JAZZ pianist Tom Seals certainly knows how to celebrate his birthday in style.
Last Saturday, he took over the magnificent St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London’s Trafalgar Square for the night. In part, to celebrate his 29th birthday, but also to showcase his latest project: Tom Seals Presents. A series of interviews with leading lights – be they politicians, comedians, comediennes, singers or former racing drivers.
The project has transmogrified from playing live in his mother’s back garden and speaking to/playing with guests via zoom (during lockdown) to a successful series on Sky and then a number of live shows at PizzaExpress Live.
The latest incarnation of Tom Seals Presents, all shows filmed, took him to a church more famous for its wonderful work in looking after the homeless and those buried in its grounds – the likes of Nell Gwyn and chemist Robert Boyle – than for hosting live music.
Against the backdrop of chandeliers and the magnificent Walker Organ and its 3,000 plus pipes, Tom’s latest guest was the popular comedian James Acaster – also a successful author (Perfect Sound Whatever) and podcaster (Off Menu).
It was a combination that drew in more than 700 people to the church with every seat – including those up in the heavens (the gallery) – taken.
Tom Seals Presents is akin to a live version of Desert Island Discs where the guest is asked to name his or her favourite tunes. Tom, with massive support from his band, then plays his own interpretation of the chosen music.
In between the songs, Tom talks to his guest about their life – in James’s case, his love of music (he’s been in more bands than I’ve had hot dinners), his flirtation with religion (a tricky conversation given the venue) and his disdain for social media.
It’s a format that works, primarily because of Tom’s charm and easy going nature, his mastery of the piano, and a band that is on top of its game – with musical arrangements by trumpeter Jack Tinker.
James, an accomplished musician himself (his book Perfect Sound Whatever is a love letter to the healing power of music), was a challenge for Tom. His choice of music can best be described as eclectic: Two-Headed Boy Part 2 (Neutral Milk Hotel); Change (In The House Of Flies) by the Deftones; James Acaster’s Pants On A Stick; Kanye West’s Ultralight Bean; and Joanna Newsom’s Peach Plum Pear.
Yet Tom and the band rose to the challenge as evidenced by James’s emotional reaction to each of Tom’s interpretations. ‘Best night of my life,’ was James’s reaction to Two-Headed Boy Part 2. ‘’That was f..king incredible. I couldn’t stop smiling.’
With James’s dry wit constantly bubbling to the surface like a spectacular geyser, it was a fun night. Tom nicely sandwiched James’ interview with blasts of music from his vast repertoire, including a splendid Hey Laura (Gregory Porter) and a marvellous Boogie-Woogie.
The fun wasn’t over. Two hundred of the audience went downstairs into the crypt afterwards and were royally entertained by Tom and his band, very much in relaxed mood. A couple of Stevie Wonder classics got everyone dancing – a fitting finale to a splendid night’s entertainment.
At age 29, an exciting future awaits Tom Seals. He’s destined to follow in the footsteps of his musical hero Jools Holland. Whatever this talented genius touches, it will turn to musical gold.
Tom will be back at St Martin-in-the-Fields in September when his guest will be actor Robert Lindsay. He’s also performing at Canary Wharf next month.
Tom Seals and his Big Band with Special Guest Robert Lindsay
Title image by Monika S Jakubowska