Glasgow’s funk-soul powerhouse Tom McGuire & The Brassholes have been building a live following for years and they’ll play their biggest show yet at the Glasgow Barrowlands on Friday 27th January.
Chris Queen: It’s really amazing to see you guys playing a venue as iconic as The Barrowlands – any fond memories of the place?
Tom McGuire: Yeah, I’ve been to a number of really good gigs there. It’s just soaked in history and every gig just seems amazing there. Last year I saw Meshuggah and Godspeed You! Black Emperor there. Both were absolutely amazing gigs. The atmosphere was amazing, there’s just something special about it.
Chris: The first time I saw you play was at Kelburn a few years ago and my memory of that – apart from some fantastic hotpants – was you vaulting the keyboard in the middle of a set. How do you translate that stagecraft to a bigger venue?
Tom: You know, I think there’s just more people there to see it really. Apart from the initial ‘holy shit, this is a lot of people’, after that it’s down to business and it still feels intimate. It still feels like I’m able to make those plays like the stuff you mentioned. I never think about that stuff in advance. This is just shit that happens off the cuff.
The bigger crowds we’ve played to, I’ve still been able to access some of that so I’m looking forward to the Barras; that’s the most people we’ve played with so far. It’s almost like it’s not playing to, but playing with them, for them; so everybody’s part of it in some way. I try to coax that out of people as well. Sometimes I’ll plan, sometimes just stuff happens. So I’m looking forward to the show myself because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Something absolutely bonkers may happen that I’ve not prepared for.
Chris: There was a video that got a lot of traction last year of you throwing the guitar into the crowd.
Tom: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I hadn’t preconceived that idea, I just thought this may be a laugh. After calling to the crowd ‘is anybody able to play a convincing guitar in B flat?’ this guy came streaming out so I chucked the guitar through the air, and he actually killed it. It’s funny to be reading the comments because it did go pretty viral to the extent that people are having arguments about it, thinking it was a set up. Nothing could be further from the truth! Normally all you need for a recipe for having a laugh is the willingness to just give it a shot. I don’t know what I’m going to do next.
Chris: On the surface a lot of your songs seem like big party tunes, but if you listen to the lyrical content, there’s a real vulnerability.
Tom: There was a conscious decision near the start of the project. We’re making funk music, we’re making party sounding music. I’m not really interested in singing or writing songs about just dancing or partying or shagging or whatever. I’m writing songs that really are meaningful and powerful for me. I can’t just vomit something out; every single one does mean something important.
When I try to write something important, it does end up becoming about vulnerability. It does become about mental health. It does become about my struggles in this world, about the human condition. It does become about the terror of infinity and it does become about existential grief.
At some point I realised, okay, we’re making this music but I’m sort of secretly surreptitiously hiding these packages of hopefully meaningful sentiment in there about my experience. People have connected to that. People get in touch with me and say this song meant something, this song helped me through, this song touched me and I’m glad I’ve heard it. To be able to hide these powerful and (I hope) meaningful messages in the guise of funk party music seems effective.
Chris: Do you think there’s an element of catharsis in working it out in these big communal gig settings?
Tom: Yeah, I think so. I’m making a real point of it, in the tradition of country music or pop music; making sure that the message of the song is understood. Sometimes I’m doing this sort of explanation, this almost preaching thing about these lessons that I’ve tried to learn and I see people react, become invigorated and full of fire. The message lands even harder with this kind of aeration of the meaning of it. Then you fucking do the song and it’s high energy and it’s powerful. It’s got the energy of the gospel in that sense, and it allows that message to hammer home even more.
And for sure for me, there is catharsis too. I’m getting a lot of stuff out there on stage like that. Quite a lot of the energy that I’ve got onstage is quite close to anger. So, I’m able to express this and get it out with these performances.
Chris: ‘Tower’ was one of our songs of 2022, that sentiment about love being like a backflip sounds like what you’re saying about authenticity and funk and as a front man, it’s not enough to just sing the words, you’ve got to commit.
Tom: That thing about the backflips is referring to committing to love again, but that can be applied to being a musician. There’s no point in half assing it. You’ve got to full ass it.
Tom McGuire & The Brassholes play The Barrowlands, Glasgow on Friday 27th January. The noew Tom McGuire & The Brassholes album, Stay Rad, will be out 7th February.