Toby Jepson, best known as vocalist with Little Angels and Wayward Sons, expands on his singing career, what the future holds with regard to new music and live gigs and lots more.
Who were your influences in the early days and have you always wanted to be a singer in a band?
Influences are wide and varied. I grew up in a household of music. My dad was a huge vinyl fan. We didn’t own a television in our house for years, so it was all about music. I remember growing up with exposure to music. Everything from Cat Stevens, who was the first band that I chose to like. My mum would listen to Ella Fitzgerald, them my dad would put on The Who and The Eagles. He was into Soul music and hugely into Queen. So probably the first realisation that I wanted to do something with music was when I saw Freddie Mercury sing ‘We Are The Champions’. That was a real “moment” around 1976/77. Growing up my older sister and my friends got into Punk in a big way so consequently so did I. So I have a very eclectic taste in music. I’m not interested in the technical aspects, I’m interested in the heart and soul and the story. That’s what’s driven me as an artist. I was a huge Beatles fan and felt covered every single era with their songs. It’s not just music that has influenced me. My dad was a great reader and painted. So a lot of other mediums influenced me. I’m a big movie fan, so I would correlate these things together as my young life was made up of listening to music on the radio and watching movies on the tv or at the cinema.
Apart from Fastway and Gun, have you ever auditioned for the vocal spot in any other notable bands?
I was in The Dio Disciples band and travelled all over the world with them for about two years. This was a real privilege as when my Rock influences kicked in as a teenager Ronnie was with his band Dio and this got me going back to his work with Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Because I was in a band which was quite successful from the off you get asked to do things. At one point I had a very distant chance of joining Van Halen. We toured with them and I got on with Eddie very well. There was a suggestion from their office that I would be considered for the role that Gary Cherone eventually got. I never auditioned but I was put on a shortlist. I think they couldn’t suffer an Englishman in the band! [laughs] I didn’t get it but it gave me a kick up the arse as I was in a down period of my career.
You have appeared on a number of albums. Do you have a favourite and why?
Not sure about a favourite. I’ve been involved in so many albums and I tend to throw myself into every project whole-heartedly. If pushed I would have to consider the two major parts of my career, that being Little Angels and Wayward Sons. My favourite Little Angels album is the first one because it was the most exciting part of our career on a big label. Although from a technical point of view and the quality of the songs, the second album, ‘Young Gods’, is as good as it got. In terms of Wayward Sons, the last album, ‘Even Up The Score’, is just pipped. It’s a very confident record. We did it during lockdown and we’d come off the back of the second album which was incredibly difficult. There was less pressure to finish this album, it was a joy to work on.
Do you still get the same buzz out of singing live as you did in the past?
Difficult question to answer as it changes so much. I’m in my mid-fifties now and don’t go onto the stage the same way as when I was twenty five! One thing that never changes is your spirit. I always regarded the stage anywhere in the world as kind of like a second home. We’re all there for the same thing, it’s like a community with the audience. It’s become very deep for me over the years. It’s one place I can rely upon in a way. The physicality has taken it's toll though. I mean, I’m fit, I run, I look after myself, and I’ve always been pretty healthy.
Some vocalists are on strict dietary regimes or gargle with special liquids. How have you kept your voice in tip-top shape all these years?
You’ve just got to be very careful. I stupidly used to smoke a few years ago and then I quit. It’s amazing what a difference that made! As you get older you can’t help the change in physicality of your voice. It deepens. I’ve had vocal training, instruction from various people, pills, potions and witch doctor advice, really anything to get you onto a stage. Believe me, the kind of singing I do is called “full voicing” and I don’t use my “head voice” at all. It’s all in the chest. That in itself is a very demanding way to sing. If you listen to Justin Hawkins for example, then that’s 90% singing from his head. It’s a different way of singing, and less pressure. I couldn’t sing like that! The key things are, get as much sleep as you can, hydrate yourself all the time, and keep yourself as fit as possible. Don’t talk in the day, keep yourself as quiet as possible. It can be quite a lonely place when you’re away from your family.
Are there any musicians that you have not worked with, but would like to in the future?
Most of them are sadly no longer with us! I don’t really think about it like that. I have such admiration for anyone that can make music. I don’t think it’s being better or worse as we all bring different flavours to music. So I find myself admiring people from a distance and don’t think I’m worthy of doing it. It’s a very private experience being a songwriter and performing the songs onstage yourself. You have to connect with the right people and that’s why it worked so well in Little Angels. We grew up together, went to school together, formed a band together and played live together. When I formed Wayward Sons it was incredibly important that I found people I could get on with, be in a room with all the time, and we could make emotional music together. So it’s not the case of me working with the best guitarist out there, we have to connect in some way.
Do you have any plans to release another solo album?
I think so, I’m looking at that right now. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how. There are a number of things in play which are changing the way my life is moving in a lot of good ways. I’ve just taken on a new manager and he’s a top guy. We’re building a plan going forward and I want to do things properly. I think I’ve got forty-odd songs knocking around at the minute which I’ve had for a long time. None of which would be suited to Wayward Sons. If I do make a solo album it will be quite an eclectic, different kind of album. Not one people may expect it to be. My search is at the moment for someone, probably a label, to help and recognise how I want to do this.
Is there any unreleased recorded material from your days with Little Angels which may see the light of day?
Not at all.
Little Angels were pretty successful back in the day. Is there a possibility of this band getting back together again in some capacity?
There’s a lot of discussion about Little Angels all the time and we’re good friends again. We’ve talked about doing various things together but it would never include new material. There is a possibility we could do some shows again and it’s a case of when and why.
You have been involved in some production work, do you enjoy this part of the musical process?
Yes, I really do. I never thought I’d be a record producer. I found that I had to do it out of necessity. When Little Angels finished and I was attempting to make music there wasn’t the funding around for a record deal at the time. I kind of fell into it by accident. I had a bad experience with a producer when I ended up doing most of the production and he did very little but put his name to it! So I woke up to the fact that I was kind of producing myself anyway! So I went in to the making of “Ignorance Is Bliss”, the Toby And The Truth record, which is basically my first genuine solo album, and I threw myself in at the deep end! I pretty much made it entirely on my own. I learnt the craft and the technicalities of the gear at the time. So over the last ten to fifteen years I’ve been a full-fledged record producer. Not just Rock records. I’ve made Jazz albums, Pop, done a lot of co-writing which has led into production work, and stuff for films. You get a bug for it, but I’m very picky. If you bring something to me it has to have some real strength to it, a full plan, otherwise what’s the point! It's a heavy commitment to make an album. Weeks and weeks of work if you include rehearsals, post production, cutting the album and sequencing.
You have done some acting work in the past, is this something you would like to revisit?
Acting might be stretching the point! [laughs] It was more glorified standing about! I will never go in front of the camera again but I have a Film Company and a lot of what I will be doing in the future is film making. I’ve been writing screenplays. I have one in production at the moment and I’m developing the company with a number of people and it’s quite a wide remit. This is for cinema at the moment but potentially for tv. There is a lot of opportunity to make quality films at a reasonable cost. The film industry is similar in a way to the music business in the way those processes are enacted. It’s a very similar creative process so I’m quite used to it. My desire is to find and develop exciting new voices and filmmakers basing it in the music business. A lot of stories that we’re developing are in the music industry because I think it’s a rich environment that hasn’t been explored correctly. Either some take the piss, or don’t know what the details are. Writing’s the key to me. We’re storytellers and troubadours. In the grand tradition of song writing that’s what songs were for. Wandering minstrels wandering from village to village telling tales and news.
With the live circuit opening up again, is there a possibility that we could see you performing some live shows in the UK, either with Wayward Sons or solo?
That possibility is always there. Currently we’re having a bit of downtime and I’ve got some stuff going on that doesn’t warrant me going on tour. We’ve done a lot of touring over the life of Wayward Sons and reached a certain level. I’m the old guard. There’s lots of new bands coming through like Those Damn Crows and Massive Wagons. They’re youngish guys and I genuinely don’t feel part of that movement. What I mean is that it isn’t my generation. So whereas I just continued, for these bands this is their generation. My generation was back in the days of Quireboys, Thunder, The Almighty, Little Angels etc. I’m happy to be the grandaddy of British Rock!
With that in mind, do you see yourself onstage like perhaps The Rolling Stones?
Oh I don’t know. You can’t equate me with The Rolling Stones because they never stopped. I’m a mid-level artist that has enjoyed a certain level of success. It’s all about survival. It’s important to me that I remain relevant and report on the world which makes me relevant to myself. People like Biff Byford to be singing at that age and the way that he does, and still “feeling it” is incredible. Will I still feel it at that age?
Interview by Stuart Dryden