"A Self Portrait" - an overview of Anthony Phillips' recorded work by Alan Hewitt and Anthony Phillips.

With the recent re-issue of the bulk of Anthony's back catalogue by Voiceprint, I thought it was high time that we dedicated a little space to this, the most prolific member of the band. I have decided to combine my own thoughts on each album with those of Anthony himself, as expressed through interviews for TWR and The Pavilion over the last few years...

The Geese And The Ghost (1977)
Passport Records USA PVCD8905 1985/Virgin records CDOVD315 1990. Extra track: Master of Time (Demo) (Virgin and Blueprint editions only)

This album marked Anthony's return to the music business proper, and as such it reiterated Anthony's desire to create music of great merit and sublimity. This is an album with a long pedigree. Work began on it in the early 1970's where it was still very much a collaborative effort with Mike Rutherford, with whom Anthony had kept in touch after his departure from Genesis: "Some of it represents bits and pieces from what I used to call the 1969 era of writing with Mike Rutherford which was stuff that he and I used to do on two twelve strings. The rest was from stuff just after I left. There was a great outpouring of material... all of the stuff like "God If I Saw Her Now", "Which Way The Wind Blows", most of "Henry" all came steaming out..."

As a debut album, "The Geese And The Ghost" is hard to beat. It simply has it all: adventurous music, great melodies, a truly marvellous sense of storytelling - simply everything about the album is pure class in my opinion, and it is even more amazing if you consider the circumstances surrounding the release of the album. Delays ensure that its release coincided with the advent of the "New Wave" of music in the UK and anything that aspired to lyricism and even worse romanticism (in the critics eyes, not mine) was due for a panning. However, Anthony decided to persevere and thank goodness he did so, because it would have been a crime to shelve this music, and also as the first album I ever heard by any member of the band, had I not done so, would I have eventually gone on to start TWR and The Pavilion? Who knows?

Wise After The Event (1978)
Virgin Records CDOVD322 1991. Extra Track: Squirrel

Less than a year separates Anthony's first album from this, an altogether different effort. By now he had established himself as a composer and writer struggling against an increasingly hostile world where the superficial was king. Into this environment was born a totally different recording. On "The Geese..." some of the weight had been borne by guest musicians (Mike and Phil), on this album Anthony took on the roles which were a real challenge to him, as his producer Rupert Hine recalled...

"I was always interested in pushing Anthony to do the singing himself... On 'Wise after the Event' we very much tried to pursue the course of Anthony's character being as much his voice as his guitar...". The result was an album of great contrasts; the lyrical and musical depth is no real surprise to fans although I am sure the purity of his voice came as a pleasant surprise to many. It certainly was a great surprise to many of the musicians who worked on the album, as John Perry who played bass on this album, and its sequel "Sides" recalled... "Well, basically it hurt! I must admit it took me a little while, probably half a day to understand where Anthony was coming from...". Unfortunately, it took a great deal longer for the record company to understand and there was a steady increase in pressure for the hit single, indicative of the shallowness of the UK music industry. However, for those prepared to listen, this is one of Ant's most rewarding albums. Who for instance, can fail to be intrigued by the lyrics to "Wise After The Event" and amused by the allegorical confrontation between Martin Luther and the Pope on a golf course in "We're All As We Lie"? This is an album that certainly rewards frequent listenings, and one that never ceases to surprise.

Sides (1979)
Virgin CDOVD316 1990/Blueprint BP210CD 1996. Bonus CD tracks: Souvenir (single B Side) and Magdalen (instrumental version).

Perhaps, for most of Anthony's fans, this album represents the most rounded example of his art. Simply put, this record has everything you could want; great lyrics, beautiful music. No wonder Armando Gallo maintained that when he heard it he couldn't understand why Ant left Genesis! Even so, the album was not without problems, compromises had to be made... "I wrote all sorts of different things for it. There was another whole area that got left off... there were two completely instrumental pieces; one twelve string and another synthesiser based and Rupert was keen to go with those but he could see how impractical it was and also he was getting his instructions from the record company..."

The elusive search for the hit single did not deter Ant from producing one of his finest albums including fine line in irony in the lyrics to "Holy Deadlock" and the acerbic wit of "Um & Aargh", a direct reference to record company A & R men, and the vagaries thereof... "'Um & Aargh' was very much a reaction to the frustration after 'Wise After The Event' that album got slammed in the press... In a way I was having a go at the record companies but I was also tying to come up with a piece of music that would make the press think I was on their side... ironically it did succeed - the press thought I was with them on that one..."

For an album of contrasts, one can hardly do better than this one; from the elegiac beauty of "Bleak House" to the sheer percussive power of "Nightmare", there is surely something for everyone here, and this album is another favourite of mine- not that you could possibly guess!

1984 (1981)
Virgin CDOVD316 1990/Blueprint BP210CD 1996. Bonus CD tracks: Souvenir (single B Side) and Magdalen (instrumental version).

Almost two years were to elapse before Ant's next full scale album. In the intervening period, he had issued the first two of the generic "Private Parts & Pieces" series which is now into its ninth volume and still going strong, and which will form the basis of the next part of this feature. If "Sides" had reiterated all that Ant's fans had already known about their hero, "1984" was to open their eyes to a totally unexpected side to his music. This album comprised four movements, all of which were written entirely on synthesiser, with occasional concessions made to electronic percussion and vocal effects...

"There were no great plans... it was a question of trying to look for a different angle which didn't require a lot of money but which wasn't an acoustic album. I can't remember if I sat down and thought of a plan but what did come to mind was an idea to use a lot of interesting synthesiser sounds... but quite descriptive and almost semi-classical in a way...". The resulting album was certainly interesting, and I can remember hearing some of the themes that wound up on the album as part of ITV's "Rule Britannia" series and even then I was amazed by the sheer aggression and bite to the music. Even the music press were impressed and the resultant single from the album was awarded "Single of The Week" in one music paper - a far cry to the "Music to wash dishes to..." reaction to "The Geese & The Ghost"!

As an album of instrumental music, this one is a must. I cannot understand people who rave about Jean Michel Jarre and yet have not heard this album. I am sure they would quickly be converted!

There I will call a halt to this examination of Ant's albums. Next time I will look at the ever growing series under the title Private Parts & Pieces. In the meantime; my thanks to Ant; Jonathan Dann; John Perry and Rupert Hine.