Music Interview: Philip Rambow

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Music Interview: Philip Rambow

Someone once described Philip Rambow as ‘a musician’s musician’. 

The 71-year-old, UK-based, Canadian singer-songwriter was the frontman of almost famous ‘70s pub rockers The Winkies, who supported Brian Eno, Lou Reed and Wishbone Ash.

During a career that’s spanned almost 50 years, he once had Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson in his backing band, co‑wrote Kirsty MacColl’s hit ‘There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis’, and was part of both the US and UK punk and New Wave scenes, playing with Television at the legendary CBGB club in New York.

In 2015, he released his third solo album, Whatever Happened To Phil Rambow? In case you’re wondering what the answer to that question is, let me put you out of your misery. He’s alive and well and living in the Kent seaside town of Broadstairs. 

His latest record, Canadiana, is a mix of country/Americana, roots, blues, ragtime and heartfelt rock/pop ballads. 

Produced by Paul Cuddeford (Prefab Sprout, Energy Orchard), it features guest appearances from guitarist Martin Belmont (Graham Parker, Nick Lowe), drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello & The Attractions), bassist Davey Faragher (Costello, Cracker), vocalist Sharlene Hector (Basement Jaxx), pianist Geraint Watkins and fiddle player Bob Loveday (Penguin Café Orchestra).

There are also two songs recorded with Scottish singer-songwriter and producer Jack Henderson, who has worked with Marc Ribot and Joan As Police Woman.

Speaking to me on the phone from his home, Rambow says: “The album has all my old mates on it. It wasn’t an expensive record to make, but it’s one that I believe in completely.”

SH: You’re from Montreal, but you’re based in the UK. When did you move here?

PR: Judging by the sound of your voice, before you were born! I moved here in 1974.

That was the year I was born.

Oh right!

The title of your latest albumCanadiana, is a play on words – it references your Canadian roots, but also gives a nod to the Americana genre, which has influenced the sound of the record.

There is a genre in art called Canadiana, but it refers to books, like those written by Canadian novelists such as Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies and Mordecai Richler. There’s not a Canadiana genre as far as music is concerned. When digital music uploading started, people had to classify their music by using the dropdown menus that were available from the distributor. Guess what? Canadiana wasn’t one of them! 

You’ve got a few friends playing on the album. How did you get the musicians together and what were the sessions like?

A couple of years ago, we had a revival of The Tex Pistols [punkabilly band] and in order to make a record together, we had to get Pete Thomas to record his parts in L.A. He told me to get a click track for the right tempo, then put down some acoustic guitar and vocals, and send it to him to put the drums on, so that’s what we did with this album too – it’s the way everybody records.

On my previous album Whatever Happened To Phil Rambow? I did some extra recording with Paul Cuddeford – he introduced me to the great musician and arranger, James Knight, who was Kirsty MacColl’s partner when she died. James introduced me to Sharlene Hector, who did some beautiful stuff on that record, so, of course, I wanted to use her again on this album. I basically did the whole album in Paul Cuddeford’s bedroom – it’s his daughter’s, but it’s been allocated as a recording space. 

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