Lay Your Hands On Me: a modern day Tom Bailey gets ready to play Thompson Twins songs after nearly three decades.

Lay Your Hands On Me: a modern day Tom Bailey gets ready to play Thompson Twins songs after nearly three decades.

When Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins announced he would be playing Thompson Twins songs as part of the Retro Futura Tour, the 80s music fans gave a collective “oh yes!” because Bailey has not played Thompson Twins songs publicly for nearly three decades. The Thompson Twins, his band with future ex-wife Alannah Currie and percussionist Joe Leeway, made its mark on the airwaves and in MTV rotation in the 1980s with songs like “In the Name of Love,” “Lies,” “Lay Your Hands On Me,” “Doctor Doctor,” and the worldwide smash “Hold Me Now.” The Twins disbanded in May 1993, with Bailey forming the band Babble with Currie. Down the road, the two divorced and Bailey began working in the dub music genre under the name International Observer and lending his talents to other non-pop projects.


After rejecting constant offers to reform the band over the years, Bailey will embark on an extended tour of the U.S. this Thursday — along with tourmates Howard Jones, China Crisis, Ultravox’s Midge Ure and Katrina (minus the Waves). Late night TV fans can catch Bailey sitting in with the Roots on The Tonight Show this Wednesday the 20th. We spoke with Bailey about all this, plus Live Aid with Madonna, his music video experiences including one with Tom Hanks, and what revisiting the Twins catalog has meant to him.

I was actually watching some of the documentary footage in your INTO THE GAP Concert, so I was hearing how much you don’t like to do interviews.

Ha! Well, it’s been quite a while since I was paying attention to mainstream media, so I’m not exhausted by it just yet.

30 years down the road, it’s a different ball game, I imagine. So just what made you decide that you’d sign on to do the Retro Futura Tour and perform Thompson Twins songs when you’d said no for so long?

It’s really simple, I guess, when you think about it. People had asked me along the way, “hey, how about putting the band back together, how about getting back into pop music instead of this weird experimental stuff you’ve been working on.” So I’d rehearsed my resistance to that temptation many times, and I’d decided that I was never going to do anything like this. Then, I was working with a Mexican musician. We worked together on an interesting project where said he wanted to write something in my style, because when he was a teenager he listened to the Thompson Twins. So we started working, and then as part of the process, he asked if I would sing on it, and then he suggested that it be a duet. So when it seemed that no one was watching, it felt easy to say okay. And to my surprise, I got really excited by it. In fact, I remember very clearly also, leaving the studio and playing the track in my car, which is what I do when I record, just to hear what it sounds like played in a car because people play music in their car. It’s a good test. So I start driving while listening to this mix, and I listened to it over and over and over, really enjoying it, and by the time I’d come to my senses, I’d driven probably 50 miles. I’d found that I was really excited about doing these things again, which was unexpected. And soon after, as if by plan, Howard Jones rings me up and said he was going on tour, would I consider doing something together? And so, we met, we talked it through, and I figured I had to take it seriously.

Was Howard Jones, who has consistently performed since the 1980s, helpful in giving you some advice about how the shows and the road are different than back then?

He was able to inform me, because I had various considerations, not fears really, about getting back in, and Howard said, “No, you’ll be great, and you’ll really enjoy it. I can’t guarantee you anything, other than you’ll have a great time.” (laughs) Whether we’ll make any money, we can’t say, but every time we’re out people ask when you are coming to play again.

Right, and the hook for you here is the first time in 27 years…

Yes, I guess that puts me at the top of the bill in this particular case. (laughs)

Was there ever a possibility that other members of the band would reunite and play with you?

No, whenever that comes up, it’s never more than a 20-minute conversation. It was never going to happen. This was presented to me as a project on my own. I never really thought of it any other way. The other members are quite happy for me to do it. Alannah had some misgivings about it before, but she seems quite happy about it now. I decided that I would reacquaint myself with the songs by re-recording them all. I listened to them to decide which I want to do, and I said no to some because I couldn’t approach them honestly, meaning I needed to feel a real connection with them. With others I chose, it was like visiting with an old friend. Also, I knew I was going to pretty much do a greatest hits show, because after all this time, people want to hear those songs.

For some songwriters, playing the song brings them back to when they wrote the song, but time can also bring new perspectives to older lyrics. Did you experience that?

Every piece of music, whether it has lyrics or is instrumental, is like reading a diary to me. When I hear an old recording, it just takes me straight back to where I was, what headspace I was in, and what the band was doing at the time.

Talking about the Thompson Twins style, it seemed more tender than other new wave bands. For instance, “Hold Me Now” is very sweet in its sentiment. Is that one that takes you back, or does the meaning change for you after being away from it for more than 25 years?

Both. It takes me back, but I also have new interpretations. It’s that way with some songs more than others, and with some songs, I even had a moment of saying, “wow, now I know what that song is about.”

What would one of those be?

There was a song that was never released as a single, but became popular because of the movie it appeared in: “If You Were Here” from the film Sixteen Candles, and so many people relate to that. It was always a favorite of mine. When I re-approached it, I said to myself, my God, this is not just a song about honesty in relationships. With the benefit of thirty years’ hindsight, it’s about having failed to live up to our promise or our responsibilities. I’m not talking about the Thompson Twins, I’m talking about the human race. (laughs)

There are a lot of people who will be really excited that you are performing “If You Were Here” because that has become a movie that means so much to a whole generation.

It should have been released as a single and would have been a massive hit, but it occurs to me why that wasn’t the case, looking back. You know, I’ve never thought about this, but it doesn’t have a chorus! I imagine any record company looking to issue the single would say, “yes, it’s very powerful and very atmospheric, but people are never going to sing along with it because there is no chorus.” (laughs)

What about “Hold Me Now”? Did the meaning change when you revisited that song?

I like metaphors that work on different levels. I think that is a song of reconciliation after an argument. It’s not only or just about two people, but about people in general, and it’s also about the potential for environmental or ecological reconciliation. You know, where we get on top of the problems that we create for ourselves. It just so happens that toward the end of our American tour for the INTO THE GAP album, I was talking to the guy who ran the merchandise. I asked him what he was doing after the tour, and he said he was going to Brazil to protest against the cutting down of the rain forest. I’d heard very little about this, this was the early days of this information, an environmental problem becoming a global issue. And I find that “If You Were Here” and “Hold Me Now” seem to very clearly address that now. I’m adding some verses to “If You Were Here” address that – I mean, we said we were going to save the planet, but have we? No we haven’t. I’m still itching to see us do that.

The moment where you sing “but you know that there’s nowhere that I’d rather be than with you here today,” will probably resonate in different ways onstage today, no matter the interpretation.

I know, it’s funny. Many of those lyrics come out with a new prominence because of what they mean. The first line of the first song, “In the Name of Love” is “hey you, I’ve seen your face before.” (laughs) That will be pretty powerful in this new context.

Were you surprised at what a huge worldwide hit “Hold Me Now” became?

No. I knew I was onto something very attractive when we first came up with the idea, working in some attic, and I can’t even remember where we were. We’d rented a house to get away from London. It was written, and I got that “WOW” sensation. I just knew I was onto something. We recorded that song before the rest of the album, and then the song was already released in the U.S. and climbing the charts by the time we were recording the rest of the album in the Bahamas! That kind of put the pressure on us to make the rest of the album really good. (laughs) But that was exciting and energizing, and fueled our motivation.

What do you recall from your experience opening for the Police in 1983, when the Police were the biggest band around?

It was fantastic, because they were at their peak, and we were just knocking on the door, so strategically, it was a big deal for us to get on that bill, and to see what big shows in stadiums and arenas were all about. And I enjoyed it! I liked the Police, we got on, and it was great fun.

What do you recall from your performance at Live Aid? You did a set that included the Beatles’ “Revolution” and then sang backup for Madonna.

I do recall it quite well. One of the previous bands had gone over, so we were supposed to do three songs but they were cutting it down to two. We basically made the decision while standing behind the curtain as to what we would cut and what we would play. So someone, I think Bette Midler actually, introduces us and the curtain rises, and we start playing “Hold Me Now”. I start walking toward the mike stand, and it’s so far away that my guitar cable isn’t long enough. So I had to make a strangely significant decision as to whether I was a singer or a guitarist. (laughs) I unplugged the guitar and walked up for the singing gig, which was unnerving enough. We finished that song, and someone went and got me a proper guitar cable, and we played “Revolution”.

It must have been interesting being a British band but playing the American side of Live Aid at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

That’s right, because we were recording our new album Heres’ to Future Days with Nile Rodgers producing.

How did you end up being a part of Madonna’s Live Aid set?

Actually, I believe Nile was the reason for that, since we’d both worked with her. He’d just produced her Like A Virgin album. I’d met her a few times around, so we did backing vocals for her, and vice versa. Funny enough, people ask me about it all the time, “How did that happen?” It was done very casually, and she was really just beginning her career. She had just started scoring major hits. And this I remember– I was backstage with Madonna, and some kids at a fence were yelling at us, so I ushered us both through a door, and coincidentally we walked into the space where all the performers were having their photographs taken. So I walk through a doorway with Madonna, and standing in front of us are Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan and so on. I completely freaked.

At the start of the Into the Gap concert documentary, you are already worn out, and Alannah is crying, saying that you are already exhausted. After you were off that tour, you did suffer from exhaustion as a result afterwards. I imagine this tour won’t be as intense, specifically because at that time, the record company would tour you till you dropped. You probably laid out the deal at the beginning of this tour.

You would think, right? (laughs) But here it is: I play a festival here (in his home England), I fly to New York, I do The Tonight Show, we play the next day in New York, and then we play in a different city every night for the next seven nights! Part of the benefit of this particular setup is that each band is only playing 45 minutes. It’s not quite so tiring.

What’s the plan with The Tonight Show?

By the time we negotiated, they had a musical guest, so I’m joining the house band that night. You know, I didn’t know quite what to do in this situation, although I have the greatest respect for these musicians, they are fantastic, but there is something about going on and not using your own band and just being a crooner — it crosses you into showbiz, rather than art. (laugh)

Well, the benefit of that show is that, as you said, the Roots are amazing, and Jimmy Fallon is a huge fan of everything, so I’m sure you’ll have a great time.

I’m glad to hear you say that. As well, it’s also the right thing to do. (laughs) I mean, everyone around me is saying, “you gotta do it! you gotta do it!”

Let’s talk about the videos. There are a few that always come up, so we might as well start with “Lies”.

Well, the special effects might look cheesy now, but I stand behind it because at the time the spirit of what was behind it was there. The thing I remember about it was that strategically, but completely by accident, we just thought we released something interesting and cartoonish, and we didn’t know that MTV basically had opened for business that week. I suppose that after a few weeks of playing those things that they played, they were looking around, asking if there were any oddball band videos from the UK, and someone picked up on “Lies”. They must have checked it out and put it into high rotation because it suddenly kicked us into the cosmos in terms of coverage, and kicked off a career for us.

Between you and all the UK bands, you guys were quite a few steps ahead. “Hold Me Now” was a tender song with a gentle performance clip attached. What do you recall from shooting that with director Rupert James?

He was actually a friend of the band who was early in his filmmaking career. We decided to let him have a go. I think we wanted the clip to be simple and let the song speak more than the visuals in that one, moving away from the more visually quirky videos we’d made for the previous album. We had some strange clips from that album, some for songs that never got a release, like a video for a song called “Watching You” which was very very odd video for it. We felt that “Hold Me Now” was a classic song that needed a classic video.

What do you remember from shooting the “Doctor Doctor” video, which is a little more dark than “Hold Me Now.”

I recall the skating scene, which was not on ice but on some skate-able surface, made of polymer or something, and didn’t really work. It was decided that it was the best way to do it in a film studio. We wanted it to be atmospheric, because it really is a very dreamy song. Clouds, blue sky — I like all that.

And when you did the “Don’t Mess With Doctor Dream” video, you were working with the hot directors of the moment, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.

At the time, they were both on a chat show, the host said where do you get all your ideas from, and he said, I smoke a lot of dope. And he got in huge trouble for it. But I can’t say it wasn’t true. (laughs) Here’s what I remember. We wanted to have some cloud scenes, so instead of getting some stock footage as you would today, I imagine, Godley and Creme rented a Lear jet with cameras fixed on the wings, and spent the day zooming around shooting the clouds. By the time they’d come back down and smoked all their dope, there wasn’t much budget left, so I think that video had to be somewhat rescued. I remember another director signing on and a bit more money being found to finish it off.

Which brings us to “Nothing in Common”. Did you get the photograph I sent you [The photo is of Tom, Alannah, Tom Hanks and Beth Armstrong on the set of the film “Nothing in Common”. Tom and Beth appeared in the video for the soundtrack song recorded by the Thompson Twins.]?

Yes, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this photo before.

What do you recall from this shoot? There’s an opening scene of you and Allanah and Tom Hanks on a balcony, where he doesn’t really acknowledge that you are there.

We went to Chicago to film our video in the Irish bar that is featured in the film. Tom Hanks was really starting out and not yet the megastar he would be. He was there under duress, as a contractual obligation I suppose, and I don’t think he was a big fan of synthesizer pop. (laughs) He was perfectly pleasant, though, and we had a good time. I can’t remember the woman.

That’s Bess Armstrong.

I don’t recall meeting her. They didn’t have Photoshop, so I’m sure that’s really her.

How did that song come to you?

Clive Davis, the head of Arista, asked us, and I guess he was wondering if we were interested in doing film scores or songs because he saw people getting big hits that way. I guess he wanted to put two and two together and make millions. We thought we’d give it a try. We knew the film story, didn’t really know who was in it. Jackie Gleason [also in the film] is a household name in the U.S., but “The Honeymooners” wasn’t shown in the U.K., so that didn’t really mean anything to me. I had to look him up — in a book, which is what we did in those days. (laughs) But I knew him from doing “I Cover The Waterfront”. And we wrote a song called “Nothing in Common” based on the film “Nothing in Common”. There you have it.
I don’t anticipate that you’ll be playing “Nothing in Common” live.

No, I don’t think so.

Thompson Twins – Nothing In Common by jpdc11

So what song are you looking forward to performing the most?

I’m getting really high on all of them, to tell you the truth. I began re-recording all the songs about six months ago, and I’ve been singing them daily. Instead of worrying about my voice giving out on the road, I figured I’d sing the whole set every day. I’ve stuck to that discipline, with a few exceptions. I had played individually with the members of the band, but finally we played together for the first time, and it was an explosion of creative happiness. We walked away from rehearsal with big smiles on our faces. We’re so happy.

Are you surprised at how joyful an experience this has already been?

Yes. I didn’t know there was a place in my heart that would be so energized by revisiting this work.

The Retro Futura Tour plays the Best Buy Theater in Times Square NYC on Thursday, August 21st. Check out more info on the the tour at their website.


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