Saxophone player and arranger Phil Veacock was born in High Wycombe Buckinghamshire in 1964.
His first adventures in music began when he was at primary school and learned the descant recorder. He became somewhat obsessed with this instrument and something of a virtuoso, sometimes playing it with his nose. With a few other children he became part of the recorder ensemble that would play in assembly every day.
“It set us apart from the rest of the rabble and seriously coloured my worldview leading to me wanting to witness Life from the bandstand ever since.” he says.
Parallel to this, he joined the church choir where he rose through the ranks to become head chorister, the most angelic-looking and thus best paid.
But the recorder was proving not to be enough. His nose had begun to hurt. He needed more.
“For some reason my parents got me a clarinet. My teacher was an RAF bandsman named Bill Watson and excitingly, he played actual gigs in a proper band. Sometimes he would interrupt my lessons to speak to someone on the phone about how much it would cost them to book him and his band. He got me into a local wind band and from there I progressed to orchestras and a better Concert band.”
But again something was not quite right. Bands on Top of the Pops didn’t have clarinets in (well…rarely) Phil needed more and found it in
“ I asked for, and amazingly, got, a saxophone for Christmas. Because of my already fairly competent clarinet-ing I found that I was able to perform adequately on the saxophone too and from that to playing in bands was a short step.”
The first of these was the ‘Wowdy Webels’ who were as good as their name suggests..
Upon arrival at Christchurch College Canterbury to study music and film he joined an already extant band called ‘The Larks’.
“Essentially this band consisted of two people who just couldn’t agree musically- one loved Punk and the other loved Funk and the resulting collision of styles proved extremely pleasing not to say popular. So popular in fact that once we all left college we decided to move the band to London and try to make the Big Time.
“We made records and got into The Charts. We were on the telly and everything but finally we imploded in a puff of musical and personal acrimony. It was 1989.
Wondering what to do now, I was standing in for someone one evening in a pub in Deptford playing with an unlikely collection of musicians called ‘The Deptford Dance Orchestra’. That was the evening that Ronnie Burrow took Jools Holland to see Deptford’s newest big band.”
Together with Roger Goslyn , Paul Bartholomew and a trumpet player called Mark Jordan, Phil was invited to go and record at Helicon Mountain for Jools’ solo album ‘A World Of His Own’. Appearing as ‘The Deptford Dance Horns’ they recorded “The Maiden’s Lament” with Phil contributing a solo.
Shortly after that they appeared with Jools on ‘Wogan’ Terry Wogan’s long-running chat show and subsequently became part of the band.
“There have been quite a few changes in 21 years! The band has grown organically into the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra of today – a development I’m particularly pleased about as it is a great joy to be able to arrange for that many people. Also the personnel of the band is so amazingly talented. Each individual brings a unique voice to the whole. Its fantastic! ‘
“ A lot of people it seems don’t quite understand what an arranger does so I’ll attempt to explain.
Imagine Jools on his piano has just played you a new piece of music he’s just written. Your task is to take that piece of piano music and get it played by everyone in the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. How are you going to do it? Are you going to get all the brass instruments to play the tune? If so are all the instruments going to play the same notes at the same time? That might not sound so good! A bit like trying to make a delicious meal using only one ingredient.
Music is made up of melody harmony rhythm and timbre. The arranger, like a chef, has to mix these elements together to make a fabulous and enticing whole.”
Throughout his 21 years with Jools Phil has played with, and arranged for, virtually everyone of note in the musical world.
“ Dave Swift on his website attempted to list everyone we’ve played with over the years but it proved to be a Herculean task!” Phil says. ‘ He said it would have been easier to have compiled a list of who we HADN’T worked with….!”
There have been personal highlights though.
“ I’m a huge Soul music fan and I have been extraordinarily lucky to work with THE greatest names in the genre. Legends like: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Pops & Mavis Staples, Booker T, Candi Staton, Chaka Khan, George Benson, Solomon Burke, Barry White, Sam Moore, Edwin Starr and Eddie Floyd.
Jazz and Blues people too like Dr John, Buddy Guy, Slim Gaillard, Irma Thomas David Sanborn and the late John Dankworth. There are literally too many to name. One of my highlights was playing the solo on ‘Lady Madonna’ on ‘Later’ with Sir Paul McCartney. It’s the only saxophone solo in the whole of The Beatles output & the original one is played by Ronnie Scott. So it was a huge honour.
One last highlight. A few years ago Kylie Minogue was on the Hootenanny New Year’s Eve show. We were doing a slow number with her in which she took it upon herself to writhe about on top of Jools’ piano. For some reason Jools was called away so I had to rehearse the band from the piano with Kylie writhing about and stroking me.
Sometimes it’s a tough job….”