Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins is ready for the Totally Tubular Festival | Phoenix New Times

Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins is ready for the Totally Tubular Festival

Bailey joins a lineup of New Wave favorites for the one-day event in Downtown Phoenix.
Tom Bailey, formerly of New Wave legends Thompson Twins, is part of the Totally Tubular Festival.
Tom Bailey, formerly of New Wave legends Thompson Twins, is part of the Totally Tubular Festival. James Cumpsty
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American people of a certain age will almost all recognize the song, “Lies” by The Thompson Twins. If you were alive in 1983 and listening to music, you heard it. It was popular and, coming out at the height of New Wave music’s popularity, it was infectious and cool. There's also an interesting angle to the song you might not have ever known.

The Thompson Twins were everything that was great about New Wave music, too. They were colorful, diverse and had great, easy-to-remember songs. Then the film "Sixteen Candles" came along, and the band was cemented into the teenage lexicon of the 1980s forever.

At a moment in the film when all the emotions of the main character are brought to a climax, “If You Were Here” from the Thompson Twins' excellent 1982 record, "Quick Step and Side Kick," plays in the background. Molly Ringwald’s character, Sam, and Michael Schoeffling’s character, Jake Ryan, are sitting on a dining room table on either side of a birthday cake with lit candles. The song punctuates the moment perfectly. To many romantics out there, it’s an unforgettable scene.

Tom Bailey, a founding member and lead singer of Thompson Twins, and a key contributor to '80s culture because of his fantastic songs, is incredibly humble about the importance of his band’s music. While he relishes the opportunity to bring his music back to the United States for the first in six long years as part of the Totally Tubular Festival tour, he sees other opportunities as being just as important.

The Totally Tubular Festival, which also includes Modern English, Men Without Hats and The Tubes, among others, stops at Arizona Financial Theatre on Wednesday.

“Thomas Dolby (who headlines the show), and I go back a long way because he played on my second album, actually. He was invited by (producer) Steve Lillywhite. So that’s why I got to know him. He and I bumped into each other periodically ever since, but we’ve never actually played on the same stage. So, this is a nice opportunity to do something together. I can't wait, actually. Most of the other bands, I simply don’t know. Either I’ve never had the chance to meet them or work with them, so that’s kind of exciting,” says Bailey via zoom from the Seattle area.

It's hard to imagine that bands like Modern English, who also saw their popularity soar after the placement of their song "I Melt With You" at the end of the 1983 film "Valley Girl") or Men Without Hats, both of whom are on the Totally Tubular bill, have not shared a stage with Bailey and/or The Thompson Twins in the past. To his credit, Bailey has arguably had the most successful career of any of the acts on the bill, which also includes Tommy Tutone (“867-5309/Jenny”) and Bow Wow Wow (“I Want Candy”) because many of those band were truly one-hit wonders. The Thompson Twins had multiple songs on international charts in their career along with gold and platinum selling records.

Bailey’s Thompson Twins have a lot to offer the audience and Bailey understands that fans coming out to a show like Totally Tubular want to hear the hits.

“It depends on the audience. Because if it’s our own show and our fans are coming along, then they expect and deserve something new as well. But if it’s a festival crowd, we can’t assume that they’re all there just to see us, but they will recognize the hits and enjoy that. So that changes our kind of approach to those things,” says Bailey before continuing:

“I was kind of always a little bit tough about that, I don’t know. As an artist, perhaps, I thought it was beneath my dignity to just play the hits, but in fact, I’ve enjoyed some of those shows where they say, ‘You’ve only got a 40-minute set’ and we can just sort of go for the jugular. It’s actually been a great experience because it was just very powerful communication to pile one song upon another. It’s energizing.”

In the early and mid-1980s, the Thompson Twins were able to have a great deal of success. Their album "Into the Gap" celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and spawned several songs that charted in the United States. These included “Hold Me Now” which made it to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and “Doctor, Doctor,” which made it to number 11.

While Bailey and the other two main Thompson Twins, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway, officially called it a day in 1993 (with Leeway stepping aside in 1986), the legacy of the band lives on through these performances. Bailey’s current touring band features an all-female lineup of excellent musicians.

“The band are incredible musicians. Two interesting points is that they’re all female, which I guess is the biggest thing. I’ve always tried to play with female musicians in the past, but now there is such a bigger pool of talent, and it’s great. I like that dynamic. The other point of interest is that some of them weren’t born when (the Thompson Twins) records came out. For me and people of my generation, there is a nostalgia to this music, but for them, they are just coming at it like it's music. They have no concept of being nostalgic, so they bring a certain freshness to it which I really enjoy,” says Bailey.
Bailey says that revisiting the old Thompson Twins songs is akin to revisiting an old diary.

“It’s very powerful, but by the same token, it is important to not get too swamped by it,” he says.

Bailey has remained busy since the Thompson Twins ended. He has several projects, including a band with Indian musicians called Holiwater and an electronica/dub project called International Observer. While fans might not hear any of these songs on July 3, Bailey is clearly excited about them.

“(Holiwater) has made two albums, and it's nice, but no one really knows about it. Since Thompson Twins, I’ve taken an interest in production. I like to work with other people and I like to do my own underground solo projects under various names. International Observers are six albums deep,” Bailey says.

One long-running rumor about the Thompson Twins, though, was able to finally be put to bed in conversation. When the Thompson Twins became successful, they had gone from a six-piece band to a three-piece. The story has long been shared that this came to fruition after Bailey, Currie and Leeway went on a long holiday to the Middle East that was also influential to the trio’s sound.

Apparently, this isn't true.

“That was kind of mythology, but partly self-perpetuated. My studio, my personal writing studio, for some reason was called Egypt. I think I had some wacky acronym, I can’t remember what it was now. We would say, ‘We are going to Egypt’ and around that time, we reduced the band to a three-piece because we wanted to write some songs together. That turned into a real story in people’s imaginations,” Bailey explains.

Either way, the influence of Middle Eastern sounds that was often part of the Thompson Twins’ music is still wonderful to this day. Listen to "Into the Gap" and you’ll hear it across the entire record. It’s  therefore kind of ironic that the first big song the trio released was called “Lies.”

Totally Tubular Festival. 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 3. Arizona Financial Theatre, 400 W. Washington St. Tickets start at $36 and are available on the Live Nation website.
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