Sandi Thom has always had a rebellious spirit. “Perhaps it’s my Celtic heritage,” she muses.
“This sort of tribal ancestral calling that I have within me, I’ve always been a little bit of an outlaw.”
That strength of spirit has stood the 42-year-old Banff-born singer in good stead through the highs and lows of two decades in the music industry – from her breakout smash hit I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker, which topped the UK singles chart in 2006, through six studio albums, a subsequent lull when she struggled to get on radio playlists, an ensuing hiatus, and now a powerful return.
What is Sandi Thom’s new single about?
And she is back with a bang, with a new single called Revolution Anthem (Festival Of The Oppressed), a folk-rock song which addresses geopolitical turmoil and unrest, and name-checks former UK prime minister Liz Truss and ex-US president Donald Trump.
“It is a conversation piece about what everybody’s talking about, what’s on everyone’s minds, all of the geopolitical situations, all of the country’s problems, past, present and future,” she says as she chats from her home in the leafy Cardiff suburb where she has lived since last summer.
“I’ve always geared towards the folk music tradition of writing about what I see and hear. And so, when I decided to come back into the fray, into the industry after hiatus, the first thing that I thought was ‘Let’s look at what is the world thinking? What’s on everyone’s minds? What kind of song do people want to hear right now?'”
“We want to be a mouthpiece for the people,” she says passionately, “And I think, more than ever, that feeling is bubbling within society, so much frustration over the way that the country is run, not just in the UK, but so many global situations.
“And people need an anthem. People need something to feel like they’re being heard and seen. And that’s what I really wanted to come back as, because I don’t just see myself as a musician.
“There’s meaning in the music. And I want people to feel like they can connect to that and that whoever is out there feeling frustrated, that they don’t feel heard and seen, then I can be a voice for that.”
New song marks a return to music for Sandi Thom
The lyrics include the kind of lines you can imagine hearing on picket lines or at football matches – such as “So, it’s time for a change, raise your voice to the air, time for a change, revolution is here.”
“What we really want to say with this is we want to change the things that we can’t accept anymore,” Thom says. “If you go out onto the street, and you ask the general public, I’m sure there will be an awful lot of feeling about wanting to create change. So we’re just reflecting on the society that we’re living in, on the sacred cows of politics – be that Trump, Putin, the talking points of who’s on everybody’s lips at the moment.”
Despite the weighty message, Thom is adamant there is no anger in the song.
“This is a peaceful protest, and I feel that the world needs more music like that. But I think that there is perhaps a fear of speaking, of telling the truth and talking about what we see for what it really is.
“Even before Bob Dylan, music has been the voice of the oppressed, folk music is the authentic tradition. And I hold that dear to my heart.
“It’s always stood up for the powerless and the downtrodden, so that’s what we’re here to do.”
The song marks a return to music after a long break. In the interim she became a mother to son Logan, who is now seven, and spent years in the Middle East working for animal rescue causes and campaigning to bring about animals rights legislation.
Becoming a mum was ‘huge’ for Sandi
“So, no matter what I’m doing in my life, I’ll always do it with the degree of passion,” she says as she reflects on her time away from music. “And I’ve always been against the abuse of power. And I’ve always stood up for the voiceless, because I’ve always been that rebel with a cause, I’ve been a little bit of an outlaw.
“But I have so much empathy for any person or animal that’s being oppressed, any form of injustice, that’s always started something inside.
“So even my hiatus was for that purpose again. And so, when I come to write and when I come to make music, I’m coming from that same place in my heart. What is it that I want to use my platform for?”
Asked if she felt any nerves about re-entering the fray of the music business after time away, she is upbeat and optimistic.
“I didn’t feel any trepidation. I feel very fortunate and I’m very grateful for the career that I’ve had and the opportunities that I have had.
“I have had amazing opportunities in my life to do incredible things with lots of incredible musicians, and I was just excited, more than anything, to get back.
“I became a mum, so that was a huge, that took me in another direction for many years, through those formative years of him growing up, and he’s seven now, so I really wanted to put my energy into motherhood for years, but now I feel I’m in a position where I can really focus back on the music again.
Almost 20 years since breakout single
“I think being a parent changes anybody in so many different ways. I think that it has reignited some part of the innocence of youth within me. When you look at children, and you remember what that was like to be a kid and to be a dreamer, and to believe that anything was possible, it teaches us a lot of lessons.”
Her breakout in 2006 made her famous overnight, rocketing her to the top of the charts, but she stresses there were years of work that laid the foundations. Despite the fact it was almost 20 years ago, in many ways it feels like no time at all has passed since that “chaotic and amazing” time.
“It doesn’t feel like that long ago, it pretty much feels like yesterday to me, I think because the legacy of the song lives on in perpetuity, it’s always alive for me and for the people that love it.”
She is circumspect about the struggles she later went through to continue her success, culminating in a video she posted and soon deleted in which she tearfully explained that her latest single had been passed over for inclusion on the Radio 2 and Bauer network playlists.
“I was heavily pregnant at the time,” she says ruefully. ” So when we are pregnant women, we tend to be a little bit more vulnerable in those moments.
Singer never just accepts things
“But, like anybody in any industry, there’s always going to be ups and downs, you’re always going to feel like sometimes you’re chasing challenges in any business. But the thing is that I’ve never given up, I’ve always continued, I’ve always kept going.
“At the root of it all is the passion to create music that can impact people’s lives, so everybody has a journey, and everybody has ups and downs, and I’m no stranger to that myself.”
Back to that Celtic fighting spirit again, which brings us back to her new music and her renewed sense of artistic purpose.
“I’ve always asked the questions. I’ve never accepted things. From when I was a child, I’ve always asked questions, I’ve always wanted to know. I’ve never just taken things and accepted them. I’ve always coloured outside of the lines.
“I think, as a person and as a child, being someone that was quite shy and quiet, but then realising that I could sing, made me realise that that’s what I need to use that talent for, to be some kind of inspiration.
“I’m not here for the applause. I’m here for the cause.”
‘Politicians dwarfed by country’s problems’
Despite that, she says she is “apolitical” when asked about the prospect of Scottish independence.
“I think a lot of people are apolitical at this point,” she adds. “I feel a lot of people don’t know which way to turn. I feel like the politicians are dwarfed by the size of the country’s problems. And I think a lot of people share that sentiment and they’re apolitical.
“Who do we trust? Where do we go? Who do we relate to? Because fundamentally what we all are looking for is just compassion, grace, empathy, humanity, integrity. This is what really needs to be at the forefront of any kind of change.”
Revolution Anthem (Festival Of The Oppressed) will be released on March 22. It will be available as an NFT on March 15.