Lisa Hafey Staff Writer
Last night (7 June) legendary guitarist Phil Keaggy played at London’s Abbey Road Baptist and Popwrapped was there to see it.
Phil Keaggy. If you are a fan of amazing guitarists, this is one name you may well have come across, if only because of the urban legend that surrounds him. The story goes that when asked what it was like to be the greatest guitarist in the world, Jimi Hendrix said “don’t ask me, ask Phil Keaggy.” Now, it’s not possible for this to have happened – Phil wasn’t well enough known while Hendrix was alive, but the legend persists. The quote has also been attributed to Eddie van Halen and Eric Clapton among others. It’s a good one, and if you’ve ever heard Phil play, you can see why.
I first came to appreciate Phil’s music way back in 1987, and got to see him perform live in Sydney in 1989, when he toured Australia with Randy Stonehill, another amazing guitarist and singer. It’s been a long time so when I heard that Phil was doing a European tour and was doing a London date I had to go. I booked my ticket in advance, anticipating that it was going to be standing room only (it had been when I saw him last).
Imagine my surprise to discover upon arrival, that a reserved ticket meant I had a front row seat! And not just any front row seat, but one right in front of the great man himself.
After a beautiful set of three songs by Thomas, a French guitarist who attends Abbey Road Baptist, Phil came on with an instrumental piece called “Metamorphosis”, which appears on his album Acoustic Sketches (1996). It’s a haunting melody, an amazing tune to use as a “warm up”. Listening to it it’s hard to imagine all this came out of one guitar, but it did.
Next came “True Believers”, from his 1995 album, True Believer. Phil is amazing to watch. He mixes his performance as he goes, using foot pedals and pick-ups. I’ve heard this on CD but it was even better live – because you realise that what you’re hearing has not been created in the studio – he makes it there and then. Absolutely mind-blowing.
Phil followed this up with a couple of covers. First was Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”, which appears on the album, Acoustic Café (2008). Listen to it. Everything you hear is what I heard last night. He didn’t have anyone else there with him. He played by himself. All that sound came from the one guitar. From a man with 9 fingers ahh why doesn’t a wider audience appreciate him???
Abbey Road Baptist Church is exactly where you’d think it was, across the road from the famous studios, where so many amazing albums have been made. Phil’s next song therefore was homage to the most famous of those Abbey Road recording artists, The Beatles, with a cover of “Here Comes The Sun”. Phil achieved a lifetime ambition a few years back by jamming with Paul McCartney after Paul’s sister-in-law’s wedding. You can hear the Beatles’ influence in his music, and this song is no exception. In this song Phil does the most amazing thing whereby he lifts up his guitar and sings into the pick-ups. This has the effect of giving him backing vocals on the fly. I really don’t have the technical skills to be able to describe what he does, but here’s a photo:
Next came “Fool’s Wisdom”, a cover of a song by 70s Christian singers, Malcolm and Alwyn Wildhall, and it was a beautifully played piece, once again highlighting Phil’s skill as a guitarist and vocalist.
Another instrumental piece next, “Shades of Green”, featuring the looping technique, and some fun stuff with bells and maracas and so forth. ALL THIS WAS FROM ONE MAN WITH ONE GUITAR. Nothing else. I’ve seen it live, I’m watching it on YouTube now, but still I am blown away by what he can do. Incredible.
“Salvation Army Band”, another from Phil’s True Believer album, was phenomenal.
My favourite song of the night came next, “Let Everything Else Go” from Town To Town (1981). My favourite because I know it by heart, and also because it’s a song that for some reason always makes me cry. I don’t know why, if it’s the sentiment of it, or the tune itself. Anyway, I’m hoping those around me didn’t mind me accompanying Phil, because it’s one of those songs I HAVE to sing if I hear it.
Phil finished his set with a quick rendition of “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus”, and then said goodnight. We the audience stood as one, and demanded he come back on… which of course he did. He invited Thomas to come back and play with him, and they dueted on “Keep on Rocking Me Baby” and “Standing at the Crossroads”, before finally ending the evening.
I later had the opportunity to speak to Phil and had him sign my CD copy of Way Back Home, which he released in 1986, and reworked and repackaged in 1994. I spoke with him about his music, and how I had loved it for so long, but also found time to talk to him about his son Ian, bassist and vocalist with the band, Hot Chelle Rae. Phil told me that Ian is currently writing music not only for the band, but also for himself, with a “much sweeter sound” than that of HCR. I’m looking forward to hearing Ian’s efforts – if they’re anything like his Dad’s, they’re bound to be amazing.
When Phil and I finished talking, I asked him for a hug, which he freely gave. A wonderful ending to a fabulous evening with such a lovely, gentle, super-talented man. Thank you Phil.
Details of Phil’s tour can be found on his website. His albums can also be found there, and are additionally available to download from iTunes. You can check out clips from his various by searching Phil Keaggy in YouTube.