As the years have gone by the days of watching Harry Secombe warbling his way through an episode of Highway are semi-erased from my psyche. These days Sunday night is the new Friday night. What better way to spend it than in the company of one of the finest singer songwriters/front men of a certain generation? Tom Hingley returned to Leeds, this time to The Hop. The venue opened in 2010, sister to the Wakefield and Sheffield venues of the same name. An intimate enough haunt in a prime location near the train station, serving a fine selection of real ale to whet your appetite, lager if you like that fizzy stuff and food if you’re peckish. A Sunday night gig is always (in my humble opinion) an excellent way to start the week.
Some might say the past few years have been a difficult period for the former Inspiral Carpets frontman. The reasons for his ousting from the band are still unclear. His heart-on-sleeve biography Carpet Burns portrayed him as the outsider in his own band. An emotive read and, particularly in the latter stages, a difficult one. With Tom out and original frontman Stephen Holt back into the fold tensions ran high. As a fan it seemed that you were obliged to either be in CampHingley or CampHolt, although some rather diplomatic fans actually had/have a foot in both. Thankfully, the caustic tension – especially when it came to online fans – appears to have abated. As is so often the case in the world of music, it’s already old news.
His 2011 appearance at Cavfest with several members of James performing tracks by both bands was memorable for all the right reasons. His continued support of charities like Shelter reveals a conscience for often misunderstood and overlooked social groups. And everyone loves a grafter right? An underdog you say? Pfft, as if…
Tom recently announced he’d recorded two brand new albums – Sand and Paper – released via Pledgemusic. The pledge targets were duly smashed in a very short space of time, demonstrating there is still much love for the now grizzled Oxford musician. But I’d be hard pressed to describe the Leeds gig as a tour date in support of the new albums. He’s played Leeds many a time down the years but the circumstances have changed somewhat with this release of new material. Sure, fans will always still want to hear the old Inspirals’ hits but Tom has released enough solo LPs to stand on his own merit. Indeed, one of his finest moments is All the Good Things from his solo Thames Valley Delta Blues album.
Starting with the sublime Leaving it All Behind the high standard is set for the evening ahead. By its title alone its melancholy in nature and drifts along in a wistful manner reflecting upon Tom’s journey through life. Biblical references are dropped in although thankfully without him coming across as a misguided preacher man – ‘when your life isn’t yours, and you’re closing too many doors, when the river isn’t flowing your way, and your heart is drifting away, leave it all behind’.
It’s a stunning song that really displays his writing talent, rapturously received and powerful enough to stop the chatterers in the audience mid-flow.
Nobody’s Friend swiftly follows, another touching song perhaps reflecting upon the people that come and go in your life – ‘you can’t be everyone’s friend, try to be everyone’s friend, you can’t be anyone’s friend, anyone’s friend’. Another Hingley classic – sad, wise, something we can perhaps all relate to.
Throughout the night Tom is as chatty as ever and receptive to the audience, dropping in amusing and poignant anecdotes. As a blues musician he’s no BB King (for obvious reasons!) but his own interpretation of the genre is sincere enough, his guitar battered but clearly well loved.
The short set includes a handful of songs from earlier solo albums before concluding with a couple of well-known Inspirals tracks. Saturn 5 sounds just as good stripped back to the bare bones and This is How it Feels brought one attendee to the brink of ecstasy. Speaking to her after the show she commented that the song had been the soundtrack to her youth – those of a similar age will certainly know where she’s coming from. Tom appeared to enjoy playing the classics but the evening was not all about nostalgia. It’s certainly okay to look behind you once in a while but don’t get too caught up in the past otherwise you’ll find yourself stuck in a time you can never truly replicate. Tom appears to hold this value close to him, perhaps more so now than ever.
This performance really demonstrated how Tom was never just the singer in another Manchester band and how as a solo artist he deserves to stand alongside the likes of Lou Barlow and Bob Mould. It’s a testament to his voice, songwriting and warm and affable character that his fans haven’t lost faith in him.
Whether he’s the flavour of the month or not I firmly believe Tom Hingley will be creating music for a long time ahead. Who needs reunions anyway? Get yourself along to one of his shows, speak to the man, follow him on Twitter and continue to support ‘proper live music’.