Toby Armstrong is an exceptional musician, who not only plays guitar in Roadhouse & Masala, the two leading bands in Barbados, but also heads up CRS recording studio’s during the day.
TotallyBarbados.com caught up with Toby to find out what motivates him as a musician, composer and songwriter and to find out what he finds so inspirational about life in Barbados.
Toby is only 32 (as of October 2008) and already has a wealth of musical knowledge and experience behind him. His mother is Barbadian and his father is English. He grew up in the UK and attended boarding school at Truro School. He moved to Barbados in 1992 to take his A levels at Queens College. He then moved on again to take his degree in music production at Full Sail University in Florida. After gaining some sound working knowledge in recording studios in New York he finally moved back to Barbados for good in 2000, and that is when he took over CRS studio.
Toby has one brother who lives in Guernsey and says that he is the only professional musician in the family. However, he believes that his musical style now was heavily influenced by his parents listening to Eric Clapton, The Yardbirds and of course his Bajan mother listening to reggae and calypso. He now lives in Barbados with his partner Cathy and happily admits that with playing at least four nights a week, he has little spare time on his hands. When he does get some time off he likes to socialize with friends, go surfing and he makes sure he gets to the gym every day.
He provides backing vocals in both Roadhouse and Masala but insists that he is not a singer, after hearing some of the projects that he is working on and some of the tracks that he has recorded this seems a somewhat modest opinion!
He started to play guitar and piano when he was six and has since learned to play bass guitar and the harmonica. He spends the majority of his working day composing music for his commercial clients for radio and television advertising and writing his own music for other artists to record.
He is inspired by different music for different projects that he is working on, but thinks that jazz, blues and world music usually inspire the edge he is looking for on any particular musical project. When it comes to musicians that he admires he likes Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Benson, Stevie Wonder and Miriam Makeba.
Toby says, “Working in Barbados have influenced my musical style, I get a lot of exposure and experience playing here. I am really lucky that I get to build up many stage hours by performing at least four nights a week. If I was in a bigger country I wouldn’t get that much exposure, and here my audience changes every two weeks. I really think that is why Barbadians are such good performers and why we are doing so well on the international stage.”
When Toby graduated from university in 1998 he moved to New York and his first job was at Sound Track Recording Studios in Manhattan. He worked there are as an assistant engineer and worked with several U.S billboard acts, here he learned the ropes and then moved on to Mixed Impressions also in New York, but by now had been promoted to a sound engineer. Here he worked with artists such as 3LW (Three Little Women) and Boyz II Men, he then went to work for PLP Productions in Long Island where he worked with established artists such as Dion and the Belmonts.
In 2000 Toby returned to Barbados and started to work with Creative Junction, who are an established video production house for the Caribbean region. Creative Junction then bought the CRS studio and ever since Toby has been working with Caribbean artists and was able to develop his passion for composing and writing music for clients across the Caribbean region.
In the last couple of years Toby says that his career has got exciting, he recently worked on Hal Linton’s debut album ‘Spirit Love‘ as the executive producer. This album won Hal Linton several awards at the Barbados Music Awards 2007. Toby has also been nominated twice for Barbados Music Awards with both Roadhouse and Masala. He has also been working with Mr. Deejay producing calypso records last year for Crop Over 2007 and is working again with him this year on some reggae records. He is currently working with Shanta Prince and quite a few other up and coming Barbadian artists.
Toby has also recently won quite a few awards and they are The Caribbean Broadcasting Union award for best commercial, which he won for 2004, 2005 and 2006. He has also won ADDY Gold awards for best in show for 2005 & 2006.
In terms of his own performances he played Jazz on the Hill 2007 with Hal Linton, who headlined that year with Ziggy Walcott as the opening act. For 2008 Ziggy Walcott headlined Jazz on the Hill 2008 and Toby again played with him. Toby joined up with Ziggy again to close the Holders Season for 2008. He has also headlined the Bequia Music Festival for the last the last three years as Toby Armstrong and his Mount Gay Blues Band. He also played the Ottawa Blues Festival in Canada with fellow musician Jomo Lorde to a crowd of 80,000 people.
He says “Its important to be a musical chameleon, working on such a small island you have to be versatile, I had to play with Lorraine Klaasen, who is a South African performer and so I needed to be able to play guitar in an African style. This happens quite often when artists come to Barbados to perform, there are only so many local guitarists to support them and you have to be able to fill their requirement and whatever genre of music that they play.”
He hopes one day he will get to play at Wembley Stadium back in England and that he will get to work with some of his favourite artists such as Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, Andrea Bocelli, or even Stevie Wonder!
In Barbados you can catch Toby in action as a very talented guitarist playing with Masala on Tuesday nights at Jumbies in St. Lawrence Gap, on Thursday nights he plays with Roadhouse at McBrides also in St. Lawrence Gap, on Friday nights he is back with Masala at Lord Willoughby’s Tavern on the west coast and on Saturdays, again with Masala he plays at The Ship Inn in St. Lawrence Gap.
Toby loves life in Barbados; he says “We have great waves, warm weather, great people, great music, great musicians, live music every night of the week and no closing time!”
Toby plans to be writing more music for the future that gets international recognition, he says he will continue to live here however he would like to visit countries such as Greece and parts of Eastern Europe such as Romania, Prague and Russia.
Finally we asked Toby where he would recommend for a visitor to go in Barbados and he laughed and said. “The Ship Inn on a Saturday night!”
Author: Brett Callaghan