Tommy Allen

Around the early 1990’s Lonnie Brooks was regularly aired on a TV beer commercial, this was my first time hearing the blues and I was hooked, I had to find out more, I had to find out what this music was and where it came from. During the following years I was consumed in finding out those answers for myself, from books and tapes from the library to old records I found.

My mother even got me into the local blues club lifting equipment for the musicians, this was where my schooling really began. Once a month I could get in for free, if I helped to carry up huge boards to cover the back windows behind the stage, line up chairs and carry amps up to the first floor, it was tough, but the reward was seeing all the local blues musicians, even some of the original guys from America like Sherman Robertson and Jimmy Witherspoon when they blew through town. At this time in my life I had no interest in school, school was just a waste of my time, it got in the way of studying the blues and learning riffs from T-Bone Walker and Robert Johnson. Though I had brothers and sisters, the gap between us all was too big and they had left home long ago, leaving just my mother and me to keep the lights on. I also wasn’t really a kid with many friends, so I would come home from school, go upstairs and work away until I was told to go asleep. Without the support of my mother, I would never have made the journey through my late teens, even now I can hear her wisdom and encouragement, not to give in when times are tough, and the show aways goes on no matter what happens or is happening in your life “Music always comes first”, that phrase has seen me through many relationships and jobs.  Without music, I would never have travelled to far off places or seen and met the wonderful people I have met at gigs and festivals across Europe. Music has definitely given me the opportunity to get out of dodge. It’s also been a channel for my own inner insecurities and demons, the songwriting has given me a way to release, whatever has been building up inside. I look back on some of the lyrics and I have no idea where they were dug from, from somewhere deep within that’s for sure.  I never got any qualifications and never dreamt of being a writer, life sure has a way of turning people on their head.

After many years of gigging with bands and standing in as a dep musician for one night only gigs, I got the chance to form my own band, Trafficker, I had a pocket full of songs and a head full of nothing, I was about 20. I had not sung much before, other than one or two songs within someone else’s set.  So, I started to plan an album, no money, being broke was no stranger to me, but with the kindness of Richard and Ruth Nickless they opened up their dining room to give me a space to record -- Lost In The Frame.  That album was an array of local musicians from the jam night I ran and professional musicians from bands I had been in, I think even a few strangers and stragglers made it onto the tracks and if you listen very closely you can hear buses turning around outside the window, as their house was opposite a small bus depot. Trafficker went on to gig through 2001 finding it’s feet with different musicians that joined and left. We went back into a studio around November/December 2002 to work on the second album ‘Natures Most Wanted’. This album had more of a theme running through it, being blues based with original material and mostly the same musicians playing throughout all the tracks, this album was recorded better than the first but my heart wasn’t there as halfway through the wee’s recording I got the news my Grandad had just pasted away -- this was the first real time I’d experienced the death of someone close to me, sadly not for the last time.  My Granddad was one of the key influences in my life, who also loved the blues and he used to send me T-Bone Walker and Muddy Water’s tapes through the post.  I remember one in particular Peter Green the Chicago Blues Sessions. Grandad used to listen to me play my guitar, he used to say “give me a little Stormy Monday man” and I would roll into T Bone Walkers starting riff.  I just wished I had spent more time with him as a young adult, instead of driving around the country and making up excuses not to go see him, because I was 19 and knew everything, the real world hadn’t shown up at my door yet, but she sure was coming. I can’t stress the importance of dropping in on the older generation, you’ll be surprised what they can teach you about your roots.  Natures Most Wanted was the last recording of the first line up of Trafficker

In 2003 some new blood entered the band, guys more my own age and full of all kinds of craziness.  We managed to capture this on a recording in 2005 on the album ‘Fade To Black’, great songs, but with the same old story to follow, we ran out of cash and had to leave the mixing up to the engineer to do in his own time, without us.  This line up lasted for three years with loads of gigging and touring Europe, until I decided to move north so the wife could be nearer to her family, and the drummer moved out East, meaning Trafficker started to gig less and less due to the distance issues between the three of us and we kind of drifted apart.  My father in law ran a blues club and he used to occasionally bring in touring American artists to his stage and if they needed backing he would give me a call, that’s how I landed the job with Mojo Buford. Man, he was the most coolest laid back person I had ever had the pleasure to meet and we hit it off.  He used to tell me stories about growing up in Chicago as a kid, he had been taken in and raised by Muddy Waters family, he grew up around all them legends I use to dream about as a kid.  He told me stories how Little Walter used to play so hard his nose would bleed.  Mojo was funny and kind, he gave me his walking stick, which I used to use, when a gout attack would lay me up.  Then there was Lazy Lester and Otis Taylor, I got onto a two week tour with Otis supporting Gary Moore.  Gary used to sound check for hours before each show and he would would have his engineer mark the stage with gaffer tape, it was marked out for Gary to see where he needed to stand to sustain and hold long notes.

It was during my first tour with Mojo Buford in the UK where I met Johnny a blues harmonica player, who lived about forty minutes from my house and we hit it off.  I had said to my mum that I wanted to try some solo work but I felt that I was lacking in confidence, the next thing I get a call “Tommy, it’s mum, I got this drum from the tip, for a fiver and brought it home on the bus. I think it will give you something to stomp on”.  She was in her late 60’s and carrying a bloody kick drum home on public transport.  Anyway,that was the start of me forming The Blues Duo, it grew to be quite popular as it was different and carried such raw energy about it, you could dance, even shake to it, if you wanted to and we’d squeeze into the tiniest of bars, as there was only two of us.  I remained in that circle up north for around 10 years, I started the Tommy Allen Band for a while up there with local musicians Mick and Chris to earn extra cash, but it was the sudden death of my mother during June 2014 that changed things for me, a real game changer.  Around this same time the realisation that my marriage was over, the relationship had been heading south for awhile, but the loss of my mother put my world into a dark place and to have no one there for support, made the world I was living in seem cruel.

Since 2015, I have slowly tried to piece things back together, and it’s been tough.  I have found ‘new love’ with Jenni my partner and she provides encouragement and keeps me moving forward and out of trouble, I reformed Trafficker and recorded our fourth album in 2016 but the mix I got back was so bad I decided to train myself over the next few years in sound engineering, so I could start taking control of my music and how it should sound and no longer have to leave it in the hands of others.  The Blues Duo is still bringing the blues to different cities over the country but now we have two versions, one that is piano driven with Ray and the other that is harmonica driven by Jon, so the best of both worlds really.  This allows the promoter to decide what they want for their club, then we roll up and give ’em some original street style blues.  For the future, I hope that I continue to write great songs and that people still enjoy musically what I have to offer and come to see the live shows.  Without your support and encouragement over the years, I would never have made the friendships I have and had all the fun I’ve had along the way, I couldn’t of done it without you.  Thank you.

I’ll leave you with a song my mum use to sing to me and her auntie use to sing to her -- The Very Thought Of You

Bright Moments Always -- Tommy x