“More Readings From The Affectionate Scrapbook” - Anthony Phillips’ latest albums: Private Parts & Pieces VII: Slow Waves, Soft Stars and Tarka reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Anthony Phillips’ latest albums have put me in a bit of a quandary. For, although they are both excellent albums, they are both in such widely differing styles as to defy categorisation and in these days of “pop”, “rock” etc I am grateful for an artist who has the ability to transcend these superficial labels.
Private Parts & Pieces VII - Slow Waves, Soft Stars is, as you have probably already guessed, Ant’s seventh album in the series, and it is to my mind one of the more satisfying releases to date. Released in 1987 the album has yet to appear in any substantial numbers here in the UK where it is on import from the USA and the reviewer’s copy came courtesy of the editors of Ripples magazine in Australia (thanks a lot folks!). That aside however, the album rewards patient listening as always. On this record, Ant has been largely experimental with his use of keyboard textures and several pieces are largely improvised although it is almost impossible to tell which ones- fact which emphasises Ant’s talents wit these instruments, not his first choice in music.
Pieces such as Ice Flight, one which incorporates five individual shorter ones is very descriptive of the Polar landscape and could very well be used as theme music for TV and films about such places. The music is very understated and deceptive in as much as that it reverberates in the listener’s mind long after the piece is finished. In between these pieces are several more “traditional” ones from Ant on acoustic guitar. In particular, Carnival, Beachrunner and End Of The Affair are by contrast very warm in character helped no doubt by the musicianship of Henrique Berro Garcia who some of you may be familiar with from his work on the Antiques album.
Overa ll, Ant’s own description of the album as one of “dreamy synth stuff” is an apt one but don’t be fooled by it into thinking that the album is an artistic wallow in self indulgence because it ISN’T, but rather a collection of mood music, good for the mind rather than the body.
Tarka is a different proposition entirely. A collaborative effort with Harry Williamson (the son of the author of the original Tarka book), the album is almost classical in composition. This particular work has its origins in themed Seventies when the original pilot for the film was being made. Ant and Harry had ahand in this but unfortunately were knocked back for the finished work for which David Fanshawe wrote the score. In this case I think the initial failure has only severed to strengthen the end result, for like all works of art (and I use that phrase advisedly), only time brings the artists’ efforts to full fruition as has been the case with this album.
Like any orchestral work the album is divided into three “movements” with an end piece called The Anthem. Each of these movements contains a variety of music to describe the phrases in the life of Tarka The Otter. There are so many references that one can picture in the mind if you have read the book, or seen the original film. Especially strong are the echoes of the gulls over the sea in the latter part of the second movement and at the beginning of the third, and the lilting central theme for Taka himself.
The music is by contrasts dramatic and humorous, but always carefully crafted to make the maximum use of the orchestra. There are also, if you listen very carefully, reference points to Ant’s own work as well, from echoes of The Geese & The Ghost to Private Parts & Pieces II - Back To The Pavilion, as well as a couple of references to Ant’s classical roots, in particular Vaughan Williams. Having become used to Ant’s previous work, this album came as a real surprise and in many ways can be seen as Ant’s “coming of age” and will, I think be seen as the closing chapter in one part of his work and the beginning of another, equally creative one in the years to come.
Individual pieces are hard to select for scrutiny but the end pierce, The Anthem is in itself a beautiful piece although differing from its predecessors by the use of synthesisers along with the haunting use of the combined woodwind section of the orchestra and Ant’s own inimitable twelve string guitar. This is a piece which will find a place in the hearts of many fans for its sheer beauty. It has already found a place in mine! This piece is supposed to be scheduled for release as a single which begs the question; if it is put out what will be on the B side?
Both of these albums will delight Ant’s longstanding fans and will, if the reaction of the people I know who have heard the album (not all of them Anthony Phillips fans I may add) is anything to go by, win him a host of new fans into the bargain and I envy them their surprise and enjoyment when they start exploring his back catalogue. For those of you interested, the details of both releases are as follows….
Private Parts & Pieces VII - Slow Waves Soft Stars. Audion Records (USA) SYN 308 (LP), SYNCD 308 (CD).
Tarka PRT Records (UK) PYL 18 (LP), PYM 18 (Cassette) and PYC 18 (CD).
I have no hesitation in recommending both these albums - happy listening!