Anthony Toner is such a gem of an artist for any community to have in its neighbourhood. Singing and playing guitar most of his life he was in his 40s before everything came together in the making of albums. Call him a late developer but in the last 15 years he has mastered his songwriting craft to darn near perfection.
There’s the guitar playing. Let me start with that because I always thought that he brought in a guitarist but checking the credits to see who I realised that it was the man himself. The playing has echoes of Knopfler or Clapton. I am sure that Anthony would be embarrassed by me mentioning him in the same sentence but listen to Greenway Song and feel the utter ecstasy when the perfect lick hits gently at the perfect moment.
There’s the conversational singing style. Maybe it is the kind of venues that he has learned his craft but Toner is a consummate story teller and he has this rare ability to sing stories. Yes, everyone always says John Prine but I will name check John Hiatt for this particular review.
Then there are the songs themselves. Toner has an eye for detail. He has a literary touch with a couplet and he seems an utter natural with rhyme.
Some dread the concept album because they think Yes and Tangerine Dream. When it becomes a discipline for a songwriter’s art I think it works a dream. For this record, Toner has tightened his vision and written eight songs about East Belfast where he has spent a good lot of his time this last few years. We get a well placed tribute to Hyndford Street’s Van Morrison with a cover of Orangefield and the Arco String Quartet close things perfectly with the hymn that was played as that part of Belfast’s greatest creation, the Titanic, sank.
Not that for one minute confining himself to a particular place in any way hinders the breadth, height or width of Toner’s imagination. The Templemore Baths and the aforementioned Greenway open pores in body and soul; The 1974 worker’s strike and the World War II Blitz give historical contexts; Sam McCready and a Taxi Driver’s mysterious passenger are among fascinating character’s true and mythic scattered throughout.
In the gathering of all this Toner makes his observations and leaves his wisdom.
I love the heron on the Greenway Song:
“The heron was in my dreams last night
A skinny old ghost of grey and white
This city needs that kind of bird
Who listens and never says a word.”
Or the nephew in The Less It Matters:
“My nephew comes to see me every other week
He’s young and fast and has no gift for chatter
He says, ‘You can’t tell where anybody’s from in here’
And I say, ‘The closer you get to the end the less it matters’”
Six Inches Of Water is utterly brilliant in just about every kind of way and I personally cannot wait to see how much water they got in the weekly bath in the west, north and BT9!