Please note this event is on a FRIDAY rather than our usual Thursday night. Described by Folk Roots magazine as ‘one of Europe’s most impressive Blues performers’, Steve Phillips is a gifted guitarist and singer
, who is as much at home building guitars as playing them. One of Leeds
‘s favourite sons and founder member with Mark Knopfler and Brendan Croker of the “Notting Hillbillies”, his country blues singing and guitar playing are legendary. With Chris Parkinson (accordion, guitar and backing vocals), Burt Sawdon (double bass and vocals), Phil Moore (keyboards and backing vocals) and Jack Gibson (percussion and backing vocals)
Steve Phillips is one of life’s gentlemen. He cheerfully describes himself as a “Blues Singer/Guitarist, Landscape Painter, Keen Woodworker, And A Bit Of A Dandy” and he revels in the notion of being semi-famous. He was born in February 1948 and began his musical career in his early teens after being exposed to the music of Snooks Eaglin, Robert Johnson, Blind Blake and a host of other country bluesmen. At a time when most of us were busy buying and listening to the albums of The Beatles, etc, Steve was teaching himself to play what have since become country blues classics. He did this by obtaining recordings via mail order from the USA, recordings which though readily available today, were hard to come by in the early 60s and there was no-one around in those days who could teach you the licks. By 1967 Steve was playing in and around the Leeds area with an outfit known as Easy Mr Steve’s Bootleggers.
During the 1960s ‘British Blues Boom’ he accidentally met up with a young guitarist named Mark Knopfler. Mark was then working as a junior reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post. By sheer coincidence, Mark’s boss was another man by the name of Stephen Phillips. This has caused some confusion over the years and a number of Steve Phillips biographies have claimed erroneously that Steve himself worked as a journalist. Mark and his boss – the other ‘Steve Phillips’ – went to see Steve playing in Leeds. Steve fondly recalls how Mark’s first words were “Steve Phillips, meet Steve Phillips.”
Steve and Mark found that musically they had much in common and they went on to form a duo called The Duolian String Pickers. By day Mark continued working as a reporter and Steve took a job restoring paintings and furniture at Leeds City Art Gallery and Temple Newsam House. They played together off and on over the next five years and some of their work is featured on Steve’s 1996 Just Pickin album (scheduled for re-release sometime in 2003). It was during this period that Steve introduced Mark to the majestic lead style of black blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson and the technical minutiae of finger style country blues guitar, a style which Mark eventually evolved into his own unique style of guitar picking.
After Mark left Leeds in 1973 Steve continued performing with The Steve Phillips Juke Band. Then, in 1976, he discovered a new musical soul-mate in the form of Bradford-born singer/guitarist Brendan Croker. At this time Steve supplemented his income by building and repairing guitars. Brendan took an old twelve-string guitar for Steve to repair. “It had a neck like a banana”, Steve remembers, and Brendan recalls seeing his first National steels in Steve’s flat. So began a long-standing musical partnership, the two performing under the unlikely name of Nev and Norris. They also established their own venue in Leeds known as ‘The Packhorse’. Steve maintains that the secret of the success of their musical partnership is all down to the attraction of opposites.
During the 1980s, as the ‘British Blues Boom’ came to an end, the partnership of Nev and Norris also ended. Brendan moved on to form The Five O’Clock Shadows whilst Steve, disillusioned with the music scene, began to make a living as a landscape painter. Steve has painted many scenes from the beautiful, natural landscape of his beloved North Yorkshire and used a detail from one of his paintings for the cover for his 1995 Been A Long Time Gone album.
By the mid-1980s interest in “roots” music revived and Brendan encouraged Steve to start performing live again. It was also around this time that Mark turned up almost unexpectedly at ‘The Grove’ pub in Leeds in May 1986 and sat in with Steve and Brendan as he had done on numerous occasions in the past. Steve was finally persuaded to release his first album, The Best of Steve Phillips, in 1987. It’s title, though a typical example of Steve’s wry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, was wholly fitting and The Best of Steve Phillips brought his consummate skills as a country blues singer/guitarist to the attention of a new, wider audience. Mark offered to produce Steve’s next album but Steve suggested that a new album should feature both himself and Brendan. Guy Fletcher was brought in to help out on the technical side. From this evolved the collaboration known as the Notting Hillbillies which was chronicled by an extensive tour and the release in 1990 of the multi-platinum selling album Missing……Presumed having A Good Time. Since then there have been three further Notting Hillbillies tours, one in 1997, the Birmingham and London Ronnie Scott’s residencies of 1998 and the July 1999 six night residency at Ronnie Scott’s, London, and a number of charity performances, most recently Mark brought the Billies again together for four charity gigs in the UK in July, 2002.
Since the success of the Notting Hillbillies, Steve moved from Leeds to the Whitby area of North Yorkshire. In 1990 he released his Steel-Rail Blues album followed by Been A Long Time Gone and Just Pickin. He has performed as a solo artist in the UK and abroad and in the spring of 1998 renewed his playing partnership with Brendan Croker, the two undertaking an extensive and highly acclaimed UK tour. He has also formed his own band, Steve Phillips and the Rough Diamonds. The band is featured on several tracks on the Been A Long Time Gone and Every One A Gem CDs. Steve’s album. Solo, was released in 2005. The live album, Live At The Grosvenor,, came in 2007 capturing the great atmosphere Steve and the band create at their regular Tuesday night sessions at the Grosvenor Hotel in Robin Hood’s Bay.
Steve and the band’s latest critically acclaimed album, North Country Blues, (2013), features a number of self-penned songs together with tunes from the likes of Bob Dylan and traditional country blues artists such as Tampa Red and Leroy Carr.
Support from the (very!) young and brilliant jazz guitarist Alexander Santarpia + Jamie Holroyd guitar 8-8.30pm
Steve Phillips and the Rough Diamonds @Seven Arts – FRIDAY 5 February 7.45pm£16/14