Despite not having a top 40 single or a top 10 album to his name or a name that comes to mind concerning a household name; Tom Baxter’s most well-known track “Better” featured on the soundtrack to David Schwimmer ’s motion picture “Run Fatboy Run” which was subsequently covered by Boyzone. A year later, another track, “Almost There” would be covered by Dame Shirley Bassey and be the opening track for her album The Performance. Ten years now marks the release of his album Skybound which was only officially followed up this year with The Other side of Blue, described by Baxter as being entirely free of “production camouflage”. Like on The Other side of Blue, Tom entered the stage alone with no supporting musicians, “no bells or whistles, just me, myself and I, with absolutely nowhere to hide”. Xs Noize was able to decide if Baxter’s performance as part of the multi-venue London Roots Festival was triumphant or an ill-fated attempt of a musical vigilante.
This Union Chapel gig was a family affair. Support came from younger sister Vashti (not the ill-fated Queen of Persia as described in the Book of Esther read on the Jewish festival of Purim). Uniquely covering Ella Fitzgerald’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” as well as playing the title track, “Paris”, from her forthcoming release made Vashti standout from the majority of female solo artists. Her triumph came when she owned the audience by rebuking two garrulous individuals earning her an ovation as if it was her headline tour.
Baxter upon entering the stage was immediately greeted with cheers and jubilations. He began by playing material from his new LP. Although he was alone, Baxter quickly proved that having songs stripped back free of “production camouflage” was the way forward for the now tinted grey bearded solo artist. Several tracks from The Other Side of Blue would follow and impress before playing the first track from his 2008 Skybound LP: “A Night Like This”. Halcyon memories returned to the audience. His haunting rendition of the lyrics was echoed appropriately through the church acoustics. The lyrics were true and ethereal. The constant aroma of incense from the stage added to the collective elation the seated audience experienced.
The folk roots of Tom Baxter were evident. Being the son of a folk duo, Baxter naturally took on the role of raconteur; telling stories about the songs he performed. For example “Boy Beneath the Stone” was influenced by Michelangelo’s “David”. Baxter also told an emotive story of the new song “The Ballad of Davy Graham”, about the renowned late folk singer, Davy Graham who introduced a new “standard” tuning called DADGAD. Baxter never failed to miss an opportunity to wear his heart on his sleeve. The most emotive introduction was for “My Declaration” when he read out a letter from a female fan who had witnessed the London Bombings and was supported by the message of the song by learning to “live in the moment”.
As well as being emotional and philosophical; Tom also demonstrated that he had a sense of humour. The new Dad said he had mathematically counted how many times he needed to stream his songs to buy a packet of nappies. Just past the mid-point of his performance; Baxter showed he truly was a solitary man venturing forth alone. Unplugging his guitar and microphone he marched into the crowds singing with his acoustic guitar. A brave move when one of the songs he played was “Better”. Whilst the decibels of Baxter and his acoustic guitar has significantly plunged; his performance had not.
Whilst Tom Baxter is perplexing to categorise; his vocals are a surprising mix of many unconnected artists including as Guy Garvey, Sam Smith and Gruff Rhys to name a few. The music he played was a product of life lessons, musical discovery (travelling and living in places as antithetical Devon and Brazil), and an evolving philosophy which made Tom Baxter’s Union Chapel London Roots Festival performance unique and emotionally uplifting.