Tobiah: Are We Angels (Star Music); new studio album released 10 May 2019
Janet Jackson and Will Smith have vied to record her songs and she has worked with music legends including Derek Bramble (David Bowie, American Idol) and Robin Black (Paul McCartney, Cat Stevens). And a standing ovation at a recent pre-launch performance for her forthcoming album augers well for the future.
Are We Angels, released this May, features nine original songs, written and produced by Tobiah and recorded in her cottage studio overlooking the Sussex downs, with all profits going to charity. Love and loss have long been a theme in Tobiah’s music, born out of difficult personal circumstances that 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 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 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. He died in her 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?’”
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 wanted to record it. Smith rang to plead for the track and lauded 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”.
Snapped up by top manager Brian Freshwater (Joss Stone, Foy Vance), she has also worked with talented and influential musicians and producers, including Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, Rod Argent and the aforementioned Derek Bramble.
Are We Angels was mixed by the legendary Robin Black and presents a blend of ethereal harmonies, solid melodies and perceptive lyrics that allow the rich yet delicate textures of Tobiah’s distinctive vocals to shine. The 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.”
Her music has been heard worldwide and she has performed on stages in wonderfully diverse venues that include ancient churches, medieval halls and historic houses. Her 2019 Are We Angels: The Secret Places Tour, with Colette O’Leary and special guests, will include several US and Ireland dates. Forthcoming UK dates include 19 May at The Crooked House in Lavenham and 26 May at St George’s church, Trotton, West Sussex.
Are We Angels can be pre-ordered from Tobiah’s website (www.tobiah.co.uk) with the track Coldest Night of the Year offered as a pre-order download.
“An outstanding voice’ Doug Welch BBC
“Such a beautiful natural voice” Sarah Gorrell, BBC
“TOBIAH has a beautiful, pure voice. Her songs reflect her life and draw you into an intimate and heartfelt experience” VIEW Magazine
“Last night was really beautiful, really magical, completely entrancing – a detox for the soul” Phil Hewitt, Chichester Observer
“TOBIAH reaches beyond the ordinary to a place of crystalline sound and light which can only lift us towards our best selves” Baruch Zeichner, Paradigms WBKM