Anthony Phillips - The essential albums by Alan Hewitt.
In keeping with the extensive interview we have with Anthony later in this edition, and with the recent release of the superb Harvest Of The Heart Anthology (also reviewed later in this issue), I thought it might prove useful to have a look at some of the key albums in Anthony’s back catalogue. OK, so it would be so easy for me to say they are all essential and to a collector that is very much the case I guess. But to those of you who might be new to Ant’s music and for whom the Anthology is your first introduction to Ant’s music - a superb place to start by the way - then let this modest article act as your guide to some of the many delights in store for you as you begin your explorations.
So, where to start? Well, why not at the beginning with Ant’s first solo album: 1977’s The Geese & The Ghost. This album is not only important as Ant’s return to the music business but also as the album which sparked my own interest in the music of Genesis and its associated members. A truly remarkable piece of work, shot through with some delightful instrumental pieces not least the truly magnificent suite: Henry - Portraits from Tudor Times and the title track itself of course! Ant had assembled an impressive array of talents to help him realise this musical dream not least both Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins whose work on it is equally as impressive as Anthony’s. An album that shows that Ant’s talents could have been of great benefit to Genesis but were instead to create one of the most fascinating musical careers of any from that band of musicians. An album that any music lover should be proud to own.
Next up, 1979’s Sides album. By the time this album was released, the music scene in the UK at least was set fair against Anthony’s brand of lyrical and romantic music. Here we have Ant at his most ambitious in terms of songs with such delights as the lyrically cynical and biting Um & Aargh - a telling reflection on the music industry which is every bit as accurate now in today’s X Factor obsessed world, as it was then! Others such as the elegiac magnificence of Bleak House and Magdalen showcase Ant’s not inconsiderable talents as a lyricist, while the album’s two instrumentals: Nightmare and Sisters Of Remindum, prove that he could rock out with the best of them and with a rhythm section comprising Mike Giles and John Perry, these are top notch rock tracks making this one of Ant’s most diverse albums and one which never fails to captivate me when I hear it.
No retrospective on Ant’s career could possibly ignore the ongoing Private Parts & Pieces series of albums - eleven thus far! Let’s start at the beginning with 1978’s eponymous album. Initially the idea behind this series was to try and find a home for some of the more eclectic tracks which Ant had begun to amass in his archive. With almost a decade’s worth of music to choose from, including many pieces from just after he left Genesis, here we get the best of those tracks with the heady magnificence of Field Of Eternity and the serene majesty of Tregenna Afternoons both of which still feature highly in my personal favourites by Mr Phillips. Of course, being an Anthony Phillips album there are moments of the bizarre too such as Tibetan Yak Music this one demonstrates Ant at his most diverse.
Many people associate Ant with the acoustic twelve string guitar and forget just how accomplished a musician he is with keyboards but all of that was put right with 1981’s 1984 album. Originally inspired by Ant’s work on a TV series: Rule Britannia, this album of totally keyboard based music took fans by surprise. Dramatic and darker in texture than most of the albums which had preceded it, this one has always been essential listening for me and it even garnered plaudits in the music press with the single from it being awarded “single of the week” by Record Mirror no less!
Next an album which Ant has always disparaged as the “mortgage album”. 1982’s Invisible Men album saw Ant try his hand at pop songs - shock horror! I know I am probably in a minority here (so what’s new?) but I LOVE this album! Had there been any justice there were several tracks from this which deserved to be hits including the delightful Falling For Love and the hilarious Love In A Hot Air Balloon which I can still imagine a video producer having great fun with! Setting the album in context however (its release coincided with the outbreak of the Falklands Conflict), are a handful of much more serious songs not least the superb anti-war pairing of Exocet and The Women Were Watching both of which are every bit as relevant today sadly, as they were when they were written.
The late 1980’s saw Ant reach new heights with the Tarka album in 1988 proving his orchestral bona fides but it was with his next album under the misleading title of Slow Dance that Ant came of age musically as far as I am concerned. I have no hesitation in stating that this album is my all time personal favourite from all of Ant’s albums. A feast for the ears and for the mind as the music takes you on a journey of your own making. The best film soundtrack for a film that has yet to be made, this one and the fact that it has not been picked up for a film yet simply beggars belief as far as I am concerned.
Ant’s other mainstay over the years has been library music which seldom is made available to the public. Ant began to address this imbalance with the Missing Links series of albums of which 1992’s The Sky Road is arguably the best over all. With a span that reaches all the way back to the heady days of 1969 this one really does cover just about all bases. You have some delightful examples of Ant’s TV work especially in the wonderful Lifeboat Suite and several other examples from his work for Anglia TV’s long running Survival series. For me the highlights also include Exile, a piece I still have trouble believing was an out-take from the superb Slow Dance album, and the equally marvellous Tears On A Rainy Day in which Ant is joined by sax master, Martin Robertson - superb stuff!
By the mid 1990’s the Private Parts & Pieces series had come of age too and the ninth album in the series, 1996’s Dragonfly Dreams epitomises so much of what I love about Ant’s music. OK, I might be a little bit biased here as I did help Ant select the tracks for this one and gave him the album’s title but even so this is another excellent diverse collection of music ranging from languid acoustic guitar pieces such as The Hills Of Languedoc and Chinese Walls, to rippling synth pieces such as Under The Ice. There is also something of what has become (sadly in my opinion) an all too rare example of Anthony’s song writing and singing skills in the melancholy and elegiac She’ll Be Waiting, which is worth the album’s purchase price alone as far as I am concerned.
With so much material in his archive spanning such a long period of time it was only a matter of time before some kind of archival retrospective which covered areas outside of the remit of both the Private Parts & Pieces and Missing Links series and in 1998 we got exactly that with the release of the first Archive Collection album. Aah yes, the heady days of the “Listening Panel” and what fun we had! Truly though, this collection was perhaps the broadest based representation of Ant’s entire musical repertoire before the current Harvest of The Heart set and one which features many interesting and on occasions amusing tracks as you would expect from someone with Ant’s kind of humour! Another essential album.
And bringing this feature pretty much up to date is the collaborative album Anthony made in 2012 with Andrew Skeet: Seventh Heaven. Ant’s collaborations have always been tasteful and his decision to work with Andrew proved to be inspired as the end result was this album, a collection of truly delightful music incorporating an orchestra to augment the already full palette of the two musicians themselves. With a double album’s worth of music selecting tracks is difficult but one in particular stands out for me: The Old Sarum Suite which is a masterpiece. My only criticism of it is that it is TOO SHORT! Imagine this in Game Of Thrones and you won’t be far off the mark. With tracks ranging from delicate piano or acoustic guitar to orchestral pieces and even a couple featuring an operatic singer, this is another album which broadens the aural landscape in which Anthony works and is a delight.
There you have it, the albums which I regard as being the most representative among the thirty one commercially available albums by Anthony. I am sorry if your personal favourites aren’t here but hey, if anyone wants to do their own retrospective then please, send ‘em in! In the meantime, if you are considering any of the albums I have mentioned - enjoy!