NE music is right up Toni’s street
Dale-based singer-songwriter Toni Sidgwick originally hails from the beautiful Shetland Islands. Since starting out busking on the streets of Edinburgh she has supported the likes of Newton Faulkner, Chris Helme, Mark Morriss and Maz O'Connor. Influenced by artists such as Ben Howard, London Grammar and Bruce Springsteen, along with her own varied experiences, she continues to hone her indie/folk/pop style.
How did you become interested in music?
Through primary school you had the opportunity to learn to play fiddle or piano. I had been determined to play piano as my grandad, who was a huge influence on me, played. Unfortunately, there was a test and I was fairly tone deaf so resigned to play the fiddle instead. I guess that started my journey into the world of strings. I didn’t start playing guitar until a lot later, nearing the time when I was heading to university. My brother got a second-hand acoustic guitar, which I think I ended up playing more than him. I learned a few chords and just enjoyed joining sounds together and writing lyrics. My first every performance singing in front of people was so bad. A couple of us sang along with a band at school and it was pretty embarrassing really. That made me more determined than ever though.
How important was growing up in Shetland to your music?
I was fortunate to grow up and go to school in Shetland. Music tuition was free and it was almost expected that you would play some instrument. I played fiddle for three or four years until I was distracted by sport and other activities. Although I regret not keeping up the fiddle, I got to the point where I didn't want to be told what to play or told to practice. My music now definitely has been influenced by that local scene, with traditional elements creeping up in my original tunes. I have a huge appreciation for the talent that exists in the islands, so many people play one or more instruments to an extremely high standard and they do it for the absolute joy of playing and socializing. Attending and then later being involved in the Shetland Folk Festival was an incredible experience. It’s difficult not to get swept away by the buzz of the occasion and be immersed in the music of so many genres.
How would you describe the style of music you write and perform?
I think my style, and it has taken a while to find something more or less consistent, is indie/folk with the singer-songwriter element. There are definitely some traditional notes in there too and it has also been described as a bit Americana. Above all I try to write emotive songs that people can find their own meaning to. One of my favourite things about music is how a song can make different individuals feel different emotions.
What sort of music do you listen to - do you have a favourite genre?
I have quite an eclectic taste of music and I’ll give pretty much anything a go at least once. My go-to is indie/folk. Ben Howard is a huge influence in my own music but also artists like Nathan Ball, Matthew and The Atlas, A Blaze of Feather, Angus and Julia Stone and Bears Den, who fit into that genre, are very frequently on my stereo. I’m a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and his storytelling and you can probably hear that in some of my music too. Pink Floyd, Tracy Chapman, John Martyn, Pearl Jam, Placebo are all up there too. I could go on for ages, I’ve even been discovering some jazz more recently.
What is the best thing about performing?
The buzz that comes from the nerves of standing up in front of a crowd is something that just can’t be recreated other than in a live setting. I find playing live I can lose myself in the songs and forget everything else for the duration of the performance. My aim is always to leave everything out there emotionally and try to put across the songs with the ideas that were intended when I wrote them. If one person in the crowd just stops for a moment I’m happy.
Do you prefer performing solo or as part of a group?
That’s a tricky one. I’ve not played too often in a group setting and so when I do I have to concentrate a lot on my timing (it’s not a strong point for me). Sometimes it’s nice to play solo and be able to speed up or slow down a track if that’s the way I feel the song is going that day. On the other-hand hearing your tracks take on a new life with other instruments is brilliant, and I have had the real honour of playing with some incredible musicians.
Do you find songwriting comes easily to you – or do you have to wait for inspiration to strike?
Sometimes I sit down and it takes 30 minutes to get the roots of a tune; other times I keep coming back and it can take months before I have something resembling a song.
Since moving to the dale, what are your impressions about the local music scene – and that further afield in the North East?
I’ve been really impressed with the talent in the area. There are some really top musicians and top people too. I’ve been made to feel really welcome, particularly at some of the open mic nights including at The Old Well. When I first moved to Barnard Castle I went along to The Golden Lion Open Mic night hosted by Gary Grainger and that is probably where my confidence to keep playing was built. Behind the scenes there are some extremely hardworking individuals and along with the likes of Gary and Steve Willis, the founder of the Crossing The Tyne Festival, someone I’ve worked with that does so much. There are some really incredible artists across the North East, I’ve had the honour to play at The Surf Cafe alongside some of them. The scene in Tynemouth and Newcastle has some bands and musicians that are musically right up my street, quite a few of them are on my Spotify playlists now.
What are your future ambitions as far as music is concerned?
I’d love to record a full album that takes people on a journey. Along the way I’m hoping I can play some more live shows when the current situation allows. For me music is about the joy of it, as long as it’s fun, I’ll be performing and writing somewhere.
Musically speaking, how have you been keeping busy during the lockdown?
I actually went quite a long while without picking up the guitar before the lockdown, with work and a new puppy to contend with. Over the last few weeks, I have been playing and recording some cover songs and posting on my social media. It’s been a great way to keep motivated to pick up the guitar and to re learn some of the songs I had started to forget.
What's next on the agenda?
I’m currently working on writing some new tracks. I have a song that I have had mostly finished and been performing for a long time, which I would like to record as a single and then look to compiling an EP or album depending on how the writing goes. I’ve also toyed with trying to self-record and produce a record with stripped back acoustic versions of some of my songs.
Finally, where can people discover more of your music?