Tom Hall, itinerant musician, songwriter, overt sartorial provocateur, player of unlikely ancient instruments and 109% solid platinum genius, died at three o'clock this morning.
A tribute page by Neil Spencer.
A downloadable tribute by Mark Griffiths (pdf).
You could say that Tom Hall was a part of the UK folk scene. Yes, okay, he was the part of the UK folk scene that wrote The Anglo-Saxon Gramophone, a tune so surreal in both words and music that it would have been considered a landmark of English eccentricity (God help us!) if it had emerged from the more widely publicised careers of Viv Stanshall or Kevin Ayers. He was the part of the UK folk scene that recorded - with Alan Moore, of all people - the chilling and entirely European "Madame October", possibly the most gory stamp collecting story ever told. He was the part of the UK folk scene that recorded Blues For Jimmy Rogers, a lazy Louisiana sound that left one Max Eider spluttering in disbelief at the elegance of it all.
Long before I ever moved to Northampton, Tom toured the world with a pretty well-known folk aggregation called the Ratcliffe Stout Band. His song John The Road tells the tale. I dare not even put it on. It used to make me weep even when he was still around, probably drinking at The Cricketers just around the corner from my house. I really don't know what the little fucker would do to me tonight.
But it's just no good. You all know how I feel about English folk music - down by the old muthafucking canal. To call Tom a folk artist is like calling Marcel Duchamp a dauber.
Whether he played out with his full band, the Bareback Riders, ("all other bands can FUCK OFF!" - Me watching Tom at the Blackbottom Club, Northampton 1995) or whether he did one of his extraordinary sit-down evenings with wunderkind fiddler Guy Fletcher, Tom would always deliver a performance of utter unpredictability and, yes, danger. This is not something that I associate with English folk music. The Bareback Riders could follow him with telepathic ease in just the same electrically fluid way that the original Patti Smith Group would chase their own inspired leader. Tom would break off tunes to tell mad little stories, not because the audience expected it, but quite simply because they had just occurred to him. He could lead his band from a a straight three-chord anthem into a mad neo-Celtic dreamspace at a moment's notice. Tom was alive and real and inspiring and all over the place and too many people smiled indulgently and took him for granted and they must be dead in their stupid wee damn heads for it.
Tom recorded an album, "Watering The Spirits" in 1994 when he was already almost 50 years old. Alan Moore helped him to get it done. Featuring the exemplary musical skills and sympathetic production of the great Mark Griffiths, it is a gem of a record, certainly the finest ever to come out of Northampton. You know, I don't even know where you can get a copy. Doesn't mean you shouldn't look for it, though. Even in this 21st Century Tom and Guy were still hopping across the Atlantic to play, even getting themselves on the radio, gigging in Nashville, Tennessee and up in the hills of West Virginia.
Tom Hall also uttered the funniest single word that I have ever heard. We were in Slurps Wino Bar one night. Tom was having a drink and minding his own business. I was across the other side of the bar, trying to do the same, despite finding myself in the midst of a pack of well-oiled and increasingly vocal Australian types. Onstage was a young man, locally known as "Dead Justin", performing some ludicrous poem he had written. Justin had an accompanying slide show. I think he reckoned he had some kind of William Blake thing going on. Whatever, when the slide of the local public library went on above his head, things started to spin out badly. Locals were guffawing at the simple-minded earnestness of it all. The Australians were starting to riot and say naughty things about the royal family. As the situation slid out of control, there was some kind of technical breakdown on stage. Superb. Utter chaos. People yelling, laughing, rioting...when a voice calls out, rich, fruity and imperious.
It's Tom. and he's shouting: "SECURITY!"
Tom Hall was a complete and utter original. I went to see him sing and play every time that I could. Like every musician in Northampton I looked up to him. It wasn't only his dangerously brightly coloured clothing that intimidated me, but he showed nothing but kindness and support to me and all the other younger musicians in town who were trying to make a go of what he had already done, dusted and left behind.
I remember one Sunday morning during the making of "Illuminate" when for some odd reason I was feeling unusually down and battered. Arriving at the studio, I couldn't get in. Nobody was around and I didn't really know where to put myself. As I milled about in the alley, without a penny or a clue, Tom strolled past. "Come and have a brandy, dear boy!" He was 50 years old, I was 38. Long before that autumn sunday lunchtime I had happily drunk with Peter Buck, Mark E. Smith, Alan McGee, Country Dick Montana and Tom Waits. One day in Waterloo in 1988 the "great train robber" Buster Edwards had bought me a double brandy. Yet here in this dangerous little Northampton lowlife bar with Tom, I felt like a little kid getting a special glimpse into the grown-ups' world. With his impeccable old-world courtesy and genuine concern for a fellow musician he restored me like the special genius spirit he truly was. Yes, yes, I know what I just wrote there.
And yes, Tom liked a drink. And yes, that was probably what did for him in the long run. I think that most likely everybody reading this piece will know the score there. Tom was beautiful and damaged and deep and unrepentant. And people have been earnestly telling me that Shane MacGowan was close to death since 1984. Some of the best of us really are indestructible. The fact that Tom's body has finally given out on his elegantly ferocious appetite for life in no way means that he is - or ever will be - gone for those of us who loved him.
Ride into the Sun, dear boy.
Pat Fish 25.2.2003
stevenloach137[at]-remove-gmail.com - steve
5Aug2015 5:42 AM (1 year 353 days ago)
Just picked up a copy of Watering The Spirits CD from Oxfam in Market Harborough. Was a fan of CRSB and looking forward to hearing this.
Mharrisonsmith[at]-remove-btinternet.com - Martin, leeds
28Feb2015 7:35 AM (2 years 146 days ago)
Thanks for that. I had a copy of Dan, half dan, I pinched off me sister. Wish I till had it!
cobblers2idie2006[at]-remove-hotmail.com - Leighton, Northampton
1Feb2011 12:14 PM (6 years 173 days ago)
Later this year will be releasing another cd from grass roots records this one will be a Tom Hall tribute cd called Now That's What We Call Tom Hall.
To keep upto date with the release date and the launch party please come join the facebook page for Tom: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Tom-Hall-Musican-Northampton-Legend/127924690606718
Ratliffe's celebrtated stout
alaric.neville[at]-remove-googlemail.com - Alaric Neville
18Jan2010 3:36 AM (7 years 188 days ago)
I have the honour to be the hand behind the revival of what I can only assume, was once one of Tom's favourite tipples, namely Ratliffe's Celebrated Stout, along with its parent company Phipps NBC. Our goal for the revival of these legendary Northamptonshire beers has been to restore a dash of indigenous, historical colour to our region's pubs and bars, something Tom's music provided in abundance during his life. As a Northamptonshire patriot and folk fan I've long been an admirer of his work. Although I never met Tom in person I would like to think he would be amused and interested in our project which is a labour of love rather than a commercial venture, Cheers Alaric Neville, Phipps NBC
na - Will, Cambridge
4May2006 7:51 AM (11 years 83 days ago)
I have managed to get it up and running again but I am in the process of re making it which will probably take about 1 month. Its now on