Graeme Watt is a good friend of mine and the man behind a new project called Phil Gabriel. So without further ado let me introduce you to my friend and the story behind his new album 'Intense Sense of Permance
S4L: So who is Phil Gabriel? Where are you from and where are you going?
GW: Originally Phil Gabriel was thought up after my friend Jed brought round a VHS copy of Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Concert. I watched it and was inspired by the music and massive production value of the live performance. Before long I had written and recorded demos of some songs that were intended as kind of a respectful imitation of that style of music. I liked the songs so I decided to share them but I have always cringed when letting people hear my music so, just like with Rodent Emporium I decided to shield myself behind the veil of comedy. I created a Myspace with a fake persona and an equally fake and ridiculous back story. Phil Gabriel was born. For a while there it was going to be Peter Collins but I thought better of it.
I put the songs on the myspace (Click to go to Phil's Myspace Page), a hastily produced music video of myself, singing a ballad in a dark room with sunglasses on and of a fake discography, complete with ten previous album covers that I created on photoshop just to add to the myth. Titles like “Running on Fumes”,” Magician” and “Abomination” and of course a “Greatest Hits” .
At the time I was one of many people who were members of the now defunct Livingston Music Scene website, a forum for a collective of music lovers and musicians from West Lothian and Edinburgh. It was quiet vibrant at one time (until everybody migrated to Facebook). I announced the launch of the myspace on that same forum and it generated quite a bit of interest. Some people suggested that in spite of it being a parody the songs were really good and original and I should actually think about playing them live so knowing quite a few musicians who were playing in established bands I was able to assemble a group of willing and very talented players with surprising ease, these musician friends of mine where, in fact, quite eager to get involved because of the uniqueness of what I was doing.
I managed to pull off a coup because I recruited Douglas Clarke who I reckon is one of the finest guitarists in Scotland right now and Bruce Wallace (Guitar) and Neil Warrack (keys). Both Bruce and Neil play in Super Adventure Club, a band who once played a live session on Radio 1, Nicol Hay of Bo Deadly on Bass and Ricki Thomson of Jackie Treehorn. Although we played a couple of shows together only Doug, Ricki and Myself appear on the album, Allan Forsyth of Rodent Emporium has been asked to join on bass but is yet to make his live debut.
One of the guys from the scene (Martyn Robertson) surprised me one night when he emailed me a rather in depth blurb he had written based on the album covers he had seen on my website, it contained his musings on the what these fake albums must have sounded like, it read like a magazine article and I was stunned that the guy had taken time out to do this, on the album “Abomination” he wrote ”this album was written at a time when Phil Gabriel was losing it a wee bit with fame and pressure and during this time he was apparently spotted in Greggs the bakers wearing a dressing gown and pink furry slippers shouting “don’t you know who I am?!” after being served a cold steak bake”. I laughed so much I put it on the myspace and I asked him to write the official band bio for Phil for the myspace as well. He also wrote our current bio.
Short answer is (According to Martyn) Phil Gabriel is an eccentric and enigmatic singer songwriter, recording artist and performer from the fictional town of Crumley . He has had a string of top ten albums since his multi-platinum selling debut “Squander Everything” in 1982 and has been touring the world, selling out Stadia all through a career littered with awards and accolades.
The current and real world version is that Phil Gabriel are a Pop/Rock band from Glasgow who are going to be playing live in a town near you soon with a show packed with big choruses and a bigger performance. The songs and the performance will speak for them-selves I hope. It also means I don’t need to play to a character, too much pressure. People will make up their own mind based on what they see.
S4L: What inspires you to write?
GW: Current events, feelings, hopes and dreams. I don’t set out to write personal stuff but whenever you express yourself artistically you un-wittingly reveal yourself on one or more levels. You can tell a lot about the writer from the song even if there are few or no lyrics sometimes just by the vibe.
I listen to a lot of music and I find myself getting inspired constantly, music is very powerful in the way that it evokes an emotional response. Sometimes when the music I listen to impacts me I try to replicate it when I write and record a song. I often find that when I hear a song and I think “I want a song like that” I sit down to write it and end up with something totally different and original. That’s what it’s been like throughout my time with Rodent Emporium.
I also like themes. I’m a big fan of 70’s and 80’s British rock and the backdrop against which it’s set. I like the pictures that Pink Floyd paint with their songs: madness, quiet desperation, economic hardship, all set against this British industrial greyish landscape.
I get nostalgic about my youth as well and to me Pink Floyd and all those old British bands remind me of grey buildings, grey school trousers, long hair, mix-tapes, corporation buses, British Rail, listening to my older brother and sister playing their L.P’s in their rooms. It’s all like it’s out of a Nick Hornby book. For me my album captures this nostalgia.
S4L:Tell us a little bit about the album, track by track, and how someone can get hold of a copy.
GW: The album was the last of the “fake albums” on the old discography which of course is no more but I liked the name so much that I kept it. I have released on free on Bandcamp which is website designed for artists to sell and share their work. You can listen to or download in MP3 or FLAC and other formats completely free at philgabriel.bandcamp.com.
The first track on the album is “Come sing that Song to me” which is very similar in style to Come Talk to me which is the song Peter Gabriel opened his Secret World Concert with. In the video he emerges from under the stage inside a big red phone box, singing down the telephone. That song seemed like as good a place to start so I wrote “Come sing” in that vein.
If I Walk Backwards: was inspired by a friend who wrote the phrase” if I walk backwards away from you I will never lose sight of you” when I asked him about song ideas. Although at first the concept seemed ridiculous it now makes perfect sense to me that the guy in the song can’t take his eyes off of her even although he has to leave her.
Danger : came out of thin air, I can’t even remember what I was thinking when I wrote it. And I wasn’t too convinced with the song at first. It took me a while to finish it but I’m glad I did because the rollicking strut and pomposity of that track sets it apart. It’s been compared to Easy Lover but I will swear hand on heart that I wasn’t even thinking about the Phil Collins (and Phil Bailey) song at the time. It’s a cautionary tale about a dangerous woman. If anything I’d compare it to Cliff Richard’s Devil woman!
Intense Sense of Permanence: started out life as a ballad but I revisited it and added a very wordy verse to it, put a 4/4 beat on it and that kind of made it new wave. It’s the song that I struggle to explain the most because it’s littered with phrases that don’t seem to make any sense when put together but if I was pressed into explaining it I’d say it’s about the chaos and unfocused nature of life versus the eventual clarity of a man on his death bed wondering if all the hustle-bustle was worth it.
No Turning Back : This song exists for one reason. Phil Gabriel needed a ballad. So I fell back on the deeply personal songs that used to make me cringe. Except this time because it was Phil Gabriel singing so I didn’t care. I think every songwriter has had a few “you help me up when I fall down” songs and this was the one that worked for me. The line: “I will not surrender, I will not retreat, I will stand by you, till the both of us are free” is one of the best things I’ve ever written in ink.
Computer Age : We were the last family in the street to get a video player, I was the last of all my friends to get a mobile phone and one of the last people I knew to eventually get a PC. The world of computers is very daunting one. I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like if I had never had a computer or a mobile phone and I’m pretty sure it would radically different. They have found their way into every facet of our life. One thing’s for sure, if things go the way they are going Computers will need us way less than we need them and when that happens we are all in big trouble. I view The Terminator as a wake-up call rather than a movie.Computer Age - Phil Gabriel
You Know Me, I Know You : This was the most serious song I had ever written. It was about being angry and not wanting anybody to ask what was wrong. It turned out to be quite a long song after we rehearsed it as we added a big jam section before the last chorus. When we played it live I would introduce each member of the band and they would each take a solo on their respective instruments. The jam section on the studio version contains a virtuoso guitar solo from Douglas Clarke the lead guitarist.
Enigma Girl : This almost doesn’t sound like it belongs on the album because of the synths. I love the chorus about her being “so hard to define” and I also get to use the word obfuscation which I’m quite proud of. This is about every really cool girl that I have ever sought after, so funny, cool and smart but for some reason or other completely unattainable, either because they are spoken for or just not into you.
Modern Life: “Modern life is hard sometimes” is my anthem for the people of today.
Import Export : It’s about unfair trade. It costs less to make stuff abroad and these people get paid lower wages to make it and yet people in this country are losing their jobs as well when stuff gets outsourced overseas. It’s hopelessly unfair and the only benefactors are the companies and the consumers who get things cheaper but the workers always get a raw deal...or something like that.
End of the Line : This is our show stopping, show closer. It’s about closure and moving on and it’s an anthem. I love singing this song.
S4L: Any plans to do any live promotion for the album?
GW: Yes, as much as we can. The band has played live before and it was well received. The performance side of things will be key, not many people know about the band and the only way for people to get us will be on the basis of seeing us live. It’s anybody’s guess as to how strangers will take us.
S4L: Are there any artists that you like that you have drawn inspiration from?
GW: I’m a huge fan of Springsteen, Genesis, Zeppelin, Floyd to name but a few but I can’t really put my finger on where the direct influence comes from. Bob Dylan and the Beatles made me want to play the guitar and write songs, so in those terms they are my biggest influences.
S4L:What is your favourite album, song, live show?
GW: Holy crap! Those are difficult questions. Probably Rumours by Fleetwood Mac or Yield by Pearl Jam.
Song is Born to Run by the Boss because you no-one will ever write a better song.
I haven’t been to many shows but Rush on the Time Machine Tour last year was a stand out.
S4L: Have you been able to play any of your music on your recent trip to the USA?
GW: Only opportunity was when Stuart (Rodent Emporium) told a couple of guys who were interviewing Rodent Emporium about it and they asked me to play a Phil Gabriel tune on their guitar. Aside from that and also the fact that Allan Forsyth who plays Bass for Rodent Emporium and also Phil Gabriel, I like to keep the two bands completely separate from one another.
S4L: You've been involved in music for quite a while now with bands etc, is Phil Gabriel something you hope to keep going for some time and how does it differ from working with a band for you?
GW: Phil Gabriel is the first opportunity I’ve had to showcase the more contemporary music that I write. Being in a band like Rodent Emporium is great because of the energy and the rush I get from playing that high octane stuff to a bunch of people who are going nuts for it I love playing with those guys. Being in a band for me is like playing in a football team, especially on tour. Everyone working together toward a common goal, we ride the same wave we win together and we lose together, equal partners all the way, it feels good standing on the same stage together side by side with them. In Phil Gabriel I steer the ship and it’s my vision and especially at this early stage I wonder if I can pull it off because Stuart of the Rodents is such an enigmatic front-man, he really commands the stage. It is really hard to be in that position. It puts a lot of strain on someone when you are on show every night like that. At least in Rodent Emporium I can blend into the background.
S4L: Best piece of advice you have been given?
GW: To whom much is given, much is required.
S4L: Future plans for Phil Gabriel?
GW: The name of the band may confuse some because it’s not a name of a guy anymore it’s the name of the band. I don’t mind if people call me Phil Gabriel coz that’s part of the fun but I won’t be talking with a public school educated Englishman’s accent anymore like I did in the early shows. Dave Grohl once said that if he’d known the Foo Fighters would get so big he wouldn’t have called them the Foo Fighters. We don’t care because we don’t know any different, that’s just what we’ve always known them as.
There will be a few people annoyed that the old persona or myth doesn’t exist anymore but it’s about looking forward, not back, I have a full album of new material already written to follow up this album with. I just hope people like what I’ve got to say and like the music. I’m open to whatever happens, I’m all for just putting it out there, opening every door that’s in front of me and seeing what happens. You have to be in it to win it.
Remember to checkout Phil Gabriel's Bandcamp Page to Listen and Download 'Intense Sense of Permanence'
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