Taking In The
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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
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?
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?
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
WOG: How did you
evolve from the pop sound of the ‘60s to the 12-string guitar?
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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."
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
So, perhaps on Archive #3?
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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)!
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
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
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)!
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?
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
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
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.
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?
you’re starting to see a lot more of that sort of thing.
SELECTED TITLES BY ANTHONY PHILLIPS
- 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
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!
- Anthony Phillips' 1981 Orwellian inspired 4-track album reissued as a
double disc set complete with previously unreleased period outtakes and
CLICK HERE TO BUY THE EUROPEAN 2-CD OR
CLICK HERE TO BUY THE JAPANESE MINI LP 2-CD VERSION.
AFTER THE EVENT - Anthony Phillips' 1978 album digitally remastered
in this 2-CD edition complete with a full second disc of rarities, demos,
CLICK HERE TO BUY THE EUROPEAN 2-CD OR
CLICK HERE TO BUY THE JAPANESE MINI LP 2-CD VERSION.
thanks to Anthony Phillips and Voiceprint Records for
this interview. For more on Anthony Phillips, check out
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
return to the Interview Index