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Tom Grennan: ‘Music is my therapy’

As his momentous 2023 rolls on, the Bedford chart-topper talks Glastonbury, mental health and why he's keeping gigs affordable

By Joe Goggins

Tom Grennan in a press shot for Magnum, 2023
Grennan is enjoying a massive 2023. (Photo: Jack Margerison for Magnum UK)

As Tom Grennan sits down for a chat with Rolling Stone UK, he’s not long come off the pitch at Chelsea FC’s Cobham training base, where he found himself kicking the ball around with everybody from Gerard Piqué to Mark Strong, running drills under the watchful eye of Arséne Wenger. It sounds far-fetched, but is actually entirely in keeping with what has been a heady 2023 for the Bedford singer-songwriter, who embarked upon his first ever arena tour back in the spring; his feet have barely touched the ground since.

In June, his third album, the spiky, thoughtful What Ifs & Maybes, went to number one, repeating a feat he first pulled off in 2021, with Evering Road. 24 hours later, he performed to a massive Glastonbury crowd on the Other Stage, perhaps the pinnacle of a summer that’s also seen him play Wembley Stadium as part of Capital FM’s Summertime Ball and headline the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

The ‘Game 4 Ukraine’ at Stamford Bridge, meanwhile, is not even Grennan’s first footballing outing of the summer; a talented youth player for Luton Town who had trials with Aston Villa and Northampton Town, he pulled double duty at Soccer Aid in June, performing and playing for England at Old Trafford. “This whole year has been a dream, really,” he reflects on a Zoom call. “A lot of hard work, and a lot of sleepless nights; I’ve been trying to enjoy every minute, whilst also putting my mind and every bit of energy I have into it. It’s been the most fun I’ve ever had, though.”

His 2023 got underway in earnest in March, as he headed out on a debut run around UK arenas, which included his biggest show to date, at The O2 in London. It seemed like an ambitious undertaking, partly because his new album was still months away from release, and partly because Grennan’s heartfelt blend of pop and rock has its roots in venues with whites-of-the-eyes intimacy; you wonder whether he felt the need for accoutrements as he stepped out in front of tens of thousands.

Grennan played to huge crowds at Glastonbury, Old Trafford and Silverstone this summer. (Photo: Jack Margerison for Magnum UK)

“Ever since I’ve started, I’ve always had it in my head that I would always treat every show the same, whether there was nobody there, twenty people there, thousands of people there. So I went into the first night of that tour with that in mind, just telling myself that I knew I could do it, that I’d worked hard to be there, and that we were all in the room for the same reason – to have a big party. And that’s what it was, every night.”

For Grennan, live music has always been an intrinsic part of his musical DNA, as well as a major inspiration to pick up a guitar and write his own songs. “Going to gigs put me on this path,” he says. “I don’t think I would have had that bug and that dream to go and do it myself. I always went to gigs when I was younger. Growing up in Bedford, we had an amazing venue called Esquires that always had big bands before they blew up, and even bands that were breaking through wanted to come and play shows there. So I was always going to see different artists, and live music has always been a place where I can escape and let go. It’s a massive reason for why I do what I do.”

It is with that in mind that Grennan has chosen to partner with ice cream giant Magnum to be the face of their new Pleasure Pass initiative, which will see them give away hundreds of tickets to live events across the UK, including gigs and festivals. The Pass is being launched in response to independent research commissioned by Magnum that showed that 69% of Brits surveyed are cutting back on live and in-person experiences in the face of financial hardship, spending up to £200 less a month on gigs, festivals, theatre and nights out with friends.

Having made a concerted effort to keep ticket prices as low as possible on his own tour earlier this year – the cheapest seats at the O2 started at a face value of just £25 – Grennan was a natural fit to be the face of the project. “We’re all going through a cost of living crisis, and I wanted people to be able to come to a show and not worry about getting by for the next week, or month, or however long,” he explained. “I’ve been in that position myself; I won’t name the artist, but I’ve wanted to go to a show and not been able to because they were charging stupid amounts of money. Music is for everybody; it shouldn’t just be for the people who’ve got a load of dough.”

The star has teamed up with Magnum to give away thousands of free tickets to live events. (Photo: Jack Margerison for Magnum UK)

As Grennan’s star has risen over the past five years, he has never shied away from using his ever-higher platform to champion worthy causes; he has spoken extensively about the importance of maintaining good mental health, having grappled with anxiety and depression himself, and was one of the faces of the NHS’ ‘Help’ campaign last year. “I do these things because my heart tells me to,” he reflects. “I would try to help out with things like that even if I wasn’t doing music. If I can make any little difference, then I’ll try to; I’ve never, ever think of myself as having some kind of profile. And music is a positive thing for people’s mental health; I know, for me, it’s my therapy.”

As he rides the crest of the What Ifs & Maybes wave, Grennan is refusing to rest on his laurels; he’s already working on new music. “I’m back in the studio, and I feel like I’m on a bit of a roll,” he confirms. “I’ve already got ideas, and there’s a record in mind. I’m just going to focus in the next few months, and see what happens.”

What Ifs & Maybes is available now via Insanity Records. You can find more information on the Magnum Pleasure Pass here