Home run for Tom Baxter
JON WELCH Singer songwriter Tom Baxter, who plays Norwich Arts Centre and King's Lynn Arts Centre this month, tells JON WELCH about his rocky road to success.
When Tom Baxter plays two dates in Norfolk next week, it will be like coming home. Singer-songwriter Baxter, who has won rave reviews for his debut album Feather and Stone, grew up in Bungay and lived in Norwich before heading to London to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician.
It took a long time for Baxter to find success, but that has simply made it all the sweeter.
Baxter, 31, moved to Bungay aged eight or nine after his folk musician parents Geoff and Julie bought the town's King's Head Hotel.
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They established it as a venue for music, drama and comedy - “a sort of scrappy Ronnie Scott's” - playing host to such famous names as Jo Brand, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson.
Watching artists perform each night was a big inspiration for young Baxter.
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“I suppose it made me want to do something similar. I wasn't any good at school and it made me realise if you want to do it you can.”
Baxter's first musical experiments came as part of a rockabilly band called Jailbait, which included his brother Joe. “We were a bit of a novelty because we were so young,” he says.
Baxter later got into Elvis Costello, whom he heard on a tape while cleaning the bar one morning. Soul music, particularly Sam Cooke, Al Green and Roberta Flack, was another inspiration. Aged 18, he moved to Norwich to attend art school but quit after becoming disillusioned by the course and moved to London.
Meanwhile, Baxter's music had been progressing and he hoped a degree course in music at Westminster University would help to open doors for him.
A succession of jobs followed as he tried to establish himself on the music scene. “I just did everything,” he says.
He worked in shops and bars, as an assistant film animator and house restorer, playing gigs by night.
Disillusioned at his lack of progress, he had a nervous breakdown. “I lost my marbles at the age of 27,” he says.
“I had just had a long-term relationship that went pear-shaped. Everything just escalated.”
Baxter's girlfriend had wanted more security than he was able to provide as an odd-jobbing musician, he says.
“All your other mates are buying houses, settling down and you are on the dole in Kentish Town.
“I got used to living on the breadline. I couldn't even afford to buy coffee and I didn't go out to eat for years.”
He came close to giving up on music. “I thought maybe it was a childish pipe dream.”
A spell as a painter and decorator in a south London pub followed. In the evenings, Baxter played in the pub's front room: covers at first, until his boss persuaded him to play his own material.
His nights soon started selling out, and after a bidding war he was signed by Columbia Records.
As well as having gaining acceptance, getting signed meant Baxter could at last put his financial troubles behind him. “I haven't stopped eating out,” he laughs.
Baxter is delighted with the response to Feather and Stone, whose powerful, soaring ballads and wistful lyrics have won it critical acclaim.
He's also appeared on Jonathan Ross' Radio 2 show and on Later... with Jools Holland and is looking forward to kicking off his tour in Norwich.
After that, he plans to record the follow-up to Feather and Stone, due out next year.
t Tom Baxter plays Norwich Arts Centre on Wednesday, October 5. Support comes from blues vocalist Cassandra Fox aka Cass, who is signed to the Ministry of Sound's imprint Open Records. Cass has recently joined forces with Dido's producer and
co-writer, Rollo, to work on new material. The show starts at 8.30pm. Tickets at £9 in advance, £10 on the door, are available from the NAC box office on 01603 660352.
t Tom Baxter brings his UK tour to King's Lynn Arts Centre on Saturday October 8. Tickets are £11. Box office: 01553 764864.