Taking In The Wildlife
An Interview with Anthony Phillips

 

Since we last interviewed Anthony Phillips seven years ago Ant, as he prefers to be called, has been actively working both on solo material and original compositions of television and film, known in the entertainment industry as Library Music. Most recently, Ant has released Wildlife, which is a collection of original scores written for wildlife programs. The album pays homage to Nick Gordon, Phillips' collaborative partner on the wildlife projects included on this anthology, who recently passed away due to an untimely illness.

The release of Wildlife was also accompanied by the reissue of three of Ant's earliest solo albums: The Geese and The Ghost, Wise After the Event, and 1984, which have all been completely digitally remastered and repackaged with extensive liner notes and an entire bonus disc of rarities and demos.

On May 22, 2008, Dave Negrin sat down with Ant to talk about Wildlife, the three 2-CD reissues, the forthcoming release of Genesis' Trespass in surround sound, and other projects that spanned his career from his earliest moments learning to play guitar to the present day.  

 

WOG: Do you approach songwriting differently when you are working on a true solo project as opposed to a Library Music project? I mean, do you write music on the synth for Library Music, but predominately write your solo albums on guitar?

AP: I do write the Library Music predominately on the synth. The solo work is much more random, really. Field Day was specific in that I said let’s make this wholly an acoustic guitar and guitar family material. I mean, generally speaking, if I come up to an album of my own, I’ll just look at the star that I’m going for and just take the best bits that I have stockpiled, because I’m always writing and putting ideas down. So, I’m not saying that they are all good, but there are a lot of stock ideas to draw from. It’s what I tend to do across all projects, really. Even when Library stuff comes up, I’ve nearly always got loads of ideas from the past in the sort of synth or orchestral areas to kind of pull out. The same thing holds true with my own albums.  I mean, if I did a synth album of my own tomorrow, I’d have enough material already. I’m sure a lot of composers work like that. It’s sort of like a sketch book of ideas, and then a project comes around, and you can almost fill it with your own embryonic ideas.

World of Genesis: In many respects, the Wildlife album is really a tribute to your working relationship and the work of Nick Gordon.  Prior to his untimely passing, had you considered releasing this kind of a compilation before or was his passing your inspiration for compiling the Wildlife album?

Anthony Phillips: I think it brought it to a head. There are always ideas of releasing stuff which is non-commercial album material as commercial albums. It’s always been difficult to choose what should be included, because despite the sort of passing interest of one or two people, you have to decide whether this music, which is obviously written for something else…  will it have a broad appeal to people? You don’t want to disappoint anyone…  People have an image of something that they haven’t heard. I get traces of people who say, “Oh please… [Release] your Library Music…” But you have to make a decision, because you know maybe ninety percent of it they are going to be disappointed by.  

So, I suppose its possible Wildlife might never have happened, but I’d like to think it would have happened. Certainly, the fact that we lost Nick… I think made me feel that it was almost a sign, really, saying, “Well, yes, it is actually worth it,” and I wanted to do it part as a tribute to him as well.

  WOG: How did you first get into the guitar as a boy? What inspired you to become the musician that you are today?

AP:  Just before The Beatles, there was an instrumental group in England called The Shadows.  So, that was it for the acoustic guitar. I used to try to play a lot of their stuff. Then, I was very lucky to get a Stratocaster when I was about 13, because I was very keen; I did work hard at it. Then, I bumped into my mates at senior school and by that point we were doing Beatles, Stones and Kinks numbers, and it came from there. As for songwriting, it came out pretty quickly after that. I wrote the basic part of what became “In Hiding” on From Genesis to Revelation when I was 13. It was called “Patricia,” and it was about the first girl I ever fancied (laughs).  

So, quite quickly I was writing… I’m not saying it was very good, but … So, it was that classic ‘60s thing of all the great bands of the time. Initially, the great fun was playing these wonderful songs by other people and learning to imitate them well. People would admire you for that, but after a while, the fun became creating something.

WOG:
 Wildlife has different feel to it than your Missing Links Library Music albums. Unlike the Missing Links projects, which at times, are fairly varied and a bit more random, there is a really smooth flow to the pieces of music and makes the whole album just seamless and beautiful. Is that because they all follow a similar theme of being compositions for wildlife programs or is it your own painstaking efforts in the compiling of this collection?

AP: That’s a good question. I suppose one of the main reasons for the difference is that Missing Links do tend to be a combination of different types of styles, where Wildlife is all one genre. Therefore, it’s going to be broadly speaking in the same ballpark as you guys would say which is both good and bad in the sense that it lacks some variation. On the other hand, it makes it more homogenous. Again, the difficult part is to choose which pieces stand by themselves and which ones don’t get boring or don’t seem to make any sense. I did actually spend a lot of time with Chris White who was quite independent of it.  He is someone who was able to be very objective. Chris is my sort of collaborator nowadays, as well as my technical colleague. He was somebody who was not a fan as such. He wasn’t sort of slavering and saying, “Oh, that’s great! That’s great!”  He was quite downbeat about some of it, so I think that probably helped in terms of judging the material. I am pleased to hear you say that it has flow to it anyway.
  WOG: How did you evolve from the pop sound of the ‘60s to the 12-string guitar?

AP: Well, it was a reasonably organic process. “Patricia,” I think, was written on acoustic guitar. Although a lot of the really early stuff would have been kind of substandard sub-Rolling Stones riffs on electric guitar, so there was a sort of acoustic guitar history if you like. So, the move to 12-string wasn’t that bizarre. It wasn’t like some heavy rocker suddenly going classical. There was a guy called Tony Henderson at school, and I remember playing with his 12-string in a field and I had this sort of stunning epiphany. I thought, “What a wonderful sound!” We had heard 12-strings on certain songs, obviously, but probably more electric 12-string, like with The Byrds and some of The Beatles songs. The acoustic 12-string tended to be used kind of more like a percussion instrument or at least strumming along... Not great richness of tone. There are a few exceptions, of course.

By about 1967, l’d kind of got the bug on that, and then Mike (Rutherford) got it as well. We used to do all through ’68 and ’69 while we were still doing this kind of 15th rate mock blues stuff on electric guitar and bass.


WOG: Joji Hirota is someone you have worked with on a few projects over the years on some of the Library Music work you’ve done. What is it that he brings to your compositions and collaborative relationship that makes you seek him out?

AP: Well, I did a couple of those by myself, and then sort of hit a bit of a wall after a promising start. After a layoff, we had a crack together and the first was actually with Nick [Gordon]. The first piece that they chose was the stuff that we had done together so that kind of set us on the way, really. It was a library CD, where we were combining his percussion, his lovely melodies, and his instinctive feel, with some of the more sort of bizarre ethnic instruments…  Particularly, melodic instruments. He’s a very good percussionist… He’s not a virtuoso wind player, but he more than makes up for it with his instinctive feel, and just lovely melodies.  They seemed to like that, and some of it was on the Library CD. They chose that, and therefore that combination of the harmonic and melodic side [of my work] with his percussion and his melodic side seemed to be a winning combination with them, and once we seemed to find a winning formula it seemed to oft repeat itself.

WOG: When you obtained the rights from Virgin Records the reissue of the Geese and the Ghost, Wise After the Event, and 1984, what made you decide to go into your archives and make them double albums with an entire disc’s worth of unreleased material? Do you plan to do more of your back catalog this way?

AP: I think, ideally, I would like to do it will all of them in terms of bonus material, but it’s all about budget and what’s practical. I think if you are going to be re-releasing a CD again and expect people to effectively be parting with money for essentially the same music, even though it might be packaged a bit differently, it’s a bit like a person buying the same painting twice that’s been touched up. I’m not sure it’s quite right, really. Shouldn’t we be giving them something very fundamentally extra if we can? So, that was the concept from the beginning with these reissues.

Then in practice, it was Jonathan Dann’s serious devotion of time and sleuth work to actually track down some of these pieces… Not only finding these pieces, but also putting the time in on them. So, it was the motivation of wanting to give people value for the money. Then, doing whatever was as time and cost effective as possible.  Ideally, I would have liked to have done more, but hopefully, at least with these three [reissues], people will feel that we’ve given them good value for the money. They have all been remastered… They’ve all had slight changes, most noticeably on The Geese and the Ghost, but also a whole CD of extra stuff that isn’t just kind of me singing in the bath, you know (Laughs)? It’s proper stuff.

In the case of Wise After the Event, it’s actual remixes from the multi-track [master tape], which is quite an unusual thing for someone who is not one of the top ranking artists in the world who can afford to have people remixing in surround. It’s quite unusual to have that! I mean, hopefully, we’ve given people a reasonable value for the money.
 

  we were also doing this double 12-string stuff that was beginning… just beginning to sound vaguely original. Whereas more of the early writing was all terribly derivative, this was more our own voice coming through.  I mean, everything is always derivative to a point, but the way we were approaching it was using the 12-string as more of a harmonic instrument not necessarily as a song with strumming. It was a very organic process, with kind of some strange contradictions going on.

WOG: How did you come to collaborate with Richard Scott on the Invisible Men project? That was an unusual album for you, because it was much more commercial sounding than we were accustomed to hearing.

AP: He was a very good friend of mine from the early ‘70s just after the Genesis days. He had been at Charterhouse, but was younger so I didn’t know him. We’d been friendly for a long time and he had helped me in an advisory and a quasi-engineering/production role on 1984. After that, when I moved to London, there was a big pressure on producing an album with very commercial songs.

You’ve got to remember that in those days we didn’t have personal studios and there were no independent [record] labels. If you wanted a record out, it was very different to today… You really had to tow the record company line both to get it out and to get it recorded to any sort of standard.  

I mean, I had an 8-track rental, but that really couldn’t see things finished unless it was terribly, terribly simple and done on a small scale. So, we found ourselves… I went through the whole thing as sort of a product job…. but aspects of it I didn’t find that easy. A kind of new romantic scene was in and the lyrics had to be all kind of bright and sunny and happy.

It was kind of strange, really, because I was in my 30s by this stage (laughs)! I was one of these guys being called an old fart when Punk Rock came around and I was 26! Most of those guys said “If you haven’t made it in your first time around, you’re old (laughs)!”

There was kind of a weird thing going on with the time span. You were being forced to reverse gears and pretend. It was a lot of nonsense looking back on it. I think the English record companies and the press did themselves no good looking back on it in terms of how narrow things were.

It was a bit like a Russian political system, where you sort of change things every day… Yesterday’s hero is today’s villain. So, in terms of Invisible Men, we were kind of ducking, diving, and going along with whatever we had to do. Some of it was a bit uncomfortable, and some of it was fun.  It wouldn’t be my favorite album to look back on to be honest.


Anthony Phillips on the Music Business in the mid-1980s

"I think the English record companies and the press did themselves no good looking back on it in terms of how narrow things were. It was a bit like a Russian political system, where you sort of change things every day… Yesterday’s hero is today’s villain."

 

 

WOG: If I picked up your iPod, what kinds of music would I find on there?

AP: I’m probably a little bit atypical here in that I do not listen to a lot of album music. The musicians that I revere most, apart from the great classicists, are the film composers. To me, it’s in film composing nowadays that it seems to be permitted and ok, obviously because of the wide nature of the brief, to have a combination that could be completely classical one moment and then be completely rock based the next. Now, it’s almost impossible to do that still through the auspices of a record company or certainly in the commercial world without being torn apart by the critics.


WOG:
You talked about some of the tracks being slightly different, “Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times” being one of those. Were there a lot of alternate mixes in the archives or did you decide to go back and add bits to the old material? How did those changes come about?

AP: There were different thoughts. There wasn’t much extra material on 1984. For Wise After the Event we thought about going back to the original concept which was to have an album and an EP, and we were going to go back to that [track] order. We just kind of thought that despite the fact that you can reprogram the order that people get used to the way a CD flows. So, to suddenly start inserting links and stuff we people, of course, know from other albums, I think could have been quite upsetting to some people. So, we decided not to do that and keep Wise After the Event the way it was. Obviously, it’s remastered, sounds much better, and we just put the extra stuff on the other CD. 

In the case of The Geese and the Ghost, it wasn’t really even the “director’s cut” quite. It was just inserting a section in “Henry” that was supposed to be there. It didn’t get chucked out because it wasn’t good enough. It got chucked out because of the sort of paranoia at the time that people wouldn’t be listening in the car. (Laughs) There was this sort of obsession with people getting bored and a “Quick, quick, get on with it!” sort of thing. So, the section with “Henry” that is different was just putting back something that should have been there in the first place. It wasn’t the temptation or necessity to use different mixes or anything. It was to say, “This was the structure of the original album… See what you think!”   

WOG: Among the added tracks on the new reissue of The Geese and the Ghost was the first official release of the original version of “Silver Song” with Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins.

AP: Right! Absolutely!

WOG:  Were there unreleased tracks from this period that were too damaged to use on the reissues? One of the tracks that I immediately noticed that was missing was “Only Your Love” which also had Mike and Phil on it.

AP: Not many if any. I mean, the truth with “Silver Song” is that we got Phil Collins’ to very nicely agree [to its inclusion on The Geese and the Ghost’s 2008 CD reissue]. That sounds as though he was doing it as a favor; he wasn’t. There are singers of his ilk that might not have wanted an early work with his singing on it released. So, I was pleased that he did that. At the time, I thought… Well, the b-side [“Only Your Love”] was done in a real rush… It was very rough… and I thought maybe this is kind of pushing it to ask him then. I’m sure in the fullness of time that will come out. It just sort of felt like maybe a little bit too much at the same time to be honest, but there would be nothing stopping that from coming out in terms of the technical side.

  To be honest, while I am not saying that I don’t revere other musicians of course, I do… whether it’s Sting or Peter Gabriel or Tom Waits, or any of those sort of artists, but I do tend to aspire more toward instrumental music nowadays and for me the really commanding guys are the guys in film. I could list you thousand of them… When I go see films I just sit back and it’s just orgasmic stuff (laughs)!  There are so many geniuses around. I come out of most films and think to myself “Ah, I should just give up and try to work down the mines!”

So, the three minute pop song still has its place, and when it’s good it’s very, very good, but I think the sort of grand design of orchestral music with its infinite subtleties, layers, and tone variations is a bit more rewarding nowadays.

WOG: Having only had one album under your belt at the time, when you went into the studio to record Trespass in 1970, how important or influential was the role of the producer in developing the band’s sound in the recording sessions? Did Genesis know going into the studio what they wanted that album to sound like or did the band still need the guidance of the producer to realize the final product?

AP: Trespass was an easy one, because the record company signed us for our live set.  Our live set was the same thing every night, and had been for a long time and we were getting very bored with it… Inevitably, as you would after a long time.

It was like playing “The New World Symphony” every night on stage. The music was complex enough that we needed a lot of time off to rehearse the material, and we weren’t sure that the new material was going to be any good. So, we stayed with it and the record company signed us. So, we simply recorded the live set. 

We went into the studio knowing exactly how we wanted Trespass to sound, because maybe with the exception of the few odd little extra things… I mean, Mike, I think, may have added a little extra classical guitar on “Stagnation” and backing vocals were done best, because we were pretty bad at those live.

John Anthony, the Producer, was great in that he gave us confidence, but we pretty much didn’t have the time or didn’t have any other kind of thoughts or parameters than to say “Let’s record these songs as they are and make them sound good as good as they can on stage with a little, sort of, gloss to them.” That’s pretty much what we did.

WOG: So, perhaps on Archive #3?

AP: It could very well be… I hope so, yes.

WOG: How did you first get John Hackett involved on The Geese and the Ghost? Obviously, Steve Hackett joined Genesis after your departure, so it seems like a strange connection.

AP: Of course, it does seem that way. I think the reality of it was that I used to see Steve occasionally at gigs. Mike obviously knew Steve Hackett well and through him we knew John. Mike and I were working on the Geese and the Ghost together in the early stages. So, when my brother said he would play oboe, and we didn’t want to get a high priced flautist… we couldn’t afford a high priced flautist. That was done very early, that session with John Hackett and my brother. So, it must have been though Mike that John got involved.

I can’t remember that I knew much about John, but certainly Mike would have known. He probably asked around, you know? Just in the same way that we got Viv McCauliffe to do the vocals on “God, If I Saw Her Now.” She was someone I knew. We were just asking around and it was suggested. So, it does seem like a strange connection, but John Hackett was pretty close to home, really.

WOG: On your more recent solo projects, you’ve tended to write more acoustic music. Have you ever considered experimenting more with electric guitar again or possibly doing more of a straight rock album again in the vein of something like Sides?

AP: It’s possible. To be honest, I don’t play too much electric guitar nowadays. The main part of my life is sitting at a synthesizer programming stuff and playing one hand on keyboards and one hand on a mouse (laughs)… and playing around with sound, which I love.  When I am not picking up an acoustic guitar, I’m trying to be a vaguely proper pianist. Electric guitar isn’t something I play much. I still love it, but I’ll be honest with you in saying that I don’t think it’s my best suit. There are so many people who could do it better than me, but maybe one day.

I’ve always meant to do another album like Slow Dance, which would certainly include electric guitar. I’m not sure I would ever do another album quite like Sides again. Obviously, don’t rule it out though. I still like it all, and if I could find the time to embrace it all, I certainly would (laughs)!

  I had a bit of a battle with Robin Cable, the Engineer. I got used to a very thick sound on my 12-string. We were doing things a bit different with 12-string and I remember him saying to me “That doesn’t sound like a 12-string!” (Laughs)  I said, “Yes, it does!” We had this kind of thing where he was moving the microphone one way and I was moving it the other way. As I was saying to your earlier, it was that tradition of the 12-string strum along and trying to make it sound like a water board... I wanted to hear the full richness of the actual notes, so we had a bit of a ding-dong on that, but it was really a question of getting as close as we could to our live set.

WOG: One of the discrepancies in the Genesis history that I read recently was in an interview with Jonathan King [the band’s original producer] where he said that he basically had to convince Tony Stratton Smith [the then President/Owner of Charisma Records] to take on Genesis after From Genesis To Revelation. This completely contradicts an interview I read with Tony Banks saying that Genesis was signed based on the live shows you were doing at the time. You eluded to this earlier, but what is your recollection of this discrepancy?

AP: Well, if that’s true, I know nothing about it. Jonathan King was fantastic to us. There’s no question of that, but that era ended. He was a bit bemused by the direction in which we had gone and I don’t think he really liked what we were doing. When he first came to see us on the road, we were doing these long, straggly pieces and he was all about the two and a half minute, very quick pop song… Some clever, but I’m afraid some also pretty disposable.  No disrespect to Jonathan King, but I think if the group had been successful early on [with From Genesis to Revelation], I don’t think we would have ever developed beyond a pretty one dimensional group… Sort of pretty boy, one dimensional late ‘60s simple pop songs.

In the six months that we were experimenting with longer forms and stuff, I think we really found something much more original and it was at the end of that six months that Charisma signed us. Now, if Jonathan King had anything to do with that, I don’t know about it. I’d be surprised. I’d pretty much got the impression that Tony Stratton Smith signed us for what he heard which was a sound that was pretty alien to Jonathan King. I would have to go along with Tony Banks on that (laughs)!
WOG: When you went to record Field Day, did you find that the recording sessions were extremely fruitful or what inspired you to take on an ambitious double album?

AP: That’s a fairly straight forward one in that it had been so long since I had done any acoustic guitar, really. I’d been librarying pretty steadily from about 1996, I guess, until about 2002 or 2003. There had been some album releases in that time, but with very little new material on them. 

I’d been playing the odd bit of acoustic guitar, but not really doing very much. I had always been getting ideas and, to be honest, there was a lull in my other work, so I thought I’d have a crack at it. As I think I said in the notes, I just kind of improvised on every instrument for a couple of hours and then took the best bits. It got difficult after that, because I’d gotten so many ideas.

I did think about trying to break it up into two different CDs, but it was all done pretty much at one time. The danger there would have been to have released one CD that had all of the best material and then the next one would have been rather more prosaic. The motivation was to do some acoustic guitar again.

I would have liked, had there been more time, to turn some of them into duets, but then the trouble is that once you start changing the format, one becomes a duet and the other one sounds empty in comparison, so in the end I decided to just leave it all solos.

Field Day
took a lot of time. I had to stop and start it. There were two aborted attempts at recording it where I just thought I wasn’t ready with some of the pieces. I mean, it was off and on for about three or four years, actually (laughs)!
 


WOG: Did you have a lot of input or involvement in the forthcoming 5.1 surround sound remix of Genesis’ Trespass album or its bonus content?

AP: Not really. Nick (Davis) was very nice and sent me the disc and asked what I thought. I said “It’s great – no problems,” but I didn’t go down [to the band’s studio, The Farm] or anything. I was just happy that they were doing it.

As for the bonus content, of course, there was no video in my day, so I wasn’t involved in that side of things. I don’t get involved in any decisions about what they include. They are decent enough to run any audio stuff by me, but I obviously wouldn’t be involved, it was so long ago.

WOG: When it comes time to do press to promote the Genesis 1970 to 1975 box set, do you anticipate that the band will do something similar to what they did when they were promoting the 1998 Genesis Archive box set where they brought all of the past Genesis members together again? If so, will you be involved?

AP: I’m not actually sure of their plans. I doubt I would be asked to be involved in that. I’m only briefly involved in the very start of that box set, so I’m absolutely sure I wouldn’t be involved in that, no.

WOG: Have you considered doing any sort of webcast, live chat or other interactive material on your official website?

AP: I’d be really happy to do that, to be honest. It’s never really come up. Do a lot of artists do that?

WOG: Yes, you’re starting to see a lot more of that sort of thing.

SELECTED TITLES BY ANTHONY PHILLIPS

WILDLIFE  - In what I would describe as a 'concept' library music compilation, this collection of previously commercially unreleased Phillips music features compositions written for wildlife documentaries and is dedicated to the memory of Ant's long-time collaborator and wildlife enthusiast, Nick Gordon.

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE EUROPEAN CD VERSION.

 
AP: Yes, I’d be very happy to do that. Of course, the great majority of my income comes from my TV work and that has to come first because of that. I try to fit everything else in as much as I can around it. Of course, life has multiple demands and one can’t spend one’s whole time working. It does feel sort of like two careers sometimes. So, it can be difficult.

People tend to look at me or judge me along side the others [from Genesis] and I always have to make the point that the others, including Steve Hackett, are full time artists. I’m actually a full time composer who does this stuff on the side. Therefore, my commitment to it obviously has to be sporadic…  Just as I’m doing this interview, among other things… I always try to accommodate the fans. I always try to get together with them if I can or answer questions. So, within reason, of course, yes. I mean, anything that will reach out to people is great!
 
1984 - Anthony Phillips' 1981 Orwellian inspired 4-track album reissued as a double disc set complete with previously unreleased period outtakes and demos!

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE EUROPEAN 2-CD OR CLICK HERE TO BUY THE JAPANESE MINI LP 2-CD VERSION.
WISE AFTER THE EVENT - Anthony Phillips' 1978 album digitally remastered in this 2-CD edition complete with a full second disc of rarities, demos, and outtakes!

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE EUROPEAN 2-CD OR CLICK HERE TO BUY THE JAPANESE MINI LP 2-CD VERSION.
Special thanks to Anthony Phillips and Voiceprint Records for this interview. For more on Anthony Phillips, check out his official website. This interview © 2008 Dave Negrin and may not be reprinted in whole or in part without permission.

For more CD titles by Anthony Phillips, please visit the World of Genesis on-line shop.
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