As they say, it takes a long time to be an overnight success and Tokio Myers is no different. Winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2017 changed his life, but it is not as if he had just started his career in music.
Born Torville Jones in 1984, he grew up listening to his Jamaican father’s record collection; then, taking up piano as a child, he fell in love with classical music. As a teen, he fell in love with electronic dance music. Upon leaving school, he won a full scholarship to the prestigious Royal College of Music.
He toured with Amy Winehouse, who encouraged him to pursue a music career. Tokio worked as a session keyboardist for several years, but became disillusioned and quit the industry. He set up a studio and began to make his own music with little regard for genre boundaries, fusing classical, pop, and dance. After winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2017, he released many of his independent releases and became a major internet sensation.
Signed to a joint deal between Simon Cowell’s Syco Music and BMG, he co-wrote and produced his debut album with film composer Guy Farley. Titled Our Generation and released in November 2017, it debuted at number four on the official U.K. album chart.
I-M: Your version of Jerusalem was used as England’s Commonwealth Games anthem – how do you go about recording a version of such an iconic anthem?
T.M: As you say, it’s a challenge making your own version of such a well known and loved anthem. I think you’ve just got to imagine what the recording will be used for and use that to guide the direction you’d like to take the track. With the help of the very talented Jazmin Sawyers and a 70-piece orchestra I think we managed to create a rousing track that still stays true to the original with a contemporary twist.
I-M: A lot of people felt you winning BGT in 2017 was a breath of fresh air given the multitude of talent shows on UK TV and the questionable talent in them. How has your life change in this last year?
T.M: Looking back less than a year on from Britain’s Got Talent, I never imagined I’d be in the position I’m in now. I never went on the show to win. Since then I’ve done a lot of amazing things, basically living the dream, it’s been incredible and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop and I don’t want it to.Back then, to think that within a year
Back then, to think that within a year I would have released my debut album and be embarking on a 20-Show UK & Ireland Tour would have been in my wildest dreams. I have played in some awesome spaces, met some amazing people and really look forward to the future. I am working on album 2 and also planning a second tour for later this year or early next.
I-M: The sound you have created on your album is quite unique. Who would you say were the two to three key influences on you when you were learning your trade, and given your uniqueness, who do you see as your natural audience?
T.M: There have been so many people along the way that have influenced me
both as a person and musically. My father owned a large record collection which included a range of music from the Beatles to Jamaican Reggae. From an early age I would sift through his collection picking out my favourite tracks. This exposed me to a variety of music from the start. Mr Morgan, my piano teacher at high school, also lay the foundations for where I am today by teaching me traditional classical piano. After leaving the Royal College of Music, I DJ’d to earn money. My love of electronic music really came to life in that time. In that period I played keys for Mr Hudson & The Library, where I was allowed to be experimental and practice my own take on the piano parts of the tracks we played. It would be very hard to bracket my natural audience because I incorporate so many styles and genres. It’s powerful and humbling to see the young appreciating more traditional styles of music and the older ‘vibing’ to some of the more hard-hitting tracks!
I-M: You won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. That must have been a huge culture shock for you. How did the experience help you develop into the artist you’ve become and were you considered too avant-garde by the professors?
T.M: It was an awesome culture shock. I was surrounded by some of the country’s most talented young musicians, and taught by some of the most sought after teachers – no complaints there! The Royal College of Music is right opposite the Royal Albert Hall which to perform in is pretty high on the ambitions list of most aspiring musicians.
I really enjoyed playing there earlier this month for Classic FM Live accompanied by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The feeling was awesome! I think the professors and I found some synergy, as to be avant-garde you need to have also learned the foundations of most piano styles, which they definitely gave me. With these foundations in place, it gives me that extra bit of freedom to be creative when writing/producing new tracks, be it classical or cinematic/electronic.
I-M: You’ve already supported some of the world’s biggest artists – who would you really like to collaborate with, and what plans do you have to play live this year? What’s next for you?
T.M: We’ve got some big plans for ‘collabs’ this year. I can’t wait. Festival season is coming up. I’ve got some really exciting gigs this year. I’m off to the Isle of Wight Festival in June; I’ve heard great things! The summer months will also involve being in the studio to work on my second album, so I’m keeping my head down and pushing onwards!