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"The kind of work that I was picking up, it wasn't because of my technical chops really," he adds. "It was because of what I could add to a record. People might say, Let's get Neil in, because he's good at this, or that, or whatever: basically being creative."
While Neil cautions that "there's not as much work like that anymore," it's still important for him to be able to help shape the vibe of a track when he's on a session.
"It's great when you walk into a studio and the producer plays the song and says, What can you hear on this? And you'll start noodling around and then maybe they'll say, Yes, great, I really like that, and then you build it together and create your guitar part."
"But it seems to be much more cut-and-dried these days," he adds, "and of course times have changed since the 1980s when you could almost command your own price. People are doing stuff for almost nothing these days."
Fortunately, Neil's slick playing and his creative drive have kept him employed with some of the biggest acts in the world, and he has enjoyed a long working relationship with Robbie Williams. He first got the gig after recording with Chris de Burgh. A programmer working on the same project recommended Neil to Williams' ace songwriting partner Guy Chambers.
"The next thing I knew, I had a call from Guy Chambers," Neil recalls, "and I'd actually worked with his assistant producer and engineer, Steve Power, on previous sessions. So, that was my 'in' really. Guy got me up to the studio and the first thing I played on was the solo on Rock DJ. Then I got asked back to do the Escapology album. We did the album in LA with Guy and that's when I met Rob properly. He asked me if I wanted to be in his band and I thought, This is amazing.
"It went from there, really. Like I said, it's a great guitar player's gig because you can really get your teeth into it. There is a song, Come Undone, and when we've played that in the past I would go out into the crowd with Robbie. It's every guitar player's dream, isn't it? Playing in front of 80,000 people doing a massive guitar solo – and doing that every night for a year."
Despite getting offers of work from all quarters of the industry these days, Neil says the most important thing for him is to be able to work on material that he has an instinctive feel for.
"I've had phone calls before asking me to do certain things when I could have really done with the money," Neil says. "But I always turned those jobs down if they just weren't for me and I couldn't bring myself to do them. That's when it almost becomes like an ordinary job to me. I got into session guitar to avoid having to do that kind of thing."
Gear-wise, Neil relies on a small but road-proven selection of guitars (see box, left) and he uses a variety of Marshall amps for most jobs – although for many years he went with his faithful Mesa/Boogie Mark III.
"I've still got it and it's still great," he adds. "I also had a Yamaha SPX90 [rackmount multi-effects unit] when they were all the rage back in the late 1980s."
These days Neil favours the convenience of digital modelling effects, however.
"I've got the Line 6 stuff," he says. "I've got the [DL-4] delay and the [DM-4] distortion because sometimes people like those synthetic distortion sounds. That does so many different distortions, which is great, and I've got the [FM-4] modulator with chorus and all that kind of stuff."
"In terms of playing, it's all about being simple. There is no point in riffing over everything. They don't want that"
But clearly it takes a lot more than versatile guitar gear to make it on the session scene. What key qualities does Neil believe aspiring session aces need to have?
"In terms of playing, it's all about being simple. There is no point in riffing over everything. They don't want that. As soon as you walk in you just get a vibe and you know what's right and what's wrong – and that's part of your job, isn't it?
"Getting on with people is also a very important thing and so is being able to play in time. I used to played along with a Dr Rhythm, which was one of the first drum machines, and just practised playing in time. That really helped."