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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Monday, 30 April 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Anthony Phillips interview (Part One)

One of the most eagerly awaited releases from Gonzo this spring is a double CD from Anthony Phillips and Andrew Skeet. The album - which is called Seventh Heaven - contains some of the lushest and most beautiful music that I have heard for a long time.

Anthony Phillips is - of course - best known for being one of the founder members of Genesis, and Andrew Skeet is known for his orchestrations for many bands including Suede who are one of my favourite bands of all time. So, what do they sound like together? The answer is remarkable.

Anthony seems to be a genuinely nice chap. He seemes genuinely interested in my day job, and we talked about Charles Fort, Leonardo da Vinci, and other esoteric subjects (as one does) before we got stuck in to talking about the new album:

Jon: The weird thing is talking about an album, which I have only heard bits of. But the thing that I thought was very interesting, was that I was reading the write up about you and your collaborator on your website; I wondered, how does it work? Does one of you think of a tune, and the other think `I’ll go and orchestrate it`?

Anthony: Without wishing to be terribly boring, the genus of this really was that I was commissioned to write what they used to call a library music album. They now call it 'production music' because it has gone much more upmarket. But it is basically stock music for TV and film, where they haven’t got time, or haven’t got budgets, or whatever, to commission composers. Of course, the other thing nowadays, is the editors love it because they don’t have to worry about composers straight up; they just take the music down from the shelf and of course with the sophisticated modern editing they can chop all these pieces of music around without some composer standing over their shoulder and saying ‘sorry mate, you can’t do that’.

They can create a kind of collage, they can create their own score you see from available pieces of music so computer technology has changed a great deal and I was asked to do one of these production albums and I was given pretty a much a free hand. I was told to sort of do anything that is very filmic and descriptive. I studied music after leaving Genesis and I can arrange, but I don’t have the really wide range of arranging abilities across all sorts of different genres that Andrew Skeet has.

I didn’t know Andrew Skeet; effectively he came in purely as arranger but I felt that his contribution to those original pieces was greater than just arranging. This is an old chestnut this one, you get some composers who are very mean and even if a bloke transforms a track completely they won’t cut him in on the publishing. And there are some numerous stories, and we won’t mention any names, but it does come a time where you have got to look back and say, hang on, my piece was basic and this guy has absolutely transformed it, therefore this is not just arranging, in the public’s mind they are hearing something which is completely transformed. So I sort of cut Andrew in on that a certain amount and we enjoyed working on it so much that we then did really a couple of other projects off our own bat, one where he put strings on some guitar music of mine, and we got on so well that we decided to take the best of all these different sessions where we’d moved from just strictly speaking arranger and composer, to co-composers, and we have included them all on this double album.

Jon: So what sort of time period were they written over?

Anthony: It was really written over 2008 and 2011 – there is the odd bit that comes from earlier. Like every composer you’ve got little ideas from the past like ....sketchbooks of stuff don’t you, so I suppose the earliest musical idea, (actually I think there is one from back in the mid-90s) but most of them would be in the last two or three years. And for me it was just one of the most exciting things because, you know, you write a piece on piano, you sketch a few things out, but there is something about when the baton goes up and if you’ve got a good arranger, just how sumptuous it sounds.

The great thing about Andrew is he doesn’t over-schmaltz it. Some arrangers over-schmaltz it and he doesn’t – it’s emotional but he stays just on the right side of it. And then we have actually co-composed a couple of things which is, to go back to your original question, where I suppose it’s like back to the Genesis days where somebody would write what we called a bit and it would be, ‘ I’ve got this bit and you’ve got that bit to add on’, and this sort of Sellotaping goes on.

For instance the opening track ‘Credo in Cantus’ was very much my tune to start with, but then the glorious middle section, which is a lot better than my middle section, is Andrew’s. So actually that worked really well. I just threw the initial idea at him, and he just developed the middle, and then came back to my section and the end. So I’ve been very, very lucky to meet somebody with whom I am so sympatico, and who is so clever.

Jon: I tell you the thing that struck me, and I don’t know if this is me being objective, or just where my head was while I was listening, but several of them sounded like religious music

Anthony: That’s interesting.

Jon: They sounded like 19th Century hymns

Anthony: That’s interesting because Genesis were famously, in the early days, influenced by the English Chorus tradition. We loved some of the hymns at Charterhouse, and the first Genesis album had hymns as links, so I think I’ve always probably retained, without being an overtly religious person, that love of church music. At times it has worried me, because people have said 'oh gosh this sounds like something you should hear in church, and I’ve thought I have strayed too far down that line, but it is not something I would deny that there is that something in the musical generic makeup, but you are actually the first person to say it, so I’m hoping that it’s not too much that way.

Jon: I think it’s a good thing, personally. It is one of the things that really irritates me about the Church of England is the way they’ve got rid of some of those glorious old hymn tunes and replaced them with facile pop music.

Anthony: Herbert Howells, to name but one, was somebody that we absolutely loved, and some of his hymns are absolutely glorious. Yes, I shall take the compliment in the right way, so thank you.

Jon: My favourite track, by the way, of the ones I have heard so far is ‘Shipwreck of St Paul’. That is bloody amazing.

Anthony: That is really kind of you. There is an interesting story there, actually because if you read the blurb the library company very kindly – the production company, well the great Universal publishers, put up the money to record the stuff in Prague and we went out there.

There was a mixture of some terrific players – how can I put this – excellent individual players, but man for man probably not quite as good as some of the crack London session players who are used to simply getting the most difficult stuff chucked at them every day, and we found that with that one that the Philip’s, I suppose I can’t pretend that I am incredibly influenced by Philip Glass but I respect him, but there are a lot of other composers that I like more. But there's a Philip Glass-type figure and those kind of arpeggios are on strings maybe partly because I didn’t write them terribly well, but I think the London players are more used to that than the Prague players and we did have trouble.

I mean it’s a very difficult piece, so we re-did that one at Abbey Road. We re-did about five at Abbey Road before Christmas, which I funded, the ones that had been particularly difficult in Prague and it really did come up trumps, and I mean Andrew re-scored it and I’m so glad you liked that because – if you had heard the original version – it isn’t great to be honest, and I’m so glad we re-did it. And incidentally, I don’t know if you know this, but I must come clean on this, but I got the title, I was just looking through my diary of Saints’ days and national holidays in different countries and it seems to be that some of them have All Saints Day, and there are various others, but actually in Malta there is a Saint’s day – the Shipwreck of St Paul – around the time of late February and I was so taken by the title that I used it.

Jon: I didn’t know that.

That was the track that stuck out, and remember that was hearing it over the computer, because I got that from your website. I think its absolutely smashing.

Tomorrow we continue our esoteric discussions. We covered a lot of ground, but what I personally found exciting was that I can think of so much that I want to ask the man. Luckily, he seems to like my analogy of the Gonzo Daily online magazine being more like a literary version of a country pub than a formal lecture hall.

People come in, talk about something interesting and then go off for a pint or two. He laughed at my other analogy that sometimes I am the genial 'Mine Host', and that sometimes I'm the creepy looking bloke in the corner of the bar with the notebook and the enormous pile of pork scratchings!

I think that my conceptual pub will have regualr visits from Anthony, and probably after a few months he - like Michael Des Barres, and as few others - will have their own tankard hanging behind the bar...

2 comments:

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  2. Great interview,thanks so much for sharing it.
    Cheers
    Pete

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