Once upon a time I was at the Edinburgh Festival – oh, circa 1988 – watching a truly gifted comedian telling a story. Confessions of a Furtive Nudist by the late and great Ken Campbell was a monologue delivered in a voice that was a cross between Ken Livingstone (former London mayor) and Russell Brand, current campaigner for all manner of social good.
The story was gripping, and in the audience I fell into conversation with comedian, performer and writer Anna Chen. And it was she who told me about Phil Ryan – singer, songwriter, storyteller, author and the first appointee I made when launching The Big Issue a few years later. We took tea after the introduction, and when Gordon Roddick of The Body Shop said he would support me in starting a street paper I thought back to Phil and his lively array of talents and skills.
One of the most extraordinary things about Phil, apart from his never-ending writing and publishing, is that he can make up a song about you and everyone else in the room that is comic and tuneful.
After The Big Issue he devoted himself to his music career and, among other things, sang to 100,000 people as the lead singer of The Animals. Although music still dominates his oeuvre he is also writing – books, stories and sometimes plays. But now probably his largest project is a completely free audio story website called The Story Hive.
It is vast, and written and spoken by Phil himself. A towering Wagnerian-scale endeavour, it’s full of thrillers, romance, observational and literary literature; even children’s stories. Ghost and horror sit side by side with these genres, so fear and fun go hand in hand. Phil’s cabinet of voices is also spot-on – though I believe I do a better Glaswegian than him.
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