Tommy Reilly grew up in Torrance, a small town outside Glasgow and started taking piano lessons and writing tunes before he was ten. In his early teens he saw Oasis at T In The Park and it blew his mind. It was the first band he loved. The next day a mate lent him a copy of (What’s The Story?) Morning Gloryand he pinched his dad’s old acoustic guitar. ‘I decided to learn how to play all the songs on that album. I had a few guitar lessons but mainly I would just lock myself up in my room and sit up all night practising. I did that for a long time.’
Tommy resolved to write a song each week and an early breakthrough was Jackets. That was the first time I ever finished a song and liked it straight away’. Gradually he became more confident, got louder and louder. He liked being a solo performer, liked being in control, being able to respond to the audience’s mood – if a slow song wasn’t working, he could quickly step into a fast one, like Grab Me By The Collar, a harmonica-deploying song that suggests The View if they had bucketfuls of soul.
Tommy entered the Orange Unsigned Act contest a few years back. He was up against 50 other acts, his songs being judged by a panel drawn from the media and music industries.He spent the next six months shuttling up and down to London. Finally, in January this year, Tommy Reilly won the competition and days later he was recording Gimme A Call, a song written in a flash after a romantically disastrous night out in Glasgow. Days after that, he was in the charts. ‘That was a bit bonkers,’ he grins. ‘All of a sudden I had to talk to Fearne Cotton on the phone on the chart show’.
His main prize from the competition was a record deal with A&M (home of Duffy, Courteeners and Dan Black) but Tommy, who doesn’t take anything for granted, was concerned: ‘I’ve now been forced on this label, how do they feel about that? Will this be a good working vibe?’ He needn’t have worried. The team from A&M had seen him perform at London’s Garage, and were blown away. They would have signed him anyway, competition or no competition.
It was a sentiment shared by Bernard Butler, the highly demanded producer who had world beating success with Duffy. He was impressed with the raw talent of this new, young kid who’d popped up seemingly from out of nowhere.
Tommy spent an afternoon at Butler’s preferred studio, Edwyn Collins’ West Heath Yard in North West London. ‘We spent a few hours pissing about,’ recallsButler. ‘I said, you play acoustic guitar mostly – but will you play electric? He said, yeah, and just went for it, scratching away, really comfortable. Straight away he loved it.’
Then he jumped on the piano and played Butler the aching ballad Entertaining Thoughts and Words On The Floor, a heartfelt song about the power of ‘someone – well, a girl – to make you crumble… make you mental!’ Then he jumped on the drums. ‘He was just a natural at so many things,’ notes the producer, ‘and we had an instant trust and a bond.’
You won’t find many he-shoots-he-scores songs on the debut album by Tommy Reilly. Rejection by girls, he happily admits, is a greater inspiration than striking lucky. ‘It’s not like I’ve had loads of girlfriends – but there’s lots of girls I’d like to have gone out with.’
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