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A Short Bio:
First and foremost a jazz guitarist, Phil Lee is nevertheless associated with the Canterbury scene as keyboard player Alan Gowen's favoured musical partner during most of the Seventies, most notably in Gilgamesh but also, more briefly, in the original incarnation of National Health.
Lee started playing guitar during his teenage years, and after a period playing skiffle turned to jazz. By the end of the decade he'd joined the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and performed with them at the first Antibes Jazz Festival in 1960. After a spell with the John Williams Big Band, he joined Graham Collier's band for about two years until 1966, playing alongside drummer John Marshall in the last months of his membership. In 1967-68 he played alongside expatriate South African sax player Dudu Pukwana in an organ band, the Bob Starkey Quartet.
At this point, Lee began diversifying into studio work, which provided a lot of his income in subsequent years. In the early 70s he played with Henry Lowther's band and co-led Axel with Tony Coe, while playing frequent ad-hoc jazz gigs, notably with drummer Mike Travis. It was at the instigation of the latter that he auditioned for Alan Gowen 's band Gilgamesh in early 1973. Lee had no previous experience in rock-oriented jazz, but had been impressed with John McLaughlin's work in that area.
Apart from a succession of bass players, this line-up lasted for two years and a half, although its activities were less than prolific apart from the almost weekly rehearsals. Gilgamesh played only more than a handful of gigs, but did record two BBC radio sessions and one for the Jazz In Britain series on Radio 3, and eventually went into the studio in May 1975 to record an album for Virgin's budget label Caroline Records. Also of note were two double-quartet gigs with Hatfield and the North in November 1973 which were the precursor to National Health.
When Alan Gowen joined forces with Dave Stewart following the break-up of Hatfield, Lee naturally followed him into National Health, although Gilgamesh did keep playing for a while. But again, and unlike later versions of the group, the early National Health was confined to the rehearsal room and by the time Lee left, hadn't played a single gig. Yet a demo was recorded at Pathway studios in London around November 1975, which resurfaced on the Missing Pieces CD.
As mentioned in a humorous manner in Dave Stewart's liner notes to The Complete National Health double-CD, Lee left National Health on the eve of its first tour to join French singer Charles Aznavour for a tour of UK and Québec. But links with his former accomplices weren't severed - by 1977 Lee had resumed his association with Gowen and they started working on the material which later became Gilgamesh 's second album, Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into.
Around the same time, Lee also joined Paz, which he subsequently left and rejoined several times over a period of twenty years. His career in jazz also blossomed, and he worked with several pianists of note. In 1979 he toured with the Michel Legrand quartet, and in 1983 with Gordon Beck's nonet, and he also collaborated with Michael Garrick. He has kept playing frequent jazz gigs, often with fellow ex-Gilgamesh members Jeff Clyne (with whom he also recorded the critically acclaimed duo album Twice Upon A Time in 1988) and Trevor Tomkins. Until 1998 he also taught at the Guildhall School of Music, but has stopped in order to concentrate on his own projects.
Lee's main current group is Octopus, which he leads with bass player Jim Richardson (ex-If and Weightwatchers among others) and also features sax player Bob Martin and drummers Clark Tracey or Matt Fishwick. An album has been recorded and should be released soon.