Vocal, tenor banjo, mandolin, octave mandolin, tenor guitar (and melodeon)!
is one of the most highly respected traditional musicians in the North of England, ("the bee's knees") and a lovely singer. He's performed and recorded over the past 25 years with Tom McConville, Gordon Tyrrall, Jez Lowe, Alistair Russell, Tony Wilson, Rob van Sante, Gina le Faux and now Ciaran Boyle and Dave Kosky in The Idle Road
Vocal, guitar, mandola, mandocello, tenor fiddle, whistle, duet concertina, long-necked dulcimer
formerly with Slide (uk), and now also working solo, Tom has been called "a master craftsman, with songs that sound as though they are rooted in the tradition, yet have a freshness that marks them out as original" (Tykes News), with a voice with "that special quality of sweetness and intensity that is the prerogative of just the best interpreters of the British folk scene." (Radio Voce Spazio, Italy).
Click here for more about TB
Both Toms arrived in Leeds in the early seventies to study, and each having played around the folk clubs of the home counties, they quickly settled into the local circuit (though neither remembers meeting the other way back then).*
But within a year or two, they’d taken very different roads. Tom Napper, thanks to his extraordinary prowess on a variety of stringed instruments, including tenor banjo, mandolin, octave mandolin and tenor guitar, quickly discovered he could make his living from playing, while Tom Bliss soldiered on with his course, becoming first a landscape architect, then a scriptwriter, and finally a freelance TV director (writing music for video and TV along the way).
Tom Napper, meanwhile, was building up a solid reputation as a performer and session man, working with such luminaries as Tom McConville, Gordon Tyrrall and Jez Lowe (in Dab Hand), Alistair Russell (later of The Battlefield Band), Tony Wilson, Rob van Sante, Gina Le Faux and currently Ciaran Boyle and Dave Kosky in The Idle Road. He's also done stints with a multitude of ceilidh bands and become highly sought-after as a teacher (specially in the fields of music for special needs and festival workshops).
Dab Hand mk 1 Jez, Tom and Tom
But the two Toms did not remain strangers, because although Tom Bliss had deserted folk for rock in 77 (his New Wave band Pin-ups had a deal with Pop Idol’s Pete Waterman), they had mutual friends and knew of eachother’s music - occasionally even passing on the stairs of Tom Napper's house, where ‘Country’ Dave Lee - the drummer in Tom Bliss's long-running band Pearl Divers - also lived.
Pearl Divers mk 9: with, by now, Nick Pepper on drums, currently with The Duncan McFarlane Band
As Tom Napper continued to work the clubs and Festivals, Tom Bliss gradually became disillusioned with amplified music. Then in 95, while working with Otley Folk Festival's Steve Fairholme at YTV, he was persuaded to bring his Eko Ranger to Otley's famous Bay Horse session, and the old folk flame burst to life again. Sessions became an obsession, including Tom Napper's regular haunt - the Victoria in Leeds. Soon, inspired by the sheer joy of playing acoustic music, Tom Bliss was writing folk songs and tunes again, and wrestling with the fiddle that had lain silent for 20 years.
Bliss aged 7
His enthusiasm quickly extended to other acoustic instruments (whistles, flute, harmonica, melodica, accordion etc.) and forming folk bands such as Behind the Wall, Belladonna and Slide (uk), but in 2002 he recognised that only a duo could provide the flexibility he needed to bring his songs to a wider audience. Then, in a call to Tom Napper about something else entirely, he uttered the fateful words “You don’t happen know anyone who might be interested in forming a duo, do you?” to which the reply was; “well - now you come to mention it...!”
They immediately recognised their compatibility: Two rich and powerful voices, a shop-full of instruments, and shared standards in stage craft, equipment, arrangements, and, above all, musicianship. But it was their differences that clinched it. Tom Bliss is principally a writer/accompanist, while Tom Napper is mainly a tune/lead virtuoso. Thus each had what the other needed. But even better; they could both also play the opposite role - offering a tantalising array of possibilities...
The Toms first ever performance was supporting Bob Fox at Millfolk in June 2002, with gigs starting in earnest in September at Wombwell Folk Club and the Otley Festival. In October they began recording a debut album, The Silverlode - which was released on December 1st to universal acclaim.
Tom Napper’s flat is just across the park from where Tom Bliss lives with his wife and two children (when they're there, that is. All four Blisses spend as much time as possible, school, gigs and work permitting, at home on the tiny Channel Island of Alderney)
*(much reminiscing on long journeys has since produced the possibility that TN was in fact present when TB supported a very fluid Tony Capstick at the Leeds Univeristy Folk Club - in about 1974)
Penultimate Gig, Islington (pic Eve Matthews)
Last gig for a while, Kingswinford
The Toms final gig as a full-time project, was on June 26 2009 at The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford. Then in 2011, TB's commission to write The Ballad of Jersey Jacques, allowed him briefly to climb back into the saddle - so the Toms were able to manage a few more gigs - but since then TB's work, and TN's move to Scotland, have made gigs unlikely for the time being.
TOM NAPPER WEBSITE
first ever performance at Millfolk © Mark Longster