Rising star Dylan John Thomas has told of how he is “buzzing” to play Aberdeen’s Beach Ballroom.
From learning guitar in his Glasgow foster home, Dylan, who was discovered by Gerry Cinnamon, has gone on to sell out his home city’s legendary Barrowlands three times over.
Still to release more than a couple of EPs, the curly-haired singer-songwriter is also set to play a packed Aberdeen Beach Ballroom on his current triumphant UK tour.
Stopping off at a service station after a Birmingham gig, Dylan relates how well his current dates are going and what it means to play Glasgow’s famous ballroom.
“We’re selling out venues down south, a bit smaller maybe, but the shows are bouncing,” he says. “It just feels more enjoyable now we’ve got more songs out and the sets feel more complete.
“I’ve played hundreds of places all over Europe, but there’s something special about Barrowlands – the atmosphere, the way the sound hits you on stage coming back off the walls. I grew up just along the road, so it’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”
Music provided a refuge
Ahead of his debut album early next year, Dylan has released a handful of sprightly tunes that hide often dark lyrics evoking troubled early years. The guitar-slinger is also known for a supple finger-picking style, first applied to an impressive array of covers.
Music provided a refuge in the often chaotic foster home where Dylan spent much of his childhood, first separated from his family aged four.
One gift from his mum and dad was his name – he has been told it comes from Bob himself – though only found his calling after hearing Johnny Cash on a Tony Hawks skateboarding video game.
“Ring of Fire came on every five minutes and we’d all jump around the room singing along to it,” he remembers. “When I got a guitar, it was the first song I learned.”
Aged nine, Dylan received his first instrument and soon progressed via The Beatles to more sophisticated arrangements. These, he believes, helped him build up his own audience.
“I became obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel, Mark Knopfler and Lindsey Buckingham; they weren’t just strumming, it was a bit more intricate. I was able to pick out melodies, which got me a lot of interest, especially from other players.”
‘Busking was an apprenticeship’
A 16-year-old Dylan started busking on Buchanan Street, helping him build confidence. He also snuck into pubs’ open mic nights, where he was discovered by Gerry Cinnamon, who became a mentor to the newbie, taking him on tour and teaching him how to navigate the music industry.
“Playing to people every day, I learned what makes folk stop and listen,” Dylan says. “Busking was an apprenticeship, it helped me get rid of the shaky voice and shaky legs.
“I learnt how to write songs from Gerry, but I was only a young boy. It wasn’t just about the music, it was about becoming a man. How to hold yourself and how to react to situations. There were life lessons I needed to learn and he was someone I could talk to. Some people never figure those things out.”
Although Dylan looks to Gerry as an elder brother, the younger artist has plotted his own course. Arriving in the wake of solo performers such as Sam Fender and Jamie Webster, he adds playful touches, notably the jaunty ska horns on current single Up In The Air.
‘Always a great crowd’
Dylan closes his eponymous album, though, with a live version of the grim Wake Up Ma, recorded last year at the Barras, aided by a full-throated audience, added to showcase a different side to his creativity.
“I recorded the album during lockdown, just me in my house, so never quite captured the spirit that I wanted to,” he explains. “The passion of the crowd singing back made it feel really special.”
Now Dylan is hoping for a similar response when he returns to Aberdeen, having earlier this year supported Aussie outfit DMA’s at the city’s Music Hall.
“Aberdeen was probably the best night of that tour,” he says. “Always a great crowd, always up for it, the whole band looks forward to playing there and I’m buzzing for it.”
Dylan John Thomas’ self-titled album is out on January 26, he plays Aberdeen Beach Ballroom on November 19.