Meet The Artist: Anthony Toner

Songwriter, musician and guitarist Anthony Toner is best known for his song Sailortown. The song was played countless times over the years by the late Radio Ulster presenter Gerry Anderson helping to make it Anthony’s best known track. Anthony is originally from Coleraine but now lives in Belfast.

How did you get started in the industry? 

I played in dance bands and bar bands for years before eventually writing and recording my own material, putting out an album and becoming a solo artist. I had a Northern Ireland radio hit with ‘Sailortown’ about 11 years ago, which set me in motion, I suppose, and I’ve been on the move since then.

What genre / style do you create in?

Contemporary folk and blues, mainly acoustic music.

What would you be best known for? 

The song ‘Sailortown’ is still my best-known track – thanks to countless radio plays from the late, much-missed Gerry Anderson.

What would you consider your biggest achievement? 

Selling out The Lyric Theatre Belfast twice with my last two album launch gigs. As an unsigned, independent artist I’m very proud of that.

What would you consider to be the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your industry? 

Just keep paying attention to the world and keep writing – don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Keep playing and putting words on a page anyway. You’ll always have plenty of material to choose from later.

What has been your biggest challenge to date? 

Deciding to go full-time as a freelance musician about six years ago – stepping off the platform of having a day job for the first time in three decades. That was a steep drop.

Tell us a little about your personal life, are you married, kids, hobbies etc? 

I’m married to theatre director Andrea Montgomery, and I have one daughter, Sian, from a previous marriage – she and her husband Bob have just brought little grandson Jude into our lives, and he’s a ray of sunshine. I’m a foodie, a keen reader, cyclist and recently, like everyone else in lockdown, a bit of a gardener.

Tell us about your most recent work? 

I put out an album of almost entirely acoustic cover versions last year called ‘Ghost Notes Vol. 1’, thinking of it as a kind of ‘side project’, and got a very strong positive reaction from fans and friends. Which reminds me to never make assumptions, I suppose.

What would you like us to tell people about? 

I’m working hard on a mountain of new material – who knows when I’ll get the chance to put it out, and go out and play some shows? But keep an eye on my website for updates anyway – on anthonytoner.net

I’m also performing as part of the St. Patrick’s Day Sailortown event. 

If you had to describe your work to someone who has never heard of you what would you say? 

Years ago, someone described me as ‘like James Taylor meets John Prine in a second hand bookshop’, and people seem to smile and agree with that description, so I’ll stick with it.

What’s the funniest experience you’ve had in your business? 

Having a sold-out show postponed by a pigeon. It flew into the lovely high ceiling-ed room at Ards Town Hall, and there was no ladder high enough to catch the thing – it just flew from curtain rail to curtain rail while I was doing my soundcheck and the staff were chasing it from ladder to ladder with a brush. 

We realised there was no way of knowing how the bird would behave when the room was full and the music started, so we reluctantly postponed, knowing that there were lots of people who would refuse to come in anyway.

There were feathers and droppings everywhere as I packed up, and I was back home by 8.30pm. (I also once played a night of Neil Young songs at a gig in Portstewart, and there was a disappointed and confused- looking couple in the front row – half way through the gig I found out they had misread the poster and had come along thinking it was an evening of Neil Diamond songs)

What would your advice be to young people hoping to pursue the same industry? 

Please make music because you love it and can’t live without it – don’t think of it as an easy way to get attention, or to be rich and famous. And I always urge young musicians to work hard on their technique – I know I sound like an old bore, but I always think it just unlocks so many more possibilities if you can play well.

Who do you look up to and why? 

Probably Tom Waits – someone who is continuously working, always experimenting and stretching himself musically, who has maintained an enormous personal integrity as an artist, who produces consistently interesting work – and yet doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously.

How can people connect with you?

Website

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

 

Anthony Toner will be appearing on the lineup of the St Patrick’s Day Live from Sailortown event on March 17 streaming live from 2pm-9pm across a variety of social platforms. For more information go to https://www.sailortownregeneration.com/ 

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