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A Short Bio:
Robert Wyatt : "Phil Miller would rather play a wrong note than a note that somebody else had ever played".
Dave Stewart: "Journalists have always tended to describe Phil's playing in terms of restraint, lack of ego, tastefulness, etc. This hardly does it justice. His ambition is actually to hypnotise the audience into a state of utter submission by means of a system of complex, secretive and often terrifying facial grimaces that he has perfected".
Like every genuine Canterbury scene musician, Phil Miller has really created a style of his own, in which it is hard to detect any obvious influences. A self-taught musician, he started to play guitar at age 15 under the influence of the great blues guitarists of the 50's, but during the 60's discovered rock and jazz, which he integrated into his playing. Miller was educated at Lexton School (near Corby), then Cambridge Technical College.
Miller's first band, Delivery, was formed in 1966, when he was 17. It included his brother Steve on piano and vocals and his childhood friend Pip Pyle on drums, along with bass player Jack Monk. Later on, they were joined by veteran jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill, an acquaintance of Steve Miller from the London blues scene where he was already in demand as a pianist. Monk was replaced by Roy Babbington in 1969, and with the addition of singer Carol Grimes, Delivery recorded the album Fool's Meeting (1970) for the B&C label. At that point, Delivery had had the distinction of backing visiting American blues legends such as Lowell Fulson, Eddie Boyd or 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, while Miller's own compositional talents began to emerge. Five compositions of his 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 which eventually led to the group's split. The Miller brothers joined Lol Coxhill in a new project with former Fairport Convention and Trader Horne vocalist Judy Dyble, which they called DC & The MBs. Playing a mixture of songs and free improvisation, they did a tour of the Netherlands as a quartet, a few British gigs and a lot of rehearsing (with occasional rhythmic support from the likes of Roy Babbington and Laurie Allan) but the project ended when Steve Miller left to join Caravan and, shortly thereafter, Phil was asked by Robert Wyatt to take part in Matching Mole alongside 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) and recorded two albums. On the first, Miller's epic "Part Of The Dance" was one of the very best tracks, with lots of great interplay between guitar, organ and drums. On the following effort, Matching Mole's Little Red Record, three further Miller pieces were included : "God's Song", "Righteous Rhumba" (actually, "Lything And Gracing") and "Nan True's Hole", all of which were later performed by Hatfield and the North. Matching Mole toured Holland and France supporting Soft Machine, and the UK supporting John Mayall.
By the summer of 1972, while work was underway on the second album, Miller had begun rehearsing with his 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 that summer, notably at the Tower of London. After a couple of changes in the keyboard department, involving Dave Sinclair (who eventually rejoined Caravan) and Alan Gowen (who decided to stick to his band Gilgamesh), the band settled down early in 1973 with Dave Stewart on keyboards.
During its two-year existence, Hatfield recorded two albums, both including several Miller compositions : "Calyx", with duet vocals by Richard Sinclair and Robert Wyatt, has become a Canterbury standard, but "Aigrette" (also on the first album), "Lounging There Trying" and "Underdub" (both on the second album) are equally superb and original. "My aim as a composer in Hatfield", Miller recalls, "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".
National Health, Phil Miller's next band, was an idea born in the minds of keyboardists Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen, following the two double-quartet gigs by Hatfield and Gilgamesh in late 1973. Yet Miller and Gowen had been friends since 1968, when both were young musicians with a common interest in jazz. Miller was the only member of National Health to remain in the band from beginning till end (all five years of it!), although he only provided one composition to the group, the magnificent "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 two years and a half later, Phil was involved in several low-key projects, including a duo with his ex-NH fellow guitarist Phil Lee, and a trio with Lol Coxhill and his brother Steve. He was also asked by Alan Gowen to contribute to his last project, the album Before A Word Is Said, to which Miller contributed four compositions : "Above And Below" (in following years a live favourite for In Cahoots), and three pieces from the latter days of National Health : "Fourfold", "Nowadays A Silhouette" and "A Fleeting Glance". "This music was recorded when Alan was extremely ill", says Miller. "It is a testament to his stoicism and to his love of music, that he could even contemplate embarking on a recording project". Alan Gowen died on May 17th, 1981.
In the weeks following Gowen's death, Miller reformed National Health with the line-up of the second album - Dave Stewart, John Greaves and Pip Pyle. After a couple of gigs, the aim of which was to raise money for the funeral, the band went into the studio to record an album of Alan's unreleased compositions, using scores they'd found in his music room.
The next step for Phil Miller was, at last, to form his own band, which debuted in November 1982 at a London pub and music venue, the Bull & Gate, where In Cahoots had a bi-monthly residency until early 1984. The line-up for the band was Miller, Richard Sinclair, Pip Pyle and Elton Dean. The music slowly gained shape out of countless improvisations and new arrangements of old compositions such as "Calyx". It was entirely instrumental, Sinclair's vocal talents remaining unused. With the addition of Peter Lemer on keyboards, In Cahoots gigged around London with occasional forays elsewhere, and recorded for the BBC's Radio 3 Jazz Today. They also made a tour of Holland and France (April-May 1984), and did 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 Miller's first album Cutting Both Ways (1987) later that year. The band material was supplemented by two pieces made in collaboration with Dave Stewart in 1986. "We made extensive use of MIDI for these - this was my first brush with the medium, having just acquired my first MIDI guitar", Miller comments.
Following an extensive tour of Europe and a performance at the 1987 Bracknell Jazz Festival, Steve Franklin replaced Lemer; and after further European dates, the youthful Fred Baker (previously of the Ric Sanders/John Etheridge band, among others) replaced Hopper. With the new line-up,In Cahoots recorded new compositions that were included in Miller's second album, Split Seconds (1989). "MIDI collaborations" this time around included three pieces recorded with Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin - one of them, "Dada Soul", also featured Richard Sinclair on vocals and bass - and one with ex-National Health drummer and percussionist John Mitchell. More European touring followed, which eventually resulted in a live album on Mantra Records in 1991. This also included pieces recorded with the previous line-up in 1986.
1990 saw a brief reformation of Hatfield and the North (for which Dave Stewart, unwilling to take part, was replaced by Pip Pyle's girlfriend, Sophia Domancich, herself an excellent jazz pianist) for a recording and filming of a live gig for Central Television, a private TV channel. While the TV broadcast lacked any Phil Miller compositions, the CD version released in 1993 included a version of Miller's "Underdub".
Later that year, In Cahoots resumed touring with yet 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 Phil Miller's first 'real' solo album, Digging In (1991), which made extensive use of MIDI. Drum parts were programmed by Pip Pyle, while Peter Lemer and Fred Baker added keyboards and bass parts. To promote the CD, a brief tour of Japan was set up, thanks to Miller's old friend Henk Weltevreden. The line-up of In Cahoots was reinforced with Peter Lemer for the occasion, and another live set, Live In Japan (1993) was recorded during that tour.
Meanwhile, Miller formed a duo with Fred Baker, making their live debut at the Vortex in the autumn, and eventually recording a CD, Double Up (1992), mixing Miller classics with two Baker originals. "The music was not scored as such for two guitars", Miller comments. "The arrangements came about as a result of Fred and I playing together. He knows 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 y 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 the meantime (May 1991), Short Wave was founded, first as 'Hugh Hopper and Friends'. This particular combination was the idea of French fan/promoter Philippe Renaud, who suggested Hugh to form a band with Phil Miller, Didier Malherbe and Pip Pyle. What began as a one-off gig eventually became the longest-surviving line-up in the history of Canterbury music (five years!)... In March 1993, In Cahoots recorded their first 'proper' album, Recent Discoveries (1994) at Gimini studios in Paris. The line-up once again lacked keyboards and the material went in a much jazzier direction. Along with the usual Miller compositions, the set included one each by Elton Dean and Fred Baker. Occasional gigging followed, but at that point Miller's main live activity was with Short Wave, whose debut CD was released that year also.
In 1994-95, Miller gigged occasionally with Short Wave, Fred Baker and In Cahoots. The Miller-Baker duo was augmented by Peter Lemer on several occasions, some gigs even being performed by Miller and Lemer alone. The keyboard player thus became a full-time member of In Cahoots once again, and the band is now a sextet. A major British tour was undertaken in January and February 1996, premiering new compositions which were recorded in the studio during the summer and released in October as Parallel. To celebrate its release, In Cahoots was invited, in the grandest Canterbury tradition, to open for Caravan at their London concert on October 31st. The invitation was extended for a 2-date "tour" of the Netherlands 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). Miller was also featured prominently on Pip Pyle's solo album 7 Year Itch, released in 1998.
In June 1998, Miller played at a one-off benefit for his brother Steve at London's Vortex Jazz Bar, as part of a reformed Delivery alongside Pip Pyle, Lol Coxhill, Carol Grimes and Fred Baker replacing the absent Roy Babbington. There were plans for the Miller brothers to reunite for a blues project, but sadly Steve Miller died in December 1998 before such a thing could happen. In the end, Out Of The Blue, released in early 2001, was recorded by In Cahoots in its quartet and sextet incarnations, with guitarist Doug Boyle guesting. A trio version of InCa with Boyle played a couple of French gigs in June 2001, followed by UK dates in the Autumn and a return visit to Japan in December.
Having parted company with drummer Pip Pyle, who was replaced by Mark Fletcher (a former accomplice of guitarist John Etheridge), In Cahoots debuted its new line-up at the Progman Cometh festival in Seattle (USA) in August 2002 - its first-ever gig on American soil. This was followed in 2003 by the release of All That, on Cuneiform Records. 2004 saw more line-up changes with the departures of Elton Dean and Jim Dvorak. Recording sessions for the next album involved Didier Malherbe on sax, Simon Finch on trumpet and Annie Whitehead on trombone, the results of which were unveiled on 2006's Conspiracy Theories. The band's line-up has now settled with Simon Picard on tenor sax and either Simon Finch on trumpet or Gail Brand on trombone.
2004 saw Miller reunite with Richard Sinclair as part of the latter's live band, which also included Theo Travis and Alex Maguire. The next logical step was to revive Hatfield and the North with Sinclair and Pip Pyle, and Alex Maguire depping for the reluctant Dave Stewart. The new line-up played a number of tours in 2005-06, but sadly ceased to be after Pyle's untimely death in August 2006.