shoot the singer
By Andy Mac
I don’t even get close to ringing the doorbell of the house in Leicester former Kasabian frontman Tom Meighan shares with his wife Vikki Ager and her three daughters. He’s already out in the front garden and then onto the street, bounding towards me with words of welcome pouring out of him. He’s like a friendly Labrador - big hearted and excitable - and seems so pleased to see me that I half expect him to give me a lick. I’d probably just laugh; he’s so instantly disarming.
Instead – with his arms out wide as we approach each other - he gives me an enormous bear hug, and continues to thank me effusively for coming. The symbolism of his pose isn’t lost on me though, and I wonder, in spite of the warm welcome, if he worries that I’m yet another come to crucify him? To hammer some more nails into his reputation.
Some social media commentary has been predictably unforgiving in the aftermath of Tom’s 2020 conviction for assaulting Vikki – his then girlfriend - and the fall-out continues two years later. The comments below a recent announcement of a late Summer 2022 festival appearance on Meighan’s official Facebook page offered up typical examples. Several quickly degenerated into labelling Meighan “a vicious wife-beater” and such like, which official documents, as well as Vikki’s testimony, don’t substantiate.
Meighan’s press coverage too has been less than keen in allowing him to move on – despite those closest to him forgiving him for his transgression – relentlessly mentioning his conviction at every opportunity. As part of Tom’s sentence for assaulting Vikki, and on top of 200 hours of unpaid community service, he was ordered to undergo five days of alcohol rehabilitation and three months alcohol treatment. He was also unceremoniously expelled from Kasabian.
Will this all-pervading atmosphere ultimately chill my encounter with him? I continue to wonder.
For the time being though, there’s only more warmth on offer inside Tom and Vikki’s house. This is certainly no rock star’s lair. Rather, I’m charmed by just how normal a home it is. Teenage girls with cups of tea, pad around the big open-plan kitchen - still in pyjamas at three on a Saturday afternoon - whilst Egyptian looking cats (‘the babies’ and their mother ‘Vivien Leigh’) prowl the place too, getting affectionately batted away from the overflowing platters of sandwiches Vikki sets down beside us.
It’s calmly chaotic. An uncontrived picture of domesticity, with the East Midlands accents wafting around the kitchen making me feel like I’ve been dropped into a scene from a Shane Meadows film. Both familiar and familial, it’s immediately inviting.
Once we start to talk though, Vikki and particularly Tom, despite being on home turf, seem agitated today. They both know that they’ll end up telling me about that intensely personal incident in April 2020, when – both fuelled by alcohol – the tension and distress that had led Tom to “the bottom of a very dark well” spilled over into a domestic confrontation that saw the police called to their home and Tom arrested for assault. And that’s something I don’t plan on ignoring, but there’s clearly something else on their minds today too; something that Meighan will continue to return to throughout our conversation.
“Fucking Serge!” Meighan exclaims, sitting down, fixing me in his gaze, and handing me a mug of black coffee the size of my head.
I’m meeting the couple only a day after Meighan’s ex-band mate Serge Pizzorno has featured in The Sun’s Bizarre column, setting out his side of the story with regards to Tom’s controversial expulsion from Kasabian; a band Meighan fronted so uniquely for 23 years. The tabloid piece is ultimately to support the release of new Kasabian album ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’ – the band’s first without Meighan - but similarly toned features are to follow in the days and weeks to come, and all ploughing the same furrow: that Pizzorno has only reluctantly taken up the mantle of Kasabian frontman.
“He’s an alchemist alright,” Meighan snorts, excised about Pizzorno’s version of events. “I bet he’s pretty euphoric now too. He always wanted to be behind the mic. If he doesn’t want to get into ‘tit for tat’ then he’s going the wrong way about it. He’s rewriting Kasabian’s history.”
Pizzorno has insisted that Meighan’s behaviour and subsequent conviction forced his hand, and that he had to expel his friend and colleague from the band they formed together. That he had no option other than to then step up to the microphone. Meighan vehemently disputes this though.
“The more I look back at it, I knew what was going on,” Meighan sighs. “That’s why my drinking got so bad. It’s no excuse. But that’s why. It was a fucking premonition. Because I had this feeling – when’s this going to end? And I knew it was going to end. I could feel what was going on, and I knew that I was getting pushed out of Kasabian.”
And how long had he had this feeling?
“Ten years! Serge always wanted to be the lead singer. Always! He’s got some front saying he didn’t. Fans would have seen it at the shows. He was edging more and more onstage towards being that. His ten minutes in the spotlight became twenty minutes, and then twenty-five minutes. He’d grab the mic. and run around, jumping into the crowd and doing his ‘Look at me’ thing. For twenty-five minutes! Noel didn’t even push Liam to the side for that long. So, I could feel it coming. It was a premonition. It was written, what was going to happen.”
“Serge had started to turn away from Tom,” adds Vikki. “You could see it happening onstage. It was clear something was going on. And then, just after we moved into this house, Tom went on tour to America about two days later. And he called me and he said, ‘I’ve just got here and the lads have just gone.’ I said, ‘What d’you mean.’ He said, ‘They’ve all hired a house.’ And I said, ‘So, where are you staying?’ And he said, ‘In a hotel with my security guard.’ And he didn’t even know. None of that had been explained to Tom.”
One of Tom and Vikki’s hairless cats chooses this precise moment to fix me with a quizzical stare. If it had eyebrows, it would raise them.
“I’d have given anything to write songs with Serge,” Tom says. “To be let out of my cage. But I was just the singing monkey who sold the tickets. Then I had to go back in the cage. I was treated like a child.”
“Tom was a ‘Yes’ man,” Vikki says.
As he makes yet another massive cup of coffee, Meighan details the following with some emotion.
“I let them treat me like a child. I had no input creatively. No musical input, no art input, no video input, no nothing. I was literally segregated. I knew it was coming to an end, and I just couldn’t handle it. I could always feel the tension. Even when I was singing in the recording booth, I could feel Serge’s resentment. I was completely lost, and I was drowning myself with alcohol. I couldn’t get through the day. My first thought was always ‘drink’.”
“I said, ‘Tom’s not in a good way,’” Vikki adds, the memory clearly upsetting for her. “But there was no interest. The only time it was really acknowledged that there was an issue was on that American tour. Tom was taken into rehab. in Arizona, but just so that he’d be fit enough to perform. Mainly though, he just felt ignored. There was no duty of care to him.”
“They’ll say I was a fucking nightmare,” says Meighan, “They will say that and I admit that. I was. I ignored every red flag. I was drowning. Alcohol doesn’t fix anything. But I felt I was being driven out. I feel like they were happy to let me hang myself. Metaphorically speaking.”
In July of 2020, on the day Tom was convicted for assaulting Vikki, Kasabian issued a statement on Twitter that included the following:
“…abuse of any kind is totally unacceptable. As soon as we found out about the charges made against Tom, we as a band made the decision that we could no longer work with him. Unfortunately, we had to hold back this information until he was found guilty in court.”
The italics are mine. If Tom Meighan’s account of his final years within Kasabian is to be believed then hasn’t he been a victim of abuse? I make no defence of his alcohol fuelled aggressions on the infamous night in question – and neither does he, and that’s on the record – but to piously attempt to sweep what appears to be a deliberate campaign of workplace bullying under the carpet whilst simultaneously taking the moral high ground looks grossly hypocritical.
Isn’t it telling too, that particular actions appear to have been decided upon before Tom was found guilty? That perhaps his fate, as Tom suggests, had long been decided upon?
Meighan is exasperated.
“Serge said in The Sun that I’d decided to go solo before they knew what they were going to do?” he gasps. “He’s contradicting himself! We’d agreed to take a two-year break. To let things calm down. We shook hands on it. I was smiled at! And the next day I got sacked by email. After 23 years, by email from a fucking lawyer. Nobody knows that.”
The death of Ray Liotta remains fresh on my mind and I say to Tom, “That’s like Henry Hill’s line in Goodfellas – ‘Your murderers come with smiles.’”
“They were my brothers,” he says shaking his head ruefully, “Serge and me were like brothers. We started that band together in a bedroom, like all the best bands start. I mean it’s almost a cliché. That’s the thing people need to understand when they start taking sides over this. It’s not Serge’s band. And it’s not my band either. It was our band – mine and Serge’s. His songs; my voice. That’s what Kasabian was all about.”
“Serge insists that they were there for you,” I say. “‘Tom knows that we’re there if he needs us. We spoke to him and he knows that. But subsequently, he’s moved on.’ That’s a direct quote.”
Meighan just shakes his head again.
“I’ve heard nothing since. Nothing. I got married. I turned 40. Nothing. People need to fucking know.”
He’s clearly desperately upset at this continuing disenfranchisement from his ex-bandmates, and it does give the lie to the notion of band as gang - as comrades. Silence and inaction can be powerful forms of abuse too, although they’re not easily policed. Getting frozen out. Being ignored and unsupported. These things are acutely provocative, and can be very damaging. But they’re intangible. Invisible. There’s rarely any real evidence. Passive aggressiveness is often the perfect crime.
Tom has trailed off, tearful and lost in thought for a second before looking over at his wife.
“Babe,” he says to Vikki, “What’s that saying?”
“There’s your side of the story, there’s their side of the story, and then there’s the truth.”
Meighan’s conversation can be scattergun by nature, but here his aim couldn’t be truer, and his sense of loss is profound. “I was Kasabian. Nobody else can sing those songs like me. Serge wrote them. Serge has the publishing. But I own those songs. It isn’t Kasabian anymore. D’you know what I mean?”
And I think that I do know what he means. Because when you front a band then you’re its USP. It’s your DNA – your very essence – that’s being employed front and centre. You’re the face, and of course the voice. The frontman – or woman – more than any other band-member, is the one up on a pedestal night after night. And you’re the one expected to give your all every night. That’s your job and only you can do it. How must it feel to be told your services are no longer required? How can your services be no longer required?
We’re all our jobs – our roles in life – to some degree. It’s why unemployment can be such a stigma. “And what do you do?” the Queen always asked, right? So, what must it have been like to no longer be Kasabian’s lead singer, a role that surely can only belong to Tom Meighan? When he was sacked, did he feel he’d been stripped of his identity, as well as his job?
“It’s like I didn’t ever exist at all now,” says Meighan. “I was the face of that band; the face of that brand. I’ve been completely erased. Treated like I’m a paedophile! Someone’s even changed the Kasabian YouTube clips so that it’s Serge’s picture on the thumbnails and not mine. It’s cancel-culture.”
“That does seem petty,” I venture, “At least your voice can’t be erased from the records.”
Meighan rolls his eyes, perhaps considering that might just be next.
“Serge had started to dub his own vocals on alongside mine,” he explodes, “Over mine! He’d started to do that. You can hear it. Even tried to tell me how to sing. ‘You wanna sing it like this, Tom.’”
Vikki shakes her head whilst the cats just stare at me again.
“Listen,” Tom says. “I agree with a culture that has consequences. I lost virtually everything after what I did. They put a restraining order on me, and I wasn’t allowed to see Vikki. I was homeless. I was living in a mate’s caravan. I agree with consequence culture. I suffered the consequences of my actions. But cancel culture? Some people thinking I don’t deserve to ever be rehabilitated? That’s just another form of bullying. Trying to erase people doesn’t help anyone. You’re not helping anyone to change. And, with regards to Serge, I’d have more respect for him if he’d just ended the band.”
“Like Noel ended Oasis?” I ask.
“Exactly. Just folded the name Kasabian. I could still be doing arenas if I had the name Kasabian.”
The parallels with the Gallagher brother’s long-standing disharmony are clear. Who will the majority of a disbanded band’s fans ultimately flock to? The singer or the songwriter? In the Sun piece, Serge Pizzorno is full of gratitude for the opportunity to front Kasabian in support of Liam Gallagher’s headline spot at Knebworth. That same weekend – for good or for ill - Noel Gallagher played Margate.
Tom’s on record as describing Liam as, “The perfect frontman.” Would he have gone toe to toe with him in front of a huge Knebworth crowd like Serge?
“Listen, Andy,” says Meighan calmly, “If I was still in Kasabian, I don’t think Liam would have wanted us anywhere near Knebworth. He wouldn’t want someone like me to go on before him. But Serge? No problem. He’s no threat to Liam on the night. But Serge won’t be able to see it that way, because it’s what he always wanted – at all costs - to be the frontman.”
“So,” I ask, “When you and Vikki had your now much publicised domestic, do you think Serge might have been rubbing his hands together?”
“Of course!” roars Meighan, “That’s the whole point. I’d stupidly given him exactly what he wanted.”
On the night of 9 April 2020, Vikki Ager desperately urged one of her daughters to call the police to their home when a domestic argument between Vikki and Tom escalated into a physical confrontation; one that left both of them scratched and bruised, and saw Tom arrested, and subsequently convicted for assault.
“So, what did happen that night, exactly?” I enquire?
“I was suicidal,” he says, almost matter of factly. “There’s no excuse for what I did, but I was at rock bottom.”
“It could’ve been anyone,” sighs Vikki, “It could’ve been a bloke.”
“It’s not in my nature to be violent. I’d never been arrested before,” Tom stresses, “I’m not a bad lad.”
“Vikki had rung the police before,” he says, “repeatedly. To say she thought I could harm myself.”
“I was worried for Tom’s safety,” says Vikki, “That’s why I made my daughter call the police. I wouldn’t be bullied. I wouldn’t take that off anyone. I’ve been brought up around strong men - rugby players! I’m not a victim of abuse. If you’d looked at Tom the day after, and looked at me – I had virtually nothing on me. Tom had black eyes. It was one drunken squabble. There was no campaign of abuse.”
“And so, the police arrived,” I say, “Then what?”
“I begged them not to prosecute Tom,” insists Vikki, “I told them this isn’t the problem, we need help.”
“If I was Joe Bloggs, I think I’d have had a slap on the wrist,” says Tom, “but I think they had to make an example of me because of who I was.
“I’d never been arrested before, or been in any trouble with the police. I couldn’t bear the thought that Vikki was frightened or that she had been hurt. I still struggle with how I made her feel that night, and I’ll always have to live with that.”
Even during this bleak recounting of the night in question, there’s black humour, as Vikki shakes her head yet again and laughs at the memory of Tom, “Insisting to the police, when they asked for his name, that he was John Lennon.”
“That pissed them off,” winces Meighan, “I was so drunk.”
“The alcohol doesn’t ever help,” I say - from bitter personal experience, I might add - “things never escalate into aggression without alcohol.”
Meighan agrees, and it’s worth repeating exactly what he wrote in his self-penned mea culpa piece over on ‘Medium.’
“Being arrested that night changed everything. It was the wake-up call I needed to get help. It was as bad as it could get for me. I was in a police cell, not knowing what had happened because I’d drunk so much alcohol. Having to watch the video repulsed me. I pleaded guilty straight away to everything. The shock set in. I was shaken to the core.”
And so, what did he do to address all of this stuff?
Tom recounts the following like a mantra. “I went to rehab – it clicked - I got sober. I was diagnosed with ADHD – I got the right medication for my anxiety. My probation officer – she showed me that there was a way through it all. That there was hope. That I didn’t have to live the life that I had been living, and that things could change. I know now that I need to look after myself mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But I literally wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my wife and the love and support I had from my family.”
Vikki chimes in with her husband, “If you look at a picture of Tom from when I first met him, and then look at him now. There’s no comparison. He’s a different person. It speaks for itself. Because what’s the only thing that’s changed in that six or seven years?”
Now it’s Vikki asking the questions.
“It sounds to me like Tom was in a very toxic situation with Kasabian,” I answer.
“These have been Tom’s most uncertain years,” Vikki continues, “but he looks twenty times better than he did.”
“You’ve ridden it out?” I suggest. “You stayed together.”
And at this, Vikki and Tom look at each other across the kitchen, and just nod, and smile, like any recently married couple would. Still high on the thrill, as well as their obvious affection for each other.
Tom then reaffirms, even more directly, what he’d said just moments earlier, “I’d be dead if it wasn’t for her,” he says, tears in his eyes again.
Unable to respond to that – at least immediately - in any way that’s worthy, I muddle through into another question.
“What about the press attention your situation got?” I ask. “What impact did that have?”
“It was awful wherever we went, for me and the girls because of the press coverage,” Vikki says. “I worried for their mental health, seeing the way it was reported. One of my daughters ended up sobbing her heart out at school because of something that was said. There were photographers outside, moving our bins to get a better shot of us leaving the house. It was hideous. I said to the lady from one of the daily papers, still banging on our door after I’d closed it on her, ‘What do you want? Another Caroline Flack?’ I’ve asked you to go away. They’re numb. They have no empathy. I don’t know how they do that for a job. They had no idea what was driving Tom to behave the way he was – how out of his mind he was – and they didn’t care either. They could so easily have had more blood on their hands.”
“I came so close to doing something that you don’t come back from,” says Tom starkly.
“That kind only really like to cover people’s pain and anguish,” I say, “They’re not really interested if you happen to make it out the other side. Forgiveness doesn’t make the front page. It’s all about the scandal.”
There’s a pause in the conversation as the magnitude of maybe just how close they got to being destroyed by all of this resonates around the silent kitchen. Maybe it’s the invocation of Caroline Flack’s name that’s done it, although Tom of course has – three times now – made an admission of quite some degree.
So, it’s Tom himself who forces himself to break the uncomfortable silence. “I feel so much better now,” he cries, leaping to his feet, scattering the cats.
He’s not just talking about recovery though - or of being freed from the turmoil of his final years with Kasabian – it’s clear he’s referring to the conversation we’ve just had. There’s a palpable sense of relief and release suddenly emanating from him as he paces the kitchen. He looks re-energised just to have talked about things.
“I just want to get on and do my thing. Make records; play gigs,” implores Meighan at the top of his voice.
I was fortunate to hear in advance some of the solo material that Tom has co-written with his new band - songs that were showcased on a very well received UK tour back in May, and more recently in a handful of Christmas shows that took in Glasgow, Sheffield, and two nights in Tom’s home city of Leicester. If the tracks remain in the same sequence that I’ve heard them, then his forthcoming solo album – ‘The Reckoning’ - will kick off with a song called ‘Movin’ On’ - the title of which should require no explanation.
‘Movin’ On’ is a provocative, almost glam rock stomp (bringing to my mind Joaquin Phoenix dancing down those steps in The Joker) that confronts cancel culture and those who would deny Meighan – a man who accepted his punishment and served his sentence - the opportunity to do just that: move on. It confidently sticks two fingers up to those anonymous keyboard warriors who so readily cast themselves as judge, jury, and executioner, and jump to simple conclusions in the kangaroo court of the internet. It also sends a couple of very clear messages to his ex-band mates too, confirming that the original voice of Kasabian won’t be cancelled quite so easily. It’s quite the opener.
In addition, there’s also the heart wrenching ballad ‘Would You Mind,’ a song first made available to fans as a free download, and a clear reflection on Tom’s trials and tribulations of the past two years, as well as the complexity of asking for help.
Plus, there’s a strong contingent of rock ‘bangers’ – songs like ‘Shout It Out’ ‘Rise,’ and ‘Acrobat,’ - that showcase Meighan’s vocal talents in a way that clearly demonstrate he’s Kasabian’s loss.
And then there’s a track called ‘Sunshine.’ It’s not on the new album - but is apparently destined to be a single somewhere down the line – one for the backburner and 2023 summer festivals hopefully. It’s a rootsy, soulful song that’s full of optimism about the healing, cleansing powers of love and sunlight, with a rousing chorus that’s an obvious paean to Vikki. “Good God, I love you lady,” is its repeated refrain. The song stands out as a clear change of pace in amongst all the ‘stompers’ and ‘bangers’ that characterise Meighan’s work, and is perhaps more indicative of his own personal musical influences than would ever have been possible within the creative straitjacket he was forced to wear with Kasabian.
“I grew up listening to Motown with my mum and dad,” he smiles.
“Could we say that there’s more variety within your sets these days, Tom?”
“You could say that,” he replies. “It’s different from what I did with Kasabian. Even though I still do those classic Kasabian songs live – of course I do. Music feels fresh again, now I know how to focus my energy on the right things. For the first time, I’m contributing to the writing of the songs. It’s a collective process. They’re songs I want to sing. Music is like a form of therapy for me now. This is a fresh start. It’s all brand new.”
This theory was more than confirmed in the shows I saw in Glasgow, Sheffield and Leicester on Meighan’s short UK December tour. His relationship with his audiences was personal. He’s ‘one of their own’ and not just on his home turf. They know what he’s been through, and their support for him was palpable in a live setting. Electrifying.
I’ve been guilty in the past of maybe seeing a mob element in modern rock crowds. Categorising all the beer throwing and chanting as somehow yobbish. Akin to football hooliganism. But I think that’s doing a disservice to Meighan’s audience. For all of the lager that went up in the air at his recent shows – and that’s no different from a punk gig in 1977, or a Castle Donnington metal crowd – it was ultimately love that was in the air. Genuine affection for Tom. And there’s no substitute for that. Those people were Tom Meighan FANS.
I witnessed a rare connection at those lives shows, and one that was only strengthened by Meighan’s energy and showmanship. There’s something authentic about Tom’s re-emergence as a solo performer. His reacceptance and escape from the shadow of Kasabian. He’s a frontman of rare qualities, and these days backed by a new band who clearly relish the thrill of accompanying him onstage. They’re becoming a live act of extraordinary power.
I wonder if he relishes the challenge of ultimately going up against his old bandmates? “I hear there were a lot of people chanting ‘We want Tom!’ during Kasabian’s Knebworth set in the summer?” I say.
To his credit, Meighan doesn’t rise to the bait. “I don’t know about that,” he says, “Listen, there’s room for everyone hopefully. I wish them well. But Kasabian fans know that they’re only going to hear those old songs done the right way with me on the mic. They know that.”
And has he heard the new Kasabian album? Serge’s new tunes?
“I have, yeah,” he says. And, significantly, that’s all he says. He just stares at me with raised eyebrows, whilst his cats look on, maybe a tad envious.
Later - after I’ve said my goodbyes to Vikki and the girls - and emerge into the street outside their home, the summer sun is still hammering down. Tom accompanies me and, just as earlier, he gives me an enormous hug. As I’m released from this embrace and step away, Tom has his arms spread wide yet again, and he’s squinting into the sunshine. “Thanks so much,” he says, before turning on his heels and going back inside to his family.
And so, my meeting with Tom Meighan is bookended by memories of him with his arms spread out. Of him completely opened up and saying, ‘I’ve got nothing to hide.’ This time though, as I left him, his shadow was spread out too, in the late afternoon sun, like a cross behind him on the ground. The image makes me smile, and it’s a temptation I can’t resist because of course it makes me wonder what life would be without the chance of redemption; and – of course – of resurrection. As Tom himself put it, “Trying to erase people doesn’t help anyone. You’re not helping anyone to change.” I smile again, when a few days later I see a black and white shot of Tom from a homecoming show in Leicester, in an almost identical pose.
Tom admitted his guilt, took his punishment, and paid the price. He’s made changes too. He and Vikki have moved on. Why can’t so many others? Infantile outrage at someone else’s mistake is easy – permanent retribution - it’s one of the common currencies of the internet. But, as ever, it’s the more adult responses that are hard. Responses like compassion, comprehension, and forgiveness.
Shouldn’t we all try and reach out to people a bit more? Embrace complexity and nuance, and offer up a little more peace, love, and understanding? Certainly, more than the online mob – that over-simplified, tabloid driven, mosh-pit of social media - wants us to? His hardcore fans have, but couldn’t the wider world likewise open their arms to Tom Meighan again? Maybe stop hammering in the nails and start helping to pull them out? Conclude that a man has been crucified enough?
With ‘The Reckoning’ released on 28 April 2023 - supported by a major Spring European tour - Tom Meighan is finding his way back. He’s grown up and is moving on, and I think he deserves his second chance. And, I suspect that – if he’s given one - then he’ll be nailing himself to a lot more people’s hearts very soon.
Vikki and Tom were talking to Andy Mac.
©Andrew McIntosh 2022. All Rights Reserved.