In Great Britain 1966-70 Phillips studied composition with Edmund Rubbra and John White and conducting with Alexander Gibson and Neville Marriner, taught at the Royal College of Music, and was music director of the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, with which he made nine LPs. He returned to Canada, served 1970-2 as principal trumpet of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, and became a founding member of Canadian Brass. In 1972 he founded the Classical Brass and was its music director and first trumpet until 1974. He conducted the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir 1978-87.
Phillips founded the New Chamber Orchestra of Canada in 1973. The orchestra, a 13-member string ensemble comprised largely of Toronto Symphony players, continued to perform until 1987, giving annual concert series in Toronto with leading Canadian soloists and with guest conductors such as John Avison, Alexander Brott, Neville Marriner, and Klaro Mizerit. Milton Barnes was named the orchestra's composer-in-residence, and his She betim (1974) and Concerto for Violin (1976, commissioned by the orchestra through a Canada Council grant) were premiered by the orchestra, as were Phillips' Changes (1976) and City of Youth (1977). Among Phillips' other compositions are Brass Trio (1969), Brass Quintet (1973), and Peace (1975) for string orchestra.
Phillips commuted regularly to New York state 1979-85 to conduct the Plattsburg Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the Hart House Orchestra (an amateur symphonic group not connected with the Boyd Neel orchestra) 1976-88. He also conducted the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra 1987-8 as well as a chamber orchestra in a four-concert series for Ottawa's 1989 Fall Festival of the Arts. In 1990 Phillips began conducting the Ottawa Police Chorus and resumed conducting duties for the Plattsburg Symphony Orchestra. He appeared as guest conductor with the Atlantic, Niagara, Windsor, and Regina symphony orchestras, Orchestra London, and the Hull Chamber Orchestra, which commissioned and premiered his Gatineau Suite (1989).
Although some have mistakenly believed that Phillips played on the Beatles' song "Penny Lane," this is not the case. It was the British trumpeter David Mason who provided the famous "Penny Lane" solo.