Tom Odell On Coffee, Poetry And The Importance Of Disconnecting

By Lottie Hulme |
21st March 2019

Today is World Poetry Day a time where we reflect on some of the marvellous poets that shaped our understanding of the world, from Blake to Barrett Browning, and yet it turns out it’s also a day to grab yourselves a free coffee at a number of cafes in over 40 countries. We’re en route…

The Pay With A Poem project, which is in its sixth year, kindly asks people to replace their Whatsapping with writing, disabling the digital world for a few hours to put to pen to paper and #PayWithAPoem. If you fancy yourself a bit of a wordsworth you can head to various coffee shops across the UK and use your poem in exchange for a free coffee.

The project is the brainchild of coffee retailer Julius Meinl who has joined forces with someone who certainly knows a thing or two about writing, Tom Odell. The artist, and total piano whizz, is currently touring his new album Jubilee Road in Shanghai – oh Tom, you lucky thing, but we caught up with him to discover more about why he thinks replacing social media with soliloquies on this ‘Poetic Black Friday,’ as he so aptly calls it, is so important…

Why is it important for you, and others, to take a step back at times and disconnect from the digital world?

I think important is perhaps too stronger word. It’s a positive thing to do. That’s what it is. Really positive. I like the idea of a few coffee houses across Europe filled to the brim with people frantically writing poetry so they claim their free coffee. Who doesn’t want that? It’s a marvellous idea. A sort of poetic black Friday.

Why have you decided to be a part of the World Poetry Day Pours For Inspiration initiative?

I for one will often reach out to a cup of coffee when I hit a block. I like the social spirit of coffee too, the conversations it can inspire. When I’ve been touring around Europe, I’ve very much enjoyed visiting some of the coffee houses which have been around for hundreds of years.

What helps you when putting pen to paper – aside from disconnecting from the digital world?

What helps you when putting pen to paper – aside from disconnecting from the digital world?

I find that writing things down can really help put my mind at ease when I’m worrying. It sort of materialises the thoughts, and somehow stops them tumbling around my mind. I write something in my notebook everyday, sometimes just a short paragraph, sometimes a whole song, but I’d be a manic mess without doing it.

What advice would you give to those who want to take part in the initiative and start writing?

I certainly spend a lot of my time keeping myself inspired. Whether that be reading, listening to music, seeing art. I think best inspiration is adventure though. I remember telling my mum when I was in my teens, that ‘I don’t wanna watch tv, I wanna be in it!’ I was a precocious little fucker. But then, that statement does some hold resonance within me today. I like to think I say yes to things. My curiosity about the world is insatiable as it was when I was 18. And as long as one has that curiosity, as long as you can keep stoking that fire, I think the dreaded writer’s block will keep away.

Are you a big user of social media yourself or is it something you feel you could live without?

I could definitely live without it,and tend to do a few spells a year when I go offline. I think social media is wonderfulthing when bringing people together, and it has certainly connected me with some lovely people occasionally, but I think it becomes less wonderful when it begins to replace things we would do in real life.

A recent survey discovered that over a quarter of under 34s share as much as they would a diary on social media – what are your thoughts on this?

That’s fascinating. I can believe it. Although I’m not quite sure how you fact check that survey. I’d quite like it if it is true. Honesty is good. When does it become over sharing though? I’m not sure. I certainly know where my own line is, and it certainly holds a lot more back than others.

You’ve partnered with Viennese coffee roasters Julius Meinl for this project – are you yourself a coffee or a tea drinker?

You’ve partnered with Viennese coffee roasters Julius Meinl for this project – are you yourself a coffee or a tea drinker?

I do both. But never, ever at the same time.

Which are some of your favourite coffee spots in London?

Kaffeine on Great Tichfield Street in the centre of town. My manager used to have office next door, and I dunno, it just reminds me of good memories.

you have places of inspiration when it comes to writing that you tend to return to time and time again?

I find inspiration everywhere! It could be a conversation with a friend, a walk in the park, or a piece of art or music. But also, song writing requires imagination, I guess the desire to tell stories. I certainly enjoy stories.

 I think perhaps more than emotion; I think most songwriters I meet usually have lots of empathy. A desire to understand what it feels to be human.

You’re currently on tour – how do you find down time and disconnect to get a bit of “you” time during touring?

You’re currently on tour – how do you find down time and disconnect to get a bit of “you” time during touring?

My god these days it’s an endless schedule of calming activities. I’m an anxious mess otherwise. I guess my biggest saviour is transcendental meditation, which sounds more absurd than it actually is. I do it twice a day without fail, and I genuinely could not recommend it more.

Can you remember the first song you ever wrote?

Yes, it was a very simple melody, with a few words about stars and how pretty they look. I ran into the living room where my parents were watching tv and told them. “Thats great Tom,” they replied as if I’d just done the washing up. It wasn’t the reaction I was looking for, but I was insatiably excited never the less.


Participating cafes in London include:

  • Bush Theater, Shepherd’s Bush
  • Bite Café, Hammersmith
  • Beaufort House, Chelsea
  • Balans Soho Society, Clapham
  • Balans Soho Society, Soho
  • Balans Soho Society, Shepherds Bush
  • Balans Soho Society, Kensington
  • Balans Soho Society, 7 dials
  • Balans Soho Society, Stratford
  • Balans Soho Society, Soho Cafe
  • Forge & Co, Shoreditch
  • Goodenough College, Clerkenwell
  • Middleton Deli, Saint John’s
  • FreshCo, Croydon
  • Monalicious, Hackney

You can find more information about Tom’s Jubilee Road tour here

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