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Belfast-based singer Anthony Toner set for his biggest gig to date

By Jackie Bell

Belfast-based singer/songwriter Anthony Toner will take to the stage at Belfast's Lyric theatre on Sunday in what will be the biggest gig of his career so far - and he admits he is feeling the "weight of nerves" as the days roll on.

As well as the Lyric show, Anthony will then be heading out in the coming weeks to perform in venues across Northern Ireland as he launches his seventh studio album 'Ink'

"I've never really done a big launch for an album before, and I was told now was the time, hence the Lyric show," he explains.

"This is the biggest event that I've ever done and the Lyric is the biggest venue I've ever played - under my own name."

Anthony will be joined by a number of guest performers on Sunday night, including Ciaran Lavery, Eilidh Patterson and John McCullough - and he admits that does ease the pressure a little.

But with the nerves also comes the excitement as the singer has forged strong friendships with fans of his easy-listening and guitar-based music - many of whom he expects to see filling the auditorium this week.

"I'm anticipating that it will be a really nice atmosphere," he adds.

Originally from Coleraine, Anthony (52) grew up in a house full of music, but no trained musicians and so taught himself to play the guitar with the aim of sounding like his role models.

"There was always lots of music in the house," he says. "I grew up listening to my parent's record collections, so it was the likes of Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Diamond.

"When I was younger, my father bought me a guitar and it lay around the house, but when I heard Neil Young and James Taylor, and people like that I thought, 'Oh, I can make that kind of noise on that guitar if I learn how to play it'.

"I really wanted to sound like James Taylor and his style of guitar playing is still a big influence on me."

Having previously performed as a guitarist and singer with a number of bands in the past, the former journalist found himself writing songs but not really taking his love of music any further.

He says: "I had a lot of songs but never really took myself seriously, and then I hit 40 and I suppose you could call it a mid-life crisis where I thought it was time to put the songs out there, so I recorded my first album."

It was in 2010 when Anthony began to get recognition for his music when broadcaster Gerry Anderson heard his song 'Sailortown' from his album 'A Sky For Every Day' and started playing the track on the radio.

"He played Sailortown until people started complaining and that only made him worse," jokes Anthony. "I suddenly found that I had a radio hit and before I knew it I was out gigging all over Northern Ireland.

"People would literally stop me in the street to talk to me about the song and that was the first time that had ever happened to me."

Anthony now lives in Belfast with his wife Andrea, working full time on his music.

He describes his latest record has his "most personal" album to date.

"I always have a little filter, that I think is probably my mother's voice, saying 'Oh you can't say that' but I try to get through that and I think I'm being honest on this album.

"There are things on Ink that people will recognise as being trademark me - the guitar style, the lyrics, the arrangements and so on. So it is similar enough not to frighten people off.

"But it is very different in the sense that this album is really stripped back. So this is a really acoustic album and people have reacted really well it, and that is reaffirming that I should have confidence in my convictions and stick to that direction."

Anthony has become a constant figure in the Northern Ireland music scene over the years, which he describes as "healthy as it's ever been" but adds: "Musicians in Northern Ireland have always struggled because there's never really been a industry here.

"There is a scene, but there's no industry. We have a couple of small labels but we don't have much beyond that.

"I think the quality of the music that is being produced here is as good as anywhere else in the world."

With his head focused on the upcoming Lyric gig, Anthony admits there's never really a plan for what comes next, but it always seems to work out.

He adds: "I'm now just in the business of keeping my music moving forward - and I'm thoroughly enjoying it."

Anthony Toner will be performing at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast on Sunday, April 23. For more information and tickets visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk

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