- 24 Jul 18
When Tom Grennan was growing up in Bedford all he dreamed of was playing in the Premier League one day.
"I was a left back", he says. "I played with a few professional teams at under-age. Luton Town, I was in their academy [There were also stints at Northampton Town and Aston Villa]. I hit 17 and realised I wasn't good enough. It was heartbreaking because I really was obsessed."
Failure at a young age would be the undoing of many young men. It was the making of Grennan, whose gritty confessional pop has earned him a place on the ones-to-watch sheet. Delivered in an angsty croon, the now 23 year-old's early singles have marked him as a cross between Plan B, Rag & Bone Man and Arctic Monkeys before they were rubbish.
He can write a tune and his lyrics channel masculine angst, every couplet dripping swagger and vulnerability. A good entry point is 'Found What I've Been Looking For', the video to which has clocked up 3.5 million YouTube views. "I'm new to all this", he shrugs. "Where I come from, there aren't a lot of musicians. The thing is, my personality is quite out there and I've always been creative and eager to learn."
He has an origin story - and for once with a new artist it amounts to more than a random life event blown out of all proportions by a record label marketing department. Shortly after walking away from sport, he was the victim of a random attack. A group of strangers jumped him in Bedford, leaving Grennan with serious head injuries. For a while it was touch and go whether he'd make it.
To this day he has four metal plates in his lower jaw. "I was in hospital for a month. That's when my creative side came out. I didn't leave the house. I was never very academic at school. But suddenly I had all these thoughts I needed to get out of my head".
He'd already been thinking about music. The first time people told him he could sing was at a party, shortly before the attack. Karaoke had come on; he'd grabbed the mic and belted out 'Seaside' by The Kooks. On the pitch he'd always wished things had come more naturally.
On stage, they did.
The true catalyst was getting beaten up. It was as if a switch had flipped. Once he'd recovered, he hung up his boots and moved to London, throwing himself into the open mic scene. Sometimes, it's true, he felt as if the open mic scene wanted to throw him right back out. Punters would scoff and jeer, or, worse yet, talk over his songs. But, like a full-back pushing up for an equaliser deep in injury time, he persisted.
"I was working in a Costa by day and gigging at night. I did a load of open mics. I never had a Plan B. Not to be big-headed, I've always regarded myself as someone that was going to be known by a lot of people one day. You'd do some open mics, and it was definitely just people out for a drink. In other places, it was different. They gave you a lot of attention. Either way, you always learned something."
With a drama qualification in his back pocket too - he's a nifty actor and isn't above pursuing it in the future. Tom finally he got his big break, when Sony music signed him to its Insanity imprint. A debut album, Lighting Matches, has just been released and he's back in Ireland for a tour later in the year, in addition to a slot at Indiependence in Cork.
"This doesn't happen to many people", he says, sounding like one of Gareth Southgate's brave boys in mixed-zone interview mode. "I'm aware of that. I want to make myself and my family proud. I'm going to work at it as hard as I can."
Lighting Matches gets an airing at Indiependence, Mitchelstown (August 3-5) and Academy, Dublin (October 27)