Becoming a musician wasn’t in the script for Tom Grennan – let alone becoming a hugely successful one. Having initially pursued his dream of playing football by signing for Luton Town and Stevenage, and having trials at Northampton Town and Aston Villa, Grennan was, by his own admission “not good enough” and was subsequently released.
At the age of just 27, Grennan has already enjoyed a whirlwind career: he is a BRIT and Ivor Novello-nominated singer-songwriter with a hotly anticipated third album on the way and a sold-out debut arena tour already under his belt.
After giving up the football dream, music was the way forward.
“I always loved performing. I could always get a reaction out of people whether that was in the classroom or out and about acting up – but in a good way,” he says.
“My mum always said I belonged on a stage, so when I was at school I dabbled in a bit of singing just to give it a go, and I then studied acting at university.”
Photography: Yoshitaka Kono | Styling: Aurelie Mason-Perez | Grooming: Chantelle Phillips | Photo assistant: Emily Lavarello | Location: TYX Studios
“Then I moved to London. I thought I’d give this music thing a proper go; I taught myself how to play guitar, wrote my own songs, and tried to gig as much as I could,” he continues.
“I tried to be around musicians, and tried to be in these places where I thought everybody was – which was London – and I took every gig and open mic night I could. In the end, all I ever wanted to do was perform and make people happy.”
Having gigged at what feels like every pub in town, Grennan was noticed by Chase & Status and asked to provide the vocals on their hit single ‘All Goes Wrong’.
“They heard one of my songs that publishers were sending around. Chase & Status are really good with unknown artists,” he says. “It happened quickly really. I’d never even been in a studio before.”
Then came Grennan’s debut album Lighting Matches, which went straight into the Official UK Album Chart Top 5. “It was an exciting time. I look back and I just think ‘wow’,” he says. “I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest; I was thrown into the deep end and I was expected to swim. That’s what I’ve done all my life, really.”
“Lighting Matches was an album I never thought I’d be able to do, and I did. It set me up nicely for my career now.”
Grennan is confident but not arrogant when discussing his career so far, which continues to climb on some kind of relentless trajectory.
When asked if he’s had any ‘pinch-me moments’ yet, he says he can’t pinpoint a moment and is still riding the wave, adding that he’s trying to not think that way as he doesn’t feel like he’s done everything he needs to do yet. This is a musician very much taking it all in his stride.
Next came Evering Road, where Grennan made the ‘difficult’ second album look easy: it went straight to number one.
This was a sort-of break up album he’d been stewing on for a while – it was written before the pandemic and held back for release at a more suitable time.
“The songs are a reminder of a person I didn’t want to be any more,” he says. “It was a thank-you letter to the person who had to go through that with me.”
“I moved home with my mum and dad [in Bedford]. It was a time where I didn’t even think about music really,” he says. “I saw an opportunity to take a break so I just got healthy and fit.
"I reevaluated what I wanted to do in life and remembered how much I wanted to make this dream a reality. I think I needed that year off to be where I am now.”
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It was fitting for Grennan to make the step up to festival headliner at last year’s Godiva Festival, in front of 30,000 fans in a city that helped shape him. Grennan has been vocal of his love for Coventry on many occasions – not least at Radio 1 Big Weekend 2022 where he brought out current Coventry City player Callum O’Hare for an impromptu sing along.
“Godiva was special,” he says. “Real special.” The festival capped off a stellar year which saw his smash hit ‘Little Bit of Love’ nominated for a BRIT Award, while ‘Remind Me’, ‘Not Over Yet’ with KSI and ‘Lionheart (Fearless)’ with Joel Corry were named in a list of the Biggest Songs of 2022 by the Official Top 40.
On the surface, it may seem odd for this Bedford-born, London-living artist to have an affiliation with Coventry. But all roads lead back to a city that has shown him love from the start.
“My grandma’s from Coventry, and I’ve still got quite a bit of family there,” says Grennan. “I remember going there a lot as a kid but the connection didn’t really take off until I met my manager, John Dawkins. We’re like best mates.”
“I was going up and down to Coventry once in a while – you know, going to football matches with friends up there, meeting different people around the city – and I’d be watching them play in League 2,” he continues. “I quickly realised how much Coventry meant to the people who are from there and I fell in love with the community, their spirit and their passion – and not just for football either.”
“Then my music started doing well: people started seeing me around the city, and I naturally became a fan of the Sky Blues. It all just fell together,” Grennan says, before bigging up Coventry City’s chances of promotion to the Premier League in the recent Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final. Sadly for Grennan and the city he loves, Coventry City fell at the final hurdle. But if the team is anything like Grennan’s fighting spirit, they’ll be back for promotion again next year.
Having made the leap to his first arena tour, 2023 hasn’t been too bad either. It’s clear that Grennan has a particularly special relationship with his fans: he worked hard to keep ticket prices for all those arena shows below £50, with all VIP and platinum ticket options dismissed.
“The opening night of the [arena] tour was amazing,” he says. “It was nothing like I’d ever felt before. But looking back at the first night it was definitely trial and error, as I had to learn how to hold a crowd like that.”
“As a show goes, I really saw myself in a different light, and I saw myself as being able to do this and do it well,” he continues. “I even took a personal trainer with me on the arena tour, and I was in bed at proper times. I looked at it like I had to be an athlete on that tour in order to perform to the best of my ability.”
I ask Grennan about the arena tour closer – a huge headline show at The O2 in London. “It was massive, but all the regional gigs were massive too, to be honest,” he admits. “In London, you live in a bubble and you forget that there’s a lot going on outside of London, too. So just seeing how big the journey has gotten and how people are so connected with the music in all these different regions away from home is amazing.”
Despite the festival performances and that sold-out arena tour, Grennan – a Music Venue Trust patron – is quick to recognise the importance of grassroots venues. I bring up seeing him in a 2018 performance at Birmingham’s Sunflower Lounge, a 120-capacity space whose backstage area is barely a corridor: “We’ve got one venue like that in Bedford called Esquires, and oh my god, it was so good for seeing bands you might not have heard of.” Festivals like Dot to Dot and Great Escape fall into the same category: “These venues and festivals are so important for artists, and the people who saw me in those venues helped spread the word.”
For those privileged to have been following Grennan from the beginning, his continued success will be no surprise. Grennan’s new record, What Ifs & Maybes, is his best work yet: it’s a polished collection of festival-ready anthems and uplifting tracks that bring out the best in the singer-songwriter. “I finally know the artist I am, and they’re songs that help me understand what risk, happiness and emotion are,” he explains. “I wrote these songs wanting other people to be able to take risks and feel like I’ve helped them be more comfortable in those moments in life that might feel uncomfortable.”
Shot to fame in 2017 when collaborating with Chase & Status on ‘All Goes Wrong’
Released his debut album Lighting Matches in 2018, hitting the UK Official Charts Top 5
Breakthrough sophomore album Evering Road released in 2021 – it went straight in the UK Official Charts at #1 and subsequently BRIT-certified
Two platinum-selling singles on Evering Road: ‘Little Bit of Love’ and ‘By Your Side’
Four UK Official Charts Top 10 singles to his name already
Nominated for the 2023 BRIT Awards for Alternative Rock/Rock Act – his third successive BRIT nomination
Sold out debut UK arena tour including huge O2 Arena London date
Headlined first major festival at Godiva in Coventry in 2022, playing to 30,000 people
Third album What Ifs & Maybes to be released on 16 June and expected to achieve #1 again
Grennan admits that having been through the album recording process twice before, he made sure he worked extra hard on this record and is now “buzzing for these songs to come out.” Songs like ‘Remind Me’, which was released over a year ago, are already festival anthems. This is an album full of them, or “fun music” as Grennan refers to them, but one track in particular has an extra meaning behind it.
“There’s one track on the album called Psychedelic Kisses that I actually didn’t write until near the end of the process,” he tells me.
“I was listening back through the album and I was thinking there’s something missing here. It was that track. It’s a nod to the people who have been there from the get-go,” he continues. “I really wanted to make sure I didn’t forget about them, and I don’t want to be this fucking plush pop star as people will be like ‘Well, he wasn’t like that at the beginning, and we know what he actually is.’”
So what’s next? “I’ve got stadiums in my brain. But in all honesty, I just want to keep doing shows, keep growing and keep building. There’s not many people that can say on their third album that they’ve still got a trajectory. A lot of artists end up on the decline, but I’m still growing. I’m happy with that.”
I’m a firm believer that fate dashed Tom Grennan’s fledgling football career. There are many what ifs and maybes that could have altered his current path, but if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that a second number-one album is calling.
So, Soccer Aid will have to do for now. But given the last few years, that’s certainly no bad thing.
What Ifs & Maybes is out on 16 June, via Insanity Records.