In Tune with Antony Toner

The musician and songwriter goes from Sailortown to Fivemile Town with his new album

2013 was going to be ‘a fallow year’ for singer-songwriter Antony Toner. Between his music and his theatrical collaborations with his partner, Andrea Montgomery of Terra Nova, Toner has been ‘going flat-out’ since the success of his 2008 song ‘Sailortown’. With the addition of some parental illnesses towards the end of 2012, a quiet year to recharge his batteries seemed in order.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and artists, often end up with a fifth album finished and on sale by March. So much for lying fallow.

Singing Under the Bridges is a little darker than Toner’s previous works. It deals with themes of erosion, aging and dealing with those processes, all issues thrown up in him by his parents’ illness. The song ‘Only Only Child in the World’ is especially close to Toner’s heart and is fairly autobiographical.

‘There are still elements of light and optimism in there too,’ he says. Toner also uses more horns than fans of his previous work might expect, and he deploys a cello for the first time too. ‘And so far, reactions to the album have been wonderful. People have said it is my best album yet – although you have to bear in mind they might just be trying to be nice!’

The song ‘Road to Fivemile Town’ is proving particularly popular, somewhat to Toner’s surprise. He admits that while he liked the song, he never expected it to ‘leap off the album’ for fans. The story of a woman discontent in her marriage and trapped on a struggling farm, however, seemed to strike a cord for people. (I am sure many more see the appeal now, after the unseasonable March weather saw people discontent with their relationship with electricity and trapped until someone scraped the snow off the car.)

Stories, Toner notes, are the core of song-writing for him. When he sits down to write a song the point isn’t to conjure up a poppily melodic ear-worm, but to convey as narrative as concisely and powerfully as he can.

Not there is anything wrong with catchy songs, he hastens to add (worrying aloud that he sounded a ‘bit precious’), but he’s always wanted to be a writer. Ever since he was seven years old and a playground supervisor asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up.

‘I just came out with “I want to write books”,’ he said. ‘I don’t know where it came from, I just had some romantic notion about being a writer.’

Unlike some seven year old dreams (NI Scene wanted to be an astronaut or ride horses in the circus), Toner’s came true. He was a journalist in Coleraine and the editor of the Coleraine Chronicle, and he still writes short stories and poems.

‘It’s just that I realised that with an instrument, you can deliver the narrative just as powerfully with a few lines,’ he says. ‘My songs are really character studies.’

In fact, last time he showed one of his albums to his friend Ben Glover, the musician came back and told him he ‘really should get that book of short stories together’. Toner says he’s working on it. It’s one of the things he was planning on doing during his fallow period.

With an album tour lined up (check below for dates). After five of them, he must have this album thing down to a fine art?

‘Every album is different,’ he says. ‘It’s nervewracking, fun, awful and wonderful in a different way every time.’

Saturday, March 30 in Newtownabbey at The Courtyard Theatre, Ballyearl, Saturday April 6 in Omagh at the Strule Arts Centre with special guest Ben Glover, Thursday April 11 in Ballymoney Town Hall with special guest Ben Glover, Friday April 12 in Cookstown at The Burnavon Theatre, Friday April 13 in Ballymena at The Braid Arts Centre with Ben Glover and Brendan Murphy, Saturday April 20 in Armagh at The Marketplace Theatre, Friday April 26 in Larne Museum and Arts Centre, Saturday April 27 in Castlerock at Crusoe’s Bistro, Friday May 3 in Strabane at The Alley Theatre, Saturday May 11 in Downpatrick at Down Arts Centre, Thursday May 16 in Antrim at the Old Courthouse with special guest Ben Glover, Friday May 17  in Ards Arts Centre with Ben Glover, Friday May 24 in Newtownabbey at The Courtyard Theatre in Ballyearl with the Ronnie Greer’s Almost Big Band, Friday May 31st in Belfast at No Alibis Bookstore, Botanic Avenue, Sunday June 9 ( 12noon to 2.30pm) in Belfast at SD Bells Coffee Shop,, Saturday June 15 in Enniskillen at The Ardhowen Theatre with the Ronnie Greer Blues Band, Saturday October 19 in Omagh at the Strule Arts Centre with the Ronnie Greer Blues Band and Monday December 16 at 6pmin Portstewart at Flowerfield Arts Centre