The thing about Tony is that he writes songs and lyrics that are very memory retentive.

She’s fallen off the face of the planet
At least this one that I inhabit 

She’s in another world and yes, I get it
With no connection
No communication 

Once I’ve heard his new one, I’m singing it obsessively when I’m hoovering or washing up or whatever and whistling it as I go round the supermarket. I’m still whistling Lullaby for the woman who rocked me to sleep as a child thirty odd years after I first heard it. I tell this to the woman in Aldi who has been following me round the aisles and touches my forearm and asks what it is that she’s been listening to incessantly as she chose her custard creams and her jar of pickled beetroot.

‘Tony Willé.New CD,’ I explain and give her the lyric that goes with the tune in my best acapella. My singing voice isn’t dreadful so long as I’m not accompanied and she cocks her head and I recognise that smitten look. I have that for weeks after every new track I hear. I thought for a minute she was going to hug me or something but her look turns professional thoughtful as if she is tasting the original rhymes and comparing them to the flavour of the pickled beetroot. I could not have imagined what did happen next. She didn’t hug me or anything. She called out instead.

‘Come over here and listen to this.’

Several faces appear from behind the fruit and veg and the curry sauces and a couple come out of the cheese section holding hands. They are all about the same age as the woman. Late twenties,early thirties. All dressed in similar charity shop sweaters and jeans with ripped knees. Scarves round their necks and pushing trolleys. About twelve of them in total stood with us in the toilet rolls and tissues aisle.

 “Do me the lyrics again.’ I look for the practical joke smile but faces are all intent and serious looking. Women and blokes in equal measure and all sizes,colours and shapes. Look like they need their hair washing is what I think as I wait for the wind up to unravel but she ain’t joking. ‘Go on. I’ll do the whistling. I’ve heard that enough now to have learned that.’ And she has. Perfect accompaniment but it has the usual effect of sending me out of tune. We all wince. Me more than them.

 ‘D’you mind if we try it?’ and before I’ve had chance to say my ‘course not’ they’re off with a swingeing proper barbers shop choir rendition. A few stumbles over the words but various basses,sopranos,altos and tenors all mixing in with conductor lady whistling and moving her hands batonless to guide the pace. It sounds totally mindblowing. Loud as well. Every shopper and all the staff busy stocking the shelves with potted salmon and dental mouthwash look around and listen. You can’t not really.

‘What d’ya reckon?’ She’s asking them not me but I nod my appreciation and they all start babbling ‘good’ and discussing loads of technical stuff. More mezzo perhaps I remember one of them saying. ‘Fits the melancholy doesn’t it?’ I hear boss lady saying and now I look closer she is a bit older than the rest. Forty maybe but young eyes that had me fooled initially.

 ‘Who’s the artist again?’ and I explain about the new recording name and that I’ve got the CD in my car if they wanna borrow it. I’m still sort of wondering what kind of virtual reality I’ve stepped into but most of the other shoppers now are back choosing between twelve or twenty packs of fish fingers and pepperoni or margherita pizza.

And I think about how Tony’s songs have affected me over all these years so I gradually start seeing the handshakes in the car park as perfectly normal day at the office type experience.

‘All his songs stick in your head, I tell them. ‘He’s always had that.’ And I explain about us going to the same college and the Redman-Greenman combo he was in for years doing the comedy cabaret circuit with Simon Pitt.

‘We’ll look him up on Spotify,’ she says. And tells me to keep hold of the CD I offer. ‘Keep whistling,’ she says and winks her farewell. They all wave as they wander off on foot. Everyone else is packing their shopping into the boots of cars. But this crew are walking, all carrying a couple of bulging bags and tapping rhythms out with their Doc Martens. I hear fragments of the song in all sorts of different pitches and tones as they disappear from the car park still mulling it over amongst themselves. They turn and sketch a final wave and are gone, the song irretrievably and indubitably locked in their heads. I feel I’ve had another of those religious experiences like when my Dad died and I walked past wind chimes at 2am on a still night on my way up to the nursing home and heard the tunes my old man used to busk on the family piano at Christmas parties when I was a kid. Banging out on the chimes with no breath of a wind about to propel them.

Forty years of listening to Tony Willé has always been like this really. I’m not in any way surprised. His songs have always just set up house in my head and I know it to be the same for my wife and others enchanted by his songwriting.

Not millions. He’s not Bob Dylan

How does it feel,how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown,
Like a rolling stone 

 Same magically unforgettable lyrical content however.Like McCartney at his peak too.                                                

 Hey Jude, don’t make it bad

And the poet Philip Larkin.                                                 

They fuck you up your Mom & Dad
They may not mean to, but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra just for you 

Something fearless about those artists. Never afraid to express what’s on their minds. Gifted with an insight that marks them out as wordsmiths who blather wisdoms and visions you ain’t never gonna forget.

Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better 

Getting that right into something universal and setting up home in the heads of all that hear it. The music as magic as the words.

And there’s no having to empathise with the artist. Nor share their personalities or their beliefs. You can be as different from them as chalk and cheese. Different beliefs,different politics,different cultures,different everything. Because the words transcend all that. And they become yours. You own them now. And they unite you with all others that own them. Songs don’t discriminate. They belong to all equally. It really is a magical ideal world.

The week before I got Shy Face Troubador’s new CD, I took possession of a new painting for my bedroom wall. One to wake in the morning to. Painted by another of the artists I went to college with. He asked me to send a photo of where I sited it and when he saw it hung alongside my treasured self portrait of Philip Larkin he baulked and expressed his disquiet at my associating his work with that of the somewhat posthumously discredited poet. He told me how he found Larkin’s work grubby and I explained that quality was what I think I particularly liked about it! I liked what I learned about Larkin as a librarian too in my time visiting the Brynmoor Jones Library at the University of Hull where Larkin was head librarian for the last thirty years of his life. My daughter took her psychology degree there and I got THE chance to regularly soak up the atmosphere imbued by the poet I admired in his other role in life as academic librarian.

The thing about Larkin for me is the carefully concealed comedy in his work. Hardly any of it on the surface in his poems which of course are known for their intense melancholy and
the tone of the disaffected old grouch. When the letters left behind after his death revealed
the starkly racist banter and the love of pornography, poor old Philip’s celebrity rating took a temporary nosedive. Those who read him wider however, including his regular jazz and book reviews in the popular press over many years, soon got over their disquiet. We none of us knew Philip Larkin personally so it is, as always, easy to take revelations of his private life and personality out of the context of the man and consummate artist and treat them instead as salacious gossip about which we should better judge him and his life.

It don’t really work like that people. Who are we to judge, especially when we only have the out-of-context fragments of letters written to specific persons and friends. Very different to his serious and considered art and full of the warts and all of his personality and lifeforce. Recognisably his because of the same erudition, the same grubbiness, the same dark humour but never easy for us to gather the nuance and context of private correspondence of anyone. Never mind a careful linguistic technician like Larkin.

Originality is being different from oneself, not others                                                         


Something, like nothing, happens anywhere 

Forget looking on the surface with Larkin. This guy works on multi-layered strata and all is rich in that fearless bravado, that naked on stage shining brilliance of the genuine poet.

I mention Larkin because Tony has a side to his personality that I happen to know a bit about, knowing him personally. His devoted Buddhist belief is manifested manifold in the forty years of songs I’m familiar with and although I don’t share that belief myself it makes no difference to the joy and enlightenment that his songs always bring to me. His use of it in his work is instinctive not calculated and in no way preachy. You end up being interested and educated (if you want to be) in that side of his personality. And the skill of his music and his gift for that coining of the unforgettable phrase transcends any didactic content in his songs. Although personal in origin, they quickly become universal in receipt as that ownership seamlessly passes from him to you.


I was the minstrel in Aldi, despite my fairly limited singing voice (I am a better whistler!), and the songs were a baton. Seamlessly passed on to loads who appreciated them in the store that day. And some who took them seriously away as their own to share on in their own style and their own musically sophisticated way.


She’s fallen off the face of the planet
At least this one that I inhabit 

She’s in another world and yes, I get it
With no connection
No communication

The new CD just released under his new platform moniker of the SHY FACE TROUBADOUR. Done to stop the confusion with the Dutch disco artist of the same name. She unbelievably has the e acute at the end as well! Google SHY FACE or pay a quid on Bandcamp to download to your device. Tony is managing his own production and distribution these days. Never quite achieved the mega bucks record contract although he is renowned for his guitar work on Felt albums in the eighties.


If you ain’t never had the pleasure, well, what are you waiting for?


Gary Boswell

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