Event review: Phil Beer at the Stanley Halls, South Norwood, Thursday 25th February


By - Wednesday 16th March, 2016

Anne Giles catches up with an old favourite for a night of music and memories


Photo author’s own.

My husband Steve and I went along to the Stanley Halls in South Norwood on Thursday 25th February to see Phil Beer, who we have known for years, play a solo gig. He also plays in the Phil Beer band and is part of the Show of Hands partnership.

Phil is a top fiddler and also plays slide, Spanish and tenor guitar, mandocello, viola, mandolin and South American cuatro, not to mention his rich vocals. His inspiration for acoustic music came from listening to the late Davey Graham, a British guitarist who was one of the most influential figures in the British folk revival.

Phil played his first gig at fourteen and started working as a duo with Paul Downes in 1974. He then moved into the Arizona Smoke Review and was a key member of singer-songwriter Johnny Coppin’s band. He was also a member of the feted Albion Band from 1984 to 1991, who incidentally played at our wedding in 1990 and even allowed Steve and me to join them on stage for a couple of numbers!

Phil has also guested on the Rolling Stones’ ‘Steel Wheels’ album

Show of Hands became a full time partnership in the early 1990s, and has gone on to sell out the Royal Albert Hall three times. Phil has also guested on The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels album.

He’s a top entertainer and tells great stories; we laughed when he told us that he had played at a country house event where they all wore fancy dress and someone thought he was the Marquess of Bath!

His Stanley Halls gig started off with a Johnny Cash song, ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’, about a young lad who wants his father to buy him a pistol but his mother is not happy and refers to it as the devil’s right hand.

Young Phil played ‘Cocaine Blues’ at a grammar school charity concert and was taken off after two verses

One of the numbers that Phil learned at the age of 14 from the Davey Graham album in 1964 was ‘I Can’t Keep From Cryin’ Sometimes’. I can relate to that one. The first one that he learned from that album was called ‘Cocaine Blues’ and when the young Phil was asked to play at a PTA charity concert at a grammar school, he chose that one. They took him off after two verses! At that age he never understood what the song was about. “Cocaine running around my brain” didn’t impress the organisers, though.

One of his regular songs is ‘The Blind Fiddler’. The fiddler is a long way from home and is sad and lonely and condemned to roam. Then we had a West Country traditional song collected in 1901, ‘April Morning’, all about false young men (I have met one or two of those in the past!).

‘The Warlike Lads of Russia’ is an adaptation of a broadside ballad; very topical if you have been following the television version of War and Peace.

Then we had a Tom Lehrer song, ‘I Will Hold Your Hand in Mine, Love’. Sounds romantic, except that he had killed the lady and cut her hand off. Not nice at all…

At his age, Phil told us ruefully, roadies are now referred to as ‘carers’

A really romantic song was ‘Bus Stop’, which was recorded by The Hollies many years ago. The narrator meets a lady at the bus stop and shares his umbrella with her. Every morning he waits for her, standing under his umbrella. A nice finale is provided when they end up together.

Another song that I liked was written by American singer songwriter Richard Shindell, who incidentally lives round the corner from my old childhood home in Buenos Aires. ‘The Next Best Western’ is the title. We have stayed in one or two of those.

Phil’s humour is fantastic. At one point he mentioned that his usual roadie was away and that at his age roadies are now referred to as ‘carers’! The encore was a song written by singer-songwriter Randy Newman, with the catchy title of ‘Simon Smith and his Dancing Bear’, about a sincere young man of modest means who entertains affluent members of the public with his dancing bear.

I gather that Phil is hoping to bring his Phil Beer Band to the Stanley Halls some time next year and I would urge you all to go to this event. We will certainly be there.

Anne Giles

Anne Giles

I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the daughter of an Anglo-Argentine mother and English father. I went to an English school and worked for a British company out there before coming to live in the U.K. I spent many years teaching Spanish in adult education in various centres in Croydon Borough and have got to know so many different areas – North and South. We have been living in Selsdon since 1989 and I love it. I feel passionately about Croydon and have spent many years writing blogs – firstly for the Croydon Advertiser, then the Croydon Guardian, and eventually my own blog entitled “The Good Life in Croydon”. I am very much involved in the community, attending regular meetings with the Croydon Community Police Consultative Group and am also a member of the British Transport Police PACT (Police & Community Together) Team.

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