“How I Came To Be Involved In Underwater Archery” - The concluding part of this interview with Anthony Phillips at his home on Saturday 31st May 1988. Interview by Alan Hewitt and Ted Sayers. Photographs by Ted Sayers.
Continuing the interview from last issue where we left off with Ant talking about the musical Alice…
AP: And expertise on knowing that up to the stage which was what it was, basically two synths, guitar, bass and drums and unfortunately because of the way things worked, you know with time, late decisions all that kind of stuff. You have to wait you see until the drama is set and only when it is set is there any point in putting the music to those last stages. It Didn’t have the time and so it was rushed and the sound was.. in the hall it was awful. We had some early demos dome here which sounded good but they didn’t get the atmosphere of the show and they weren’t really the final versions and then we got these sort of banal arrangements and rather dull sound, not particularly well played which was a great source of frustration. Anyway, what will happen to it in the future we’ll have to see.
TWR: How long did it run for in Leeds?
AP: It was a fixed run actually and it easily ran over its length of time. It didn’t lose money, well… not much! Their big gamble was making money as it went on. They had a slice of the action for about a year. I just look at it as being a good experience; a good first try really. It’s not my favourite medium to be honest but it was good to have ago at it and I do have a lot of respect for the people who do it. I mean, it’s not easy … musicians and people pooh, pooh it. The trouble is you are at the mercy of everybody else really. You know, if the lighting designer doesn’t get it right or if the costume designer doesn’t get it right, your bit goes down the tubes. It’s very risky. It’s very much a team thing and everybody has to be very much on the edge of their thing.
The Tarka thing was very much … it ran parallel to The Geese & The Ghost. I was working with this guy - Harry Williamson who is Henry Williamson’s son - the guy who wrote the book. I still think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. But we wrote a certain amount of it in the 1970’s. He tended to play more six string and we were going to do a pilot for the film of Tarka The Otter. We sort of got in on that and they liked it, and having done that we naively thought we had a good chance of getting the proper score. But obviously we were sort of two unknowns and they had their sort of major composer lined up. But Hit & Run actually put up some money to do it; to record some more music which was the orchestral part of it and that came out pretty well.
We still didn’t get it. It was never going to make any difference so we were left with about ten or fifteen minutes of completed music. Orchestral stuff, and sort of bits of the other stuff and this was around 1977 or 1978. Absolutely hopeless trying to get a release for something like that. It really was a complete joke, you know anything that was conceptual and orchestral was right out.
As I was saying earlier about trying to put that through a business that had a vested interest in going right the other way - absolute nonsense. But the producer stuck with it, he was… he got involved with the film people and there were plenty of stops and starts but a film company came across it recently and they liked it and they want to use it in a completely different film but they’ve also put up the money for us to finish the original album. NOT re-record from scratch which would cost a fortune, but use the original orchestral stuff, sort of patching in where it was a bit rough and recording all the acoustic parts again.
So we have done that and now we’re just trying to get a deal. I think it should be alright although funnily enough it’s not really “New Age” is it? I mean, classic “New Age” is kind of electronic and this is more dynamic … it keeps moving, you can’t meditate to this in the same kind of hypnotic way that you can… (laughs). I’m glad about that. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a lot of the New Age stuff but the idea that it’s all background music and isn’t really compelling listening is wrong really.
TWR: I see you’ve released some of the music on Private Parts & Pieces VI: Ivory Moon, along with a piece from Masquerade unless I’ve made a mistake…
AP: You haf made ze mistake. Ve cannot tolerate ze mistakes (in perfect
Herr Flick accent). No, no you’ve got your wires crossed. None of the
Tarka stuff has been released yet and the Masquerade project came to nothing.
Some of the ideas went into Alice. What happened wit Masquerade was, Hit &
Run got involved with Kit Williams who wrote the book. It was going to be a
musical and so they asked various people to write songs and Rupert Hine was
going to do it with his girlfriend Jeanette and I was sort of involved with
that. But Rupert didn’t have any time because he was producing bands and
not a lot happened apart from three or four songs and it was all very unsatisfactory.
I wrote stacks for it and so it sport of petered out which was extremely frustrating.
And then Rod Argent had a go, and his got as far as being staged in workshop.
So I had some experience of writing things in this sort of declamatory style
when you have to project songs. In musicals you can’t do sort of groove
songs - songs that stand still. The music has to go with the action most of
the time. So there was two things on Ivory Moon which were, if you like, my
attempts at songs for Masquerade.
TWR: You seem to have tried you hand at a musical or musicals. You’ve tried your hand at TV music with Rule Britannia, have you veer been approached to write music for a film?
AP: I’m always a bit wary of talking about something before it happens in case you make it not happen, you know, both the film company who put up the money for us to finish the Tarka album want to use it in a film. The production company is called Amy International, and it’s a production company set up by Susan George and Simon MacCorkindale - he’s super, loves the music which is great after all these years of brick walls and you know, it’s strange, a kind of emerging into the light with people saying how good it is.
TWR: Tony Banks has done two or three soundtracks for albums and the classic example was when he was all keyed up to write the music for 2010 and he got as far as writing the stuff and he too it to the director who said he didn’t like what he’d written! With all the projects you have done, it would be a shame if something similar happened now.
AP: He got paid though. I think film writing is a specialised area there’s no question of it. I think there’s not many rock people whose stuff is sufficiently distinctive and strong unto itself to be able automatically to make the cross over without having to work at it. The thing is you have to be able to write whatever is required of you. I mean, you’re going to get the odd moment when you can do stuff that you like - like make or break a scene. But generally it’s pretty standard stuff; there’s the tense scene with tense music, there’s the waltz scene so we want a waltz. That’s what being a professional composer is all about.
I’ve no illusions about this going into a picture and do exactly what you want to do. It’s a question of craft really. And I think it’s pretty tough. I mean, the two of us will do it; Harry and I will sort of learn some of the tricky areas. What’s so wonderful about this is that the production company love the basic themes so they’re on our side already.
TWR: You’ve just mentioned your collaboration with Harry Williamson but your name has also been linked with others including Bucks Fizz. Did you ever write any tracks with/for them?
AP: Yeah. I mean there’s no big deal about it. I wrote lots of covers. Mike did quite a lot of covers and then he decided that it wasn’t getting anywhere so he decided I’ll do it myself. Trying to get covers is actually very difficult because more often than not the people who do them are more sort of mainstream and so you’ve got to write something which is not too adventurous.
TWR: Now we come to the question that, no doubt, you have been asked many times before, you’re probably thoroughly sick and tired of it… No, no it’s not the one to do with Genesis!
AP: You mean - what’s the wind speed of the European swallow?
TWR: Yes, something like that (laughs). Will you ever tour on your own?
AP: Tricky question, I mean practically it would have to have been, with Steve’s thing and one or two other people’s it has certainly become more of a practical thing. There are two areas: one, there’s my natural apprehension about it after Genesis but the other is during those years it really has been to all intents and purposes impractical because I have never seen performing as being first and foremost my thing. The music is not simple, therefore to rehearse a set and get the whole thing together would take a long time and therefore it would have to make a reasonable amount of money to make it worthwhile and of course, for a while there just wasn’t the demand at all so it wasn’t financially practical.
But now I admit, after hearing these stories about Steve… I don’t know what sort of a draw I would be but practically it’s coming within. What I don’t want is to have to take big gambles you see, this is the point about at one stage wanting to form a band and going out on the road would have been crazy because there would have been a big debt in order to get decent players, therefore we would immediately into big debt with the record company and the whole thing of the spiral begins again and I know I can’t handle that. I’m a composer first and foremost but there are times when I think it would be nice. There’s no reason why every composer should perform but sometimes I get this feeling that I should have a go - I owe it to the people but I don’t want to do it badly at the same time. So we shall have to see really…
TWR: I’ve also been dying to ask this question, because I cannot picture characters like these but did characters like Humbert Rinse and Vic Stench actually exist? Or are they really cover names for other people? And where is the Vicar’s mobile oil rig? That is what we want to know!
AP: I don’t think the truth behind these mysteries has ever been uncovered and I think it’s going to have to remain uncovered for a little while longer. You thought you would come down to London and get all the answers - you were mistaken! I can tell you one thing though, just in case, Mr Ralph Bernascone DOES exist. He is not my guitar or other various ideas (laughs). I wouldn’t say that all of his credits have been entirely true. A Dutch reviewer of the new album commented on hearing the guitar piece Bubble & Squeak where he is credited with playing “frying pans” on it and this guy’s review said; ‘credited with playing frying pan (although I couldn’t hear it)’. Either his tongue was very much in his cheek or he was well and truly had by that one!
TWR: There’s one thing about the new album - it seems to be very descriptive of a place. The place I think of is the Antarctic, because most of the music is based around … well, one piece is called Whale Bay and unless I am mistaken, there is a place by that name in the Antarctic? Did you have any particular ideas in mind when you put the album together?
AP: Well, this is tricky. I don’t know how honest to be! (Laughs). I could come across as being somewhat of a charlatan. I’ve given you the general impression of what has been happening with these albums. I mean, Private Parts & Pieces V and VI had to be done. It was great to do those albums like that but I felt I couldn’t do another album of… purity is fine but too much purity becomes Spartan, you know? And I think it is quite taxing to listen to an album of one sound. So, when I came to Private Parts & Pieces VII this “New Age” thing, the upturn hadn’t really happened you know. I had a few synth pieces from library albums that I had done which were kind of too dreamy, too ethereal. So I took some of them and overdubbed them. I found this whole section of pieces that has this kind of chilling quality and the title, I was going to call the whole thing Ice Flight actually. I thought why not just take all these pieces I mean it is quite arty but it was great fun just to take these pieces that have been written at a certain time and try juggling them around to see if you can sort of make them flow and then overdub them. And so I … a lot of it was based around that kind of arpeggio figure that kept randomly coming in and out. It seemed to me immediately that it was extraordinarily descriptive of Antarctica and that kind of stuff. So, I have to say, I went to the library (laughs) and got a couple of books out. But I think you will often find that people work back to front…. You have a feeling for one particular thing but it changes if you don’t write the music at that particular point. Maybe you do arrive back at the end with the kind of titles you were thinking of at the time and I can remember one or two. But I mean, a lot of the stuff on Ice Flight is improvised.
TWR: To be absolutely honest, for me, it is very difficult to tell which bits are and which bits aren’t.
AP: It’s just dreamy, floating stuff really. I think that’s what it is.
TWR: I think we are just about out of questions now, but there’s just one more. We know that there are two of your albums available on compact disc. How long before the rest are?
AP: I don’t know really. It’s a question of what the American record company want to do really.
Well, that concludes this revealing interview with Ant. We are sure you have found it as interesting to read as it was for Ted and I to conduct. We would like to thank Ant once again for his hospitality and patience in answering our array of questions so readily and so amusingly too! We look forward to having more news from Ant very soon so look out for details in the pages of future issues of The Waiting Room.