Every inch the rock star, flowing blonde hair reflecting in the spotlights, one foot on a monitor, back arched, fist in the air, Tommy Justice rips out a succession of ear-shredding power chords as 70,000 crazy fans roar in wild adulation…
OK, so I exaggerated the last bit – we’re talking hundreds rather than thousands of merely appreciative festival goers at Weyfest 2011. But in his head, Tommy Justice was at Wembley Stadium. Because Tommy Justice was born a rock star. And whilst his baaaad attitude embraced not doing his homework or the washing up, he did not stint on the countless hours spent locked in his bedroom doing what young boys do – posing in front of the mirror with his guitar.
But where Tommy differed from other bedroom guitarists is that, as well as perfecting his poses, he actually learnt to play – and play well. Because Tommy knew that when throwing guitar hero shapes in front of adoring masses it would be more than a bonus if he could also play all the right notes in the right order.
In 2005 Tommy emerged from his bedroom and formed his first band Ruff Justice. Weaned on a diet of Guns‘n’Roses, Led Zeppelin and, er, Meatloaf, they first assaulted my own senses with a stand-out performance at Hertford’s Rock At The Castle festival. Two things that day demonstrated that the high-energy, musically tight, image-savvy herberts on stage (you can never have too many bandanas in a rock’n’roll band) were on the right lines – while star-struck teenage girls at the front of the stage were gazing up and willing the charismatic singer back to his bedroom, at the back of the crowd their balding, greying dads were tapping their feet and nodding knowingly.
When Ruff Justice imploded in 2009, Tommy joined hard rock / punk outfit Psychohero, who became serial winners of Battles of the Bands in the Hertfordshire area, headlined several local rock festivals and were profiled online by the BBC. When that band folded in 2011, Tommy took one look at the successful solo careers of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Guns‘n’Roses’ Slash and a lightbulb lit up above his golden tresses. It was time for a solo album.
In a recent interview Tommy explained that, “For me, it’s all about the show, jumping around doing the splits in mid-air, playing the guitar behind your head, putting on a performance. That said, you’ve gotta have great songs to match – it’s no good having a great stage show if the songs suck!” The question was, could Tommy Justice come up with some great songs that didn’t suck?
You bet your sweet Gibson Les Paul he could.
Gathering together a bunch of material written with Mark Squire (Ruff Justice) and Rich Baldwin (Psychohero), Tommy disappeared into the studio and re-emerged some months later with a headache, bleeding fingers and a 12-track debut album.
Having heard some promising but unpolished demos recorded by Tommy’s previous two bands, I will confess that I was totally unprepared when I first heard a rough mix of Setting Fire To History. From track one through to track twelve I was smacked between the eyes by a succession of top quality proper songs with proper tunes, with bags of light and shade, ranging from full-pelt eyeballs-out h-e-a-v-y (but not metal) rockers with amazing twiddly-diddly guitar, to a couple of acoustic guitar ballads whose videos just have to be shot in black and white in the Nevada desert (eat your heart out Bon Jovi), through to some big production anthemic tours de force which are begging to be performed before a vast crowd of swaying, baying, cigarette-lighter waving devotees. And the boy really can sing too. In short, a remarkably assured and mature debut by a genuinely exciting young talent. I want more.
Listen up. Setting Fire To History is a major step forward in Tommy Justice’s musical career. Rock the Castle to A New Day Festival was quite a journey. A New Day Festival to Wembley will be a tougher road. But Tommy Justice, rock star, is on the way…