From the age of 4, Phil would improvise and play by ear on the piano. At 7, he could play complex music. His first teacher, Ella Pounder, nurtured his talents with great care. At the age of 9, he moved to a teacher who taught using a rigid, pressurised approach but he continued to play in his own way whilst pretending to comply. He passed grade 8 with distinction when he was 11 and won many prizes in junior competitions. At 14, he decided he could pretend no longer and left his teacher. He then had the good fortune to study with Denis Matthews for 4 years, during which time he performed many challenging works in public concerts – such as Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit at the Kings Hall in Newcastle, Moszkowski’s suite in G minor for 2 violins and piano with Sarah and Margaret Herring at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and Frank’s Variations Symphoniques at Lyons Hall in York.
At 18, he entered the Royal Northern College of music to study piano with Ryszard Bakst. He entered some international competitions and did well but felt that in order to succeed in the competitive arena, he would have to play in a way that was at odds with his natural musical style which is very rhythmically natural. So at 19, he decided to stop taking part in competitions but continued to give numerous public concerts. During his four years at the RNCM, he performed 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 won the Elizabeth Hannah Lees Scholarship, the Frederick Dawson Piano Prize and graduated with first class honours in 1989.
After graduating, he took a break from music, to return 12 months later, playing and also singing with new direction and enthusiasm. He had studied singing at the RNCM with Vera Cross and his warm, light bari-tenor voice transferred well to a more soulful style of singing. He worked in hotels and restaurants, singing and playing and he composed and recorded his own piano pieces and soulful songs. Working in recording studios gave him the opportunity to learn all about music production.
He also performed as a classical pianist, playing in his own natural, intelligible way, and he appeared throughout the UK and occasionally in Europe, offering innovative but accessible programmes, including his own compositions and improvisations.
A few years later, he started teaching piano and accompanying and coaching singers and other instrumentalists. Initially he taught piano in the traditional way with only a few adaptations but always felt hypocritical teaching his pupils in a way that was so different from his own fluent musicianship. His students did well, passing exams successfully by playing scales and pieces proficiently after many hours of rehearsal, but they could not play by ear, improvise, sight-read properly (hear a score internally when they see it for the first time) and they found learning new music slow and laborious. As a teacher he felt frustrated and longed to empower his students by teaching them the kind of fluent musical skills which he relied on himself and which makes music so much easier.
He stopped performing and teaching piano and singing for 6 years during which time he worked as an A level composition and music technology teacher at Aquinas 6th Form College in Stockport, Manchester. Whilst studying for his PGCE, he focused on musical fluency and literacy as his specialised area of study, and found that there was little research being done on this subject at that time. This increased his determination to address the under-represented field of musical fluency and teach people how to understand and express themselves using the “language of music” fluently.
In 2007, he moved to London where he began teaching fluent musicianship on the piano. He crystallised a unique and powerful model of how music works and has worked over the years to develop effective, innovative practice materials. This has now crystallised into a full course which he delivers in 1-2-1 lessons and workshops. He is currently working to spread his ideas more widely.
Shortly after moving to the capital, he also began working to develop his soulful singing technique but he experienced some serious vocal problems. His experience as a répétiteur had given him the opportunity to work closely with many wonderful singing teachers. So he drew on his extensive working knowledge of vocal techniques and pedagogy and researched any literature about vocal technique he could find in order to develop a model of vocal training, designed to generate not only a natural and healthy technique but also the kind of fluent musicianship he had as a pianist. Using the model, Phil not only brought his voice back to a fully healthy state but he also now possesses fluent vocal musicianship and he teaches others using his innovative method.
As a performing and recording artist, Phil became increasingly interested in advanced technology in the form of Pianoteq which gives him a large suite of different pianos to perform on – current, historical and futuristic. His shows and recordings now feature improvisation. He is gaining ever growing numbers of devoted followers and is delighted with his small-scale, fringe success. As an artist who improvises and composes prolifically, he spans a moderately wide range of styles in terms of genre, mood and instrumentation. In recent years, some of music has been used commercially in TV shows. Whilst commercial music is not his focus, he welcomes this extra dimension for sharing his music more widely.
Phil’s uneasy relationship with competitive pressures and self-promotion is no longer an issue as he has ways of working as a professional musician and teacher based on solid, fluent musical skills and authentic artistic values which gives him the freedom and independence to communicate from his heart and soul without the need for hollow bravado. He sees music as part of his broader spiritual practice. He is a highly experienced meditator and in the last couple of years he has begun to teach people how to use music, rhythm and vocal resonance as transformation tools, both 1-2-1 and in workshops.
Phil’s continuing goal is to work tirelessly to develop his musicianship skills, deepening his enquiry as an artist and teacher into the truth and purpose of music, in order to create music not as a vehicle for self-aggrandisement but as an empowering, healing and even essential force for good in human society.