Phil Ryan, keyboard player, singer and songwriter with the Welsh rock band Man, died on April 30th 2016.
Phil Ryan Outside of the Manband
Born in Port Talbot in 1946, Ryan’s first notable recordings were as organist with early Man contemporaries Eyes of Blue. This band made three albums between 1968 and 1971, the last under the pseudonym Big Sleep. Ryan had expanded his sound palette to acoustic piano by then, and the musical style was shifting from psychedelic to progressive. Also in the band was drummer John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers, who was to play in Man himself from 1983-96.
Both Ryan and Pugwash had been in the band Piblokto, which featured lyricist/singer Pete Brown. Ryan was to have a long association with Brown, releasing two joint albums in the 1980s and two more in the 2010s.
Prior to his first stint in Man, Phil Ryan had formed the band Iowerth Pritchard & The Neutrons with newly-departed Man keyboard player Clive John and bass player Will Youatt. Almost immediately the trio joined Man, with John switching to guitar. When this period ended Youatt and Ryan reformed The Neutrons, reuniting with Pugwash Weathers and Taff Williams from the Eyes of Blue/Piblokto days.
The Neutrons released two albums. At times the funky driving rock sound that characterized Ryan’s first spell with Man was evident. There were long instrumental sections and high register vocals. In the meantime, Clive John recorded a solo effort with contributions from Ryan.
Be Good to Yourself At Least Once a Day/Back Into the Future
Ryan formed a productive partnership with guitarist Micky Jones on two Man records, one single and one double, in 1972/3. The band apparently took more time over the first of these, Be Good To Yourself at Least Once a Day, which spawned two classic Man tracks, C’mon and Bananas, although the other two songs have not endured as well.
1973’s Back Into the Future, though not containing memorable songs as such on its studio-recorded disc, features Ryan impressing on clavinet and synthesizer and carrying the rest of the group with him.
Phil Ryan’s Return 1: The Welsh Connection
Before Man’s first split to date, at the end of 1976, Ryan contributed greatly to their swansong album The Welsh Connection, providing the song Something is Happening and singing and co-writing the title track. He also facilitated the inclusion on the album of singer Caromay Dixon and Pete Brown.
Phil Ryan’s Return 2: Endangered Species
In 2000 the band recorded Endangered Species, for which they were reunited with Andrew Lauder. Lauder had signed them to United Artists in 1970 and had a new label, Evangeline. Phil Ryan had moved to Denmark in 1980 but eventually filled the vacant keyboard berth in 1998. He contributed his usual class to the record, imitating Micky Jones’ guitar for a solo on the song Face to Face and providing sympathetic backing for Jones’ voice on the ballad Tie Up the Wind.
Ryan played at the album launch gig at The Coal Exchange, Cardiff. He shared the stage with Clive John and Back-Into-the-Future-era band member Tweke Lewis for the encores. However, Ryan was not to take part in the tour that followed as he had to return to Denmark and care for his wife Bolette, who was terminally ill.
Phil Ryan’s Return 3: Kingdom of Noise
In 2007, replacement keyboard player Gareth Thorrington left Man. In 2009 drummer Bob Richards and guitarist/singer George Jones, son of Micky, also departed. Phil Ryan was involved in the salvage operation that resulted in the Kingdom of Noise album.
Apart from producing and playing keyboards, Ryan also contributed lead vocals to two songs. Following the passing of his wife, he was now a fully-fledged member of the group, who were now based in Germany, though occasionally performed in Britain.
In 2015 Phil Ryan came to the fore once more on the album Reanimated Memories, as a songwriter and singer as well as on keys. A particular high point was the de facto title track In Time.
At the album launch gig at The Half Moon, Putney, his musicianship stood out. At 68, he was stll able to play blistering organ and clavinet solos and his melodies, voicings and textures brought the same qualities to the music as in the band’s most popular period, the 1970s. He will be missed.