The musician using flamenco to get Preston's creativity flowing
Flamenco is one of the world's great art-forms. Formed in southern Spain, a cultural melting pot of native Andalusians, Romani gypsies from North West India, Arabs and Moors from Northern Africa, and Sephardi Jews, flamenco pits a guitarist, a dancer, and a singer together in rhythmic harmony.
Preston-born flamenco guitarist Tom Metcalfe, 29, is fascinated by it. A singer-songwriter, tutor, and music theorist, Tom is currently completing a masters at the University of Salford and runs community workshops in Preston on everything from song-writing to drumming to ear training. He's on a mission to tap into Preston's artistic side.
"Music has always been a big passion - my mum and grandma used to do a lot of musical activities with me," said Tom, who graduated from the Uni of Salford with a degree in popular music and recording in 2013, earning the highest performance grade the course leader had ever seen. "They could both sing and I have early memories of making rice shakers. Music was play."
Always interested in music, it wasn't until his mid-teens that Tom's curiosity became a passion. Studying sociology, psychology, history, and media at A Level, he realised he wanted to study music, so enrolled on a BTEC in music at Preston College. "It all fell into place," he said.
Tom has been performing live for 12 years, been doing private tutoring for a decade, and has been a full-time musician since 2011. An avid Preston North End fan - Tom was the mascot for PNE's first game back on grass in 1994 - he has been a fixture on his home city's creative scene for years, working with the Preston Ukulele Strummers Society, More Music, and Men Against Violence, and was a familiar face at both the Beautiful Planet cafe and the Korova Arts Cafe before they closed.
"There's a great artistic community in Preston," he said. "We punch above our weight; there's so much talent in this city. The workshops are a great creative outlet - it's about creating a safe environment where people can get something from it. I like to think about music in a philosophical way and I try and make it accessible.
"Playing an instrument is about building muscle memory and good habits - some of the best artists I've ever seen aren't that good technically, but they're the most creative artistically and have the audience in the palm of their hand," he added. "It's important to have a middle ground between artistic integrity and technical ability."
A bona fide multi-instrumentalist who can teach everything from guitar, ukulele, and banjo to piano, harmonica, and drums, Tom is also a member of the folk rock band Tom Metcalfe and the String Theorists, who are currently recording an album. But what really intrigues him creatively is flamenco.
"Flamenco is so alien to us, the rhythms and the harmonies," he explained. "It's a bit like jazz, you have to have some degree of investment from the listener to appreciate the nuance. I've had to study it in a very academic way and go deep into the culture and history."
Awarded UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity status, flamenco is not an easy concept to grasp. But Tom, who will be performing flamenco guitar alongside dancer Allie Herrmann at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in November, senses an enthusiasm for learning about such a rich cultural touchstone.
"There's a real passion for it," he said. "As teachers, it's easy to get bogged down; flamenco dancing is like playing drums with your feet, so the guitarist has to listen and react. It's so interesting: a lot of dancers are female and the guitarists tend to be male, so there's an interplay between the masculine and the feminine and you have to find a common ground.
"It's abstract, and when I teach it's more about learning to express creativity. The instrument is just the vehicle for expression."
Tom's recently-announced Ear Training workshop takes place on Sunday, 15 September at the Guild Ale House from 5pm to 10pm. It is open to all ages and abilities, tickets are £10 for adults and £5 for u18s (u16s must be accompanied by adult).
He also teaches at Future Music Sounds in Longridge every Wednesday and will be teaching flamenco guitar at the Instituto Cervantes in Manchester and Leeds, Spanish language and cultural centres funded by the Spanish government.