GLASWEGIAN singer-songwriter Dylan John Thomas has had a lot to celebrate this year – he’s played some of his biggest headline shows to date, played a triumphant gig at TRNSMT Festival and released his self-titled debut EP into the world. On top of that, he’s recently announced a headline show at the Barrowlands on Friday 29th April 2022 – and it’s just sold out.
Of course, all of this has come after years of hard graft and relentless gigging. Having learned his trade as a busker on the streets of Glasgow, the young singer-songwriter was starting to build a following of his own prior to lockdown – his debut single ‘Nobody Else’ set down strong foundations for a promising career, while there was also the small matter of prestigious slots supporting Liam Gallagher and his mentor Gerry Cinnamon in late 2019/early 2020.
The lockdown in spring 2020 therefore came at a particularly unfortunate time – with much of his plans put on the backburner and his fast-gained momentum put on pause. However, since restrictions eased earlier this year, it’s fair to say that everything has kicked up a notch.
With ‘Jenna’ and ‘Feel The Fire’ shared in July and September respectively, he released his first body of work this November in his self-titled EP. Full of storytelling flair and infectious songwriting, the four-track record showcases his skill for crafting indie singalongs and festival-ready anthems. No wonder then that it went down a storm at his recent raucous headline set at Saint Luke’s – his biggest hometown headline to date.
So, with so much to be positive about, we caught up with Dylan to hear all about his massive year and that all-important Barrowlands date.
“It’s been class having new music out. I only had two songs out before lockdown so it’s great to be back releasing tunes after being a bit delayed for while. I love that the EP came out on vinyl as well, it’s properly tangible and not just a digital thing. You can see it in a shop and take it home.
“The reaction’s been mental, folk have been singing every word at gigs. I played my first Scottish tour with a body of work out and St Luke’s was absolutely fucking bouncing. To come out of lockdown, being starved of live music for two years, it was overwhelming to see that may people bouncing and chanting every single word. I canny describe it. It fills me with something I’ve never felt before.”
Composed entirely during lockdown, Dylan finally felt that he had the experience and maturity to channel emotions that he hadn’t previously – and from this introspection, came some of his most accomplished material to date.
“I wrote them all during lockdown. I had Jenna, Feel The Fire and When I Get Home and that was the EP finished. But then I had the melody for Wake Up Ma kicking about and I wrote it in 20 minutes, it was just a wave of emotion. I’d been trying to write a song dealing with those emotions of growing up but hadn’t managed it until then. I didn’t have the emotional maturity or the vocabulary to articulate it before, without it sounding like ‘poor me’. Once it was done, it had to go on the EP so I recorded it at home and got it mixed and that was it.”
“Inspiration’s a weird thing. When an idea comes along you need to be able to catch it and trap it, then you carve away at it to create something beautiful. I feel like my tools are sharp enough now having been writing every day that I can do it. If I’m on the phone to someone and I get an idea, I’ll drop the phone and go away and write. You need to be able to live your life, get out and find it. I never wanted to go off into a studio with some professional songwriter. When you look at the great songwriters, people like Leonard Cohen, and hear these mind-boggling lyrics, they’ve lived what they’re writing about. You canny be half-arsed about it. It shows when it’s coming from the heart.”
“When it comes to recording, I’ll write something then take it in with the band to try it out. We’ll talk and get some ideas together then build up a demo at home. Then I’ll take it into the studio and start to replace all the tracks on the demo with proper recordings.”
Born and bred in Glasgow, it was impossible not to be inspired from his surrounding environment. Having spoken about his background in foster care and the apprenticeship he gained as a busker in the city centre, he speaks about how this influenced him.
“I don’t know if this is to do with Glasgow or just estate life anywhere but there were so many factors growing up – I was surrounded by, addiction, poverty , violence and it shapes your way of thinking, it could make or break you. I picked up the guitar to be able to channel all that into something better than aggression. I suppose there’s an element of independence that you gain to be able to come out the other end and look beyond the horizon, so you’re not stuck in a dark place. Now I think I can look back on it rationally, which is a good skill to take through life on all your adventures.”
And what an adventure it has been so far. It was a fellow Glasgow artist that helped set him on his way a couple of years ago – Gerry Cinnamon liked what he was hearing and invited Dylan on a tour all over the UK and Europe, giving him his first taste of arena life. Shortly after this, an invitation from Liam Gallagher to join him on his own UK jaunt. Speaking about the life-changing experience, he says:
“Gerry gave me an apprenticeship that you couldn’t get anywhere else. He took me travelling, touring Scotland, the UK and Europe, which was the first time I’d been away anywhere else. I used to go busking and that gave me the experience to be able to sing in front of anyone and to read the room, like doing some covers people would like. But nothing could prepare you for playing those big shows, it’s absolutely mental. People seemed to like the style that I was doing so I enjoyed it all.
“When my manager told me Liam had asked me to tour with him, I was speechless. It’s hard to describe, you’ve listened to someone’s tunes for that long. I don’t think I‘ve even really taken it in yet. For about three months before lockdown, I was on tour with Gerry, then Liam and then went back to Gerry again. It was bizarre.”
It’s the kind of experience many young artists would only dream of – and one he doesn’t take lightly. And while you can hear Gerry’s influence in his music – the strum-along melodies, the candid, prosaic style of his lyrics – Dylan is undoubtedly channelling this storytelling flair in his own guise. Speaking about what he learned, he said:
“Apart from just the experience of touring and playing to big crowds, it’s in the songwriting. How it’s important to speak from the heart. I suppose I’d always done that, but he’s helped me find a way of saying it in a way other people could relate to.”
Since then, there’s been a lot to get excited about. The release of ‘Jenna’ earlier this year marked the roll-out of his debut EP, and a series of live shows followed – including a heaving set at TRNSMT on the King Tut’s stage and a sold-out night at Saint Luke’s. With crowds singing along to every word, both gigs indicated just how far he’s come. Despite this, he remains very modest; and therein lies the heart of his appeal – his listeners see a part of themselves in him. He’s relatable; a grafter who is now reaping the rewards of all his hard work.
“There’s a lot more people messaging me on Instagram to play Fifa with them, haha. I do get recognised a bit, probably because of my hair. If I had a short back and sides no one would give a fuck. I’m a very normal person, I don’t act like I’m any different, there’s no glamour. My mates are plumbers or plasterers and my trade is being a singer and musician. It’s my job to articulate experiences into melodies and rhythms. I’ve made a lot of new friends along the way, which has been great.”
And to top it all off, he’s just sold out a headline show at the Barrowlands for next April – a venue that feels all the more special given that he grew up just along the road. With tickets already flying out the door, it’ll be a celebratory night for all those that have been on the journey – and another milestone to add to his growing collection.
He says “I grew up just along the road from the Barras. We would spend our time in the music shops at Trongate and we’d always end up getting kicked out for pestering them to try the expensive guitars. We got our Playstation games and films from the Barras market, so it’s always been there through my life.”
“Having a headline gig there is hard to describe, it’s one of those things you think of so much and then it’s happening and it doesn’t feel real. I played there with Gerry before, it’s an accolade in itself to play on that stage never mind headlining it. The acoustics of the place, when you’re on stage the slap-back hits you but it’s perfectly timed so it doesn’t throw you off, the minute details like there being a wee step at the side for people to see. I played the Paradiso in Amsterdam and that’s up there but nothing like the Barras.”
As for the rest of the year? Well, if you thought 2021 was big, then Dylan John Thomas is just getting started. Never one to take anything for granted, he says: “I suppose we’ll get more tunes out, another tour, some festivals, some supports, just living in the moment and see what happens.”
“The same as what we’ve been doing and letting it grow, see where it takes us. You can get ahead of yourself, but anything can happen so just enjoy it and don’t create some kind of marker for ‘making it’. You want to progress at whatever you’re doing in life but being content isn’t settling. If you’re too caught up in the future, you find yourself always expecting something. It’s important to enjoy every day waking up and see where it takes you.”