Interview: TIM ARNOLD (June 2015)

Tim Arnold aka the Soho Hobo, has a new album ‘The Soho Hobo’ out. Over to Tim to tell us more about the album, his love of Soho, Queen’s ‘A Night At The Opera Album’ and his musical influences…

Tim Arnold

The album is available to pre-order now on Deluxe CD or iTunes from 

1. What have you got planned for the next few months e.g. recording, touring, etc.

My approach is always day by day.  It has to be like that because there isn’t a big machine like a label or management team behind my work. Everything I do with my music is down to 100% love and support from many incredible people both inside and outside of the music industry.  So I do have my own team, and they are incredible.  So I just keep doing what I’m doing and when a plan comes together to tour or record, I’m always ready.

2. Could you please take us through the songs on the excellent new album ‘The Soho Hobo’? (e.g. song writing process, stories behind the songs etc.)

I love the concept when it comes to making an album.  There has to be a through line that ties all the songs together.  Nothing I have ever released has been driven by marketing.  And in some ways the luxury of being able to record whatever I want creatively outweighs the absence of a record label promoting what I do.

This is predominantly a lyrics album and when I wrote most of the songs on The Soho Hobo I took on different characters for each song.  That’s also why my voice is quite different on all the songs.  It’s an approach I took from Queen’s ‘A Night At The Opera’ album.  That record never gets boring because you have different tracks vocally led by Freddie, Brian or Roger, so the ‘storyteller’ voice is always changing.

I tried to do that on this album and then went even further by actually giving half of some of the songs to guest singers like Gary, Phil, Jessie and Lisa.  And they are REAL singers.  I never consider myself a singer. Vocalist – sure, but not singer.

Songs like ‘Manners On The Manor’, ‘Ain’t Made To Measure’ and ‘Soho Heroes’ were all written walking the streets of Soho.  It’s my life. My way of painting portraits of what I see.  I have two ways of writing.

One way is that I write all the music first, so the entire song and arrangement is finished in my head and I have to sit down and find the words for it.  The other way is walking around Soho and I just write the entire topline melody and lyrics, get home and chisel out the arrangement on the piano or guitar to accompany the words.

Ain’t Made To Measure was written around the theme of Mozart’s 25th Symphony in G Minor.  I’ve been addicted to that piece of music since I was a kid and I know it inside out.  The drama seemed to make sense when trying to find a way to convey all those sewing machines, scissors and needles working away in a sweaty Soho workshop.  I also write all my songs at home which is next door to the building in Soho where Mozart actually performed, so it seemed apt.

I think the ‘growing’ part of the journey for me on this album was doing brass arrangements.  It’s the first time I’ve done it and it was very deliberate.  When you think of classic Soho, it’s the baritone sax in a basement jazz club – music to watch strippers to I suppose.

I learnt a lot from Ray Gelato who plays the sax on ‘Soho Heroes’ and ‘Rockin At The 2i’s’ – that’s the most fun part for me – learning something new from a master like Ray.  All the other tracks with horns on the album were tracks that I wrote horn parts for on the keyboard and then went cap in hand to Ben Castle and asked him if they made sense!  3 hours later and everything I had written on a keyboard became a horn odyssey of reality.

Ben Castle is such a precise musician but with a personality that reigns supreme in his playing.  It was perfect for me because I’m very specific about each and every note that’s played, but having Ben involved brought it all to life.  The live band that I put together to perform the album at our Soho Theatre shows was founded after most of the record was recorded, but I was still writing so it was great to get Kit Mlynar to play sax on ‘Inside Out’.

I’m a bit of an egalitarian when it comes to making an album.  I like to involve everyone who has contributed to my work in some way.  Sometimes I even rewrite parts of a song to maintain that inclusivity.  I want all my people to feel part of it, because without them, I wouldn’t be here.

I met Jessie shortly after I had recorded the album and we had our own Soho story, so that’s how ‘Soho Sunset’ was written.  I actually wrote that one in Kingston of all places!  I guess it’s the only song that’s personal on the album. But it was another important chapter of my life in Soho.  I guess it’s my ‘Waterloo Sunset’.

Some people are confused about ‘Covent Garden’ being on the album, but to me, Covent Garden is an extension of my Soho.  When Soho gets a bit too much for me, I tend to walk over to Covent Garden and wander around the Piazza.  That’s where I wrote the song. And it’s true, the sun doesn’t quite shine anywhere else like it does there.  I find the atmosphere very ‘up’.

All the songs are deliberately about London.  It’s the first time I’ve dedicated my work to the city, and despite travelling a lot and living abroad, I was born a Londoner and I always will be.

Tim Arnold - The Soho Hobo

3. There are some inspired covers on the album including ‘The Piccadilly Trot’. What made you cover this song?

I do a lot of research before I put pen to paper.  I discovered a blog called ‘The London That Nobody Sings’ and I would recommend anyone interested in songs about London to Google it.  I grew up with Marie Lloyd songs because my mother would sing them at her shows.  Then Marie Lloyd cropped up again when I saw the BBC biopic (which starred Jessie Wallace).

When I came across the blog, ‘The Piccadilly Trot’ was the first song that was listed.  I was looking for songs that wouldn’t be too difficult to transform into the modern verse/bridge/chorus structure and that one lept out at me straight away.  But as soon as I started playing it, the restrictive Victorian rhythm went straight out the window and I found myself playing it as a Ska song. Musically, re-arranging The Piccadilly Trot was an exciting exercise in melding 1890’s Imperial Britain with ‘50s West Indian Britain.

I wrote a new segment for the middle 8 as well, which is completely reggae.  I rewrote it exactly 100 years after the original release.  So I guess what made me cover it was the musical student in me.  And the fact that it was a great song that on one had ever covered.  Songs like that should not be forgotten.

Photo credit Ian G Reid

4. Who or what inspired you to take up music and who are your musical influences?

I grew up with music.  My mother Polly Perkins is a professional singer and she released several albums between the 60s and the 70s.  When you see albums lying around the house with your Mum’s photo on the cover, it kind of gives you a clue what you’re meant to do with your life when you get older.  I just thought that was normal.

But Mike Oldfield was the first big influence on me musically, shortly followed by Queen, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Ultravox. We all lose ourselves in music and by losing ourselves we find something in ourselves too.  I just wanted to be in the middle of that and be involved in the creation.

5. You have a few notable guests on the album including Gary Kemp and Phil Daniels. How did they become involved?

The guest singers on the album were totally unplanned.  Gary and I connected on social media after he’d heard about my album Sonnet 155.  We met to talk about Soho and became friends.  Shortly after that I invited him to sing at one of my shows.  It was delightful when he suggested he sing one of my songs.  It makes the song, really.  It’s a conversation about Soho between two generations.  Gary’s acting through the song is just perfect.

Working with Phil Daniels came about through Jessie and the actress Diane Parish.  Apparently he’d heard of me so that was a good start!  I just think it was written for him, really.  As I said, I write a lot of the songs for ’characters’ and I don’t believe anyone but Phil could have nailed that song like he did.  Lisa Moorish was perfect for ‘Bells of St Anne’s’.  As an artist, she represents all that is unique about London and her acting makes the song become a real performance piece.

Tim Arnold and Phil Daniels

Photo credit Ian G Reid

6. As a lot of your songs are based on Soho would you perhaps consider writing a musical or show based on Soho and using your songs? You clearly have a love of the musical theatre traditions.

I have written a musical about Soho. It’s a biggie, hence the reason it’s still in the box so to speak.  We’ve done some workshops at RADA on it and there is still work to do before picking up on it again.  It’s very special but I can’t say too much about it yet.

7. How is the Save Soho campaign going? Can the destruction of the classic Soho venues and buildings be halted?

Save Soho is going very well.  The job is done really.  We shone a spotlight on an issue which I’d describe as a robbery of culture that was happening very quietly in the dark.

Save Soho shone a flood light on that robbery and now everyone involved appears to be working together for the greater good.  It’s a little bit difficult plastering over our City’s cultural heritage in broad daylight isn’t it?

Everyone who cares about the future of performing arts venues in Soho now has a voice that can be heard.  It’s down to the people.  Overall though, most of the concerns we had have been taken on board by those organisations that can actually do something about it.

8. Outside of music what do you enjoy doing?

The one thing I seldom get an opportunity to do: cook. I love cooking for people.  Put in a competition as a prize.  I’d love to cook for someone.

9. Message for your fans…

The one message I’d like to give to my fans is never underestimate the importance of the support you give me.  I do what I do and live my life for music because you listen to it.  You are all part of the process and always in my mind when I am on my own making this stuff. Thank you for staying with me.

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