Phil Hare -> All-Purpose Acoustic Guitar Hero -> Biography
‘YOU’LL NEVER BE THE BLOODY BEATLES’ (my old man, circa 1976)
I guess I began my musical journey in the mid-to-late 1970’s playing guitar and bass in local school/college rock bands in Hoylake and West Kirby on the Wirral. With hindsight, we were all reflecting what was going on in popular music: the fading, pompous polyrhythms of prog rock, the sneering, nascent energy of punk, elements of a (still vibrant) folk-rock/acoustic scene, the ubiquitous blues, and ever-increasing blasts of experimental electronica. Among the alumni of that scene were Andy McCluskey (OMD), Dave Balfe (Teardrop Explodes), Duncan Lewis (music ‘mogul’) and Jon Bleasdale (legendary keyboardist with Body). We had all attended – or still attended – local schools and colleges and, more often than not, were to be found in each other's bands: outfits with names like Pegasus, Antelope, Rising Sun and Hitler's Underpantz.
Although you are invariably influenced by your peer group at that age (16-18), my first musical love (apart from Steely Dan!) was well-crafted pop and soul ballads, the like of which you would find on albums by the Beatles, Bowie, Elton and Motown et al. Being drawn to balladry – consciously or otherwise – meant I could hear the words people were singing. The storytelling, phrasing, message(s) and emotional delivery always captivated me, so it was not difficult to see how I later gravitated towards folk music, where much of this was in evidence. So too was the sound of the acoustic guitar. This I had heard on the songs of the stellar singer-songwriters of the day: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Paul Simon and Dylan of course, and it too had captivated me. I often used to make a beeline for the ‘acoustic’ tracks found on rock LPs by Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes and so-on.
I think it was 1977 when I sold my electric gear (the fruits of paper rounds, a kind mum and good deeds!) and bought a Fender F-35 acoustic from Rushworths in Liverpool. Inspired by discovering the words and music of Roy Harper, John Martyn and Mike Chapman – amongst others – I started writing basic folksy ballads and songs and doing ‘floor spots’ (unpaid cameos) around the many folk clubs on the Wirral and in Liverpool. During this time I supported pre-OMD band The Id at Mr Digby's in Birkenhead and Eric's in Liverpool, as well as forming an acoustic-rock band with OMD drummer Mal Holmes. I also made acoustic demo tapes which were well-received (by CBS and Mooncrest, as I recall!) without resulting in any contract.
‘SUPPORTING A WIFE AND FYLDE’………
After landing a (day) job in the Civil Service in 1979, I continued to play floor-spots around the local folk clubs in the evenings. After a short spell in a duo with the late guitarist Dave Athorn, it was in such a venue that I met singer Kim Farrell. Kim was to become my first wife, as well as the mainstay of a new acoustic guitar/vocal duo. By this time I had played in enough folk clubs to become absorbed by much of the traditional music that prevailed – in particular the unique guitar stylings of Martin Carthy and Nic Jones. At the 1979 Crewe & Nantwich Folk Festival, Carthy was kind enough to give me two guitar tunings which I later used on recordings. After I had put myself ‘in hock’ to a new Fylde Orsino, Kim and I were invited to run the Spinners Folk Club in Liverpool. Local audience ‘mutiny’ then followed and the resident band (Black Dog) and ourselves opened a new folk club in the Liverpool suburb of Wavertree. It was here that our skills and interests developed in the company of Shay & (a pre-Nashville!) Mary Black, Tony Gibbons, Bill Elliott (from the Elliotts of Birtley), Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston, and members of the great Liverpool Ceilidh band, the Coyne family. This led to us getting asked to play at folk clubs further afield in the North West of England and at the Liverpool, Crewe, Poynton and Shrewsbury folk festivals. During 1982/3 Kim and I also provided the support for acts such as Richard Thompson, Martin Simpson, Freddie White and De Dannan. In addition, we formed a Celtic-style trio (Seasoned Selection) with brilliant local guitarist Martin Sumpton. With Martin also playing bouzouki and Kim playing whistles and harmonica, I took up the mandolin and we began supplementing our income with occasional city-centre busking escapades. It was also the time of our first associations with live radio performance on BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Shropshire and beyond.
‘THE ALL-PURPOSE (ACOUSTIC) GUITARIST’
(Folk Buzz 1985)
My guitar palette having been expanded at a furious rate, I was invited to join premier Merseyside country dance band The Fiddle Band with Arthur Marshall and Mary-Anne Wise. Playing up to 5 nights a week, the FB blazed a trail through mid-1980’s North West England. At the height of the 1984-85 Miners' strike and municipal unrest in Liverpool, the FB played at several miners fund raisers, a party for the Mayor of Liverpool, the poet/ painter Adrian Henri’s 50th birthday, and the inaugural Liverpool International Garden Festival in 1984. This was in addition to many high- profile corporate events. It was here that I developed the art of eclectic guitar accompaniment to both songs and tunes – flat-picked and finger-style – which has served me well across a wide variety of acoustic projects.
As a writer though, my political convictions were coming to the fore in my songs against a backdrop of unrest in Thatcher’s Britain. At this time, I was taking great inspiration from the ‘telling’ work of songsmiths like Alex Glasgow and Leon Rosselson.
Kim and I split up in 1986 and I formed a duo with violinist Mary-Anne Wise which consolidated my profile in the small folk clubs of NW England, North Wales and beyond. We started a folk club in Birkenhead with local singer/performer Phil McHoul. This was a small-scale but successful undertaking that arguably launched the career of Liverpool songwriter Ian Prowse, as well as hosting some of the best up-and-coming acts of the day.
After the demise of the FB, I continued to gig with Mary-Anne until our split in 1987. I then moved to Chester and became a member of local folk band Full House, as well as taking up a residency at the weekly Raven Folk Club. At this point, I had just recorded my first ‘commercial’ tape ‘The Din Of Inequity’ (1986). Recorded by my old friend and mentor, the Wirral guitarist Jim Ronayne, my initial offering contained original songs alongside traditional material, as well as a cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘A Heart Needs A Home’. This limited-run, amateur-sounding recording won favourable reviews in Folk Roots, Folk North West and Buzz magazine and set me on the road to further solo bookings. I was incrementally working my way around the UK.
Also around this time Full House had morphed into a full-scale folk-rock band featuring Mike Johnson on drums. Mike was a long-standing friend whose recording skills had led to him producing – and playing on – my second cassette album ‘Maidenhead Revisited’ (1988). Ironically (as it would transpire), Mike’s production skills brought me to the attention of folk producer Paul Adams from Fellside in Cumbria – following guitar contributions I had made to Bram Taylor’s award-winning ‘Taylor Made’ album in 1989. And, in this very year, two of my songs found their way on to other people’s albums. Female agit-trio The Ranting Sleazos recorded my anti-war song ‘Commoners Ballad’ whilst folk singers Pete Coe and Mark Dowding, amongst others, took ‘They’ve Come To Take Our Town Away’.
‘IF YOU GET A CHANCE TO SEE PHIL HARE, TAKE IT’
(Janet Hale – Folk North West 1990)
This wave of activity resulted in my being invited to sign a one-album deal with Fellside, the fruits of which emerged in June 1990 as ‘Living On Credit’ (Fellside FE77). Featuring members of Full House: Chris Lee and Dave Russell and the mercurial Alun Rhys Jones on accordion, this (last ever Fellside vinyl) album chronicled the Thatcher years through the eyes of a Northern folkie, and appeared to further consolidate my reputation as I played more UK gigs, and featured at Festivals in Kendal, Pontardawe, Stainsby, Swinton, Wigan, Chesterfield and Cleckheaton – as well as a live session with Jim Lloyd on Folk on 2. I was then asked to session on ‘Hughie’s Ditty Bag’ by former Spinner Hughie Jones. This led to further sessions and meetings with Hughie and another ex-Spinner Mick Groves. Their final reunion in 1991 prompted calls for me to be a part of the touring band, but this never came to fruition. However, further sessions led to me being regarded as Fellside’s ‘house guitarist’ including a role as co-musical director on Bram Taylor’s ‘Further Horizons’ CD in 1993.
My reading of the traditional tune ‘The West Wind’, featured on ‘Banklands – The History of Fellside’ CD (1995) was the last track from the last vinyl album, and the last track on the first CD to feature stuff only previously available on vinyl(!?)
Closer to home (at least geographically) Full House – in electric form – had become the Freeholders. A tight, folk-rock unit that colonised the Liverpool/Irish pub-gig circuit in the early 1990’s until its demise in 1994.
‘PHIL HARE IS A BRILLIANT GUITARIST WITH A NICE VOICE, BUT WHO ARE ALL THESE ‘POLITICAL’ SONGS FOR?
(Harvey Andrews – Rock N’ Reel 1995)
But, now married (again!) with a young family in tow and plenty of domestic turbulence, I decided I wanted to record closer to home rather than make the 350 mile round-trip to Cumbria all the time.
This standpoint coincided with Mike (Johnson) opening a state-of-the-art studio to the rear of his Wirral home, as well as an independent record label in 101 Records. It was here that I recorded the first 101 album ‘Common Ground’ (101REC CD1) a politically- charged, guitar-driven opus which featured – among others – the former Therapy singer Fiona Simpson and the brilliant young violinist Joe Broughton. Unfortunately, disagreements over publishing, royalties and logistics meant that I parted from Fellside and the album was released in 1994 as an exclusive 101 product. The album garnered some rave reviews from the music media and led to more national gigs, as well as the formation of the short-lived, but incendiary progressive folk-rock band Daring Adventures. DA reignited my occasional affair with electric instruments and featured Joe’s brother Ben on bass, Mike on drums and yours truly on guitar.
It was also at this time that I featured at consecutive Wirral Guitar Festivals, contributed to Acoustic Guitar magazine and undertook workshops and seminars at many UK folk festivals, as well as running a short course for the Workers Education Association (WEA). Mike was expanding 101 Records and in 1996, I played guitar on a new album by Hertfordshire singer-songwriter Penni McLaren-Walker. This eventually led to us forming a musical (and life) partnership which (apart from me later moving South!) resulted in a couple of big UK club tours – including a 10-night stint in Scotland – and appearances at festivals in Broadstairs, Huntingdon, Sandbach, Otley, Saltburn, Crewe and Redditch. Meanwhile, Daring Adventures were booked to play at Fairport’s Cropredy Festival and Cambridge FF but the band imploded before these events occurred and Joe Broughton went on to become a cornerstone of the (then) latest Ashley Hutchings Albion Band. After two successful years, Penni and I split up and I moved from our Hertfordshire base to a small house in the Cambridgeshire Fens.
‘PERHAPS ONLY RICHARD THOMPSON OR ELVIS COSTELLO HAVE DARED TO PLAY FAST AND LOOSE WITH WRITING WHAT SOME CALL ‘MODERN FOLK SONG’
(Jo Cameron – Independent 2004)
The new millennium saw me continue to tour British folk clubs, as well as sessioning/depping with different bands. 2001 saw me at the Edinburgh Fringe in a ‘scratch’ band with melodeon genius Dave Jolly and ex-Move bassist Trevor Burton playing ceilidhs fronted by Johnny Vegas, Nicholas Parsons and the Australian performance artists ‘Puppetry Of The Penis’. Such moments are hard to recreate.
In 2003, a project Mike and I had been working on emerged as the album ‘Broken Timing’. This highly-produced, folk-rock epic received favourable reviews, including one from the Independent newspaper (see above). More solo work ensued, including festival appearances at Holmfirth, Stainsby, Ely, Wisbech and Chester. I was now being regarded by some as the consummate acoustic performer and my repertoire was constantly expanding to reflect the many changes through the ‘Blair years’ (Iraq, immigration, law & order) as well as evolving more solo guitar pieces from a wide variety of sources. It was about this time I started to ‘improvise’ songs around subjects given to me by audiences. This has led to me widening the ‘performance net’ beyond the folk clubs and into comedy and general entertainment.
The mid-noughties saw more session work playing on albums by traditional singer Roy Clinging, Rusty Mahone (from the Family Mahone), Welsh duo Vicki & Trefor Williams and the Yorkshire songwriter Jon Harvison. Work also continued on the ceilidh circuit playing with jazz violinist Don May in the band Three Point Turn. Notable amongst these performances was playing at Robbie Williams’ dad’s birthday, a party for the cast of Brookside, and the (final) recording of a CD of dance tunes for 101 Records produced by Jim Ronayne and Mike Johnson in 2005.
That year also saw the release of another solo album ‘Tears From The Tracks’. Recorded by Mike at UWE Bristol in just over 6 hours, the record featured just myself – armed with an acoustic guitar and a serviceable singing voice – singing more new songs and a selection of traditional songs and tunes learned from years of perfecting that art. This rather rushed effort was generally well-received – including some positive comments by Nic Jones – but incurred a lazy, negative response from the (newly monikered) FRoots.
‘ALWAYS FOLLOW YOUR HEART’
(Emmylou Harris 1977)
After years of being a relatively successful semi-professional acoustic/folk artist, I finally went ‘full-time’ in late 2006. After an initial struggle, I began to use my acquired (guitar) skills as a mentor/teacher, garnering lots of private work and subsequent contracts to teach in the Adult Learning Sector. To this end, I followed a path of compulsory qualification and I continue to teach to this day.
I have also embraced the multi-media possibilities offered by the burgeoning social network communities and continue to produce relaxed, ‘domestic’ videos for YouTube, MySpace etc offering my feelings/thoughts/projects of the day in a series of semi-improvised finger-style guitar videos. This inadvertent promotion has led to me touring Holland, Belgium, France, Germany and the Czech Republic whilst also continuing to tour UK folk clubs/festivals where possible.
In recent times I have contributed guitar to live and recorded projects by (rough memory!) Ian Prowse, Tanglefoot, Lucy Khan, Kiss The Mistress, Garva, Blarneystone (Terry Coyne, Tony Gibbons) and the Dragon Slayers, in addition to undertaking landmark acoustic concerts with the likes of Woody Mann, Jacques Stotzem, Clive Carroll, Tony McManus, Terry Lees, Gareth Pearson, and Paul Brett. All this work has neatly dovetailed into everything from guitar workshops for the disabled to a guest appearance on ‘Come Dine With Me!’
In 2011 my contributions to the world of acoustic guitar were rewarded with the arrival of the ‘Phil Hare Signature’ OM-size guitar by Fenland-based luthier Gary Nava. In addition, some videos of mine have been featured on the Fylde Guitars website.
Any which way, my goal always remains to promote the idea that ‘acoustic’ music is pretty much as pure as it gets with no obvious hiding places. I feel I am doing this (mainly) through the prism of solo finger-style guitar. This has led to me furthering my associations with the global guitar community and also widening my own musical horizons. My songwriting remains implicitly rooted in reflecting social change and this is no better illustrated than on the album 'Everyone's A Hard man Now' (2011) which promotes both instrumental acoustic guitar music, intertwined with melodic, often humorous, chorus songs that charter social/political change. Once a year I also run the 'Under The Bridge' guitar concerts in March in Cambridgeshire where I endeavour to showcase some of the world's top acoustic guitarists and quality local performers in an intimate acoustic setting. Contact us for regular updates and mailing list. My 2015 album 'The Twilight Tone' was a triumphant return to the purity of 'one acoustic guitar and voice' singing contemporary folk music, and has been played on numerous radio folk/roots shows including Mike Harding's Folk Show, Gen Tudor's Sunday Folk (BBC), Sue Marchant's Big Night In (BBC), Ken Nicol & Phil Widdow's 'Folkcast', Liz Franklin's Durham F & R Show and Roots Radio Special. General reviews have been very positive' (see Releases section). My 2018 album 'A Stranger I Came' has received similarly strong reviews for a set that gets to the heart of songs with a social conscience. (again, see Releases).
Although I love pop and rock music, I (clearly) never particularly set out to be some huge commercial success. I just wanted to make some sort of lasting contribution to the world of musical and lyrical communication that keeps us all so enriched. The folk/acoustic ‘scene’ is the most transparent and honest in that respect, and I hope I will continue to make a worthwhile contribution.
I often get asked about my major influences in music and it almost always catches me off-guard. To be honest, it is an almost impossible question to answer as I often feel as if I have been some kind of musical sponge, soaking in everything around me and trying to make sense of it before arriving at a 'take' of my own. Also, I think what you listen to just for enjoyment can be very different from something you might want to play professionally.
Now then, people know me as a guitarist, but sometimes listening to solo piano music or a lone Irish harper has been (and could be!) as 'influential' as say, listening to Tommy Emmanuel or Joe Bonamassa, if you get my drift.
So, here is a list of artists, musicians and genres that have influenced/inspired the shape of my own music down the years (in no particular order):
Early Move, Bee Gees and assorted 60's psychedelia, The Beatles, Traffic, Fairport Convention, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chuck Berry, Mama & Papas, C, S & N, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, 1950's R & B - Junior Parker, Bobby Bland etc, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, Roy Harper, John Martyn, Frank Zappa, Richard Thompson, Mike Oldfield, Seals & Crofts, Captain Beefheart, 1970's Philadelphia Soul - Gamble & Huff, Mid 60's Motown - Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, J S Bach, Erik Satie, Handel, Vivaldi, George Winston, Pat Metheny, John McClaughlin, Jeff Beck, Bill Nelson, Carlos Santana, Andy Latimer, Caravan, Soft Machine, Fruupp, Camel, The Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Irish & Scottish folk, Ossian, Tony Cuffe, Capercaillie, John Martin, Easy Club, Contraband, Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch, Martin Simpson, Barney Kessell, Martin Sumpton, Jim Ronayne, John Renbourn, Chris Ormston, Tony Gibbons, John Chandler, Bill Broonzy, Lenny Napier, Duck Baker, Steve Tilston, Pierre Bensusan, Jacques Stotzem, Paddy McCaloon, Dave Burland, Nic Jones, Martin Carthy, Shay Black, Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, Eagles, Willie Nelson, Jerry Donahue, Jimi Hendrix, Little Feat, Randy Newman, Bill Caddick, Jez Lowe, Weather Report, Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Steve Bishop, Paul Milns, The Who, 1950's Be-Bop, Charlie Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Coltrane etc, Old Delta blues - Son House, Skip James etc, Joe Broughton, Mike Johnson, Davy Graham, Hughie Jones, Leon Rosselson, Alex Glasgow, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Stiff Records - Ian Dury, Late Victorian Music Hall, Bossa Nova, Gerry Rafferty, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, The Carpenters, Rumor, Elton John, David Bowie, De Danann, The Bothy Band, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes, Peter Bond, Simon Nicol, Michael Chapman etc etc - and it keeps getting harder!
Some of these people are good friends that I have learned from, others are people I may have played with and taken something from (hopefully not literally!) and many are just well-known artists whose records I may have worn out down the years. If there are any notable omissions then let me know. My brain doesn't work as well as it may have done!
Phil Hare is exclusively published by 101 Publishing - PRS/MCPS Registered.
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