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Tom Bailey Talks Retro Futura, Thompson Twins and The 80’s

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(Tom Bailey)

Fans of 80’s new wave music may find it hard to believe that it’s been twenty-seven years since the Thompson Twins performed their final show in August of 1987.

In the years since, lead singer, keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter Tom Bailey has kept himself busy with several other successful musical projects, with no real inclination of ever revisiting his former band’s catalog again.

But all of that is about to change.

This August, Bailey (along with synth pioneer Howard Jones) will co-headline the Retro Futura Tour. A jam-packed show that will also feature sets from Ultravox's Midge Ure, China Crisis and Katrina (ex-Katrina And The Waves). In addition to it being an amazing evening of live music, fans will also witness an historic event, as this tour marks the first time Bailey will be performing Thompson Twins hits live in nearly three decades.

The Thompson Twins (whose classic line-up consisted of Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway) had huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid-eighties; with songs like "Hold Me Now", "Doctor Doctor" and “Lay Your Hands on Me” providing the soundtrack to many people's lives. In 1985, the band even performed at Live Aid at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia to a crowd of over 90,000 and an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations.

For the Retro Futura Tour, Bailey will be joined on stage by a backing band consisting of Amanda Kramer, Angie Pollock and Emily Dolan Davies. I had the pleasure of speaking with him about the Retro Futura Tour, his current projects as well as some of his best Thompson Twins memories.

How did you become involved in this year’s Retro Futura Tour?

My musical pursuits have taken me elsewhere for a long time and it's actually been twenty-seven years since I've sung a Thompson Twins song. I guess I was getting used to the fact that it was just never going to happen. But then a few things changed that. Towards the end of last year, I was doing some work with a Mexican artist named Aleks Syntek. I remember we were writing a song together and Aleks encouraged me to sing on it. After not singing a pop song in all of this time, I decided to step over the boundary and take a risk with it. To my pleasure and surprise, I really enjoyed it.

It was also around the same time that Howard Jones [who had already been out on this tour last year] said that he'd like to do it again this year with me, but I still wasn't totally convinced. To look at it honestly, I really needed to re-engage with the music. So I decided to re-record some of the songs to give me the opportunity to sing on them again. It felt so good that I knew the answer was going to be yes!

What can fans expect from your show?

Everything that I'll be singing will be from that era of big, successful Thompson Twins. Originally, I had thought about going out and doing different interpretations of these well-known songs. Although it would be interesting, it would also be undermining because what the fans really want is an enormous whiff of nostalgia. At the same time though, that gives me the permission to do a few of the songs in a new way.

Your band is made up of female musicians. Can you speak a little bit about that?

I take that as a positive sign of the times. Back in the eighties, we always tried to seek out a balance for the band in terms of male and female and it was very difficult. This time, it was very easy to find that the greatest players were women. It's a completely different dynamic. The other thing about it is that we all come from several different generations of musicians. I'm 60 now and our drummer, Emily Dolan Davies wasn't even born when these songs were written [laughs].

In your opinion, what made the 80's so great?

It was a change in the sound of the music - and that was partly because of technology. It was a time when we were beginning to use keyboards and synthesizers to make entire records rather than just use them as a flavor. Then of course, there was the effect of MTV. An entire channel dedicated to music videos. There was nothing like it before and it changed everything.

The Thompson Twins performed at Live Aid in 1985. What was that experience like for you personally?

It was the most enormous thing. Especially when you're told that you're walking out on stage in front of 90,000 people but then realize that number is really small compared to the number of people who were actually watching it live around the world on TV. Joining together music with what it means to be alive in pursuit of a good cause really felt like the crowning glory for our generation of musicians. It was the most magnificent day.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Thompson Twins’ “Into The Gap”. What are some of your best memories about making that album?

It was a very endurable process. By that point, we had become more confident and mature in our songwriting and arranging. We weren't quite so “pure synth” with that album. We were using other instruments like guitar and piano and the vocal arrangements started becoming more complex. It was great fun. The other thing was that we had already finished the first single before we had even completed the rest of the album. So we had the excitement of watching the song "Hold Me Now" go up the charts while we were finishing up the rest of the record.

Can you tell me the origin of the song “Hold Me Now”?

I can't remember exactly, although I know it was probably very real in the sense that perhaps Alannah and I had some kind of argument and reconciled. Then we decided to write a song about the process of getting back together again. Although it’s not something that actually occurred, it’s a song about how good and sentimental it feels to realize that the argument has passed and how great it is to be back in love.

What other projects are you currently working on?

I've been very busy with several projects. I've got a dub electronic band called International Observer, a north Indian classical group called The Holiwater Band and a teaching science through art astronomy project called The Bailey-Salgado Project, which I do with an astronomer in Chicago. We make films and music about the night sky and the universe. It's a fun, educational thing we treat as art.

Are there any other moments in your career that stands out as most memorable?

There are lots of big gigs but I think more about the times where you feel the giddy sensation of “taking off”. The moment when you go from hoping that you're doing something well to not believing how well it’s going to do. Those are the moments that you never forget, because they only happen once. It's a crazy roller coaster ride that's almost feels otherworldly. I treasure those moments.

Do you ever foresee a Thompson Twins reunion?

I can't see that it’s likely. Joe and Alannah are both happy that I'm doing this tour, but are not interested in pursuing it themselves. When Thompson Twins split up, they both moved on into other areas of activity almost immediately; whereas I haven't done anything else but music since. For them, it would be an enormous responsibility to become a musician again.

What excites you the most about the Retro Futura Tour?

It's not about just going through the motion of what you were doing thirty years ago. I wouldn't be interested in doing that. For me, it's a completely vital experience. It's profoundly emotional to sing these songs again and it brings back all sorts of memories. I'm looking forward to seeing familiar faces from people who were there the first time around as well as some people who weren't. I'm so lucky to be able to do this.

Retro Futura Tour 2014:

AUGUST

21 New York, NY Best Buy Theater
22 Philadelphia, PA Keswick Theater
23 Brookhaven, NY Pennysaver Amphitheater
24 Boston, MA Wilbur Theatre
25 Cleveland, OH Performance Arts Center/The Cleveland Masonic Auditorium
26 Toronto, ON Koolhaus
27 Chicago, IL Ravinia
29 Los Angeles, CA The Greek Theater
30 Saratoga, CA Mountain Winery
31 Sacramento, CA Thunder Valley Casino

SEPTEMBER

3 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre
4 San Diego, CA Humphrey's
5 Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay
6 Sandy, UT Sandy Amphitheater