66 East Concord Dr
I had a slot playing on a beautiful Yamaha concert grand in the Westfield shopping centre, Shepherd's Bush London, in the Gucci/DKNY section. I wasn’t paid at all by the centre but played every Sunday and would pick up jobs like an engagement party out in Sussex at some country estate.
One day a gentleman came by and stood for a while with his wife as I played, then he asked me when I finished if I would go to his hotel, I assumed to meet with him at a hotel he was staying at in London’s West End to discuss some one-off gig. But it was to his hotel, one of many he owned; he was Dr Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng, a Malaysian businessman and chairman and major shareholder of Laura Ashley plc. as well as owning this hotel chain among other businesses.
I packed up my rig, got in the car and every two minutes my phone would ring with someone from his entourage asking if I was ok, if I knew the way etc. I arrived and his stretch Rolls Royce was at the door, and I was told to park my van directly behind it. They opened the door for me, and standing at the door to meet me was the General Manager, Andrew Hollett, and a bunch of staff, all at attention. I was offered wine and chocolates as they welcomed me in.
I was then ushered downstairs to one of the hotel’s restaurants “Bel Canto”, an opera restaurant in the basement, where the “stars of tomorrow” from the London Opera school would serve your meal and every fifteen minutes break into song.
We sat and I played for two hours, me, the GM, Dr Khoo, his wife and an entourage of lawyers and bodyguards. He would sit beside me and try to join in on the piano at times and his touch was that of a sledgehammer, I had to encourage a perhaps more sensitive approach. Eventually I said, “okay so what’s going on?” He switched into business mode and we sat at one of the big tables discussing a price for me to play three hours a night three nights a week (eventually it became four hours a night four nights a week, and for three years). Then Dr Khoo asked, “do we pay you more than Westfield?” I answered him honestly.
* * *
A CLEAR VIEW
Performance is a great place to learn about yourself because an audience can be both loving and unforgiving in a very truthful way. Even if the money is not so good, the payoff is still huge. Not only do you come out from under the cloud of whatever you are having a hard time with; willful blindness, rigidity, prejudices against you (or ones you hold)—but it also brings a strong natural drive to move forward in an accurate positive direction.
You also come into yourself in a very true sense, and all things around you that are true are recognised, including a capacity for compassion which becomes much more relative. You get a clear view of the world and surpass many problems created by a lack of expression.
But what is that switch that gets flicked, that caused you to become deeply creative and confident during and after a good gig? It is that you are no longer so self conscious. But why? It is because you opened up and have been expressed to a group of people, and accepted. This is not a small thing. And so thereafter the more deep-seated hang-ups simply disappear into some wiser context naturally. This is being happy with who you are and what you are. While they are still different, and one does not excuse the other, but like said they enhance each other if you strive for both.
Mental health can be a state of mind
Don’t think me rude or worse unkind
I mean to say try not to be blind
With expression you can change
and new perspectives find
It’s not a quiz, it’s an intricate game,
where safe never is
and doubt is the brother of shame
* * *
Success depends on taking responsibility for timing as well as speed. It’s a fine balance. If you consider an idea too long prior to expression, you lose something necessary to make the communication effective. Your concentration has to be so that just one second before the word, you have to know what it means as well as the note. A rhapsody of melody and contemplative symphony.
It’s the same reason that Marlon Brando preferred using an earpiece with his lines fed to him, heard for the first time there and then; the freshness of a random song-pool makes for the same greater connection to the piece.
* * *
“Playing the game is better than winning the game.”
“Having an excuse may not be an excuse.”
“The best way to the top is from the bottom.”
“May your needs and wants find harmony in your will.”
“There are easier and more difficult truths.”
My 1st ever book
on the performance
of intimate song
Life is Grand, Baby!
Notes on Perfroming
by Paul Toshner
Memoirs and insights on the intimate performance of song from a real-life Piano Man.
Born to a businessman and an aerobics instructor, and very much part of mainstream society, at 27 Paul decided to try a new kind of life. His quest for experience and understanding transformed him, taking him over oceans and across continents, to piano bars and community halls in London, Switzerland, Denmark, China and the USA, as well as Yeshivas in New York and Jerusalem.
This book is for the front man, or soloist, someone who takes responsibility for the flow, pace, structure, material selection, engagement and the many dynamics relating to audience relationship. It would never have existed had I not lost so many bookings because of Covid, or without the support of my wife Tamar.
Hello, my name is Paul Avrom Toshner. I was born in the Glasgow Victoria Infirmary, Scotland. I perform lyric-based song with a bit of chat. In Glasgow I took classical voice lessons for three years with Lidea De Rosa, and piano with Jim McDowall. My influences include: Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Billy Joel, Mahler, Frank Sinatra, Pavarotti, Keith Jarrett, Elton John, and of course The Beatles.
For the first time I’m sharing my secrets and stories from the years of performance as a concert act, a lounge act, piano-bar act, a shopping-center act, a restaurant act. Modes of understanding, both technically and spiritually gathered in a journal where I sought to increase my ability and learn from mistakes and successes. Added to these are my stories and a “lessons learned” section. Together, these are my humble offering to the world from my experience as a performer, that I’m very happy to share.
I started off life as a musician playing piano in Princess Square, a classy Glasgow shopping center. I moved on to local hotel lobbies (The Grosvenor and the Albany). But it all started when I got to cover for a job in Denmark for a friend who played in “The Baby Grand” called Danny Thompson. He couldn’t do the gig and offered it to me. There I met another piano player and he introduced me to his agent. It went from there to piano bars in Denmark, ski resorts in Klosters and St. Moritz Switzerland. Followed by concert work in community halls and assisted-living homes in London and the USA, as well as residencies in various hotels in London’s West End.
I am a “returnee” to Orthodox Jewish life, finding deep meaning in its practices more and more as time goes on. I believe it is no coincidence that my playing has improved as a result.
“I wish I’d have met Paul Toshner 30 years ago, he has taught me many things about the world… about work, gals, money, investment, how to deal with people under any circumstance, fairness, kindness, hard work, consistency, the value of perseverance, the importance and the guts to destroy your own work, if necessary, in order to start up again from zero, just to upgrade that ‘little’ notch, the absolute always essential tool of not taking things too seriously, specially, and more particularly oneself!”
-Mesoud Benasuly. Guitarist N.Y.
“The very embodiment of the term Crooner. Knows his way round the ivories better than most, with an unbeatable repertoire of originals Classics to keep you entertained."
-Alex Clare. Island Records artist.
"Bar sales are way up on the previous years when Paul was not here. Please do not hesitate to contact me for a reference ”
-Andrew Hollett. GM Corus Hotel Hyde Park.
"Paul has been performing for a number of years in various hotels in London I have been running. He is an all round entertainer, has shown great engagement and is willing to go that extra mile for customers and you as a client."
-Simon Mclaughlin. Operations Manager, Danubious Regents Park
“I think that Paul’s book is an invaluable tool for anyone and everyone in the entertainment industry. Paul’s warmth and engaging personality shine forth as he takes us from the pre-gig preparation through the unforgettable performances. You will gain insight and inspiration from this important work.”
-Yechiel Spero. Author
This, my first ever book, which would never have come about were it not for five uniquely combined elements: • EARTH: Constantly working as a performer. • WATER: Keeping a journal of trial-and-error insights for 25 years. • FIRE: Having a Gemara chavrusa (Talmud learning partner) for the last 10 years which helps you have an organised mind. • WIND: Loosing a whole year of bookings and suddenly having time because of Covid. • THE 5th ELEMENT: the support of my wife Tamar
Please leave a review or comment on any of the links.
For bookings please email PaulToshner@gmail.com
To book a teaching session or for a link to the teaser page please email: PaulToshnerSong@gmail.com