Phil started improvising and playing by ear on the piano from a very young age. At just 7, he could play many works of Chopin by ear. He was not a confident child, very shy and he suffered from a stammer, so music and performing on the piano were a wonderful outlet. His first teacher, Ella Pounder, understood this and nurtured his talent with great care. However, sadly at the age of 9, he was taught by a very strict teacher whose rigid approach would have been destructive to Phil’s natural abilities: learning pieces slowly, hands separately, with the metronome on, using set fingering all felt completely unnatural to Phil who continued to play in his own way whilst pretending to comply. He felt like a fraud but his approach enabled him to pass all his examinations with distinction – he received a distinction at grade 8 when he was 11 – and to win prizes in competitive music festivals. When he was 14, Phil decided he could not pretend any longer so he changed teacher. Denis Matthews, his new teacher, was perfect for Phil. During his 4 years with Prof. Matthews, Phil performed many challenging works – such as Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit at the Kings Hall in Newcastle, Frank’s Variations Symphoniques at Lyons Hall in York and Moszkowski’s suite in G minor for 2 violins and piano with Sarah and Margaret Herring at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
At 18, Phil went to the Royal Northern College of music to study piano with Ryszart Bakst. He entered a few international competitions and did well but struggled with stress and felt that the way he was being made to play was at odds with his natural musical sensibilities. So he decided not to take part in any more big competitions. He appeared publicly at the RNCM a great deal during his four years there, performing many big works: Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G minor, Janacek’s Capriccio for left hand and wind ensemble, Stravinsky’s Concerto for piano and wind orchestra and many more. He was awarded the Elizabeth Hannah Lees Scholarship, the Frederick Dawson Piano Prize and he graduated with first class honours.
After graduating, Phil was slightly exhausted. He felt that classical piano world was at variance with his artistic and musical ideals. So he took a 12 month break from the music business, then returned to playing and singing with some new directions in mind. He had studied voice at the RNCM with Vera Cross and his light tenor instrument transferred well to other vocal styles, particularly smooth jazz. He played and sang jazz standards in hotels and restaurants. He also took to writing and recording jazzy RnB songs and learned music production. He did this entirely for his own pleasure yet narrowly avoided a recording and publishing deal. He declined commercial interest in his work as he feared it may have pushed him into dishonest musical realms.
He also began playing classical piano again but with a very different attitude. He would talk to the audience between pieces about his relationship with the music and play in his own natural, unmannered yet passionate way. He appeared up and down the UK and occasionally in Europe, playing innovative but accessible programmes, including some of his own compositions and improvisations and audiences responded enthusiastically although he never received much critical praise for his unusual approach to classical performance.
He also began teaching piano and voice. He taught in the traditional way with some adaptations but always felt hypocritical making his pupils work this way, as his own fluent musicianship was built on very different skills. He found it frustrating that although his students could play scales and pieces proficiently after many hours of rehearsing them, they could not play by ear, improvise, sight-read properly (hear a score internally when they see it for the first time) and learning new music was always painfully slow and laborious for them. He longed to find a way to empower his students by teaching them these fluent musical skills which he possessed in abundance.
He stopped performing and teaching piano and singing for 6 years during which time he worked as an A level composition and music production teacher at Aquinas 6th Form College in Stockport, Manchester. Studying for his PGCE, he made musical fluency and literacy his area of focus, and found that there was little research being done on this subject at that time. In contrast, fluency and literacy in language had an enormous amount of available research to use. This made him feel even more determined to address the under-represented field of musical fluency and teach people to handle the “language of music” fluently.
He moved to London where he began teaching fluent musicianship on the piano. He rapidly developed a unique and powerful model of how music works on the keys and to spread his ideas further, he created a website devoted to sharing his radical and highly effective teaching approach – musicallyfluent.com.
After encountering some vocal problems, Phil drew on his experience and extensive research to develop a model of vocal training designed to generate a natural and healthy technique and vocal musicianship for himself. He now teaches this radical model of singing musicianship and will be launching the website vocallyfluent.com soon, to promote these exciting and effective ideas.
His classical performing has continued to develop. He now uses advanced technology to offer a large suite of different pianos – current, historical and futuristic – and improvises a great deal in his shows. He continues to gain devoted followers and is hopeful that in the changing climate of classical music taste, future appearances in festivals etc. might at last attract some positive attention from critics. Yet Phil is still not very interested in mainstream success. His values are very different from those of the modern entertainment industry. Phil is interested in making music which is accessible, emotionally connected, which offers solace or even healing. He believes that the hype required to market himself as a contender for the spotlight of major success could compromise his essence as a artist.
As an artist, Phil spans a fairly wide range of style and he his now sharing his music within four distinct projects:
Inside the Keys – is his virtuoso classical piano project featuring improvisation and classical repertoire using cutting edge technology. He has released three albums, Inside Stories – a set of spontaneous improvisations, an album of Mozart piano music, and an album of piano music by Liszt and Ravel.
Not Parallel – is a new age jazz project using piano, keyboards and vocals.
Sounds Better – is meditative post-minimal piano improvisation project designed to evoke solace, catharsis and well-being.
SoulMatrix – is a more nostalgic soul-jazz project with smooth jazzy harmonies, soulful vocals and sometimes funky rhythms.
Phil is a natural composer. Recently, he has begun to share an eclectic mix of his works in a wide range of genre, mood and instrumentation. When a high-end music library asked to use some of his piano recordings and subsequently took some of his orchestral and electronica pieces, Phil was encouraged to start putting together his own commercial music library website – jigsawmusic.com.
Phil has always had an uneasy relationship with the pressures of career ambition and self-promotion. The empty posturing and ego that we see so often in the world of stars and celebrities fills him with horror. This dislike of competitive, status-seeking meant that he has needed to develop ways of working as a musician – and now as a teacher – based on truly solid foundations, undeniable skills and authentic artistic values. So he relies on a clear model of how music actually works on the piano and in the voice. With clear conscious awareness of this model, Phil has found a very dependable, pure kind of confidence that makes him highly effective and independent as a musical communicator, without having to project a show self-belief through bravado. He values mastery far more than the vagaries of success. This solid yet playful approach can be applied across many different disciplines and Phil now also coaches people in performance and presentation skills. He has run several workshops to help people find and use their sense of rhythm and to release their vocal confidence in order to generate real effectiveness in almost any endeavour.
Phil is a consummate musician and teacher who sees music not as a vehicle for self-aggrandisement but as a powerful, even essential force for good in human society. He will continue to do his unconventional work to further this cause.