HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: September 2014. We had the great honour to talk with a very talented musician and a fine person: Anthony “Ant” Phillips. He is a multi instrumentalist and best known as a founding member of Genesis. He played on the first two Genesis studio albums, “From Genesis to Revelation” and “Trespass”. After leaving Genesis, he released several solo albums and wrote library music. On 27th October he is releasing a deluxe 5 CD box set called “Harvest of the Heart” through Esoteric Recordings. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
Did you spend a lot of time choosing the material for your “Harvest of the Heart” box set?
Well, I had a look at it and it was very difficult to choose this music from rock era, more classical era and more new age era. I didn’t have any idea how to choose it. So, I asked Jonathan Dann, who runs my website and also Mark Powell of Esoteric. So, it’s really Mark Powell and Jonathan who made the decision. I only picked two tunes. They were very kind.
How did you get the idea to release a box set?
Again, it was Mark Powell’s idea, not mine. I couldn’t even imagine that I could do it. It is quite common when you have a record company that they want to do a retrospective. But I didn’t think they could do as many as 5 CDs. That surprised me.
Do you think your solo work should have received more recognition?
Oh, that’s a difficult question. I think we always want more recognition. But whether we deserve more recognition, it’s difficult to say. I think that everyone, as much as he sells something, wants to bring the attention of people. The vast majority of people probably never heard it and therefore, they don’t have a chance to decide “yes” or “no”. I think that’s the issue. There is so much music and so many products. They are everywhere. When you sell your product in a supermarket, you ‘ve got to bring it to the attention of people. It’s difficult to try to do that. Even if everybody had listened to my music, maybe they wouldn’t like to buy it. Of course I would like to be heard by many people, but I’m not sure if I deserve it. Certainly, I would like to think to be given more the chance. Hopefully with Esoteric my music may have the chance to be reached by more people.
Are you currently involved in any other projects?
I make my living by doing music for television. So, I ‘ve been doing a lot of that this year. I’m thinking at the moment and debating about going into a songwriting period with the possibility of doing a song rock album. There is a plan to do a 5.1 Surround mix version of “The Geese and the Ghost”. It ‘s not sure but we are hoping to include a b-side of the “Silver Song” which is another song with Phil Collins singing, called “Only Your Love”. It’s not confirmed but we are hoping to be able to do that. And it’s being mastered by Simon Heyworth, who was the engineer at the time and mastered all the King Crimson albums. That will be out in January, so we are excited about that.
How exciting is it to write library music for use on television?
“Exciting” is probably not the word. I’ve been very lucky and pleased I’ve not been offered to do things I don’t like. I like to have the chance to simply improvise and play around with some lovely improvising sounds. And this shows my vision in music. It’s very creative and inspiring. It is not quite exciting as an ordinary album but it’s certainly very creative and very rewarding both creatively and financially.
What’s your opinion today about your first solo album, “The Geese and the Ghost” (1977)? You had Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins on this album too.
Yes, it was a very long time ago and it’s an album that took a long time to get made. When I look back on it, it’s what we call a “lover of love” really. There was a moment that I never thought it would be finished. There was a moment that I never thought it would come out. And when it did eventually come out, it had a kind of mixed reception because the timing was bad. Because punk music was starting here and it was an album that wasn’t reviewed favourable by a lot of press. So, it was in the middle of a battle. But after all these years, I look back on it with some affection. I think there are a lot of things wrong with it and a lot of things right with it and some people like it. I think the album is interesting and quite ambitious without going too far. A couple of songs made their way into the second generation. I have met young people saying to me that they love “God If I Saw Her Now”. And that’s a very heartwarming thing.
Why “From Genesis to Revelation” and “Trespass” are so different albums? What happened in between?
I think they are quite different because we were so poor songwriters when we did the first one. By the time we did the second one, we ‘ve been on the road, we were a live band. And it wasn’t popular in those days even if you had the right gig, to do totally amplified acoustic music. And also we were playing in venues where people were making a lot of noise. But what we had to do was to do music much more powerful and dramatic and make sure that the people actually would listen to it. We went on the road with the songs of “From Genesis to Revelation” but it didn’t work. We listened to the music of Yes, King Crimson and many other groups and I think the sense of point is we had to become much more dynamic and powerful live band. Not to do just an acoustic songwriting. This is the result of maturity but also very much being on the road.
Did you expect that your former bandmates would become so popular?
It’s an interesting question because I never thought they wouldn’t. I never thought that these people aren’t good enough to be. I always said “Yeah, they are” because they are great musicians. I didn’t think they wouldn’t but I wasn’t sure if they get the opportunity. I certainly knew they had the talent. I think it’s probably surprising for me that the group wasn’t particularly commercial and the group struggled for a lot of time to move outside of the cult status. I suppose I never really thought why they couldn’t because with all that talent in the group particularly Phil Collins’ going, if you look back maybe it’s not surprising. They had so much talent.
Early Genesis toured a lot with Mott the Hoople. Were you impressed by their more rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?
They were very nice guys and they liked what we were doing and they were very friendly. And they asked us to go to their flat, I remember. We were much younger, we were quite faith country boys. They had a big flat in Earl’s Court and it was really impressive and spent hours there. I think they showed us what could probably have to be. They were really friendly people, lovely people.
Did you enjoy recording Camel’s album “The Single Factor” (1982) at Abbey Road?
Yes, I did. It was an interesting album because Andy Latimer started with wanting to try move away I think from some of the previous stuff that Camel had done. He and myself with a few other people did the writing. He wanted a new sound for the band, but then he said that he wanted to keep the old one. In the end, it ended up by being a more Camel album but there was a lot of pressure when he did it to try being something more poppy. And that was slightly difficult. I very much did enjoy it and I was playing piano more that guitar. I played a lot of piano on that album and I got on really well with Andy. I really enjoyed “End Peace” (ed: written by Andy Latimer/Anthony Phillips). He was a great partner, he is a lovely guy.
Do you have any regrets?
I don’t think there is a single person alive who hasn’t some regrets. I certainly in another lifetime would like to be able to continue with Genesis. To be part of some of the great music they wrote later. But then, on the other hand if I had stayed, I don’t think I would be so good at classical music and I wouldn’t have learned styles of orchestration and probably playing piano properly. I think you can always think: “That would have been better”. But I also think the life on the road and the pressure of life on the road isn’t for everybody. And it wasn’t really for me. Apart from this, do I have any regrets? I think we all have regrets. As far as my musical regrets, I would like to have been more popular. But also, I’m very grateful because there are other people who struggle terribly. So, I think I’m standing in the middle. I feel I’ve done ok. I ‘ve done pretty well.
Do you think social media like Facebook and YouTube can really help an independent musician?
I think so, yes. In the old days, you had to be in a recording company in order to be able to record your music in the first place. Nowadays, you can record yourself for relatively few money and you can promote your music through the social media. I think one of the dangers is obviously people taking a much more relaxed or free stance of what we call music. In the sense, of don’t paying for it. Somebody posted up a whole side of “Slow Dance” from my album (1990). I’m very sensitive because that means anybody can listen to it without buying it. The good thing is that makes the music much more widely known. But on the other hand, it affects sales in a bad way.
What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?
I’m listening to a lot of film music. In the car, I listen to Radio 3, which is a classical station. I don’t actually listen to a lot of pop and rock, to be honest. Unless, it’s friends. I got friends’ albums: I have my friend Quique Berro Garcia and I have another friend named Manolo Macia. And I have my friend Andrew Skeet, the musician who helped on my recent album and Cristiano Roversi of Moongarden who did the brilliant track “Demetrio and Magdalen”. I listen to the music of my friends. There are a few people I listen to: P.J Harvey and Kate Bush. When I’m not working, I probably actually want to get away from music for some time. Because I don’t find it easy to relax when I listen to music because -we have an English expression we say “a busman’s holiday”. When you listen to it you can’t really relax. You are always thinking “Oh, what is he doing there?” When I am not working, I prefer to do different things.
Do you prefer the analog or the digital sound in the studio? Some people say that analog sound is “warmer”?
I think it’s undeniable that a really good analog sound has more room than things like drums ‘n’ bass. And it’s undeniable that the digital sound has a cleanest edge and a slightly more metallic edge. I think you could listen to on very good equipment. I think it’s totally different. I think it depends on the music too. I think some music which may not be totally different, it may be better on digital. I think when the music is very-very warm and personal, analog is probably steel and not shaved. Because of the dangers of analog, you can listen to a lot of noise and clicks and all that stuff. But I think again it swings around of us, really.
I think you met Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett at Prog Magazine Awards last week. Did you enjoy that night?
It was fun. It was very interesting because there were a lot of people from different worlds of life. People who weren’t musicians. There was a quite famous writer who made a quite interesting speech then about why he loved that kind of music. I was sitting on the Esoteric table, along with some younger musicians like Matt Stevens. It was a very lovely night and I met a lot of people I know from the past. For me, it was a very special occasion. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to talk to Peter and Steve, really.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Anthony Phillips for his time and to Vicky Powell for her valuable help.
Official Anthony Phillips website: http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk
Official Anthony Phillips Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AnthonyPhillipsOfficial
Buy “Harvest of the Heart” box set here: http://www.cherryred.co.uk/esoteric-exd.asp?id=4870