Tom Grennan does not blend in with the aesthetic of The Central Hotel in Dublin. Cushioned in the crimson comfort of one of the Library Bar’s armchairs, he is dressed in a dark leather jacket and track suit, head to two in black, apart from the array of gold earrings that hang from his ears. The Library Bar boasts a weathered grandeur; the deep emerald sofas and rich wooden tables that are dotted around the room show small, tell-tale signs of wear that imply that they be at the end of their days. Grennan’s career, in comparison, is just starting.
The 21-year old is immediately likeable, with an natural charisma that puts his company instantly at ease. He reminisces about trips to Ireland growing up, which were frequent as his father is from Offaly, "it's really in the sticks - I loved coming here", he says in a thick, London accent. The lush greenery of Offaly was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Grennan's hometown Bedford.
Up until 3 years ago, Grennan had never had any aspirations to become an artist - he had never been involved with music at all, "I never, ever thought I'd be doing this" he admits.
While few good things have ever come out of drunken karaoke, Grennan’s music career has proved to be one of them. Coerced by some friends, an 18-year old Grennan sang a rendition of The Kooks' Seaside at a party, which his friends convinced him was better than most drunken karaoke attempts. Prompted by their words of encouragement, he took up the guitar and started putting his own words to music.
This new-found interest in singing was disrupted after a violent attack by a group of strangers in Bedford, which left Grennan is intensive care for 4 weeks and further recovery for 9 months, as well as several metal screws and plates in his jaw which will be there for life.
Visibly still shaken by the assault, he wrings his hands distractedly while speaking about it, but perks up again when he describes the positive effect it had on him. One of the few benefits of the event was that it triggered a creative streak in him, he turned to music in order to come to terms with the attack, “I started writing about what I was feeling and what was going on in my head. Then I started to put melody to it”.
Once he had recovered, Grennan enrolled in St. Mary’s University in Twickenham to study Drama and Physical Theatre but struggled to settle, still dealing with the aftershock of the attack. Rather than attend lectures, he continued to craft songs in his bedroom and began performing them at pubs in London. He used this time to develop his voice, which is simultaneously rich and husky, reminiscent of Paolo Nutini or Rag N' Bone Man. Shortly after Grennan entered his second year at university, he was signed to Sony Records.
The singer got his first taste of touring quickly after signing, providing vocals on a Chase & Status track All Goes Wrong. He would spend the summer of 2016 touring with the drum and bass duo, playing festivals such as BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend and Wireless, “I owe them a lot, they really threw me in at the deep end” he laughs. He released his debut EP Something In The Water that year, followed by two more in 2017.
At the mention of his debut album, Grennan's eyes light up. He describes 'Lighting Matches', which will see release on July 6th, as “a big landscape of sounds”, complete with strings, brass and a choir, “It’s a classic album, I didn’t want to use any electronic sounds, I wanted real instruments” he explains. He speaks about the album fervently, his pride in the project evident. Having worked with Stormzy and Adele producers Fraser T. Smith and Sam Dixon on it, this excitement is not unfounded.
Female are under-represented across pop music as both musicians and performers, so it's great to see one in Grennan’s live band. When asked whether this was a conscious decision, he shakes his head indifferently, “No, whether she was male, female or not... she’s just good at what she does. It wasn’t like ‘we need a female bassist to stand out’, she’s wicked and she plays bass better than anyone I’ve seen play bass”. It is terrific to see an improving demographic of female musicians within the live music industry, and to see that they are being recruited for large scale projects more frequently.
Summer 2017 will see Grennan play a lot of music festivals, including Indiependence in Cork, but he says his schedule for the rest of the year is heavily dependent on how well the album is received once released, “If the album does as well as I think, and hope it will, my schedule could change in a day” he says, with honest enthusiasm rather than arrogance. His ardour is infectious, his transparency is a welcome replacement for the usual cool and collected exterior most artists display when discussing upcoming projects.
Grennan is distinctly himself, his musical identity evident. He is the type of person your mother would have told you to stay away from in school, but also someone you wanted to be friends with. As we finish up the interview, I ask him to describe his debut album in three words, to which he replies, after some careful contemplation, "Fiery, deep... and Tom Grennan" with a bold smile.
Tom Grennan plays a headline show in The Academy, Dublin on October 27th.