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 began studting with a teacher who taught using a rigid, pressurised approach. This caused Phil much suffering but he continued to play and improvise 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 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.
Royal Northern College of Music 1985 – 1989
At 18, he went to 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 interpret the music in a way that was at odds with his authentic style of playing with its natural phrasing and flowing rhythm. So at 19, he decided to stop taking part in competitions. He continued to give numerous public concerts. During his four years at the RNCM, he performed many big works there: 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.
Leaving the competitive arena of classical piano and diversifying 1989 – 1993
After graduating, Phil was exhausted and took a break from music. Rather unbelievably, he embarked on graduate trainee programme at a bank only to return to music 12 months later. He was soon playing and also singing with new direction and enthusiasm. He had studied singing at the RNCM with Vera Cross and his soft, 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. His songs attracted some commercial interest but he was not ready to enter the competitive world of the popular music industry. However, working in recording studios gave him the opportunity to develop music production skills and he has continued to learn about and use technology in his composition work, ever since.
He also returned to performing as a classical pianist, but now 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.
Early work as a teacher 1993 – 1999
He continued to perform and record music and also worked as an accompanist and coach (répétiteur) with singers and other instrumentalists. He was an accompanist for ballet rehearsals (Northern Ballet Theatre) and began working as a piano teacher. He worked in the traditional way but always felt hypocritical teaching skills that are so different from his own. 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 or sight-read fluently (hear a score internally). As a teacher he felt frustrated and longed to empower his students by teaching them the kind of fluent musical skills which he uses himself and which make playing the piano so much easier and more natural.
Teacher at Aquinas College and initial studies in teaching musical fluency 2000 – 2007
He stopped performing and teaching piano and singing for a few 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.
New teaching models for piano and singing and returning to performing 2007 – 2011
Phil moved to London in 2007, where he performed as a classical pianist and began teaching fluent musicianship on the piano. He began developing a unique and powerful teaching model of how music works on the piano keyboard to pass on his own skills as a fluent keyboard musician, based on his own journey of exploration as a child. He used this along with innovative practice materials in his 1-2-1 lessons.
He also began working to develop his soulful singing technique and drawing on his experience as an accompanist and répétiteur and also researching any literature about vocal technique he could find, he developed his own model of vocal training, designed to generate not only a natural and healthy technique but also the kind of fluent musicianship he enjoys as a pianist. Using this new model, Phil cured his voice of vocal problems he had encountered also acquired fluent vocal musicianship skills. Inevitably, he incorporated his new approach in his teaching.
He began performing again, mostly classical piano but with a view to finding a more authentic and powerful directions as an artist., composing and increasingly including his own pieces and songs in his shows.
Crystallising artist and teacher roles 2011 – present
As a performing and recording artist, Phil became increasingly interested in advanced technology in the form of Pianoteq, software that uses physical modelling, which gives him a large suite of different pianos to perform on – current, historical and futuristic. His shows and recordings feature spontaneous improvisations alongside classical piano repertoire. (See the Albums page.)
As a composer, he has always used a wide range of styles in terms of genre, mood and instrumentation. Whilst some of his compositions have been used commercially, but he still sees his eclecticism as an artistically valid post-modern approach and has many albums cued up for release.
He is also currently working on and about to launch a new project under the name of Louie Harrison (a derivation of Louise Harrison – the name of his grandmother) singing and playing his own songs and pieces in very stripped down soul jazz style.
He has written and is about to launch PlayPianoFluently, which is a course of study spread over twelve modules across three levels designed to generate real musical fluency on the keys. This is a culmination of many years of research and experimentation and is now formulated into a simple and coherent structure that really works. He has plans to follow this up with a SingFluently course.
Confidence, performance and presentation coaching 2017 – present
Like many people, Phil has had an uneasy relationship with competitive pressure in the music business. Too much competitive playing that put him under enormous pressure as a child had a negative impact on him. But now he has real confidence as a performer, based on solid, fluent musical skills and authentic artistic values. This together with the many ways in which the industry is changing means that Phil has never been more enthusiastic about his work as an artist, teacher, coach, speaker and writer.
As a longtime champion of real empowerment and independence for himself and his piano and vocal students, he understands how to communicate with authenticity and power from the heart and soul, without any need for hollow bravado. Music is 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 tools for personal development to help find confidence in many areas of life and work, especially public speaking. He provides 1-2-1 sessions and also workshops.
Phil’s continuing goal is to deepen 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.