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Meet the people: Mike Phoenix – Scousevarius man

Instrument maker launches city violin dream to rival Stradivarius

Written by . Published on October 30th 2012.

Meet the people: Mike Phoenix – Scousevarius man

MOVE along there, Stradivarius, Liverpool will soon have a new set of strings to its bow - the “Scouservarius”. 

The city is to produce a set of stringed instruments to stand the test of the centuries; all with help from its citizens under the watchful eye of Kirkdale-born Mike Phoenix. 

I want as many people from Liverpool to help build the four pieces. It is important for them to be known as the people’s violins, viola and cello

Based at the Bluecoat with a retreat workshop in a wooded area of North Wales, Mike wants the two violins, cello and viola, to be playing to audiences for at least the next 400 years. That's a lot of scraping noises coming out of the city – but hopefully not the sort that will see it in hock to stingy governments until then.

Mike, 54, has already ensured his Bavarian woodsman (he has a Bavarian woodsman? ed) has supplied spruce and maple from the same forests where the Stradivari family gathered their own raw materials for the instruments they famously made in the 1700s. 

Violin-player Mike turned his skills to making the instruments after friends and colleagues asked him to repair or refurbish their own. 

Later in life, he enrolled for a seven year course at the famous Newark School for Violin Making, completing his studies with a gruelling 200-hour exam. The diploma he won qualifies him to work on any instrument, including the Strad. 

So how was the Scouservarius Legacy Project born? 

Mike told Liverpool Confidential: "The idea came to me on the day, in 2003, that it was announced Liverpool was to become the European Capital of Culture in 2008. I wanted to see something gifted to Scousers of the future, able to last and be used for centuries to come. 

"I had this notion that everyone in Liverpool would be given a book of tickets, to take part in cultural events, such as pottery or jewellery making. At that stage I didn’t know what to expect for 2008, but I did hit on the idea of celebrating 2008 with our very own collection of instruments."

"Of course there was no funding for such a project.” 

While the idea might not have been music to everyone's ears, it kept niggling at Mike and now he has decided to carry on regardless. 

ScousevariusScousevarius project launched at Bluecoat

He said: "I’d love to get some funding for Scouservarius, but until that happens we will continue without any funding. 

“I want as many people from Liverpool to help build the four pieces. It is important for them to be known as the people’s violins, viola and cello.”

Mike added: “Even if people – of any age – have no experience they can do something to leave their mark. I want it to be a learning and educational experience for everyone taking part so will offer one-to-one sessions. More than 100 local people have already signed up to join in."

The violin maker may want to leave a musical legacy but is conscious of minimising his eco-footprint.

Fiddling AboutFiddling About

I now earn my living by repairing, refurbishing and making violins and their sister instruments. I make instruments solely by hand at the bench, using only the traditional techniques, so no electricity or power tools.

"I do however have a pedal powered coping saw, which was made just after the First World War, which I let my customers try out for fun."

Most techniques Mike uses require shadow to highlight the contours of the wood so no electric bulbs. "I prefer to work by candle light which is easy to position, gives excellent shadow and is obviously tradiional.”

Mike said: "I have no idea when the four pieces will be finished but I am looking forward to their world premiere in Liverpool when they are ready. I don’t want to take any shortcuts and risk the wood shrinking. I want all four pieces to be in use in 400 years from now.

“I'm hoping I can get Paul McCartney to write a piece for a quartet for the premiere."

Glwadys %2818%29
Who can tell? Maybe Macca will see the people’s string quartet of instruments as the city's new “Fab Four” and play along with the idea.

The project was given a civic send-off at the weekend at the Bluecoat when Lord Mayor Sharon Sullivan joined in the first stage – cracking the Bavarian wood that will be used in the making of the instruments. The amazing Liverpool String Quartet provided the Brahms and Ravel, showing what we can expect down the line, Macca or not.

Mike’s work can be viewed here

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AnonymousOctober 31st 2012.

“I'm hoping I can get Paul McCartney to write a piece for a quartet for the premiere."

It was all going well till then

1 Response: Reply To This...
Michael PhoenixNovember 2nd 2012.

Hi Anonymous,
Lol ... typically irreverent Liverpool wit ... I love it!
I can't think of a more successful British composer with a higher profile though ... and if the alternative is to ask some southern classically trained ponce to write for the people's quartet, then I know where my allegiance lies.
Michael (the violin maker at the Bluecoat)

AnonymousMarch 1st 2014.

I met this man today at the Blue Coat Chambers and he enthralled both myself and 12 year old son with stories of the Titanic's musicians. He was so proud to be a Liverpudlian (though I was a little disappointed to see him supporting an Everton badge above), that apart he is a man for the City to be proud of and I wish him every success for his venture. Hopefully Sir Paul can find a little time to give him his support too. A true Liverpool son.

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