Toby Hay - The Gathering, Interview

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After three short, but sweet ep’s, Welsh guitarist Toby Hay releases his first long player on vinyl, the holy grail of all recording formats. With “The Gathering”, Hay offers beautiful, impressionistic guitar compositions, inspired by all kind of folk music, bird songs and the landscape that surrounds him. One of the most beautiful acoustic guitar records you will hear this year! Majestic, soothing and unifying.

Here is a short interview I made with Toby.

Toby, how are you and where are you?

I am good thanks, I am at home, near Rhayader in mid Wales, it has been a beautiful weekend and I am glad for the Sun.

Your first proper full-length album was just released in several formats on your own label. What were the lessons you’ve learned?

I think the main lesson is to treat the ‘industry’ as a game. A game you play. The music is what really matters of course, and then there is this other ‘stuff’ that kind of gets in the way. Instead of ignoring it however, you need to play. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but it is always fun. I try to not take any of it too seriously.

Do you think the format matters? Is vinyl the holy grail that validates music to some degree or are downloads fine if the music is good?

This is the first vinyl release on the label, and I have loved it. I personally like vinyl, and I wanted my debut album to be released in that format, and I would like future releases on the label to also be available on vinyl, but sometimes the cost simply isn’t practical. Downloads and Cd’s are both great, and I really value them also. I do think there is something special about a vinyl record though.

Toby Hay - 6 and 12 string guitar, harmonium.
Angela Chan - violin, viola, cello
Rob Bromley - violin
Peter Scott - double bass

Engineered and mixed by Tim Hay and Toby Hay
Mastered by Christopher Leary at Melograf Mastering
Cover Photograph by P.B. Abery
Inside Photograph by Toby Hay
Design by Nic Finch

Liner Notes

"I first listened to The Gathering late in the day, late in the year – the year of Trump, of Brexit, of tides of darkness rising fast on all sides. And for a bright hour, Toby Hay’s music cast strong light, fought the shadows back a little. The tracks of this album – quick-fingered, deep-felt – open landscapes in the mind’s eye. It feels, listening to them, as if they have a little of the power – the power that linguists call ‘illocutionary’ and magicians call ‘conjuring’ – to summon things into being, or bring pasts briefly back to life. It came as no surprise to learn that Toby has sometimes hoped that the playing of 'Starlings' (in which the notes teem and swoop and swarm) might one day call up an actual murmuration. Place, memory, nature, loss and dreamed-of geographies are the subjects of this beautiful music: that gathering of feelings that go by the untranslatable Welsh word hiraeth. There is a sadness at what has gone here, but not a nostalgia. The world’s dew gleams on this music, but the world’s dust swirls through it too."

Robert Macfarlane

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What are the challenges for you as a full-time musician and label owner and what is the reward?

It is challenging, a lot of the label stuff, press and distribution and all that can kind of get a bit boring, but the music is what keeps me ticking over.

I moved away from home and couldn’t find anyone to jam with, so I grew my nails and started fingerpicking.

I’m always stunned that young people are into the music of their grandparents. That they are into folk music instead of shredding guitar in an HC Punk band or programming beats and bass lines. Maybe it’s a German phenomenon that we neglect traditions because of our terrible past. How did you get into playing guitar and into this specific kind of music? What are your ties to the traditions of your region?

Well I started playing guitar in bands, I was a pedal geek, all electric guitar and reverb. Post rock and experimental sounds. The acoustic thing happened later. I learned the guitar whilst playing with other people, it has taken me a long time to get used to playing solo. I became interested in folk music, started listening to Bob Dylan, bought a harmonica, that kind of thing, then started playing folk songs with other people, alongside the rock stuff. It was when these bands stopped that I started picking up the acoustic guitar and composing solo pieces, kind of by accident to be honest. I moved away from home and couldn’t find anyone to jam with, so I grew my nails and started fingerpicking.

You tour a lot in the U.K., what is the overall sentiment in your audience regarding the decisions, part of your country made? Especially since you are from a region that voted strongly against being part of the European Union?

I can’t really speak for my audience, but I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I voted remain, but only just. The world feels incredibly divided in so many ways, and I think too many complex issues are broken down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision. This type of question will always divide, and will never help bring people together. I am worried about the unknown, and the weakness of our governments, but who knows what the future holds? I remember the day of the result, I was up very early for a shift at work, I woke to the news, and felt shocked, and very strange. I was driving as the sun was coming up, beautiful weather, and a Red Kite flew and hovered just above the car, silhouetted against the rising sun, and just hung there in the sky for a minute. Europe is more than a political union, it is people and it is place. Let’s hope we can move beyond this mess and move towards a better future.

Do you have any musical education or did you take the “primitive”, self-taught road?

I had some guitar lessons early on, but the way I play is my own, it is probably full of technical errors and mistakes that would make a classical player wince, but it is mine and it seems to work OK.

What are the challenges in composing music, particularly if you play together with other musicians?

Composing music is the good part, and playing with other people is a joy. I think the key is to play with the right people, if you do that, then everything tends to come easy. If it’s too much like hard work then you are probably playing with the wrong people.

My favorite song of yours from the new album is Starlings. Did you study bird songs in some way? What other sounds inspire you?

Thank you, and no not really. However, the Starlings kind of burst into my life at certain times of year and I simply cannot ignore them. The sight and sound of these large groups is breathtaking, the music came really easy.

Is there a technique or style you want to explore further in the future and what are your plans for projects and releases?

I have three records lined up. The first will be solo, all on my new custom 12 string, built for me by the brilliant Roger Bucknall of Fylde guitars. It is a beautiful thing and I am enjoying composing music for it. The next will be more of a collaborative record, I can hear some tracks with double bass and drums, some with brass, and some electric guitar also. As well as these I have also finished a duo record with my good friend Jim Ghedi, duets for 6 and 12 string guitar, I am excited about letting this into the world. Enough to keep me busy!

“I first listened to The Gathering late in the day, late in the year – the year of Trump, of Brexit, of tides of darkness rising fast on all sides. And for a bright hour, Toby Hay’s music cast strong light, fought the shadows back a little. The tracks of this album – quick-fingered, deep-felt – open landscapes in the mind’s eye. It feels, listening to them, as if they have a little of the power – the power that linguists call ‘illocutionary’ and magicians call ‘conjuring’ – to summon things into being, or bring pasts briefly back to life. It came as no surprise to learn that Toby has sometimes hoped that the playing of ‘Starlings’ (in which the notes teem and swoop and swarm) might one day call up an actual murmuration. Place, memory, nature, loss and dreamed-of geographies are the subjects of this beautiful music: that gathering of feelings that go by the untranslatable Welsh word hiraeth. There is a sadness at what has gone here, but not a nostalgia. The world’s dew gleams on this music, but the world’s dust swirls through it too.”
— Robert Macfarlane

You can buy Toby Hay’s music on bandcamp in whatever format you like.

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