By Keith Walsh
It’s been a typically busy day for British fashion maven Tom Cridland. When I finally got him on the phone (after difficulties due to the transatlantic time difference) it was on a rainy afternoon in London, where he had just left the BBC, after spending hours canvassing media outlets with copies of the debut release from his new band The Tomicks. With the same hustle and flair for promotion that moved his sustainable fashion brand to the front of the pack, this 27-year-old entrepreneur has shifted his focus to the newly-minted ten track disc on the Tom Cridland Entertainment Label.
“I’ve actually set aside the whole day today to just go around to key areas in London,” he told me. “Key places, where I want to get a copy of the record into the right hands – and I’m not even trusting the post to do that. I’ve identified twelve places in radio and print; newspapers, magazines and radio.”
With core members Cridland, on drums and vocals, and his girlfriend Deborah Marx on vocals (and keyboards in their live shows), along with Nick Whitehead on piano, The Tomicks came into existence in 2015 after Cridland, a devoted Elton John fan, met working musician Whitehead at an EJ gig. Soon after, music industry veteran Kenji Suzuki came aboard during the demo making phase to contribute guitar and bass, and also did so on the recent studio recordings as well.
With the release on October 30th of their first three songs, “Break Up Anthem,” “Hair Clip,” and “Candlelight” and a number of live gigs lined up for later this year and well into summer of 2018, The Tomicks are serious contenders for a commercial breakthrough. An additional seven songs are set for release on February 2, 2018.
The sound is piano-centric rock, heavily influenced by the classic tunes of the ‘70s and Cridland’s favorite artists across the decades. The musicianship, vocals and production are top notch, while the songwriting is tight and loaded with commercial potential. Several connections to Elton John – including a powerful influence on the sound – are not coincidence: John is one of Cridland’s all-time favorite artists, and the studio where the ten tracks were recorded – The Village Studio in Los Angeles – was chosen because of its legendary status and because John recorded three recent albums there: 2013’s “The Diving Board” and 2016’s “Wonderful Crazy Night,” in addition to his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, “The Union.”
Cridland is no stranger to promotion; in addition to the fashion line he also runs Tom Cridland Public Relations, with his efforts landing coverage of his clothing business in Forbes, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Economist, GQ, and on CNN, CNBC, BBC News, CBS and numerous other media outlets. “We’re self-releasing and therefore we’re putting it out on an indie label, Tom Cridland Entertainment,” Cridland explains. The Tomicks are also in a position to benefit from some very expert support.
“Sadly, it’s not the ‘70s anymore. If you make a fantastic record, which I think we have, you can’t just sell it to a label, you’ve gotta work it yourself, you’ve gotta book your own shows to start with, you’ve got to get your social media numbers up, you’ve gotta get numbers on streaming, you’ve really gotta put in the groundwork.” Tom Cridland
“We’re kindly being given some advice by Rocket Music, Elton John’s management company,” Cridland says. “They’re just doing that on a casual basis. They’re not managing us, they’ve just literally agreed to meet with us, and they’re giving us some pointers over email. And the music industry, sadly, it’s not the ‘70s anymore. If you make a fantastic record, which I think we have, you can’t just sell it to a label, you’ve gotta work it yourself, you’ve gotta book your own shows to start with, you’ve got to get your social media numbers up, you’ve gotta get numbers on streaming, you’ve really gotta put in the groundwork.”
After forming his sustainable fashion line with Marx in 2014 with a £6,000 loan, Cridland struck up a friendship with long-standing Elton John drummer Nigel Olsson by way of making clothes for him. It was this relationship that eventually led to the creation of The Tomicks. “In terms of me being in bands” Cridland explains, “I wasn’t even really in a band until this, not seriously anyway. I’ve always been passionate about music but I’ve never really taken it to the next step. I guess it’s my friendship with Nigel that inspired me. He taught himself, he took up drums fairly late, it’s never too late. You only live once and music is such an amazing thing. So that was kind of what inspired me to do it. I just kind of ended up randomly meeting Nick, and so a bit of happenstance and luck there.”
‘Cause Writing’s Lighting Up
When Cridland and Whitehead met up at the Elton John gig in Kent in South East England, it was pure kismet. “By all accounts,” Cridland explains, “Elton likes playing in fairly random places; it was a kind of special outdoor show, the crew had come in and set up for a one-off gig, and we were in the backstage trailer areas, and Debs and I were having a cup of tea with Nigel. And Nick was visiting Kim Bullard (keyboardist for Elton’s band). He asked for a lift back home to London, and we got chatting – and it was great to meet somebody who was so into the same kind of music that I am, and we started playing music casually together.”
This random meeting has turned into an ongoing, fruitful collaboration, with Cridland working out the lyrics first then presenting them to Whitehead, then the two working together to flesh out the melodic ideas. “It’s really a very collaborative process” Cridland explains. “He’s got some musical ideas, I’ve got some lyrical ideas, and then we merge the two. We got together to write ten times, and we wrote ten songs. There was never a time when we met up and didn’t write a song…We’re actually songwriting again tonight, for the second record, because I think it’s a bit pointless to stop doing the enjoyable side of things, when, and I think, when you’re still hungry, and you haven’t made it and had any success, you’re probably going to write better lyrics.”
“And the lyrical content, it’s about real stuff, it’s not kind of, you know, computerized, or calculated by a team of 15 songwriters. I like to say that this is music from the heart, and it really means a lot to us when we play it.” Tom Cridland
For inspiration, Cridland and Whitehead turned to their favorites. “Obviously, there’s a ‘70s sound to it, it’s very influenced by Elton, The Eagles, The Beatles, John Lennon solo stuff. But it’s very personal to us as well. And the lyrical content, it’s about real stuff, it’s not kind of, you know, computerized, or calculated by a team of 15 songwriters. I like to say that this is music from the heart, and it really means a lot to us when we play it. And when we recorded it, it was such a wonderful experience. We want to do it justice now – it’s not as much fun doing the grass roots foot work, trying to promote and get it into people’s hands and to get people to find out about it and listen to it, but that process is still incredibly rewarding. But nothing can compare to songwriting and obviously making the record at The Village was amazing as well.”
Electric Music, Solid Walls Of Sound
Well aware of the history of The Village Studios, Cridland, Marx, Whitehead and Suzuki were awestruck. “I mean, we went round sort of gawking at all the gold and platinum records on the wall. Phil Collins recorded ‘Face Value’ there. The Stones recorded ‘Goats Head Soup;’ Sly and The Family Stone recorded some of their best records there. Then all the way over to Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg and just so many great records. ‘Rumours’ was recorded there.’ There’s a vocal booth that Stevie Nicks had kind of themed, like Hawaiian theme, cause that’s what she wanted, and that’s remained there since the ‘Rumours’ sessions. It’s really a historical place.”
With the help of the studio’s engineers, Cridland was dialed in the exact musical sound he desired, down to every last detail. “The Village was so accommodating and great. I just said, ‘I want a drum sound similar to Nigel Olsson’s drum sound, I know you did the ‘Wonderful Crazy Night’ sessions there; set me up something similar to that, please.’ I didn’t have to bring my drums.”
In a similar fashion, the availability of equipment at The Village allowed Whitehead to travel light. “Actually,” Cridland says, “Nick didn’t use any keyboards on the record at all. All the sounds on that record are a Yamaha grand piano – concert grand nine foot. And an old Hammond organ. It’s a proper Hammond organ on that. He’d never played a Hammond organ before – he was incredibly excited about it. And I think some of the Hammond organ on ‘Hair Clip’ and ‘Break Up Anthem’ just sounds amazing.”
Cridland is investing his venture into music with all the energy he put into building his fashion brand and public relations firm – and then some. I asked him how he planned to balance these three careers. “I’m just going to work as hard as I possibly can,” he explained. “Obviously the music I’m extremely passionate about. I love the other businesses as well. I’m living fairly clean at the moment, I don’t drink. I think that taking care of yourself really contributes to having a bit more energy and being able to work weekends. It’s quite full on, you know. This is a hobby for me. It’s just one I’m taking seriously and treating like a business.”
At the end of our conversation, Cridland told me he was on his way to “Capital FM and Magic FM and a couple other radio stations in London, and then I’m going to head to The Times newspaper and then hopefully relatively soon, in the next couple of hours, more songwriting.” All of which may soon lead to Cridland earning the title of the new hardest working man in show business.