BROTHERS IN ARMS with North East songwriter Phil Caffrey

I have been so fortunate to play with not only great musicians but great people. The icing on my musical cake has been sharing the stage with my two brothers Pete and Paul.

Newcastle based The Caffreys create an original mix of rock, roots and folk. They have earned a formidable reputation based on uplifting original songs and great musicianship. The full band or the smaller acoustic set up consist of some of the North East’s most respected musicians.

Recent live performances include Newcastle’s Live Theatre, The Mouth of The Tyne Festival, Durham Gala Theatre, The Pickering Engine Rally and The Sage in Gateshead. I caught up with Phil who looked back on his early days in music….

We had many high points on stage, playing Newcastle City Hall was always great, gigs in Paris, Domefest in Durham and many great UK theatres.

In the early ‘70s we were trying to get a recording deal and in those days you had to gig in London to get record companies to come and see you. They would write to let you know if they were interested or not. We had a wooden partition in the van and we would pin up the refusals from record companies on it, this made us more determined to get a deal which we did in 1975 with DJM. We released two albums and 4 singles over the next three years, but not much success to be honest.

When did you first get interested in music ? We used to listen to our older brothers records in the late ‘50s early ‘60s – Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Little Richard and many others.

My maiden performance was when I was 7 in 1959. It was in our parent’s front garden with my two brothers Pete 10, and Paul who was 5. Pete strummed the guitar and we all sang, we loved singing in harmony. Our older brother Gerard who also played helped us. Other children would come and watch us and that gave us a good grounding and enhanced our childhood.

On 17th December 1964 we did a 30 minute performance at school and I still have the letter the headmaster sent our parents congratulating us on our performance. I have been so fortunate to make music with my brothers, this is my 8th decade making music from the late 1950’s to 2020.

What was your experience of being in a band in the beginning and when was your first time in a recording studio ? I was in local bands and school bands until we formed Arbre in 1971. We played a gig on July 11th 1971 at Change night club in Newcastle. We invited loads of friends and made £25, this allowed us to go into Impulse Studio to record an album of original songs.

It was a sunny Sunday in August, we rehearsed the songs to the point that we recorded everything in one take. It was our first experience in a studio and we really enjoyed it. I still have the only copy of that album, it’s where it all started.

Another time in the studio was in 1980 where Pete, Paul and myself had a single released on Phonogram records. The song was written by local song writer Steve Thompson and produced by the late great Gus Dudgeon (Elton John). Some great local musicians played on it including Alan Clark, Barry Spence and Paul Smith.

Did you support any name bands ? In 1972 we played in Tynemouth Priory with another North East band, Prelude, on a rainy July day, we all got on well. Then we supported Fairport Convention and Jim Capaldi on nationwide UK tours playing in Scotland right down to Brighton.

We also supported Martha Reeves and the Vandellas at Blackpool Tiffanys, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver at Liverpool boxing stadium, where the ring was the actual stage. From ‘75 to ‘78 we played mainly colleges and universities as well as City Halls.

The Caffrey Brothers played the Mouth of the Tyne festival in Tynemouth Priory and Bents Park in South Shields where we supported The Hollies and Lindisfarne.

What other musicians have you worked with ? In 1985 local musician and great friend George Lamb and I signed a publishing deal with Axis Music. Over the next three years we wrote songs with Keith Emerson and for Kiki Dee. We also sang backing vocals on Saxon’s Destiny album. I also sang backing vocals on albums by Vow Wow and Onslaught.

In 1987 George and I sang backing vocals for a Steve Thompson song called I Want You. This was one of ten songs entered into a competition to see which one would represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. Sadly we didn’t win but it was another episode in my musical journey.

In 1989 I went to Miami to work with Yngwie Malmsteen (Swedish guitarist/song writer). We worked on some songs but nothing came of them.

Have you any road stories ? We went to Paris in ‘77 and played the Nashville Rooms. Steve Marriott of The Small Faces came along on two nights, we chatted with him and he seemed to like the band. One of the nights was the day Elvis died, I will never forget it.

On one occasion we were going on a tour to Germany and set off to drive for the ferry. We stopped on our way for a cuppa and Roger our lead guitarist made a quick phone call to make sure everything was ok. He came back to the van to tell us the tour was off, there was a problem with the tour organiser, that was a bit of a downer to say the least.

What are you doing now ? Now to 2020 the journey continues. I am still in a band called The Caffreys and we still perform original songs. We only play gigs we want to, we don’t play many gigs as there are not many opportunities out there at the moment.

In 2016 we entered UK’s Best Part Time band competition. It was great fun and out of 1200 bands we made the final 6 in Manchester.

What does music mean to you ? Music means more than I can put into words to be honest. The fact that I am still teaching and playing is testament to that. I never get tired of it and I feel really fortunate to still be part of it after all these years. My son said that I live in a musical bubble, I think he’s right, how lucky I am.

 The Caffreys line up:

Phil Caffrey: vocals, guitar
Michael Bailey: bass, vocals
Rachael Bailey: violin, accordion, vocals
Mark Anderson: guitar, vocals.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2020  

 

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