By Keith Walsh
British fashion impresario Tom Cridland is somewhat apologetic about the prospect of annoying Donald Trump supporters. Nevertheless, his new rock band The Tomicks have just purchased large poster advertisements in 105 stations of the London Underground, emblazoned with the band’s logo and the phrase “Forget ‘Make America Great Again – Let’s Make Rock N’ Roll Great Again.”
Cridland explains the logic behind the campaign: “That is going to be designed, not to make us into a political entity, it’s tongue and cheek, but it’s definitely going to get people talking. I think our idea is so eye-catching that it should create some kind of organic buzz of its own.” The ads were released on February 12; the original concept featured the phrase “F*@k Make America Great Again,” which was rejected by the advertising company’s copy team for its vulgarity.
The 4 x 4 posters – in striking black and white, placed alongside “people advertising iPhones and shaving gels,” Cridland explains, are part of a publicity blitz by The Tomicks for the February 22nd release of their self-titled, self-released debut album. The band features Cridland, who is 27, on drums and vocals, his girlfriend and business parter Deborah Marx, 26, on vocals (and keyboards for live shows) and Nick Whitehead, 25, on piano and organ. The album also features guitar and bass work by industry veteran Kenji Suzuki, while a varying lineup of guitarists and bassists will feature on live work at this point.
“Tube advertising is usually something taken out by signed bands,” Cridland explained. “I kind of enquired with them as kind of a pie in the sky thing…..It turned out that it’s actually way more affordable than I thought.” Cridland, who built his clothing business mostly through public relations and has received positive press from CNN, Fox News, The BBC, Forbes, and The Economist among dozens of others, says he hates paying for advertising but made an exception in this case. “There’s a difference,” he says. “Advertising in the London Underground, with big platform ads saying ‘Forget Make America Great Again,’ is more a kind of PR stunt than it is like advertising.”
The Tomicks have a series of shows set up for the launch. “We’re playing a gig at the Half Moon in Putney,” Cridland explains, “which is a pretty legendary rock and roll pub, that has been played by The Who, and the Rolling Stones, and U2. The Troubadour, we’re going back there for two nights there after, sort of an extended album launch celebration.” Slated for February 22nd to coincide with the album release date, all proceeds from the Half Moon gig will go to one of Tom’s favorite charities, Help Musicians UK.
The Tomicks began playing live in November 2017, with gigs around London, including The Fiddler’s Elbow and Bedford as well as the legendary Troubadour. Reception has been positive, with streaming numbers steadily increasing in advance of the album’s release (a three song single was released in October). As Cridland explained to me in November, as the band prepared for months of live performances, “We’re really going to play our absolute best. I’m really confident in kind of cutting through the noise and getting some exposure.”
Cridland’s PR firm Tom Cridland Public Relations’ activities include legwork around London which found Cridland hand delivering CDs to prominent media outlets like the BBC and The Times of London. “Everybody’s pitching, and it’s a difficult business,” he explained. Given his promotional talents along with the excellence of the album, one believes Cridland can bring his band to prominence, using the same set of skills that he used to build his online fashion company. “It’s like starting my brand again. This band is like starting my brand again from the ground up,” he explains. A point in the band’s favor: The Tomicks are receiving advice “on an informal basis,” from Elton John’s management company, Rocket Music.
There are numerous reasons for Cridland and his crew to have full confidence in their new self-titled release, which is steeped in classic rock influences, and features badass rockers, breathtakingly beautiful ballads, and up-tempo pop tunes. The musicianship and production are first rate. Cridland’s voice – honed by years of karaoke and choir membership as young boy – has soul, blues and rock inflections, while his drums are expertly played. The drum sound — carefully engineered at The Village Recorders in Los Angeles using the same techniques used to produce Nigel Olsson on Elton John’s “Wonderful Crazy Night,” — is suitably punchy and crisp (The Village was purposefully selected by the band because of its fabled history, including three Elton John albums recorded there. Cridland has called his time at the studio “a wonderful experience”).
Whitehead’s contributions on the studio’s Yamaha nine-foot grand piano and on organ are deft and articulate, and feature his first experiences on a genuine Hammond, which he found thrilling, according to Cridland. Deborah Marx’s charming soprano vocals are in the style of Brit-pop, and feature on the poppier tunes “Hit or Miss” and “You’re My Man.” Industry veteran Kenji Suzuki does double duty on bass and guitar, with all of the polish and professionalism that a seasoned pro is capable of.
“This album, it’s very, most of the songs are about, just life in London, in my ‘20s, (it’s a) very personal album.” Tom Cridland
The three core members of The Tomicks met by pure happenstance while Cridland and Marx were having a cup of tea backstage at an Elton John concert with John’s drummer Nigel Olsson, whom they became friends with after selling him clothing. Whitehead, seasoned by several years playing keyboards in cover bands, is a friend of Elton’s keyboardist Kim Bullard.
Fronting a band is a dream come true for Cridland, a self-taught drummer who like so many of us became enchanted by music from very early on. Cridland’s foray into music as a business was inspired by his friendship with Olsson. “I wasn’t originally going to be the singer in this band,” Cridland says. “So I was just going to be a songwriter and a drummer. And actually I’m trying to improve and get better at drums, and I’ve got a good feel. And I haven’t had lessons or anything like that – I’m trying to do it the sort of Nigel Olsson way. I’m ambitious to get better. It’s a crucial part of what I want to be, and now I’m realizing that I want to be a singer/songwriter and a drummer. I’m not going to be like a Taylor Hawkins of Dave Grohl or really doing all this mental kind of stuff around the kit. It’s really more about being singer/songwriter, and I just love being able to play music as well.”
Cridland’s online, sustainable fashion brand, which he started with Marx in 2014 with a £6,000 loan only to realize £3 million in revenue by 2017 (by Cridland’s own account), is known for the quality of its trousers, shirts, sweatshirts and blazers (which are manufactured in Portugal) – including the innovation of a “30 Year” line of products guaranteed to maintain their quality for three decades. Cridland’s fashions have been worn by a growing list of A-list stars, the names of which are too numerous to list here, all attracted by the quality and workmanship of the clothing. This same concern to create something lasting and excellent is found on the album, as the band presents well-crafted songs and melodies with durable, compelling performances that will stand the test of time.
(From “Break Up Anthem”)
“Break up anthem, I feel on top of the world
I’ll find myself a lady, don’t need another girl
I hope you find another man, someone who’ll treat you right
Don’t care if you don’t though, I’ll be up feeling alright tonight.”
All songs on the album were written by Cridland and Whitehead, with Cridland presenting lyrics to Whitehead and the two of them working out chords and melodies. “This album, it’s very, most of the songs are about, just life in London, in my ‘20s, (it’s a) very personal album.” Cridland explains that when he writes lyrics, having a song structure with verse, chorus and bridge is very important to him. “And in terms of the way the words come,” he says, “it’s fairly quick, not too quick I hope, but just I think off the top of my head. The first idea I’ll just go with it. Like ‘Closing Time,” I thought I’ll just write a song about drinking, and about not having company, so you continue drinking and having a difficult relationship with alcohol.”
(from “Closing Time”)
“Oh, how my heart breaks at closing time,
Where can we move on
Is there some place we can find
I just can’t face it if this night
Should ever end
But at closing time
I’ll need a friend.”
Harmony And Me
Like Elton’s tunes, The Tomick’s songs tell stories – stories about love, heartache, overcoming – about life itself. The pages of the lyrics booklet in their debut CD are filled with well-wrought tales, along with accompanying illustrations by HappyGraffiti, inspired by those accompanying “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Cridland explains: “In terms of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ inspiring our record, I just thought when we were designing the artwork, we had a really keen interest in putting together something that we thought looked really cool visually. And I thought the sketches idea, having a little sketch for each song, and making it relevant to what the song’s about to us personally, is kind of like if you hear something first, you have an idea about what it could be, what the lyrics could be talking about. But if you see a sketch it could be wildly different from what you were thinking.”
Even the background vocals have the flavor of classic Elton songs. “It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do because I’ve always enjoyed finding harmonies in songs,” says Cridland, “where you’re singing along in a bar, or something’s playing in the car, I’ve always sort of enjoyed harmonizing and coming up with background vocal parts – and I’ve always loved listening to bands like The Eagles and The Beach Boys, and all that stuff. I’d rather have had even more backgrounds on the album, but sometimes it’s good to leave a little bit of space.”
(From “Hair Clip”)
“Brown haired lady, with a hair clip
You’ll never know how you make my heart skip
You could do so much better than me
But we both know that it’s meant to be
Beautiful, for all to see
But what’s inside means more to me.”
When Cridland started out as a freshman at Bristol University, he was a rather typical young man negotiating the insecurities and uncertainties of young adulthood. That all changed when he met Deborah Marx — there’s no overstating the positive effect she had on his life, he says. “It was critical. I don’t think I’d be in a band if I hadn’t met Debs. You keep dealing with the insecurities I’d probably still have that I had when I was 18. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t met somebody who’d help manage to turn my life around to the extent that I have. Really when I was 18 I was in a stage where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the degree that I was going to do (French and Portuguese). And though I got a good degree, I didn’t end up doing anything with it — I ended up going down an entrepreneurial path.” From first meeting in college to creating their fashion brand, Cridland and Marx now handle virtually all of the administrative duties related to their business. But it’s not just as a business partner that Cridland values Marx.
“I’ve got a great personal life,” he explains. “I’ve had a great personal life for 8 years, and my family have always been really important to me, but when I was 17 or 18 I probably didn’t appreciate them as much as I could have. And even on that perspective, the minute I started going out with Debs I really reconnected with my family again. Maybe there was one or two years when I’d been away at boarding school, not calling home enough. Nothing major, nothing that you’d make a kind of Netflix drama to or anything.”
It was really the extracurricular activities at Bristol University that left an impact on Cridland. “Academically, it wasn’t that inspiring,” he says. “I wasn’t there the whole time. It was growing up and meeting friends and meeting Debs. I really had a chance to get into music beyond just a few bands. Like I had phases up to the point of being 18, like The Beatles were huge, obviously, from age 5 or whatever. But then there were other things, like you know, bizarrely, Nine Inch Nails, or Metallica, at one stage Michael Jackson…and Rap, and I had an indie phase. But in terms of what you hear now on the record, it was at Uni that I really got into Elton, Eagles, ‘70s stuff. Kind of what I consider to be my favorite type of music I started listening to in more depth and I kind of got into more soul stuff as well.”
“Really when I was 18 I was in a stage where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the degree that I was going to do (French and Portuguese). And though I got a good degree, I didn’t end up doing anything with it — I ended up going down an entrepreneurial path.”
And though Cridland’s college years were formative in terms of exposure to music, it may have been his earlier years at Eton Secondary School – an all-male boarding school where he performed in the choir and in theatrical productions including “Death of A Salesman,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” (Cridland also directed these two) and “Julius Caesar”– that explain some of the stories of frustration and heartache found in his lyrics. “Hah, probably,” he says. “You don’t have much opportunity to practice relationships and practice chatting to girls much, do you? I mean I don’t understand the single sex thing, at schools. When you’re between the age of 13 and 18 you should be able to talk to girls.” The school itself is rather well known, with numerous famous former students. “It’s like Hogwarts kind of thing,” he says. “Really ridiculous uniform and – I’m insanely privileged that my parents saved up the money to send me there.” For the record, Cridland’s parents are both successful business people.
So with live gigs scheduled through the end of 2018 and beyond, Cridland and his band are focused on increasing the visibility of The Tomicks in the media and on digital outlets, including radio airplay. Ever ambitious, this hard working band is already creating another set of songs for their second album, with Cridland and Whitehead busily writing together. The Tomicks are slated to record at Abbey Road in April. “We’ve written half the new record, already, we’re just cracking on and going to continue songwriting this month in February, in March we’re going to make the demos and in April we’re going to record there.”
Whitehead has turned Cridland on to the music of Pink Floyd, including Dave Gilmour solo albums, and Cridland says he has recently been impressed by the drum sounds on classic Phil Collins’ albums. “I want to do some interesting things sonically” he says. “I do find something quite interesting with the drums, and I would also quite like to get some more of those horns and strings. I don’t want to turn into sounding ‘80s, I but I do like that drum sound.” It remains to be heard what sonic directions the Abbey Road sessions will take The Tomicks. One thing seems certain: Tom Cridland has his sights set on a long career in rock music. “Yeah, I think we want to make quite a lot of albums, not churn them out, I want to make sure I’m taking my time, but I think the more you write, especially at the beginning the better. You look at a lot of great artists, a lot of their early stuff is what has really caught on.”