Noise Annoys: New music from Anthony Toner, plus a deluxe re-issue from Jetplane Landing

:: Anthony Toner – The Book of Absolution (album, Dozens of Cousins)

Anthony Toner in Victoria Park. Picture by Ken Haddock


IT'S not so long since you were reading about Anthony Toner's Emperor in these pages, the Belfast-based singer songwriter's excellent album of collecting acoustic versions of some of his best songs.

However, clearly determined to share some brand new music with fans while also making up for time lost to Covid, the Coleraine-born troubadour has now released a hefty double album featuring 27 new tunes split across two discs.

Titled The Book of Absolution, this value for money package features a mix of multi-instrumental solo and full band recordings which find Mr Toner in a contemplative kind of mood that will doubtless strike a chord with many listeners as we navigate the weird post-Christmas, pre-New Year period characterised by celebration, reflection and mild indigestion.

Indeed, this record is described as being one of his most personal collections to date and features songs which touch on myriad subjects and inspirations; childhood memories and nostalgie de la boue, true love, loss and longing, joy, fun and funerals, preachers, poetry and paperbacks, illness, old age and death. There's even a nod to Elvis, just for good measure.

"This collection has emerged during the anxieties and isolations that have assailed all of us in the last few years... enough said about all of that," writes Toner in his sleeve notes for the new record.

"Some songs came willingly, some had to be chased up various trees – and some just seemed to come up out of the ground overnight. Many were, of course, sparked by the loss of my parents and the surges of affectionate memory that followed."

Toner is operating within an appealingly eclectic musical wheelhouse here, which finds him incorporating folk, country/Americana and Van The Man-style post-R'n'B soulful singer-songwriter salutations.

Over half of the songs were recorded solo in his home studio, with him capably wielding acoustic guitars, lap steel, banjo, piano and percussion. Other tunes feature the combined talents of useful friends including producer Clive Culbertson, who played bass, drummer Matt Weir, John McCullough on Hammond organ and piano, upright bass from Nick Scott, and string arrangements performed by Neil Martin (cello), Maebh Martin (viola) and The Arco String Quartet.

Fellow musical traveller Ciaran Lavery also guests on two tunes, adding choice backing vocals to the amusingly autobiographical The Protection of The King – a hushed, gently swelling walk on the mild side tied to the memory of a somewhat incongruous Elvis poster that used to hang on the wall of Toner's parents' bedroom at their Harpur's Hill home – and The Penguin Book of American verse, a more whimsical affair in which the inspirational impact of this titular tome on the reader's imagination becomes a metaphor for the dissonance between American dreams and reality.

Those are but two highlights of this fine collection, the playfulness of the former tune somehow not jarring with Dignity Thief's more sobering, melodic/melancholic rumination on the effects of dementia despite the fact one directly follows the other. Great Hammond wrangling from John McCullough ties both together, while the see-sawing strings on Dignity Thief serve the unease of the subject matter perfectly.

As a listener, diving into a 27 track album can be a somewhat daunting prospect – especially if you're the kind of old fashioned weirdo who likes to set aside time to listen to records 'properly', front to back, on first listen. However, The Book of Absolution starts repaying your devotion immediately, so that by the time you get to track three, Toner's sublime heartwrenching/warming ballad The One I Would Have Died For, you are already thinking about how you can make time to sneak in a second listen around whatever else your day demands of you.

You'll find plenty of other highlights across this superb, sprawling set, discovering favourites which will likely change with each spin.

At the moment, I'm particularly taken with the album's title track, a slow and dusty cowboy lament which finds Toner picking and twanging while assessing the misdeeds of himself and others. Then there's the arresting country strummer Backwards on The Train, on which a commute in a rear-facing seat becomes a lyrically deft examination of life's unexpected twists and turns, the playful easy listening review of Toner's early, formative and contemporary ages that is Decades, and The Man Who Died at A Funeral (hopefully not inspired by real life events – "they were taking out the coffin and everybody stood up but he stayed down") which finds Toner expertly walking the line between playfulness and poignancy.

Then songs about his parents, such as the aforementioned Dignity Thief, hit hard: I dare you to make it through the Wheelchair, 2014, a string-laden ballad inspired by the bittersweet memory of a day out at Bishop's Gate with the singer-songwriter's ailing mother, with dry eyes, while even Paperbacks and Ashtrays – a superficially benign trip down memory lane to when a young Toner would sneak reads of his da's spy thrillers and crime novels "because I wanted to connect" – is unexpectedly affecting.

Dig into this heartfelt, soothing soundtrack for troubled times now now at and Spotify et al, while the special double CD version in handsome fold-out packaging with lyric booklet is limited to just 400 copies and available while stocks last at for just £12 – an absolute bargain, I would suggest.

Having just completed a tour behind The Book of Absolution which featured a few dates with him supporting Scottish folk legend Barbara Dickson over the water, Toner will be returning the favour next year when he and Dickson play a double headliner at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on March 18, which will find them performing their own full sets and a couple of duets besides.

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:: Jetplane Landing re-issue Zero For Conduct

Zero For Conduct will be re-issued in January


FINALLY for this week, be advised that long de-activated Anglo-Derry post-hardcore legends Jetplane Landing have announced that they will be putting out a deluxe re-issue of their 2001 debut album Zero For Conduct via independent record label Big Scary Monsters (also home to ex-Jetplane guitarist Cahir O'Doherty's current outfit, New Pagans) in the early new year.

And, as if that wasn't good enough news, the band's entire back catalogue is now available via streaming services for the first time ever.

Released on January 13 on limited vinyl, the 22nd anniversary edition of Zero For Conduct comes complete with 19 exclusive bonus tracks featuring never before heard demos and live versions, plus extensive sleeve notes written by the Andrew Ferris-fronted band, who have been on indefinite hiatus since the release of their fourth record, 2013's superb swansong Don't Try.

Featuring the alternative anthems Summer Ends and This Is Not Revolution Rock, Jetplane's debut was originally recorded on an 8-track tape machine in the garage at the Bognor Regis home of Jamie (bass/vocals) and Raiffe Burchell's (drums) parents.

Ferris enthuses: "We're so thrilled to be working with Big Scary Monsters. I've been a fan of the label's ethos from the outset and it's really cool to have found a new home for our music.

"When we first released Zero For Conduct on our own label, we had no idea what was in store for us: hundreds of shows, so many new friends, plenty of scraps dicing with the industry bigwigs ­– all amazing memories.

"If you're new to this party, you're very welcome: if you were there the first time around – you all know the rules by now."

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