Exposure: Phil Campbell
- Ryan Drever
- 28 October 2009
Phil Campbell - Wrecking Ball Nights
Glasgow-born singer/songwriter Phil Campbell has spent the last 15 years or so planting his musical seeds in London's bustling metropolis; which seems to have paid off in critical acclaim alone, landing him spots on Jools Holland and relentless touring cycles with the likes of David Gray.
Now making his return back home, new album Daddy's Table sees Campbell reflect on fatherhood and failed marriages during what has been a uniquely pivotal period for the boy from Bishopbriggs, and the album has again been showered with critical acclaim.
There will be opportunity to check him out for yourself when Campbell takes to the stage at Glasgow's King Tut's next month, but until then, here's the man himself with a few words to help you on your way.
How did you first get into songwriting?
I played piano by ear from a young age and learned Neil Diamond's 'Love on the Rocks' note for note when I was 10. I was off school with nits at the time. Later I learned the whole 'Bitter Suite' album by Hue and Cry, which, over a week or so, taught me all I know about the piano. I was 15 when I started writing my first songs, which were generally sad ones for loners and introverts.
What's you earliest memory of performing?
As a child I performed with my whole family at church events. My mum would change the words of a song like 'Good King Wenceleslas', aping various characters in the congregation for laughs and dressing us all in little choir outfits. I made my own debut at a Bishopbriggs High School Christmas concert, singing 'Dark End Of The Street' at the piano.
What records or shows would you say have had a particularly great impact on you as an artist?
Fellow Hoodlums by Deacon Blue: I loved this band when I was young, but this, I think, is their best, containing a gritty earthiness not heard on earlier efforts. The Kick Inside by Kate Bush: her expression of sexuality with exquisite melody left me breathless (she was always really an actress). Closing Time by Tom Waits: another actor, his early nostalgic renderings hooked me first before I became a Raindog. Decade by Neil Young: simply the best record I have ever played. Neil's range over Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and solo work shows someone hellbent on staying true to the muse. Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams: "a-1-2-a-1-wee-hoo!". This album woke me from an angry metal dream and it did so by indeed breaking my heart. Live shows too have always inspired me. The first one I ever went to was with my sister at the Paladium in Glasgow. Martyn Joseph appeared on stage alone, with an acoustic guitar and green light beamed through dry ice. I was hooked.
What is the inspiration behind your new album Daddy's Table?
I began writing it when touring with David Gray and promoting my last record After The Garden. I was struggling with a feeling of losing control of my own music with pressure from my record company at that time. I had recently become a father but my marriage had fallen apart. The subsequent back-lashing I gave myself and the delight of falling in love again are all factors which informed the lyrics. Musically it is a blend of my love for Scottish hymnal melody and American country roots. It is the most honest record I have made since my very first attempt in 1997 with Fresh New Life and it shadows that album in some ways. Richard Causon is the first producer I have trusted since that time and taking myself out of the engineering seat freed me to concentrate on performing. Also both records were made amid great personal upheaval. Moan all we want, songwriters know this is the stuff of good songs.
Though you spent a large amount of time away from the city, how would you rate the current musical climate right now in Glasgow, or perhaps even Scotland in general?
My age group began to dream about an independent Scotland when the Poll Tax was introduced in the 1980's. At that time, there was a huge amount of bands in Scotland: Goodbye Mr McKenzie, Love and Money, Texas, Gun, Hipsway, Del Amitri, The Silencers, The Associates and loads of them and many carried a political agenda. Often you might hear Pat Kane or Ricky Ross shouting about national issues and so on. Strangely it took Mel Gibson to light the fire proper before we saw Salmond climb on a Clydesdale brandishing a Claymore. Devolution has definitely been good for the country musically. From Travis to Franz Ferdinand to Biffy Clyro, the scene is hot again. On the small stages too there is great passion and creativity. One drawback might be that the current scene is too absorbed in fashion and less bothered politically. But hey, once upon a time we had to move to London to make it. Now it seems London has moved up here.
What are your plans and hopes for the rest of the year?
I hope to pick up some momentum with this record and get a little tour together taking in a lot of Scotland. I'm proud of the Scottishness of this album and I want to connect with my country again. My fan base is largely English, so I will keep ties there. My name is Campbell after all...
Phil Campbell will play King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow, on Nov 12