Philip Jeays is a singer-songwriter from Midhurst, West Sussex, who works in the French “chanson” tradition, or as he puts it, “Songs with a strong lyrical content. I’m not interested in being modern or cuttingedge, I’m just interested in the art of songwriting, just music and words.
Songs can be funny or sad or romantic or angry, they can tell stories or pass comment, but they should hopefully always be straightforward and easily understandable.”
He has sung on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, performed at the Edinburgh Festival four times, at the Vancouver International Comedy Festival and at the Wigmore Hall in London. He was most recently seen supporting comedian Robin Ince on tour.
Jeays performs with his band at Upstairs At Three And Ten at 8pm on Thursday, September 22. For tickets, call 07800 98329
Which film star/musician/artist/writer do you admire?
Jacques Brel, a Belgian, and in my opinion simply the greatest singer/songwriter/performer who ever lived. He had been dead for three years by the time I first saw a clip of him singing Amsterdam on the telly in France in 1981, but it was a mind-blowing experience that changed my life. Up until that point (having been a punk rocker) I’d thought the only way to be powerful on a stage was to shout into a microphone while someone played an electric guitar as fast as they could behind you – and yet here was a man in a suit singing with an orchestra and nobody else before or since has ever been able to touch him. Marc Almond described him as the first punk. I’ve spent my entire singing career trying to copy him.
Which TV programme couldn’t you live without?
None really – though recently I really, really loved The Killing on BBC4 and I’ve just watched Take Me Home again – I taped it off the TV in the 1980s. It’s a drama by Tony Marchant and it’s just wonderful.
I see that all three episodes are now up on YouTube; I highly recommend it, but if you watch it there don’t read any of the comments as they tell you how it ends. Some people seem to love telling everyone when they know how something ends but obviously it just spoils it.
Do you remember the first record you bought – what was it, and where did you buy it?
The first single was Leader Of The Gang by Gary Glitter and the first LP was Aladdin Sane by David Bowie – both bought in about 1973 somewhere in Eastbourne where I grew up. Probably in Boots.
Tell us about any guilty pleasures lurking in your CD or film collections…
I asked my band about this – they said The Ting Tings.
I don’t think they’re the best band in the world but I certainly don’t think they’re naff. They remind me of some of the stuff that came through just after punk and they make me smile. The last song on their album, We Started Nothing, is over six minutes of just two chords, which frankly I find far more edgy and interesting than a lot of these poncy indie bands who basically just play pop music, but because they’re playing it on electric guitars they think they’re being alternative – but they’re just the mainstream masquerading as the alternative beneath identikit outsider haircuts. I’ve dodged this question a bit haven’t I? OK, I still have Supertramp and Emerson, Lake and Palmer LPs in my collection.
And I like Moonlighting by Leo Sayer. There.
Do you have a favourite film?
I love Nosferatu The Vampyre by Werner Herzog. Some people find it too slow but I find it achingly poignant – it inspired one of my songs, The Vampire’s Song.
But I think my favourite film is probably La Drôlesse by Jacques Doillon, a simple and beautiful film about loneliness and the innocence of love.
How about a favourite book?
The Lover by Marguerite Duras. She has a simplicity of style, which I think is incredibly difficult to achieve.
It’s a beautifully evocative book and that ending… I also love anything by Anne Tyler and Dylan Thomas’s poetry and prose – when I’m not trying to be Jacques Brel I’m trying to be Dylan Thomas.
Is there a song or individual piece of music you always come back to?
So many really – Amsterdam (or anything else) by Brel. I listen to a lot of classical music – Liszt’s piano sonata is a big favourite, as are Prokofiev’s piano concertos, and Drive In Saturday by David Bowie makes me think of being 11 and falling in love with a girl at school, Juliette Hohnen, my very first romantic failure. And I’d like the Eclogue For Piano And Strings by Gerald Finzi played at my funeral.
What are you reading at the moment?
And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison. I did a gig with him recently and he was kind enough to send me a copy.
I still haven’t thanked him.
Tell me about a live music/theatre/cinema experience that sticks in your memory...
I always go to anything by Stephen Sondheim – recently there was A Little Night Music at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, a wonderful production with Hannah Waddingham in the role of Desiree – she was superb. Also Into The Woods at the open-air theatre in Regents Park. But perhaps the most amazing theatrical experience of all so far has been Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman starring Brian Dennehy.