He’s the Barnsley lad with the big voice, big heart and big hair. And it’s clear to see why Tom Masters has instantly struck a chord with audiences across the region.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen Tom mature from this young tenor in the award-winning Barnsley Youth Choir to one of Barnsley’s most in-demand musicians, racking up over 280 gigs last year.
Tom, with his guitar and collection of loud shirts and bandanas, is a regular on the South and West Yorkshire live music scene. Almost every day in his calendar has a booking, from microbars in Mapplewell to pre-game performances at his beloved Oakwell. He’s played at every annual Barnsley Live music festival since it began, and also performs with the Platinum Party Band.
But it’s the people of Barnsley who get Tom’s validation.
“No matter where you are, Barnsley gets behind live music. Our people want to support up and coming talent they’ve not heard before. I adore Barnsley and feel so strongly to stay here, have a base here and grow from here. So many creatives look to big cities like London or Manchester but if everybody with aspirations leaves those small towns behind, how do they survive or grow? Barnsley has got huge potential and I want to be part of it. People here are honest, kind and genuine and they’ve always deserved more.”
He’s as confident and charismatic in real life as he is on stage, with that cool, carefree vibe of an up-and-coming superstar. But he tells us it hasn’t always been that way. Nauseating nerves and many an hour of his adolescence spent arguing with the voice in his head nearly kept Tom out of the spotlight.
But we’ve got his older sister, Rosie, to thank for giving him the push he needed to show the world his voice.
The siblings were brought up on kitchen discos with mum Julie’s varied CD collection, serving up Billy Joel with a side order of Bruno Mars.
“I will forever cherish these kitchen singalongs, harmonising with my mum. They are some of my favourite memories of her and they also really helped shape and influence my music taste.”
When Barnsley Youth Choir formed in 2009, the siblings decided to audition together, but Tom says he bottled it at the last minute and stayed home. Rosie went alone and was part of the founding choir members. She met her husband-to-be, Luke, in the choir and when we met Tom he was days off preparing to sing at their wedding.
“I don’t tell my sister enough but she’s inspired me a lot and I’ve always looked up to her. Everything she did, I followed, whether that was karate or learning to play guitar. But it took me longer to find myself, coming from a place of vulnerability. Singing, even for the most confident of people, can be a scary thing and there’s still a stigma for boys. I remember I did something in year seven at school and got stick for it which put me off singing for a good few years. Vulnerability is always paired with weakness. But if you turn it into power and strength, and are open about those things, then nothing can hurt you.”
Tom did eventually audition for the choir in 2013 after being encouraged by choir founder, Mat Wright. Back then, Mat was vice principal at Tom’s secondary school, Horizon Community College, and had watched a 15-year-old Tom perform in a school production of Les Mis.
“He said to me, ‘Come on now mate I think it’s time to have a go in the choir.’ But I finally felt brave enough. I tell everyone that, without Barnsley Youth Choir, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I still perform with the senior choir, even though I’m a little bit old at 25. But as long as they’ll have me, I’ll stay involved.”
With the choir, Tom has travelled to places like South Africa, Latvia and Germany to sing. They’ve also performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and appeared on Britain’s Got Talent in 2022.
In a full circle moment, Tom is now part of the teaching team at Barnsley Youth Choir, working with kids aged between four and 12 across the junior and children’s choirs.
“I’m really grateful that Mat and Eleanor trust me enough to give me this chance. One of the reasons the choir is so special is because there are no egos. Nobody is bigger than the choir and that’s a value we try to instil. Whether you’re four or 24, or 25 in my case, we’re all working for one another and we all sing for one another.”
While the choir nurtured his singing ability, it was at college that Tom realised he could turn his talent into a career – especially if he paired singing with his guitar.
He’d been learning to play since he was at Wilthorpe Junior school, but always found it more of a chore. However, in hindsight, Tom says he’s grateful his parents gave him the opportunity and he stuck with it as guitar – and music – is his main focus in life.
In his early teens, he played electric guitar in a cover band called The Razor Tones with a few fellow young musicians he met at music camp. Although that fizzled out, it gave him the confidence to try solo gigging.
Throughout his time studying A Levels at Penistone Sixth Form, Tom was busking and gigging at venues across the town. Then he went off to Leeds Conservatoire – aka Leeds College of Music – to do his degree.
Since graduating in 2020, Tom’s career has rocketed, fuelled by an increasing ferocity of enquiries. The logistics of agreeing to 288 gigs would baffle even the most seasoned of agencies. But Tom does it all by himself with just a paper diary.
“I don’t like saying no to people. I set a goal of 200 gigs and didn’t realise I’d exceeded it until I added it up at the end of the year. It was very fun and I’m grateful to have a job playing live to people. But that number of gigs was very challenging to sustain, especially when there were many days I’d be doing three or four performances a day. Doing so many gigs made me realise vocal rest and recovery is so important,” he says.
One of the biggest gigs of his career so far has been winning the first-ever Bank’s Got Talent. Organised by The Last Bank pub in Pontefract, Tom entered the talent competition on a ‘why not’ moment. After making it through to the final, Tom played two original songs and was supported in a flash mob style with 16 members of Barnsley Youth Choir sitting in the audience, including sister Rosie.
“It was quite a big platform with a lot of eyes on it and gave me the chance to show me and my music a bit more. I never expected to get to the final never mind win it; giving a performance I was satisfied with and proud of at each stage was all I cared about.”
With his £10,000 winnings from Bank’s Got Talent, Tom is planning to take his parents on a well-deserved holiday. His dad, Nigel, is certainly in need of a break, having become Dad’s Taxi driving Tom to and from all his gigs while he recovers from a sprained ankle he picked up at badminton training with former England women’s champion, Jenny Wallwork.
“I am forever indebted to my dad for driving me round for years to all my gigs when I was growing up before I had passed my test. I return the favour letting him take the passenger seat these days so he can actually have a pint at the gigs after years not being able to.”
He’s also using a chunk of the prize money to release new music following the success of his first two tracks, Breakthrough and Separate Ways. Tom is currently working with his friend and Platinum band member, Rob Cooper, at Studio 5B arranging new songs with a view to bringing an EP out early next year.
“I love playing covers as these are artists who have shaped me and they never get old; my favourite song of all time is Total Eclipse of the Heart and I play it at every gig. But I also want to stay true to who I am as an artist. I’m in a bit of limbo at the minute, still figuring out my sound, but lyrics are important to me.
“Some of my new material touches on my mental health journey. I’ve always been positive and outgoing, but I do have off days for sure. Everyone has ups and downs. I’d only told a handful of people about my own thoughts, so it has been very liberating to be so open through music. I’m still self-critical at times but I know my strengths and I lean into those. Privilege is the overwhelming feeling I get when I perform, seeing all the people who are kind enough to keep coming to my gigs.”