"The Making of Reload"
taken from Chapter 26: Icon Time at Last
Throughout the 1990s Tom's performances had made him thousands of young fans but had never translated his iconic status into record sales. Salvation came in the form of Gut Records, a small independent record label, run by former radio plugger Guy Holmes.
In late 1997 Tommy Scott, the lead singer with Space an off centre Liverpudlian pop band, came into the Gut Offices in Maida Vale with an unfinished demo of a song he wanted to record with Cerys Matthews, the lead singer from Catatonia. "The Ballad of Tom Jones" is about a warring couple on the verge of murdering each other until they hear Tom singing.
Simultaneously a clever record and a kitsch joke, "The Ballad of Tom Jones" parodied what Tom had done in the past and complimented him as a performer. As soon as the song was finished Guy Holmes sent a copy to Tom in LA, who faxed back his thanks. The song eventually reached number 4 in March 1998. Tom now uses it as an intro tune for his show. A tribute record ? That confirmed his icon status.
Until that song Tom Jones was just a name to the staff at Gut. Now he had lodged in their consciousness. Early in '98 the partners were chewing the fat when Caroline Lewis said " I wonder what Tom Jones is doing? Maybe he could do a duet with Tommy Scott" Within a few minutes the proposal had spiralled into something far more grandiose - a duets album with younger artists.
After his inspired duet with Robbie Williams at the Brit Awards Guy Holmes convinced Tom and Mark Woodward to record a series of duets with young musicians including the Cardigans, Natalie Imbruglia and Simply Red.
In some ways Tom's instinctive musical approach is better suited to the nineties. When he started, musicians read charts and performed them precisely but young bands work on feel. "Tom loved the rawness and raunchiness of the way the Stereophonics played, what he adores in a musician is balls, pure raw fuck it and do it," says Holmes, "He does it without thinking. He is a very instinctive human being, he works on what he feels what he loves. That is something people get from Tom. He's much nicer than I thought he would be.
"For some reason people class Tom as an entertainer because he has always sung other people's songs yet they class Frank Sinatra as a singer and an actor. Frank had a very defined idea about how his arrangements should be, so does Tom. He has ideas but he is very diplomatic in the studio. He won't trip someone up ."...
It worked. Reload went to the top of the album charts. It was his first number one album since 20 Greatest Hits in 1975. The Delilah album of July 1968 is his only other album to hit the top. By Christmas 1999 it had sold 500,000 copies in Britain, a further 750,000 in Europe and gone platinum (75,000 copies) in Australia. Burning Down The House was a Top Twenty hit all over Europe and Number 6 in the UK. His collaborations with the Stereophonics and Mousse T enjoyed similar success. In America few of the artists featured on Reload mean anything so early in 2000 Tom was preparing to record duets with various American artists.
"Reload was a challenging thing to do," says Mark Woodward, " I'd rather have a Tom Jones record that people either love or hate than just think it's OK. That was the way with Kiss, 30% of people thought it was a novelty record and hated it . The others bought it !
"That's been part of Tom's problem over the years, you try and please everybody and end up getting nowhere."
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© Robin Eggar, 2000. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in any form.