Tom Grennan never meant to be a singer-songwriter
But we're damn glad it turned out that way...
Sure, you know Tom Grennan now — but you almost knew the singer-songwriter’s name for a completely different reason. It’s true. While we can’t stop humming the young Brit’s memorable, soulful tunes today, back in his youth Grennan had no musical aspirations — and instead trained to become a professional footballer.
That’s right. He played for Luton Town, and even tried out for Northampton and Aston Villa. Offers to play professionally in the United States even floated across the pond. We can almost imagine it now: Sterling, Rashford, Grealish, Grennan. His name fits in seamlessly. But, as both we and our eardrums now know, it was never meant to be. Because, after one memorable night out, Grennan unlaced his cleats, picked up a guitar and never looked back.
“I was always more into football,” Grennan tells me from lockdown. “It wasn’t until I was at a party, had drunk quite a bit and got forced to sing something that I realised; ‘Oh I’m actually quite good at this’. I enjoyed it, so I taught myself bits on guitar and it kind of just went from there.”
It certainly did. By 18, Grennan was regularly playing in pubs across London — mostly small, intimate sets with his acoustic guitar. He performed with a raw energy that we’ve recaptured in the latest Gentleman’s Journal Lockdown Session, for which Grennan has given us an exclusive acoustic cover of his latest single, Oh Please. It’s a stripped-back style that was clearly as captivating when he began singing as it is today — for, after a pub performance in 2016, Grennan was approached and offered a contract by Insanity Records.
It was a big summer for him. He graduated from St Mary’s University, did his first colourful, clamorous loop of the festival circuit and recorded his debut EP. Something in the Water was Grennan’s chance to show the world who he musically was — so from where did he draw inspiration?
“I’d always been into a lot of music,” Grennan reveals, “with Amy Winehouse being my biggest inspiration. She’s the Queen of England to me. She’d have been my dream duet of all time. 100 percent. But, growing up, grime and hip-hop influenced me as much as indie music. That’s what I’d listen to non-stop. But I’m also definitely influenced by the likes of The Beatles, The Kinks and Otis Redding. They’re timeless.”
Something in the Water became a cleverly produced snapshot of what we could come to expect from Grennan — a combination of honest lyrics and relaxed-but-innovative musical ideas. It was refreshing, but familiar — and a talent recognised by electronic duo Chase & Status, who featured Grennan on their 2016 track All Goes Wrong.
“Working with Chase & Status was such a collaborative experience,” recalls Grennan. “That track is full of all of our ideas. I love working with other artists and I’m always myself — so I hope that comes through in my music. It’s all quite personal and honest.
“Songwriting has got me through a lot,” he adds. “I’m really dyslexic, though, so writing things out hasn’t always been the easiest for me. Lyrics make more sense to me. Basically, when I’m writing, I put the music and the lyrics onto this imaginary washing line and try to make the two odd socks into a pair of pearly white socks. That’s how I’ve found it works for me.”
It’s a unique process, but one that seems to work wonders for Grennan. In 2018, his debut studio album, Lighting Matches, met with critical acclaim. Mixing festival favourites with rhythmic, choral anthems, it gave Grennan carte blanche to play almost any venue or festival he wished, and it kicked off a career crescendo that would lead, raucously and ravely reviewed, to this year’s second album.
“Yeah, my new album is coming out later this year,” reveals Grennan, “and it’s especially about my own emotional experiences. It’s about a breakup — but it’s not a breakup album, if you get what I mean. It’s a thank you note really. I can’t wait for people to hear more of it.”
During the last few years, Grennan has made his musical mark across many aspects of the industry. He has featured on tracks by Bugzy Malone and Kojey Radical, and even lent his vocal talents to the charity initiative, Artists for Grenfell. “I think it’s just important for everyone to help each other and be the best person they can be,” he says of the experience. “Everyone has different experiences in this world and I just think it’s important to try and help — especially as I’ve got a platform to help inform and encourage people.”
But if there’s one area where Grennan especially thrives, it’s where this all started. Not the football field, but rather the times he takes to the stage and performs live. Festivals, especially, are the highlight of Grennan’s year — and missing them has been the biggest let-down of his lockdown.
“It’s been sad to miss festival season,” he explains, “because I love performing live. And the atmosphere you get there you just can’t get anywhere else. But, at the same time, I’ve been able to get really creative back at home — and I’ve been getting to talk to my fans non-stop on social media while they’re in lockdown, too.”
There’s one venue, however, Grennan can’t wait to return to.
“Brixton Academy was mad for me,” he says. “I had all my family and mates there and it was completely sold out. It was amazing to see so many fans there, and I just felt like everyone had been on this journey with me. The adrenaline I got, performing on that stage, was insane. There’s just nothing like it. I love it.”
Tom Grennan’s new single, Oh Please, is out now, listen here. Or, for more locked-down, self-isolated sessions, here’s why JC Stewart really likes Coldplay. Really, really likes them…
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