“We’d like to see a big medal on that man’s chest – he has brought music into more people’s lives, good music, music you make, than anyone we can think of in the Antipodes. Respect and thanks.”
Sam Neill, actor, NZ
Born & educated In New Zealand, Tony has a BA (English) & a B.Mus (Composition) from Victoria University of Wellington. After university, he sang and played guitar in bands for 17 years, notably NZ bands Mammal, Rough Justice, Spatz & the Crocodiles. Moving to Sydney (where he still lives) with the Crocodiles in 1981, he ended up playing with Renee Geyer & Jackie Orzacsky before forming his own soul band the Vulgar Beatmen.
His musical direction changed in 1985 when he became fascinated by the male a cappella quartets from the black gospel tradition, and Tony subsequently founded a cappella quartet the Elevators, & two a cappella choirs: the award-winning Cafe of the Gate of Salvation & the Honeybees & later started gospel quartet Heavenly Light Quartet. He has appeared at many festivals (eg. WOMADelaide, the World Choral Symposium in Sydney, West Coast A cappella Summit in San Francisco, the West Coast Sacred Music Festival in Vancouver, East Coast Blues & Roots Festival, Sing Aoteoroa) and toured with the Heavenly Lights to NZ, France & Spain.
He begun running a cappella gospel workshops in the late ‘80s, and co-founded (with Stuart Davis) the Sydney Acappella Association to promote all unaccompanied singing traditions. Since 1987, Tony has run vocal workshops throughout Australia and New Zealand, as well as Canada, the UK, Italy and France. He has also taken singing tours to Samoa, Fiji, Bali, and remote Australian areas to interact with local communities.
He has received composer commissions from the Song Company & the Sydney Children’s Choir, and in 1990 he received an Australia Council International Study Grant to research black gospel traditions in the USA. Tony has made many trips to the USA to engage with black gospel traditions & has led the Café of the Gate of Salvation and the Band of Angels (WA) on tours of the USA, and directed New Orleans choir the Heralds of Christ at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Gospel Tent.
He has acted as tour leader and musical director for several gospel tours of the USA taking participants from outside the tradition to sing and immerse themselves in the Black church culture.
For a comprehensive & well-illustrated musical profile of Tony Backhouse (written by Nick Bollinger) go to AudioCulture.