There’s a massive following for the uplifting and irresistible sounds of blues music. Devotees of all ages love the full range of emotions and style its songs and distinctive instrumentation encompass.
For Phil Mills, the blues has been a way of life, and he’s one of the very best exponents of this compelling genre, right here in East Sussex.
This multi-talented guitarist, harmonica player and vocalist who lives in Malling has performed the blues for over 25 years in venues and festivals across the UK and in Europe and has plenty of fans who enjoy hearing him play close to home.
His devotion to the unmistakable style of music that originated in the Deep South of America, but has won hearts all over the world, began when he was in his teens and remains just as strong today.
“I’ve been playing the guitar since I was a kid and studied classical guitar at school in the 1970s,” he recalls.
“When I was about 18, I heard a Chess Records album, and that inspired me to find out a lot more about that kind of music. As an avid collector with loads of vinyl, I had lots of blues. I learnt from the records, playing and listening to them over and over again, slowly working out how to play the blues.”
Phil found plenty of inspiration from recordings by the blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Little Walter.
“At first, I was listening to the ‘meat and veg’ blues players that everyone knows, but as I progressed, I got into more obscure artists. One of my favourites was Robert Nighthawk, a street musician. I remember hearing an album by him, Live on Maxwell Street in Chicago, and that inspired me to play the slide guitar.
“About 28 years ago, I started busking in Brighton, with people coming along and dropping small change into my bowl, and from that, I got two residencies in Brighton.
“One was at the blues pub, The Ranelagh, which isn’t there any more, and the other was to play in a Brighton restaurant every Sunday. That gave me the springboard to more gigs, and I knew then that’s where I wanted my career to go.
“I started getting more and more gigs and then began working with my colleague Roger. We called our band Smokestack and got a BBC session on Radio 2, on the Paul Jones Blues Show – that was impressive for us. Twenty-five years later Roger and I are still playing together in Smokestack.
“To this day I still like to busk with my band. We go to Windsor, Kingston, Guildford and Winchester. It’s an excellent PR exercise for us, and we get a lot of functions through it.”
Phil also performs with Red Jackson and the Brothers Crow, and he has recorded nine albums and featured as a guitarist on recordings by Pepe Deluxe and the Blue States. His stunning slide guitar work can be heard on the soundtrack for the Disney Film Holes and the film documentary Muhammed Ali: Through the Eyes of the World.
Lewes has always been an extraordinary place for this dedicated and multi-talented musician, and he is still sure to draw an enthusiastic audience when he plays there every week at the Lime Tree Kitchen.
“I’ve lived in and around Lewes since my son was born and he’s 21 now,” Phil says.
“The town is known for its independent spirit, and it’s great for creative people of all kinds. What appeals to me above all now is the surrounding countryside. My dog Moxie is a border collie cross, full of character and energy – I think her name means a female fighting spirit.
“My focus is giving her plenty of walks through the countryside, but from time to time, she does come to gigs with me. She likes gigs in pubs as she loves the attention she gets – and the treats. But she hasn’t started singing with me yet.
“I have three children that I’m very proud of, and Lewes has been a great place for them to grow up.
Although his work takes Phil all over the south of England, he especially enjoys performing at the Lime Tree Kitchen where local fans old and new can enjoy his unmistakable style of music.
“It’s a lovely restaurant, and I’m there on the last Friday of every month, with my duo the Brothers Crow and Lou Glandfield who plays fantastic boogie-woogie piano that is well worth listening to,” he says.
“As the saying goes, ‘be careful what you wish for’. I wished for a blues career, and that came true – I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else.”