TOM WARD “90% OF HARD WORK AND ONLY A LITTLE BIT OF TALENT”
Tom Ward is the most sophisticated musician you can ever find. His YouTube videos posted by his fans accumulates over 40 million views.
‘Does anybody know anything about this guy? Where we can read about him?’ Tom gives hundreds of performances every year and social media explodes with comments and questions.
Tom as a true musician, completely self-managed and has little time for blogging. His head is always full of music. Every year Tom gives over 200 concerts indoors as well as his usual street performances of 2 or 3 sets a day lasting an hour each time, even in rain, hail or storm.
Luckily, we caught up with this Australian superstar using FaceTime in between his shows to ask some questions.
Tom, we were very surprised that there is little information on social media about you and your family. Can you tell please tell us briefly about you and your family? Where are you from? Do you have siblings?
Ah sure, from the very beginning I should say that my mother and father are both from Britain, and in the early 80’s they migrated to Australia and settled in Tasmania.
My father is Ian Ward luthier of guitars and a very creative inventor. He built with his own hands an off-the-grid house with its own water turbine in the middle of the mountains. He’s a quiet natured man, does meditation and yoga. He is very loving and caring.
My mother is Jenny Ward. She is an English teacher. Incredibly loved reading books and has read every book under the sun. Our house was completely full of books.
I do have siblings. I am the youngest. I have two sisters Ani and Mairi. As kids, we were very friendly with each other and almost didn’t fight, but when I was a very little kid I used to annoy them so it gave me attention (laughing*). As soon as we grew up, we became the best friends.
My middle sister Mairi Ward is an artist. She is as good painter as I am a good musician. She is painting 8 hours per day, spends weeks and weeks on artworks, as well as I spend time on practicing and playing the guitar. And my eldest sister Ani. She is also very artistic and does a lot of creative things. She works as a teacher of ethics at the university.
What are your memories about your childhood?
Well…I have a lot of nice and warm memories, and many of them go back to the Chr
Tom with his sister Mairiistmas celebration. As my both parents are from UK, we used to have an English style Christmas, with a lot of heavy food like Christmas pudding. We have a Christmas dinner, the same as we would expect to have in an English winter, but because here is Australian summer, everybody passes out and falls asleep for the half the Christmas. Also, my family are very creative, and from time to time we used to organize family concerts and play music together. My mother, she used to play scrabbles with us and with my father we would do something technical, like building something, for example guitar or mandolin. That was cool!
Tom when did you realize that you want to connect your professional life with music?
I have never thought about my professional life or career.
Since twelve years old, I didn’t think I will have to do anything else but music. I was lucky with my parents, they never said what profession or career I should choose, they just were saying that I should learn and get better… you know, when you ask about profession and career, it normally means about business and money, not about music.
Tom, you are widely known as a street performer, but do you organize shows indoors?
Sure, I do about 200 concerts per year indoors: in small theaters (500-200 seats), about 40 shows in 1500 seats venue in a cruise ship on a boat…for example this year I have played about 7 concerts in a 500 seats venue in China… but every year is different. And actually, I am not doing that much street shows now. I love street shows and I learned a lot from them but now I don’t do street shows for money as CDs are not selling very well anymore, as it was 2 years ago. So, now I am doing something different. There is one thing that makes me especially good at doing street shows is that even if nobody is watching – I don’t care. I like it, I am enjoying playing the guitar.
Looking through your social media, we found that people from all over the world say that they love your music and it even makes them cry… In your opinion, what attracts people by your music?
Everyone is captured by different things. It depends where people are from, people relate things to their culture. For example, some of the beats I play have an Arabic influence, so I have a lot of messages from Arabic people, saying that they love the beats because they heard them before. Some of the pieces have a lot of fine techniques, that are similar to the Chinese instrument called pipa, so a lot of Chinese people relate to that, and when they look at me they say ‘oh wow it sounds like pipa.’ But if I am playing romantic beats, some people associate the guitar with a candle, something romantic… The majority of people want a very simple melody that they heard before, but I do this only sometimes… actually, a lot of music that I play it is not for the majority of people, it is for people with an open mind… everybody likes different things, so when I do a concert I try to make a variety, that’s why I have about 8 different shows, some of them are just for everybody with a lot of Spanish music that most people love, and some have more serious, classical music.
For all your music path, what was the hardest time for you?
Well, there was time when for a year and the half my hand was strained, it was a type of arthritis. That was pretty annoying and it was hard to play… and I think THAT was the hardest time because I was in bed like for 3 months.
Do you have any goals? What do you want to reach in your music career?
I just want to improve my music and get better, I don’t care about getting famous. I would be happy to play until I am 100!
What is your best memory connected to the music?
… Hmm I think my best moment has always been when I finally managed to play music that I thought was difficult. Every time I used to hear something that I couldn’t play, it was the achievement when I COULD play it. I would practice 6-7 hours a day for 3-4 moths and as a result I could play it – that meant a lot to me. Also, when I finish playing the show or 1or 2 pieces and the audience is completely silent and interested – this means a lot to me as well, it is very nice to experience such a feeling, because music is about interacting with the audience but not just performing. For example, during one big show, I don’t remember what exactly, there was a highlight for me: I managed to finish the show with whatever piece I wanted instead of playing… well, it is a bit complicated to explain, but I would play one very interesting music to some people who would not normally listen to such music, and they got a very good feeling from that… this is a real highlight for me.
Tell us about your shows?.. What they consist of?
Oh, I have eight different shows. The one that I do almost every day has a lot of gypsy music, Hungarian beats … I have two shows where I use lot of gypsy, Hungarian and Spanish music in the beginning and then, if I convince everyone and they are really enjoying to hear something else, I end with classical music. But If I didn’t manage to do so, I just play more Spanish music in the end because everybody loves Spanish music. I have the concert of Johan Sebastian Bach. I don’t play it very often but when the mood is right, for example at a small church with candles and without amplifier, I only perform with the nice acoustic sound of the guitar. I also have a show of Italian and Brazilian music.
How exciting! How long do your shows usually last?
It can be very different. It can be ten minutes or it can be 2 hours! Normally my show lasts for about an hour and ten minutes without stopping. It changes all the time because it depends on the audience. Additionally to the music, I am always trying to engage with the audience and let people know about the music I am playing because some of the music makes no sense without explanation.
Online people call you ‘Tom Ward Broken Guitar’ and constantly create chats where they ask about your mystery and what is so special about this broken guitar? Can you please break the myth about it?
Laughing* really? this ‘broken guitar’ is really broken now, it is too broken. This guitar with holes was built by my father and it was smashed on a flight to the US 6 years ago. Currently, I have 2 or 3 guitars and I have constantly repair them. Always trying to make them sound better, trying to fix some things. Unfortunately, it is never perfect… but I am always trying to modify them and make better. I don’t want to change guitars very often.
Ideally, I would love to have one, but one guitar may not suit to the different situations. For example sometimes I need to play with the amplifier, and on another day acoustically only. Right now, I am designing a new guitar with my father and it is very exciting!
We followed your social media pages and you travel around the world often. On Instagram, people from around the world make posts about ‘Tom Ward Guitarist’. What is your street busking tour cycle?
Well, it changed now because I am not doing it much now. I am doing more concerts. But normally I used to go to New York – from the middle of June, from the 1st of July – to Canada (on Canada day), after I go to France for the whole of July (Avignon festival), in August I go to Scotland (Edinburgh festival), September to October I go to London, Germany and maybe France. Around the 15th of October I head back to Australia. Every year is a bit different. The reason why I travel around this time of the year is that in Europe it is very cold in winter and not many festivals are during this season.
In June, July, August, September there are five different festivals every week in all of these countries. It’s the time when Europe comes to life and it’s the best place for musicians to be during these four months!
Amazing! Another question that is interesting to your fans is about your manicure that always looks perfect! How do you take care of it and how do you play your guitar with your fingernails?
Well, it is a very very long story because it’s hard to keep these nails that are perfect for everything and every style of music.
For some music it’s better to have no nails, sometimes its good to have a bit longer nails. In my opinion after lots of experience, I think it’s never really good to have a very long nails and they have to be pretty short. But I used to have very long nails when I was trying play many different things in the past. Now I decided that I don’t really want to have long nails but it may be difficult to make certain kind of music. I have an ideal formula for my nails: the first is to put silk tape on and then on top of the silk tape put glue, then on top of the glue, put on acrylic. It is a specific way to do it. When I have to play five shows a day for five months, then I have to do this. It still doesn’t sound good to have acrylic on your nails. It makes a flicking sound on the guitar and it sounds annoying, but if I don’t do it and have five shows a day for several months, I will stay without nails so it is a compromise. The best sound I can get for sure is by having my own natural nails.
Can you tell us what is the most important concert for you?
The most important concert for me is the concert where I play without the amplifier in a beautiful venue.
I have performed many times in front of 1500 to 2000 seat venue… but you know, the biggest audience is not always the best. My favorite audience is a smaller audience of up to fifty people. It’s more intimate and I don’t have to use the amplifier.
What is your typical work day? How many sets do you usually do per day?
I am trying to do three to four one (1) hour sets every day of the week and four to five on Sunday and five to six on Saturday. Currently I am doing around two to three one (1) hour sets a day every week.
What is the most interesting feedback you have got?
Hm…. Let me think…
You know what? I like when people come up to me and say that they were having a really bad day but now after listening to my music they are having a good day. This is what I appreciate and like the most. This happens a lot especially when I am playing on the street, but after the concerts it happens as well. Some people say that they were having even a bad year or a month or something bad in their life, but after the concert, they tell me that something changed in them inside and now they feel better!
You have ten years of busking experience. What is the most dangerous thing about busking? Is it safe to perform from early morning till late evenings?
Yes, it can be dangerous sometimes as there are a lot of drunk people at night, drug addicts or simply crazy people.
For example yesterday during my busking in the streets of Melbourne, somebody stole $100 from my basket. It happens once or twice every six months.
Once I was playing surrounded by around two hundred people and I was in the middle of the second piece when suddenly one guy grabbed my basket and ran away with it full of my money. I guess I stopped for a split second and I saw it was happening but I didn’t stop playing and just thought ‘alright’, when I finished playing the piece, I didn’t chase him because there was no point and I just said to my audience ‘I guess some of you just saw that somebody stole my case’ (laughing). And I saw that half of my audience was feeling very sorry for me, probably more than me and I didn’t want them feeling like this so I introduced the next piece and started playing. I was not sorry about the money stolen but about the red bird cage basket which I painted to match all of my gear… but soon after, some one stopped the robber running and returned my case. This story had a happy ending.
What advice do you give to new buskers? What do you think about the generation of new buskers?
One big tip, when people start saying to them that they are good, they still need to know that they are probably not, or not good enough yet. What happens to new buskers is that it is very easy to impress people. As soon as you are ‘OK’, many people will come up to you and say that you are really good when you are still a beginner. Some buskers start thinking that they are good and it’s sad that some buskers stop practicing and learning too early. This can be a very big mistake.
What are you plans for the next 2018 year?
The last album I recorded was five years ago. All this time I was too busy with my shows. I think in general I made up to 600 shows per year, including street shows and concerts in theaters.
After Christmas holidays I am planning to take six months off and during which I will do almost no shows and dedicate myself to the recording of my new album, training, learning new techniques, making music videos and building my web site. And after this, I will return with shows again.
I learned a lot from street shows, concert shows… how to play my repertoire in any situation. But it is very tiring and you play the repertoire again and again and do not really learn something new. And right now it is the time to dedicate myself and do good practice. I am going to settle into a quite place at my parents’ house in Tasmania or an island in Thailand or Vietnam. I am not going to set alarm clock but just wake up, practice for six to seven hours a day between walking on the beach, having a coffee and I am not going to do anything that is mentally tiring. This way, I found that I can learn very quickly and enjoy it.
Tom then moved on after our interview to play at his next gig on the streets of Sydney and we’re wishing him good luck in all his adventures. We are looking forward for his new music album and new shows!
Thank you very much for this exciting interview Tom Ward the amazing classical guitarist from Australia.