Next in a new series of Splottlight pieces highlighting the wealth of creative talent living in our glorious corner of Cardiff, meet Thoby Davis; dance music DJ, guitarist, solo artist, master of the loop pedal and all-round one man band.
Inksplott: So Thoby, this is the second of our Splottlight pieces on local artists and I’m interviewing you because I saw your gig in The Cottage and I thought it would be a good chance to get to know you as a musician living in Splott. First of all can you tell us how you ended up in Splott?
Thoby: Thank you for coming! Well, I was buying a house around ten years ago and I looked at a few in Splott, but as soon as I saw ‘my house’, as soon as I walked into it, I immediately thought ‘this is awesome, this is the one’. I love Splott now; it’s become my home.
Inksplott: Where were you living before?
Thoby: Here there and everywhere in Cardiff really! I grew up in Berkhamsted in England and I moved to Cardiff to be a student at the end of 1998. I lived in different accommodation in Cardiff then moved away to do ski seasons, playing music in bars, but I couldn’t keep up that lifestyle and I wanted to work on my own music. In ski resorts you have to focus on the covers pretty much, which I loved doing and I really enjoyed it, it was a fantastic experience, but I wanted to work on my projects. I thought I’d come back to Cardiff and see how it goes.
Inksplott: Tell us a bit about the music and how you got into it.
Thoby: I’ve always been around music because of my dad really. My dad is a professional musician and professional conductor. He’s got two choirs; he conducts a church choir in my hometown and he’s got a big chamber choir and conducts an orchestra called the Berkhamsted Symphonia and they do a lot of baroque music and classical music and oratorios and great big works by composers like Bach and Handel etc.
Inksplott: So you play guitar?
Thoby: I do play guitar, but I started off with the violin. So the first instrument that I learned was violin after being given the choice between two instruments (not the option of whether to play or not!). It was a case of ‘you’re going to do it, so pick one!’, so I chose the violin.
Inksplott: Do you still play the violin?
Thoby: I do still play the violin, yes!
Inksplott: And are you purely a solo artist now or do you play in bands?
Thoby: I’m in bands as well. Most of the music I do is on my own; I do loads of solo gigs with the loop pedal like the one you saw the other day. I record myself as I go and create my own backing tracks live.
Inksplott: You were ‘beatboxing’ at the gig!
Thoby: Yeah, you can loop beatbox. I can loop my voice doing beats and that’s recorded and it repeats and then I can start to layer things over the top, like my guitar, so I might record a baseline on the guitar and then play some cords and it’s like a live backing track.
Inksplott: Brilliant. So the gig at The Cottage was your first gig in Splott?
Thoby: That’s right actually, yeah! After ten years, I finally got round to playing locally (laughs). I’ve played everywhere else.
Inksplott: Well there aren’t many venues left to be fare.
Thoby: No, that’s right, but I’d never really thought of The Cottage as being a venue to be honest. I’d always walked by and then it kind of clicked one day; well why don’t I try there? It’s local! And somebody had mentioned that new people had taken over the place and they were looking to get a little bit more creativity in the venue and expand their musical horizons and expand their outreach into the community. I thought, well, it’s a perfect opportunity, so I went in.
Inksplott: Are you going back?
Thoby: Of course!
Inksplott: When’s your next gig there?
Thoby: Saturday the 11th February. They’ve given me the big Splott, um spot!
(Inksplott bursts out laughing)
Thoby: The big Splott! Sorry.
Inksplott: That’s better anyway! What time will the gig start?
Thoby: at eight o clock I reckon.
Inksplott: Can you name some of the covers that you did in your last gig to give people a flavour of what you perform during the gig?
Thoby: Yeah, sure; Stand by me, Brown Eyed Girl, I did plenty of Oasis songs, I did Beatle songs (that was the big ending), David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World (that’s a popular request), and Eternal Flame. I have a soft spot for that song; it’s a beautifully written song even though it’s a bit of a cheeser, it’s such a well written song and it’s really nice to play. It reminds me of when I was a kid as well.
Inksplott: Can you tell us about some of the bands you play with?
Thoby: One of the bands I play with is called the DMT Experiment and that’s a dance music band. Me and a really close friend of mine we make music primarily based around iPads, so we use a range of different fantastic, incredible, amazing apps to create in the flow, live, improvised dance music.
Inksplott: Where do you perform that?
Thoby: We’ve played in The Moon Club in town; we’ve played downstairs and upstairs. We’ve played festivals such as True fest and Surplus Fest, the Blue Lagoon, one in far West Wales in Pembrokeshire and we’ve played the Inkspot church thing at the top of Clifton Street. That was our New Year’s Eve gig. We did two different sets that night; we played through New year, which was quite interesting because we had to stop at midnight so that everyone could do the countdown and then we carried on!
Inksplott: So is there anything else that you do involving music?
Thoby: I teach music to schoolchildren and teach in Baden Powell every Wednesday to years five and six. I used to gig every Sunday in the North Star and I did New Year’s Eve for five years in a row there. Now it’s all a bit more sporadic. Sometimes I’m in the Pen and Wig and The Claude, but it’s as and when.
Inksplott: In terms of getting more of an art scene going in Splott, because there are apparently gazillions of musicians, actors, playwrights and the like living in Splott, do you think that this hasn’t happened yet because of a lack of venues?
Thoby: It’s one of the reasons, yeah. It’s also a lack of somebody to galvanize it. I don’t want to put pressure on you or anything but it seems that the roll has fallen into your lap.
Inksplott: Eek! (pause) Double eek! But it would be amazing to get something going.
Thoby: One step at a time! But I think that both of those are the main reason because there is no lack of artists and there is no lack of creativity and desire for it to happen. I think that people do want it to happen. It’s clear that people want the community to flourish and they want music to thrive and we’re all willing to try and to give it a go and to put in the effort.
Inksplott: That’s what I’ve found out since starting this series of interviews; there is a lot more going on than people think; it’s just about finding out about it and joining it all up! OK, so what’s your funniest music story or funniest story about Splott (it can be a combo of the two)?
Thoby: On New Year’s Eve, when we were doing a quite obvious techno set, playing through the iPads, all techno stuff and a fairly drunk lady came up to us and went ‘got any George Michael?’. Things like that happen quite often; people do come up to me while I’m playing, in the middle of a song, and shout out requests! People fall on the stage and knock things over, that happens.
Inksplott (still chuckling over ‘got any George Michael?’): Thanks Thoby for the interview and all the best for the gig on the 11th Feb.
If you want to find out more about Thoby, go to Thoby Davis Solo on Facebook and find links to all of Thoby’s different projects.
Come see Thoby play live at The Cottage on Saturday the 11th February at 8pm – it’s free and the last one was fantastic!