West Sussex singer-songwriter Tobiah offers “songs and stories from her heart"


Trotton-based singer-songwriter Tobiah offers “songs and stories from her heart” on her new album Are We Angels (Star Music, May 10).

Are We Angels features nine original songs, written and performed by Tobiah and recorded in her cottage studio overlooking the Sussex South Downs, near Midhurst. All profits are going to charity.

It is her first album in eight years – and a chance to pull together all her newer material.

“I have been doing shows and people have been saying ‘Is Kiss Kiss on an album?’ and ‘Is Are We Angels on an album?’ And I just didn’t have an album with any of my newer things on. I am terrified of new technology, but I thought ‘Just do it!’ I sat myself down last March and just started.

“I started with Kiss Kiss…. And then it just felt like I was being helped by I don’t know what! I just felt that magically, without me really trying, people were coming to me.”

And so the album came together: “It is just so lovely to be able to bring together on one album all these songs that are really close to my heart. I just can’t tell you how lovely it feels.

“The album is all about compassion. There is so much that is happening in this world, but I do feel that people are just so kind and they always bowl up when you need them, and we find that we help others in the same way.

“The lovely thing is that the new album just sums up what I think.”

Love and loss have long been a theme in Tobiah’s music, born out of difficult personal circumstances which saw her grow up not knowing her birth father and losing her husband Julian at the age of 26.

“I’ve found the creative process – both writing and performing – to be very healing because it allows me to connect and express my feelings with others who have shared similar experiences,” she explains. “I wrote a song called Traveller in Time just after my husband died but I couldn’t perform it until years later as it was just too upsetting. When I eventually did, I felt a huge sense of release as I realised that love is enduring. I always knew that I was being helped through that difficult time, but it was only recently, when I wrote Are We Angels, that I made sense of it all.”

The title track of the album speaks of those small, random acts of kindness, often from complete strangers, which helped her so much through her bereavement. Married to Julian, who was also a musician, at the age of 21 for six years, the couple moved to London from Plymouth to break into the music business.

“But an undiscovered congenital heart problem led to his sudden and devastating death, dying in Tobiah’s arms.

“Julian always bought me a dress at Christmas. It was our tradition and I wanted to continue it the Christmas following his death. I collected the dress from the shop on Christmas Eve then realised as I walked away that I hadn’t paid.

“I rushed back but the shop owner ushered me out and wouldn’t take payment. As I walked away it began to snow, big flakes like confetti, just as it had snowed on the day my husband died. It was then that I realised the dress was a gift and I had a smile on my face through the tears.”

Tobiah started writing songs in earnest in her late 20s, after being given her first guitar at the age of 14.

“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?’”

Dates include May 19 at The Crooked House in Lavenham and May 26 at St George’s church, Trotton, West Sussex.

Are We Angels can be ordered from Tobiah’s website (www.tobiah.co.uk).

During her career she has been signed to Chrysalis Music, where one of her songs became the subject of a tussle between Janet Jackson and Will Smith, both of whom wanted to record it. Smith rang to personally plead for the track and laud her as a “happening up babe” – which was ironic says Tobiah as “30 minutes before the call I had been up to my eyes in jelly, helping at the local school’s Christmas party.”

The new album features a group of celebrated musicians including the cellist Caroline Lavelle (Loreena Mckennitt/De Dannan), award-winning piano accordionist Colette O’Leary, Rowan Piggott on fiddle, Simon Callow on keyboards and New York-based multi-instrumentalist Kenneth Hope.

The opening track Kiss Kiss celebrates those fragile uplifting moments that should be treasured and recounts the legend of Native American mothers forced to march from Georgia to Oklahoma, a poignant and plaintive track that resonates strongly with audiences. Coldest Night of the Year captures Tobiah’s own tragic sufferings in her 20s. “These are the songs that people really connect with,” she reveals. “We have all felt like the girl in Coldest, the loneliest person in a crowded room as we struggle with grief or sadness.”

All profits from the album are being donated to the charity Animals Asia, which is committed to ending cruelty to (Asian) animals, a cause close to Tobiah’s heart. “I first heard about the terrible treatment of the Moon bears through the 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.”

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