around Alaska and Canada, independently travelling from one gig to another. Then in 2015, he became known for his Guinness World Record trip of the longest journey travelled in a milk float.

“I had just finished recording an album at the time and I was looking for a way to promote it,” he said, his voice soothing and sincere. “I’ve always been fascinated with alternative travel and the idea of living like a troubadour so I don’t know what really inspired the idea… but I guess it just came to me.” 

He travelled from Baconsthorpe to the Edinburgh Fringe and back again, covering more than 1,000 milesat an average speed of 10mph in the milk float he dubbed Bluebell. “Other milk-float enthusiasts said that I was crazy and that I wasn’t going to make it… but I don’t really like being told what to do,” he said through a subtle smile.

When the world was forced into isolation in 2020, Paul took time to retreat into a cabin in the Norfolk woods to write a book about his journey to the Fringe.

“There was actually a part that I write about that trip with Tim, because on that journey with Bluebell, I went through the same campsite where Tim and I got stuck and I was feeling very superstitious about it, as though I was going to break down there again – but that spot now has a very special place in my heart which made the trip even more of an adventure,” he said.

Paul’s acoustic roots discography is a collection of five albums spanning the last 15 years. With poetic, self-written lyrics, each song is a capsule of his peaceful world, a world that is romantic and kind. Songs with titles like Chasing Dandelions, Rainbow Nation and A Suitcase Full of Memories depict intimate moments of

Paul caught in nature and feeling a sense of freedom that continually reminds him of previous adventures. Joni Mitchell, The Oh Hellos, Sufjan Stevens are a few artists that come to mind when I first hear Paul’s tunes and, as he later confirmed. “My influences are the confessional singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and I love Nick Drake and John Martyn,” he said.

“I recently found that my heritage tracks back to the Welsh bards, who were a circle of poets known for their story-telling, and I suppose that there’s a bit of that element that I use in my songs.”

It isn’t only Paul’s authentic story-telling that draws me to his tale. The same kindness that is heard in his music is also extended to his community.

At the time of our conversation, Paul told me of a project that he had been sewing into with the intention of it coming into fruition by September 2021: Poppyland Studios. After noticing an availability gap for up-coming artists to have a space to record, Paul began a community-centred project in Holt that would involve a self-sufficient and self-sustaining studio.

Paul has recently released an EP in memory of his friend Tim Jefferson

Paul has recently released an EP in memory of his friend Tim Jefferson - Credit: Chris Taylor

At the time of our interview, Paul was awaiting approval from the council to fund the project.

Last month after speaking with him, I received an email from Paul letting me know that the council had declined his application. “But,” he wrote, “not all is lost! I’m still going to be doing music workshops for the children and young adults at Holt Youth Project, as well as going into schools, and doing mobile recording for them!

I’ve also been busy setting my studio up in a cabin, in the grounds of a beautiful walled garden in Gresham, which I’m going to use for recording my own music,”
and, as I keep an eye on his Facebook page, he has been doing just that.

As we slowly welcome back musicians to our stages, Paul is eager to hop back into Bluebell, with a new album in the pipeline. Story-telling is a dying art in the mainstream, which makes artists like Paul Thompson all the more important for the local music community, and a necessary addition to the music archive.

Although his collection is already bursting, I think that there is still so much more to expect from this travelling troubadour – with his wanderlust heart, who knows where the road will take him and his milk-float.

If you’d like to keep up with Paul and his adventures with Bluebell, follow his journey on his at www.paulsmusic.co.uk

Danielle Champ is a journalism student at the London School of Journalism