Here are Ant’s thoughts on the Invisible Men album from an interview he did for our sister magazine The Pavilion back in 1996.…
It’s not fair of me really to call it that (the mortgage album) but I do feel that whilst it has its strong points, if one is looking at my musical career as a whole, then bluntly it wasn’t the most constructive at the end of the day. It won’t be seen as the most constructive direction . It had its strong points too but many would argue that I should have gone down the Geese & The Ghost/Tarka line and I think they are right. I have no doubt about it but once you have decided to make art, or music in my case, your money making scenario, you are going to at times do things that you don’t consider to be the ultimate thing for your expression and I think that was the case with this album.
The thing you have to remember is in those days it was unlike it is now where quite a lot of people are lucky in having their own studios and can actually produce things without needing vast amounts of money, in those days you had to get backing. It’s all beginning to change and I had an eight track facility but I simply couldn’t produce a rock album here. I had to produce something that was going to be acceptable enough to get the record company to finance the extra money.
As far as the direction was concerned, I had dome Private Parts & Pieces albums and I had done all sorts of things which were ticking over and making bits of money but nothing was pulling in a lot. Therefore the attitude from Tony Smith and the Genesis office was ‘this is the demands of the time, this is the era post punk, new romantic, whatever you want to call it. This is what you need to do…’ I had just arrived in this house and suddenly the bills were all motoring up and it didn’t seem that just pottering and doing a simple Private Parts & Pieces album was the thing. It was very much still the era of thinking you’ve got to come up with a commercial album and people would say that it’s still true now. You have got to come out with a commercial album and people would say that breaks you out into the mainstream. Then you pick up all the other fans who pick up on your music.
Nevertheless, there was such a narrow party line in this country that one really had to conform in certain areas and it really was get back to basics in certain areas a bit. I got the old Hofner Colorama out which was fourteen quid in the shop between the opticians and the Wimpey Bar in Putney High Street (laughs) all those years ago. I got him out and he sounded pretty rough. Contrary to popular opinion,; I do enjoy the rougher edges of rock. The trouble is it palled quite quickly. It’s one thing to do that kind of stuff and have a bit of fun doing it and enjoy things like Women Were Watching, the riff on that I am not ashamed of at all. I could happily do that all the time but there were other areas though where we felt things like Golden Bodies and Love In A Hot Air Balloon were sort of quirky and fun but sustaining interest in those kind of things was quite difficult and when it came to the vocals we came to all the old problems.
What was happening at the time, Mike and Tony were both doing solo albums and they were doing the their own vocals and I think there was a feeling that in the absence of knowing anybody particularly well, I’ll have a crack at it myself. Remember Sides had had the other vocalists but it hadn’t made a difference. There was the feeling of ‘it’s my album but there’s all these other guys singing’ and it didn’t feel quite integrated and didn’t quite work. So for lack of an obvious alternative, I had a crack and I had singing lessons with this chap, John Owen-Edwards who was with us on Alice and who had given Mike singing lessons. It began to feel uncomfortable and I began to think ‘ I don’t think I can really hack this actually’. It also seemed to me that everybody was trying to pretend that they were eighteen in the music business then. It was “cool” to pretend to be seventeen or eighteen then and come up with these juvenile emotions.
It wasn’t that I felt above it, but I just felt awkward because I was no longer at that age and I couldn’t do it convincingly. I still find people who are of elder years still prancing around singing this rather trite stuff, deeply embarrassing and I felt deeply embarrassed about it myself trying to do it. Maybe there was a better way, a better style or compromise or maybe we tried to be too mundane and twee, but it didn’t quite have it. It was the era of Haircut One Hundred and all that kind of stuff; jangly guitar riffs, quite nice, quit pleasant and inoffensive but it was just the wrong era and the wrong time to be trying to be something else. Whilst it was fun for a time, aspects of the album made me feel so uncomfortable I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what was going on. My whole life had changed. I had moved here, there wasn’t much money coming in, I was in debt and I was riding along helplessly down this stream of doing this music and I was thinking ‘what is this?’ and I felt fairly sure that it wasn’t going to be successful as well.
We did four or five songs with backing tracks and possibly rough vocals. They did sound very good here and Tony Smith came over and he was extremely impressed. He actually said, ‘I’m knocked out!’ It was one of those classic moments. He was very carried away and it wasn’t long after that that I think we did the demos for Alice, and there’s little wonder that they took them because it was a good time. Then a little bit further down the line the proper vocals had to be recorded and the business of having to flesh it all out and sustain the interest in it began and it was then that it all began to lose it really.
I think Richard (Scott) was keener on aspects of it than I was. He was very supportive but he was also very pushy to do lots of things that I didn’t really feel comfortable with, It was a difficult one for me because the duo approach worked well in some places but he wa so inexperienced in so many areas, but very confident. It was quite difficult for me because I didn’t want to be a killjoy but there were a few moments where I felt that things were not working as well as they could. Richard was very keen having come out of university and wanting to give music a go as a career bit it didn’t really happen on Invisible Men and then it didn’t really happen with Alice.
During Invisible Men it did start to get a little bit difficult but I think the main point was that it started off well and then it became difficult to sustain interest. Once we got to the bigger studio, the engineer took over some of his role and he felt slightly moved on one side which was understandable but necessary. After all, he didn’t have the experience. He was quite an intuitive musician but he didn’t have any engineering experience. He was good for an all round musical overview and he was very helpful on 1984 where he came in on the rough mixes, but it got quite difficult when the engineer, Trevor Vallis , took over and that last period I remember as being quite difficult because we had drummers coming in and they were dubbing on drum box parts and we had singers coming in as well. It was all this thing of trying to use various session musicians and the money was flowing out. It wasn’t a wholly happy time to be honest.
There were problems with the mixes. We took the rough mixes to RCA who had been keen on 1984 and I thought that this was the sort of album that they would want. I got a bad feeling about it when we took in some of the strongest tracks and the guy who was quite complimentary said; ‘ there’s no single here’ and I thought ‘oh god, how do I sustain interest in this?’. Then we had to finish it off and early the next year, in 1983 there was all this stuff about ‘looking the part’. You see, I still has the long beard then and there was all this stuff about trying to make an image out of it with the Anthony Phillips Band . It was difficult because I didn’t feel comfortable with it and it didn’t feel like a band to me. Richard and I had not exactly become frosty but we had been involved on one project for a long time which hadn’t quite worked out the way we a wanted, and we sort of drifted apart. I then had to ask him to come back for the sake of the project and to have these photos taken,. We weren’t being paid for all of this and it was getting a little bit tense and then nothing much happened. Passport rejected a couple of cuts and it was all sort of an anti climax really.
It was probably quite a common experience amongst people at that time and looking back on it, I still think I probably did the right thing. I am always being accused of being too precious, too this and too that and so clearly it seemed the right thing to do; to make a rock album, stop being too precious and get right in there. Now I think that probably it would have been better if I had stood by my convictions because actually in the end, it didn’t really get us anywhere.
There were some strange goings on at this time too because I had the whole Argentinean connection. Quique (Berro Garcia) went back at the beginning of the previous year but I had had an Argentinean lodger who worked for their embassy and I also taught two of the consul’s daughters and they were given four days to get out! They were born in England and loved this country and I drove them to the airport. Martin who worked for the embassy also led us to think that our ‘phone had been tapped which was where the crazy ansaphone messages came from because it used to delight me thinking that someone from MI5 would have to try and work them out! (laughs).
We were writing right in the thick of it and it doesn’t do to be too negative about this album because there are tracks that do have their strong supporters. Some of the new things that we started writing definitely did work. The things that we wrote together during that new writing period which excited people like Tony Smith were: Women Were Watching, Golden Bodies, and Love In A Hot Air Balloon and they worked quite well but there were also things in the older style which worked quite well such as My Time Has Come, I was very happy with that. With that one, I loved Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and I had always had this image of space travel. Each of the verses was about a different experience. One of them was about this ancient guy when the space ship lands and he disappears. Another was about the Pan Am flight that disappeared, so basically it was about sightings and disappearances. I spent a hell of a long time on those lyrics. They aren’t brilliant, but they are OK and every single verb I analysed and analysed to get the best effect.
Women Were Watching and Exocet were both inspired by The Falklands. Golden Bodies ws inspired by the number of nubile young things that were parading up and down the road in a very lighthearted way - the engineer would be constantly distracted! (laughs) . Love In A Hot Air Balloon was just a silly song really. Falling For Love was a straight love song by Richard. Guru was about a friend of mine who ended up going with Bagwhan Rajneesh and they wear red , hence the reference to the colour in the lyrics…’red, the colour of the cure’. We had a very one off relationship but in the end Bagwhan won. That track was quite influenced by Steely Dan. I was very influenced by Gaucho and that track in particular was influenced by them and in a way this album is a hotch potch of different styles. Sally was a big disappointment, it could have been so much better than that. I never understood why they didn’t choose Women Were Watching as the single.
It’s Not Easy … I didn’t like the lyrics it was inspired by somebody and I didn’t feel that it served memory very well and at the time we both tried it but couldn’t get it right. In fact, the Invisible Men album was, of all things, the one where things were tried in all different guises. Richard did It’s Not Easy again with a number of singers and there are lots of versions of that song and a couple of others were done again. Women Were Watching was tried again, and my bass part was actually erased on one of them! (laughs).
With Exocet we were quite clear about it. We knew what we were doing and it seemed the natural thing to do and it was deeply frightening. There was no way of not doing the song but they thought that things were a bit dicey so they left it off the album over here.
The situation was a bit different over here. Stuart Newton to his great credit, kept battering away with that album and it got picked up whilst we were doing Alice actually as I recall. It didn’t come out over here until 1984 . I believe I did an interview about it when Alice was under way and I came down from Leeds and things started to happen and I did an interview in GLR with Tommy Vance . I think Sally was the wrong choice for the single, I didn’t really like the track. It started off OK but it didn’t work out. Falling For Love was nice, that was a natural one but on a lot of it, I have to say, I really DID want the Rupert Hine production. Some of it worked quite well here being done quite rough where you base it wholly on a drum box groove. But when we got it to the big studio it just didn’t marry up. We just transferred eight tracks of my machine and we tried to overdub it but again it was “le cul entre deux chaises “ (that’s falling between two stools for those of you that don’t parlez vous - AH) again. I was very envious of the Peter Gabriel production that he had just had on his fourth album and that was awkward because sometimes with Rupert you felt that you wanted the opposite; not the big production job, more sort of homely, but most of the time it was great and I didn’t miss that on Invisible Men I must say. On things like Guru, the proper drum sound would have given it more impact.
We used to work incredibly fast and we didn’t work evenings. Richard would arrive by 10.30 am and we would have a backing track done by lunch time! It almost was that kind of thing we really did get on with it . I remember I wrote AND recorded Bouncer one morning before he arrived! Literally that was it: pick up a twelve string, ‘right, he’s not here yet, let’s record this’. It was that sort of period and we sandwiched the Alice songs in the middle of it and there were seven or eight songs to Alice because there was a ballad called Questions which I mentioned before. There were quite a few actually, we had a prolific time, but that’s not to say that it was all good; you think it’s all good at the time but there were a number of other songs that didn’t make it. We did the instrumental Trail Of Tears that was done at the time and that appeared firstly on the Harvest Of The Heart compilation. The Ballad of Penlee was written at the time although recorded a little bit later during the end of the recording period.
I think Alex was based on an Argentinean girl I met while Quique was here; his girlfriend, Sylvie had a number of friends, one of whom was this girl Alex who I met once. There was just something about these South American women, they were so open and full of such a girlish vivacity, there was just a natural friendliness about these friends of theirs which was quite irresistible. It was one of those mysterious songs with a nice tune but I just didn’t know where to go with it and I tried 1001 different arrangements (laughs) altogether. Different lighting, you name it! There are SO many versions of that but I didn’t know what to do with it and it is so frustrating when you get that.
You heard the best ones when we came round to doing the extra tracks for the original CD reissue believe me I went through everything! There was another one that sounded a bit like Procul Harum, it had a nice chord sequence but it was just TOO rough and it just didn’t quite make it. There was one called The Mysterious Constitution Of Comets based round something I had read in the newspaper and that was quite moody and rather nice actually and that didn’t make it. There was another called Graziella and another which was rather folky for which we hired an accordion player but they didn’t quite add up. Jeremy Gilbert came over and played harp on the one called Graziella which was just a bit of a Beatles crib actually. Poor old Tony Smith. To his credit, he listened through our shortlist of about twenty five and had to wheedle it down to about thirteen or fourteen. I think those are the main ones . I can’t remember any others . There are a couple of others actually but they must have been so naff that my memory has erased them! (laughs) I can’t even play any of them. I don’t have the right tape machine. I don’t have the Brennell eight track. You see, this is the problem, formats change and you don’t keep the old format and they are mercifully safe now from posterity…
Thankfully for posterity, the technology was found and we are now able to hear these gems for ourselves thanks to Jonathan Dann’s sonic sleuthing and the good offices of Vicky and Mark Powell at Esoteric Records.