Growing up Eagliscliff, a small village in Stockton on Tees, provided Tom Joshua with a wealth of inspiration. The North East as a whole has always been a fertile ground for artistic growth; a mix of leftover industries and the long-felt effects of disproportionate government policy, Middlesbrough and the towns and cities nearby are stoic in their self-sufficiency, their history, and their respect for the often overlooked beauty on the doorstep.
“I’ve always considered the skyline you can see from the flyovers between Stockton and Middlesbrough pretty epic and unique — you have miles of industry, stretching out to the Coast met further along the way by some massive hills. The contrast of the landscape feels thoroughly Teeside, both bonny and rough in equal parts.”
Each track on Tom’s debut ‘Undergrowth’ EP is rooted in a location for Tom, a specific space or feeling associated with somewhere never very far from home. Whether it’s lyric writing while walking the dog to the same local shops he’s visited since he was a boy, or heading to the infamous Showcase Cinemas complex (the inspiration behind lead track ‘Cinema’), the overriding feeling is one of nostalgia, growing up and learning to appreciate all you have.
“Showcase Cinemas at Teeside Retail Park feels like a proper basecamp to me. It’s in the middle of the group of towns that make up Teeside. It’s gone unchanged since I was a kid, so for me it’s a place I can go to feel neutral and peaceful.
Underneath the canopy as you exit, before the steps, there’s a pair of pretty small speakers way up high and they’re always playing out an RnB classic or an American love ballad. I remember that moment of leaving the cinema so clearly, it’s recurred a hundred times over and I always get a massive rush of euphoria. The lyrics (for ‘Cinema’) came super quick and easy and it kind of felt like some sort ode to the cinema itself and a thank you for everything that it is to me, and all that it reminds me of.”
An avid movie consumer, Tom is adept at imagining himself in situations and writing from the emotion that evolves. Tiny snippets of life that once would stay fragmented and forgotten, are committed to record on ‘Undergrowth’. Produced by Cam Blackwood (George Ezra, Billie Marten, British Sea Power) and recorded at Voltaire Studios in London, each track is enhanced by their mutual appreciation of organic sounds and vintage gear, building a world which Tom describes as “…thoroughly honest, a home from home.”
The EP is itself a joyous expression — sometimes dreamlike, at others more lucid, but always providing comfort in familiarity. There’s a sensitivity to the production style that provides the perfect lift for Tom’s songwriting. The overall approach is grounded and tasteful, bold and yet still raw. With a real focus on capturing moments, honesty was always the main aim. Sampling organic sounds and acoustic drums for any programming, Cam and Tom’s shared love of more traditional techniques has elevated Tom’s words and melodies into a cohesive body of work, one that truly reflects the heart of his storytelling.
Tom’s love of harmonies stem from an early appreciation of Simon and Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac and Sigur Ros, melded together with more potent lyricism and inspired by favourites such as Nick Drake, Feist and Big Thief. His move from solo singer to this far fuller sound allows for a much more representative set up on stage and on record, accurately bringing his songs and stories to life.
On ‘This Still Life’, a track which clearly showcases Tom’s skill with melody and arrangement, there’s an almost throwback pop feel through the pre-chorus. The chord progression is matched in beauty by his gentle, rich vocal and the imagery instantly conjured by his writing. Speaking of the track, Tom explains:
“There’s an alleyway behind the place I work and ‘This Still Life’ is rooted there, the alleyway is a real escape — it gives you a chance to breathe in and I wanted to capture that feeling of needing to be inspired and craving space.”
The ‘Undergrowth’ EP as a collection of songs is a marker of Tom’s skill at this stage, it takes a true talent to be able to transport the listener to another place and have them feel so at ease while doing so. There’s an innate warmth to Tom’s writing that makes you feel like you’re part of the story; a part of his world, and welcome no matter what.
“I love where I live. It’s an exciting group of towns to be from, it feels like a really inspiring time and I love northern people — these songs just wouldn’t exist away from home.”
- words Ruth Kilpatrick