“In Conversation” - Anthony Phillips talks to TWR about his recent activities and the current reissues campaign by Esoteric Records. Interview conducted at The Goat Public House, London on Wednesday 29th August 2018. Photographs by Stuart Barnes and Esoteric Records.
TWR: Obviously, we are here to try and catch up on what you have been doing over the last couple of years apart from the album of Aardvark shanties and such like. Esoteric have reissued an awful lot of back catalogue, were you surprised by the amount of extra material that was found and that was up to scratch?
AP: Yes, Jon Dann was the principal source there I mean I had a few memories of tracks which I would have drawn his attention to but he did find a number of things that I had forgotten about, particularly he found a lot of guitar pieces from 1986-87, an ironic period when one looks back on it as it was pre New Age and what we now call Prog had been disgraced, and I remember I did some demos for Windham Hill, believe it or not, who were the New Age label and feeling very uncomfortable about doing it and thinking I wish I didn’t have to do this, but they didn’t seem to be fitting in anywhere else and so give this a go.
|I tried, I remember overdubbing some instruments on top of the remaining guitar tracks and then forgot about it. And then Jon found these guitar tracks which were the basics of these pieces and a lot of them seemed to stand up very well. It is true to say that I had very little recollection of it and I guess it depends on how long you spend on something unless you are drugged up to the eyeballs, which I wasn’t ! (Laughs) I think I spent a short but intense period, not that intense but a couple of weeks and then forgot about it. It wasn’t like doing a whole album over a long period of time and so many of these pieces had just fallen by the wayside so I was surprised. I think we were able to… there were some remixes or out takes or whatever but we did try to make sure that the things that were put on were not chuck aways and I know Steve Hackett talks about bonus tracks as opposed to bogus tracks and whilst that is amusing it is a little bit extreme and where do you draw the line with bogus? You know, yet another out take of the same thing. Hopefully they have been a mixture of undiscovered, the little nuggets for people and some decent remixes.|
TWR: I remember in the good old days (in best cod Yorkshire accent), I helped select this stuff, and I guess that my resignation has finally been accepted and I am now officially redundant..
AP: Well, I didn’t even select them either, I am not on the panel anymore! (Laughs)
TWR: But the great thing about listening to all of the bonus discs on the reissues is that it is all quality material and the biggest surprise for me was the bonus disc on Invisible Men which I thought, I am either going to love this or to loathe it and the material there and in particular one song, Simply Blue. Why in heaven’s name was that not up for inclusion on Dragonfly Dreams?
AP: It’s a good question isn’t it, and I don’t really know, There was so much material around so we didn’t quite know what to put where and there were so many eras so it was all rather confusing an a lot of things fell by the wayside and it is a very good point and I honestly don’t know the answer to that question and I guess we have been lucky I guess by calling it Private Parts & Extra Pieces gives it credence as a proper extra CD.
The only thing that was a shame is in the marketing and we didn’t want to overcook it but I got the impression when those albums were announced and people realised that there was a bonus CD of bona fide music.
TWR: Each one of those extra discs stands up in its own right as an album.
AP: It is lovely to hear that and there are a few remixes so you could argue it is not quite up to that but it is a serious standard I think and I begin to think of the ones on Five to Eight and Nine as being proper C Ds actually. It is a shame that people didn’t really realise that I think and I don’t know how you could have marketed that and I am glad you liked the Invisible Men one as there were lots of songs from that period.
TWR: I always liked that album anyway..
AP: There were quite a lot that were out takes from that album and ones which were close but for whatever reason just didn’t fit into what was the most commercial bill going. Remember, that was the order of the day so any of the more esoteric ones like The Mysterious Constitution Of Comets, which was not a really sort of 1983 New Romantic sort of title! (laughs) So those ones had to go but also there were a couple of songs in demo form but they were decent demos, things like Alien which came slightly afterwards and so we were bridging the Invisible Men and the Alice era in one go…
TWR: Was there anything from the Alice period that got included?
AP: Nothing that was anything to do with Alice itself, the songs that were written…1983 when Invisible Men had been done but hadn’t come out, there was that summer before Alice got commissioned, there was much song writing in the marsh as it were ! (laughs) desperately trying to sell songs because we got very close with Sheena Easton as you know, and then Chris Neil for whatever reason just departed so we lost Golden Bodies which was very disappointing but the foot was in the door if you like in that respect and people were taking it seriously and the Bucks Fizz thing didn’t come until the middle of 1984 but the fact that Golden Bodies had appealed to people meant that people would LISTEN to our songs, nevertheless it was hard to get them to listen. You know there were numerous experiences of taking songs in to people and them listening to them while they were on the phone and then pronouncing afterwards which is one of the more inexact sciences really.
I know my own limitations and that fell short in that really short, catchy commercial style, we were close and I hope that some of the songs like Alien and The Mysterious Constitution of Comets.. Instead of just putting on dross, even more commercial dross, we were actually putting a bit more grist to the mill, if you like, a bit more..some of the more weighty ones…
TWR: The only two albums I had a problem with, and I told you this at the time, were Private Parts II because I thought it was too bitty and Private Parts 11 because it was too spiky. In between those two though and having gone through the archives and having found all this top notch material, was there anything that either you or Jon were thinking..I wish we could find that. Was there anything that you were aware of that you couldn’t find?
AP: I think there are a few things still and the long piano piece that Jon found was interesting and in fact, the long piano piece, I think we called it.. I can’t remember what we called it, that was actually..Jon has found the complete piece, we only included a bit of that. And I did score it but it stops about half way through and so when I do a piano album I think I am going to try and do the whole thing.
TWR: A bit like the Old Sarum Suite…
AP: Well, that’s a library piece which I can’t really control that and that is down to the library people but there are odd bits. I mean there are still songs and there is all the Alice material …
TWR: Would you be able to use that stuff or would there be too many clearances etc?
AP: It depends on what quality the demos are in I suppose and the stuff from the show, there is no proper recording, there is just a cassette done from the desk and the sound wasn’t great, no there is no proper live recording. I know, it was criminal. There are the demos from Alice and there were some nice songs from around that time which we could use. I mean, Walls & Bridges has never been released has it? And there are the demos of a few others that we did and there are a few other things from around that time that haven’t come out. One of the problems is the singers, getting clearance for all the singers and finding the money for that is always a bit risky because they always assume that whatever you are doing in that area must be earning lots.
Also the Masquerade demos is another one. The jury has been so out on those. People have listened to them and it has been pretty fifty fifty down the middle on those in terms of release them or don’t release them. No one is quite sure and because they are written around another subject some of them are a bit … histrionic … melodramatic and with silly voices like your friend Craw and there is the Sir Isaac one and so these are all rather stylistic and a little bit odd out of context so I am not quite sure what people would make of it. They would have to read copious notes and no one reads copious notes, do they? Most people listen to music on the hoof, don’t they?
TWR: Changing tack slightly, just purely so you can explain this to a non musical person (me folks). All of these albums have been remastered in 5.1, what exactly IS that process…?
AP: Well, there is an automatic programme which does it which is quite remarkable if you can’t find the original multitrack or if it isn’t in very good condition. There are a couple of automatic programmes that analyse the sound, how it works I don’t know and they choose to spread certain things into the channels and you have got centre, left, right you have the bass which is low down and behind you have got rear left and rear right. The most common thing is to send things like keyboards and backing vocals to the back because if you send drums and stuff to the back the sound is going to be very lopsided and so the meaty stuff has got to be in your central image.
What you are doing is, you are trying to open up the sound so there is a kind of panorama if you like, so synthy sounds, swirly sounds, sustained sounds, it is like when you go to the cinema although the analogy stops there because in the cinema they WILL throw some of the canon shots over you and that is to shock you! You don’t want to be shocked in the middle of a piece of music, so the process is, if you can do it, is getting the original multitraks and painstakingly recreating the mix and then selectively deciding which instrument you want to move around.
There is a danger in changing things too much because people get used to what they have heard before but I think with 5.1 it is significantly different because if you change the basic stereo mix, that’s a bit dangerous but with surround you can do that. Slow Dance for example was so hard, because recreating that mix and in the end that was done using the automatic programme because we could not find the original and there were so many infinitesimal moods made on that to recreate the mix it would have taken years.
TWR: Is it true that Steven Wilson was down to do those?
AP: He was down to do 1984 but it was too complicated. I mean Steve is a hugely busy guy and everyone is making vast amounts of demands on his time so he needed very organised and very detailed track sheets and unfortunately, because 1984 was done in very different stages, it wasn’t like that. The track sheets needed an Egyptologist to do some work on them! (laughs) and so he very quickly put a white flag up on that one. I was delighted for Simon (Heyworth) and Andy was because one of the reviews said “This is one of the medium’s crowning achievements” and that was for 1984 and yet there have been people who have criticised them. There was one guy who absolutely smashed it to pieces in a review but I think there are always people out the margins who have a thing about the original and I can understand that, they don’t want anything changed.
What has been disappointing is that the instrumental albums have sold… you have to be realistic about sales but proportionately the instrumental albums have not done as well as the song albums and that has been quite disappointing, and I feel that with 1984 and Slow Dance I feel more proud of those in a way than perhaps some of the others. There weren’t many extra tracks for those albums but there were a few vignettes because there wasn’t much extra around but it has been disappointing because I felt we put a lot into that and they were the best examples of the new process but that isn’t what people buy them for and so …
TWR: I still think Slow Dance is a soundtrack in waiting, and speaking of films, that brings us to Tarka, has that been done yet?
AP: Tarka has been done in 5.1 and of course, orchestral music in particular benefits from 5.1 because you can spread it around you don’t have this fulcrum that has to stay dead centre. You can be experimental with all the orchestra and it doesn’t have to be a fixed front. Simon (Heyworth) has done it and he has done it beautifully and we are mulling over who is going to put it out and there are high hopes from Simon and from Harry (Williamson) that they can find a record company that are prepared to put a lot of muscle and money behind it. I have doubts about whether those sort of record companies exist, and it came up at the time of the initial contract with Cherry Red in 2014-15 and I said yes, I respect that, off you go, there you are, find something and I am still waiting, and that is the problem. I don’t know if Simon has found anything else but all that I am aware of has been done. There weren’t that many out takes on that one. A bit like Slow Dance really. I very much respect their ideals and ambitions but I feel that ironically the best way to get it known is not to be looking for a mythical record company who are going to plough lots of money into it because I don’t think they exist these days. It is to be trying to get it used in something visual which will break it out of the cult and into more mainstream. We have talked about the idea of an animation a-la Spirited Away which gets it away from the friendly, cuddly Tarka The Otter and then we got mired in the rights and nothing got sorted out and it was immensely complicated with so many people with fingers in pies and so my manager, Mark Vernon, tried to talk to Harry and get things going but Harry unfortunately met with a bit of a brick wall and we got nowhere so we wait for the others to make their minds up really.
TWR: That brings us to Field Day and Seventh Heaven.. Were there any other things you had considered adding to them?
AP: Well, there was a sitar track which I had never really rated and thought was a bit too jangly and there was probably a surfeit of jangly material anyway. There was one twelve string piece which I managed to lose somewhere along the way and I actually played it on the radio once, I did an LBC interview and they played it because it was quite jolly and easy to play and that was back in 2003 way before it came out but those were the only two. And I agree 100% with you, if you have an album of sixty tracks you don’t need anything else. So, what we have done, I now have got surround sound installed at home, not to listen to, I had that already as I has to for judging the rough pressings of stuff I was sent, but I have got it in the studio now so we have done it in 5.1 and you are thinking, 5.1 for a guitar? What is it doing, flying round the room? All you are doing is you are taking the reverb and various subtle effects on the guitar and you are just spreading that round so you are sitting in the middle of a huge guitar - a monster guitar! (laughs) and where there are those sections where there is a bit of shimmery stuff like the opening piece where there were too many effects and it keeps coming back and every time that happens, then it does move around and you do get a bit of spatial activity.
We were careful not to be tricksy because it just doesn’t work. You can’t in the middle of a normal guitar piece, you can’t suddenly make it travel round the room - the travelling guitar, have guitar will travel! On the other hand, there is the issue people will be saying why am I buying this again, when there are no extra tracks? So, I do agree with you, with sixty tracks there isn’t room for anything else And also you would never listen to both of them at the same time. I have been, not to put too fine a point on it, apart from The Geese & The Ghost, I have mainly funded the 5.1 mixes because Cherry Red didn’t feel it was cost effective and that is their decision and I am sure they know what they are doing. They have chipped in, lets put it like that, but the greater part of it has come from myself and that is why I have had to select albums to do this on as I can’t do it on all of them. Slow Dance was the most expensive to do and so we haven’t done it on all of them and actually the contract comes up for renewal next year and all the albums haven’t been released yet. So, contractually actually there is problem and I am not going to make an issue out of it but there were too many to release in a short space of time and at one stage we were putting them around the release of Tony’s (Banks) albums and it isn’t right as they are not available and anybody anywhere could come across a track on, I don’t know, Archive Collection, Sail The World, all these more obscure ones and ask why can’t I get hold of this? And they can’t because they are not available and there is something not quite right there. As to the issue am I going to stay with Cherry Red? I don’t know, probably because as I said, I don’t think there are many record companies out there doing this kind of music. They are a nice group of people at Cherry Red, particularly on the promo side; Matt Ingham …and they are a solid company and they have been around for a while.
TWR: Were there any plans, or have I blinked and missed the release of Missing Links 1- 4...?
AP: Good question. The next one coming up is going to be Seventh Heaven, it is time for an orchestral one and definitely time for that as that is what 5.1 was designed for and given the lack of Tarka and then Missing Links and that just about concludes the back catalogue. Well, there is the TV Three as well call them; Sail The World, Wildlife and the De Wolfe stuff (De Wolfe is a major Library label - AH) then you have the Archive Collections and I think that is the main ones. Voiceprint did release Missing Links 1-4 and that was quite late on in the deal and I felt that probably covered that one actually. Of course they are going to be re-released.
TWR: I would imagine there would be plenty of scope for extra material on those…?
AP: Yes, but I have to be careful in terms of cost and I don’t mind breaking even on these but I am not particularly keen on losing money on them and the thing is I am out of pocket on 1984 and Slow Dance by quite a considerable amount so, it is a case of looking over my shoulder a little bit on these and Jon (Dann) does a lot of work on these things and I want to pay him well and I am afraid the record companies do take advantage of the fans who do the hard work. It is coat and cloth, I mean these aren’t going to sell a lot and so they will say we can only afford to pay you so much, and if you are asking someone like Jon to spend a lot of time, you can’t have it both ways and so either pay him properly or just put it out as it is, You are getting extra material whilst not having paid for it properly and I object to that so I upped the ante and the same with Simon and James …
TWR: Moving on from the archive stuff, what has been the recent activity on the library side of things?
AP: Well, there has been a bit of a merry old dance from library as there seems to have been an amazing amount of changes over the last few years because we had the departure of our boss and then we had his Australian successor and I found myself starting to fall out of favour and a lot of younger people were brought in. So, the material I did in 2015 which there was masses of, and James and I went through vast amounts of material from all the improvisations and selected x amount of tracks and then he went away and topped and tailed and added whatever and that coincided with when I was having all that building work done and I couldn’t get into the studio anyway so it all worked out very well and we emerged with about a hundred library tracks at a time when Universal weren’t interested. So it was quite a challenge because I had been used to just being an Atmosphere or Universal writer and suddenly I was having to flog my wares like a common peddlar! And it was interesting. We met some very nice people, met a few screwballs too, bund to, and most of the time it was very good reactions.
But then there has been a big change at Universal, the new boss in the States is a Prog fan who knows my work and is a fan of it. So, I got an email suddenly out of the blue saying “thank you for all you have done for the company” and I nearly jumped out of my seat, it was remarkable and the English boss is a lady called Jane Carter who was George Benson’s PA so she is very savvy on music and suddenly we have got the head of the beast is very much in my favour and on my side and so I seem to be back in the flame as the Japanese say (that’s back in the frame for our UK and other readers, folks - AH)
TWR: What are the titles of your latest library releases…?
AP: Oh, god, the latest ones? KPM have put a science one out; Quirky Science, then we had a bit of a brainwave actually, we thought… I am sure others have done this but we found we weren’t quite convincing people and we were putting music and selling it in to musical categories like Drones, Sustain and we suddenly had this idea, OK lets put it into projects, the kind that they would put out and let us fond random video material to line the music up with, to highlight its potential and this was the biggest fun I have ever had in my life and James was really good at it as well, and so we got another fifteen away straight away. calling it Natural World and there were some great shots of jellyfish in the water with great colours and loads of things, it was gorgeous. And these guys had heard the same tracks before and had gone, well I.. and now they were saying, yeah, we’ll have that! (laughs) it isn’t as if these people aren’t intelligent because they are but sometimes in this sea of music you just have to find a focus for people that makes it click.
Then the winds changed at Universal and we got a number of Travelogue stuff away and Human Stories eventually and one of the big changes was that they are now selling library albums as physical C Ds, and downloads, you can now get hold of the tracks and I got hold of KPM and said are you sure about this? Because we do these to fit the picture, we don’t do them for people to listen to… and I don’t want people being disappointed and so in the |Missing Links albums we very carefully selected ones which we felt worked..
TWR: I can see your argument, but here’s the other side of it: cast your mind back to the library album you released a good few years ago now, English Pastoral, and in particular the track Chartwell, the number of people who have said to me, I would love that and I can see their point…
AP: The reason we would get into trouble on that one was the situation with the MU (Musician’s Union) and the players, they got a cut price deal but the deal actually included library and they didn’t pay them the money for commercial release and I was quoted, if I was going to release that, I was quoted ten grand plus! So unfortunately, that’s the problem…What is interesting is that they are allowing these things to be downloaded and I wonder what will happen because if they make the whole catalogue available to be downloaded then that would, strictly speaking, be in breach of the MU in regard of the players as they would not have been paid! We did think, actually of a bonus CD on Seventh Heaven being English Pastoral but the MU problem still exists.
With Seventh Heaven I do hope there will be some form of bonus material and there is a lot of new material with Andrew Skeet so, which we would like to try and get out as well so there is no shortage of material. And also there is a guitar album in the offing as well …
TWR: A couple of years ago when we last spoke, you were considering a songs album has anything happened with that…?
AP: I think with that is I periodically look at it, make a list of material and then play it and go, “aah, this is complicated, and I will need a lot of time on this, I will come back to that… “ and it would take a lot of time and I need to be sure there will be no library projects for a year or two. I will do it though.
I haven’t done any guitar stuff for a while so and I have piano material as well and it has been quite a while since I have done one of either of those, and it goes back a LONG way actually. Field Day is less, obviously, ten years…?
TWR: Would you consider mixing the two of them…?
AP: Ideally that would be nice actually but at the moment I have my work cut out and I always seem to write stuff which I can’t play! (laughs) and start things without major practice and I am busily practising and as I get older and my left wrist gets less strong I am finding a lot of problems with a lot of the twelve string material so I have got my work cut out on the practice front as well. Everything is all written and I have been practising it for about six months trying to get the pieces up to scratch. I did have a piece lined up on the Harp guitar which is the twenty one string (laughs) but I am not doing that! There are a few new instruments which I am using which have never been featured before which will be good because what you don’t want is to have all one thing, even if you are the best guitarist in the world, fifty minutes of just Classical guitar can just…you need to change so there is quite a lot of variation on this one, I hope. And a lot of twelve string stuff which I know people will like. Let’s hope people like some of it, they won’t like it all but I have been praying to keep my fingernails intact - god give me good nails! (laughs) to get me through it
And after that? Who knows, it all depends. It depends on two factors really; one on how much the library company want me to do but you come to the point eventually where you think do I want to keep doing library or do I want to do my own stuff? Do I have enough money to say no? Saying no is always risky but I am of retirement age now. Just working on my own albums is not a sustainable income, and I would probably be making a loss realistically, so I have to be sure
There you have it folks the vicissitudes of working in the Library music field and much more, explained by Mr Phillips himself. Once again, my thanks to Ant for giving up so much of his time and for another convivial evening at the Proms.