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Shawn Phillips live in Johannesburg, November 2013
Shawn Phillips live in Johannesburg, November 2013

On Tuesday evening I listened to Shawn Phillips, the folk-Rock musician, at a benefit concert for sufferers of the disease cystic fibrosis. The concert was held at the Pavilion Hall Marks Park, Greenside, Johannesburg.

All I knew about Shawn Phillips before I got there was his iconic album “Second Contribution” which everyone who enjoyed 1970s music had in their collection. I haven’t followed his career so I didn’t know what to expect.

From his first song of the evening to the last, a tribute to his wife, I was mesmerised by his passion, professionalism and humble personality. Here is a musician now 70 years old who plays with such incredible energy. And here’s the thing: all his stuff is pure original lyrics and music. He’s made something like 20 original albums. All handcrafted music.

When you think of that scale of creative production you can only stand back in awe. How many people on this planet have such creative output. A business may come out with a handful of products over a span of four decades but Shawn has produced 20 “products” or albums. The quality of his music has been vindicated commercially as four of his albums have made the Billboard Top 100. Even more stunning for me is that he has released in 2013 a brand-new album titled “Perspective” with 20 completely new songs.

Up close, you can see Shawn’s dedication to quality as he finely tunes his guitars before most of his songs. You see and hear him play each note on his electric guitar distinctively. His timing without backing musicians is exquisitely precise. You can see him counting the pauses between notes, knowing exactly where to play his note.

Shawn performed at the “Shawn Phillips Cystic Fibrosis Breathe Easy Benefit Concert” for free to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Association of South Africa Central Region. As an emergency medical technician (EMT) he has first-hand experience working with people who have the disease.

Shawn lives in Port Elizabeth with his wife Juliette and their son Liam. He stopped touring in 2011 and now writes, records and is involved in medical emergency work, firefighting and is a 1st officer, navigator and extrication specialist with the National Sea Rescue Institute of South Africa (NSRI).

At the charity gig he talked about his creative process; how at times the music comes to him separately and at other times the words. Occasionally the music and the words come together simultaneously. “There is no explanation for this. It simply channels in. I don’t know how it happens.” He has three criteria for writing his songs: anger, wonder and technique (a balancing between the first two).

If you want to know more about real-world hands-on experience of the creative firing process and how to harness your thunder, then tune up your passion while this offer is still on stage.

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