It’s been a busy few months for a 23 year old electrician from Garston, otherwise known as Tom Craven – an up and coming musician with a flair for a simple combination of folk and progressive rock. After the launch of his first five track EP Unseen Angel last summer, he embarked on his first gigs abroad in the autumn, playing nine venues in just ten days around California.
Back now on home shores, he’s just as much looking forward to an upbeat local set. From sports bars in Hollywood and Sacramento, to a tent at the Rickmansworth Festival. Nothing but the best sunshine and style for our Tom!
“So Ricky gets more rain, probably!” he laughs, but really he’s no less delighted to play his own backyard. It’s certainly a marked difference from how he started out, aged eleven, in a punk band performing throughout the county.
“I got bored of doing what teenage musicians do, throwing themselves around a stage without a care in the world, so I decided to start writing my own songs”. With influences from his father’s liking of stars like Bruce Springsteen and progressive rockers Wishbone Ash, he joined forces with others at first in a couple of band incarnations.
“But they didn’t work out as we’d planned,” he continues, “so three years ago I went solo and haven’t looked back”. He’s right on that score, getting gigs around London, the Midlands and even further afield.
His first foreign tour came from a friendship he’s struck online with another acoustic guitarist, Nic ‘Starry Eyes’ Weethee, from the town of Lodi in northern California, most famous as the hometown of rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, another influence that made it big in the late 1960’s.
“We had been chatting on My Space for a couple of years before Nic invited me over,” Tom explains. Nic then brought in a third performer, Joseph Eid, and together they toured a range of intimate venues to result in what Tom describes as some of his best experiences in life so far. “We played some great crowds, and of course people commented on my funny accent - they loved it!” Nic’s already high profile certainly helped the success of the gigs.
Tom understandably made the most of the trip – “There was some sightseeing too… playing hard as well as working hard” – with some shopping in the Big Apple and a photo with that famous nine letter sign in LA. And a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame was not to be missed.
“We went to Malibu, so expected to see the beach Barbie dolls everywhere. Not seeing them reminded me never to believe the classic stereotypes!” It didn’t spoil his enjoyment, though, and, as he puts it “A few nice ladies did say hello…”.
Frustratingly one of the gigs – on Hollywood Boulevard of all places – was cancelled last minute when the promoter pulled it even as people were lining up outside the bar to come in.
“We still don’t know why,” says Tom, “but we bounced back from that as you’d expect”. The tour went on to Lodi itself, where Tom got to stand by the local lake and remember some of his influences – particularly a track with the same name by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“I stood there thinking about how this was where one of my parents’ favourite bands came from,” he continues, “and half way around the world too. How great is that?”
Would he move over if his career really took off?
“Maybe,” he says, “but more likely New York than West Coast”.
As to whether he’d want the full career, that’s a maybe too.
“Some who make it big miss out on using music to get the opportunity to see the culture too – you can get sucked into working all the time”
And he saw some culture on this side of the pond, too, on a visit to Scarborough last year for the National Student Drama Festival, playing at the town’s famous spa –a fantastic relic from Victorian days.
“That was my biggest stage so far, with a massive lighting rig and lasers. It was a real contrast to its tradition where glamorous ladies walked along the promenade. I got good reviews too!”
But, perhaps surprisingly, not his biggest gig to date.
“Now that was Parmstock Festival at my old school – Parmiters – where there were 2000 people all listening intently to myself and the first band incarnation ‘The Inner Perspective’!” Nothing like a glorious homecoming to draw a big crowd!
When he’s not on stage, Tom presently falls back on his job as an electrician to fund his passion – and the recording of his debut CD.
“What’s crazy is that Unseen Angel is a bedroom recording turned professional by my producer who’s a whizz with a laptop,” he adds. “He’s just one my mates who can take any recording and make it sound incredible”
The response has been fantastic, the EP selling steadily through word of mouth and of course at the many gigs he has played. Now it’s on to a new EP already in production, his Rickmansworth appearance, and two videos and an album over the next year.
It will be called All Eyes In The Back Row, and all Tom needs now is the time to put the finishing touches on it – the songs are sorted and the artwork designed already.
“The title came from nowhere really and not based on a real experience,” Tom explains, “but I did have an idea for an image of putting all the bad things in life to the back of one’s mind which kind of inspired it.
Some would say that that contradicts Tom’s personality; most people describe him as having one of the most optimistic outlooks on life that they know. And that explains his other passion for the best that life has to offer – no surprise that that means more travel.
“I’d love to go to South America, but after the States the money is tight!”
So how come the Rickmansworth Festival? “I kept hearing about it through word of mouth, a showcase for lots of local bands,” he says, “and there’s always such high spirits”
That’s definitely true, with more than twenty bands on show and colourful canal boats along the towpath from Rickmansworth Aquadrome down to Batchworth Lock. It’s also one for all the family, with animal farm, environment fair and lots of stalls to peek around.
“Will I fit inside one of these boats, being my height?” jokes six feet tall Tom.
At least the timing of the festival is good. “I’m kicking a lot into gear right now,” he says, “with a new EP and t-shirts to sell.” Better than working in bathrooms then? Most definitely.
So is he now waiting for the call that could change his life forever from a record label?”
“Of course that would be great. If I keep playing gigs and meeting people, which is what helps more than CD sales, then anything is possible…”
Rickmansworth Festival takes place at Rickmansworth Aquadrome and Batchworth Lock on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 May, with music to suit all tastes –
jazz, rock, chill, cool blues, folk and big band.
Opening times: 10.30am to 10.30pm Saturday;
10.30am to 5pm Sunday (music stages start from 11am).
Entry: free, but donations to volunteer organisers Rickmansworth Waterways Trust will be welcome to support their education work
Getting there: public transport is best –
the festival is five minutes walk from Rickmansworth station.
Contact: Rickmansworth Waterways Trust –
www.rwt.org.uk or 01923 778382.