Dudley Phillips

Double basses, aliens and tiny trains
The life and work of band member Dudley Phillips

By Diane Sewell, for The Loreena McKennitt Community

Dudley Phillips, one of the U.K.’s most sought after double bass players, at one point thought he’d go after an English and drama degree at a Manchester university, but it turned out to be just a fork in the road. “I quickly realized ‘this is not for me’. I knew I needed to pursue my dream of becoming a musician.”

For a time, his father was a professional pianist around London, England, but he was also a successful full-time crime novelist who wrote under the nom de plume Peter Chambers. Whether by nature or nurture, Dudley ended up following in his father’s footsteps – with both feet in.

First picking up a nylon-string guitar at age seven, Dudley regards himself as a self-taught musician. In 1984, he was awarded a year-long scholarship at the highly-regarded Guildhall School of Music & Drama, but by then his career was already gaining momentum. By the mid-1980s and beyond, his professional music career had fully taken flight and he’s never looked back since. “Somehow, I’ve managed to fool everybody,” he jokes.

“We’ve been so blessed to work with Dudley and experience his incredible diversity and flexibility in playing the bass,” says Loreena. “He brings such feeling and strength in the groove or motion of a piece, which can so profoundly affect its personality, texture and sensibility. Aside from that, it’s always great fun when we’re on tour to see what he comes back with from the miniature train shops.”

Dudley first met Loreena in 2010. He plays on her Lost Souls and Live at The Royal Albert Hall albums and has been part of the band on a number of tours, including the year-long 2019 Lost Souls Tour.  “I think the first time I ever played with Loreena was in Zurich and there’ve been several hundred others since then, the two most memorable venues being the Ancient Amphitheater of Fourvière in Lyon, and the Odeon of Herodes at the Acropolis in Athens.

We’ve played in some incredible places,” he says. “And I love working with Loreena. There are a lot of challenges in her music and with merging different styles.”

Over the course of his career, Dudley has played with a diverse range of artists, including the late Amy Winehouse, Mark Knopfler and Bill Withers, to name just a few. In 2018, he jointly won the Jazz FM ‘Live Performance of the Year’ with the Orphy Robinson group. Touring has taken him around the globe several times over and he’s performed at most major international festivals.

Like so many musicians, he’s had to apply his talent in various corners. “As a musician, you can’t make a living unless you’re doing a number of different things.” Those things include teaching students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama via Zoom classes.  He’s also in the process of writing a children’s book about tiny, homicidal aliens that land in somebody’s backyard. “I guess I must have picked up the gene,” he laughs, referring to his musician/novelist father.

He’s also been working on the music for an original play based on an American cargo ship, the William Brown, which sank in 1841 while carrying mostly Scottish immigrants headed for The New World. It hit an iceberg near Newfoundland and the captain and crew sacrificed their passengers to save themselves. The story, says Dudley, tragically echoes the current plight of so many Syrian and North African migrants who’ve drowned at sea while seeking a better life. The play’s composer is Rihab Azar, a Syrian Oud player whose father now lives in London, Canada and happens to knows Loreena. Dudley has also recently completed three live (audience-less) streaming gigs with Yazz Ahmed, a British-Bahraini trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer.

Over the years, Dudley’s released two solo albums, including the 2017 BASSheARTMANtra, where he plays tracks entirely on basses using live looping /sequencing and his own singing. He describes it as, “a reflection of all my influences from the U.K. and elsewhere, which include early Bowie, English folk music, prog rock, soul and jazz – mashed up, solo-ed, deconstructed and re-arranged.”

In his spare time – which he has a lot more of since the pandemic struck – he likes to collect tiny toy trains, known as Z scale trains (they’re 1:450 scale and the engines neatly fit between two fingers). While touring with Loreena he’d slip away during off hours to browse local shops for finds.

Dudley lives in London, England with his Italian wife Elisabetta, a former journalist-turned-caterer. They have two sons in their early 20s. Ben is a rapper known as BEN DSP, and Marco is studying sociology and criminology at York University.

Like most musicians, Dudley is anxious to get back on the road. “I definitely do miss touring and playing in front of people, and I miss seeing different places.

He also enjoys touring in Canada and hopes to do more of it post-pandemic. “I like Canadians,” he offers. “I like the fact they’re optimistic and outgoing about their attitudes towards the world.”
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Written by Diane Sewell, a career journalist for more than 30 years. In addition to working with Loreena for 20 years, she has also written for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and assorted consumer magazines. She is also the author of several commissioned books.