Phil Palmer is one of those musicians who has a name that you might not be familiar with, but as an in-demand and first call session musician his pristine studio work can be heard on albums by the likes of Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Joan Armatrading, Paul Brady, George Michael, Trevor Horn, Chris De Burgh, Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow to name only a few of the household names who have employed his services.

Session Man is an autobiography that is about much more than the life of one man. As the nephew of Ray and Dave Davies from The Kinks, the young Palmer found himself enraptured by rock and roll, and his storied life as a hired hand was about to begin. The book looks at the rock and roll lifestyle, and how changing times and changing technology changed the outlook for session musicians, and although touring the world with top-flight bands bolsters the bank balance, it also reduces visibility on the session circuit, as well as meaning musicians are away from home for months, sometimes years.

We read about Palmer’s time touring with Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and the long time he spent playing with Dire Straits on their On Every Street tour. We read about the many characters that Phil Palmer met in his time, and some of these characters are particularly well-drawn, the chapter about his time with Tina Turner is particularly revealing.
We also see the effect that long absences have on relationships, on the relationships between parents and children, and the episode between Palmer and his own father show a relationship that is all too human, but with love, and eventual understanding at the centre of it all.

Sometimes it is forgotten how many people and musicians make an album. It is not just a singer and a producer, it is a whole band, and a whole crew on the road. Musicians find themselves in strange situations, playing with people who until recently were strangers, having little time to find parts that fit with other musicians on a song, knowing that the recording studios they are working in cost thousands to hire.

Palmer offers the reader a glimpse of what happens before an album hits the shops, and what happens before a band hits a stage. We see the nervous energy of many hours waiting for something to happen, the once in a lifetime opportunity to make your mark with musicians, knowing that there is always someone else wanting that job, that opportunity.

Session Man is well written, with plenty of anecdotes, humour, and pathos about a life that only a few very lucky people get to enjoy.