"Preparing the ground for a Field Day" - An affectionate look back at the albums in the Private Parts & Pieces series by Alan Hewitt.
It is some twenty seven years since the first album in this series was released by Anthony Phillips and a further nine albums have graced us since then making this probably the longest running series of albums around. Anthony's new album: Field Days, is not destined to be the eleventh in the series as previously announced, but nonetheless owes some of its lineage to this particular series and thus we are about to take an affectionate look back at its predecessors.
The initial idea for the first album was quite simple; an opportunity to use some of the material which Anthony had amassed since he recommenced recording after his departure from Genesis back in 1970. The title Private Parts & Pieces is an accurate one; here was a collection of what in some ways could almost be described as "Chamber Music" an intimate collection of music mainly drawing from Anthony's guitar work. This album, released initially in 1978 gathered together such gems as Field Of Eternity (itself containing an excerpt from an unrecorded Genesis song) and the almost Classical Autumnal mixed in between more unusual items such as Tibetan Yak Music which quickly demonstrated Ant's penchant for unusual tunings! When the album was finally re-issued on CD in the early 1990's, two extra tracks; Stranger, a hark back to the heady days of 1969 and collaborations with Mike Rutherford, and Ant's own version of a well-known but seldom heard track; Silver Song which likewise has its origins in that formative period of Ant's musical career. This album formed the blueprint (pardon the pun!)for so much of the subsequent music that Anthony was to record and release, that it is an essential addition to any collection of his music.
Highlights: Field Of Eternity, Tregenna Afternoons, Autumnal.
Private Parts & Pieces Blueprint BP202CD. (1978)
|With varying musical fortunes attending the albums which followed 1977's The Geese & The Ghost, Anthony was able to issue the second album in this series in the USA only. "Back To The Pavilion" appeared on the Passport Records label in 1980 and continued the trend of compiling music "off the shelf" so to speak. This second album was a far more eclectic and fragmentary affair than its predecessor merging some of the more experimental keyboard pieces, especially excerpts from the abortive Shakespearean project which had been shelved in the mid 1970's under the title: Scottish Suite. The usual flow of the album is interrupted by the balancing act which is attempted between the keyboard pieces and the more traditional guitar performances making this a sometimes frustrating album to listen to but there are sufficient gems here to keep you coming back to it. Once again, when Virgin Records issued the album on CD; an extra track was added; the glorious Lucy: An Illusion.|
Highlights: Electric Reaper, Postlude: End Of Season, Nocturne, Lucy : An Illusion.
Private Parts & Pieces II: Back To The Pavilion Blueprint BP203CD. (1980)
|Fortunately for Anthony and indeed for his fans, Passport Records remained a mainstay of his recordings throughout the 1980's and the third album in the series appeared on their imprint in 1982 also fleetingly appearing on the RCA label here in the UK - the last album of Ant's to be released in the UK until Tarka in 1988. Titled "Antiques" this was a welcome return to the acoustic guitar music for which Ant is justly famed. Aided and abetted by his Argentinean friend; Quique Berro Garcia; this is an album of delightful guitar duets and the album which broke the mould with most of the compositions being new music recorded spontaneously out of after dinner "jamming" sessions between the two musicians. You would never know it from the quality of the music here which is delightful - an album of starlight and sunshine in equal measures!|
Highlights: Ivied Castles, Esperansa.
Private Parts & Pieces III: Antiques Blueprint BP204CD. (1982)
The next album in the series appeared in 1984, titled "A Catch At The Tables" this was a balanced mix of the usual acoustic guitar pieces and some more of the more experimental synthesiser pieces which Anthony had been accumulating since the late 1970's. Some of the tracks are delightfully evocative; the Polymoog driven Earth Man for instance, conjures up an eerie vista of prehistoric landscapes whilst the Arboretum Suite will always carry personal memories for me of a wonderful afternoon spent at the very location it describes! This album proved that Anthony's talents were not exclusively guitar based and his experimentation with keyboards and synthesisers were later to bear fruit over several projects which fall outside the scope of this feature.
Highlights: Flapjack, Earth Man, Bouncer, A Catch At The Tables.
Private Parts & Pieces IV: A Catch At The Tables Blueprint BP205CD. (1984)
|Anthony's talents on the twelve string guitar were already well known and admired by his fans and those who revere the Trespass album. Nonetheless, the next album in this series, released in 1985 took that aspect to extremes with an album of almost Spartan austerity in which the twelve string guitar was the only instrument. Basing the album around the twelve months of the year, this is an album that demands concentration from the listener if any lasting benefit is to derived from it and as an exercise in the Classical form; this one demonstrates that Anthony is a master of it!|
Highlights: February, July.
Private Parts & Pieces V: Twelve Blueprint BP206CD. (1985)
|Following hot on the heels of this album came the sixth in the series in 1986. The other side of the coin this time with the featured instrument being acoustic piano with not a synthesiser in sight! Once again, the featured instrument is used in an austere manner although there are flashes of humour in several of the pieces such as Sea Dog's Air. The music from the abortive Masquerade project which Anthony had been heavily involved with also make their appearance here and Winter's Thaw and Moonfall are wonderfully evocative pieces. Another album that does not make for easy listening but the effort is rewarded with some of Anthony's finest playing and another demonstration (if such were needed!) of his mastery of his art!|
Highlights: Sea Dog's Air, Winter's Thaw, Moonfall.
Private Parts & Pieces VI: Ivory Moon Blueprint BP207CD. (1986)
Another year and another album in the series. The seventh album titled Slow Waves Soft Stars generated a rarity when it was released. Passport Records and their subsidiaries were on the verge of bankruptcy when this album appeared and subsequently import copies of the album and the CD version (the first album in the series to be issued on this format) were very hard to find outside of the US. A personal favourite of mine, this album is the first to really successfully marry the mix of acoustic guitar tracks and those "subversive synthesiser pieces" as Anthony calls them! Here the mix is just right with marvellous descriptive tracks such as the suite which comprises Ice Flight, being complimented by such delights as Beachrunner and Carnival. A healthy mix of two ostensibly incompatible musical styles brought together by a master exponent of both!
Highlights: Ice Flight, Carnival, Elevenses, Goodbye Serenade.
Private Parts & Pieces VII: Slow Waves Soft Stars Blueprint BP208CD. (1987)
Fans were to have a long wait for the next album in the series; some five years were to elapse before the eighth album appeared but it was well worth the wait! New England was the first album in the series to be issued in the UK since the first album back in 1978 and the first album by Anthony to be issued on CD with no accompanying vinyl release. Another exclusively new compilation; this release featured another wonderful mix of acoustic guitar and synthesiser pieces evoking various moods and styles along with a rarity from Ant these days; a song; the plaintive Unheard Cry which is startling in the emotion which it conjures up. Other gems can be found in the Pieces Of Eight suite (sorry; I still think the album should have been called "Pieces Of Eight"!) and Aubade and Cathedral Woods to name but a few - one of Ant's finest recordings to date.
Highlights: Sanctuary, Cathedral Woods, Aubade, Unheard Cry; Pieces Of Eight Suite.
Private Parts & Pieces VIII: New England Blueprint BP212CD. (1992)
A further four years were to pass by before the next album in the series arrived. This album, titled Dragonfly Dreams (can't quite remember who gave Ant that title - ahem!!) is a throwback to the original album in so far that it combines new music with a selection of older pieces with some going back as far as 1980. Again, there is a wonderful admixture of styles of music which runs riot over a whole landscape of tones, colours and emotions from the marvellously evocative Hills Of Languedoc and Under The Ice and the humorously titled Sarah Blakeley's Evening ("celebratory evening" to our non-Japanese speakers!) and another truly wonderful song; the elegiac She'll Be Waiting. Another superb album.
Highlights: Openers, Under The Ice, She'll Be Waiting, Hills Of Languedoc, Summer Ponds & Dragonflies.
Private Parts & Pieces IX: Dragonfly Dreams Blueprint BP229CD. (1996)
"Ant in the studio"
Photo: J Dann/TWR
Anthony rounded off the twentieth century with another album in this series. Titled Soiree, this album appeared in 1999 and was the emotional and musical successor to 1986's Ivory Moon. Once again the emphasis here is on the acoustic piano and Anthony's classical leanings are once again on full display here. Emotionally, the heart of this album is the wonderful tribute to Princess Diana: Fallen Flower but there is much more to reward the listener to this album with a collection of music which once again demonstrates that there is more to AP than the acoustic guitar!
Highlights: Final Lights, Passacaglia; Fallen Flower; After You Left.
Private Parts & Pieces X: Soiree Blueprint BP319CD (1999)
There you have it; a series of albums which defies categorisation and it is that versatility of form and style which has ensured the longevity of the series.