“The Geese & The Glenfiddich Revisited” – Anthony Phillips and Jonathan Dann talk exclusively to TWR about the 30th anniversary re-issues. Bibulous infusions by Alan Hewitt. Extraneous noises by Vic Stench. Photography and moments of lucidity by Anthony Hobkinson.
Thirty years! Has it really been THAT long? The Geese & The Ghost has always held a special place in my affections. After all, without it, TWR might never have come into being, and my thirty year love affair with the wonderful world of Genesis music might never have happened – so blame Anthony Phillips, not me, folks!
Yes, difficult to believe but true. Had I not made the tentative purchase of this album all those years ago, I would certainly not be writing this now! I had heard Genesis before this and had become instantly hooked on Wind & Wuthering from just one listening. But for reasons which even I don’t know, my very first foray into their music came with my purchase of this album. As with its counterpart from the band itself, The Geese… had something special about it and thirty years later, it still does!
So, what better way to celebrate the auspicious occasions of TWR’s 20th and the album’s 30th anniversaries than by interviewing the musician responsible for it. Well, we couldn’t get him to talk to us, so we settled for Vic Stench instead!
Seriously though, over to Anthony and Jonathan for the low down on this marvellous project...
TWR: We’re here to talk about the re-issue of The Geese &
The Ghost, Wise After The Event and 1984. Rather than talking about how the
albums were originally made, we’re more interested in the re-mastering
process and the additional material that was found for each of them. When did
you first start digging up material for them, if that’s the right expression?
JD: I think it dates back to 2000 – we’d compiled and released Archive Collection Volume One in 1998 and I’d continued to delve through Ant’s tape archive to see what other material there was from different eras. From that we had the idea to do Archive Collection 2 and at the same time I was looking at the different recording formats that Ant had used in the past. Of particular interest was the period between September 1974 and last 1979 when he had the two TEAC 4-track machines – there were plenty of tapes recorded in this format but if we wanted to access any of it then we would need a suitable machine as well as the dbx noise reduction system which was used on the recordings. So I looked around to see if I could locate a machine in working order which I eventually did from a shop in Bristol and I found a dbx unit from a place in Manchester. With this equipment in place I was then able to listen to the original four-track tapes from the first phase of recording The Geese & The Ghost. So this was the starting point for the whole thing. It was a big surprise and very interesting to hear things like the title track of Geese just as the basic two-guitar version played by Ant and Mike without any of the overdubs. We thought this could be a possible extra track should Geese ever be re-issued in the future.
The next thing was a happy co-incidence of having the dbx noise reduction. I’d been looking through Ant’s tapes and found two boxes full of reels that were labelled ‘Geese mixes’. These turned out to be different mixes from the original sessions for the album in 1975 and I spotted from the labels that they had been recorded using dbx noise reduction as well so I was able to decode that using the unit I had got hold of. One of the tapes I tried playing was the title track of the album and I could see it had splices in it where edits had been made. It quickly dawned on me that this must be the original master of the track and that it was being heard again for the first time since 1975.
TWR: On the subject of the master tapes themselves, have all of the original tapes now been found?
JD: That’s a difficult one to answer in a sense because there are master tapes from different stages of the album’s production. For instance, the tape that I found of the title track wouldn’t have been the tape used to cut the original vinyl release – it would have been transferred to another tape with various processes like EQ and limiting applied to it in order to create a final master. That second tape may then have been copied again and processed further to create a production master so each time you would be dropping a generation. For the re-issue of The Geese we’ve been able to go back to either first generation tapes in some places or the absolute original tapes which are essentially no generation with a dramatic improvement in the sound quality.
The source tape used for the Virgin CD release was a production master from Trident Studios which we believe was third generation. For the previous CD release that Passport put out that came from an unknown source where the tapes had been partly demagnetised as there’s a tell-tale fluttering sound that can be heard in places on the CD.
TWR: Were there any surprises that came to light from the original tapes?
AP: The one key thing that we came across was a section in Henry that had been omitted because of perceived record company pressure, although it’s unfair to try and blame it on anybody. The feeling at the time was that we had to try and keep things moving and early into Henry the thought was that we weren’t getting on with it fast enough. It’s a typical paranoia when you don’t have an audience and you’re worried that people may only be half listening. The original order was Fanfare, Lutes Chorus and then Misty Battlements was interpolated if that’s the right word before a reprise of the Lutes theme and then the War section. Because of this perceived worry we’d skipped the reprise and had this sudden leap from the quiet 12-strings into the War section. It’s a standard Rock thing of shocking people but it’s not how it was originally planned. It’s almost as if you have a dream sequence between the two Lutes Chorus pieces before the scene changes to war but with the decision to take out the reprise meant that we lost that by moving on rapidly. The trouble is that people will have got so used to the track as it has been so for so long.
TWR: So has this been restored in the track?
AP: Absolutely – it was there in the original mix and was then pulled out. Initially, as with anything that people are used to it will come as a surprise but I hope in the fullness of time they will realise that it’s more natural.
TWR: This reminds me of Steve’s album Please Don’t Touch where there are two tracks that are supposed to segue but on the original CD version there was a huge gap between them which has now been corrected on the re-mastered version but people are used to the gap being there and it takes time to get used to hearing it in a different way.
AP: I know it can be difficult if people are so used to hearing something but then often they want something different on a re-issue and this isn’t doing for the sake of it; it’s pure authenticity.
TWR: I think that’s the main thing with a re-issue – to get the album as it was originally intended before other things got in the way. Was there anything else in a similar vein that came to light?
JD: That extra section in Henry was the main thing that came to light just in terms of looking at the album itself and checking the various sources for it so that the best results from the re-mastering can be obtained. So there was a little bit of detective work – or as Ant likes to call it sonic sleuth work – to see what we could find. It was good that we started looking at this stuff so far ahead of the potential release date so that when it came to the re-mastering we knew which tape was going to be the source for which track. So this process had largely been completed by 2004 and we were able to listen to things and hear what they sounded like.
TWR: In the re-mastering process, is it like an oil painting where you are restoring it, literally stripping it down to how it was or are you actually improving it in the process?
JD: That’s a good question – I think it depends on what your source is in the first place. If you’re working from the original master and that hasn’t had a process applied to it like limiting in order to cut the album on vinyl then the opportunity is there to use the greater dynamic range that CDs can handle. In particular for the tapes we uncovered for The Geese you couldn’t go back any further, it was as ‘original’ as you could get and in turn you can have the album sounding as it did in the studio rather than as it did on record.
TWR: An issue that always fascinates me is when people talk about the technical limitations in the old studios. Would there be anything that would be a limitation in a new studio in putting this material together? Were there any limitations that digital imposed on this process as opposed to analogue?
JD: There was one key issue with The Geese which was the noise reduction used in the recording of the album, which was dbx. It’s not a format that’s in regular use and in fact Simon Heyworth had to hire the relevant cards in order to decode it on the original tapes so that he could then compare the different source material.
AP: He spent a lot of time on it, listening to all these different things.
JD: After he’d compared the sources he did quite a lot of work as well to remove static clicks as well as the overall dynamic of the album. One of Simon’s memories of the recording of the album was that the dynamic was quite difficult to deal with in the original recording. If you think about The Geese it does go from very quiet to loud so that made things quite hard. I think the dbx was the biggest technical challenge of the re-mastering.
TWR: This all began as a ‘what if’ – when did it become a reality with a view to it becoming a proper release?
JD: I think that would have been around 2005 as that’s about the time that Ant’s original contract with Virgin was coming to its end. As we know, EMI held onto Geese, Wise and 1984 whilst allowing Voiceprint to re-release the other titles in Ant’s back catalogue.
TWR: Was there any reason given why they wanted to hang on to those titles?
AP: I suppose they thought that those were the ones – particularly with the Geese including Mike and Phil – that had the longest shelf life. So they decided to hedge their bets on that one and that made it hard for us to move.
JD: So that was the impetus really, seeing that the contractual period was coming up to the end and the albums could at last be re-released. It was at that point that we really started “operation re-issue” if you like – we’d had a dip into some of the tapes for The Geese & The Ghost but hadn’t looked at the other albums that much at that point. The next stage was essentially finding every tape that Ant has for each of the albums and delving through them to establish what potential extra material there might be.
TWR: Are you now relatively sure that you’ve found all the relevant material or since the re-issues were completed have you been given any more surprises?
JD: Yes – with Wise After The Event, some of the original 4-track home demo tapes that Ant recorded couldn’t be found and it’s only in the last few weeks that they’ve come to light. That aside, by the time I had been through all the tapes that Ant had I’d got a good idea of what was available. As we have established the Archive Collection series as an outlet for anything interesting of a historical nature, I remember saying to Ant that we could always use that should anything come to light that was felt to be worthwhile after we’d completed the selection of extra material. Going through all the tapes I did find that perhaps I hadn’t realised what I’d let myself in for – in total just from the original 4-track tapes for first part of the recording for Geese I estimate that I ended up transferring around seven hours of material. I think I should mention that a sizeable amount of that is made up of experiments of overdub ideas on the original tracks and there’s a lot of repetition of the same sections of tracks just with different instruments used to play the same parts.
TWR: How many different tape formats did you end up encountering?
JD: On The Geese & The Ghost it was a mixture of 2-track stereo and 4-track recorded on the TEAC machines. When we start thinking about some of the other albums then we get into the realm of other formats. With Wise After The Event there were other things that were considered – there was the idea of the original running order for the album and the planned EP that would accompany the album release. We did locate the master tapes for that – in fact in contrast to the situation with Geese, it became almost a running joke how many different sets of master tapes we found for Wise After The Event. But out of those we did find the original masters as well as production masters so that was useful to have – these all came from Trident Studios and the labelling and dating on the labels was pretty accurate.
TWR: Out of curiosity, were there many tracks that you found that haven’t been released so far?
JD: Yes – I did find that for all the albums there are things recorded during the original sessions that weren’t used on the final album or in some cases for other projects. For instance, I found the original piano demo of Movement 3 of Tarka which Ant recorded in June 1975 between the end of the 4-track phase of recording Geese and the later sessions on Tom Newman’s barge. The original running order on Wise After The Event was an obvious one to consider and we did seek opinions from a number of people about the idea of changing the running order on the re-issue but in the end we decided to stick with the running order as people know it. We then started to look to see what potential extra things there might be for Wise and 1984 and in terms of what existed as 2-track stereo mixes there was only a finite amount in that format. One point of reference I’d kept tabs on was when albums were being re-issued by bands I like and in particular I spotted that the early Caravan albums had been re-mastered and re-issued with extra tracks being sourced for some of them as new mixes from the original multi-track tapes. This got me thinking that with the Virgin contractual period coming to an end Ant would be free to release what he wanted and he also has all of the original multi-track tapes. Many artists are not so fortunate in this respect. In tandem with this, developments in recording technology have now meant that having 24-track digital recording in a home studio environment is a reality and I’ve upgraded my existing set-up to an Alesis HD24 which is very cost-effective in terms of the hard drives that it uses. So there we had two things that it might be possible to make use of for the re-issues – the original tapes and a digital format that they could be transferred to. The obvious question was how to get the tapes transferred and I found the answer to that in the form of a company called FX who are based in Acton in West London. They offer a variety of things including a rental service for equipment and instruments and also have a Copyroom which specialises in the transfer of tapes from one format to another. With this in mind I suggested to Ant that it might be possible to get some of the original tapes for 1984 transferred from the 8-track format on one-inch tape.
To cut a long story short I got in touch with FX and arranged to do a transfer of the 1984 tapes. To do this the tapes first have to be baked as most of them will now shed the oxide from the surface of the tape. Once that had been done we did a transfer of the tapes and that was interesting as the tapes hadn’t been played for over 25 years and there’s not much in the way of documentation for them in terms of what is recorded on what track. Also, 1984 was recorded in sections and edited together during the later stage of recording so as we monitored the transfer we were of course hearing the tracks in their raw unedited state. So in this initial session we transferred the two original 8-track reels for 1984 and it was only as they were transferred that a piece that wasn’t on the album came to light – I could see Ant had written the working title Scale Strings for it on the original tape box and I noted it as a potential extra track. To make it worthwhile in terms of the time involved in getting the material to FX I also took along some tapes from a related project that we’d not been able to find much in the way of material from which was the music that Ant did for Rule Britannia. Having done all this, the next time I came to see Ant I had prepared a brand new mix of 1984 with some sections without the drumbox for the first time and also some of the Rule Britannia material. Having done this I think we could see that we had the makings of the extra CD for 1984.
The final part of the puzzle was to look at the material for Wise After The Event – we’d found some interesting demo material but there were one or two tracks that we didn’t have variations of. I wondered what we could do with this (at this point, Ant starts playing the introduction to Birdsong on guitar) – we could listen to Birdsong perhaps?
AP: Good team work! This is so professional! (laughter)
JD: Ant does have the original multi-track tapes for Wise but they are 16 and 24-track so accessing them would be way ahead of anything that we’d tried before but I thought we could give it a go. Ant very kindly agreed and so another transfer session at FX was arranged. This meant that we could access all the 24-track recordings for the songs on the album and check out things like the number we’re hearing right now (Ant plays the introduction to Now What on guitar)…
AP: I haven’t played that for about thirty years!
JD: People may well have heard the original demo version of Now What on the first Archive Collection so I thought that it would be interesting to go through the 24-track master and see if it would be possible to highlight some parts that are quite quiet in the final mix or perhaps were not even heard at all. An instrumental mix seemed to be the best variation we could have in contrast to the album version. Ant did remind me that the album mix did take two days to complete and asked if I really wanted to try doing it! It’s by far the most complicated mix I’ve ever attempted in terms of what is happening on the different tracks. It was also really useful that we had most of the original track sheets for the album so it was possible to see what was on which track. The sheet for Now What has been carefully put together so that made things so much easier.
Just in terms of the original tapes from the Wise sessions, the original recording was done on 16-track at Essex Studios in London and I think in total there are 12 reels from that phase of the recording. There’s more material from the sessions that hasn’t been heard but almost certainly they will just be the reject takes of the basic backing tracks for each of the songs. In an ideal world with unlimited time and funds I would have got all of those tapes transferred but I doubt there is anything unique on them. The only other track recorded during the Geese sessions as a potential track for the album was a new version of Silver Song (on cue, Ant plays the intro to Silver Song on guitar) so we’ve included a version of that on the extra CD along with the planned single version from 1973 that Ant recorded with Mike and Phil.
TWR: The albums have been re-mastered in the conventional stereo format. Was any thought given to re-mastering them in 5.1 and if so what happened to that?
JD: No, there was no real thought of doing them as 5.1 mixes. Of the three albums I think that 1984 would lend itself quite well to being mixed in that format having various elements panning around. I think the costs involved in doing that would prove to be prohibitive.
TWR: Were there any ‘sticky shed’ problems with the original tapes?
JD: Yes there were. What’s interesting is that you do get some albums using different brands of tapes and so some tapes are perfectly playable and others not. All the stereo masters for Wise After The Event are on a brand of tape called Racal Zonal which plays fine. Geese and 1984 both used Ampex tape stock so that required baking before the tapes could be played. The multi-tracks for Wise After The Event are all on Ampex and even after baking had to be slowly re-wound on the machine before playback as a precaution to avoid any damage.
After completing the re-masters of Geese, Wise and 1984 a deal was arranged with Disk Union in Japan to re-issue not only those three albums but also the majority of Ant’s back catalogue in Japan. We checked through some of the album masters and felt in particular on reviewing Back To The Pavilion that there was plenty of potential to improve the sound quality of that album by re-mastering it from scratch. The only source of master tape for the album were some copy masters dating from 1983 which I suspect are second or third generation. So the challenge there was to re-assemble the album from scratch, by locating all the original tapes it was compiled from, bearing in mind that the album was a compilation of tracks from different times. So it was back on with the sonic sleuth work which was ultimately successful and the album sounds a lot better overall as a result.
AP: I think it’s great to have these new versions – obviously for Geese which goes without saying, but particularly for Wise After The Event which has been very hard to get hold of in the past. Also the fact that it’s not just a chuck away extra CD with the albums but an extra disc with some ‘proper’ stuff on it that’s had some thought put into it.