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I am almost happy, says voice of doom
BY his own admission, Phil Burdett has a reputation for being one of Southend’s grumpiest musicians – so fans may be surprised to learn his latest album has a less melancholic sound. In fact, it’s quite happy – almost.
Phil says: “It’s probably the best representation of the happier side of me. I’m well known for being miserable – people usually say ‘here comes the miserable sod’.
“I’m quite happy in myself, always have been. It’s just I can’t remember writing about things that have made me happy.”
Good for Mr Bad Hat – Phil’s name for his badly-behaved, drunken alter-ego from when he struggled with alcohol problems – is a collection of songs written not specifially for one album, but gathered from material written over many years.
He explains:“I usually have to have a theme or an idea or a set of songs that go together. This album is sort of what’s been left out but I’ve liked the songs enough to gather them together.
“They’ve come from various times, so the theme is bits of my past I’ve left behind.”
He adds: “Because my name is Burdett my nickname used to be Mr Bad Hat – when I was not being pleasant. I was an alcoholic for 11 years and it was the idea I could actually be this Bat Hat person in my mind.
“At the time I used to think to myself if I’d done anything appalling, I’d think of it as Mr Bad Hat, not me.
“Looking back, I think if I hadn’t done those things I wouldn’t have written these songs – so Good for Mr Bad Hat.”
The songs range from the recently penned – but looking at the past – to older material.
Phil says: “One of the songs is called Crossing Woolwich Ferry – when I was young my dad took me across.
“It was the first time I’d been on a boat and I thought I was going to New York.
“It was the most exciting thing I’d done in my life and I remember thinking, it was the first time I could remember feeling creative and inspired.”
It harks back to a time when Phil, who grew up in Basildon, was discovering his talent for music – a fascination that started when he was a youngster.
He says: “My brother taught me to play guitar. I was about five and it was a bit for his own entertainment.
“I think my family thought ‘let’s get him a guitar and see what he does with it’. If I’d tried to eat it, they’d’ve got me a bike or something.”
But play it he did, despite having an initial fear of music: “I remember hearing music when I was younger and it frightened me,” he says.
“They used to take me to the fairground and it used to really upset me that you could hear two songs at once.
“Also, my brother used to play Michelle by the Beatles, and I was scared of it.
“One day, my brother cracked the record and it used to skip and I remember thinking ‘now it’s quite creepy, but it’s broken the spell.’ “It used to freak me out, but when it was damaged I wasn’t under its power.”
Some of Phil’s current feeling of peace comes from a recent trip to Cornwall, where he found himself pondering the subject of death.
“Not in a bad way,” he adds. “In the sense that it is the end of the country, I had a great time there. I was really happy there, but there was this sense of the end of things.
“I started scribbling stuff, then gradually it was the most perfectly formed bunch of songs. Everyone dies, everyone slows down and reflects – it’s a good thing.”
But Phil reassures me he’ll be bringing back a gloomy note with releases planned for this year.
He says: “I’m releasing two more albums.
“Ten Fables of Shame is a kind of vanity blues and folk project. I thought ‘I fancy writing the blues. I fancy writing a folk song. I’ll get a band together to record it. It’ll be appalling.’ “White Feathers Sung in Shadow, that’s a sort of strange acoustic album.
“I’m now basking in the idea that I’ve become this joyous person – and I resent that. So the next few albums are going to sort that out – but with a wry smile. I don’t mind being the voice of doom.”
Good for Mr Bad Hat is out now. Visit www.philburdett.com