Chris T-T is not a man to keep his opinions to himself. And when he voices them, it most often results in someone being offended, outraged or otherwise aghast. His carefully crafted songs about suicide bombers, serial killers, sellotape and sex often get members of his audience riled, and though there have been a few frightening threats, he's never yet been punched.
As The Guardian says, 'The genius of Chris T-T's songwriting is his ability to humanise even the most outlandish conceits. They seem instead like brilliant ideas that no-one else could've come up with.'
T-T's gift is to tackle life's grand themes, such as war, money, love, sex, and death, and transform them into highly personal, and highly emotional, songs. 'I'm an overweight, middle class, white, comfortable, English songwriter,' he says. 'I've never felt any of these things through personal experience. I've never been bombed, I've never had an Israeli tank driven over me. The only way one can do it is to get into the mindset of individuals.'
For a songwriter of such remarkable insight, his upbringing was unremarkably average. He listened to songs like The Floral Dance and Up Up and Away In My Beautiful Balloon on his grandmother's record player. His parents paid for piano lessons and nagged him to practice. He went to a good school, in a good neighbourhood with other good kids.
But, as with most great songwriters, he never really fit in. While T-T was listening to and learning from American rockers like Don Henley, Bruce Springsteen and Lou Reed, he largely missed out on seminal bands like New Order, The Cure and The Smiths until the rave generation had already taken over.
T-T was so oblivious to 'cool' that he wanted to be a spy until he heard his first Genesis record. 'I was one of those kids that finds the first thing you love about bands is that they're tight. Like when you first love rock guitar and it's someone playing a virtuoso solo. I would appreciate a rock guitar solo at a much earlier age than I'd appreciate someone writing an amazing song.' That early passion for intricate guitar meanderings led him away from spy school straight to a career in music.
When T-T approached his parents with the news of his new career path, instead of gently suggesting he become a doctor or teacher, they congratulated him, and gave him money to help fund his first record label. In their minds, the piano lessons were starting to pay off and their support has never faltered. 'I can take home a piece of my music that offends my mom, to the point of really upsetting her, and she will still completely support what I do,' he says.
After spending three years at Leeds University studying pop music - he has a degree in it now - the inevitable move to London followed. He spent 1999 slogging at a day job, and recorded his first album during evenings and weekends on the cobbled-together not-exactly-state-of-the-art recording equipment in his bedroom.
The result was Beatverse, released in 1999 on his own label, Wine Cellar. It sold fewer than 500 copies, but it taught him not be afraid of being opinionated and brutally honest in his songs. On the album he calls his then-boss a 'fat, stupid dickhead' and fesses up to being a serial killer. No one seemed to mind.
Snowstorm Records loved the album and offered to fund the next T-T release. The result was 2000's Panic Attack at Sainsbury's, a mixed bag of pop anthems (You Can Be Flirty), anti-establishment sing-alongs (Dreaming of Injured Popstars) and twisted love songs (Open Books, Exeat).
Dreaming of Injured Popstars captured the anti-manufactured-pop zeitgeist and was played by Steve Lamacq and John Peel on Radio 1 as well as Xfm and others. The album was a critical success. Q Magazine said, "His surreal worldview and faux-naïve vocals define this album," while the NME wrote, "Those who value the wit and pathos of a singular voice among the Indetikit throng should give Chris T-T their time."
Over the next few years, T-T became intimate with every venue on the UK indie circuit, driving beat-up vans and sleeping on floors while getting paid next-to-nothing to perform to an ever-increasing base of dedicated fans.
Meanwhile, slowly and almost imperceptibly, London had been seeping into his veins.
His next album, The 253 was the first in a trilogy of bittersweet love-letters to the city. 'London is an extraordinary living, breathing entity as a city. London's got that huge identity, it's hugely multicultural. There's so much going on that moving to London was a huge step up in experience,' he says.
The album amassed more ecstatic reviews: "Chris T-T celebrates the beauty of small things with lively musical aplomb." Q Magazine; "Thank God for records like The 253... It is sincerity so sharp it feels like the watery sting in your eyes as the tube rushes past." Time Out; "His third and best album... The most convincing reason to check out this singular talent." Mojo. The 253 also got T-T invited to perform several radio sessions including the Evening Sessions, the newly launched 6Music, Resonance FM, LBC and a pile of regional sessions.
By the time the second part of the trilogy, London Is Sinking, arrived, the world was at war. As a reaction to the madness, T-T wrote Cull, a powerful damnation of our political leaders. 'The world is owned by 500 men, and everything is organised to benefit them. The rest of us scrabble around for what they throw out.' Giraffes #1 sticks closer to home with its anthemic cry to the UK's immigrant populations to 'stick your neck out, stand up taller, don't look down now', while the tender and touching 7 Hearts is a twisted ode to the immense power of the human heart.
By this time, the press were falling all over themselves to rave about T-T. The Sunday Times chose London Is Sinking as Album of the Year, calling it a 'Fantastically intricate masterpiece... utterly indispensable' and compared him to William Blake, while The Independent called him 'some hybrid of Bragg and Cocker', the Big Issue said, 'Decidedly off-kilter and all the better for it, eccentrics like Chris T-T should be heartily saluted' and the NME raved, "Capital-centric folk wonder... A record that's funny, touching and smart enough that even people whose telephone number doesn't start with 020 will treasure it."
Two thirds of the way through the a trilogy of deeply personal London tales, and somewhere out of left field comes the overtly political 9 Red Songs, a red menace of post-Bliar acoustic folk protest music. Produced by Jon Clayton (Kaito, Stuffy & The Fuses, The Long Blondes) at London's One Cat Studios, it's packed with emotional, factual, and often-hilarious observations about the current issues any card-carrying liberal should care about. Whether his target is Tony Blair ('Can the heart fall apart when the hard work starts, or was he born without one?'), the Countryside Alliance ('I've never been a fan of police brutality, but when the huntsman comes a marchin', give him one for me), or the shoddy state of leftwing political activism ('Nobody's got any good red songs anymore and Billy Bragg's gone fishing in his 4x4'), no one is safe from T-T's sharply honed verbal arrows.
His new songs have already earned him an earful from angry old ladies in hunting villages, indie crowds in Essex and a few outraged liberals at the Leftfield stage during Glastonbury Festival. With two tours scheduled for this autumn - one supporting Brighton indie super-group Brakes, followed by his own headline tour in November - he would do well to practice dodging punches and hurled beer bottles if he wants to continue his never-been-hit roll.
Should he return home unscathed, then T-T plans to finally record the third piece of the London trilogy, Capital. 'In my head I was finishing off by destroying London. In my fantasy version there's the army on the streets and curfew at 6pm and you've got thousands of civilian deaths.' Of course, after two attacks on London, that's not at all how things have turned out. 'That's my job now,' he says 'to pull back my flights of fancy into something real for the final London record'.