"Revisiting The Missing Links" - Anthony Phillips' Missing Links 1-4 reissues examined in a slightly biased manner by Alan Hewitt.
It is difficult to believe that the first of these albums; Finger Painting, is now thirty one years old! It was a slimmer, trimmer version of me that helped Ant assemble this one back in 1989 from a variety of music previously reserved for library albums. The original album was a cassette album released on the Occasional Records label. This was very much a stop gap as Ant was between record labels at the time. Passport and PRT ( who had released the Private Parts & Pieces albums and Tarka respectively) had both managed to go bust leaving Ant very much in limbo. I don't think that at the time that Ant had any intention of this being anything more than a one off idea to keep things ticking over until circumstances improved which thankfully they did in 1990 when Virgin Records took over his back catalogue and ensured it was finally reissued on CD but that is a story already told in both the pages of TWR and The Pavilion.
Revisiting these albums now brings back so many memories and so my review will be coloured by them I am afraid. The first two volumes in particular. Volume One has aged surprisingly well considering that some of it dates to the mid 1970's. Thankfully most of it was spared the use of drum machine which is one thing that is guaranteed to date a recording!
Here we have some of Ant's first tentative stabs at working in the field of Library music - an area which has increasingly come to dominate his recorded work since then. The album contains some of my favourite pieces by Ant none more so than the brilliantly evocative Mountain Voices and Lord Of The Smoking Mirror and of course, the truly superb Land Of Dragons suite which graced one of the numerous "Survival" wildlife programmes that Ant and his cohort, Joji Hirota were to write so much music for in the Eighties and Nineties.
Here you get the first real flavour of the kind of music that is the staple of many a musician's work. Not all of it is easy to listen to as it is completely out of context without the visuals it was intended to accompany but the selection here works more than adequately without it.
By the time the second volume in the series: The Sky Road came to be put together, The Pavilion had been erected and established as Ant's official fan club magazine and it was great to be actively involved in the selection of much of the music for this one. I still remember the debate over whether Exile was worthy of inclusion or not. I am sure you will agree with me that it indeed is more than worthy of its place? Similarly the suite from the Anglia TV series Lifeboat also works remarkably well without its accompanying visuals and manages to evoke the drama and,on occasions, humour that the men and women who crew these wonderful vessels have to face on a daily basis.
The album is also graced by two of the most atmospheric instrumentals Ant has ever released: Tears On A Rainy Day and The Sky Road , the former is also gracedby the melodious saxophone of Martin Robertson and should, in my opinion, be a song but either way it is a joy to hear.
There are also two vintage pieces from the heady days of the late Sixties and early Seventies. I recall having to exert some pressure on Ant to include the latter of these, the charming The Beggar & The Thief which still rates as one of the most effective songs Ant has ever committed to record. Field Of Eternity of course, is already known to most of Ant's fans from its appearance on the first of the Private Parts & Pieces albums, nonetheless we have something slightly different here and it is a fascinating listen.
By the mid 1990's Ants stock as a Library composer was sufficient for him to be regularly called upon for TV projects and especially for wildlife programmes. Here we have a wonderful selection from some of those programmes and also many pieces that had amazingly remained unheard unless you were able to find the Library CD which they appeared on.
Once again there is a healthy mix of styles embracing both the location and creatures and peoples which inhabit them. We go from the depths of the Amazon Rainforest to the boundless dunes of the Kalahari desert in a selection of music which brings them all vividly to life.
For me,the charming Fiesta del Charangos, Turtle Race (originally titled Flying Turtles by one of the listening panel) are a delight whist the dramatic Bedouin Train and Kalahari March bring the harshness of their environment to life, whilst Songoku and Schuan Journey and Slow Boat To China are rich in melody and atmosphere and feature some superb paying from both Guo Yue (Chinese flute) and Joji Hirota (drums and percussion). A Travelogue of an album worthy of one of Michael Palin's famous programmes.
2009 saw the release of the fourth album in the series: Pathways and Promenades, another delving into the vast archive of Library music which has grown commensurately over the years. As with the previous albums, this one moves about stylistically, geographically and musically from the seas beneath Hoi Ha Wan in Hong Kong (Water Gardens) to the equally breathtaking Aegean in Its All Greek To Me. Night Train is suitably somnolent although the music was in fact used for a programme about the construction of the Channel Tunnel! Whilst the poignant and elegiac Sad Exodus evokes a suitably reflective and austere mood.
The album, like its predecessors covers a whole range of styles and locations and the great thing is, you don't actually need the visuals, you can use your own imagination - with surprising results.
Speaking of surprising results, as usual from one of these marvellous reissues, we have the added bonus of an entire disc of previously unreleased material - Missing Links 5 in all but name, and, as usual there are some very impressive pieces of music contained therein. As you would expect, they all evoke different places and moods from the lush jungle home that is Empire Of The Elephant and the Great Rift Valley.
A personal favourite is the glass-like beauty of Dwellers Of The Deep and, of course, Exile Link ...I am still proud I championed that one back in the day!
Like all of the preceding albums the music although initially designed for specific uses, works outside of those parameters and in fact, if you set your imagination to it, the vistas you can conjure up are truly endless which is as all good music should be.
Once again, the set is accompanied by a detailed and informative booklet written by Ant's archivist, Jon Damn who ironically enough had not even met Ant when the first of these albums was compiled but who has certainly done his homework again on this one.
Either way, if you are an existing fan, you will still have plenty to enjoy here as the new mixes are superb and, if you are a new fan, well there is a whole heap of musical joy herein waiting for your enjoyment!