Tobiah: Oh, Jessica, it is so fantastic to start the year to be here on TSM! I’ve just been to the gym and now I have an excuse to be here, all cozy in my cottage on a cold January afternoon talking with you!
Jessica: What inspired you to become a musician? And at what age did you start singing and writing songs?
Tobiah: Well, I think I always sang. I can remember being asked to sing in all the shops whenever my Nana and I went shopping, and I eagerly obliged because I always knew there would always be sweets or chocolate etc. in return! I lived with my wonderful Nana only until I was five…so from a young age. As for the songs…I started as soon as I got my first guitar – I was around thirteen.
Jessica: I read that in your early teens you were advised to trade in the family piano for a guitar. What was the reason for this? While on the subject of instruments, what do you currently play? And for how long?
Tobiah: My wonderful piano teacher Miss Aitken, who also taught me music at school soon sussed out that I was not cut out for the discipline of scales or reading music. She’d play the piece of music I was supposed to have perfected for the next week, and I’d just play it by ear. She was a wonderful teacher…even though I stopped piano lessons and got a guitar instead. She was always very encouraging and I did very well academically in music because of her. All the best teachers celebrate and encourage individuality and she and the English teachers at that school were so wonderful in that respect. And the moment that guitar was in my hands I was off the starting line!…Only two weeks later I was performing and writing songs all over the place! I found I could play absolutely anything so it was perfect to accompany my voice – my main instrument!
Tobiah: One evening over dinner, a friend reminisced about his time in Arabia where he worked for an Arabian prince. One day, a group of diamond merchants arrived and unrolled a long carpet in one of the large rooms in the palace. They laid the jewels on the carpet, for the mighty prince to take his pick. Then, they rolled up the carpet and off they went. Later that night my friend went back with a torch to see if any diamonds had rolled onto the corners of the room – sadly not! A few months later, I suddenly had the image of a prince who knew he was losing the girl he loved, so he scattered diamonds across the sand trying to win her back using money and his position rather than giving…In writing this song, I realized that love does not stay the same…you have to bend and rise and you have to give to keep love strong. As all of the songs are about love, this seemed the perfect title for the album which celebrates the power of endurance and the triumph of love.
Jessica: What’s your process for writing lyrics?
Tobiah: Well, the music and the lyrics all come at once…usually, when I’m doing something else, like cooking, or cycling to the gym, or swimming. “Step Up” came in flash one balmy July evening in the pool in my garden…Like all my songs it just seems that they have always been there – waiting to be heard and sung! Once the lyrics are there, I’ll spend a day or so refining them in my head and then record the song quickly in my studio to work on later.
Jessica: I absolutely love the album cover for Step Up. Who designed your CD cover?
Tobiah: Micah Atwell. I’ve always had the picture on my wall – it is one of my all time favourite pictures and is by a Norwegian illustrator called Kay Nielsen who was a contemporary of Aubrey Beardsley and lived around 1900. It is called the “Sultan and Scheherazade.” Although she is kneeling below and reaching upwards to the sultan what she is really saying to him is, “Step up to me.” It fits so perfectly with the theme of the song “Step Up” and Micah Atwell adapted the picture so perfectly for the cover design.
Tobiah: It was about the Mayflower Pilgrims…the Pilgrim Fathers leaving England for America. I used to live in Plymouth and the Barbican was one of my favourite haunts. I used to stand on the quayside looking down at the narrow steep steps…The Mayflower Steps and the dark water below, and imagine how brave and scared they must have felt. Funny enough, the last verse of the song is about me then and how hard it was to succeed with my kind of music at that time in England. The last line is “I hope I find minds like mine in America” and funnily enough…now I have and in England too!
Jessica: I know you’ve gotten some great attention for your song “I See You Naked.” 🙂 Both Janet Jackson and Will Smith were interested in this song – you even got a personal phone call from Will Smith about it! “I See You Naked” is truly a very beautiful song. Tell us more about this song. And how did the connection with Janet Jackson and Will Smith come about?
Tobiah: It was mainly through my manager (see next question!) who also managed Derek Bramble, a writer and a producer in L.A. who just loved the song and got an amazing reaction every time he played it. In the end, Will Smith had the song on hold for two years, but sadly nothing came of it. I have some really fantastic R& B cuts of it, and a beautiful version I did with Rod Argent but I like the acoustic version on the album very much. It is about that first spark of Love and how that must never be forgotten.
Jessica: You also got the attention from a top manager Brian Freshwater (Joss Stone, Foy Vance and award winning writers Mick Leeson and Peter Vale). You’ve also worked with some other talented and influential musicians/producers including: Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, Rod Argent and Derek Bramble of American Idol fame. How did Brian Freshwater discover you?
Tobiah: He was suggested to me by a music lawyer in London who really liked my voice. I dialed his number and amazingly, Brian took my call instead of his secretary. (He said later was the first and only time that has happened)…and so a meeting was arranged later that day at his office in Harley Street to listen to my demo tapes. Problem was, I didn’t didn’t have any demo tapes! So, I just walked in with my Washbourne semi- acoustic guitar chirping away about having just collected it from being repaired at Rose Morris across the street, and would he like me to play him a song? I ended up playing about six and he loved them so much he put me in touch straight away with a wonderful producer called Bob Carter who wrote “Mama Used To Say.” I was very lucky. I met and worked with some truly gifted people. Brian is a lovely man. I couldn’t have had a better manager and it was sad that it was just not the right time for me – the record industry experience was a complete heartbreak for me. However, Brian and I often laughed about that day…his sofa was very low and squishy, and I was trying to keep a very short skirt from getting shorter whilst singing and playing my guitar…my heart beating so fast with nerves!! I will never forget it and don’t think he ever will either! On a sadder note, Bob Carter died just three years later. I was so lucky to have known him and “Heaven”, the last track on the album was written for him.
Tobiah: That’s an interesting question Jessica. I admire Loreena McKennitt, Joni Mitchell and Martin Tillman because they are true to their creative muse and go their own way. I like any music that effects me…makes me feel. In the gym, I love listening to the radio and I always listen to the top 20 every Sunday evening. I often hear something I really like and will check it out later. Music and songs that completely move my heart and soul are everything to me: Samuel Barber’s “Adagio” for Strings, “the sublime” Thomas Tallis, “Bonnie Portmore” by Loreena McKennitt, “Winter Sleigh ride” by Kenneth Hope, “Partake” by Micah Atwell, “Spirit” by Martin Tillmann, “Santa’s Secret” by Jennifer Terran, “True Colours” by Cyndi Lauper, “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush and “Fairy Tale of New York” by The Pogues/Kirtsie McColl…to name just a few.
Jessica: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
Tobiah: I could say all sorts here Jessica, but in my songs I am trying to convey compassion and understanding and that even in the darkest times, love always triumphs.
Jessica: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
Tobiah: I think these words on the wall in the cafe at One Tree Books in Petersfield have had the most impact on me recently:
Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Feodor Dostoevsky
Jessica: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and to purchase your music?
Tobiah: I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has encouraged and supported me. Making this album has been a dream come true for me so it seems appropriate that I am helping a wonderful children’s charity called Dreams Come True by donating a percentage of my sales. You can read all about the charity and how to order or download my album on my website: http://tobiahuk.com/.
Jessica: Thank you again for doing this interview and wish you all the best with your music.
Tobiah: I have really enjoyed it because it has made me think. Now I’m going to play some of the music I told you about and make some homemade carrot and coriander soup….might even write a new song? You’ll be the first to know! Thanks so much Jessica and I wish you a great year for TSM xx Tob