If you’re a member of the Press and want a nice short bio plus quotes/photos then please visit the press section of this website. If you want to hear in depth about me & my music then read on!
Phoenix Imago may not be my real name, but it describes me better than anything my parents could have guessed at when I was born. From the ashes of a very different life, the performer I always wanted to be has arisen. Impressive on so many instruments, supreme on piano and vocals; and then there’s the songs… They have chronicled my life, learning and healing. I don’t just play my songs. I *live* them, I *am* them.
It’s very hard to classify your music when you’ve spent so many years striving to encompass all possible styles and approaches. The influences you’ve heard of: Stevie Wonder, Sting, Prince, Jamiroquai, perhaps Jeff Buckley. Less well known but no less important: Lewis Taylor, Weather Report, Mindy Smith, Regina Spektor, Dhafer Youssef.
I am 33 years old. I’ve been playing guitar and piano longer than I can remember. On piano I had a small amount natural talent but I had a yearning to go far beyond it, both as a writer and a performer. I lived in Kent and London throughout my childhood and 20s but I now live most of the time near Florence in Italy. It’s warm there, the people are friendly and I like the fruit.
Besides being an obsessively ambitious and perfectionist musician I love running, yoga (I used to teach…) and eat a raw vegan diet. My original career was in computing and I’ve taken from it an enthusiasm for all things Linux. I love watching Formula 1 racing & Babylon 5, V for Vendetta (the comic, not the film…), Watchmen (comic & film), Dragonball Z and too many Sci-fi novels to mention. I’m an unashamed left-winger who cares about the environment, people and animals. I’ll tend to fight for causes that don’t fight for themselves because I understand karma and I know that we always get bitten back for our sins eventually. I’m also an unashamed right-winger who believes we all bear ultimate responsibility for our own situation and we all have the power and duty to improve our lives. Poverty is never a virtue – though sometimes it can be a prism…
Both my parents played guitar and my Mum sang folk songs in a high pure voice. Actually my Dad sang too, after a fashion. Fishing Blues by Taj Mahal was one of his favorites. I have happy memories of hearing him play that song. He listened to a lot of quite sophisticated music and so had moments when he sounded like he really knew what he was doing. Alas, he never practiced enough to do it consistently. Anyway, because of him, I grew up surrounded by the sounds of Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, Theolonius Monk and Jimmy Smith to name but a few. When I was very young, I preferred my Mum’s Beatles records but later on the Jazz firmly took hold.
I was too young to remember when I first picked up a guitar. I wanted to do piano lessons at school, but we didn’t have room for one at home, so the teacher said I couldn’t… It didn’t take much for our household to give up on something exciting. So I got violin lessons instead. Much as I love listening to classical music now, the absence of an inspiring role model, poor arrangements and lack of any connection to the present day in the writing, put me off greatly. I hated the instrument and did my level best to be bad at it… Later I realised, I’m a *fan* when it comes to everything from early music to modern classical and not in any way, shape or form a performer!
On a brighter note a small Casio keyboard was eventually introduced into the home that I really loved. I used to (attempt to) imitate the boogie woogie piano playing of Albert Ammons and others with the zeal and enthusiasm only a child could muster.
A more advanced ‘Kawai K4′ arrived as I grew into a teenager and I carried on improving my skills on the larger keys. As a child I had used ‘Studio Session’ on a Macintosh computer to make music.
But with the Kawai and a copy of ‘Cubase Lite’ I started putting together funky midi sequences of instrumental music. I alarmingly prolific for a youngster.
This coincided with the early nineties and the somewhat manufactured ‘Acid Jazz’ movement in London. It might have been a good excuse for record labels to start rolling out compilations of material by artists who up till now didn’t know such a genre existed – much less that they were writing in it… …but there were some truly awesome acts. Freak Power got me first. Then Jamiroquai, then Incognito and Galliano. At the same time it introduced me to their roots: Stevie Wonder and Weather Report etc. This music inspired me to write and record but only instrumental stuff that was sequenced with improvised piano. My singing and my guitar playing frankly sucked. It was only much later that I started to understand the health problems that were preventing me from performing to my potential.
Anyhow, the image of Stevie Wonder singing and playing the piano remained with me for many years and defined me as a live performer to some extent.
However, multi-instrumentalist, white-soul-boy Lewis Taylor, with his self titled solo album in 1996 had probably the greatest impact in defining me as an artist. Just the idea that you could take a little 8 track recorder like that and put together such a spellbinding album all by yourself was like a red rag to a bull with me. And those harmonies! They were like a wall for my ears to try to bash down, or dig under, or find a way around! Anything to figure out where they came from and how they were put together. My melodies got darker, sexier and meaner… …mean enough to live with the sorts of songs I would soon write.
I was in a few bands at university. The most fun I had was in one that never even played a gig. We were a funk-fusion bassist, a metal drummer, and me on keys. We didn’t connect musically much but we liked each other and so played happily together. The unholy racket we produced haunts the corridors of Imperial College Union to this day. The most successful band I was in got a few gigs. We played a few covers and a few originals. There were five of us – exactly four too many big egos for good music. They were competent enough musicians but as an excellent singer-songwriter I met once said ‘There are lots of people who play music but very few musicians’. I’m the latter and these guys – despite often being far more skilled than me at the time – were very definitely the former. I was very defensive about my own material partly because it was far from being formed yet and partly because I didn’t feel the musicians I worked with really ‘got it’. It would be another ten years before I met someone I could jam with and not get immediately angry and frustrated.I was 22 when I got my first full sized keyboard – a Korg SP100 that I still play and love. With the help of a ‘Chick Corea’ instructional video I set about improving my piano playing. At the same time the sounds of Prince, Jeff Buckley and Weather Report featured more and more on my hi-fi. All of them would grow on me over the years that followed. Joe Zawinul’s keyboard playing, Buckley’s guitar work and Prince’s sheer artistry slowly absorbed into my already rather full melting pot of influences. But Buckley’s voice got me stuck for a long time. I’d developed a rather simple Jay Kay-esque style singing that worked after a fashion but I always had problems staying in tune and also with stamina. But when I heard Buckley all of that changed. He was playing rock music – a style I had hitherto ignored – but had more vocal technique than any but the very best opera singers. If he could do it, I could do it… I didn’t quite realise at the time how much practice would be involved in living up to those words.
Years of illness spent at home, not achieving very much, saw me learn to be honest and meticulous in my songwriting. Poor health, failed love affairs and infatuations, intermittent delusional insanity, and perhaps most important: a keen nose for injustice in the world, provided ample inspiration for dozens of songs. I’m truly blessed in that I passionately love each and every one of the lousy things that have happened to me in my life. Why? Because without them I’d never have written these songs. And now that my life is so beautiful and lucky, I can appreciate it, and write even more!
After some time out in the world trying, and mostly failing, to be a yoga teacher, I finally decided to spend some time being true to myself and become the musician I knew deep down I could be. With my mother’s kind support I quit my teaching and spent about 9 months just practicing. Sometimes 12 hours a day I’d hammer away at a variety of instruments and sing my songs. By the end of it I’d fashioned my piano playing into something I was happy with and my guitar skills – long neglected – had improved dramatically. Finally I came to a sort of truce with my voice. Although I could physically do most of what Jeff Buckley could do, I couldn’t actually express myself in that way. Basically, it wasn’t me. That realisation saw my voice begin to relax at last – a process that I hope will continue for the rest of my life. I don’t think about technique at all when I sing now – I just enjoy the sounds and the feelings. ‘Be yourself’ is a cliche, but it’s true. Though you might need to struggle like crazy to accept it, you really don’t need to know anything else in life or singing.
At the same time I picked up rudimentary skills on bass, drums and trumpet which I’ve used since in recordings. Finally in 2009 I started playing my songs to audiences in London. And in recording my album ‘Respect’ I hooked up with Keenan Bailey and Steve Lewis and their exciting project – Abstract Sun Records. We’ve developed a solid working relationship over the last year and now that they’re becoming a fully formed label and I’m becoming a fully formed artist, we’re ready to really kick some &$%$! I can’t imagine better people to share this journey and career with.
This is my dream to be doing this and I’m lucky to be where I am!