Editors’ Notes Just days before releasing his debut album, Tom Walker picked up the 2019 BRIT Award for British Breakthrough Act. It was an honor that recognized his gift for soul-baring songs—such as all-conquering singles “Leave a Light On” and “Just You and I”—that resonate with universal emotion and flashes of optimism. “I think a lot of my songs are a little bit depressing with an underlying kernel of hope,” he tells Apple Music. “That’s what’s music’s about—losing yourself in it and hopefully feeling a bit better about whatever situation you’re in.” Drawing on highly personal experiences and a rich musical brew that takes in folk, trap, and reggae, What a Time to Be Alive upholds that philosophy. This deluxe version is intended as, he says, “a last hurrah” before disappearing for at least a year to write the follow-up. Alongside alternate versions and fan favorites, it contains new songs that expand on the intimacy of his songwriting. “I think they further what it’s doing as a record,” he says. “There are personal songs in there that are really, really close to me, and those are the ones fans seem to connect with. The new ones, especially ‘Heartbeats’ and ‘Something to Believe In,’ have been going down super amazing live, straight off the bat.” Here, the Manchester-raised singer-songwriter talks us through the stories and ideas that inspired each track on this emboldened edition.

Just You and I
“This version was a more upbeat one we did for radio. We tried out so many different versions to get the right one; some were absolutely hilarious and terrible, and some were really good. Live, we start with the acoustic version and then after the second chorus it kicks into this new version, and I’m really enjoying doing that.”

Leave a Light On
“It’s about my friend who was struggling with mental health and addiction. A good friend would tell his friend if he’s overdoing it, but I was finding that really difficult. My thing, if I’m struggling with something, is to write a song about it. And then my auntie very suddenly passed away, which was devastating. So I wrote this to wade my way through it and figure it out. It just seemed to connect with people.”

Better Half of Me
“I wrote this at 4am when I couldn’t sleep, sang it into my phone. It’s me being away a lot from my girlfriend. We got engaged [15 months ago] and I've seen her, like, 30 times since because I've been so goddamn busy. I really miss her when I'm away on the road. She gets to come occasionally, but she’s busy doing her own thing and gets so many days’ holiday. She’s had so many songs written for her by now. I’ll send it to her and she’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s lovely,’ and I'll go, ‘Oh...cool.’”

Not Giving In
“I initially had this drum and bass thing in my head, but it wasn't really working. I went in with [producer] Mike Spencer and tried to make the rhythm section as interesting as possible while still sounding like a songwriter-y song—and I think we pulled it off. He's just such an amazing producer to work with—he’s done everything from Rudimental to Jamiroquai to JP Cooper and he’s so sick at programming drums and beats and getting bass sounds.”

How Can You Sleep at Night?
“I’d been living with my girlfriend at the time in a house of eight people. I had a studio in the basement. I really wanted to stay because it's really difficult to find a house in London where you’ve got your own studio! But she essentially wanted to grow up and I did…not…want…to…grow…up. She was being really nice, trying to find a solution, and I was just being a bit of a dick about it. I wrote this as a reminder that not everything’s about me, not everything’s about music.”

“I wanted to shine a light on people who look after us. For the first year of my life, I was in and out of hospital because my kidneys didn't work. If it wasn’t for the NHS, doctors and nurses noticing that there was something wrong when they scanned my mum before I was born, then my life could have been severely different. In these days of social media, we spend a lot of time worshipping celebrities and never really give the time of day to doctors and nurses, social carers, firemen, and police.”

Now You’re Gone (feat. Zara Larsson)
“This was about 75% done and Zara came in and heard the track and wanted to do a vocal on it—and it sounded absolutely amazing. I never really thought our voices would work well together, but they sound wicked on the track. It’s about one of those relationships where you know it’s not good for you but you keep going back over and over and over again. And I’ve had a few of those in my life.”

My Way
“I was listening to a lot of Post Malone. I loved the beats he was making, the deep subs and trap-style drums. And I was having a lot of arguments with people in the industry and around me about the music I’m making. I'm going to take people’s advice on board, but it’s my music and I’m going to go where I feel is suitable to go with it. This is what ‘My Way’ was: Let me do my thing and experiment and embrace different genres and styles of writing and see where it takes us.”

“It’s about the house I was living in with like 12 musicians in London, and we never had any money. One night, we had this massive party because we didn't have any money to go out. I wrote ‘Blessings’ the next day. I didn't even have enough money to get the bus to the session—I had to walk for an hour and a half. But when I finally got there I was thinking, ‘At least we had the sickest night. We might be completely broke, but at least we’re having a good time.’”

Cry Out
“One of my favorite songs on the album. We managed to get a really cool sound for it, smashing tea trays together and throwing chains over balconies. The song’s a personal one, something I'm probably not going to talk about because it's a sensitive one for me and those around me. It’s a bit of a trouble to play live because it's still kind of fresh in my mind.”

“It’s been a pretty tricky year for politics, not only in the UK but also abroad. It’s just a bit scary, all these right-wing people who want to take away basic things like health care… With this whole album, I’m not trying to preach and tell people what I think is what they should think—I just want people to maybe think about what’s going on a bit more.”

Fade Away
“I actually wrote this track when I was 19. It’s about a girl I was with for a number of years and it ended very abruptly and sourly.”

Just You and I (Acoustic)
“This has been a big one for couples, especially ones who are in a similar situation as I was when I wrote it—me and my now fiancée had been doing a long-distance relationship for ages. I was driving from Sheffield to London every weekend and it was just a bit of a mission. If I were to quit my job tomorrow and just do wedding dances with this track, I’m pretty sure I’d get a year’s work out of it—I’ve already done five for friends and family.”

The Show
“I went out with my mates in London one night. We were in this queue for a club and it was so long, I just thought, ‘This is a waste of my life.’ So I just walked around London for four hours on my own. I got ideas for the lyrics from all the things that I was seeing. It’s super, super wordy, but it really paints the picture—all the little bits in the story, like cabs whizzing past and people pouring out of kebab shops and arguing in the street. It’s just one of my absolute favorites.”

Walk Alone
“I vocaled this song [for Rudimental], like, three years ago and never heard anything back. I’d fully put it out of my mind and then they sent me the track again, like, ‘Can you have a go at vocaling this?’ I was like, ‘Are you guys kidding me? You sent me this song three years ago!’ It turns out that the one that I had vocaled had never even got to them, it had got lost in the ether of management and label. So we finally ended up doing the track together, which was sick.”

“When you're growing up and becoming an adult, you kind of lose touch with your best mates, people you went to high school with, for whatever reason. People move to different cities and things just start to drift apart. The main point is: With the real people in your life, you can always pick it up exactly where you left off as soon as you see them, even if two years has passed. Those are the true friends, That’s what the song is about, a couple of people in my life who really help me both on a musical and personal journey.”

Something to Believe In
“It’s about a friend of mine. Everybody’s got these friends who kind of take two steps forward and eight steps backwards. It’s a mate of mine who has been struggling real hard with integrating into normal life. It’s always a struggle for a bit and then someone gives him helping hand and he's all right for a bit and then some other terrible news comes along and knocks him off his feet.”

Be Myself
“I wrote this about four years ago. It’s about an experience in the studio where the A&R man at the time would come into the vocal booth and say, ‘You should try to sing this a certain way, try doing this a certain way.’ I just thought, ‘Fuck you, man, you don’t know what you're talking about’ and wrote this song about it.”

All That Matters (Acoustic)
“It’s one of my favorite songs that I've written. The lyrics couldn’t be any more personal to me. My gran, she survived cancer and has been through a lot in her life, a lot of hardship. And you would never know if you met her, because she is the happiest, most positive, loveliest person who emits this wisdom about her. We had a chat one night, a bottle of wine and a couple of beers and stuff. She gave me this insight into her life. It was really fascinating, and a week later, I wrote the whole song with two friends of mine, Tim Deal and Fiona Bevan. It’s been emotional to play live. I get choked up a bit.”

Fly Away With Me
“I was really happy with the way this turned out, and it kind of launched my career. [Its release as a single in 2016] was when we started to get a lot of traction on streaming services and stuff. It really did me a lot of favors, that tune, and it's one of me faves.”

Leave a Light On (Sony Bravia Version)
“It’s an amazing version. We got some of the best players in London, in an orchestra, to play on this. It sheds a lot of light on the song in its rawest form, which is really nice. There’s always an apprehension at the start of changing something that’s already existed in the way that it sounds for a while. But once you break through that and you can start to experiment, especially with lush things like string sections and horns, it’s an amazing thing to do.”


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