Anthony Toner: My dad had a gift for devilment – I want to be more like that now
Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast singer-songwriter, Anthony Toner
Anthony Toner's latest album Ghost Notes Vol. 1 is available on digital platforms and on CD from anthonytoner.net
Up and at it – what is your morning routine?
I’m trying to get up earlier – I fell into a bad routine of lying in bed until nearly 10am, so I’m gently trying to pull in back to at least 8am now. I shower, shave and have breakfast, then a quick chat about plans for the day – whether that’s working at the desk or in the garden.
What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?
Home-made granola with fruit and yogurt, followed by a coffee. And then more coffee.
This varies – sometimes lunch is a sandwich, sometimes just a can of mackerel… or cheese and crackers.
Again, we vary wildly, but usually something home-cooked with pasta or rice. (My wife, Andrea, loves Asian fusion flavours and is a great cook). We have takeaway once a week.
Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?
I’ve been working at home for years, but I have struggled to stay focussed during the lockdown. My concentration wandered and every creative thing I tried to do seemed pointless. That’s starting to lift, I think...
Best/easiest lockdown meal?
There’s a very simple Rachel Roddy Italian recipe that involves cooking onions in butter, adding anchovies and combining with pasta and Parmesan and that’s been an easy one for me to pull together. I always have a glass of wine or two while cooking, so I gradually become a kind of Martin Scorsese character by the time it hits the table.
A cycle trip to St George’s Market and buying some nice cheese and fresh fish – masks on, with all of the social distancing, of course. We’ve just had our first market visit since March and it felt like getting something back.
How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?
Gardening – Andrea has taken the lead, but I’ve found myself taking much more of an interest and really feeling the benefits.
What has been your daily outdoor exercise?
Nothing very organised, but definitely walking, gardening and cycling. Maybe I’ll add some DIY work on the house too... I’m trying to get at least half an hour of SOMETHING done each day.
How do you relax?
In the evening, I’ve been relaxing with lots of television, recently, but we’ve been trying to scale that back a bit and do more reading. If the weather’s good, we love forest walks, National Trust visits, that kind of thing.
Teetotal or tipple?
Definitely tipple – and I’m not fussy: red wine, Guinness, gin, rum, whiskey… Did I mention red wine?
What book are you currently reading?
I’ve been devouring books, and that’s been fun. I just started reading Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt and so far (about 20 pages in) it’s dark and sad and hilarious all at the same time.
Good question – we seem to have roamed without really focussing much. We enjoyed some of the Anthony Bourdain travel and food programmes.
Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?
That my creativity could be compromised. For the last 15 years, I’ve been able to sit down and write and get things finished. Not all of them have been wonderful, but I’ve always been able to finish. Recently, I’ve found myself writing pages and pages and not finding ANY of it usable. That has been a surprise – and not a pleasant one.
On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?
Pretty even, actually – I didn’t get the cabin fever much.
What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?
Coffee shops: they’re one of the joys of my life; the sociability of music – I don’t miss the playing as much as I miss hanging out with other musicians; and travel.
Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?
That’s a good question – to a gig? To a movie? To a restaurant? Maybe just an afternoon walk and a pub lunch… Mostly, I think I want to visit some old friends and actually throw my arms around them. It’s hard to think of that as an actual possibility for a while, though, isn’t it?
Through this crisis, my biggest gripe, I think, has been the lack of clarity from our leaders. I sensed a lot of ‘winging it’, right from the start. The days of having a central narrative you can trust are long gone, I suppose.
Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?
Yes – I think I’ve come to realise how I used to complain about things that were inconsequential and over which I had no control. That seems to have stopped. I like to think I’m taking less and less of the good things in my life for granted. I really want to hold on to that feeling.
Any new skills or hobbies?
Certainly, more kitchen skills – I know everyone’s been saying that, but I have actually baked a few cakes! It’s very basic, but for me much of that still feels like some kind of sorcery. And, as a musician, I’ve been playing more at home, working on some new guitar techniques. No huge breakthroughs, but definitely more confidence in certain areas.
What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?
I think many of us have come to know our families and our loved ones a little better – I’ve sensed more communication and more tolerance and patience and I really hope we emerge from this with a renewed sense of connection.
Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?
Without question, yes. My father, Leo, passed away in mid-July. He had been ill with Alzheimer’s for some time and I wouldn’t have willed him to hang on much longer, but it has reminded me that he had an easy gift for devilment, for sociability, for enjoyment and affection, and I’m determined to try and be a chip off that particular block from here on in.