Tony Backhouse interview
by: Jennifer Richardson on
An awesome guy and huge inspiration to so many of us from all around the world.
1. Tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in NZ listening to Elvis & was fascinated early on by vocal harmonies. After singing in the school madrigal group & gaining a B.Mus in Composition, I left the classical world behind & played guitar in a few NZ bands. This hedonistic & thoughtless life culminated in playing in the Crocodiles, NZ’s Band of the Year in 1980. The Crocodiles, giddy with success, hit Sydney in 1981 & promptly broke up. Unable to afford a plane fare home, I stayed on in Sydney playing music, & working in Badde Manors cafe...
2. Please share your singing journey with us?
After playing & singing in bands with Renee Geyer and Jackie Orzasczky in Sydney in the ‘80s, I gave up music as a career, instead focussing on singing for the love of it. This was the best thing I ever did - freed of the need to make a living out of music, I explored a whole new repertoire: Black gospel choirs and quartets. I started an a cappella quartet the Elevators in 1985, and then the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation a cappella gospel choir in 1986. The choir became popular & many wanted to join it - too many, so I started running workshops in a cappella gospel - which I continue to do.
3. What is one of your most memorable singing experiences?
I’ve had many great singing experiences - jamming with Valanga Khoza, singing with the Heavenly Light Quartet, singing with the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation for Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu…but I remember vividly singing in a church in New Orleans with the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation. We sang a song I’d written, obviously unfamiliar to the church, but before we’d finished the church had taken over the song with bass, drums, organ & voices, and everyone was dancing in the aisles.
4. 3 tips to someone who wants to improve their technique as a soloist &/or choir member?
Listen. Relax. Move - and move around to where you can hear all the parts, and hear how your part fits.
5. Why do you love working with The Create Escape?
A memorable experience on one of the tours? The Create Escape has taken me to beautiful villages in Samoa and Bali, plazas and churches in Italy & put me together with other choir directors from different traditions. I love the intersection of different cultures that Jen provides, and the gorgeous locations where we all meet to sing. The most potent memory is of Edoardo Materassi’s Animae Voce choir singing ‘Indodana’ in the round to us in a church in Firenze. Or perhaps in the chapel at Montestigliano, when I sang Shine on Me in that small space with a lovely acoustic & time stood still.
6. What do you love most about teaching?
Seeing the joy on singers’ faces. Hearing unexpected beauty emerge from a disparate group who suddenly unite on a chord or a riff.
7. Favourite song and why?
One Night by Elvis. It’s the first Elvis song I heard, a good melody, good feel and still has a ton of raw energy in it,
8. What’s next for you?
2020 is a year of travel including our event in Argentina, but I’m also very involved in some recording projects, one of which we’ll start mixing next week.
I have a ton of nearly-completed recordings and compositions on the go & I’m keen to complete them all - these are not a cappella gospel or anything remotely like it, but collaborations with old friends and colleagues (all of us played in the Crocodiles) that involve funky rhythm sections, screaming & crooning horns, guitars, strings, keys…I’m getting back in touch with some youthful frenzy.
9. 5 things on your bucket list?
Visit Ethiopia. Live in France or Italy for a while. Finish the collaborative recordings. Become a better bass player. Record with an African American gospel choir.
For details on our upcoming event in Buenos Aires, Argentina with Tony click on this linked line >>
I'll leave you to listen to Tony's favourite song and the video we took of Tony singing in the little chapel at Montestigliano!
Tony looking quite at home during a coffee break in the square in Mercatello.