"Once More Unto The Attic" - Anthony Phillips' Archive Collection 1 & 2 re-issue affectionately reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Oh there are so many memories attached to these two albums! Hard to believe now that twenty four years have elapsed since the first time I and a "select panel" of listeners were gathered together in Ant's studio to listen to potential tracks for the first album in this set and eighteen years since we repeated that highly pleasurable experience for the second! And here we are again, although no listening panel was convened for this one, rather the superb detective and technical work of Jonathan Dann has been the main driver behind this one - he does know where all the tapes are after all!
Anyone who bought either of the original releases will know what to expect here. The intention was, and remains to broaden the picture of Anthony's career as a composer exploring the entire gamut of his work including many areas which for one reason or another were previously ignored. OK, some of the material contained here would never have made the final cut on one of the more regular commercial releases for a variety of reasons. That doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve a listening and I have no hesitation in saying that some of the tracks herein have become firm favourites of mine. Orhers I am sure will become firm favourites of yours.
That said, there really is too much music on this selection to be able to be anything other than selective in my comments otherwise this review would fill an entire edition of TWR! The selection of material from albums such as The Geese & The Ghost, Private Parts & Pieces and Invisible Men broaden our understanding of how those albums evolved from inception to completion. It isn't often you get to perk behind the scenes of such things so this makes these all the more enjoyable.
The expanded second disc of the first set is a case in point. Here, in addition to the original EP there are several more all of which add more colour and insight into the picture that we have of Anthony Phillips. I am particularly drawn to the orchestral run through for Regrets, always a favourite but the extract from the orchestral run through of the track is simply breathtaking. In Absentia too gives us an all too brief glimpse of some of the work Anthony did with Harry Williamson back in the early Seventies - wonderful stuff! While the material from The Geese & The Ghost and Sides too add to our appreciation of the development of those albums.
In fact, the bulk of the first four discs in this set can reasonably be described as an exercise in musical archaeology - fascinating for the anoraks no doubt, but also equally rewarding for newer fans hoping to gain a better understanding of Anthony and his music. There is much on both albums to reward the listener's patience after some of the more taxing elements. Tracks such as Windmill and the truly lovely Picardy Pictures and the magnificent (but far too short) Lofty Vaults all stand out as tracks which should have found a home a long time ago - thankfully they have one now!
Speaking of things which have finally found a home, the fifth disc finally brings us one of those projects which had until now remained firmly consigned to the attic since its composition in the late seventies - Masquerade. As the excellent essay by Jonathan Dann reveals, this was a project fraught with difficulties and destined never to see fruition which is a great shame as the music finally available here for us to listen to is, in the main, quite excellent although some of it does suffer from appearing out of context without being heard in the confines of the show it was intended for. It really is a shame that this project never got as far as a fully staged production. There are elements which fans will recognise as there was evidently some shift of music between this project and the other as yet unheard musical effort of Ant's - Alice which I sincerely hope gains a release one day too. And of course, there are the elements which were subsequently released on Ivory Moon. However, here we have them in their original setting and Tara's Theme in particular is an exquisite joy. Even the mischievous Craw comes across as a gloriously observed sound picture here - Ant and I have had many a laugh about this character over the years and here he is, larger than life! There is much else worthy of note here too; so relish the opportunity to finally hear this incredibly adventurous adaptation of Kit Williams' story.
This wonderful set is accompanied as usual by an extensive and highly informative essay by Jonathan Dann which pretty much gives you every detail about the tracks that you could wish for - along with yours truly's original introductions to the original sets. I don't think either I or Jonathan had any idea back in those heady days of the early 1990's that such projects would come to light - or that we would be involved in them if they were! For that, we have both Anthony's indulgence and Jonathan's dogged determination to thank. Me? I'm just a member of the Listening Panel and what a joy that has been!