Anthony Phillips interviewed by Ashley Franklin on BBC Radio Derby, 13th December 1990
Music there from Anthony Phillips' latest album "Slow Dance", and I suppose it is welcome back to the scene, Anthony; because it is the first solo effort from you for what... three years?
Yes, I suppose it is the first album to be released in England properly for seven or eight years, and it is the first solo effort that has come out overall since 1987... that's right.
You are much more popular in Europe and the States, aren't you, and concentrate your efforts more on that market don't you?
Well, I think it is true to say that I had a longstanding release with a company in America called Passport Records who were always prepared to put the records out. They didn't, to be honest, in the mid-eighties do a lot of promotion and stuff. I think that in America more kinds of different music were able to co-exist with mutual respect, be it Country, New Age or whatever. Whereas, here I think it was quite difficult during the mid-seventies and eighties to get certain kinds of music released.
After Punk - which I think was a good thing in a lot of ways, but which became too all-encompassing - if you weren't doing that sort of thing it was hard to get a look in, and get a new market and I found that I suffered along with I am sure, a few other musicians because of that... and I found it very difficult to get things going over here.
Not surprising when you consider that the parlous state of British radio and it is a wonder that music like this - "Slow Dance" - gets to be played at all...
Yes, I think that to my mind, radio is still pretty narrow. I think that broadly speaking it is the classical establishment and the pop establishment that very much rule the sway and there are certain paths in between but broadly speaking, there is a vast amount of instrumental music that doesn't come within the confines of those two dictates which doesn't get an airing except on wonderful programmes like yours!
If it wasn't for a programme like "Sound & Vision"... there's a hell of a lot of mainly instrumental, interesting music that wouldn't be heard and I have only got to play it and I get responses.
Yes, that's right because people can only buy basically what they can hear and a lot of people who like classical music would go for the stuff which is... has an element of rock but is also slightly classical as well, but they never get the chance to hear it.
I would dearly love to see one day Radio Three experiment and play a lot of, say... Windham Hill product and include things like "Slow Dance", your latest release. I am sure they would get quite a shock.
Well, the nonsense is that they play people like Steve Reich because he is regarded as being classical but he is far closer to people like Mike Oldfield and people like that and Vangelis, than people like Mike Oldfield and Vangelis are to the charts, and yet there is no way people like that would ever be played because it is not just Radio Three music and it is very narrow and I'm afraid in England we are falling behind. It is becoming harder - and we pride ourselves on being open minded and it is not right.
I do see some hope in the nineties simply because of the CD boom. And people like yourself are going to get anew lease of life in the nineties. A lot of acts from the seventies are getting their product now re-issued for the first time on CD. Of course, quite a few CD buyers will have gone back to the early Genesis albums in the last few years - that includes "Trespass" which has long been one of my favourite Genesis albums because I've got such an affection for it because I can remember playing Genesis on the radio when I was about sixteen or seventeen, and thinking this band is going to go places. I was so proud when they did. You were very much apart of those early days, in fact I think your guitar playing laid down the Genesis style.
I think that perhaps you are flattering me there. But I was the original guitarist. Obviously Steve Hackett took things a lot further but I think I was instrumental in that I was establishing the two twelve string style with Mike Rutherford. We used to work very much as a pair and Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks used to work as a pair and we used to come together and intermingle. Mike and I were just setting off on a journey where everything was new, nobody else was doing that and I remember hearing a bloke at school who played a twelve string and I thought "yeah, that's for me" and I was busy going through my copying The Beatles, The Stones, then I started copying Blues guitarists and beginning to realise that I couldnít do that well; well not as well as they could, and I was looking round for other things and I heard this wonderful twelve string and we started combining two twelve strings together not in a... using it as a kind of country rhythmic background thing more of a sort of timbre conscious thing and it was magical and we didn't really know what we were doing and it was really exciting.
You left Genesis on amiable terms but still don't you feel like Pete Best of The Beatles...?
I suppose in a way, yeah. Although I suppose to those in the know - die-hard Genesis fans - I've always been very active. I think that some of them feel that I have perpetuated a sort of soft acoustic side of Genesis which actual commercial pressures sort of stamped out really. So I think although I haven't had the major exposure that they'd had I've been cracking it, yes of course, it is easy to style me the one who left and it would have been nice to have made all that money and had the big country houses and stuff but had I just packed it all in I would have felt it still more but the fact that I have been working away and still going on things, I haven't felt it that much.
I'm sure there are many listeners who would be surprised at the volume of solo albums you have done since leaving Genesis...?
Yeah, it is embarrassing obviously because for years and years it was just a case of the prophet who has no honour in his own country. I mean I just couldn't get a look in as I was saying before. The stuff in the mid-eighties was just trotted out in the States and people would be surprised but perhaps it is a good thing they didnít bother because the import prices were horrendous and now they can buy them, ironically a lot cheaper than ten years ago on CD with extra tracks as well, which is pretty ironic. So, I've done about thirteen or fourteen albums which I think is about it and the ones in the middle had to be small scale and I started this series with the generic title "Private Parts & Pieces" which was really just acoustic dreamy albums which were quite loose and quite improvised but had a lot of feel to them. Not a lot of musical development but I mean, there wasn't a lot of cash around to go into big studio productions and stuff and use singers. So I think I was kind of lucky compared to some other musicians in that I was able to keep on recording music of that type at a time when it was not really "cool" to be doing this type of music.
We've got three of your albums coming out initially as well as "Private Parts & Pieces" we have "The Geese & The Ghost" and "Sides". I'd like to play something from "Sides", mainly because of the drummer you've employed - Michael Giles from King Crimson... is still I think the finest drummer that rock music has ever produced and he really does shine on the track "Nightmare" - that would be a good one to choose I think...
We've included an instrumental version of a track called "Magdalen" which is just the three of us doing it. As we started each track we'd lay down the basic drum/guitar/bass and although it is actually the same as the track itself, it is more exposed and you hear it stripped of all the overdubs. I mean, he was absolutely fantastic to work with, I really can't describe it. Aptly he was more laid back than I would have expected; you would have to push him to actually go for the fills but most drummers now tend to sound... I don't know... there's a lot of excellent drummers around but they tend not to have terribly distinctive styles or different styles of fills. Now his fills were like nobody else's fills. They were so bizarre. He could do a fill in what would seem to be a completely irrelevant timing to the beat and yet he would come back rock solid on the beat. I used to find that sometimes I would have to tap my foot during a break because if I didn't I would have lost the rhythm completely and he kept the tempo I don't know - it was extraordinary.
What is Mike Giles doing these days, do you know?
I'm not sure. I've lost contact with him but I think he is still doing sessions and stuff. I don't think that in a way he has had the success that his brilliance deserves. Maybe he's sort of distanced himself from the front line of the business a little which may not have helped but he's a great player.
Just before we move on to your latest album, let's play something from The Geese & The Ghost.. Choose something from that one for us...
Well, there are different areas you could choose from; I mean one would be... one of the interesting ones would be that Phil Collins sings two tracks being Which Way The Wind Blows and the other "God, If I Saw Her Now"... other people who like the Genesis twelve string style would like stuff from "The Geese & The Ghost" itself perhaps the second part where it gets slightly more up-tempo because that is a sort of classic two twelve string thing.
Well, what I have heard of "Slow Dance", your latest album, I am impressed. It is certainly an ambitious piece, isn't it?
Yes, because it's attempting to be quite filmy and orchestral and I didn't have a full orchestra and I had to do most of it on synth although we did overdub a real string section and a real harp player... two harps in fact.. we used a double harp track. A bit of oboe and stuff like that. But I found it... I mean I wrote it very easily because I hadn't had the chance to wrote a full scale instrumental album for a while and once I'd gotten over my initial collywobbles about it there was this wonderful momentum that built up and I couldnít wait to get into the studio and write.
It's difficult if you are doing one long instrumental piece that starts at A and ends at B - it gets to where you are working on quite small sections where you have got to try and keep in mind the overall flow; the overall pacing; the rise and fall of it and that is very difficult. It is like a novel, you know; what happens on page one has got to make sense on page 802. At one stage I thought about giving different sections titles but I always wanted it to be one flowing piece like a journey which just starts and carries you and I was trying to convince people... prospective publishers that I could write full scale film music so I wanted to do something that was of that sort of scope and size.
I don't know if the decision was conscious to make it one long piece actually. The ideas just kept growing you know; that's a good section; that's a good section and well... perhaps a link between that and that. There seemed to be a lot of kinds of sections joining on and flowing on so I thought why the hell not try and make this one into one complete piece?
I get the feeling that if we didn't have classical purists in this country - if we could break down all the barriers - then this is the kind of music that would reach a much wider audience... I'm convinced of it...
I do hope so! I do wish it could, the trouble is that there is still, in classical music - or what we call "serious" music - there is still this obsession with originality and the avant garde and all the rest of it and obviously you have to forward and there has to be different things, but when it gets to the point where people are writing silent pieces of music; the classic kind of John Cage stuff, you realise that perhaps originality has gone as far as it can go because can it go beyond that? Most of the modern pieces... I mean, most of the modern pieces in the modern classical repertoire havenít really caught on to a large public and they have had quite a time to do so.
And I think that they must be indicative that the way forward is not only coming from these so-called avant garde composers. It has to come from other people and I would obviously be delighted if I was included as one of those people at the opening up of the barriers along with some of the other New Age/New Instrumental composers.
Well, I hope the release of "Slow Dance", your first for many years, and the re-issue of your back catalogue as well will mean a new lease of life for you in the nineties, Anthony. Any reason, finally, for calling it "Slow Dance"?
Some friends of mine thought it could make a ballet so in the end I thought it made quite a nice title, so "Slow Dance" it is...
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