Louis Tomlinson shot to fame with One Direction, the era-defining boy band who conquered the world after being formed on ‘The X Factor’ in 2010. Since the group parted ways in 2016, Tomlinson has forged a solo career that has seen him swap the band’s peppy pop-rock for Oasis-inspired indie bangers. He followed his 2020 solo debut, ‘Walls’, with last year’s chart-topping ‘Faith In The Future’.
For his new documentary, ‘Louis Tomlinson: All Of Those Voices’, the singer has teamed up with Charlie Lightening, the acclaimed filmmaker behind Liam Gallagher’s big-screen doc ‘As It Was’. Here, exclusively for NME, Lightening shares what he learned about Tomlinson from shadowing him during a pivotal and emotional period in his career.
Charlie Lightening, director: “I first met Louis at the premiere of the Liam [Gallagher] film. Well, I say met – I saw him across the way, but we didn’t actually talk. But then he got in touch to ask if I’d make some music videos with him, so we met up properly. I really liked him and found he had a real depth to him. He seemed a lot older than his years and had so much more to say.
When we got talking about his plans to release a solo album [Tomlinson’s 2020 debut ‘Walls’], the idea to make a film came together quite organically. But at that point, I didn’t realise that I would end up shooting him for the next four years. The idea was to follow him on his first solo tour, but he only got two shows in before COVID happened. I think having it all taken away like that made Louis think and really appreciate what he does.
To begin with, Louis’ plan was to do smaller live shows to get a feel for the audience and find out what it’s like to tour as a solo artist. But because of the pandemic, he announced a live-streamed show instead and sold 160,000 tickets without even doing any promo. I think that made him realise: ‘Oh my god, there really is demand for me out there’. So when it was time to get out on the road again, he was ready to bring it.
He started off doing smaller theatre shows in the US, then arena shows in Europe, and by the end he was doing numerous arena shows in South America. So as a filmmaker, I’ve captured a trajectory that would normally take an artist two or three separate tours to achieve. And because of COVID, the fans had two years to live with the [‘Walls’] album, so it much more meaning for them by the time Louis was finally able to play it live.
I think what I find most striking about Louis is how resilient he is. He has been knocked down quite a few times in his life and he keeps getting back up again. He lost his mum [Johanna] in 2016 and sister [Félicité] in 2019 but he never let this define him, so when he says ‘life always throws shit at you’ in the film, he knows what he’s talking about. But he’s still a very positive person and calls himself the product of his mum’s upbringing. Growing up in Doncaster really moulded him; I think that’s why he has such perseverance and self-belief.
At the start of the film, he talks about not really feeling like part of One Direction to begin with. He felt like he had to find his role in the band, as he was excluded from lead vocal lines on the first few singles. This made him more determined and so he started to be involved with writing songs for the band. By the time the band ended, he was the member with the most songwriting credits, which is something that really means a lot to him. He’s proud of that.
I do think that he definitely still misses the band. In a way, you could compare him to Liam Gallagher, who also never wanted Oasis to end and become a solo artist. But I think that’s why Louis’ touring band means so much to him. Louis has done everything already with One Direction – he’s played the world’s biggest venues – so to relive it through their eyes on this tour was a very special thing for him.
Louis is a very private person but I think people will be surprised by just how much he opens up in this film. You see him being a dad and being vulnerable with his family. But what I’ll take away most from the experience is just how much Louis has grown as an artist. At one point, it felt like it was Harry [Styles] and Niall [Horan] who were getting all the headlines and Louis was being slightly underrated, as he hadn’t released anything at this point. I do think that some people who watch this film will be surprised by the level he’s already got to as a solo artist, but this is just the beginning. He knows where he wants to go creatively and he’s in control of his headspace, so the next album will be another massive step forward.”
‘Louis Tomlinson: All Of Those Voices’ is in cinemas now
As told to Nick Levine