Inside story: Alt J’s amazing drummer’s rise to fame

Thom Green of Alt-J.
Thom Green of Alt-J.

Harrogate may not be known for producing famous rock and pop acts but that may all be about to change thanks to Mercury Prize winners Alt-J, writes Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers.

Since the intelligent, quirky indie band won the prestigious award for their album An Awesome Wave, the national press has been awash with stories about how the four, young musicians met at Leeds University.

There is no question that this is true but there’s also been rumours that Alt-J’s drummer Thom Green is actually from Harrogate.

Now his father Jonathan, who is a primary school teacher, confirms these reports are, in fact, correct.

“Thom’s a Harrogate lad through and through. We’ve lived in the same house in the same street in Bilton for 30 years.”

It’s an amazing success story for this talented drummer who has overcome major health problems on his road to success.

His determination to excel at music started early, his father revealed.

“When he was a baby he would crawl to the kitchen and search for the pots and pans in the cupboard. He was told off constantly at primary school for tapping on the table. He’s never had drum lessons. He’s completely self-taught.”

Before moving to Leeds where he met the rest of Alt-J while studying Fine Art, Thom went to St Aidan’s High School and, prior to that, Woodfield Primary School in Bilton.

The band formed in Leeds in 2007 before moving to Cambridge after graduating.

Even before their recent breakthrough, Alt-J had been making, er, waves at home and abroad with the album An Awesome Wave. Thom’s passionate presence on his distinctive hi-hatless drum kit has played a big part in the band’s sound - that sensitive blend of layered, folk-inflected pop and dramatic alt-rock and lyrics influenced by cult films and esoteric novels.

But his contribution is impressive for another reason, says his father Jonathan.

“He’s nearly deaf. He’s got very little hearing in either ear. That’s why he’s cocking his head when drumming. He’s very talented and very determined and very passionate about what he does.”

That dedication to his craft has proven vital since he first hooked up with vocalist-guitarist Joe Newman, guitarist-bassist Gwil Sainsbury and keyboard player Gus Unger-Hamilton.

Jonathan said: “He was on kidney dialysis for four years before he got a kidney transplant five years ago. He’s got Alport Syndrome which has affected his hearing as well. He still takes a lot medication each day.”

It’s strange to think of Thom, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Bonfire Night, as a teenage drummer in Explicit playing the Little Wonder pub and The Regency in Harrogate, just one of many young bands in the town who dip their toe in the water before sinking without trace.

His father can’t quite believe it, either.

“I went down for the Mercury Prize night. It was a real surprise when all 12 judges voted for them. Lauren Laverne and Fearne Cotton both seemed to be big fans. The band’s victory is a very exciting things to have happened to all of us.”

And he revealed Alt-J are already writing songs for their second album.