GIVE Tom Seals a piano and he’ll entertain you all night long – and well into the morning if you so desired. When he’s playing the piano, he’s at peace with the world and with himself. He becomes a genius, a clone of his hero Jools Holland.
Yet Tom, like many musicians, is a complex character. He’s driven – in part at least – by the fact that he’s suffered from discrimination all his life. He’s ginger, wears glasses and carries a little more weight than maybe his frame was designed to support.
Cruel? No – for the record, I’m the same: ginger, wear specs and overweight. It’s just how Tom describes himself on stage. Self-deprecating.
It also explains why he has moved proverbial mountains to become one of the country’s most watchable pianists. Not only can he play, but he’s got a superb voice and is both funny and engaging.
He also surrounds himself with good musicians – and is quite happy experimenting. Hence his move into presenting – while simultaneously playing the piano and singing. Tom of all trades – and master of them all. And still only 28.
All of these winning traits were on fine display at Pizza Express Live (Holborn, London) on Friday January 7 as he delivered the third of his four live ‘Tom Seals Presents’ shows – where he invites celebrities to share their favourite songs with him. He then plays them – helped by a super group of musicians – in between talking to the guests about their music choices and their lives. It’s a bit like Parkinson as was, but with Parky at the piano. It’s light. It’s fun and that’s how it should be.
The idea was spawned in lockdown when Tom put together a live show that people could watch from their homes via social media. He coordinated it from his Mum’s home with half his band and the technicians in the back garden – the horn section in the front (government lockdown rules were observed).
He’d then interview friends and invite musicians to play from their lockdown bases. By the end, the show was getting a quarter of a million views. They were great fun to watch. Matt Lucas, KT Tunstall and Sarah Jane Morris all starred.
The format of the show was then taken up by Sky – and now he’s taken the idea on stage.
As Tom told me before he went on stage at Pizza Express Live: ‘It’s all a learning experience for me. I’m loving every second of my new role as presenter, interviewer, pianist and singer. There’s quite a bit of pressure, but I absolutely love it.’
Having successfully ‘presented’ Noddy Holder (Slade, Cum On Feel The Noize) and whispering Bob Harris as part of his four show run at Pizza Express Live, Tom’s third guest was comedian Jo Brand – fellow comedian Stephen K Amos completes the set at the Pheasantry in London’s Chelsea on January 16 (eight o’clock, tickets still available).
Although the night was filmed (but not streamed live) Jo didn’t hold back as she fired off a ‘fucking hell’ expletive at having to get up on to a high stool. ‘It’s like a morning in the gym,’ as she successfully clambered up her version of Ben Nevis. Another expletive followed as Tom challenged her on her love – or not – of jazz. She tolerates it.
Of course, you wouldn’t want Jo Brand any other way. She talked about giving up the violin when her teacher forced her to play in front of pupils at the grammar school she attended. She was only in her first year and in Jo’s words: ‘I had the piss taken out of me.’ Goodbye violin.
She mentioned her flirtation with the organ (church organ, that is), confirmed her liking of comedians Lee Mack, Greg Davies and French and Saunders – and described her short affair with rallying which ended in Wales when she was within inches of descending down a precipice, taking the car and probably her life with it.
There was also an insight into how she deals with those who make fun of her weight – ‘writing better jokes than the hecklers’. It’s probably when Jo and Tom bonded the most with Tom revealing how he had received a message on social media from someone asking how they would be able to tell the two of them apart on stage. Appalling. Vile. But Tom seemed to bat it away as easily as a full toss delivered by a Sunday league cricketer.
Jo also talked about her time as a psychiatric nurse – and her work in championing greater mental health awareness. She has received honorary doctorates galore as a result. ‘I want to help people,’ she said. The sensitive side of an individual whose bark is louder than her stage bite.
Her choice of music had a miserable theme – ‘I like a miserable song,’ she confessed. Yet Tom and his band did her choices proud: Nick Cave’s People Ain’t No Good (‘that was brilliant,’ exclaimed Jo); Paul Robeson’s Gloomy Sunday; Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black (with vocals provided by Jo’s talented daughter Maisie Bourke) and Tom Odell’s painfully tender Another Love.
Just to lift the mood, the Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart Of Mine was her final choice although reading between the lines Jo would have been happier with a miserable Kate Bush song. Tom persuaded her otherwise.
With Tom bookending the show with a lively Let The Good Times Roll, I Wish (Jools Holland) and a tender Hey Laura (Gregory Porter) – and a bit of Boogie-Woogie at the end – this was a fun night.
Trumpeter Jack Tinker, saxophonist Henry Greene, Roger Inniss (bass) Oliver Mason (guitar) and Luke Tomlinson on drums all played their part in making it a great night of entertainment. Two fingers and more to omicron.
With Tom Seals Presents having already enjoyed a successful run on Sky TV (with guests including David Coulthard, Russell Watson and Kenny Dalglish), it seems that Tom has found a formula that works.
One that embraces his musical talent, big personality and obvious joie de vivre. Witty, cheeky, clever and (me thinks) incredibly ambitious. And to think he’s still in his 20s. Mainstream television beckons.
‘I’m really excited to see where this goes and I’m not stopping until I’ve delivered “Tom Seals Presents: Billy Joel”, ‘ he said afterwards. I wouldn’t bet against it.
As Jo Brand would say of Tom: ‘Fucking hell, he’s good.’