In 1986 I left Agricultural College with a burning desire to make it big in the music industry.
I had formed a band while studying. As is traditional it was partly about saving the world with a song, but mostly about meeting girls. Sadly, the world was past saving and in that post-New Romantic epoch, where Spandex and roller skates had given way to ra-ra skirts and big hair, to up my on-stage presence I had bought a budget Miami Vice suit in yellow, which left a lot of love unrequited.
In fact, during its first outing while I vigorously strummed a big red guitar, one of the shoulder pads came loose and worked its way down my arm, finally making an appearance during the last chorus.
But this lopsided performance did nothing to curb my enthusiasm for show business. Gripping a third-class diploma in Agriculture, I moved to London and played in a band which inflicted itself on venues like the Rock Garden, the Fulham Greyhound and the Mean Fiddler. By 1987 I had worked out it was never going to happen, not least because we were shit and therefore Ian Brown’s name would never be seen in bright lights.
So, I gave the yellow suit and several other fashion faux pas to Oxfam and returned to the family farm where I spent a lot of my time making pig food and listening to Radio 1 to quell the boredom. One day somewhere between shedding a tear to Simon Bates’ Our Tune and digesting Richard Skinner’s Newsbeat, I heard a song by a new band called The Stone Roses. They were brilliant. They were absolutely going to save the world with a song and the lead singer was called Ian Brown. I remember laughing out loud and thinking: “Well ‘we’ did it!”
Fast forward 27 years, having left farming 15 years previously and setting up a record label, managing artists, producing records and writing songs under the name Tom Gilbert – so not to be confused with ‘the other one’ – and having some success as a song writer.
I was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award for co-writing Sandi Thom’s number 1 single, ‘I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker’ also co-wrote the lead song in the long running West End musical ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’ and have written songs for many artists including Fisherman’s Friends, Show Of Hands, Jason Donovan, D Side, Pixie Lott, Graham Gouldman, Henry Priestman (The Christians)
After a few tough years personally in 2012, I began performing in local folk clubs under my real name, for a bit of therapy. Which is how, in 2014 I came to be asked to do a spot at the small but beautifully formed Purbeck Folk Festival.
Thrillingly, on the third page of the programme, in the smallest font visible without the aid of magnification, was my name. I had never performed at a festival before and was very nervous as I took to the stage, which was fashioned from a caravan cut in half. As the crowd of about 30 people seemed to enjoy the first few songs I started to relax. Then a couple sat down in front of the stage wearing Stones Roses t-shirts and suffice to say they let me know, in no uncertain terms that they were not happy about making the 500-mile round trip from Manchester to see ‘The’ Ian Brown playing what they had assumed was a low key show, only to find it was an overweight former farmer with a guitar.
As I left the stage, somewhat deflated, the idea for the song ‘Me 2’ came to me. When you share your name with someone famous, the irony of your two different lives is constant. The ‘other ones’ don’t get lonely, do they? Life doesn’t break their hearts, does it?
At the end of the day we’re all the same – we all get lonely and we all get sad. Money and fame don’t mean anything; they can’t put an arm around you.
Having now played ‘Me 2’ supporting various artists and at folk clubs and festivals around the UK, I have met a Paul Young in Bury St Edmunds, Tina Turner in Wimborne, Nick Lowe in Milton Keynes and father and son John and Robbie Williams in Southampton – there was even a Leonard Cohen in Leeds. (No, I didn’t believe him either!)
Last year I actually met the ‘other’ Ian Brown walking towards me in a street in London. I stopped him, introduced ‘ourselves’ and told him the story. He hugged me and said: “Nice one” and so the circle was complete!