In early 70s London the folk clubs were buzzing. Raphael Doyle formed a trio with songwriting partner Tom Robinson and a one-man Northern powerhouse called Hereward Kaye. With a residency at the Troubadour coffee house in Earls Court they became known as Café Society - beating Woody Allen to the title by more than four decades.
Gravel-voiced, cheroot-smoking, Austro-Greek blues legend Alexis Korner was the band's mentor. Jamming alongside his tambourine-flailing protégé at the Troubadour one evening Alexis declared "Raphael swings like a pig". He was succeeded on stage that night by watermelon man Ray Davies, who'd dropped in to sign the boys to his new label Konk Records.
The sixties in Northern Ireland had seen a heady mix of Dylan-inspired folk colliding with the raw R&B intensity of Van Morrison and Them. A young Raphael would press his ear to the plate glass window of a beachside club in County Antrim whenever Belfast bands came to play. As difficult teen years arrived Raphael's life went off the rails. Eventually he fled to England and ended up in Kent at the Finchden Manor community, where at age 15 he began a lifelong friendship with Tom Robinson. By now he was already belting out blues and folk with ferocious intensity and writing copious song lyricis and poetry.
After two albums for Konk, Café Society split up. Painfully short on confidence and increasingly dependent on drink, Raphael's work became hit and miss. By age 19 he had already met and married Rose and the pair have journeyed together ever since through times of turbulence, but also of tremendous blessing, with four much-loved children.
His wandering years included touring Europe with Ignatz; recording gospel rock with Giant Killer and countless electric blues gigs with guitarist Paul Davey, establishing a strong following across South London. His Pied Piper storytelling and songs in schools took kids and adults alike to other worlds - while through all the wild, tempestuous times, family life continued to provide an emotional anchor.
In time, Raphael's son Louis Doyle made his own mark on the London scene as frontman with indie bands Slides and The Spare Room. After discovering his father's archive of unreleased songs, Louis dreamed of someday making a brand new Raphael Doyle album that would do proper justice to his dad's musical gifts.
And then in 2016 Raphael got a diagnosis of terminal illness. Making the record became a matter of urgency. Raphael and Louis teamed up with Tom Robinson and producer Gerry Diver to conceive the album Never Closer. The first and most urgent goal was to get Raphael's vocals for the whole album safely recorded. In Summer 2016 Louis and Raphael captured 18 master vocal tracks with Gerry Diver at his South London studio in just four days. The pair then went to Miloco studios with engineer Daniel Moyler to work up band arrangements for many of the songs - including contributions from Tom and Hereward.
Never Closer follows the story of a messy life. There is darkness and there is recovery. There is pain and there is love. And at end of the record Raphael powerfully, quietly and gladly concludes that it is all - definitely - worth it.
There is now a race against Raphael's declining health to get the remaining tracks finished, mixed, mastered and marketed in time for his 64th birthday on January 6th. If you're interested in hearing the finished record you can help make it happen simply by buying your copy in advance - and spreading the word to anyone else who you think might like it.