There’s a reason why wifi goes down in my office… so I have an excuse to work on my laptop, on one of the more inconspicuous tables at the Orwell Hotel, while watching the incredible Tom Metcalf perform live. On one lucky quiet evening, this is what happened. It was just me, Tom, a pot of freshly brewed tea and a bowl of cheesy chips. The evening couldn’t have been more perfect.
I was fortunate to have the chance to meet Tom and find out a little more about what makes him tick in the musical world. Here’s a little interview with our ever-talent Felixstowe fella:
How did you first start playing the piano?
Well, I grew up in Coventry and my dad played in a pub just outside Coventry. It was just him on a guitar and this other bloke, Mike, on piano and keyboards, and I’d only have been about five or six at the time, and for their last gig dad said to my mum to take me and my brother to go see them. So, yeah it was great…
It was great to be in a pub at that age (laughs)… they were playing away and this guy, Mike, on the synthesiser and the piano just blew me away.
And so, I go home and in the next week or two I said, “Mummy, Daddy I want a synthesiser… I want to play like Mike.” Because kids change their mind every five minutes that said they’ll see if I still want to do it in a couple of years. Two years later I was still saying, “Mummy, Daddy I want a synthesiser and I want to play like Mike.” We had a piano at home, so we’ll start you on the piano so you can learn on the piano before you’re doing all these fantastic things on the synthesiser. When I was about eight, they got a proper tutor to come into my house, and I was able to start practicing and playing then, and that’s how I started.
Did you learn at school too?
I did it for a few years as part of the curriculum, but I never followed on with it because my private lessons had taken me beyond what they were teaching, so I was bored – I should have really done it… explored it and maybe got a GCSE maybe done an A Level and maybe gone down that route, but the lessons just weren’t doing it for me, so I didn’t pursue it.
Do you have qualifications?
With the teacher at home, we go through certain grades – with the classical stuff you’ve got your eight basic grades so I went through and did all them.
Did you learn all genres of music?
After about grade five or six, my teacher started to introduce me to other things, like jazz, popular… show tunes, just to get a broad spectral of playing rather than just all the classics. I’d have to do the classics for the grades… he wanted me to explore other stuff so I was grateful he did that.
Was there a genre you particularly liked?
It does depends on what mood I’m in. I do lean towards the popular stuff a lot because it’s what I’ve grown up listening to, but I do like to touch on jazz or blues or whatever… sometime I’m practicing new stuff and I’ll do something wrong, but it actually sounds alright for that particular song I’m doing, and that’ll take me off doing something else where I can go into a different genre or just in a different song or, you know, just explore where that’s taking me.
*At this point I ask Tom to play a little jazz for me… he choses the ultra sultry Summertime! To see the full performance, click here. (Apologise for the poor sound… it was our first interview!)
When you play, you go through emotions?
Yeah, different songs can mean different thing and it’s nice for me to be able to express that, it’s nice as well when it connects with other people. People will come to me and they’ll say, “I’ve loved your night, I’ve really enjoyed listening to you, but that song in particular was really something….” Getting that connection with people, it’s really good, as well as my release. Whether I’m playing in here (Orwell Hotel) for the people or I’m at home on my own, it’s nice to have that as well.
The quality of how you play really brings another atmosphere to the room.
Especially when the restaurant is full, it can really crackle the atmosphere. It’s really good. Also here in the library, it’s smaller and you get a different mood, a different feel. You know, if there’s a function on here, whatever it is; a small wedding or birthday or whatever… it can really add to the experience of the hotel.
Talking of weddings, you’re available for weddings right?
Yeah I do weddings, birthdays, anniversaries… if someone wants a pianist I’ll try and get there if I can.
Do you play with other musicians?
No, I’ve never done that. Sometimes I think that’s better because as a member of the audience we get to focus on what you’re doing – it’s very peaceful. Sometimes I get emotional listening to you play as a member of the audience.
(Smiles) That’s lovely for me to hear – I think I’m doing something right then… That’s the idea of it. Everybody has a song or piece of music that they connect with in some way; whether it makes them cry, or they get elated or whatever, everybody has that, and if I can give that to them in some way, then brilliant! It makes it worthwhile. It’s not just for my own benefit, it makes it all worthwhile.
In fact, there’s a piece you’ve composed yourself that I just love, will you play it for us?
Yes of course I will!
(Tom swigs a quick sip of his coffee before giving me a big treat by playing one of my favourite Tom Metcalf originals! It was a truly beautiful experience! You can watch it here.)
They say the best art is that which communicates – tells the audience something or tells a story. Do you have a story?
No, like I said before… sometimes you just hit something and go with it. Other times I’ll be playing a few chords and structures of chords and again, depending on what mood I’m in; what I’m feeling at the time, I’ll go with it.
With your own compositions, do you have a goal in mind of where you’d like to go with your own music?
I need to get it recorded and it’s always there then. I can read music but I don’t write it – I’m just lazy (laughs)! But the thing is, if I’m home or I’m playing something and I’ll go off on something, I want to stay with it so I can keep it in my head and once it’s there, it’s there, rather than stop and go, “Ah yeah, I’ll write that down.” So, I don’t want to lose the moment or the feel of what I’m doing, so I need to actually just get it recorded; not just my stuff but cover versions and stuff like that.
Speaking of covers, I hear you do a great Elton John, will you do that for us?
Yeah, I’ll do that for you (smiles).
Once again, I’m treated to a private performance, this time of Song for Guy by Elton John.
Do you have a favourite you like to cover?
The popular stuff I like to do, the old standards… More Modern, you did a video of me doing Alicia Keys. I think she’s fantastic! When you see her live, she just seems so alive when she’s performing – she plays beautifully, she sings beautifully. I think she’s something special. So I like to do a couple of hers. Also 90s when I was 18-25, you know, there was your Brit-pop stuff, so that kind of thing takes me back to when I was younger. Whatever I feel at the time.
You seem very alive when you play.
(We talk about how musicians can really get into their performance and come alive with it). There is that and that’s why we do it but at a certain time if I’m not into it, how can I expect anyone else to be. You have to put that in and give that to people… you can connect with people that way and this is the only way you can do it, so you have to be like that.
That connection – you must have had so many people come up to you.
I have, it’s lovely. I’m lucky being here because they look after the piano so well; they’re really good pianos; they (Orwell Hotel) maintain them well; they’re regularly tuned. You know, the atmosphere In the room with a nice setting like this, it all adds to it, so I am lucky with that. In some venues their pianos haven’t been touched in years and not tuned – some keys don’t work… it’s half in pieces, it’s a shame for a pianist to see that, and you can’t use it so it’s just a shame. So I’m lucky to have these good pianos here.
How do you approach your craft and your profession when it comes to living your dream and playing the piano and performing for others and then as a father taking your kids out and juggling everything. How do you make it all happen?
It is hard but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve got my regular job here at the hotel, I do the music at the weekends, I’ve got my family life – it’s all hard and a lot of time, but I love doing all of it….I finish my job here, then I go be with the kids, I help my wife Claire raise them, knee deep in nappies. Then when the kids go to bed I’m able to play a bit and practice. So I don’t have much down time but it’s great, I love all aspects of my life – I’m just lucky I guess.
Apparently, when I was still in my pram, if my dad played Summertime, he could play anything fine, but if he played Summertime in a minor key he’d have to change or I’d start crying. He’d have to play something happy just to shut me up! (laughs) I would have been six months or a year.
I do believe there’s that connection there with music to some people. It gets to any body at any age.
Tom finished off the interview with a beautiful performance originally composed by Mike, the man that inspired Tom to play the piano from the very beginning.
With thanks to The Orwell Hotel for hosting us for the evening. You can see Tom play live on Friday and Saturdays at 6.30-9.30pm and Sundays at 12-3pm at The Orwell Hotel Felixstowe, with jazz, blues, classic and so much more, allow yourself to be taken away on cloud nine with this lovely local lad.
Available for weddings and other celebrations
142 Opens in June!
Dear fellow artists and art enthusiasts,
We hope this message finds you well, that your family is safe, and that recent months have been kind to you. We are pleased to announce the gallery will be reopening in June, with social distancing measures in place.
The 142 Team recently had a meeting (at a distance, photographic evidence above!) to discuss future plans for the gallery and spoke of our personal experiences during lockdown.
Lockdown has allowed us to reflect on our artistic endeavours, connect with nature, to embrace a slower pace, cycle, create music, bake, and binge on boxsets! But jokes aside, we are all very grateful to the hard work, dedication and support from the NHS and all the key workers. Without them, these last few months would have been a lot tougher for us all.
Thank you to everyone who has played their part in social distancing, staying at home, following the government’s advice and staying safe. Together, we can get through this.
As you will be aware, from mid-June, some retail units are allowed to reopen, as long as appropriate social distancing measures are in place. With this new governmental guideline, we have decided to reopen the gallery from Thursday 18th June 2020.
Our first exhibition since lockdown will be Lisa Berry and Jim Nind. You may have seen them in the gallery before, but since their isolation and lack of interaction with fellow artists, it will be interesting to see what artworks the pair create during their residency at 142!
More details will be announced in due course, including a layout of how the gallery will operate from 18th June 2020.
New Skills Learnt in Lockdown
A little thought from the lovely Penny Parker.
Well lockdown has certainly given some of us time at home we hadn’t planned on and if you were like me you dived straight in with gardening, baking, cleaning everything etc. Now I guess it’s almost time to do all that again, except the baking as I’ve eaten way too much cake.
Many I’m sure had plans to learn or do something new, but did we actually do it.
I did dabble in baking cakes, scary thought for the neighbours and the fire brigade I know, as I do manage to burn most things. However they weren’t bad, looked and tasted ok ( except the garlic bread, let’s not mention that!). What wasn’t on my to do list was sewing… I hate sewing, I blame my teacher at high school who shouted at me rather a lot for my lack of skill. I usually leave sewing to my sister unless it can be glued then I’ll do it. But glueing face masks wasn’t an option.
I’d got material, odd I know for someone who doesn’t sew but it was Disney and who doesn’t like a bit of that!
I dredged up my ancient cast iron sewing machine, chuffed I hadn’t dumped it in the clear out. Swept out the cobwebs and spiders and plugged it in, well so good so far. Funny how using a sewing machine is like riding a bike, you never forget. I threaded her up, remembered my teachers screams about keeping your fingers away from the needle and off I went, slowly. It was rather like riding a steam train as it rattled about on the table making so much noise we had to turn the telly up. Never mind the ancient beast churned out almost 100 face masks for people. I lost count of the number of times the cotton snapped or the needle jammed but we made it.
Now she back in her case and back in retirement, not because I’ve stopped sewing but because I’m using a new machine!! It’s only borrowed from Recreate social enterprise who very kindly brought me some fabrics, thread and elastic from their shop but it’s helped me find a love for sewing. This machine is quiet and doesn’t shake the table, it even threads the needle, and the cotton hardly breaks. Masks are now being made so much faster and yes I’m loving it!
I’ve fallen in love with sewing… please end lockdown soon I can’t afford another hobby!!
Written by Penny Parker
Just Jay Dance
I’ve never really been good at introductions, but thought it would be nice to share a little bit about “me” and what I do!
My names Jay, originally from Leicester, I moved to Ipswich when I was 17 having left home to start my own business up as a professional singer and dancer. I’ve worked abroad, on ships, holiday parks, schools and worked with charities to celebrities. It’s taken years of grafting (in-between the bar work, shelf stacking and suffering) I finally am fully self employed in my 10th year living off “Just Jay Dance” doing what I love – entertaining.
Don’t be fooled though – it’s hard work, painful at times! Disheartening. Lonely. Sometimes I wish I’d have been given a different set of skills! But I do what I can and especially in times like “now” I realise how important the entertainment industry is and wouldn’t choose anything else now.
Currently I’m sat dressed as the “Red Power Ranger” in my living room, having recorded 4 birthday messages for kids stuck in lockdown.
“I can’t imagine how hard it much be for some parents trying to make their kids birthday so special! Especially those too young to understand what’s going on!
So if me dressed as a character and wishing them a happy birthday or “to be good” then that’s my afternoon done. Tomorrow I’m reading “The ButterFly Lion” live on Facebook for children before they go to sleep while Monday morning recording 3 dance tutorials for teens to learn!
I had a choice when this “lockdown” happened – sit, moan and be absorbed by the never ending negative news OR try and use the tools I have to entertain my audience online for those needing a boost of happiness. I plan to share some of the things I’ve done for charity, friends and family as well as myself. If I can raise even one smile – my jobs been done. Tough crowd sometimes – but usually the most worth while and rewarding!
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