Phil Miller Bio
I am a self-taught musician. I had my first guitar at 8 and have been playing seriously since 15. My first band was Delivery formed in 1966 when I was 17.
It included my brother Steve on piano and vocals and our childhood friend Pip Pyle on drums along with bass player Jack Monck. Later on we were joined by veteran jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill, a friend of Steve’s from the London blues scene where he was already in demand as a pianist. Jack Monck was replaced by Roy Babbington in 1969 and with the addition of singer Carol Grimes we recorded the album ‘Fool’s Meeting’ (1970) for the B&C label. Delivery had had the distinction of backing visiting American blues legends such as Lowell Fulson, Eddie Boyd and Otis Span and were playing upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s quite regularly. The band’s repertoire started to include pieces by Keith Jarrett and Tony Williams and I began my own writing career at this time. Compositions of mine were included on Fool’s Meeting : ‘Miserable Man’, ‘Blind To Your Light’, ‘The Wrong Time’, ‘Fool’s Meeting’ ‘and We Were Satisfied’.
In late 1970, Delivery underwent some personnel changes with the departure of Pip Pyle to Gong and his replacement Laurie Allan. Eventually Roy Babbington left to join Nucleus and Carol Grimes was replaced by Judy Dyble, formerly of Fairport Convention. The band’s name changed to DC & The MB’s – for Dyble/Coxhill and the Miller Brothers. This line-up made a tour of Holland and the UK during the summer of 1971, playing almost entirely improvised music.
A close friend then recommended me to Robert Wyatt who had just left Soft Machine and was in the process of forming his own band Matching Mole which I joined with Dave Sinclair (organ) from Caravan and Bill MacCormick (bass) from Quiet Sun. That combination remained together for just under a year with one line-up change : Dave MacRae from Nucleus was added, then took over from Dave Sinclair.
We recorded two albums, the first, Matching Mole included one piece of mine: ‘Part Of The Dance.’ and on Little Red Record a three further pieces of mine were included: ‘God’s Song’, ‘Righteous Rhumba’ and Nan True’s Hole’, all of which were later performed by Hatfield and the North (live versions of the latter two even appeared under different titles on the compilation album Afters) Matching Mole toured opposite Soft Machine in Holland and France and opposite John Mayall in the UK.
In the summer of 1972 while work was underway on the second album, I began rehearsing with my brother Steve and Richard Sinclair (bass and vocals) both having just left Caravan and Pip Pyle back from his stint with Gong in France. That line-up took the name of Delivery and played a couple of gigs in August, notably at the Tower of London.
After various shiftings in the keyboard department involving Alan Gowen (who went on to form his own band Gilgamesh) and Dave Sinclair (who eventually rejoined Caravan) the band settled down early in 1973 with Dave Stewart on keyboards, Pip Pyle, Richard Sinclair and myself and became Hatfield and the North. During its two-year existence Hatfield recorded two albums, both including several of my compositions : ‘Calyx’ & ‘Aigrette’ on the first album and ‘Lounging There Trying’ and ‘Underdub’ on the second. My aim as a composer in Hatfield was to write pieces that while not as open as those we had been using from my Mole days still had this freer element in them. They contrasted well with Pip and Richard’s songs and Dave’s instrumental and vocal epics.
My next band National Health was an idea born in the minds of keyboardists Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen following two double-quartet gigs by Hatfield and Gilgamesh in 1973. Alan and I had been friends since 1968. I only provided one composition to the group: ‘Dreams Wide Awake’ included for posterity on the second album: Of Queues And Cures. The music of National Health was extremely complex and heavily written. My own output was virtually nil, preferring to concentrate on playing it rather than writing it. And anyway the sort of things I was able to come up with were not really relevant to the rest of the music. Quite definitely Alan and Dave were then far superior writers to me.
Between the break-up of National Health in March 1980 and the formation of In Cahoots in 1982 I was involved in various projects including a duo with ex-NH fellow guitarist Phil Lee and a trio with Lol Coxhill and my brother Steve.
I was also asked by Alan Gowen to join him on his last project, the album ‘Before A Word Is Said’ to which I contributed four compositions : ‘Above And Below’ ‘Fourfold’ ‘Nowadays A Silhouette’ and ‘A Fleeting Glance.’ This music was recorded when Alan was extremely ill. He died on May 17th, 1981. It is a testament to his stoicism and to his love of music that he could even contemplate embarking on this recording project.
In the weeks following Alan’s death we reformed National Health with the line-up of the second album – Dave Stewart, John Greaves and Pip Pyle and myself. After a couple of gigs, the aim of which was to raise money for Alan’s funeral, we went into the studio and recorded an album of Alan’s unreleased compositions: D S al Coda. (still available from us at Crescent Discs)
In Cahoots was formed by me in 1982 and has been a vehicle for my compositional output throughout its various line-ups.
Rehearsals began in November 1982 with Richard Sinclair and Pip Pyle soon joined by Elton Dean. The music slowly gained shape out of countless improvisations and new arrangements of old compositions. With the addition of Peter Lemer on keyboards we gigged around London with occasional forays elsewhere and recorded for the BBC’s radio 3 Jazz Today. We also did a tour of Holland and France, and made several demo recordings which have remained unreleased thus far.
In February 1985, Richard Sinclair was replaced by Hugh Hopper. The resulting line-up recorded most of the tracks for the album Cutting Both Ways (1987) later that year playing ‘Hic Haec Hoc’ ‘A Simple Man’ ‘Eastern Region’ and This was supplemented by ‘Second Sight’ as a band. two other of my pieces: ‘Hard Shoulder’ and ‘Figures of SpeechStewart in the ’ made in collaboration with Dave previous year. We made extensive use of MIDI for these – this was my first brush with the medium, having just acquired my first MIDI guitar.
Following an extensive tour of Europe and a performance at the 1987 Bracknell Jazz Festival, Steve Franklin replaced Pete Lemer and after further European dates, Fred Baker (previously of the Ric Sanders/John Etheridge band, among others) replaced Hugh Hopper. With the new line-up In Cahoots recorded 4 new compositions: ‘Your Root Two’ ‘And Thus Far’ ‘Truly Yours’ and ‘Foreign Bodies’ for my second album, Split Seconds (1989). Also included as MIDI collaborations were three more of my pieces recorded with Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin: ‘I Remaim’, ‘Dada Soul’ which also featured Richard Sinclair on vocals and bass and ‘Final Call’ recorded with ex-National Health drummer and percussionist John Mitchell, now sadly dead.
More European touring followed, which eventually resulted in a live album on Mantra Records ‘In Cahoots Live 86-89’ which included pieces recorded with the previous line-up in 1986. My compositions on that album were ‘Red Shift’ ‘For The Moment’ and ‘Above and Below’. Also included were a piece each by Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean and Steve Franklin. Later that year, In Cahoots resumed touring with another line-up without keyboards but with the addition of American-born trumpet player Jim Dvorak.
Most of the year, though, was spent working on Digging In (1991), which made extensive use of MIDI. Drum parts were programmed by Pip Pyle, while Pete Lemer and Fred Baker added keyboards and bass parts. The compositions were ‘Digging In’ ‘No Holds Barred’ ‘Bass Motives’ ‘Down to Earth’ ‘Speaking To Lydia’ ‘Birds Eye View’ and ‘Louder Than Words’. In December that year In Cahoots went on tour to Japan thanks to my old friend Henk Weltevreden who set up the tour. The line-up of In Cahoots was reinforced with Peter Lemer and another live set, Live In Japan (1993) was recorded during that tour.
Meanwhile Fred Baker and I started working out as a duo, making our live debut at the Vortex in the autumn, and eventually recording a CD Double Up (1992) mixing some of my material with two of Fred’s. The music was not scored as such for two guitars. The arrangements came about as a result of Fred and I playing together. He knew the music from the point of view of being the bass player in In Cahoots, and when we worked out as a duo he naturally transferred to guitar things that would normally be voiced by another instrument. Other things had to be reworked and were technically more difficult for us both. We worked at voicing the chords and getting the melodies where they should be but otherwise the arrangements came about as a result of working things out together, finding new ways to do it better. I would find myself playing one part and listening to Fred playing something else in a completely fresh way; a way quite different to my own approach. It’s always a surprise for me, what Fred does and I think the music benefits from our working it out together.
In March 1993, In Cahoots recorded Recent Discoveries (1994) at Gimini studios in Paris. The line-up was Fred Baker, Pip Pyle, Elton Dean, Jim Dvorak and me. My compositions were ‘Recent Discoveries’ ‘Trick of the light’ ‘Chez GeGe’ ‘Breadhead ‘ and ‘Tide’. The album also included a piece each by Elton Dean and Fred Baker. Occasional gigging followed but at that point my main live activity was with Short Wave, whose debut CD Shortwave was released that year also. My compositions on that were ‘Nan True’s Hole’ and ‘The Fox’.
In 1994-95 I gigged occasionally with Short Wave, the Miller-Baker Duo and In Cahoots. The duo was augmented by Peter Lemer on several occasions, some gigs were done as a duo with Pete Lemer. A major British tour was undertaken in January and February 1996 with new material which was recorded in the studio during the summer and released in October as Parallel. These compositions were ‘Parallel’ ‘Simmer’ ‘ED or Ian’ ‘Half Life’ ‘Sitdown’ and ‘Billow’. To celebrate its release, In Cahoots was invited to open for Caravan at their London concert on October 31st and two gigs in Holland in September 1997. In Cahoots toured England again in early December 1997 and did a French tour in March 1998 with the brass-less quartet line-up, followed by more dates in France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the Autumn (some with the full line-up).
In May 1998 my brother Steve was diagnosed as suffering from terminal cancer. In June we played a reformed Delivery benefit concert for Steve at London’s Vortex Jazz Bar with Pip Pyle, Lol Coxhill and Carol Grimes with Fred Baker replacing Roy Babbington. Steve died in December that year.
I wrote the music for Out Of The Blue during the period when Steve was ill. I had originally hoped that Steve would play on the recording but, as his illness progressed, that ceased to be a possibility. In a way this album is a tribute to Steve and is dedicated to his memory. It is something of a return to the roots for me, harking back to earlier days when Steve, Pip and I played together in Delivery and is my first venture into the blues for 30 years. The writing is simpler and there is more of a groove in the rhythm section and its release co-incides with Cuneiform Records recent re-release of the Delivery album ‘A Fools Meeting’.
Out Of The Blue had the usual In Cahoots sextet line up of Phil Miller – guitar and synth guitar, Fred Baker – fretless bass guitar, Elton Dean – alto sax and saxello, Pete Lemer – keyboards, Jim Dvorak – trumpet and Pip Pyle – drums and was augmented on two tracks by Doug Boyle on Guitar.
The Wire – Issue 205 – March 2001
Before Hatfield and the North and his stint with Matching Mole, Phil Miller played guitar with Delivery, who started as a blues outfit. Other members included Miller’s brother Steve on keyboards, drummer Pyle and saxophonist Lol Coxhill, a mixture guaranteed to burst the banks of any format. On out of the blue, the guitarist returns to his blues roots with quartet and sextet versions of In Cahoots. Pyle whose résumé includes Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack and Daevid Allen’s Gong, is again on drums, with Fred Baker on bass, Pete Lemer on keyboards and, on most tracks, trumpeter Jim Dvorak and saxophonist Elton Dean. Of course , the intervening years of navigating the labyrinthine contours of rock at its most complex act as a filter for Miller’s early enthusiasm, yet this refined, blues based music offers a concentrated view of his considerable strengths. His playing is melodic without a hint of banality, never histrionic or unnecessarily fussy. Whether surging or teetering forwards, his solos are always heading somewhere specific. New listeners can start their voyage of discovery here. Long-term fellow travelers will have their expectations amply met.