“Which Way The wind Blows And Other Stories” - Anthony Phillips interviewed on Sunday 22nd July. Interview conducted by Alan Hewitt, Peter Morton and introducing our new cub scout reporter David Beaven. Noises and other sound effects: A Phillips.
Well, after a day in the company of Ant and the competition winners a very enjoyable day I may add, with the renewed vigour (somewhat mitigated by the amount of alcohol consumed the previous night) that I set about the task of interrogating Ant. This time ably assisted by Peter and our new recruit: David Beaven (yes, David, you have got the job!) . The result was as informative and entertaining as ever and here it is…
TWR: Right, well basically it is a few questions about the new album…
AP: What new album?
TWR: This is it. Ralph Bernascone’s Adventures In Wonderland I think it is…
AP: It was inspired by a set of Madagascan basket weaver’s shanties.
TWR: Well we suspected this actually (laughs). I mean we have had the underwater bag piping album and this and that. Basically it’s a case of what can you tell us about the new album?
AP: I began it in March 1988 quite a long time ago.
TWR: Was that parallel with Tarka?
AP: The reworking of Tarka was done at the end of 1987 with Harry Williamson who came over between September and December and we finished it then. And then I got some new equipment at the beginning of 1988 and set up the studio and so I was able to do a slightly more complex set of recordings and I went up to sixteen tracks so… in the old days of eight track you could either do acoustic stuff or the basics of a large piece suddenly changed and I was able to do large scale things. I was put off starting. I was quite frightened of going back to a proper large scale, fully orchestrated album.
TWR: Was Tarka the last one before…?
AP: Well, Tarka of course was conceived as an entity ages ago and we came back and finished it and that was in a sense the easy bit, the difficult bit I suppose is getting the shape of a long piece and getting it to flow…like a novel I suppose. I was quite unsure of myself starting, I mean 1984 was probably the last large scale piece where there has to be continuity …flow, and the Private Parts & Pieces albums have really been geared along different lines really. I mean; Twelve was continuous thing but again it was very separate pieces which didn’t really have to link each other way except the natural sort of continuity of sound. It was certainly something which I hadn’t done in eight or nine years really. Apart from the Private Parts & Pieces albums which have been a way of assembling older material to create a flow. That was often an exercise in itself but this was a different approach.
I put it off but once it got going I got very inspired actually and I wrote a twelve string side and I wrote a piano based side and I wrote two more sides which were more varied and slightly filmy and then it was a question of what to choose? I flirted with the idea of trying to record them all and it just went so well when I just got into it that I wrote it all in two months which was really quick. Everything in my life just went well at the time which is a good way to be when you are really firing. It’s easy to work very fast but when recording you have to try and implement the ideas and that was very exciting. Luckily my American record company went bust AFTER I’d done the writing. Had they done so before or during I ‘m sure I would have capitulated. I went over to the US for my brother’s thirtieth birthday and it was while I was over there that I actually heard that they had gone down so that kind of put the mockers on it and I didn’t want to go back. I just couldn’t face it but I did have to come back and start recording and when I did I thought am I doing the right thing? The record company had gone bust and I wasn’t going to get the advance which had been promised, debts were going to mount up and I thought maybe I should stop this and look for some TV work but then I thought that this problem was going to come round again when I approach a record company and they say: well, what have you done? They want to hear something so I decided to carry on with it. I need to do it if you like, as a bargaining tool with the record company and publishers as well. (At this point we were interrupted by David who had joined us looking none the worse for our alcoholic excesses the night before!)
Quite obviously I did decide that I should go ahead with it and I was full of myself having written the thing and I didn’t think that it made a great deal of financial sense but I thought if I am going to get all these old albums out and get the whole catalogue going again then I have got to have something to show them now, and the longer I leave this the longer the albums aren’t going to be out. So, on reflection it was probably the right thing to do. Had I failed to get a deal for the album it might have looked a bit silly. I did end up spending too long on it. When I came back from the US I was very depressed about the record company and I had to start again from scratch on a very complex instrumental album with all the click tracks and drum box patterns and different time signatures. And on the fourth day back I managed to erase all the drum box programmes which I had put in! It was really slow going and there was a lot of stuff to do on Tarka as well. There seemed to be so many things going on. The first five minutes of the album I actually took two weeks to write and I was working on another piece … an attempt to do a single which took another week.
TWR: You mentioned this last time we spoke, did anything actually ever come of it?
AP: It didn’t work out. Nobody ever thought it quite worked, they thought it had potential. Recently I have tried it another way, a much more dreamy sort of thing…
TWR: What sort of piece was it? Was it a guitar piece or…?
AP: No. The original was for piano. It uses the theme that comes in on the album about five or six or maybe even seven minutes in, its major theme, the one that sounds like The Enigma Variations and I tried developing that because I still think it has got such a lot of potential. Instrumental singles are a bit of a long shot unless you can get some TV work so I just went with it because I was perhaps thinking back to things like Prelude ‘84 and stuff like that, I mean not that those things ever really happened in terms of sales and so on… Luckily after August, after the cricket season was over I just got down to it and worked through the first side probably uninterrupted for quite a while.
TWR: You described to me last time we talked that the first side used “old” material. How old was it?
AP: The first side tended to draw more on bits from 1984 to 1987 , not really old no. Not all of it was old, no. There is quite a lot of unrecorded material actually, most of it twelve string and one really long keyboard instrumental thing that could have been on Sides which has been orchestrated in fact. (At this point Pete arose from the dead and he DID look worse for wear which made me fell better at any rate - sorry Pete!). You see, Sides was… there was a big twelve string piece on Sides unrecorded so this material wasn’t very old actually. I went once again for the most strong, atmospheric, filmy sort of pieces.
TWR: Yes, having listened to it on several occasions, it definitely strikes me as a films cape form the very first part of it right through to the closing bars on side two.
AP: Somebody has said they would love to see it in a film but I don’t think it will ever happen.
TWR: It changes so much I don’t really think it could all be used in one film but the first side is the one that really grabbed me. Fore the first fiveminutes or so, the vision I got was of the Elizabethan court. It’s all very evocative music. This is one of the questions I get asked; what was going through your mind when you were writing it? Did you have any specific idea in mind?
AP: No. I mean, there was no central programme to it. I did, I suppose want to get some of the best sections and tie them together but once it did start to tie in there did seem to be some sort of… It is interesting how people have gone for different sections. When Harry Williamson came back from Australia, he listened to it and said the second side’s great but I don’t think you’ve got the first side right and this is totally contrary to what you have just said which just goes to show.
TWR: What is, for the benefit of the people who may not know until September, what is the album going to be called?
AP: It is going to be called Slow Dance.
TWR: Whose idea was that?
AP: Well, it was one of the millions of titles written down over the last eighteen months and the people at Virgin tend not to like anything that’s overtly “New Age” and I didn’t manage to come up with a really oddball one. It’s difficult because it seems to conjure up so many things that unless you get the title for an album at an apt time then anything you come up with is going to sound rather contrived and it really is better to have something neutral … you know just call it “Pete’s cereal” or something like that (Ant is alluding to the fact that at this moment Pete was still feeding his face with a rather noisy bowl of breakfast cereal).
TWR: Shreddies Sunset?
AP: I wanted to call it Responses but no one seemed to respond to that one so I gave up on that and right at the eleventh hour I found a couple of musicians who came through and said; yeah, I really like that. It was going to be called Millennium at one point.
TWR: I still think that that’s the title although it has obvious New Age connotations.
AP: Now it is regarded as being VERY New Age and cliched and there’s a film coming out called Millennium.
TWR: When you mentioned that title I thought yeah, because it is music that moves through periods and if someone did a TV programme of history they could use it because it definitely portrays eras very well, from the beginning that’s almost Elizabethan to the closing section on side two that’s very mechanised.
AP: There are definitely sections that got the better of me.
TWR: Was it all recorded here?
AP: There was an outside string session at CBS which saved the day, I mean I was obviously trying to keep the money very tight with part of the money gone down and Simon Heyworth came in and offered to put up the money for the string session and he felt that the first part …the synth Jupiter string sound wasn’t really strong enough to carry it and there’s a lot of trouble in the tuning between the real strings and the synths particularly this odd vibrato sound on the synth and when the real guys play its rather different, slightly strange.
We started with both of them straight in and it just didn’t work. What it is it just begins with the synth strings and then gradually the real ones get pushed up and so to adjust to the change and lots of woodwind solos were done here first on synth and then replaced. It was quite interesting on some of them, although they were played really beautifully, they just didn’t work, the sound was either too big or too full and in fact the saxophone on side two just didn’t work and I went back to my own sample.
TWR: Has the album got a release date?
AP: Some time in September.
TWR: What about the re-issues?
AP: They are going to release Sides, The Geese & The Ghost, and Private Parts & Pieces One in November and after that it is anyone’s guess, perhaps they will release the next three after Christmas, in mid January so people can part with their record tokens! (laughs).
TWR: One of the questions that people have asked but I have never bothered to ask you because I wouldn’t really understand the answer (laughs) is what kind of equipment do you use?
AP: Well, one thing to say about the album is that though I have got a sixteen track machine, some of the album was done on two sixteen track machines linked up together on two desks. There were some sections where full strings took up six or seven tracks; the synths run out of tracks fairly quickly. I don’t know if people are interested in desks but it was a Soundtrack desk, and two Foss desks .. E16’s. The synths I was using were, I suppose rather primitive but I tried not to use sounds that were ultra fashionable. Certain sounds everybody has, you can tell when you hear them. Generally I tried not to use the likes of a Yamaha DX7. There seems to be a style of DX recording too, I mean while I was in the US on tour promoting Slow Waves Soft Stars some guy said if they heard another DX7 record they would scream!
At least this is different, it doesn’t begin like a typical New Age album but basically I am still using Emax and all the samples, woodwind and stuff… on Jupiter which has a better string and horn sound on that. You see, the digital synths had the space but they didn’t have a lot of body to them but they became popular because you can use them for a more airy type of sound and then use the analogue synths for the more gutsy sounds.
TWR: Then there are your chimes, they’re in there?
AP: Yes, I think they are in there somewhere.
TWR: The album isn’t being divided into tracks, it’s just Part One and Part Two?
AP: Yeah, and on CD its side one and side two with just a slight gap between with some advertisements or something (laughs). Back to the equipment. I was using a Casio synth as well and I am still using an 808 drum box which is becoming extremely popular again. I mean, if you stick long enough with something it comes round again. I mean, for a while it was cool only to use digital synths and I couldn’t afford them and then the Americans said ‘we really like the way you use your analogue’ (laughs) . The pity is that the technology just doesn’t allow some of the early sounds to last. Things like the ARP and Polymoog sound great but they just break down all the time and you cant keep them in tune. It’s a real pity with those synths because they cut costs later on. Not everything has got better, things have become more accessible and are cheaper.
TWR: Several readers are interested in what kind of guitars and keyboards you use, so they can go out and buy one.
AP: Right. I still use the same old guitars really; still my old red Strat, there’s a bit of electric guitar on the album. There’s a bit of twelve string at the end of Side Two and that’s an Alvarez twelve string. I am still using the same Yairi classical guitar that I used on Antiques and it is still as out of tune! The Alvarez twelve string is not that expensive. I mean I can’t afford to buy new guitars as I’ve had to invest in new studio equipment; keyboards and stuff to try and keep up with the throng. Keyboards I think I have mentioned and now that I have got a but more nous the next album should be enriched by all these new things. I haven’t any idea what the next one is going to be but I would quite like to use the two sides that didn’t use this time.
TWR: That was one thing you mentioned last time we talked and you just went with the flow?
AP: It’s the same thing again a bit like Sides; two sides that actually come together because this is going to seem like old material now somehow.
TWR: This begs the question, is the Private Parts & Pieces series now extinct or will it be revived?
AP: Oh I hope not. Nobody has said you WON’T make any more of those album. I think they are pretty open , On the other hand, I suppose we ought to see how this one does first. If this one doesn’t sell much and I wander in with a loose collection of guitar pieces and stuff they might well say… well, it’s a bit iffy, so we’ll have to wait and see… It is a bit frustrating actually. I’ve got seven or eight sides and that’s organised music but you always want to move on. We’ll see.
TWR: You have mentioned songs?
AP: Who did?
TWR: You did.
AP: I think that certainly worked on Sides, the mix between instrumentals and songs on that was great because you didn’t sit there thinking Oh God, not another rambling instrumental, because it was all balanced and that for me is still probably the best album in terms of the mix on it.
TWR: People have asked about the re-issues and the possibility of extra tracks , the single B sides etc…
AP: They will definitely be on.
TWR: One thing I’d like to ask is these days, with electronic instruments and things, it’s nice that you still use REAL instruments. I would think that electronic instruments would have taken over completely. You mentioned that some of the instruments you used were better than what the keyboards could do, sort of simulated and do you think that will always be the case?
AP: Well, I don’t think that samples will ever replace the real thing completely. I mean, luckily that won’t happen. The REAL quality of the instruments will always make them special however sophisticated things get. There’s always going to be that quality about the violin and the oboe. I personally am always going to try and mix it and not make the mistake of suddenly giving up using instruments. It just depends on the piece. There are times when you want a guitar overdub and the timbre might sound better if you used a quick sample rather than spend two hours micing the whole thing up. I guess as a rule we’ve got to be careful not to become ensnared by this technical stuff and lose control. I would like to keep on doing projects that base themselves on instruments. I would like to do another album with Quique (Henrique Berro Garcia) that had almost a band feel to it, I mean you do what classical people do. I have written a piece or these instruments and you don’t suddenly change in the middle and start adding things like bagpipes. I think that’s probably the way to do it. But on the other hand, the quality of samples does enable us as composers to come up with things that really sound good and in a way it is a bit cheeky for TV because they get an incredible mileage out if composers. In the old days they had to pay quite a lot of money for an orchestra but now they have samples with all the sounds and they just click their fingers and they can have an orchestra here. People like me have to scurry off to produce it, often for very little money. So they are both good and bad in that respect.
Well, that just about wraps it up for yet another informative chat with Ant. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him on behalf of the readers of The Waiting Room for putting up with us once again on a day when he could so easily have been doing something far more interesting! Thanks also to my partnerts in crime: David Beaven and Peter Morton for helping jog my memory at certain points during the proceedings.