As he prepares to release his upcoming album 'Six Inches Of Water', Folk and Tumble caught up Anthony Toner for a chat about the recording process, getting back to playing live shows, and the inspirations behind the new record.
FT: Tell me about the landscapes and characters that inspired the songs on the new record.
AT: The original idea was that it would be a suite of songs inspired by the east of the city (Belfast), and I had originally thought of visiting all kinds of places of interest and talking to all kinds of people. Once we hit Lockdown, much of that became impossible. So as a result, it’s a much more intimate and imagination-based collection than I had originally planned. The characters are completely invented but move against a backdrop of real locations; Hillfoot Street, Templemore Baths, and so on.
FT: Where did the initial idea come from? Was it something you had been thinking of for a while?
AT: I had composed a song with Brigid O’Neill for the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s Heritage Angels Awards. We’d been commissioned to write some songs about buildings at risk and I chose Templemore Baths because I loved the building and had used their pool a few times. A lot of people commented on the song at the time, and so I had made a commitment that it would be on the next collection – whenever that would come together. I had no idea then that it would be part of a whole east Belfast-inspired collection.
FT: It’s an interesting title. Where did that one come from?
AT: David Elliott – one of the Templemore trustees – was showing me around the baths during the run-up to the Heritage Angels project, and explaining how your visit as a customer would work. Each visitor got an allocated amount of hot water. I was asking if there was any way to get preferential treatment and he said; “no, it didn’t matter who you were, everybody got the same six inches of water”. I remember thinking, wow, that would make a great line for a chorus. Half the battle in songwriting is just keeping your ears open for possibilities.
FT: And, you’ve been supported by the Eastside Partnership…
AT: Maurice Kinkead – the Partnership Chairperson – liked the song, and wondered aloud one day if it would be possible to commission a full collection. I was between projects and open to offers, and he came up with a commission for the writing. It was initially planned as part of a more ambitious Artist in Residence role, and I had started to organise CD sales from local artists and a series of small concerts at the Visitor Centre in C.S. Lewis Square as part of that role, but COVID came along and it all ground to a halt.
AT: How was the recording process under COVID? Were you able to get into a studio with other musicians?
AT: I have a basic recording set up at home so I was able to get all of the guitars, most of the vocals, percussion, and so on done at home. The last parts of the process – overdubs of drums, keyboards, bass, and strings – and the final mixing, were completed in June of this year when things were loosening up a little. But yes, it started off as a lonely process for sure, sitting in my room through the winter with headphones on for weeks at a time – not knowing if the songs actually WORKED or not.
FT: All being well you are about to return to live performances again. How does that feel? Will you be playing behind Perspex to a masked audience?
AT: I’m always nervous going out with new material but I think it’ll be fine. We’ll all hopefully be glad to see each other, so I hope we can forgive each other for any rough edges. I have no idea about Perspex, masks, distances, and volume levels as the restrictions are all still in motion, and they seem to be different from venue to venue. Whatever it is, I imagine that we’ll do our best – as audience and performers – to leap across it or tunnel under it.
FT: Looking ahead, is the gig diary starting to fill up again?
AT: Yes, I have a few shows with the Ronnie Greer Blues Band in August and September, some live dates with Barbara Dickson across the UK in October, and then a run of six or seven solo shows in November – everywhere from the Playhouse in Derry to the Ardhowen in Enniskillen. I’m bathed in gratitude that it appears to be returning, and I hope, of course, that it all stays in place.
FT: You always make time for your fans after your shows. Will you still be able to do that albeit in a socially distant manner and similarly how do you safely operate a merchandise stand and sign CDs within the current restrictions?
AT: That’s a good question. I haven’t really considered how I’ll do it but I guess I could wear a mask and gloves. I don’t think I could do a show without having the interaction afterward. That’s one of the best parts of the whole experience for me.
FT: Thanks for your time and best of luck with the album.
AT: Thank YOU. I’m delighted as always to have your interest.
‘Six Inches Of Water’ is available now via Anthony Toner on Bandcamp.