My LOS: Phil Barton

November 6, 2020

Leigh-on-sea talks with Phil Barton, member of the band ‘Sunbirds’, about living in Essex, the group’s new album and working with “The South”.

Check out their new single ‘Meet You On The Northside’ out now along with an album mix show reel featuring a few tracks from the forthcoming album too.

When did you first start taking an interest in music and playing the guitar?

For as long as I can remember there was always music playing in our house, either from the radio, my mum playing piano or my elder brother listening to music in his room. At school music lessons were always on a Wednesday afternoon but of course this clashed with football practice so the latter took preference and music took a back seat.

Although I had previously dabbled with the piano. It wasn’t till the 80’s and meeting friends with similar musical interests that things changed. I remember picking up a guitar for the first time in the music room at school with a mate and we learned to play my “My Best Friends Girl” by the Cars and it actually sounded ok.

What process do you use when writing new songs?

Some songs are a description of the way you are feeling, others I write with a lyricist and add the music to the words. Songs I write alone normally develop over time; I generally start by playing around on the guitar until I find a sequence that I like then sing some words to accompany it, or other times when I’m out I might sing aloud an idea into my mobile phone (the wonders of modern technology!). I normally find mornings after waking up are the best time to write and when I have the most inspiration.

When did you first meet Dave Hemingway (of The Beautiful South)?

Alison Wheeler and I were in a band called Junk. We started out playing in the pubs and clubs in Camden in the early 90’s and had a good following, but Brit Pop happened and we sounded more like the Foo Fighters than Oasis, wrong place, wrong time, so our 5 minutes of fame was over.

Alison then got the gig with The Beautiful South, which was spot-on because she really does have a lovely clear sweet voice and was so suited for that band (I was so proud of her she really deserved it). We stayed in touch and I went to see them in concert a few times as a guest of Ali’s. The Beautiful South split up in 2007 and then in 2009 I got a message on Facebook saying some of the band were reforming and would I like to come and meet them as they needed a guitarist. The meeting went really well everyone was really grounded and we all just gelled, so my journey began with The South.

What are you most proud of so far in your career and what is your career highlight to date?

This album is the thing I’m most proud of as a songwriter. As a guitarist three personal highlights come to mind; playing Black Magic Woman with Peter Green sat about 10ft away from me, kissing Petula Clarke and Ade Edmonson calling me a rude word. Not all at the same time mind.

Tell us about your new album ‘Cool To Be Kind’ and how would you describe your new material?

It’s a self-financed labour of love containing 12 songs put together to introduce Sunbirds to the world! It can be heard and pre-ordered at

The album title is kind of our manifesto really. It seems that society is more divided than ever and it’s just a reminder that a little bit of empathy can go a long way. It’s also a nice little tip of the hat to Nick Lowe one of our nation’s best songwriters in my humble opinion.

Musically it’s got a bit of everything, but overall I’d say it’s Americana or Alt-Country. Lyrically it’s inspired by our lives in the UK.

I’ve been extremely lucky with the way it’s all come together with the right people, the songs, the timing of it. It’s a funny thing, it sounds really corny I know, but it almost feels to me like my life has been building up to this point. It’s that big for me.

What do you love about living in Essex?

I really do like living in Essex not only is the transport system great, especially for getting to and from London but the people too are so friendly and genuine. It has a great musical heritage too – The Prodigy, Blur, Dr Feelgood, Ian Dury etc. We also have some really great places to visit on our doorstep. I love visiting old Leigh for a walk and a pint and our beaches are great.


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