In the same week that Tony Blair became PM, Chris T-T moved to London and by the end of the month he’d played his first gig and self-released his first single. In two decades he’s released ten albums, played over 100 shows a year and written some of the finest independent pop songs that you’ve probably never heard.
Now, twenty years later, and based in Brighton, he’s releasing a career retrospective – a double CD ‘Best Of’, featuring one CD of some of his best-loved songs and a second CD of never-before-released rarities, including a full band version of the heart-rending ’31 Pills’ which is worth the money on its own. It’s a pretty good introduction to one of England’s finest songwriters, who manages to convey a rare combination of sensitivity, intelligence, politics and wit.
If you’ve not heard Chris, check out the ‘English Earth‘ for an example of his craft. Our interview with Chris T-T follows below.
Twenty years is a long time. How did it start? What got you into songwriting and playing music?
Yup, it feels crazy (and I feel ancient). I think a combination of piano lessons and school bands got me into songwriting – I got bored practising the classical pieces and made up my own stuff instead, which gradually became composing. In school bands I wasn’t the most talented and couldn’t afford the best gear but I was often the driving force and took it seriously. Too seriously, probably. And I always felt like it was important to say something in songs, even when I was starting out and very clumsy about it.
Do you remember your first gig?
My first ever gig with a school band was supporting infamous naked Bristol hippies The Moonflowers in 1989 I think. But the first actual Chris T-T gig was 20 years ago this week, at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town. I’d just moved to London three weeks before for a job. The headliner was Hefner and I was first on, I played a three-stringed electric guitar tuned to open fifths and loads of effects.
Coincidentally, five years later I first met Rifa (my wife) in the same venue, at a gig with The Walkmen.
This tour will be your last gigs as Chris T-T, right? Why are you calling an end to this phase of your career?
This is my final hometown gig. I’m doing one more – a London farewell party in September, then I’m done.
I’m quitting because I’ve done my time. I still love songwriting and performing but I don’t much enjoy what I’ve become – this kind of strummy punk/folk troubadour, when it doesn’t reflect my music taste, or the more psychedelic music I make at home – and there’s a pile of shitty baggage when you’re not that successful but a lot of people have already formed an opinion on you. You don’t have the protection system of the more successful artist from the idiots. It doesn’t help that I’ve been so ideologically outspoken too. Too often I feel like the dick in the room.
Do you think you’ll feel free or is it a period you’ll be feeling a little regretful about?
Oh good question, I don’t know yet but I suspect there’ll be a bit of grief first, like ending a long-term relationship, even if it’s the right thing to end it. I’m going to hide in Berlin for a bit and travel a bit and figure out wtf is next.
Brighton’s home. What are your favourite things about the town?
We’ve been here 15 years and I still adore it, there aren’t many places in the UK I could live happily. Best things? We’re open minded and open hearted. I love the green – from the Downs to the politics. I love how young and expressive and energetic it is.
The hometown concert should be special. Any particular plan for the gig?
It’s a seated solo concert, doing stuff from right through my career, quite crowd pleasy- quite a lot of songs I haven’t touched for a few years. The shows have been emotional and super fun. Amazing support is Dear Everyone, the vocal trio of Kelly Kemp, El Morgan and Helen Chambers. They’re phenomenal.
So do you have any plans for what comes next?
The two things in my head are: writing something long-form and getting more involved in podcasting and broadcasting. I’m hosting this storytelling podcast for The Old Market and love it, makes me feel like I’m acting a noir David Sedaris.
I’m not ruling out music but I’d need to start completely from scratch; not put anything out there until I know it’s great and also find whatever collaborators are right before sharing anything publicly. I don’t want to build a DIY thing ever again. I’ll probably sell something to the industry and if it’s not good enough to sell, put it on a shelf.
Any thoughts for the future, a couple of weeks out from the election?
It’s easy for us I guess in Brighton; for me there’s simply no better politician in the UK than Caroline Lucas.
Chris T-T plays his final Brighton gig at the Komedia on Tuesday, 23rd May 2017. Just go.
Interview by Jon Southcoasting