As we continue to acclimate to a new normal, online entertainment continues to thrive and delight viewers. Performers have adjusted schedules to doing FB and Instagram live shows and interviews. One such gentlemen, Thomas Benjamin Wild, Esq. took a little time from getting “Pants Drunk” and home touring to chat with Victoria, The Countess, and Steampunk Journal via email and messages about music, the virus, and having “No More F*cks To Give”. Enjoy!
Victoria/Steampunk Journal: Thank you for speaking with me today. Tell us a little bit about yourself? And how did you get into vintage style music?
Thomas: Well, thank you for having me! Where to start? I live in Bedford in the UK which is a medium sized market town about 55 miles north of London. It’s actually John Oliver’s home town, although I’ve never known him personally, so that’s not really a claim to fame. I have been performing under numerous musical guises since school, from punk rock bands to touring opera companies, so my influences are eclectic, to say the least.
I have been interested in old music ever since childhood as I have always liked the way old recordings from the 20s-40s sound. There is something very appealing about the slightly tinny audio and the crackle of the vinyl, and it doesn’t seem like people sing in the same way anymore. My partner Sarah and I are inspired by vintage fashion and have been going to vintage style events for at least the last decade.
I first started performing as Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq by accident. Back in 2015 I was called on as a last resort by some friends who needed a host for their event Hedna’s Vintage Nightclub, as their regular MC had to pull out at the last minute. I hastily threw together some jokes and decided on a stage name just before I introduced myself on stage. My real name is actually Tom Wild and Benjamin is my real middle name, but I added the Esq. because I thought it made me sound more distinguished (and here in the UK it does not mean you are a lawyer!) The evening was a success so they asked me back, and, as I’d exhausted my stand-up comedy material, the next time I decided to play a few songs instead. I’d been learning to play the ukulele and as I’m a fairly big chap, I thought that it would look infinitely more funny than a guitar. This later led to a hosting spot on the Liberty Stage at Twinwood Festival.
For the next year or so I hosted on stages at some small vintage events and quietly wrote a few of my own original songs, although at that point I had little opportunity to perform them. However, In 2016, I was asked by the promoter for my local venue; Bedford Esquires, to support Chap-hop legend Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, who I must admit is a performer I have admired for a long time. I hastily knocked together a set including some of my original songs, and created some slightly ropey backing tracks, it went reasonably well and the rest, as they say, is history.
V/SJ: Do you have a name for the kind of music you play?
TBW: People often ask me to define the style of music I play, however, I find it a little difficult. It’s not quite jazz or ragtime although that’s where lots of the influences come from. It’s perhaps something closer to skiffle, but I struggle with labels. I’ve often been tied in with the Chap-Hop genre in the UK, which is very flattering, however I don’t think it quite fits into that category either. I’ve been booked to perform at vintage and Steampunk events, supported rock bands and have even been approached to perform at Scandinavian punk festivals, so my music seems to cover a multitude of genres. My main aim is to create music that people can let loose to and raucously sing along with, so I really just consider myself a comedy musician who writes silly songs.
V/SJ: How many instruments can you play and what are they?
I play the ukulele and banjolele (although, they are pretty much the same) and also guitar and bass, however, they now feel very strange to play as I’ve become accustomed to holding onto something smaller (no double entendre intended!) In school I played the trombone up to grade 6, and performed in various school orchestras and big bands, where I was introduced to a lot of great music. I gave this up when I was 14 or 15 as I had decided that I was far too punk rock for all of that, so formed my own band who practiced in my garage with a cardboard box and an empty gas canister as a drum kit. About a year or so later, Ska Punk became a big thing and people were crying out for trombone players, but alas it was too late!
V/SJ: “No F*cks to Give” went viral and kind of put you on the social media map. Tell us what that experience was like?
TBW: It was extremely surreal. As a songwriter and performer you hope that that kind of thing will happen one day, but never imagine it actually will. The video came from a recording of the launch for my first album back in November 2018. We’d been looking for a small venue to do a live stream from that didn’t need to have lots of people in to give it an atmosphere. Sarah, being the social media expert she is, suggested asking some friends of ours who run Boyds of Bedford (which houses The Vintage Suit Hire Company,) whether we could use their shop to host it in as the space was intimate and had the right ambience. We streamed from a phone and recorded the whole thing from an unmanned static camera placed to the side so we could divide it up to upload videos of songs separately later on.
I first put the video up in early January and after the first couple of days it had about 2000 views, far more than any of my other videos at the time, so I got rather excited. I was about to post a follow up video but Sarah suggested I give it a little longer. I’m not sure what happened then, but it just seemed to snowball overnight. All of a sudden I was inundated with messages from across the world and my social media following had skyrocketed!
My favourite part has been seeing how people have been using the song. As well as the amazing cover versions that people have sent me (I’ve always wanted to have someone cover a song I’d written) people have played it at funerals, used it as background music while studying for exams and one chap even used it to send to his boss along with his notice of resignation! It seemed to strike a chord with lots of people last year, regardless of their social or political leanings. I got a rather lovely message from a pastor in Ohio who told me he f*****g loved it!
V/SJ: Your songs are filled with hilarious wit. Do you have a favorite pun or old saying?
TBW: I was once told by a teacher in school that “Quoting Python is the lowest form of wit” however, I vehemently disagree with him to this day. I’ve always been a fan of pithy lyrics, which the Python team had in their songs in abundance, and I love nothing more than a perfectly formed verse in a song. For that reason I also admire the work of lyricists like Tom Lehrer and Noel Coward and have always had a soft spot for the patter songs of Gilbert and Sullivan. I think my favourite old saying at the moment is usually attributed to Seneca; ‘Luck is when preparation meets opportunity’ and it has felt fairly pertinent in the past year, particularly when considering all the opportunities that have resulted from the video going viral.
V/SJ: How are you handling the virus? Has it affected your creativity?
Ah, the big question! I had been due to embark on my first proper UK tour at the start of April and obviously that couldn’t happen, so although I was disappointed, like other performers, I decided to do something online from home instead. We came up with the idea of a Virtual World Tour; playing weekly gigs at different times of the day for different time zones, which worked well, and meant I could play directly to my audiences around the globe. They’re all available to watch on my Facebook Page and YouTube Channel.
Luckily, I have also just managed to get my home music studio set-up so, as I have had more time than usual for writing, there will hopefully be some new original material coming out in the next few months. I’m a bit of a music production novice, in all honesty, however my producer Lee has been bored enough to be available to talk me through the ins and outs of Logic Pro X on Zoom screen share!
I’ve been continuing to record videos of covers of classic songs for my social media pages and I’m also planning some collaborations with some great artists over the next few weeks. I’ve even had time to really start building my Patreon community for which I’m having some fun creating original, exclusive content.
Sarah and I have been attempting to keep motivated and productive while being stuck at home, but we have also been trying to have some fun too. We decided early on that to keep going we would need to make weekends feel different to weekdays. Our favourite nights out have always involved a reason to get dressed up, so with that in mind, we have been giving Saturday nights a theme, decorating the house and dressing up accordingly. Themes thus far have included Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Agatha Christie and even a House Pub Crawl, where each room of the house became a different pub/bar to have a drink in! We will be continuing this as long as we need to (and you can see pictures of it all on Instagram and Facebook.)
V/SJ: Tell us about your latest release and how it came about?
TBW: The new album is called A Quiet Night In and was released on 20th March, the Friday before the UK went into lockdown, so the title seems particularly apt now, even though it was decided on a few months before. It features 9 original songs which are about the trials and tribulations of modern life. As with the 1st album, all the songs are very much about personal experience, particularly in the worlds of work (I still have a part time College lecturing role), technology and social networking, but some also reveal secrets about how I do and do not like to spend my free time. People have described the opening track Pants Drunk as a lockdown anthem, which I don’t object to.
The songs were written last year and recorded over the summer by the excellent Lee Head, and feature guest appearances from vintage style singing trio The London Belles, guitar by Charlie Luscombe and piano by Ben Dawson. The album photo artwork was created by the ever talented Nicole Klein Photography and the graphics by Jason Kahl Design (who also created my new website!)
It’s difficult to judge the success of this album at the moment as it’s still early days and the first one got to number 3 in the Billboard Comedy Album charts which might take some beating! However, seeing people sharing their own Pants Drunk pictures is definitely helping to ease my time in lockdown!
Many thanks to Thomas for the interview! You can purchase his works and some dandy merch on his website:
Victoria L. Szulc is a multi-media Steampunk/Science Fiction/Fantasy artist/writer working her on seventh and eighth Steampunk novels and various other projects. Her latest,
“A Dream of Emerald Skies”, is available on Amazon and will be re-released worldwide late 2020. In 2019, Victoria made St. Louis Magazine’s A-List in the People’s Choice Author category and won a Stephen Memorial Award for her illustrations in “Cecilia’s Tail” by Debbie Manber Kupfer. You can follow her works at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com