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‘People chanting my songs with so much energy blows my mind’: Dylan John Thomas on selling out the Barrowlands, his debut album, and growing up in foster care

© Kim CessfordDylan John Thomas supporting Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds in Dundee.
Dylan John Thomas supporting Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds in Dundee.

From the music shops opposite, Dylan John Thomas would look over at the bright lights of one of the world’s most famous music venues, dreaming of what went on inside.

Of course, he now knows full well not just the thrill of being part of the Barrowlands crowd, but also the glory of stepping out onto its hallowed stage, having sold it out for a sixth time last year without even having released an album.

Now that he’s finally released his debut this month, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter, who grew up just along the road in Glasgow’s east end, is making sure to take time to savour the big moments.

“We were always there just kicking about doing daft things, looking at those lights and wondering what it would be like being in there,” he said.

“I used to walk in to the shops wearing a Carbrini trackie trying to get a shot of the three grand guitars. The guy would just stare at us like: ‘no chance!’

“If I owned a guitar shop now and 12-year-old me walked in, I’d be the same!”

Building a fanbase

The Barrowland shows back in November were a precursor to what’s set to be a big 2024 for Dylan, who is following a path paved by the likes of Lewis Capaldi and Paolo Nutini.

He’s built a strong core of fans getting behind a hometown hero while also earning an audience down south with sell-out solo shows and supporting both Noel and Liam Gallagher.

Having grown up in care, music has always been something of a refuge for him, falling in love with it via the video game Tony Hawk’s Underground 2.

Avoiding a tussle for the Playstation controllers with his fellow foster home residents, he’d sit and absorb every second of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire as it blared out from the skateboarding game’s soundtrack.

It was the first song he learned to play, and the reason he got his first guitar aged 13 and started busking.

© Supplied
Singer songwriter Dylan John Thomas.

“As a musician, being able to pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and go into your own wee world is great,” he said.

“I know it’s a cliché, but it was escapism – being able to drift away in the environment I grew up in and write tunes, nothing really mattered for that time.

“It helps you delve into some stuff that you might be holding in, a cathartic release where maybe you talk about things in childhood that can be difficult to speak about. If you can get them down into a three-minute song it can soften the blow a bit.”

As well as having a freeing impact on himself, he knows it’s also helping others.

“It’s nice to have messages from people saying they went through similar experiences and it’s good to know that there are others out there,” he said.

“It sounds bizarre, but I’m very lucky to have ADHD, in the sense of always being so hyper and wanting to get things done. I’ve been blessed by nothing ever really fazing me.

“Whatever went on in my life, I just wanted to play guitar. A lot of people haven’t had that moment of release. It’s nice to give them that with some of the songs.”

Gerry Cinnamon’s support

Summing up the formula of his music, Dylan said: “My main influence is Paul Simon’s high guitar melodies, with Mark Knopfler’s finger picking, Beatles chords and Johnny Cash rhythm section.”

As well as music of previous generations, he has been influenced and supported by fellow Glaswegian busker-turned-stadium sell out star Gerry Cinnamon.

The singer, who played at Hampden last summer, took him under his wing when he had just started out and still proves to be an inspirational figure.

“There’s plenty from the music side but as a young boy who started gigging coming out of foster care, meeting Gerry led to learning so much about life,” Dylan said.

“He showed me a lot of things I didn’t really understand when I was 15, dealing with everything that happened, and he really helped me through that process.

“He said wee things that still stick with me now being a man. His voice resonates with me.“He’s a big brother figure, something I’d never really had growing up.”

Dylan John Thomas – the album

Dylan’s self-titled debut album was released last week and hit the top ten in the UK charts.

It’s the culmination of almost two years of hard work recording in Liverpool alongside Rich Turvey, who has previously worked with indie rockers Blossoms and The Courteeners.

“To have it as a tangible piece, a body of work, is a weird feeling,” Dylan admits. “Going through busking, gigging and touring for years, and now to be at a point with an album out is class.

“It’s nice to be in a place where I can pick and choose from a wider range of songs now to build the live show up.”

On stage is where Dylan thrives, and he makes sure he takes a moment to take it all in.

Among the big gigs on his schedule this year is playing the main stage at TRNSMT in Glasgow Green.

“Any time we get to play these big shows, I always go back to busking, standing out there, everyone walking past you not caring,” he said.

“That’s where I was only a few years ago. To hear people chant the words back with so much energy just blows my mind any time I’m on stage.

“Me and the band just look at each other thinking ‘what is going on?’”

Dylan John Thomas’s self-titled debut album is out now.