The controversial Mr Philip Jeays!
Keith Haworth talks to the singer.
Featured Artists: Philip Jeays


Keith Haworth talks to the controversial Mr Philip Jeays about being the countries best kept singing secret.

CDX. Despite critical plaudits you are still regarded by many fans as being their own personal secret obsession. In fact you seem at times to be wilfully perverse in your maintenance of an under the radar profile. Is that an accurate description?

Philip Jeays. I don`t think that it is a completely accurate description; I just think my energies are directed more into being creative than being famous. Some people are absolutely hungry for fame and money, and good luck to them, but personally I see art as being sacred - nothing on earth(beyond human decency and compassion) is as important as the art we leave behind us; it`s all that remains of great civilisations, and more often that not we use it as a yardstick in our judgement of them. Someone once put it like this - if aliens came to this planet and said `give us three reasons not to destroy you`, you wouldn`t take them to the Bank of England and show them the money, they`d say `but this is just paper`; you wouldn`t take them to Fort Knox and show them the gold, they`d say `but this is just metal`; and you wouldn`t take them to the diamond mines in South Africa, they`d say `but these are just stones` - no, you`d show them Van Gogh, or Rembrandt or Rodin, you`d play them Beethoven or Mozart or Brahms, you`d read them Shakespeare or Dylan Thomas - these are the only real reasons for our existence, and all an artist can truly hope for, the greatest accolade, is to be a link in the chain of their art. Having said that, I do try and get out there when I`m asked - I shall be singing one of my songs as part of the `Godless` variety shows with various very famous people at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London on Dec 18th and 19th, and again at the Hammersmith Apollo on Dec 21st - and I`ll be on tour supporting comedian Robin Ince in the new year, so I`m not being too perverse about it right now... I think I can best sum it up like this - I would rather die one day completely penniless and unknown having written the songs I`ve written, than die one day as rich and famous as Robbie Williams or Bonio having written the songs they`ve written, because if I had, I`d feel like I`d wasted my life. The art is everything; I want to feel that artistically I`ve done something worthwhile, even if it doesn`t make me any money.

CDX. You inhabit a unique area of popular music that owes far more to the chanson tradition and artists such as Jake Thackray and Jacques Brel than say other artists whom you have also been compared to, such as Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon. Why is it that you think that you have failed to cross over to a wider audience?

Philip Jeays. Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon never crossed over anywhere, they were already there - they both come from pop/rock traditions, and may have been influenced to some degree by Brel (or more likely the fatuous American `translations` of Brel that are in the main appalling), but they didn`t start out as purveyors of `Chanson`, whereas both Brel and Thackray did. As for me, I had never thought about singing at all until I was directly influenced by Brel when living in France in the early 80s, so I came into the music industry wanting to do my own English version of chanson - and that`s what I`m still trying to do today. Any attempt at `crossing over` for me would simply be to dilute what I`m trying to do, and that I think could only weaken any potential impact, so I`ll just have to wait for people to cross over to me instead. And I only tend to get compared to singers like Jarvis by people who`ve never heard of Jacques Brel.

CDX. What is it that is so appealing to you about artists such as Brel and Thackray?

Philip Jeays. Lyrical genius. I was never a fan of dance music, and what these two did was always the antithesis of trite, boring, lyrically bland, chronically dull dance music. I refer to it as `sit down, shut up, and listen to the words` music. Neither ever bowed to fashion, they believed in what they did and they just did it, regardless.

CDX. Your songs are also often very funny.

Philip Jeays. Real chanson has always been about entertaining people, that is making people laugh as well as making them cry, but sadly in this country if you sing a funny song you get pigeon-holed as writing `novelty songs`. In France, Brel was known as much for his humour as his emotional songs, but true to form the Anglo-Saxon world only really embraced the `doom pop` songs. I want to sing both.

CDX. You sell your own stuff through your own website, is this in effect the Jeays cottage industry?

Philip Jeays. I don`t sell enough of anything to call it an `industry`, cottage or otherwise! But if you want to help, buy something at www.jeays.com!

CDX. I have frequently compared you to Scott Walker…

Philip Jeays. A common mistake, but people don`t seem to realise that when they hear Scott Walker they are listening to a man who is just trying to copy Brel, in the same why that I am now. In other words Scott Walker and I are both pupils and Brel is the master - why would I want to listen to my fellow pupil when I can listen to the master? Scott Walker isn`t bad, but I often find him lyrically weak, and Brel is just so much better.

CDX. You are soon to be performing your annual Christmas show in London, which is, it has to be said quite an event. How would you describe the show to somebody who has never seen you live before?

Philip Jeays. You get a raffle ticket at the door on your way in, then I call out numbers from the stage, and if your number comes up you can ask for the (Jeays) song of your choice. It usually dissolves into a drunken shouting match after about half an hour, but it`s fun. This year the Christmas show will be on Dec 17th,

CDX. Can you give me a scoop on the new album?

Philip Jeays. We`re just waiting to mix it now - it`s different in that it has full orchestral arrangements - so these songs sound more like I`ve always wanted them to sound than anything we`ve produced so far.

The Philip Jeays Christmas Extravaganza 2008 will take place on Wednesday 17th December at Battersea Barge, London. Tickets are available from www.jeays.com.

Posted on 6 November 2008 by Keith Haworth