The Party Starts With The Strummers’ Union

When Tomi Swick and The Strummers’ Union kick off this year’s Summer Concert Series in Meaford they intend to bring a party.  The Strummers’ Union is a group of musical friends from the Hamilton area that have been playing together for the past couple of decades off and on.  They vary according to who is available at the time but they are built around the core of Tomi Swick and Joel Guenther.

Tomi makes a point of noting that The Strummers’ Union and Tomi Swick the solo artist are two different entities.  Tomi  Swick is a JUNO winning singer-songwriter who has his own records out and has toured, written and worked with some of the biggest names in the music business.  Although he may be doing one or two of his own songs on July 5th in Meaford, most of what the Strummers Union will be doing is upbeat covers.  “We’re more of a party band,” he says.

Nevertheless, Tomi Swick is an impressive artist in his own right, with an interesting story to tell.

In 2007 he was on the threshold of a very bright future, with a Warner Music contract and a couple of hit singles under his belt.  Overnight he found himself stalled out in the doorway.  Which, in a cruel irony, happened to be the name of his hit record, the album that won him Best New Artist award at that year’s Junos Awards.

Some people have said that winning a Juno in that particular category can be a curse rather than a blessing.  Martin Melhuish, one of Canada’s leading music writers, in a 2008 interview with the Vancouver Sun, outlined his theory that it is often because the winner of that category represents a musical fad that didn’t last.  He cites Claudja Barry and France Joli, who won for disco hits, Leahy who rode in on a (temporary) wave of enthusiasm for Celtic music, and Johnny Favourite who benefited from an all too brief return of swing music.  Those artists can’t be blamed for changing styles, although maybe they were necessarily restricted by their choice of genre.  But the door that slammed on Tomi Swick was much more devastating, and frighteningly sudden.

He woke up the morning after the Junos to find that he had strep throat and pneumonia.   He was on his way to LA to do a series of showcases, designed to make the most of his Juno win, but despite the attention of some high end medical practitioners, he just couldn’t sing.  It kept getting worse and within six months he could no longer sing at all.  Added to that was the personal tragedy of losing both his parents to cancer.  He had surgery to remove polyps and a cyst on his vocal chords and it was almost four years before he was able to sing again.

The momentum was lost.  To make things worse, his second album for Warner released in 2012 wasn’t what either he or the label wanted it to be, in spite of some strong songs.  He ended his relationship with the label within a month of that record’s release.

A lot of soul searching followed, as he played bar gigs and tried to figure out what to do with his life.  He realized the Warner adventure was not a good fit.  The label saw him as an emerging pop star while he leaned toward something more authentic, more soulful.  His idea of the ultimate record is one recorded live off the floor, completely analog, pressed to vinyl.  That’s where his true heart lies.

It’s going to be a great start to the series.  Opening  for The Strummers’ Union will be Meaford’s country star, Scott Almond and Cry For Ophelia’s lead singer, Eden Young in a solo turn.

One night when he was playing to an empty bar, an old acquaintance from Hamilton happened to drop in and expressed surprise to find him there, playing songs that sounded pretty different from the stuff he’d been doing with a major label.  That friend, Dave King, was working on his own album and invited Tomi to help out, particularly to lend his writing talents.

Now his luck at last began to turn.  After recovery from his surgery his voice didn’t have the range it once had but it had a warmer, more soulful sound that suited him.  And he’d paid his dues enough that he’d earned the right to do it his way.

He’d worked with Gary Slaight and Derek Ross of Slaight Records before, co-writing with winners of radio contests, and when Derek heard what he and Dave King were up to in the studio, he was immediately interested in signing him.

Last fall Slaight Records released Yukon Motel, a record the reflects the true soul and artistry of Tomi Swick.  As he told Kerry Doole at the time, “Over the last 10 years I really fell in love with Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and people like Van Morrison and Terry Reid, onto newer singers like Ray Lamontagne and Chris Stapleton. People who sing with soul in their voice. I knew I had that in me but it took a long time to feel comfortable in that.”

He’s matured since the Warner days and feels he has become a much better writer because of the ups and downs he’s survived.  You can hear it in the record and in his stage performance.

He is willing to take on the blame for much of what happened to him, realizing that he didn’t do his body any favours with his wild lifestyle as a young rock star.  Now he is more careful.  “I take care of myself more,” he says, “I warm up.  I speak differently now,” and he’s ready to tour with this record that means more to him than anything else he’s done.

It almost seems like the setback a decade ago was a blessing rather than a curse.  He has no intention of being something he’s not, and his dedication to authenticity carries him forward.

“I’ve always collected vinyl” he says, and although he wasn’t able to do it with Yukon Motel, he still yearns to do a live-off-the-floor recording with his touring band.

“For anyone who cares about the actual craft,” he says, “there’s no substitute for a band that plays together.”

The only reason this record is not yet available on vinyl is that the demand is growing so quickly that pressing plants are backed up; he’s been waiting since October.  In the meantime, the record is available as a download and when he does bring it out on vinyl he’ll be sure to include a special code with each record that will allow those who buy it to download it for free.  “You shouldn’t have to pay for it twice,” he says.

Meanwhile, with things falling into place for Tomi Swick the solo artist, he still loves to rock out with friends and that’s what The Strummers’ Union is all about.  He’s looking forward to kicking off the Meaford Summer  Concert Series with a bang.

“We’re coming to party!” he says.

It’s going to be a great start to the series.  Opening  for The Strummers’ Union will be Meaford’s country star, Scott Almond and Cry For Ophelia’s lead singer, Eden Young in a solo turn.

It’s on Friday, July 7th in the Market Square starting at 7 pm and it’s free.  Bring a chair and something non-perishable for Golden Town Outreach and be ready to rock.

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