“The Poultry And The Poltergeist (Otherwise known as “The Geese & The Glenfiddich”) - Anthony Phillips talks about his first solo album; The Geese & The Ghost. Interview conducted by Jonathan Dann and orchestrated by Alan Hewitt. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
TWR: Perhaps the one thing that is most noticeable when looking at the credits is the number of instruments you play. If anyone is going to get the Mike Oldfield multi-instrumentalist tag it is you?
AP: Yes, I think it was bit of a cliché in those days to write for Arabian Nose Flute, underwater tambourine …if you played one finger cymbal and so stuff …and then it went to the other extreme on Wise After The Event with vocals and harmonica and stuff and one tried to underplay it because it …one became self conscious about it. I don’t know quite where we stood then. I think it was purely factual. I did play guitar and lots of keyboards and I did play drums on one part of The Geese & The Ghost, and Mike did the other. I wonder if you can tell which bits are which?
TWR: Well that’s news to me! Where on earth did the bouzouki come into it?
AP: It came from Greece.
TWR: (In best Eric Praline voice) No, no, I meant where did it appear on the album?
AP: It is on The Geese & The Ghost itself.
TWR: What sort of synthesisers were you playing?
AP: Good question. Actually it was in those days very, very primitive. It was the ARP Pro Soloist. In fact it was a stop on that synth that gave rise to the title, because we haven’t talked about the title have we? Not an obvious title at all.
TWR: The thing is, this now begs the question, which came first, the cover or the title?
AP: Oh no, by the time I met Peter Cross I already had the title. But Henry… was tricky because Rick Wakeman had just done The Six Wives Of Henry VIII. Mike and I did absolute battle over it. Mike and I said. And Mike was out there in the real world seeing how things were done and he came to me saying ‘Rick Wakeman’s done this piece you CAN’T call this piece Henry…’ And I said, ‘I don’t give a fuck what Rick Wakeman’s done ‘ (laughs) and you can look at my attitude and think wasn’t I incredibly brave to stick up for it and then you have Mike who was saying, with some justification that people would just think ’Oh another bloke doing the same thing’ So the two sides of it were quite clear. I think Mike was right in some respects.
TWR: The comparison is valid although Wakeman’s is a totally keyboard based album whereas yours is mainly stringed instruments with the exception of the piano (and before anyone corrects me, I AM aware that the piano is a stringed instrument too - AH).
AP: I was arguing from an idealistic, non-realistic pint of view and I was saying I believe this piece is strong enough to standpoints own and not make any difference. And Mike was saying, well if you take that attitude basically it could mean that it never gets released, because people will say …so both points of view were valid. It was going to be called Lostwithiel at one stage. You see, the title The Geese & The Ghost came from two different sounds in the title piece. There’s a little repeated synth pattern in echo that sounds like a flight of geese that goes across the stereo if you listen to it on headphones and it comes back, although not the same way at the start of the seventh section; the last bit and that sounded like a flight of geese to us. There’s also a very cold bit also near the beginning somewhere … there’s a single line that sounds quite ghostly and so, for some reason The Geese & The Ghost came from those two sounds.
The thing about those days was that we actually had to work to get the sounds and now you plug in a sample and you don’t do the work. We had to be so resourceful and that was what was great about that era; everything had to be played and the sounds were… more original as you had to come up with them yourself, you couldn’t just pick up a sample and do it. There’s no problem if you are working in an orchestral area and you want good clarinets, you just use a sample. In a thing like The Geese & The Ghost where the sounds were part orchestral and part original it was important NOT to be able to use samples and to have to come up with odd weird sounds. I was very keen to recapture some of the sounds that I got on the 1970 demo which I think frankly, from Mike’s point of view were a bit tedious and he probably felt that I was trying to recapture it just for the sake of it. I mean, we did ridiculous things like the bass on Lute’s Chorus was a sped down bass so it meant that Mike had to play the bass part at double the speed in order to get the timbre of the sound an octave down and it is very hard to play accurately because if someone is playing at double the speed when you slow it down the mistake ratio is doubled. Whereas the reverse is true if you do a sped-up take.
I suppose it was because we wanted to sound woody on Lute’s Chorus and we didn’t use a bass guitar , we used a normal guitar and sped it down an octave and there’s a difference but it is much harder to keep in time and if you listen carefully the bass is not bang on in time, because the margin for error is, as I was saying, that much greater when you are down a octave.
TWR: Where did some of the individual musicians come from?
AP: John Hackett was just through Steve really. Mike knew that John played flute.
TWR: Viv McCauliffe?
AP: I can’t remember where she came from, who she knew or who knew her. She was great but she and Phil didn’t do their parts at the same time, it was done separately. She sang first, because she kicks it off doesn’t she?
TWR: This is one we have GOT to ask. What on earth is a Hecklephone and a Bulk Eraser?
AP: Yes, well, that’s not entirely serious! A Hecklephone is a bass oboe I think, but we didn’t have a bass oboe in fact. Bulk Eraser is a big joke, if you want to erase your entire tape you just put this massive magnetic field on top of the tape.
TWR: Nick Hayley and friend…?
AP: Yes, that’s a tricky one because we could never remember Nick Hayley’s friend’s name! (laughs).
TWR: Were these people known to you or recommendations or did you just get a musicians’ directory?
AP: No. I’ll tell you what happened was, the orchestral session in early ‘75 where we tried the other piece … you know the one that didn’t work out. We picked up a lot of really keen young musicians from the Royal College, excellent players who were keen and we were working with these really talented players that were just keen to do some stuff in rock really, and there were loads of them.
TWR: Some of the credits are a little bizarre and of course, the first appearance of Sir Ralph Bernascone..
TWR: Mr Bernascone, the soloist.
AP: Well, he WAS! (laughs).
TWR: We have heard samples of his soloing, yes (laughs).
AP: A very underwhelming performance (laughs).
TWR: Martin Westlake and “thanks to Brendan and Viv”?
AP: Brendan and Viv they had the Argonaut Tours barge. They took it very well actually. It was a very bizarre scene if you can picture this guy answering the ‘phone about the prices of tours and stuff.
TWR: One question I’d like to ask is about the single, Collections. Was it a promo single or a standard release?
AP: I don’t know. It was only in France wasn’t it? Nobody ever used to tell me what they had done these type of things. They used to happen and no one told me.
TWR: Now we move on to the story of Henry - when did you actually put that together?
AP: It was done at the end actually. It was done when I knew the album was being… when I actually knew it was eventually was going to go out. I must have had rough notes before, but I didn’t do that until the end.
TWR: Who did the woodcuts?
AP: Peter did them. Oh yes, it was all Peter’s work.
TWR: That begs the question, how did you meet Mr Cross?
AP: Peter was at school with Chris and Jackie Maliphant and I visited them and he showed me “May” fro the Trouble For Trumpets book and it was so fantastic, it was just perfect. Actually, just going back to Henry for a moment, we were …I went to ridiculous lengths with Henry, I even went to the British Museum. I couldn’t read Old English or whatever it was. I wanted to and eventually succeeded in finding the name of a knight who had died at the Battle Of Flodden (1507) and I did find one: Sir Guy Samney wasn’t it? I got into the inner sanctum and I just couldn’t read this stuff … at least I got the name. I didn’t want to invent a name and it was a lovely idea.
TWR: Sir Ralph Bernascone?
AP: Sir Ralph Bernascone! (laughs).
TWR: The thing I liked about it was that it was a lovely exploration of sounds, it is a lovely sounds cape and it doesn’t fall into the trap of being too evocative. How did Wind Tales end up on the album?
AP: Yes, that’s right. I wonder if this is known, it was a mistake! (laughter and calls of “cut, cut, where’s the bulk eraser?!”). No, it was a mistake that became deliberate. It the end part of Collections backwards you see, but it happened by chance, the tape was put on back to front and there’s this lovely rustling sound and there were backwards things before then but that became my piece.
TWR: The one piece that certainly in terms of title is quite out of context with the rest of the album is Chinese Mushroom Cloud.
AP: That was The Geese & The Ghost slowed down and that was when we were
doing the sped up twelve strings on that section. We wanted it to sound really
jangly, so what you do is you…. What you do to get the thing to sound
an octave up, you play an octave down. The sound was so fantastic like a sort
of sledgehammer and the pattern was sounding Chinese when it was sped down and
then when the cellos came in it sounded just colossal … oriental and then
like some kind of horrendous explosion, it just sounded so good.