Following the encouragement of a teacher, Phil furthered his passion for art academically and enrolled at Hugh Baird College in Bootle. Within weeks he became the singer of a band, replacing a recently departed vocalist. A ferociously drilled rock n’ roll quintet Skyfall were piloted by the impressive axe work of lead guitarist Dave Cunningham. With setlists comprising covers and their own material the young band were in thrall to the sounds of the era: Led Zeppelin, Free and The Faces.
Quickly amassing a local following Skyfall caught the eye of legendary promoter Roger Eagle, who booked the group for two support slots at the aforementioned Liverpool Boxing Stadium. “It was great being on that stage, I was only a kid. Nineteen and it’s bloody huge” Phil recalled. The two performances saw the five-piece supporting Welsh proto-metallers Budgie in December 1974 and hard rock outfit Be Bop De Luxe the following June.
The buzz around the group piqued the interest of Liverpool based label Stag, founded by local business entrepreneur Alan J. Richards. Initially established to release live recordings from Liverpool’s booming cabaret circuit, Stag branched out into rock music. A definite rarity in the pre-punk era when independent labels outside the capital were virtually non-existent, the company became the city’s first ever label.
Issuing records by Merseyside acts who had been overlooked by London based companies, the releases were designed primarily for groups to sell at their gigs. Due to the expense of professional recording studios in the period, the discs also acted as a high-quality demo tape for artists wishing to approach bigger record labels. “It was just a thing to hawk round” Phil shrugs.
A 7”, limited-edition four track EP with artwork designed by Phil, First Breath appeared in 1975. While the disc was to be the band’s only release with the members going their separate ways not long after, the EP included a harbinger of things to come. The set’s closing cut, the prog rock tinged Sailor’s Sympathy, Phil’s sole songwriting credit was a departure from Skyfall’s rock n’ roll foundations. A hint of where he was heading, the track pointed the way forward to the first band Phil was de facto leader of, Next.
You can listen to Skyfall First Breath on your chosen platform here.