Mike Owen writes a tribute to close friend and bold soloist Phil Davidson, who passed away on Monday 15th February.
It began with a message from Phil back in August 2018. Typical Phil, he just came straight out with it, no beating about the bush. "You're going to have to write my obituary" was how it started, and then he went on to explain that he'd been given six months to live. Kate (Phil's wife) says that he described the next two and a half years as "living with a terminal illness" and he continued to live normally, never complaining or feeling sorry for himself. In fact you'd never believe that he was ill at all, as he set about packing in as much as he could; he was a man on a mission.
Britain's John Bachar?
That's a great tribute Mike, thanks.
Some of those ascents are outrageous. So he was onsighting e7 in the early 80s? How many others were doing the same at that time?
thats a nice write up about him.
i knew the name obviously but its often not until circumstances like this that you get to read just how much some people did.
Great write up. Who can forget at the time when that iconic photo appeared of Phil on Right Wall. You just didn't do that sort of thing. Was the original piccy free in an issue of Crags? Before that poster appeared nobody had heard of Phil Davidson. Afterwards, nobody would forget Phil Davidson!
Top guy ... Not many folk were sighting hard climbs....
That’s a great tribute to Phil and sums up his character and superb exploits both in climbing and in life. I only met Phil again after the Pex Hill days a few years ago and then saw him regularly at Stockport climbing wall, our main point of discussion being dodgy elbows. I recently saw Phil climbing really well in Leonidio and Llanymynech whilst battling his illness with absolutely no complaints. RIP Phil, a life well lived.
Absolute class, one of best.
Didnt he solo Cockblock on site as well which is wayyyy harder than right wall.
Nice one Mike, very hard to come to terms that he's not around anymore, I can picture him in his schoolboys uniform and lending him my EB's for a try at something we had a rope on in the Quarry. He was a Master of the Belch! I fortunately spoke to him just after Xmas, I'm so pleased that we spoke, condolences to Kate and his family.
Thanks for that Mike, it must have been a tough write.
When I first started climbing at Pex in 89, Phil's name was spoken about in hallowed terms. When I was there last weekend his name was still being spoken in those same terms. A true legend, his routes at Pex still have enormous cache. Anyone climbing Catalepsy, Breakaway, Staminade or Black Magic are rightly regarded as talented and bold, even with modern mats and gear. To do them in EB's above a beer towel is still mind-blowing.
A giant of the climbing world has riden off into the sunset one last time.
Wonderful obituary. Condolences to family and friends
Great write up Mike. Was chuffed to meet him at Nesscliff in 2017-19. He ran up Gathering Sun and My Piano and just had the most incredible stealy focus. The stuff he was doing in 84 was so out there. He was super friendly and chatty so nice to read a bit more about his life. RIP Phil
Thanks Mike. I knew him, but still learned loads. So sad, but an inspiration.
That's perfect. I'd often wondered when he was mentioned on here "is that THE Phil Davidson of Phil and Gaz fame at Pex Hill from the mid 70s?".
He was astonishingly good - and always entertaining.
edit (another thought): And downclimbing Dateline - good grief. I'd have liked to have seen that! I couldn't ever get more than 1/3 up it.
Well written Mike, I felt very sad yesterday when i heard the news that he had departed us even though it was expected for awhile. I remember him cruising at Pex in the early eighties, and climbing with great technique and immaculate footwork in N. Wales The Peak and Yorkshire.
The most infectious thing about Phil was that you were always laughing, either because of some outrageous story he was telling, or that he was taking the piss out of some previous comment made by the group of climbers at the crag that day. He was funny, he made us all laugh, and he could climb like a dream. RIP Phil I won’t be able to walk into Pex without thinking of you thanks for the memories.
Thank you mike this is a wonderful tribute to phil.
That's a nice write-up Mike, I only met Phil a few times, and was always in awe of his prodigious talent at whatever he turned his hand too, but his passing has left me in a melancholic place
Thanks Mike, an excellent tribute to a great guy.
I first met Phil in the 70’s when he and Gaz started to visit North Wales, even held his ropes a few times when he couldn’t find anyone more talented. One of my most vivid memories is his party trick of effortlessly mantle-shelfing onto a road sign pole, ending up standing on one foot on top of the pole. I last saw him perched on his latest bike in the car park of the Vaynol Nant at Hugh Banner’s wake, we chatted about old times and where the years had gone.
Sadly missed, RIP.
Thanks for that, Mike.
I don't think I ever met Phil, though our paths must have crossed so many times I'm amazed I haven't. But his was always one of those names that conjured up thoughts of climbing mastery, however understated, a bit like Pete Whillance I suppose.
Such a shame that such a hero should be taken from this world at an age where so much life should have been left to live.
Thanks Mike. I first met Phil at the YMCA wall in Liverpool in about 1989. As a teenager I was completely starstruck but he just put me at ease and as we bouldered together reeled out routes he thought I could do based on the problems we did. What a confidence booster, and an inspiration.
> Didnt he solo Cockblock on site as well which is wayyyy harder than right wall.
Yes but not on sight, I believe.
Lovely write up Mike, you caught his spirit, skill and humour perfectly - right down to the burping!
You seconded him well there, again.
A wonderful and very touching obituary of a wonderful, dedicated, open and honest man who I had the pleasure to climb with, learn from and enjoy his, quite often expletive-driven camaraderie with. It’s so sad how much he had to endure so much pain and discomfort in the latter part of his life... a true hero has passed this way and will forever be remembered. RIP Phil and deepest condolences to this who loved him and were friends with him💕
They were a series of posters by Dave Jones you could purchase in climbing shops.
Correct. He led it a number of times before the solo, because it was 'a path'!
thanks Mike, lovely write up. Phil had almost god like status in my youth the way he could climb at Pex.
Maybe tell Ken that Staminade and Monobloc were Joe Healey’s routes though.
I met Phil over visits to Nesscliffe and Devil’s Gorge. I didn’t know at the time the legend he was, all I knew was that he was really nice, really psyched and we got on well. No ego, no agenda, just a great guy. We kept messaging as to keep track of how his treatment was going, you would think he was never ill, I truly thought he was going to pull through. I’m sad to hear about his passing, but he lives on in our memories.
I also recall Tony Ryan sometime in the late 80's saying that Right Wall was just a 'path'! Mainly I think it was because his dad had fallen off it a couple of times, including, a 60ft whipper!
Lovely write-up. Thank you Mike.
Somewhere in the golden twilight of my memory, Phil is still traversing across Pisa wall at Pex Hill - on a lower line than anyone else could achieve, completely in control on desperate slopers.
Mike, thanks for writing this. Phil was one of the nicest guys I met climbing. He was also easily the best. Condolences to Kate.
What a shock seeing this - but a lovely write up Mike, thank you.
Great write up.
Apart from memories of him being awesome at Pex I remember going to Froggatt with Phil and Gaz Healey (I think the first time (?) they had been "trad" - I hate that term!) He cruised unsurprisingly most routes but when Phil set off up Chequers Crack, with Gaz belaying, making the first half look easy but was then confronted with the jamming crack. He fell off (had never jammed before) and fell a long way, bit hazy he may have hit the deck. Gaz was astonished and couldn't believe Phil had fallen "Phil has never fallen off before" and he didn't know how to belay properly and arrest a fall! There may have been a comment or two from Phil. This was obviously before belay devices.
I am very saddened by the news, i used to belay him at Stockport wall on a Tuesday and was amazed how hard he climbed considering his illness.A dedicated rock athlete if ever, fingers taped
and a total power machine.I saw him at Llanymynech a couple of years ago and then a few times at the wall with his wife.He never seemed to find anything dificult and could on sight 6c all day.
Thanks Mike. A great tribute to another Stone God who has sadly left us to join the others gone before. Hoping he's sat up in the sky playing jazz on the sax with Bachar with Jewell clapping in the background.......
Sadly I never spoke directly to Phil. As a young introverted teenager making my first forays to Pex Hill on my bike from Warrington in the late 70's, I'd hear his name spoken a lot and did one night actually see him do his fabled reverse solo of Dateline in his motorbike gear after squeezing through the gap in the fence (though not sure if he had his helmet on his arm......). Time passed & I eventually soloed up & down Dateline myself. I gained the confidence to speak to Pete Chadwick, Euon & a few of the others. I think it was at Pex I first spoke to you and Elaine. But on the few times I saw him, I never dared speak to the legend Phil.......I just skulked around nearby watching him climb & trying to learn something.
My big chance to speak to him was probably the night he appeared in the quarry with John Redhead and a bit like the famous story of John Long following John Bachar (the Only Blasphemy) started to show John the local classics by soloing increasingly difficult problems. Soon there was a group of climbing groupies discretely following them around with the occasional whispers to those not in the know "That's John Redhead & that's Phil Davidson........"
Eventually, they arrived at the back wall & Phil squeaked up his shoes. He then nonchalantly soloed Black Magic (E6 6b? Or has the enlarged hold on the crux dropped it to 6a?) with no mat below him of course & once you pass 3 or 4 metres, a spotter's a waste of time anyway. By the time you pull up the last friable sandy pockets, you're wondering if a hold snaps can you jump far enough backwards to land in the nettles & grass 15m? below and if you will get away with just a severe nettle rash.....
Phil walked up it giving a running commentary even stopping mid-crux to look down at the carefully watching John to say "Left foot up high here, push down on your finger tips, stand on the left foot then reach up for the black 2 finger pocket and pull.........then it's a romp to the top".
Phil topped out then casually down climbed Dateline E2/3 5c still talking.
Now it was John's turn and a silence descended. He got to the crux (4 or 5m up......ankle breaking height without a mat) and got part way through the crux rockover. Then he simply backed off without any fuss and walked away. Hats off to him. He was the magazine star of the moment at the time with lots of bold first ascents on the front covers. It must have been tough for him to swallow his ego and back off in front of a crowd. But Phil had soloed the route many times by then and I think it was John's first visit.
By that time, I'd also top-roped the route to death and soloed it every now and then (like Pete, Euon, the Healeys and maybe a few others). That night while Phil & John were stood chatting with their backs to the wall and the groupies had recommenced chatting and discussing the incident, I finished my much repeated low traverse of the back wall without falling in the nettles, knew the conditions were good and with no fuss also soloed Black Magic. A silence slowly descended again in the quarry. At the break before the last friable pocket to the sloping top, I looked over my shoulder. Everyone was watching. Phil & John still had their backs to me but had realised something was happening. Phil turned and looked up at me. I quickly turned away, finished the route and then reversed Date Line. My heart was thumping and my throat dry as I walked back to the traverse wall in front of Phil and John hoping that my hero would finally speak to me.............he never did, not even a glance.........
I went to sleep every night looking up at that poster of Phil soloing Right Wall on my bedroom ceiling. Next to it above my brothers bed was the one of Gaz (or Joe?) Healey doing Citadel (my brother, a non climber, was a bit pissed off about having Gaz above his head).
Phil's comment "Lord of the Flies? Pex 5c!" would echo through my dreams. Eventually, I went on to do it and realised that Phil was correct - after my long Pex apprenticeship, I could have done it years before I did. But I was never as confident as Phil.
Dave at Warrington Wall first gave me the sad news of Phil's illness a few years ago but then cheered me up with the stories of all the amazing bold routes he was once again doing.
I never did speak to Phil but from Mike's article I've just realised that my Dad probably did........he was a manager at BICC Helsby and Phil maybe even worked for him. Why didn't you say something Dad? Though I guess I should ask myself why I never dared speak to Phil and thank him for his inspiration.
Rest in peace and climb still in my dreams.
That's a beautiful obituary, Mike, but very sad news.
I probably haven't seen Phil (or you and Elaine either, for that matter) since the nineties, but in my early years I often bumped into him up and down the country, and have nothing but good memories.
Great memories, thanks for posting. I know exactly what you mean about Phil's aura. Lovely guy when you got to know him...
Phil would hit me up to partner him at the NorthWest Face in Warrington, when there was no one else about, and always be encouraging, kind and supportive, even though I was climbing 6b. Such a lovely soul. You'll be missed Phil.
I still have that poster on my wall. I managed to get the shop keeper to give me 2 folded copies when I bought my 1st set of Fires mid 1980's.
I put a copy in a frame because they had been folded and creased.
It has been on my wall wherever I have lived and Phil and that photo was a true inspiration to me for what climbing was about.
Sorry, can't get the really sad news about Phil out of my head this morning so I'll risk posting again.....the following Springsteen lyrics somehow seem appropriate........& how great to imagine Phil beside Clarence both on their saxes up in the great beyond. You're still alive Phil & you're still inspiring us all from not only the things you did in your youth but also the brave way you didn't let your illness drag you down but came back yet again to inspire us to keep on cranking whatever our age and whatever the difficulties in our lives........let your "soul rise to carry the fire and light the spark" in every true climber's heart..........
We are Alive (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band) :
There is a cross up yonder up on Calvary Hill
There is a slip of blood on a silver knife
There is a graveyard kid down below
Where at night did come to life
And above the stars, they crackle in fire
A dead man's moon throws seven rings
Well, we put our ears to the cold grave stones
This is the song they'd sing
We are alive
And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark
Our spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark
To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
A voice cried out, I was killed in Maryland in 1877
When the railroad workers made their stand
Well, I was killed in 1963 one Sunday morning in Birmingham
Well, I died last year crossing the southern desert
My children left behind in San Pablo
Well they left our bodies here to rot
Oh please let them know
We are alive
Oh, and though we lie alone here in the dark
Our souls will rise to carry the fire and light the spark
To fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
Let your mind rest easy, sleep well my friend
It's only our bodies that betray us in the end
I awoke last night in a dark and dreamy deep
From my head to my feet, my body gone stone cold
There were worms crawling all around me
Fingers scratching at an earth black and six foot low
And alone in the blackness of my grave
Alone I'd been left to die
Then I heard voices calling all around me
The earth rose above me, my eyes filled with sky
We are alive
And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark
Our souls and spirits rise
To carry the fire and light the spark
To fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
We are alive
Thanks Mike, great tribute, very sad news.
I recall along with my climbing mate Mark so much from those heady days at Pex Hill in the 1980's
with Phil and all of Lancashires' finest climbers working out until the sun went down. We remember Phil on those days when he would turn up on his motorbike and stroll up 'Black Magic' and reverse down 'Dateline' effortlessly. Then after some time, maybe 8 years or so ago he turned up at Frogsmouth Quarry where we had a rope to try something with a high E number and he said 'Hi lads are you ok, what are We climbing?' And seeing him many times recently at Pex giving us positive vibes and watching him climb and traverse for hours, so keen, so passionate, so immaculate, we couldn't believe his fighting spirit, he was something else, fabulous, a great guy who will be sadly missed.
Great writing Mike - it brought tears to my eyes. What a legend !
> Great write up.
> Apart from memories of him being awesome at Pex I remember going to Froggatt with Phil and Gaz Healey (I think the first time (?) they had been "trad" - I hate that term!) He cruised unsurprisingly most routes but when Phil set off up Chequers Crack, with Gaz belaying, making the first half look easy but was then confronted with the jamming crack. He fell off (had never jammed before) and fell a long way, bit hazy he may have hit the deck. Gaz was astonished and couldn't believe Phil had fallen "Phil has never fallen off before" and he didn't know how to belay properly and arrest a fall! There may have been a comment or two from Phil. This was obviously before belay devices.
Great obit Mike. Fantastic I didn't realsie he'd done so much....
Gosh…just noticed this very sad news
In the early eighties I had the good fortune to climb with or witness climb a good number of the stars of the time, Big Ron, Jerry Moffat, Kim Carrigan, Johnny Woodward, Joe Healey, Dougie Hall, Nick Colton, Pete O’Donovan to name but a few. But in my opinion there was one climber that stood out. And that was Phil.
If I could have climbed like one person it would have been like him. So sorry to see this news.
I watched Phil Davidson lead Bitterfingers at Stoney in 82 I think. What i do remember is realising clearly that I had seen a master of the game for the first time.
Fab, Mike. Thank you.
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