Co-Founder of The Big Issue & Top Musician Phil Ryan
Phil Ryan has been a passionate campaigner – from helping the homeless to be self-sufficient, to saving his beloved Denmark Street from the voracious appetite of London’s property owning developers.
His astonishing musical career has sent Phil across the world over the last forty years—a highlight being when he fronted The Animals in Moscow’s Red Square in front of 100,000 fans. He’s a singer-song writer as well as an entrepreneur who is never afraid to try something bold and new. This could be anything from setting up London’s iconic 12 Bar Club, to the numerous novels he’s written, and scoring the stage version of Silas Marner. Over a Victoria sponge cake and tea at Region’s Park Café, he shared his passionate views with for you to eavesdrop on.
“So having a mad father who used to jump out of windows on fire for a living means your childhood is going to be pretty unusual, and it was.”
As you might gather from the above quote, Phil had a very interesting father, and perhaps more importantly, a father that pushed him headlong into a creative life. Phil had many books impressed upon him and became a voracious reader at an early age. This upbringing would push him to become a writer in his later years. But first came music. Phil’s first instrument was the ukulele, which he then graduated from to a banjo—and then around the age of 12 (when girls started to become more appealing to him) he moved on to the guitar.
Phil’s musical career advanced quickly, catching a few breaks here and there, managing to share the stage with Johnny Cash as just an 18 year-old with a 12 string guitar. There is a song that Phil will play from time to time that will choke him up—it has a line in it that goes “In five minutes your whole life can change”. This sums up his entire life, one filled with bizarre encounters and chance meetings that have taken him down roads he never knew were there.
“I talk about my life as a ‘Portfolio Career,’ which is actually immaturity masquerading as sense of purpose and plan.”
John Bird and Phil came together to start The Big Issue, where they tackled starting a magazine with a purpose. They both took on as many hats as they could to get the magazine up and running, and Phil is proud to say the rules he originally set in place are still used in the Big Issue. The magazine is a social enterprise—not a charity. It urges people to get up, take action, and start taking steps towards financial security and a sustainable lifestyle with The Big Issue’s help. As of now, The Big Issue is in 72 countries and has impacted millions of lives.
The Big Issue has spawned Big Invest –they managed to get millions and supporting hundreds of social enterprise business, things that directly influence the communities they service. And Phil is all about preserving communities and the beauty that holds them together, which for him is the magic of music—an art that he wishes London embraced more by supporting its local musicians.