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Thomas Spencer: an amazing and inspiring story

Submitted by on December 19, 2017 – 8:59 pmNo Comment

thomas-spencerIt’s one of the most amazing and inspiring stories you’re likely to hear: a singer from South Derbyshire believed so much in his talent that he travelled more than 5,000 miles to Los Angeles for a five-minute meeting.

A potential new manager was so impressed that the following day he invited the singer to a recording studio where he was asked to perform in front of opera legend Placido Domingo and two other world music scene heavyweights.

Domingo was astounded and described classical crossover tenor Thomas Spencer as “the voice of the next generation”.

So how did a Castle Gresley lad succeed where others have failed? Thomas and his brother Oliver, a composer and songwriter, had managed to raise enough money to record a first album and felt Thomas needed an established manager to take his career further.

They sat in their home at Castle Gresley and did a global internet search for managers. They came up with Brian Avnet who looks after Josh Groban, the American singer who has sold more than 25 million records worldwide.

Fortunately Thomas knew a New York publicist and hired her to do only one thing: get him a five-minute meeting with Brian Avnet. She was to call Avnet every day. “We thought we’d either get a meeting or a harassment lawsuit!” laughs Thomas.

“Being in that circle where Oliver and myself were the only people who hadn’t won a Grammy, an Emmy or a Golden Globe was a really great opportunity”

After three weeks Avnet agreed to the meeting: “Five minutes – but just stop calling me!” he told the publicist.

In the recording studio with Placido Domingo were Humberto Gatica, the Chilean-born American record producer who has won 16 Grammy Awards and is now Thomas’s producer, and singer and composer Tony Renis who produced Andrea Bocelli’s last album.

“Being in that circle where Oliver and myself were the only people who hadn’t won a Grammy, an Emmy or a Golden Globe was a really great opportunity,” says Thomas.

Avnet’s health problems would put the relationship on hold and Paul Faberman, who’d been looking after Celine Dion for 17 years, became Thomas’ manager.

“The expectation to bring out another level in me as a singer – I can’t really describe it.”

Now his second album, appropriately called The Journey, has been released in the UK and it will shortly be available in other countries.

Thomas can hardly contain his excitement at how his career is progressing.

“The way Humberto works in the studio is on a whole new level. The expectation to bring out another level in me as a singer – I can’t really describe it.

“You always work hard and you always give everything. Just to be around somebody who has worked with people like Bocelli and Michael Bublé is inspiring.

Thomas Spencer haircut“We were pinching ourselves. We were in Castle Gresley one week and the next we’re making music with a Grammy Award-winning legend. It was quite surreal. When we came out we said, ‘did that really happen?’ It was like walking into a bubble.”

Thomas says he’s got where he is through being ambitious, working hard and not settling for a compromise.

“It’s been a physical journey going to LA, it’s been an emotional journey because it’s taken such a long time to make the album and musically it’s been a bit of a journey as well. Oliver and I are totally different musicians now from what we were six or seven years ago. I think we’re better versions of ourselves.”

Thomas is backed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on The Journey. It was recorded in Los Angeles, Thailand, Prague and Abbey Road Studios, London. He agrees it was a costly venture.

“It’s like throwing yourself down a rabbit hole. Do you turn around or do you let yourself fall a bit further? The guys in LA were coming up with new ideas, Oliver was writing new songs all the time and if they were better than the ones we originally had on the album, we just kept replacing them. So we ended up with 30 or 40 songs.”

That has been whittled down to 15 numbers including their mum’s favourite The Sound Of Silence, Don McLean’s And I Love You So – memorably a hit for Perry Como – and a version of The Who’s Baba O’Riley in Italian.

He was born Thomas Spencer-Wortley on 8 May 1982 although he has now dropped the Wortley from his stage name. He was brought up in Castle Gresley and had singing and piano lessons when he was very young. His grandfather was a trumpeter who spurned an opportunity to tour the world with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, instead opting for the security of working as a miner.

“To be paid for something you love doing was special, especially when it’s your first job out of college.”

His first production was playing the lead in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! for Burton amateur company the Mellow Dramatics. He counts himself “very lucky” to have as his singing teacher there professional voice coach Coral Gould.

After going to Trinity College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music in London, Thomas secured the part of Schlomo in the national tour of the musical Fame.

“To be paid for something you love doing was special, especially when it’s your first job out of college. I actually played violin in that show.”

But he struggled to get other parts, getting close only to have a celebrity or someone from a TV show beating him to a role.

Thomas Spencer with Placido Domingo

Thomas Spencer with Placido Domingo

So Thomas and Oliver decided to raise Thomas’ profile by making an album which merged classical and contemporary styles, allowing him to find his own voice. They recorded Thomas’ first album Credere mostly in their kitchen.

“It went to number 16 in the independent charts which was mainly due to my grandma telling everyone to go out and buy it.”

The LA adventure began five years later. In the meantime Thomas didn’t sit back waiting for anything to happen. He joined Metro Voices, a London-based group of session singers, and he appears on the soundtracks of blockbusters such as The Life Of Pi, Pirates Of The Caribbean and Kung Fu Panda.

A staunch football fan, he has sung at Derby County and Burton Albion matches.

Back to The Journey, and discussions are under way for it to be released in Australia, the Far East and, when his management decides the time is right, the States.

Now Thomas is looking for a base in LA although he will return to Castle Gresley whenever he is in England.

Next on his agenda is visiting choirs, schools, community groups and Women’s Institutes across England and Wales to talk about his music before he begins globetrotting. He is also close to securing his first acting role in a feature film.

“It’s always nice to dream big but it’s also important to put one foot in front of the other.”

“There’s a lot of travelling and a lot of hard work but I’m living the dream,” says Thomas.

“I’ve got an ambition to work in films and I’ve got an ambition for the album to have a really positive growth around the world.

“Oliver and I want to go into film with writing music and acting, so it could be Grammys and Oscars long term! It’s always nice to dream big but it’s also important to put one foot in front of the other.”

It’s been an eventful journey so far – but it may have only just started for the voice of the next generation.

This article appeared in the October 2017 edition of Country Images magazine

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