Phil Robson grew up in Derby in the East Midlands, UK. He became interested in rock music and took up the guitar at the age of 10. Jazz was never far away however as Phil’s father, Trevor Robson, was a superb semi- pro clarinetist & a popular figure on the local mainstream & traditional jazz scene. Phil’s mother, Janet, although not a musician herself, has a fine imagination and natural ear for music, & encouraged the budding musician. Phil rapidly made progress on his instrument, taking a few classes in classical guitar and other one off lessons, but was largely self taught until around the age of 14.
By an act of fortune or fate, they came across a small guitar shop in Burton Upon Trent, owned by John Richards. John is a highly renowned session musician & guitarist who, at the time, was the house guitarist at the ‘Royal Shakespeare Company’ in Stratford Upon Avon & Phil began to study with him on a regular basis over the next couple of years. John encouraged a great knowledge of many styles & skills & immeasurable progress was made in this period. This era coincided with Phil’s discovery of the music of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker & Barney Kessel (the latter whom Richards had himself studied with) in his father’s record collection, which had a profound impact on him whilst simultaneously still loving Black Sabbath, Zep & Jimi Hendrix. In a short time, Phil had begun to sit in on Trevor’s gigs.
The final piece of the jigsaw slotted into place on discovery of ‘Brownes’ Jazz club run by Geoff Wright of ‘Derby Jazz’. This was a thoroughly ‘modern’ jazz club & it enabled Phil to see the vanguard of visiting London bands such as Django Bates, Clark Tracey, Maggie Nichols & great South African influenced bands such as District 6.
By the age of 15/16, Phil was regularly playing Sunday lunchtime slots with ‘Sonus 4’, his father’s band & was beginning to play regularly at ‘Brownes’ notably duetting with John Etheridge & Dave Cliff plus a formative gig with Bheki Mseleku.
Phil attended Derby’s ‘Wilmorton College Of Further Education’ between 1986- 88. Although still continuing to develop & play gigs, that period was as much about investigating all aspects of life, but then, at the age 18, Phil moved to London to attend The Guildhall School Of Music & Drama, being the youngest person to ever do the post-grad jazz course at the time. The course was only for 1 year so, on leaving, Robson jumped straight into the deep end & has remained a professional musician since that time, being totally based in London until very recently where he now spends half of his time on the fabulous Kent coast. His association with ‘Derby Jazz’ however, continues to the present day.
The first few years of being a London pro musician were scattered, but Phil played part time with the ‘National Youth Jazz Orchestra’ where significantly he met long time musical friend & future co- leader of Partisans, Julian Siegel, as well as many others including sadly departed drummer Chris Dagley. Siegel & Robson moved into a ‘jazz monastery’ in East Ham around 1990, a house full of musicians where they played and checked out music day & night, much to the great tolerance of the neighbours!
Phil then played in a a punk/funk/rock band called ‘Nimlet’ for a couple of years with incredible, maverick singer & keyboard player, Alex Lewis, which was very influential in the further broadening of Robson’s sonic palette & concept of time.
Importantly, around the same time, Phil became associated with the original ‘Vortex Jazz Club’ in Stoke Newington, Hackney, playing with many ex- ‘Loose Tubes’ musicians such as Julian Arguelles & Steve Buckley, which led to later gigs with Django Bates’ ‘Delightful Precipice’.
The Vortex went on to be a seminal part of Phil’s musical life in the 90’s and ‘Partisans’ could not have been formed without the club’s ‘open’ musical policy, as well as being a factor in beginning a long time partnership with the great singer/songwriter, Christine Tobin. After a brief period living in Bow in East London, Robson went on to move to Stoke Newington, where he lived for many years. The N16 area is multi cultural, bristling with creativity of all sorts, & was particularly so in that period, when so many great musicians & artists were living there before the next decade’s gentrification process kicked in.
It is hard to categorise Robson’s style of playing & writing, as so many influences & experiences have gone into the melting pot.
Earlier, prevailing influences such as Hendrix & Miles, Parker, Kessell etc blend with many elements from the wider jazz world such as Ornette Coleman, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner etc as well as with dimensions from African & Brazilian music, 20th century composers & contemporary musicians of all kinds as well as maintaining a respect for the entire jazz tradition. He has recorded many solo & co-led CDs for the ground breaking indie label ‘Babel’ & more recently for ‘Whirlwind recordings Ltd’. Since re-locating to NYC Phil is rapidly become one of the leading lights on his instrument on the scene there.
In purely guitaristic terms, a large cross section (Wes, Kessell, Page, Martino, Hall, Eubanks, Frisell, Metheny, Scofield etc, etc) are apparent in the mix, but the end result has created an individual way of playing that prompted US sax legend David Liebman to say “Phil is a wonderful guitarist and composer, definitely a unique player. We had a ball and hopefully I will be able to play with Phil again.“