“Watching The Wildlife” - Anthony Phillips in conversation with TWR about the recently released Wildlife compilation CD.
So, Anthony, here we are 21 years on and still trying to get a Non-Python ridden interview out of you! Seriously though, with the recent release of the Wildlife compilation album, I thought it might prove interesting to our readers to find out a bit more about your work in this field (and I don’t mean “boon work” either!!)
TWR: First of all, how did you become involved in composing music for wildlife programmes in particular?
AP: It all began in 1989 when my library company,Atmosphere, were approached by the sadly-now-defunct Survival regarding the use of a library piece entitled 'Slow China' as title music for a Survival Special entitled Land of Dragons -about wildlife in Hong Kong. People always used to say 'what wildlife in HK?' but actually it was surprisingly abundant -red kites, king crabs, tokay lizards etc. They then asked me to do all the incidental music as well but, since I was starting from a position of strength having the main building brick of the main theme nailed, the rest of it was relatively easy. That is, apart form the technical side! I was paid £1000 for the job and couldn't afford any synchronisation gear, so I had to do all the cues live 'on the fly', rough starting the tape machine with the picture and hoped they'd stay in synch. They didn't - inevitably! -particularly on the longer cues - and the brilliant editor, Mark Anderson, had to do some clever jiggery-pokery to make things fit! The producer, Caroline Brett was formidable and moderately terrifying but somehow managed to please her -just! -and it went down very well.
TWR: How did you become involved with Nick Gordon, whose work the album is a marvellous tribute to…?
AP: He was the cameraman on my second Survival ,'Tiwai', about the sacredly-regarded monkeys of Sierra Leone. I didn't actually meet him on this one but in 1994 the same situation arose as previously when they thought a number of tracks from the library CD with Joji Hirota fitted the bill for a South American programme. This was Nick's own opus both as camerman and producer and we worked with him and Mark Anderson adapting cues and writing some new ones.It was visually stunning and, though no push-over, Nick was an altogether easier person to work with than my previous experience!
TWR: Is it a case of music to fit the visuals or do you actually have sight of the rushes before getting down to composing the music for each programme?
AP: Music nearly always, in these cases, adapted to fixed-length visuals!
TWR: It was interesting to hear a piece from the English Pastoral library album accompanying a feature on the BBC’s “Country File” programme recently, is that simply a case of your library music albums being available to TV companies or have you ever been asked to write material for programmes such as that?
AP: Since Nick's tragic and untimely death, I've not sought any commission music. Library music is lucrative, pleasant, relatively unpressured and constantly creative as opposed to commission which can actually be the antithesis of all those points!
TWR: Do you find yourself returning to ideas or themes that you have used on your solo albums?
AP: It's unavoidable that there will be some cross-trafficking between solo album work and TV-orientated stuff. Rarely have I ever actually used a theme for TV that was previously on a solo album but during a period of writing for one, it is inevitable that you may chance upon ideas that are better suited to the other medium ! I keep a vast horde of 'bit's, embryonic ideas that can be accessed to fit well....almost anything !
TWR: What are the difficulties associated with working in this field?
AP: Difficult directors, contradictory instructions, in the old days
the synching of audio with visual !, tight deadlines, people not getting back
to you when time is tight and then expecting it to arrive overnight as if by
magic but, most of all, coming up with something really special that gives a
signature to the programme and kickstarts the the
other ideas needed. Oh and digital tape fouling up and almost losing ALL of Joji's parts that had taken 7/8 days to record........!
TWR: What is the programme you have the fondest memories of and why?
AP: Land of Dragons -the first, great buzz about it / Creatures of the
Magic Water - the first with Nick,always great fun and privilege to work with
Joji Hirota OR possibly Serengeti Jigsaw : Joji and I were asked by Mark Anderson
to do this with the doyen of Wildlife film-making, Alan Root, a notoriously
particular man in music. Expecting
an avalanche of probs, our seven cues were passed first time & given 10/10! Phew! We felt good!
Thanks once again to Anthony for contributing so much to TWR’s first 21 years - here’s to the next 21!