Giles unwraps local band

Blind rockers: Guitarists Phil Giles (left) and Colin McDonald. Picture: Jeff de Pasquale
Blind rockers: Guitarists Phil Giles (left) and Colin McDonald. Picture: Jeff de Pasquale

He’s the motor-mouthed guitarist who runs local cover band Under Wraps from his studio in Smeaton Grange.

St Gregory’s College product Phil Giles has booked gigs for the band all over Sydney, including local venues the Bradbury Inn, George IV Inn, the Macarthur Tavern and Picton Hotel, and wants people to love the band for it’s rockin’ music, and not the condition of it’s founding guitarist.

Giles has been blind since he was 27 in 2000, when an operation to fix his diabetic retinopathy didn’t go to plan.

The Rosemeadow man then set about finding a career better suited to his newfound visionless state, with varying success.

‘‘It’s funny what people do around you when you’re blind,’’ Giles laughed.

‘‘They talk loudly and slowly at you, and think your brain is going to explode or your legs will fall off — you’ve gotta say ‘mate, I’m standing here just like you are’.’’

A keen music fan since childhood — he grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen — Giles knew the musical basics from high school and piano lessons he ‘‘begrudgingly’’ attended, when he picked up an acoustic guitar will semi-professional aspirations in mind three years ago.

‘‘My wife had bought me the guitar about seven years ago and it had mostly been hiding under the bed since then, but I thought, ‘I really should get that out’, so I started having a go and playing terribly,’’ he said.

‘‘My brother, he’s 11 years younger than me, he’s a drummer, so we ended up putting together this band... around 700 odd member changes since we’ve landed on a pretty solid line-up’’.

Said line-up includes a New Zealand Battle of the Bands winner who was signed with Sony, a 22-year-old fresh out of university, and local girl Nicole Figares.

‘‘She was as green as the grass when she auditioned for us,’’ Giles said.

‘‘She’d never fronted a band before, didn’t know the scene — she has a motor of a voice but she was like a puppy, and no one had ever told her she was fantastic before, which she is.

‘‘We got her lessons on how to use her voice, her breathing, and where she used to stand six inches away from the mic all night in her t-shirt and jeans, now she’s rocking the lacy tops and thigh-high stilettos, working the stage.’’

Giles described the band as a ‘‘rough-cut diamond’’, but was adamant all the troubles they have faced have not phased him.

‘‘You know, it never even crossed my mind to quit,’’ he said.

‘‘You’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing through, and that’s what we’ve done — now we’ve got a gig lined up at The Star, which, as far as cover bands go, is one of the top five venues to play in Sydney.’’

Under Wraps have recently played a few gigs with fellow blind musician Colin McDonald from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, who Giles met online years ago through a blind guitarists group, and convinced to come down to Australia to fill in for guitarist Jeff Mandryk who is completing mandatory service for the Australian Navy.

Giles said his booking agent friends were furious he failed to let them know about McDonald’s stint with the band.

‘‘I’m the bonehead manager, everyone’s saying ‘Phil, why didn’t you tell me about this, you could have booked gigs every day of the week’, but I don’t even think of things like that.

‘‘I don’t want us to be a gimmick, I want people to see us because we’re good and maybe say, ‘oh, hey, I didn’t realise the other guy was blind too’.’’

To ensure the band can cater for any crowd requests, Giles said Under Wraps has a repertoire of 100-150 songs.

‘‘We try and master at least one song from every big band out there, so if someone in the crowd yells out ‘play Pearl Jam’ or ‘play Foo Fighters’, we can do it,’’ he said.

‘‘We play rocked out versions of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and Pink as well — you’ve got to cater for the younger crowd, the 18-25-year-olds, but there are some classics that never leave the set, like Bow River, Sweet Child O’ Mine and Prisoner of Society.’’

Under Wraps will play at the Bradbury in on Saturday, February 21 from 8.30pm, George IV Inn at Picton on Friday, March 6 from 8.30pm and the Picton Hotel on Saturday, March 28 from 8pm-11.30pm.

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