“In Search Of Heaven” - Anthony Phillips and Jonathan Dann in conversation with Alan Hewitt on Saturday 13th August 2011. Photographs by MU/Jonathan Stewart, Stuart Barnes and Anthony Hobkinson.
Unusually for an interview with Mr Phillips we were not subjected to the usual ten minutes of Pythonisms before getting down to the meat of the matter so if any of you miss that kind of stuff, we’re sorry!
TWR: Are we on? Yes, we’re on. We have just been listening to a selection of stuff intended for… what exactly is it intended for, Jon…?
JD: Catastrophe (laughs).
AP: It is intended for a potential double CD of orchestral music. I think as yet we probably haven’t really decided. In the past library music, commission music and TV music has been put out under the banner of Missing links as opposed to the banner of Private Parts & Pieces which has been obviously, smaller scale artists’ recordings and Archive Collection has been very much artist rarities and bits which are technically not up to scratch as well. This stuff doesn’t fit into any of those categories because it is very recent. Strictly speaking it would have been called a Missing Links but without wishing to denigrate any of the previous Missing Links albums but because this is very recent and the nature of it as very orchestral recordings, the idea was not to call it missing links but to call it Lissing Minks (laughs) so that is to be decided.
It will be the best of a double orchestral CD which was recorded in Prague for Universal, or Atmosphere which are now part of Universal, and also some private recordings which were done between myself and Andrew Skeet who was the arranger who worked with me in Prague, and taking some of the Field Day tracks and adding strings on top and a couple of new ones as well. That was a private project and so it is going to be a combination of those two along with a couple of sort of library perennials that have had a lot of use over the last three or four years which are NOT orchestral but which might balance it up and give it a bit of variation. Do you want me to carry on being serious or am I getting boring now?
TWR: I am beginning to wonder where the five minutes of Python have gone…
AP: Well, if we have the five minutes of Python and then you have got another twelve tracks to listen to so let’s start being silly now (laughs).
TWR: You mentioned that all of this stuff is relatively recent so I suppose that’s why it can’t be a Missing Links…
AP: Well, it feels less like a Missing Links because of the relatively contemporaneous quality of it and because of these brand spanking new orchestral recordings I didn’t want to insult previous Missing Links albums where it might be slightly downgrading it by giving it that title. Oh, it’s just some old recordings, well it ISN’T just some old recordings.
TWR: It wouldn’t do it justice because orchestral music is an entirely different beast really. How come you ended up doing it in Prague?
AP: Well, ironically since then the Musician’s Union have changed the rules and the last thing we wanted to do was go to Prague, no disrespect to some of the very fine musicians in Prague… The rules were then that if a library piece got used as the title music to a programme then you had to pay the players all over again so if you have a big budget and a not particularly big orchestra, then that is all fine. If someone wanted to use your music and you got a £2000 fee and you have to pay £150 to each of your players you simply can’t do it so the library company weren’t prepared to wear that. Ironically since we went to Prague in 2008, the Union have changed the rules because they were losing too much work. The irony was that the people at the top end weren’t losing the work because there is always an elite … both oligarchy and plutocracy at the top…
TWR: Don’t you talk dirty! I only asked a question! (laughs).
AP: Yeees… It was the middling and lesser players who were definitely losing out and not getting the work and the fees were set in stone too high without any reference to the budget of the programme. I mean, for instance I did the Natural World programme and I got paid quite well but if you look at the discrepancy between me getting paid £6000 for a month’s work and a violinist comes in one afternoon and does an hour and a half session and walks out of here with £600 - a tenth of my budget for an hour and a half’s work. You begin to think that that isn’t right at all.
TWR: That is the economics of the madhouse, really…
AP: Yes it was, and therefore, players lost out. I would say many more players lost out because the Union meant well but there was too much inflexibility and it did serve, I know I will have to be careful what I say here, but it did seem like there was a slightly self-serving quality about it. They didn’t move with the times. No disrespect to Prague but you have some great musicians in Prague but you have a more across the board even sound really here so that would be my thoughts. So on the orchestral CD we worked for Atmosphere/Universal with the musicians in Prague but when we did the Field Day plus strings, it was just strings but it was described as a “first desk band” and what that American expression means is that everybody, even the granny knitting at the back (laughs) she could be in the front row, she is that good.
TWR: You have mentioned a couple of people earlier in conversation, so tell us a bit about Andrew Skeet, and you also mentioned that you have Paul Clarvis back in the fold again…
AP: Yeah, it’s an incredibly good team actually and I was given this incredibly open brief by Atmosphere which is quite wonderful and English Pastoral, the CD which was done back in 1999 had done pretty well, it didn’t set the world on fire but it had done good steady business which was what they like.
TWR: Well it was used a lot because I kept on picking up on pieces of it on the TV.
AP: It’s not something that’s going to get used for a huge major advertisement although of course it was used for the Jordan’s Harvest Crunch ad. Orchestral music like acoustic guitar music and some of the synth stuff doesn’t date so they took along view and gave me and Claire the producer gave me a few models of things and I wasn’t actually told “write in this style” but go away and do your own thing and cover a lot of areas because she even gave me a few things and I did listen to a few scores which was quite daunting things like the score to Forest Gump and things like that and I was aware of writing some stuff that was American because library music is getting used more and more in films..
TWR: Even Hollywood can’t always afford a full orchestra.
AP: Sometimes, that’s right and most of the time I was drawing on bits I wasn’t sitting down and saying “I’m going to do a pastiche of…” because that’s almost always terrible. I did have to do that twice during English Pastoral, once which was the Shark Ascending (Ant is of course referring to Vaughan Williams’ classic, The Lark Ascending - AH) and the other was Nimrod which wasn’t such a good idea.
Anyway having done all of that, I would have been happy to have a crack at arranging some of it but Andrew Skeet is a very good arranger who has worked with a lot of Pop musicians as well as doing all the stuff for The Divine Comedy, he is a very versatile man. When I first met him he was a little bit austere and a little bit school master-ish but his dad IS a schoolmaster and I quickly realised he was a pussy cat underneath and very keen on cricket and a good sense of puns so we got on very well. There has to be the odd moment when you are not sure about some of the things. I didn’t have a fixed idea about orchestration but there were moments. An arranger will always put in their own style over and above what you require and it begins to wander into the realm of composition which was slightly tricky because whenever there was a moment like that, I just threw it over to Claire the producer because I thought I can’t be objective about this, let her be. Ironically his wife, Karen is a harpsichord player and has been taught by Richard MacPhail’s wife! So they all know each other so talk about a small world, it’s very bizarre really.
Andrew and I have hardly had a crossed word it has really been an extraordinary relationship and I am not frightened to stand up to him. When we did… when we moved on after doing the work in Prague which he was fantastic on. He listened to Field Day and liked a lot of the tracks and suggested trying to put strings on top and we did it with some London musicians who were absolutely stunning as I was saying just now, and on Nocturne there was one bit on the second section where I thought… Andrew that’s not really… and I dug my heels in and said I really don’t think that bit’s working, why don’t you try… it’s an old classic thing contrary motion where the guitar goes (hums tune) and he was following that down on the strings and I thought it would sound much nicer if the strings were going the other way. He’s the sort of guy who will… and we were working as a collaboration here and I wasn’t as such the boss whereas on the orchestral album I could. But he listened and he pondered, you don’t get an immediate response he doesn’t get shirty or anything and we can just discuss it in a very even way. Neither of us are sort of pushy in that way with each other which was really good and there is the sort of respect to take the other guy’s ideas on board and I think that is all you can really want to be honest. I have been very lucky there actually.
TWR: How did the idea to orchestrate some of the stuff from Field Day come about?
AP: It was his really, from listening to it I suppose. I can’t remember if he was a bit frustrated because he is busy all the time but there was a little bit of a window of opportunity and he felt I really like this and I would like to try some of these and so I said, go ahead and I got so excited by what he did that I put up some money to do it and in retrospect it was probably a slightly silly project because we … the aim was to try and get it released on a bigger record company and maybe played on Classic FM and that stuff. We did push it about a bit but he got very busy and I got very busy and we didn’t follow it up properly. Classic FM showed some interest and actually a couple of heavyweight people on the business side; Simon Mortimer who has been my sort of guiding angel all through my Atmosphere days and who was responsible for them being taken over by BMG and he worked for EMI. He also worked for Virgin and when they went down he ended up working for BMG. Simon was very keen on this stuff but what we found again was that it was a tricky sort of… the album didn’t fit into any one particular genre and everyone was saying the same thing; “you have to get this used in “synch” , synch is the buzz word if you get it used in a TV advertisement or a film then people will be much more interested. Claire Bourne who runs a company called Blaze who have done some very heavyweight adverts which have used music by Steve Reich and such and she is married to Crispin who I used to use as my mixing engineer years ago right back in the early days.
Claire was very keen and went from a meeting with her at BAFTA, she is one of the BAFTA people and she was almost embarrassingly keen on this likening one of the pieces to almost quasi Barber and the famous Adagio For Strings which is ironic because it was an old Atmosphere synth piece that we did with strings. We didn’t have enough strings to do it real justice but we did as much as we could and she was really keen on it but it fell between, you know we didn’t quite know what to do with it so we have ended up by going down the library route with it and hopefully through that we might get a lot of stuff used and go through the whole circle which is another route in really.
TWR: It seems a bit strange that some of the early Private Parts & Pieces albums had library pieces on them and now you have gone full circle again…
AP: Yes, I must admit that I ran out of steam on Field Day. I got to the end of it and I remember thinking, some of these are nice but it would be great to have two parts going but if you start doing duets then you’ve got another ten years of stuff! (laughs). I have actually suggested to Quique as a project, to choose a few and add a part - this album will go on forever! (laughs). There might even be a bagpipe arrangement of it or underwater… (laughs) but that might be quite interesting.
TWR: Well he has such an affinity for your music anyway…
AP: He is so good, and when we were remastering Private Parts & Pieces III and realising how good he is, actually. Andrew is a very clever boy and a very good composer in his own right and in fact a couple of the things if I may explain a couple of things. He is the ARRANGER of the Field Day tracks but we did two or three extra new ones a couple of which are his and the one which we are..and perhaps I shouldn’t say this because it will probably stimie it, but the one which we are slightly excited about which is a little thing I was fiddling about with on the piano and my mother said, “Oh, that’s a nice tune” I mean she didn’t actually say it like that (laughs) and I remember thinking hmm… it’s a bit like the cleaning lady test, if the cleaning lady likes it, you perk up and think there could be something in this. Mother is usually fairly critical you know, “that’s alright, dear” but suddenly so that is one of the tracks and Andrew developed the middle part in a really lovely way with piano and strings. Not with the piano leading but as an accompaniment and we tried a thirty second version of the main theme with a singer who, to her credit was..she is a singer with an early group and she didn’t use vibrato, in other words not the heroic and what we imagined the thirty second version which is what we aimed it more at an advert such as the British Airways the Lacme ad which was lovely. So recently what we did was very clever and it was Claire who said don’t just add the vocal on the thirty second version because people don’t do that nowadays, that ‘s passe, you do the vocal on the whole thing and people will chop it up how they will and tailoring things to thirty seconds, a lot of that has gone now, the truncated or garrotted ends on things has gone. So what we did was, and thank God we did do this, it’s the theme that my mother said she loved at the beginning and then Andrew did this lovely development which is slightly Mahlerian and it goes higher.
We used this opera singer called Lucy Crowe who is absolutely brilliant, one of those people who is busy until 2014 and she was so good and even the warm-up in the loo should have been recorded (laughs) even take one, and it isn’t difficult to read but she did it downstairs and I knew she was pregnant and the idea of an opera singer coming to the house and everything was sorted out and on the day we had studio one here, studio two downstairs and studio three out in the country, the garden, you don’t have gardens do you? (laughs) so we had all that going on and since we have completed it and it is all about to be edited and put into order but the two or three people who have heard it have all said “Olympics” and I am sure it won’t be because everybody will be pitching things for the Olympics.
TWR: If you don’t try, you never know…
AP: Exactly. Also where we are lucky is that Simon Mortimer is quite involved with it and apparently Universal have just recorded somebody called Phil Shepherd .. Ring any bells? He has recorded all the national anthems, they have done it already. And Simon was organising it so he is instrumental, pardon the pun and so that is that. So that’s one we have high hopes for.
TWR: So has this project been given a title?
AP: No, are we talking about the library CD? Or the artist CD?
TWR: The orchestration of Field Day if that is going to be an album has it been given a title?
AP: Well, the orchestration of Field Day is going to serve two purposes, first of all we actually did the mini CD and called it First Flight and those tracks are going to join the double orchestral CD tracks on the artists album that is Not going to be a Missing Links! (laughs). But to make things really confusing, Atmosphere are going to use some of this stuff in tandem with other stuff including bits of Tarka as well for a library CD. Including again, this opera piece, so it is slightly confusing there. As far as the fans are concerned what is available will be all the stuff that is on the double CD and we will make sure that the First Flight stuff is there as well.
TWR: Fantastic, that’s another project to look forward to but of projects that have come out recently, the re-issues/remasters I think I have got remasteritis on the brain…
AP: There were some remastered.
TWR: Correct me if I am wrong here and I am sure Jon will jump in but it is Private Parts & Pieces 1 - 9/10?
AP: All in pairs, of which just to help you out here, One and Two were remastered. Although one was hardly remastered was it? Only slightly. JD: Two was reassembled pretty much but One has an extra track on it from the Guitar Quintet.
AP: And Simon has looked at what he can do because Jon found some unsourced material on two and there is only so much he can do because he had already done this back in 1990. Five and Six just came out again, Seven and Eight did, and Nine and Ten did. There were one or two differences, Ten has different artwork because on Soiree I never felt that was quite right, no disrespect to Rob’s mother in law. We kept Three and Four back because of possible ideas of getting together with Quique and doing something. Also that was one I was prepared to push the boat out on and actually spend a bit of money remastering. Again, there was a lot we could do to Four, Simon has done a bit to it and Three we had done a lot to because Jon had quite cleverly tracked down a previous generation tape and the quality was quite considerably better. Certainly on big speakers, it wasn’t that there was less hiss it was the reverb you could hear much more clearly and Simon has warmed up Esperanza and a few things and Jon also having access to the masters has found some earlier takes for some of the tracks such as Bandido which is a different take with just the two guitars and no double tracks and stuff and it is more pure and authentic, Old Wive’s Tale without all the extra stuff. There were also a couple of extra tracks and I am always worried about asking people to buy these sorts of things again but it seems that there are quite a few people that don’t have at least one of those so it isn’t such a bad thing for the fans because they are going to get two albums virtually for the price of one AND remastered and extra photos and stuff in the packaging so…
TWR: And on top of this there are also Missing Links Volumes 1-3 and Sail The World…
AP: Yes, they weren’t remastered but there was completely new
artwork and repackaging wasn’t there? JD: Yeah, Sail the World
was remastered though.
AP: Oh yeah, Sail The World was remastered I had forgotten that. And it had much better artwork and much better presentation and the rest of it a-la Japanese releases and I just hope that people think it was worth it. Missing Links 1-3 costs what? £10-11? That’s ridiculous you would think £18-19 after all you are getting three C Ds no matter issues of quality etc. Anything under £15 has got to be a boon, anything under £10 has got to be a giveaway really. Considering more money has been spent on artwork and stuff. It is always a moot point this, people who have already got the C Ds that’s a difficult point because for them it is not such a bargain but if somebody hasn’t got them then it is a complete bargain that’s where it gets slightly tricky. I always feel that people who have got the old C Ds should be able to come in and trade in the old ones for the new. Perhaps I shouldn’t give them that idea! (laughs).
TWR: So when you have gone back to the original tapes did you find anything unsuspected or…?
JD: Any particular album?
TWR: Well I am thinking in particular of Antiques, or A Catch At The Tables or Back To The Pavilion…
JD: Well, going back to Private Parts One, there is still material around from that era 1972 -76 so there are tracks and some of these have appeared on the Archive Collection volumes. Then we came across a recording of the Guitar Quintet which Movement One was Conversation Piece so we have the fourth movement of that which has never been released before.
Obviously when we have gone for a full scale remastering such as with Sides, we went for the extra CD then we were transferring the original analogue tracks and yes, we were definitely finding stuff there. On that album we also managed to find the original masters of that so there is a considerable improvement in sound and then with the addition of all the other stuff which is sourced from multi track some of the mixes that were done initially and then replaced. So, in answer to that, yes things are found and sometimes serious things are found…
TWR: Pray elucidate?
|JD: On things like Nightmare there was an idea that Ant might record a guitar solo which obviously was not used in the mix and so we can listen to that and hear whether the decision not to include that the right or the wrong thing to do. So there were things like that and we were lucky because we have some of the original studio documentation and tracks sheets so when going through the multi tracks and trying to find out what’s where that was quite useful. I have to say that some of the instruments written on those sheets are mildly humorous such as on Lucy Will where one of them said” Frenchman with stripey T shirt and one earring” that is an actual thing and when we were doing this at FX which is the company where we were doing this, and Richard the engineer said ”can we put up track four, we might find something interesting here” (laughs) We listened very hard but we couldn’t hear the Frenchman! (laughs). Also when Ant did that track and we had the studio people holding up numbers and when I looked on the track sheets each of them DOES have a number seven or whatever on it! (laughs). From the interesting technical information side of things four of the tracks on Sides. All of the basic tracks on that album were recorded at Wessex Studios, the overdubs were then done at a studio called Matrix so you have the sixteen track which was transferred on to the twenty four track but for four tracks which are four of the tracks which make up the original second side of the album, Sisters Of Remindum through to Nightmare the sixteen and twenty four track were synched together which presents a challenge because you have to re-synch the two machines together and we decided not to go down that route because it would have been too laborious so we actually transferred them separately and ultimately that didn’t cause much of a problem. One track on each of these has a safety code…|
AP: The reason for doing that, sorry to interrupt, was through the endless replaying of the tape to try and avoid loss of quality by keeping the bass and the drums but by the time we got to the final mix they were pristine because they hadn’t been constantly replayed and had Ash on them at Matrix as another Tape Operator was sacked in front of me - it’s true!
JD: Other little snippets of information that came out include the fact that there were some additional bits of mastering done at Trident which weren’t credited but it was nice to go through the material and there was a lot of material to go through and do it thoroughly and choose a number of different things such as the alternate version of Bleak House bearing in mind that we had already had the piano version on the CD.
TWR: I suppose that is the advantage of having pretty much all your material at your fingertips even if you aren’t necessarily sure what is on the tapes without having to go through a third party. You hear about so many bands/artists who struggle to get access to their material from record companies…
AP: They won’t do it.
JD: So we have been very lucky with that and then the most recent one which is Antiques and once again we were very lucky and we managed to locate all the eight track masters for that and then transferring them and going through and there were opportunities to listen to all the different takes that had been recorded and choose ultimately the ones which we felt were the best … the ones which brought something as extra tracks and anyone who likes a track such as Bandido can hear it in an earlier incarnation.
TWR: That has always seemed to be the consensus of opinion among the fans that I have spoken to that when the albums have been reissued with all the extra material on them you do get to see the evolution of a track. It isn’t to everybody’s taste but if you have a double CD and one is the original album and the other is the extras, if you aren’t bothered, you don’t have to listen to it.
AP: So the feedback you have got from the fans says that they quite like the different versions of tracks?
TWR: Yes, because if you are a fan of a band or musician you always want to know how did that evolve. It isn’t the case of listening to the actual Genesis of a track (pardon the pun) but once you have got the body of a piece you can see how it went through those final stages to what we actually know as the finished article.
AP: I will be interested to see what people’s reaction is to Bandido for instance, because it is slightly slower and a little bit more raw. The thing is it is a bit like the old argument about double tracked vocals, it smoothes everything off and makes it sound neater but it takes away personality and that is exactly the same as we did on Bandido where we triple tracked it and so it is really smooth but actually when you hear the two of us it has got more personality but who is to say which is better?
TWR: At least people have got the choice and it might be a case of them listening to it once and then going back to the original but it is great to be able to give people that opportunity. There aren’t many people who have revisited their back catalogues in such depth as you have. Some of the stuff on the Genesis box sets for example is the kind of stuff you would only listen to once but never listen to again…
AP: Never listen to it again, yeah. Whereas I do seriously hope that some of the stuff that Jon has done on PP3 would be listened to again, actually. There is the possibility that people might actually prefer it but we are giving people a serious choice rather than some guy scratching around and saying “yeah, let’s do the chorus like this”.
TWR: So, the stuff we are about to listen to once we have finished this chat is that scheduled for a Missing Links, or an archival Private Parts …?
AP: As we were saying earlier, we both feel that maybe it is… because of the size and scope of it, that maybe calling it a Missing Links and this is not to denigrate the previous albums but might give people the idea that it is bits and bobs from the distant past and it is all fresh material as well. Missing Links material always has been fresh material but it might be an idea not to call it that because it is all new material… well the only thing that isn’t going to be new of course, is the Field Day tracks and there aren’t many of those.
TWR: Like on Steve’s latest album there are several tracks on the bonus edition that have been on previous special editions etc but they won’t impinge on the overall flow..
AP: I think that most people will agree with that but we have had a real couple of moaning minnies in the past and the most unbelievable one was the guy who carped on a sixty two track album about the fact that Nocturne was on it! There was a little bit of Traces in Steps Retraced and one track sounded like something else! (Shakes head incredulously). I remember thinking, Jesus Christ there really are some difficult… I mean if you don’t like something say, but don’t say that the reason is because there is stuff you already have on it although I would argue that the version of Nocturne is quite a LOT better and Steps Retraced is on a different instrument and if the other one sounds like something, which composer’s work doesn’t sound like somebody else? I mean you can’t please everybody and you have got to expect that really.
TWR: The fans have had a lot to listen to and there is obviously a lot more coming…
AP: They haven’t had much NEW stuff and I am acutely aware of this and don’t think I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it but with library stuff being so full-on over the last few years and the financial return from albums being so modest I have really had no choice but to go with that. Not a day goes by where I don’t think wouldn’t it be nice of we had a parallel world where I could be doing a Slow Dance at the same time but it is difficult. The realities of life bite I’m afraid.
TWR: The thing with the vast majority of your fans whom I have met and encountered and I think Jon will back me up on this, they are more than happy to sit and wait for something new to come out knowing that when it does, it is something that you have taken your time over because it is much better to put something out when you are happy with it thank think “oh shit, got to put out an album!”…
AP: I appreciate you saying that but the worry is that you don’t have people’s attention all the time and if you leave it long enough people will drift away and my new output has been almost negligible really and I feel that I haven’t really had a choice bar working through the night (laughs) and having no life outside music which did virtually happen during the 1980’s but I am not prepared to live a sort of de-personalised aesthetic life.
It does concern me because I wonder if some of the fans will maybe lose track of it all and maybe not get impatient and other artists come along and others might think “oh, he’s sold out”. I know that’s not the case but I know that could appear so from the outside. It is all new music barring about five or six tracks. The interesting thing about Field Day and my guess is that some of the fans that know the album particularly well might not like these versions not that that should put them off buying it because four fifths of it will be new music and I noticed that one person in particular who was a fan of Field Day wasn’t too keen on the strings because you get used to it one way, you know. Having said that, others who heard Nocturne with the strings loved it. I respect that but with Nocturne that wasn’t an add-on because I did actually score it for strings in the first place. I reiterate the point about people who love something when you first hear it like a piano concerto and then you hear somebody who has probably played it brilliantly a couple of years later and at a different speed and it doesn’t sound right, does it?
TWR: The funny thing is I remember when the re-issues came out and 1984 in particular, I listen to the second disc more than the album now! Probably because I have vivid memories of hearing some of the Rule Britannia stuff on the programme. If the fans haven’t heard it before it is still NEW music even if it is thirty years old. A piece of Bach is new if you haven’t heard it before!
And with that interesting thought, we bring this interview to a close. Once again our thanks to both Ant and Jon for outlining the rationale behind these projects in such fascinating detail.