About Tony

Tony Backhouse, BA, B.Mus, is one of the leaders in the Australasian a cappella movement.

  • BA (English) Victoria University of Wellington 1969
  • B.Mus (Composition) Victoria University of Wellington 1971
  • Graduate study paper in ethnomusicology (Blues and gospel history) Memphis State University 1991
  • 3 years’ classical guitar study 
  • 3 years’ working as Presentation Officer with NZBC
  • Early compositions – theatre music:
  • Embryo (Victoria University 1970)
  • Santa’s liquid dream (Downstage 1971)
  • Amamus Theatre productions 1972-73

Early compositions – film music 

  • Gone up north for a while (Dir: Paul Maunder 1972)
  • Four Shorts on Architecture (Dir: Sam Neill 1977)

17 years of bands 1970-1987

  • Mammal (keys, gtr, rudimentary piano, vocals, music)
  • Rough Justice (gtr, vocals, music)
  • The Crocodiles (gtr, vocals, music)
  • Vulgar Beatmen (gtr, vocals, music)
  • Renee Geyer band (gtr,backing vocals)
  • Jump Back Jack (with Jackie Orzsaczky) (gtr, vocals)
  • Dan Johnson Band (bass, backing vocals)

A cappella

Tony founded a cappella quartet the Elevators (1985-1990), and a cappella gospel choir the Café of the Gate of Salvation in1986. He directed the choir and provided almost all their originals ongs and arrangements for 21 years, resigning in 2007. In the ’90s,he co-founded (with Stuart Davis) the Sydney Acappella Association. Tony’s music was featured in the series of multi-cultural vocal concerts initiated by Stuart Davis and Tony at the Sydney Town Hall, called Choral Sea. 

 Tony founded a cappella gospel choir the Honeybees and directed them for their first six years. His gospel quartet Heavenly Light Quartet formed in 1996 and released one CD in 1997. He has appeared at WOMADelaide four times, with Caféof the Gate of Salvation, Heavenly Light Quartet and national choir, Gospel Nation, and at WOMAD NZ in 2006 he ran workshops and appeared with the Jubilation Gospel choir.

He performed as singer/musical director for the first a cappella musical in Australia, Steve J. Spears’ Namatjira Park (1992), and he researched and coordinated the 1993 TVNZ documentary on NZ vocal traditions, Strictly A cappella. 

Tony was the recipient of the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America’s 1993 Contemporary A cappella Recording Awards for Best Song and Best Soloist (Runner-up); the Café of the Gate of Salvation received Best Album (Runner-up) Award. 
  He has received composer commissions from the Song Company, from the Australia Council to write music for the Café of the Gate of Salvation (who released CDs in 1992,1995 and 2004) and 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 several research trips to the USA. He has sung solo and with Black choirs in churches in the USA, and taught and performed at the 1995 West Coast A cappella Summit, California. He has led the Café of the Gate of Salvation and the Band of Angels (WA) on research/performance 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 in New Orleans, Memphis, Birmingham, Chicago and New York. Since 1987, Tony has run vocal workshops throughout Australia and New Zealand, as well as Canada, the UK, Italy and France. He takes singing tours to Samoa, Fiji, Bali, and remote Australian areas to interact with local communities.

He also performs and records with pianist/composer Peter Dasent under the Blessed Relief umbrella, with Fane Flaws in No Engine and with both Peter Dasent and Fane Flaws as The Bend.

“truly outstanding…he is arguably Australia’s finest gospel singer”
Sydney Morning Herald

Writings about Tony include

• Appropriating Blackness – E. Patrick Johnson (Duke University Press, 2003)
Contains a chapter on the Café of the Gate of Salvation and an inquiry into pallid antipodeans singing Black gospel.
Google books
• Secrets – Modjeska, Lohrey, Dessaix, pp 242-249 (Macmillan 1997)
• Forgiveness and other acts of love -Stephanie Dowrick,  (Viking 1997) pp 45-47
• Stranded in Paradise (John Dix) New Zealand Rock’n’roll, 1955-1988:Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock’n’roll, 1955-1988: 
• When Rock Got Rolling: The Wellington Scene, 1958-70, Roger Watkins, Christchurch, 1989.
• Goneville: (a memoir of ’70s music in NZ), Nick Bollinger, (Awa Press, Wellington 2016)
• Interview in Resonate (Dec 2009)


Sam hunt and Mammal – Beware the man (TB: piano, vocals, music)
The Crocodiles – Tears (TB: guitar, vocals, music)
The Crocodiles – Looking at ourselves (TB: guitar, vocals, music)
The Café of the Gate of Salvation – (TB: vocals, choral direction, music)
The Café of the Gate of Salvation – A window in heaven (TB: vocals, choral direction, music)
The Café of the Gate of Salvation – Deluxe (TB: vocals, choral direction, music)
The Heavenly Light Quartet (TB: vocals, arrangements)
Guided Meditations (with Stephanie Dowrick) (TB: piano, vocals, music)
Paul Capsis with the Café of the Gate of Salvation – Paul Capsis live  (choir direction, arrangements)
BEND – The Underwatermelon Man (vocal arrangements, vocals)
Black Gospel Down Under – various artists (songs, choral direction)
Blessed Relief – Design For Living (Armchair Records) (songs, vocals, guitar) 

Festival performances include:
Womadelaide (1993, 1997, 1998, 2005)
Womad New Zealand  (workshops and with Jubilation) 2005
West Coast A cappella Summit (San Francisco) 1995

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (with the Heralds of Christ) 1999 
Jasper Music Festival (Jasper, Alabama) 1997
WLOK Stone Soul Music, Memphis 2005
Brisbane Sacred Music Festival (workshops and with the Heavenly Lights) 2003
Brisbane Festival 2000
East Coast blues and Roots Festival (Byron Bay)1998
West Coast Sacred Music Festival (Vancouver) 2002

Festival of Voices (Tasmania) 2006
World Choral Symposium (with COTGOS), Sydney 2006
Jazz-en-Souillac (France) 2003
Roses Blues and Jazz Festival (Spain) 2003
Ezkaray Jazz Festival (Spain) 2003
Sing Aotearoa, NZ 1997, 2000
Sydney Festival 1992, 1995
Melbourne Festival 1994, 1996,1997

TB has been the subject of various TV programs including Compass, Healthy Wealthy and Wise, and Channel 9’s Today Show, and was the consultant for NZ documentary Strictly A cappella.


Tony has written the following articles on music:

  • An Analysis of African-American Religious A Cappella Quartets 1945-1955 MSU paper (unpublished) 1991
  • The Dixie Hummingbirds – OK Music Issue no. 4, Winter 1994
  • Looking Back In Wonder – on the wings of a cappella singing Music in the Air Issue 4 Winter 1997http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~Serlewis/wshp/music.htm
  • Come and Go to that Land (the Café of the Gate of Salvation in the USA, 1999) – Sing Out, Dec 1999 Vol 16, No 3 (Australian National Choral Association)
  • African-American Gospel Choirs – a skimpy overview of the style – Sing Out Vol 11, no 2, 1994
  • Companion to Music and Dance in Australia (Currency Press 2003): entries on Gospel Choirs / A cappella singing
  • An A cappella Primer: Oral Majority Issues 28-30 (1996)
  • See also Oral Majority Issues 1-25 (1991-1995) for assorted articles and reviews written while he was the editor.
  • I Heard The Angels Singing – Sing Out, April 2014 (Australian National Choral Association)

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