Evering Road is the name of a strip of houses in Hackney north-east London It’s also the place Tom Grennan lived out the dizzying highs and lows of his last relationship – and the place that gives his second album its name. “It was the hub of love, the hub of heartbreak and the hub of redemption too,” he recalls in the sandpaper voice that has quickly become his calling card.
“All these different things happened in this house and on this street. This relationship was all around that area. It just felt right to name it that,” he says. “I love that road and I loved that house but I also hated the person I was in that house. I didn’t really know who I was.”
Twenty-five-year-old Grennan grew up in Bedford. He had no aspirations in music and trained to become a professional footballer, playing for Luton Town before his career stalled. Much has been made of the fact his first real performance came at a house party, egged on by friends to sing Seaside by The Kooks, a twee indie favourite. After that, he began to gig around London’s toilet circuit, before being spotted by the boss of Insanity Records at The Finsbury Pub during a gig to some 30 punters. He was signed off the back of that performance.
Since then he has collaborated with Chase & Status, Ella Henderson, Bugzy Malone and super-producer Fraser T Smith, and released a number five debut, Lighting Matches, in 2018. But it is instantly obvious upon listening to Evering Road that the album is a step forward. “My first album, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he admits. “I was learning on the job and frankly it did what it did and people loved it. But this album I really knew what I wanted. I really knew what I wanted it to sound like.”
After initially being positioned as a kind of indie singer-songwriter, Grennan has settled into the more mature role of gravel-voiced soul singer. He admits he started out aping Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and Scottish favourite Paolo Nutini before trying the vocal stylings of Tom Jones, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles on for size. Now he just sings as himself. “I’m not conscious of trying to sound unique,” he suggests. “That’s what comes out my throat.”
Evering Road is an excoriating listen. It is both an apology to the girlfriend he wronged and an attempt to purge the guilt he feels. Listening in is an almost voyeuristic experience. “I wouldn’t say it is a break-up album in the sense of, ‘Feel sorry for me, cry about it’. But it is a break-up album the way I am owning up to what I have done and I am trying to better myself. I am saying sorry and that I have done these things I have done, and I have made mistakes, but I am trying to be forgiven for them. It is a heartbreak album but it is also an album that is saying, ‘I am a better man for it’.”
Grennan says he was initially concerned whether being so open in his music would be unfair to his ex-girlfriend. Indeed, he is painfully honest about his shortfalls, and the way his ego and drinking habits were escalating at the time. “When I finally owned up to all these things I was doing and how I was feeling about them, at one point before I was writing this album I was blaming the other person – ‘It’s not me, it’s her’. Actually, if I look at it now, it was all me. When I owned up to that, that was when I broke down and had all these emotions.
“When I felt all these emotions that was the time when I was like, ‘This is what I should be talking about’. This is how I am going to recover and, like I keep saying, become a better man for it.”
Grennan’s relationship fell apart before the pandemic and he spent the first lockdown back home in Bedford. In July he moved into a new house in north London with his cousin. Unsurprisingly, he is keen to release the album, given he has sat with it for so long. “I have the weight of that whole story still on my shoulders. I feel ready for it to be out in the world,” he tells me. “Then I can finally move on with my life and also let other people into what my life was and hopefully help other people with their lives.”
The pandemic has been hardest on young artists on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream – artists like Grennan. But he is philosophical about the missed opportunities. “Everything pans out the way it is meant to,” he says matter of factly. “We are all in the same position so I haven’t really felt hard done by. I have had more time to sit with it, which is sometimes a lucky thing. I have had more time to prepare myself and just wait until the right time. 2020 might have been my year, but 2021 is now hopefully going to be my year.”
Evering Road might propel Grennan to greater fame. Luckily, he has already reaped the rewards of his success – he is friends with Liam Gallagher for one (“Sound as a pound”) and has other celebrity pals. He might be grounded by lockdown but Grennan has plans – a UK tour for September and October including his biggest headline show to date at Alexandra Palace in north London. Despite this he has spent lockdown like most of us – binge-watching series (outlaw biker thriller Sons Of Anarchy is a favourite) and focusing on getting fit. “That is another massive part of my life now,” he offers. “It has changed my life completely.”
Grennan has also been learning the piano with the hope of writing songs on the instrument instead of his guitar, and one day playing on stage. “I have started writing songs again,” he deadpans. “But it depends how well this album does. Do you know what I mean? I might get sacked tomorrow.”
Evering Road by Tom Grennan is out soon on Insanity Records.