Playing The Hero
by Robin Johnson
in Issue 10 of Play Music
thanks to Robin for allowing us to include this article on the site.
the guitarist hall of fame, names from A (ngus Young) to Z (al Cleminson) are
written large in lights. But that of Anthony Phillips is conspicuous by its
absence in any list of widely-appreciated six-stringers.
is probably for two reasons. Firstly Ant (as he's better known) left what
would become one of the biggest bands in the world - Genesis - in 1970, after
the band's second album Trespass.
Secondly, ever since he's led a productive-yet-quiet life making solo
albums and library/soundtrack music. While library music undoubtedly pays the
bills, it doesn't give your name huge exposure. Which seems to be exactly how
Phillips wants it.
I was aware of Ant's existence back in the 1970s, to my regret I didn't
discover his solo work until a decade later.
local independent record store stocked a few of his CDs and I was drawn to the
beautifully illustrated covers. One featured a countryside scene, looking down a
long thin field of ripe corn being harvested in a diamond pattern by (literally)
grim reapers, while either side were fields, trees and a river. On the right
this scene was depicted in summer, while opposite was a mirror image of the same
scene in winter. I bought it and my life changed forever.
was captivated by the exquisite textures of the music. From the rolling
piano/guitar melody of Beauty and the
Beast, via the achingly beautiful 6/12 string guitar duet of Tregenna
Afternoons to the semi-classical piano of Autumnal,
this album (Private Parts and Pieces Part
1) oozed atmosphere and ensured I was soon gathering every piece of Ant's
recorded output I could lay my hands on.
his career progressed he diversified into other musical territories, especially
in his soundtrack work. But Ant's classical guitar and piano pieces have a
unique quality. Somehow they manage to embody the spirit and sheer soul of the
the delicate cover artwork, these pieces of music depict a heavily romanticised
vision of rural life that probably never existed, but I think music should be
all about escapism. The ability of a piece of music to 'transport you'
elsewhere is one of the main reasons the tribute and retro markets are currently
doing so well.
me, the first three Private Parts and
Pieces albums, The Geese and The Ghost
and the quite stunning Tarka still
form the soundtrack to three exquisitely happy years I spent living in Cornwall.
Playing any of these immediately transports me back to
many glorious summer afternoons spent lazing on the Cornish cliffs, a former
girlfriend (then the total love of my life) crashed out next to me, watching the
sun set and listening to the birds singing, gorse seeds popping and the Atlantic
breakers heaving themselves against the rocks far below.
Ant's solo work sometimes has more than a whiff of self-indulgence about it
and he's not the world's greatest singer. But when he does hit the spot,
you're no longer merely listening to music - you experience it as pure
emotion. That's a talent precious few songwriters possess.
be the first to admit that this style of music isn't to everyone's taste
but, if you're a part-time closet romantic like me, it makes for a glorious
counterpoint to screaming Les Pauls and Marshalls turned up to 11!
As well as a long string of collaborations, in recent years Ant has continued with his soundtrack and library work, ranging from ITV and BBC television programmes to National Trust compilations, while continuing to issue the occasional solo album to keep us quaint old romantics happy...