Around the age of 2 in Cobham, Surrey, John Miller began listening to records and hitting things. The lack of a drumkit partially diverted his musical inclinations from furniture to the piano, which he started learning formally at the age of 6. Gradually teaching himself to play by ear, he began making his own jazz/blues/pop concoctions and playing for various shows, concerts and plays. He had also become interested in making tape recordings using keyboards, drums, voices and biscuit tins. In 1989 he wrote and produced the 'Shopping Trolley' album for Hannibal Records, and he has created many more albums for his own 'Polenta' label featuring new and archival material. His work based in London has been highly diverse, with solo and group appearances and gigs with Stackridge, Van Morrison, Jacqui Dankworth, Simon Rackham (as 'Ornamental Balustrade') and many others. He is currently collaborating with the drummer Ben Reed in the duo 'Cardboard'.
"I am unashamedly nostalgic" sings Melanie Pappenheim on the luxurious 'Bring back the Mary Hopkin days', one of 10 songs penned by John Miller on Shopping Trolley's eponymous debut album released on Hannibal Records in 1989 (Hannibal HNBC1349). Shopping Trolley was the band Miller led for several years in the 1980s and early 1990s. John Miller's work aches with a nostalgia for a golden age of English and American rock and pop music often of a somewhat off-centre variety. It is the world of the late Sixties/early Seventies and the annus mirabilis was 1971; reflected in the release by CBS of the double album compilation 'Rockbuster'; an event which Miller credits as a life-changing experience. John Miller's work over his entire career, starting with the superb Painswick Tapes in the late 70s/early 80s and continuing right through to the recent release of 'Preference', captures this era in style with a back catalogue of original songs and excellently judged cover versions.
Nostalgia is also very much present on the outstanding track on Miller's collaboration with Simon Rackham; Ornamental Balustrade's album 'If I Had Wings, Then I Would Fly' (Polenta LEN 17). The song 'Times have changed' is the classic on an album consisting of 20 wonderful songs. The song is a nostalgia fest of epic proportions, a litany of great pop artists in their prime and an account of how the writer experienced the music. The refrain "Times have changed as you can hear and not for the better" is arguably one of the most moving moments in 20th Century songwriting.
Miller's new solo album 'Preference' is a collecton of cover versions and original songs, some written in collaboration with lyricist Lizzie Adeane. The album was recorded and produced by Miller in his own studio in North London. This album gives the listener a good look at the different aspects of John Miller's musical personality. On the one hand there are the cover versions of songs by perennial Miller favourites such as George Harrison, Lucifer, Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren (this writer's personal favourite from the 'Preference' album, a fine version of Rundgren's 'Unloved Children'). Then there are Miller's own songs which include the album's opener, the slightly spooky 'Birds are meant to fly'. Finally there are two tracks at the end of the CD which are extended instrumentals although one of them, 'Silence', 14 minutes long, starts off as a conventional song. The other, 'Sergio hopes his moped is mended', clocks in at a gigantic 19 minutes and 19 seconds. On these two pieces John Miller is joined by 4 guest musicians including the wonderful Simon Rackham. But the bulk of the playing and all the singing on the album is brilliantly handled by Miller himself with characteristic understated virtuosity. As ever his voice is extraordinary; a glorious mix of passion, absurdity and the downright sublime.