‘There’s no exact science here — we’re just enjoying ourselves’ — Upminster guitarist and songwriter talks being part of Dave Hemingway’s new band

Upminster resident Phil Barton is the guitarist and a songwriter for Sunbirds, the new band founded by The Beautiful South's ...

Upminster resident Phil Barton is the guitarist and a songwriter for Sunbirds, the new band founded by The Beautiful South's Dave Hemingway, whose album 'Cool To Te Kind' is released today. Picture: Jon Shard - Credit: Archant

“I finally feel I am where I’m meant to be”. Those are the words of Upminster’s Phil Barton, who at 55, feels completely content with where he is in life.

L-R: Marc Parnell, Dave Hemingway, Phil Barton and vocalist Laura Wilcockson. Picture: Jon Shard

L-R: Marc Parnell, Dave Hemingway, Phil Barton and vocalist Laura Wilcockson. Picture: Jon Shard - Credit: Archant

This is thanks in no small part to his role as guitarist and songwriter for Sunbirds, the new band formed by The Beautiful South’s Dave Hemingway.

With the band’s debut album — Cool To Be Kind — out today (Friday, November 27), Phil spoke to the Recorder about his journey to becoming part of the group.

“I’ve always been involved with music”, he says, though he adds that he was “never one of those people who was lucky enough not to have to work”. For years he balanced his work as a computer technician at Queen’s Hospital, Romford, with his music commitments.

Part of those commitments came in the form of a berth with The South, where Phil was bandmates with Dave. When Dave left the group, the pair remained in touch, and the call to join Sunbirds came off the back of that relationship.


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The songs on Cool To Be Kind are described as a reflection of “a few transitional years in Dave and Phil’s individual personal worlds”.

Phil agrees with that, explaining that “Sunbirds has freed us up to write about our own experiences a bit more”.

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Though full praise for The South (of which Phil remains a member), he says the band’s natural connection to The Beautiful South made it slightly harder to put across that personal touch.

Phil’s experience with Sunbirds is completely different: “There is a mixture of songs on the album; some of them are with a lyricist that I love working with. Some of the songs are those I’ve written alone, which tend to be more confessional in nature. It’s been a really cathartic experience.”

He continues: “There’s no exact science here. We’re just enjoying ourselves and expressing whatever we want, whether it’s about love, greed, social isolation or Gary Lineker’s crisp adverts.”

With the songs described as “tales that cover contemporary themes as well as age-old matters of the heart and soul — all viewed through the bottom of a recently drained pint glass”, Phil hopes the album will resonate with people.

When pressed on his favourite track, he admits it’s one of his own – When I’m Gone.

Written solely by Phil, it holds a particularly personal meaning to him which he elects to keep a mystery.

Asked separately, bandmate Marc Parnell (the group’s drummer) made the same selection.

Phil is happy for the song’s interpretation to be left to the individual, so long as people are enjoying the music.

The new group — completed by vocalist Laura Wilcockson — recorded Cool To Be Kind in 2018 on the independent Nectar Records label.

Produced by the reputable Teo Miller, known for his work with The Pretenders, Placebo and Robert Plant, the album’s release has felt a long-time coming.

Phil can sympathise with that feeling, having finally reached the point at which he can pursue music full-time.

Having recently retired from his day job, he reflects on how things have transpired. “I am doing what most people do in their twenties in my fifties, which is quite ironic. But I feel I have the experience to really enjoy it.”

And no doubt he fully intends to do so. Phil is excited by what the future holds, with the quality on the album a strong indication that good things are coming. When asked where he’d like to be a year from now, he answers: “I hope we’ll have another album out. If people like this (Cool To Be Kind) enough we’ll definitely make another.”

He’s also open to hit the road, though acknowledges that the ability to tour is very much dependant on how the live music industry recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Though clear that he really enjoyed working for the NHS — such is his nature to invest in everything he does — Phil can’t hide his delight at the opportunity Sunbirds has thrown his way: “I want to say how lucky I am and how grateful I feel to be part of this wonderful band.”

And why not? After all, Phil is finally where he’s meant to be.

For further information, visit sunbirds.co.uk or contact Maria Philippou at maria@mppromotions.co.uk or on 0161 494 7934/07801 191784.

Sunbirds can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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