“It’s hard to say without sounding like a real vain bastard, but I’ll give it a go,” says Tom Gregory, before breaking into laughter.
We’ve just asked him if he can sum up what people like about his music, an emotive, piano-driven blend of indie and pop that’s beginning to prick the ears of the UK industry. “People appreciate a real bass, a real guitar, a real set of drums, a vintage ’70s vocal chain,” says Gregory, speaking from his childhood bedroom on the top floor of his parents’ house in Cleveleys, near Blackpool. “I grew up listening to organic rock and pop and that had lost its way for a few years. Through guys like myself, Tom Walker and Lewis Capaldi, there’s a resurgence in people listening to it.”
Gregory, who’ll release his debut album later this year after signing with 3 Beat, feels a particular kinship with Capaldi given that both got their break in Germany. With a record on the way, BBC Radio 2 support for his new single and almost four million monthly listeners on Spotify, things appear quite rosy for the 24-year-old, but his ride so far has been far from easy.
“Labels and people in the UK just weren’t interested,” he says, casting his mind back to the days after he left school, which he spent trawling through SoundCloud trying to catch a break. “Maybe it was because I was just a young kid with a guitar and the world already had an Ed Sheeran. I didn’t really know who I was; I didn’t know my sound, my style. I had to get a job and go into the real world.”
Labels in the UK just weren’t interested, maybe it was because the world already had an Ed Sheeran
Gregory worked in a theatre, which he says “helped me grow up”, but his music remained somewhat stuck until his manager, the brother of a German friend from the international school he’d attended, had the idea of emulating Lana Del Rey and Rag‘N’Bone Man and breaking away from home.
“Again, it was really hard, a bit of a reality check,” he says. “Eventually, after years of trying, I got a label in Hamburg [Kontor Records] to sign me. Then I was quite lucky, I released my first record and it just blew up.”
That song, Run To You, now has almost 25 million Spotify plays and paved the way for Gregory to tour in Germany. “I’ve never looked back,” he says. “I consider myself fortunate, it was a long journey to get signed and it’s not always like this for an artist, you can get signed and be dropped straight away.”
His success is spreading into Austria, Switzerland, France, Sweden and beyond, and Gregory – who has also appeared on The Voice, spent time in a pop band and tried acting – says the UK is catching on “slowly but surely”.
“When you’ve played in a punk club in Preston where people didn’t give a shit or want you to be there, playing for a couple of thousand people singing the words back is easy in comparison,” he says. “Growing up where I did was great to learn the dos and don’ts and gain experience playing really shit shows. I look back with fondness, but they were shit.”
Now, Gregory is only looking forwards. During lockdown, he’s working on music and chewing over the idea that the UK might finally be ready for him.
“As historic and big as some UK labels are, I don’t know if they have the patience that some of the German ones do,” he finishes. “We produce massive acts in this country, but one thing the industry has to look at is developing young artists. Some countries are a little bit more patient and that’s why it has worked for other artists. I’m hoping it’ll work for me...”