Search The Line of Best Fit
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02 February 2024, 11:30

On his debut record, Glaswegian singer Dylan John Thomas strives to keep the energy and dynamic of his scintillating, much-loved live show.

“It’s always been about the live side,” smiles singer-songwriter Dylan John Thomas from a freezing afternoon at home in Glasgow. “It’s never been, let's try and get a radio song. When it came to recording an album it was, how can we make this just as much like the live set?”

Releasing his self-titled debut album next month, the young troubadour already has a wealth of life experience to pull from, as well as some integral industry mentors. Championed by Gerry Cinnamon and Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Craddock, Thomas has already built a fervent fan base off the back of support slots for the likes of Sam Fender and Liam Gallagher, winning over crowds with his energy and showmanship.

Growing up in foster care, Thomas’ first encounter with music was through the Playstation games his siblings would spend their days on, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater a particular favourite. After he was given a guitar one Christmas it became his hyper-fixation, learning the familiar songs from the game’s soundtrack, most notably Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

It was through this early love of Cash that Thomas began to expand his tastes, delving into the works of artists such as Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. It didn’t take long for him to begin writing his own songs. “When you first start writing tunes, you think that this is your only songs. But it's like, you need to write another three-hundred before you get anywhere near anything,” he laughs.


Thomas began busking every day, honing his talents on the (quite often mean) streets of Glasgow. His foster parent at the time ran a local arts centre and offered him a slot at an open mic event which opened the door to a series of opportunities for Thomas, eventually leading to a meeting with local songwriter Gerry Cinnamon.

At the time Cinnamon was still working his way up through the Scottish music scene. Seeing something special in the young Thomas, he took him under his wing offering invaluable mentorship and encouragement. “I was gigging and I was busking and having that kind of brother figure, it was more the life lessons in there,” he says. “Coming out of foster care I didn’t really know what I was up to and having someone there to just guide me through it, I think I was blessed at that time.”

After supporting Ocean Colour Scene at Glasgow’s iconic Barrowland Ballroom, Thomas befriended the band’s guitarist Steve Craddock (who also plays in The Specials), intrigued and inspired by his style of playing. A few weeks later a parcel arrived at Thomas’ house - the twelve-string Takamine acoustic guitar that Craddock used on several Ocean Colour Scene records. “That was a bit of a mental time, watching The Specials growing up and then to be able to meet Steve and playing shows with him. It got me thinking about how grateful I was to be doing this,” he says.

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When the pandemic hit in early 2020 Thomas, like every other act, found himself at a loss. Having built solid momentum through playing live, it was a shock to find himself grounded. Turning the complication into opportunity, he took Cinnamon’s advice to “just write, write, write” and coupled with his growing experience from playing live, delved deeper into his craft. “Everything was just so fast before then, in terms of going through the gigging and touring. I think lockdown was the point of, nothing’s really happening here, you're just going to be sitting about and it did give me that point of reflection,” he says.

The outcome was some of his best material to date. “There was a cathartic nature to be able to write songs about my childhood and whatever else. I never really could get anywhere near that before lockdown, things just moved too fast,” he says. “I started to reflect about my childhood, foster care and the different things that happened and I was able to take that energy and that motion and carve it into something worthwhile. If you don't then you’re just sitting there with your thoughts, which is never really a good place to be. I’ve mixed emotions about that period because it didn’t feel the best, but the actual writing and the lessons that I learned from that went a long way.”

In 2021 he began releasing the fruits of his labour, tracks like upbeat ska dance “Jenna” and rollercoaster anthem “Fever,” generating acclaim and new fans alike. Recording with Liverpool-based producer Rich Turvey, known for his work with the likes of Blossoms and The Courteeners, Thomas established a creative relationship that’s continued on his forthcoming release.


A chronicle of his writing and releases from the past eighteen months to two years, Thomas’ debut self-titled album brings together fan-favourites with new works that showcase his proud development as an artist. “I feel that any song that I write now, it could make its way on an album,” he says. “I suppose that we've got the years of experience of playing live as well, understanding what walks for the live audience. I think we knew which ones would work to be on the album. It’s funny because I think that I progressed a lot after the lockdown in terms of writing and so we ditched a lot of the old songs. It wasn't too much of a choice, it was just a natural decision when we felt this song would fit, this song would fit, and it just kind of worked.”

The only track on the album that came from before his period of lockdown focus is the anthemic piano-led ballad “What I Need,” one that’s sure to get some arms-in-the-air swaying at future concerts. “I've always said that we are live musicians,” says Thomas. “The records were always about trying to capture that live feeling. That's why they're not really overproduced. There’s not too much going on in the records. There’s not too many instruments, so when it came to writing the album, there was the element of thinking about what’s going to work here? In the verses, the rhythm section usually drops out so it creates that dynamic lift back into the choruses.”

Although it’s his name on the album and he writes the songs, Thomas thinks of the musicians he plays with as a unit, a real band. “It’s not really like hiring session musicians, that kind of thing. It’s just four mates that love to play music and I'm lucky to be able to play with them,” he smiles.

Thomas took a course in sound production at Riverside Music College in the south of Glasgow. After mentioning to one of the lecturers that he was looking to put a band together, he was introduced to drummer Cam Robinson and offered a rehearsal room. “I knew instantly, like, this boy’s great. He’s just so on it. Cammy’s been playing since he was four-years-old or something,” he smiles.

Robinson knew bassist Steven Liddle and keyboardist Liam Cassidy from growing up, and quickly Thomas’ band became a reality. Together they worked on the live show taking it to a place that felt exciting. Now they’re trying to capture that energy and dynamism as accurately on record as possible. “I think that the boys are all natural musicians, great musicians, and I think that when it came to it I said, let's just do like we do live,” says Thomas. “Most bands go into click tracks and backing tracks or whatever else, and that works for them. For us, we never wanted to move on to that side, we just wanted to play live music. Just keep it as simple as we can and keep it true to the live set.”

Keeping the recordings as uncomplicated as possible was part of the reason that Thomas chose to continue working with Turvey on the album. That and the fact that, “He doesn’t annoy me,” Thomas laughs. “There's no, let's just change every single thing about this.”

Thomas wrote and demoed all the tracks at home in Glasgow, fleshing out the production as he continued to construct the songs. “I'll be building up the demo and still writing within it and coming up with different ideas,” he says. “Then the process is that I will get most of the things that I think work down and also you're getting things down that you realise don't work. To be honest, the records don't really change too much from the actual demos.”

Just as it was important for Thomas to have his music mirror the live set, so too was it important that everything he recorded be possible to play out without the help of any additional tech. Tracks like “Up in the Air” with its myriad sounds were recorded on keys, calling on Cassidy’s talents for their eventual performance. “What you can do with synths is mental,” laughs Thomas. “The different things that you can put on it and the different instrumentation you can get. ‘Up in the Air,’ that was a funny one trying to get all done on the synth to be able to bring it to the live thing. Else you would need a full brass section.”

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The album is a blast of folk-informed narratives, direct sentiment and distinct melody. Tracks like opener and fan-favourite “Fever” are instant hooks, rewarding in their construction and led by Thomas’ rich, thick vocals. Previous singles “Feel The Fire” and “What I Need” arrive with an anthemic rush, their choruses bigger than the records they’re cemented on, while songs like “Now and Then” expose Thomas’ reflective side with a poetic sigh and delicate guitar work. Then there’s the ballistic energy of “Jenna” and the playfulness of “Up in the Air,” Thomas’ wide range of influence shining through, having fun over his debut’s thirteen tracks.

While recording, Thomas was mindful not to play too much with the tracks fans have fallen for. Songs like “Fever,” already produced with Turvey at the helm, were simply transplanted alongside the new recordings. “We were very happy with the way that it was and we didn’t want to change too much to be honest. I think it might have been mastered a bit differently, but that’s more to do with the sound levels and stuff rather than anything artistic on it,” Thomas explains.

For Thomas, the idiom ‘less is more’ is something that rings true across his creativity. When talking about the musicians who inspire him, he’s constant in his belief that substance trumps style. “When you talk about guitarists, the main names that get mentioned are obviously great guitarists, but for me people like Paul Simon, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mark Knopfler, they don’t get mentioned as proper great guitarists,” he says. “I think that with what you're talking about, four minute contemporary pop music, I don't think there’s many better guitarists than those three. Some dudes are just like, up and down a guitar, but some of it is unlistenable. But a piece like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ technically that’s a difficult piece to play, but it's just so smooth and as a melody, you can sing along with it, and that’s the most difficult part to do.”

As adamant as he is now, it was something that he took time and experience to realise and in turn, it’s improved both his songwriting and appreciation of the craft. “I remember when I was younger, I would be that person who's just all over the guitar, just trying to make as much sound as possible and hit as many notes as possible,” he laughs. “It takes a special point of calming down and realising that a melody is all about the space.”

Bringing together those experiences and touchpoints, Thomas created the diverse tapestry of underlying styles that informs his self-titled debut. “I think it was just an amalgamation of all the different influences that I’ve spoke about. You've got the high guitar parts of Paul Simon, those finger-picking melodies, then the overall picking of Mark Knopfler. For me, I love The Beatles' chords and the way that they hang all their melodies over and the key changes,” he says. “For the rhythm section, a lot of it comes from just Johnny Cash, simple alternating baselines. I loved a lot of ska music growing up as well. Obviously the main ones, The Specials and Madness, so there’s elements of that.”

Even now, as he talks about the record and reflects on his time writing and recording, Thomas’ focus still remains on the live show. “I think it's just an amalgamation of all those different things put together and trying to make it work in a live sense. That's what it's always been about, it’s always been about the live show, it’s always been about live music and seeing what works for that,” he says. “It wasn't just like I knew how to do it. It took a lot of lessons and online lectures and trying to figure out how to work key changes. I studied a lot. It wasn't just like, I love music and I know how to do this. We really had to graft to understand the key changes and how to really work the different pieces.”


Through his music, Thomas has been able to unpack elements from his past that could feel uncomfortable to share and revisit. Careful to strike the right balance between honesty and defeatism, once he began focusing on his writing during lockdown he found things came to him naturally. “I think, if you genuinely love the songs then it makes it easier,” he says. “It’s like when you're at school and you love a certain subject, the classes are easy to get through. But if you're in a class and you just cannot be bothered with whatever’s going on, it's difficult to get through. I just wrote the songs around the different influences and the music that I've grown up with and loved for years.”

One striking track from his repertoire is “Wake Up Ma,” an intense lament that cuts with vivid imagery. “I think it's difficult when you're speaking about foster care or just other things that went on growing up. There’s songs where I’m like, this is too much,” he says. “‘Wake Up Ma,’ we managed to do it but it took me years to get to that point, to write something like that. I’d tried it before and I'd listen to it and it's just like, that’s too much. It is a difficult thing because you don't want to embarrass yourself, do you?”

Previously released as a single, on the record it appears as a live version, closing out the tracklist. “I’d written it one night and recorded it the next day in the house during lockdown. We hadn't been playing live music for a while at that point, about a year and a half or something. What I noticed when I started playing that song live, it was a completely different feel to what I thought it was,” he explains. “The way I first recorded it is really fast and it's just a different thing. When I started playing it live, it definitely slowed down. I think that when I listen to the live record, I think that does it justice. That’s the idea that I had. That was what it should have been and so I think it deserved its inclusion on the album.”

Through his music and sharing his story on stage and in interviews, Thomas hopes he can offer comfort to anyone going through similar experiences. “I never told anybody that I was in foster care growing up. I just never really wanted to speak about it, and a lot of people will go through the same thing,” he says. “I've had messages from a lot of people just talking about that they went through a similar thing and that the song means a lot to them. It makes it worthwhile when you do get those messages and people speaking about how much the songs have resonated with them.”

The culmination of his work and proof of how it’s connected with fans came when he headlined six sold out nights at the iconic Barrowlands venue in Glasgow. “It was mental,” he smiles. “I think that because we grew up just along the road from it and we would go past it every day, especially the weekend going out in the town and the markets and stuff. You go past and see the big lights and all the guitar shops. We used to sneak in the guitar shops and try and get a shot of the £3k Les Paul. I know it's cliche, but it literally is a full circle moment of growing up and busking there and gigging my way up through the Glasgow circuit. To get to the point when it's like, walking on to that stage, it’s a special one. When you're playing it and you’re on that stage, the sound coming back at you and off the wall, it’s the best venue ever.”

From honing his live show on the streets of Glasgow to its most important stage, Thomas is now ready to take his talents further afield. Having recently completed a UK-wide tour, he’s buzzing at the reception he met on both sides of the border. “There was always quite a split. We’d play the Scottish shows and we’d play the Barrowlands, but then we’d come to England and it would be like some kind of basement show,” he explains. “London as a musician, especially coming down from Scotland, is the hardest place to play well because it's a different thing. But I was so surprised by how well it went down there. That tour was great, it was brilliant.”

Dylan John Thomas is out now via Ignition Records

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