Posting publicly about a funeral feels slightly odd, but it seems remiss not to mark the passing of Phil Miller, a giant of the Canterbury scene, with as many respectful words as this forum will allow.
Whilst hardly claiming to know Phil well personally, I was lucky enough to meet him enough times to feel that I could at least pay my respects, and so my travel plans to get down to Canterbury for the Sound event the day after were hastily re-arranged on hearing that Phil’s funeral would be held in Plaistow last Friday.
The crematorium service was a simple one, presented by a neighbour (and apologies for not catching the name) with both a sensitivity for Phil’s qualities both personally and as a musician. Whilst the service was topped and tailed with extracts from Phil and Fred Baker’s beautifully gentle album ‘Double Up’, the centrepiece of the ceremony was a series of speeches, including an opening from Aymeric Leroy, providing something of a tribute to Phil’s musical pedigree. A series of more personal thoughts and reminiscences followed from many of Phil’s friends and collaborators such as Hatfieldist Alex McGuire, Caravan guitarist Doug Boyle, bassist Jack Monck (who accompanied Phil at the start and end of his musical career with Delivery and the Relatives); and musical soulmate Fred Baker. Mark Hewins gave a very moving off the cuff speech, whilst musician and author Henk Weltewreden read his own bitter-sweet and very funny piece based around the lyrics to Phil’s ‘God Song’. The prevailing themes of the speeches were Phil’s loving gift of music; the meticulous nature of his playing and composing, his striving for the perfectly fine-tuned arrangement in both him and others; his fierce loyalty; and his enduring love with Herm.
The wake was a beautifully informal affair at St Barnabas Hall in Dalston, with fine food downstairs and a succession of musicians playing the best of Phil’s music upstairs, such as ‘Underdub’, ‘God Song’, ‘Above and Below’ and ‘It Didn’t Matter Anyway’. I lost some of the detail of the particular denominations who played whilst chatting to various guests including the likes of Bill MacCormick, Yumi Hara, Geoff Leigh and Rick Biddulph, but there were combinations of In Cahoots musicians including Jim Dvorak and Pete Lemer; a fabulous reprise of a Miller/Baker duo number with Fred taking Phil Miller’s guitar line whilst Jack Monck played bass; Phil’s most recent collaborator Marc Hadley on sax; Theo Travis on flute; Mark Hewins on guitar and many many more. I felt very privileged to have been there – the mood was sombre but Phil’s spirit prevailed….