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Tom Helsen
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Tom Helsen was discovered in 1996, when he had been practising on his first guitar for only about a year or two, during the Humo’s Rock Rally of that year. Through a number of self-written songs and an impressive cover-versionof the song Hotellounge of dEUS, Tom Helsen landed a terrific second place, behind Novastar (but in front of An Pierlé and Arid). The jury concluded that “Tom Helsen is a solo-man who brings songs that touch you, and who knows that a good song does not need to filled with layer upon layer of superfluous guitar-picking”
Later, he told this episode to Knack as: “When I entered the Rock Rally, I even hardly knew what that was. I thought it was a presentation of big bands that already have at least one cd. I had little material then, a few hoempapa-tunes, but my brother said : “you’ve got at least one song that kicks ass, take that”. I then recorded a tape and sent it in, without expectations. And then I ended up becoming second in the final, I went crazy. But well, since then I’ve been doing my homework and I realised what has happened to all the bands that have come second in the history of the rock rally: none of them has any stature now. So it doesn’t hurt to put things into perspective.”
As a promotion of his one-man band, he recorded a first single in the fall of 1996 (Like her vacation), and did a number of performances, alone in clubs and on a small tour with the The Sands & Sheffield Wednesday. Somewhere in the middle of all that, he grew tired of the idea of being looked upon as a rocking troubadour (the belgian Billy Bragg, was the most often heard comparison) and realized the solo-formula had some serious limitations. “It was never my intention of remaining a solo-artist forever. I only wanted to try out the songs on my own. I was finding myself, and I know that it was not a bad idea to continue on my own in the slipstream of the rock-rally publicity. Until I grew tired of the limitations. Unless you have a very well-known repertoire, it obviously is almost impossible to keep the audience interesed for more than 10 minutes.”|
In March of 1997, he found in Desmond van Weddingen on drums and in Wim Janssens on the bass two “compagnons de route”, and together they started working on a first CD: Tom Helsen had become a band. The attention to the song-material had remained, but with the trio-formula the sound had of course changed completely, and almost all of the songs from the solo-period had been swept overboard. As it was said in in the bio in 1998: “Gone is the Billy Bragg of the Low Countries, instead here’s a band that brings you crystal clear guitarpopsongs in the rich tradition of for example Buffalo Tom”. Another commenter said “nice melodic songs with a tasteful accompaniment of guitar, bass and rums. If you want to stick a label onto it, Tom Helsen is the perfect crossbreed of The Counting Crows and Buffalo Tom”. Or as gvn said in Humo : “The debut of Tom Helsen is not the world-class album that will put your senses into “astonishing”-mode, but it just contains 11 fragile songs (of which at least 7 will not lose their appeal by next month), which are played with an enthusiasm that makes you suspect they will be even better live. And then you hear Tom Helsen live - that voice! - and you are certain. It’s that kind of an album. At least that’s something”. The songs “All you broken homers” & “Great American Sex Scandal” also were released a single, but didn’t cause much upheaval.|
Very calmly, the band (nowa quartet with Geert Peeters on bass) continued working on a second CD, that was released with much delays in the fall of 2000. In the meantime, the only sign of life had been the beautiful single “Tom is doing Great”, and that also became the title of the full-CD. The reason for the delay was that a number of the songs had been totally re-arranged with the aid and cooperation of Joost Zweegers of Novastar. The single “When Marvin Calls” had all the quality that cooperation promised, and became the breaktrough for the band. Tom about this in Humo : “Joost has taught me that I was focusing on the wrong thing in songwriting: I was writing stories with a beginning and an end, but I neglected the struchtur of the songs … I’ve been making music in a very naieve way from the start : I just did it, without thinking. The best is to combine these two ways as Joost does: to make music that is very sensitive and has the goal to touch people, but also: knowing how to do that and how to bring about those effects”. The result was an album with 10 storng songs with a rather melancholic undertone, and with more evidence of a unique voice than on the first cd.
The ambition : “When the first album came out, I really had the urge to score, to have success and sell a lot of records so I would be able to live off my music and do 100% what I wanted to. Now I have a part-time job so I can make music in a much more relaxed manner. If I gain something from a gig or so, it’s a nice extra. … I only would really like to have a really huge budget for my next album, to make everything sound exactly as I want it to … I’ve been on a melancholic trip for the past two years, but these last times I’ve really felt like starting to rock again”.
Band members :|- Tom Helsen (vocals, guitar, piano)|- Wim Janssens (vocals, guitar, keyboard)|- Geert Peeters (bass)|- Desmond van Weddingen (drums)
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