Phil Braithwaite Interview

Phil Braithwaite is one of the UK’s busiest guitarists.

Not only has he released two brilliant guitar tuition books, he has also graced the stage with violin virtuoso Vanessa Mae and former Westlife star, Shane Filan.

Phil was also one of the performers at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee bash in 2012.

As well as being an exceptional session musician, Phil is also building up a reputation as a producer and songwriter.

In this interview Phil disucsses his gigs with Vanessa Mae and Shane Filan, sigining boobs, and offers some advice on how to get into the session network.

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GK: Hi Phil, firstly thanks for talking to us today. 

You’ve been working with Vanessa Mae a lot recently. How did that gig come about?

PB: Yeah I have done a fair bit of touring with her for the last year and a half.

A few years ago I messaged every session musician fixer I could find with my music CV.

They all told me that they would put me on their books but I didn’t hear anything else from them.

So every 6 months or so I would email them with an update of my CV with the gigs and sessions I had been doing.

After a couple of years all of a sudden I got an email from one of the fixers asking if I was free to go to India for a gig.

So I obviously said yes.

I was then told Vanessa Mae’s manager wanted to meet me so I went and had a meeting with him in an all-too-glamourous Starbucks.

We chatted about what I had done before and who I had played with.

I was then told he would get in contact with me.

A few days passed and I had not heard anything so I messaged the manager to ask if they had made a decision.

I got a reply saying yes we want you and are you free next week to go to South America!

I went and picked up 34 tunes and had 10 days to learn them all off by heart.

Thankfully I did good so they kept me on.

GK: What is she like to work with?

maePB: Vanessa is amazing, she is a true virtuoso.

The girl has some serious chops on her.

We rarely get to hang out before a show but after the last show of the tour she always comes and chills with the band and has a drink with us.

She does’t come to many rehearsals so we rehearse to a rehearsal violin track on the backing track.

However all rehearsals are recorded so she listens to them and then we get a call from the manager saying what we need to change.

She is a true pro, she knows what she wants.

GK: You have also worked with Shane Filan lately, how does his gig compare to the Vanessa Mae job?

PB: Shane’s gig is the complete opposite of the Vanessa gig.

The Vanessa gig could not suit me more, I get to play instrumental virtuoso music to thousands of people in stadiums and theatres around the world.

What more could I ask for?

So when I got Shane’s gig I was happy but thought it wouldn’t be as rewarding musically.

But I was pretty wrong!

I had so much fun doing that gig.

I wasn’t always playing guitar, sometimes I was playing ukelele and backing vocals, but I had a great time.

Met some great mates, played at some amazing places and had some incredible experiences.

Shane’s fans are also so different to any fans I have ever seen.

So dedicated and welcoming and I think they would all agree they are all slightly mental.

GK: Do you have any other projects on the go at the minute?

PB: Yeah I am constantly busy.

If someone could invent a pill which meant I did not have to sleep I could get all the stuff done I need to do.

These days I am doing a lot of writing and producing.

Some of it for some of the biggest artists in the world so when that pays off you will see me driving around in my Ferrari!

Along with that I am working as musical director, songwriter and producer for an artist called Laura White from X Factor fame and a newly signed artist Rabia.

Exciting things to come!

GK: Have you had any embarrassing onstage moments?

PB: So many times I have walked on stage and forgotten to switch on my in ear monitor pack.

Then all of a sudden I’ll look over and see Vanessa really getting into what I think is silence and then realise that everyone is playing other than me and I have to rapidly turn my pack on!

Also some of my dance moves when I am on stage most people would class as embarrassing but I love it!

GK: What is your current set up like (guitars, amps, pedals, etc)?

PB: Well it changes for every gig.

I have 18 guitars, however my main guitar is made by Atlas Custom Guitars who I am an endorsee of.

It’s the most perfect versatile guitar I have ever played.

Anything you could want a guitar to do it does.

Along with that I often use my Gibson 335 for the right situations.

Other than that I have every kind of guitar by every major manufacturer out there.

Acoustic-wise I use my dad’s Ovation.

It’s about 20 years old and he has not seen it for most of that time because I have stolen it!

Amp-wise, I use a Fender Deville 2×12 combo.

It has an amazing clean sound and then I just use pedals for any crunch or gain sounds I want.

For Vanessa we can’t use amps so I have to use a multi-effects pedal where I endorse Korg multi effects pedals.

I am not the biggest fan of multi-effects but it does the job!

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GK: What advice would you give to any aspiring session musicians out there?

PB: Well the biggest thing people look for is experience.

Some of the biggest gigs I have ever done I have not even auditioned for.

I just got the gig off the strength of my CV and they assume that I will do a good job.

Obviously that doesn’t help if you have not got any big gigs under your belt.

I was in the same situation at one point.

The thing that started getting me good gigs was that I had a lot of experience gigging.

I generally do around 200-250 gigs a year so I was getting a lot of experience and that looks great on your CV.

So my advice would be gig as much as possible.

Even if it is open mic nights, do one of those a week and you will be playing 52 nights a year.

It’s a great start to anyone’s career!

GK: You have also had two guitar tuition books published. Why did you decide to pursue that particular route?

PB: Well I used to do a lot of teaching at colleges and universities and I would quite often teach my own concepts on various aspects of music.

The students seemed to like it ‘cos it was a unique take on various musical concepts.

As I said earlier I do a couple of hundred gigs a year and I was teaching loads too, so I decided to give up teaching as it was getting too much.

I didn’t want my teaching concepts to go to waste so I thought writing books was a good way for my teachings to live on.

GK: Are there any more books in the pipline?

PB: Yeah I have one more about half done.

It’s a guitar comedy book this time.

I don’t want to give the idea away ‘cos it’s a pretty cool one!

I have not been able to do any work on it however for about 9 months as gigs, sessions, writing and producing have been taking up all my time.

Hopefully within the next year I will get it finished.

GK: Do you have a practice routine or any go-to exercises that you work on regularly?

PB: Having an opportunity to practice these days would be amazing.

I spend most of my time travelling to places to play or in the studio so I don’t have the time I used to.

When I was younger at uni and college I would spend 8-15 hours a day practicing.

I was never one for routines though.

I have tried but I would get bored after a couple of days and forget about it.

I have always just played what interests me at the time.

Maybe that thing will stay with me for a week or a couple of months but I did it cos I was excited to do it rather than forcing myself to do it.

I think that is why I have a lot of passion for music rather than it feeling like a discipline.

The only thing I regularly make sure I keep on top of is my picking.

Picking used to be a weakness of mine but I worked on it so much over the years that it has now become one of my strengths.

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GK: The question of technical ability (how fast you play, can you sweep pick etc) is almost the guitarists equivalent to “how big is your cock?”

How important do you find technique in the majority of jobs you do?

I cant imagine Shane Filan has you performing neo-classical, sweep picked arpeggios up and down the fretboard every 5 minutes…

PB: Well I have never had any complaints!

Usually if you get your chops out (or you cock for that matter) on a gig you will not be asked back.

If you don’t get on the sex offenders register you will certainly get on the chops offenders register!

Generally no one cares that I can tap with 7 fingers but they care if you make the artist sound great.

Vanessa Mae is the only gig I have ever done where I am actively encouraged to fly all over the fretboard.

So having a lot of technique is something for me rather than others.

It is useful though as I am never in a situation where I can’t physically play something.

Well that’s a lie, there has been two occasions in my life that something has stumped me on a session but lets not talk about those.

GK: As a session musician do you get your fair share of groupies after a gig?

PB: I have been known to sign a boob or two after a gig and I didn’t even have to pay for it!

GK: Do you prefer live or studio work?

PB: I am not the biggest fan of studio work as just a guitarist.

I much prefer it when I am producer and in charge of everything.

That’s because I am a control freak!

Live work is what I have done my whole life and that is what I know the best.

For me nothing beats playing live and getting a vibe off the audience.

GK: Finally, what would your dream gig be?

PB: I couldn’t ask for more than some of the gigs I have already done.

Saying that though I would love to do the Zappa Plays Zappa gig.

Again it is challenging music playing to thousands of people and I love the music of Frank Zappa, a true genius.

However I doubt I would get the gig as the main guitarist is Dweezil Zappa (Frank’s son), so seeing that my last name is not Zappa I would struggle to get in.

Other than that a dream of mine would be to have Rihanna play one of my songs with a cool guitar part so Nuno Bettencourt could play it.

That would be even cooler than doing the gig myself!

GK: Thanks for your time, Phil. We look forward to seeing what the future holds from you!

More from Phil Braithwaite 

phil3For more info on Phil visit his website http://www.philbraithwaite.com.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Phil Braitwaite’s books are also available from Amazon at the following links:

Adventurous Open Chords

Developing Phrasing and Solos for Guitar