Interview with Tobiah

Tobiah: Acoustic-Angelic Pop Musician

Photo by Hamish Cameron

Silk and velvet, light and love, natural and nuanced: these are among the indelible impressions of English singer-songwriter Tobiah. Her stories are as pure and genuine as the voice that carries them, resolving life’s experiences into hope and strength, and in a way that everyone understands.

Manchester-born Tobiah was advised in her early teens to trade in the family piano for a guitar. Just two months later she performed at the local folk club, singing the first of what would become a catalogue of over 100 songs. She later caught the attention of manager Brian Freshwater (Joss Stone, Foy Vance) and continued performing and developing her unique style which found her signing to Chrysalis Music, working with a host of talents including the late Egyptian percussionist, Hossam Ramzy; Rod Argent; American Idol and David Bowie producer, Derek Bramble; and the legendary Robin Black who mixed her latest album, Are We Angels.

Janet Jackson and Will Smith have vied to record her songs, heralding a period of songwriting for U.S. artists. But as trends in music shifted, Tobiah stayed true to her roots, and began producing the music herself in her small studio overlooking the inspirational South Downs. (Taken from Tobiah’s website)

TSM: Tobiah, thanks so much for doing this interview. It’s wonderful to have you here. 🙂 

T: Thanks Jessica, my pleasure! 

TSM: What inspired you to become a musician? And at what age did you start singing and writing songs?

T: I always sang. I can remember aged three onwards, being asked to sing in all the local food shops my Nana visited. I always obliged because I loved singing the latest songs of the day, and I knew I would be rewarded with a biscuit! I lived with my wonderful Nana until I was five. As for writing songs, I started as soon as I got my first guitar – aged fourteen.

TSM: 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?

T: My wonderful piano teacher, 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; the teachers at my school were so wonderful in that respect. 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 almost anything, so it was perfect to accompany my voice – my main instrument!
TSM: Your latest album is Are we Angels. Tell us about this album and inspiration behind the title. 
T: Are We Angels features nine original songs for our times, written and recorded in my little cottage studio overlooking the South Downs. It is about those small random acts of kindness, often from complete strangers, which helped me so much when I lost my husband in my twenties. I feel that telepathy, angelic intervention, compassion – whatever you want to call it – is becoming stronger in the world and that we are all angels, sometimes.

I was amazed how many people stepped in to be part of the album including the wonderful cellist, Caroline Lavelle (Loreena McKennitt/ Massive Attack) and the legendary producer and engineer, Robin Black, who has worked with some of my musical idols including Cat Stevens and Paul McCartney. After hearing the title track, he asked to mix the album which was just wonderful! It is dedicated to my Mother and my Nana.

TSM: What’s your process for writing lyrics?

T: The music and the lyrics usually come at once. My songs are very visual, about experiences in my life or a story that has caught my imagination. Lyrics are important – I could never write a song that didn’t move me. Quite often, a complete song will just ‘arrive’ in my head, which always amazes me, and I think, ‘Where did that come from?’ 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. 

However, some songs on this album were written differently: “Apples – The Long Goodbye” was originally about the seasons and the cycles of the year, but it never felt quite finished until it became about waiting with my Mother who was in the final stages of dementia. I recorded the vocal on “Trail Of Tears” in one take, having absolutely no idea what I was singing about! It was an emotional and unusual experience! The American composer, Kenneth Hope had sent me an improvised track played on his favourite old piano to see whether it resonated. I knew little then about the plight of the Native American, but after writing this song I knew so much more. 
TSM: I know you released a charity single for Animals Asia called “Moon Bear.” How did this come to be? And tell us about this charity.

T: I love animals, especially bears. I think this is because I never knew my birth father, and treasure his one gift to me, a teddy bear. I first heard about the terrible treatment of the Moon bears through the Wiltshire artist, Joanna May, who was holding a charity auction of her pictures for Animals Asia. I was so moved by their plight that I immediately wrote a song called “Moon Bear,” which I sang at that event. All profits from the album are being donated to this wonderful charity, which is committed to ending cruelty to (Asian) animals, a cause close to my heart.
TSM: Who are some musicians you admire and look up to?

T: That’s an interesting question, Jessica. I admire Loreena McKennit, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and Cat Stevens to name but a few because their songs affect me…make me feel. Music and songs that bowl over my heart and soul are everything to me. 
TSM: Do you have a memorable venue that you particularly enjoyed performing at the most and why?
T: Yes, I do! Exactly a year ago, I was invited by the National Trust at Avebury to give the first-ever concert in their newly-refurbished chapel, overlooking the ancient stones which are older than Stonehenge. I wrote a song, which we were asked to encore beneath a huge harvest full moon beaming through the stone windows. It was so magical! We were meant to return this year, but due to Covid 19, that has been postponed.

Photo by Hamish Cameron

TSM: What have you learned as a songwriter over the years? And how do you think you’ve grown as an artist?

T: I’ve learned that there is more in this world than we can ever understand! I’m so incredibly grateful to be able to write about my experiences, and to know that people relate and connect with my songs. That’s what it’s all about, and why I write and perform.
TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why? 

T: That’s a big question, but it comes down to reminding people of one word: Love. Not in the religious sense, but as a human emotion. Loving your fellow man. The songs on my album Are We Angels are essentially about kindness, compassion, being mindful, and that even in the darkest of times, love always triumphs.

TSM: What is one of your favourite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
T: Both these quotes are my mantra and say it all:
 “The highest form of wisdom is kindness” – Talmud
“You can tell the true measure of a person by how they treat an individual who can do absolutely nothing for them” – Ellie Mannette
TSM: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can readers find out more about you and your music?

T: Thank you, Jessica. There is a short and beautifully written review of my album from FATEA Magazine that your readers might like to read: Readers can hop onto my website for links to my music on CD and all the usual digital platforms. You can also find live performances, BBC radio interviews and other goodies there too.

TSM: Thank you again for doing this interview, and wish you nothing but the best with your music always. 

T: Thanks for having me, Jessica. Congratulations on the re-launch of Talent Spotlight Magazine!

Photo by Hamish Cameron

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