Singing in the shower is as far as I would go to treat people to my melodious voice (really??), but for our guest today, Tom Barton of Mr Boutique, singing is part of who he is, part of his DNA. He lives and breathes music, singing different styles from Jazz to contemporary music all guaranteed to get the most lead footed of us up and groovin’.
So come with me and be inspired by the man with the dulcet tones – Tom Barton….
How did you become a singer?
I sang a lot as a child and started taking things a bit more seriously in high school. I had those usual teenage bands that give you an embarrassed grin looking back.
I then went on to tertiary training, doing a Bachelor of Music Performance honours degree in jazz voice at the Victorian College of the Arts. This is where I met the musicians I work with now. Uni was an incredible experience. It really opened up my world and showed me that life as a musician is possible, and that I wanted to give it a shot.
I am the lead singer for Mr Boutique – you can check me out on our ‘Listen’ page!
Mr Boutique band -image by Sam Sidney
Who inspires you musically?
As a child, definitely the classics like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Carole King and Andrew Lloyd Webber (pick the only tragic at my primary school to dress as the Phantom of the Opera three years running). My later years were inspired by the likes of Jeff Buckley, Powderfinger, Led Zeppelin, and of course, Bjork.
These days I’m really inspired by New York vocalist and composer Theo Bleckmann – who I’ve studied with in NYC – and jazz singer Kurt Elling. Kurt’s voice and presence is absolutely phenomenal.
What styles of music do you play at a wedding? And do they need to ‘resonate’ with band members before being included?
Our goal is to cater to all tastes. Often times we perform jazz for the first half of an event, followed by up-tempo dance music in the latter half of the reception. For this part of the night, the aim of the game is getting anyone dancing who is willing and able! So, we like to play a mix of classic party music from across the decades.
Initially, Mr Boutique was created to provide really top notch jazz for events looking for that extra sparkle – that special energy in the room that jazz so uniquely gives off. We then decided to broaden out and offer contemporary music too – because we love to play it and because it’s a common request for weddings. It’s a great gear-change for an event that adds a whole new dynamic.
Throughout uni, the musicians I studied with spent their nights performing in all kinds of bands: jazz, pop, rock, funk, electronic – you name it. They have the training and experience to pull pretty much anything off with ease – that’s what I love so much about musicians with jazz training. It’s about high skills, great musicality and band interaction (After all, jazz is the original dance music!)
Image by Tess Follett
Do you have a favourite style, or song that gets the best reaction from wedding guests?
You often know the background jazz is working because things just seem to flow: guests arrive and mingle, enjoying the atmosphere. A laid-back version of Sinatra’s Fly me to the Moon is hard to beat, or Michael Bublé’s Sway.
The best reactions for dance songs would have to be for Lifting Me Higher (We’ve never been the same since that scene in Ghostbusters II, have we?), Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, and The Black Keys’ Lonely Boy.
Do you hold showcases so that potential clients can come and hear you play?
We actually find most of our bookings through word of mouth – which is lovely and quite fortunate. That clients have often heard about us, and can tell from our website that quality control is a really big priority for us, so they don’t often ask to see us performing first.
If clients want an idea of how we actually sound, I usually direct them to our online demos. I made special effort to have these songs recorded in a large, open-plan studio. The entire band (and myself in a little room next door) performed all of our demo songs at once, in a single ‘take’ – i.e. live. The idea was that prospective clients could experience our real, full live sound together – no studio tricks or fix-ups.
We just, however, did a large showcase for the Grand Hyatt at their request.
Image courtesy of the Grand Hyatt, Melbourne
Mr Boutique trio – image by Sam Sidney
When not playing at weddings, do you have a regular haunt where we can come and hear you play?
I do! I love to keep a healthy artistic career going alongside running Mr Boutique. You can find my gigs at: www.tombarton.com.au
You might find me performing a solo vocal looping and live electronics set, or singing some jazz standards with a guitarist in a small bar somewhere.
Five songs that should be on my wedding reception playlist are……
- I Saw Her Standing There – Beatles
- Valerie – Amy Winehouse
- Moondance – Van the Man (Morrison)
- The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson
- Stand by Me – Ben E. King
What is your most popular wedding package, and why?
That would be our 5-piece / Quintet.
The 5-piece has vocals, saxophone, guitar (or piano), double-bass and drums. It’s got a big sound, but still a fairly compact footprint in terms of space. The saxophone addition really adds so much to the feel of the jazz, and packs a punch later on in the dance sets too. It’s interesting that even though the saxophone is a popular instrument, people don’t often get to see and hear the sax live. It really turns heads.
You have some great ‘event tips’ on your website – what would be a couple of the most important tips for brides to remember?
My favourite weddings have all had really thoughtful planning, and then at some stage the couples have consciously decided to draw the line and switch into enjoyment mode.
If this is the message from the couple, the guests and event staff relax and the whole reception just flows so well. Remember that by being surrounded by loved ones, good food and great music, things can’t go wrong!
Tom Barton – image by Sam Sidney
When you’re not performing, what style of music/singers/bands do you like to listen to?
I try to get out and hear as much live music as possible – vocal and instrumental. My good friend Josh Kyle is an incredible jazz singer, who’s actually going great guns on The Voice right now. Mr Boutique’s main female singer, Kate Kelsey-Sugg, is also kicking goals – having placed second in Australia’s largest jazz vocal competition last year. She also has a cool new Neo-Soul / RnB band that’s starting to play around Melbourne, called KKS. Check them out!
And where is the best place in town to hang out and listen to music?
If you’re after some jazz – vocal or instrumental – try Melbourne’s jazz home, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. It’s the source! If you want something even more raw or experimental, head to Uptown Jazz Café on Brunswick St, or 303 on High Street, Northcote, on a Monday night.
The Evelyn Hotel has seen more of Melbourne’s famous pop / indie / rock bands than probably anywhere else, so give that one a go for a good dance! Ditto for Bar Open.
Portrait shot of Tom by Sam Sidney