Tom Arthur MSP: Political Spin
What was the first record you bought?
I’m not sure, but the first I remember is the Queen album Made in Heaven when I was about 10. It was released after Freddie Mercury died. I was a big Queen fan as a boy, and I remember my mum playing their Greatest Hits in the car. When I heard Bohemian Rhapsody, I remember thinking ‘what is this?’ and wanting to hear more.
You play piano and keyboard. What music got you interested in playing?
As a kid, my dad had these tapes of Christmas music from Reader’s Digest, all arrangements of old and new classics and popular songs from the 1930s and 40s. He had one with the pianist Richard Clayderman, which I absolutely loved and would ask my dad to rewind over and over again when I was about five or six. With Queen, what I liked was the scale of production and the technicality of it.
Sounds like your parents played a lot of music.
My dad was primarily into folk music. He had a folk band and they’d be round at the house rehearsing every Friday night and out on a Saturday gigging. My mum was into The Beatles, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles – that was all regularly played in the house. The first time I heard Dark Side of the Moon I was blown away. I got into classical after hearing Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto, which I still love. There was a mystique around it. It was the centrepiece of the film Shine, about the Australian concert pianist David Helfgott.
You play drums too...
When I was learning drums, I learned about jazz. Gene Krupa, who was a band leader who most famously played with Benny Goodman on Sing, Sing, Sing, became a hero of mine, and I got into things like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
Tell us about your old band, Velvet Five.
I had just finished my Masters and I was teaching piano and thinking about working up a proposal for my PhD in musicology, and I wanted to have a decent enough income to make ends meet when the opportunity to join the band came up. When I joined, the band didn’t have any gigs or a real profile and it was a team effort, but it became very successful. We would do more than 100 functions a year, and between that and rehearsing and learning new songs, it became a full-time job. Then one member died suddenly of a massive brain haemorrhage. It was completely out of the blue. We’d lost a friend, but we had all this work we’d committed to. We had to just pick things up and work quickly, because that was what he would’ve wanted - the show must go on, type of thing. Getting into politics as a candidate and then getting elected meant I couldn’t really do it any more. The PhD never actually got submitted because I never got to the point where I thought I’d have time to do it.
What crowd pleasers would you turn to?
The secret to playing a wedding is you want to keep the crowd entertained. They’re not there to sit and listen to you, they want a full dancefloor. Certain things would be guaranteed to get people up – Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison was one, as much as you were at your wits’ end playing it. There were songs like Superstition by Stevie Wonder that were so fun you’d never get tired of playing them. Towards the end of the night we would play You Can Leave Your Hat On – some of the things I’ve seen while performing that are torched into my retinas. Then we’d do Caledonia, 500 Miles, Proud Mary, all the things you’d expect. I’d have to channel Pete Wishart for the Loch Lomond finale.
So what did you have for your own first dance?
It was supposed to be Springsteen, but we forgot to have one – we were having too much fun.
What was the last gig you saw?
Queen with Adam Lambert at the Hydro. It was everything you’d expect from a Queen concert, just over-the-top theatrics and camp with brilliant sound and AV. It was a belated birthday present for my wife Davina.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Anything by Sinatra. I’m a massive Sinatra fan. I’d go for New York, New York. George Adam, whose constituency is next to mine, is also a big Sinatra fan so we see ourselves as Frank and Dean, but I’m not sure who is who.
What do you listen to in the car?
You become an MSP and age in dog years, you become a minister and age in fruit fly years: I listen to podcasts now.