“Ruling Britannia And Other Stories” - The recent re-issue of Anthony Phillips’ 1984 album reviewed by Alan Hewitt.

Well, we are certainly overdosing on Anthony Phillips material in this issue, aren’t we? And why not?! 1984 is one of my favourite albums by Ant and I was delighted to hear that it was to be re-issued at long last after being relegated to the wilderness by Virgin Records!

This album was a surprise in so many ways back in 1981 and it still has the power to surprise me even now. Back then, the idea of Ant releasing an album of keyboard/drum machine orientated music seemed as likely as Genesis releasing a track such as Who-Dunnit? Well history relates, doesn’t it or dunnit? Anyway, the strangest thing about this album was hearing some of it initially as the accompanying music to an ATV series titled “Rule Britannia”. Believe it or not, I first realised it was Ant when an episode was being broadcast in my local pub whilst I was in the middle of a darts match! Suffice to say, I was glued to the TV ever week thereafter and found the music and indeed, the programme itself, fascinating!

Click to enlarge Imagine my delight a few months later therefore to find an album titled ‘1984’ in my local record store. Duly purchased, I still had no idea what to expect, although the rather stark black and white cover featuring an animal cage should have given me some idea! 1984 is still one of the most shocking and frightening novels ever written in the English language and prophetic in so many ways - Big Brother is indeed watching us if all the CCTV cameras are anything to go by and for “NewSpeak” read “Txt Spk”. Anyway, with that in mind, I remember my overwhelming surprise at hearing this album. Gone were the acoustic glories of previous Ant albums to be replaced by a strident series of four “movements” of synthesised keyboard music accompanied by (shock, horror!) a drum machine which almost bordered on the symphonic in places.

The album was as prophetic as the book in some ways too. Ant’s use of the latest keyboard technology and drum machines certainly mirrored the developments which were to increasingly dominate the UK music scene as the 1980’s progressed. However, unlike so many of those recordings, 1984 still has the power to fascinate, thrill and on occasions; frighten too.

This new edition, lovingly put together by Ant’s archivist; Jonathan Dann also has much to fascinate existing fans of Ant’s music as well as hopefully encouraging newer ones to dip their toes into his vast and varied back catalogue. Once again, the second disc takes us on a fascinating look into the initial development of the album out of the Rule Britannia sessions by including several of the pieces that were written for that series. This is where Ant had to write musical ideas to words such as “greed” and “irony” and the results here are incredible. That is not all, however, there is also a marvellous long form piano piece titled Poly Piece which really does show that Ant’s skills do not merely rest on the guitar but also that other stringed instrument; the keyboard in equal measure! Once again, the two disc set is accompanied by a booklet replete with several previously unseen photographs and items of memorabilia gleaned from the collection of Pavilion member and long time Anthony Phillips fan; Jeremy Charlett as well as an informed text by Jonathan himself which adds enormously to the appreciation of this marvellous album.