Phil Hooley is the founder member and frontman for the alt country band The Woolgatherers. On 14th May 2021 he released his first solo album “Songs From The Back Room”.
Recorded mostly during lockdown, the album is the result of a chance meeting between Phil and former Nashville drummer and producer Justin Johnson in Phil’s hometown Scarborough. “Justin put a post on Facebook, asking if anyone in the Scarborough area was writing Country/Americana songs, so I got in touch. We met up for a coffee and a chat in January 2020 and soon realised we had shared opinions on music. I told him about past recordings with The Woolgatherers and my ideas for recording the next selection of songs.”
Justin had more or less been brought up in a recording studio. He originates from Washington State but then moved to Nashville, working as a session drummer and in recording studios. He moved to England and had been working in Liverpool for a few years, where he had built up connections with some top musicians. Justin’s influence helped ensure a stellar line-up of musicians grace “Songs From The Backroom”, including Ben Smith, Robert Vincent, Andrea Zonn (long time fiddle player for James Taylor), Simon Goulding, (an in demand bass player, who has played with the likes of Snake Davis), Scott Poley who played most of the pedal steel and Justin himself, who plays drums and assorted percussion.
The songs reflect the emphasis Phil places on lyrics, telling stories of everyday people and their emotions, “I enjoy people-watching, and often make up back stories about some poor passer-by, which are probably wildly inaccurate, but I find it a great source of inspiration for songwriting. I suppose I am telling my own story through these made-up characters, with a dollop of poetic license!
Phil cites songwriters such as Guy Clark, John Prine and Nick Lowe among his many influences, and he has certainly served his time on the circuit, performing on the Yard stage at Black Deer Festival and The Cambridge Folk Festival Club Stage, as well as countless intimate back room bars. Phil says, “I suppose you could say I am a late bloomer, having played for many years on the circuit, but never putting myself out there as a writer of songs. I’m not one for explaining the stories behind my songs. I would like to think that they are fairly self-explanatory, although I accept they may mean different things to different people. That is the wonderful thing about sharing music.”
In February 2022, Phil released the single “Some Say”.
The song is quite a personal one dedicated to one of Phil’s best friends from his school days. They played as a duo for many years. He was a particularly gifted musician, and sang lovely harmonies and they had a lot of fun playing in pubs. Sadly he lost his battle with alcohol a few years ago, but he taught Phil a great deal about music, and made it a lot of fun. Phil often thinks of him now, especially when he is performing. Although this is a sad story, Phil has some very pleasant and often hilarious memories of their time together. If it hadn’t been for his encouragement, he wouldn’t be writing and playing now.
The single is the first track to be taken from the album “Provenance” released in April 2023. It features Phil Hooley on acoustic guitar and vocals, Dave Sims on bass, and Scott Poley on additional acoustic guitars. The track was recorded at Beckview Studios, Scarborough, produced by Justin Johnson and mastered by Jim Demain at Yes Master Studios in Nashville.
The second single to be taken from the album Provenance was The Veteran’s Song. It has been hailed as one of Phil’s most poignant songs, dedicated to those survivors whose lives have been affected by conflict, but who remain largely forgotten and isolated.
As an album Provenance has received some glowing reviews:
“An easy confidence comes through from an artist who knows just what works with his voice and words.” – Americana UK
“As a listener you are drawn in by the lyrics that demand your full attention.”
“The Veteran’s Song evokes memories of the work of someone like Townes Van Zandt.” – Rootstime
“Provenance is not a foot tapper perhaps but one to curl up with at the end of a day and let it slowly seep into the bloodstream”
Having received radio plays on the Ralph McLean Show (BBC Radio Ulster) the song The Key has been the most listened to song of the album according to the streaming platforms, and so it was released as a single at the end of May 2023.
Meanwhile, Phil is busy with gigs throughout the year, performing at festivals and other venues.