A five CD retrospective re-release of the early works of Anthony Phillips; a daunting task for any reviewer made worse by recently having met the gentleman concerned. He was charming, so I will with the music in my ears be honest; I think that is the best compliment and shows the most respect.
And even though there is a picture of The Geese & The Ghost album in the bottom right of the cover, it does not form part of this package having been released in 5.1 as a separate album. Sometime, but not today in terms of a purchase, it’s very good.
This box set is a particularly nice little package, even before opening the musical box of delights. Five CDs – Private Parts & Pieces I – IV plus a fifth disc of other pieces from that period in a nice clam shell box – of which the lid will not stay shut unless you put it on the shelves between the others – and finally a lovely informative booklet. Now, had I realised I would meet the man who wrote all this music, I might have gone for fan boy approach and acquired his signature on it.
Private Parts & Pieces I came out in the UK in April 1979. I was 17 going on 105, I’d heard The Geese & The Ghost; I’d bought Wise After the Event (on the whim of the cover from a bargain rack); I was all 50 shades of Deep Purple, Wind and Wuthering, long hair, bad dress sense, and not inclined to the patience a predominantly instrumental album required. With hindsight, a mistake. Whimsical might have been more attractive than sullen.
Anthony has a delight in punning, a trait I share as you might have noticed in past reviews, I therefore conclude that the meaning of the title, Private Parts and Pieces, may be many-fold.
Each disc in this package is different, time needs to be given and, unless you have hours to spend, it should not to be consumed in a single sitting.
Disc 1 – Private Parts & Pieces
I find the music on this first disc quite simple in structure, some of it really beautiful and some a little confusing to my ears (Tibetan Yak Music with what sounds like a hammer dulcimer, lovely in parts but also discordant). Tregenna Afternoons does evoke for me the sitting on the terrace of Tregenna Castle with a Cornish cream tea overlooking St. Ives (almost what the booklet says, how strange). Stranger, with Anthony on vocals it is really nice too, with a style not unlike Roy Harper’s lighter moments. I do find that with repeated listens though it has inspired me to remove my neglected Washburn from its case, tune it, and, well, persevere a little more; nothing like true talent to inspire delusions of grandeur. Reaper also stands out for me. Autumnal has a slight film quality about it and puts me to mind of the film Moonlight Sonata (1937 if you’re interested). An album of contrasts, and despite my first thoughts of simple, ‘pure’ might be a better analogy as some tracks rely on a single instrument. It does grow on you, maybe as the coarse wool of the Yak from Tibet will in time.
Disc 2 – Private Parts & Pieces II: Back to The Pavilion
There is growing confidence here, overall the pieces are shorter with the exception of the epic K2, staccato notes, an image of icicles and breaking ice, of isolation, a reflection of a mountain. I have heard the Himalayas described as a natural cathedral, and in full stereo there is a feeling of that expansiveness of the subject. Heaven follows, it has even more of a cathedral feel. I like Anthony’s voice, it is in harmony with itself, still with that soft folky feel. It is warm and comforting, especially on Lucy: An Illusion, the last track on this disc.
Disc 3 – Private Parts & Pieces III: Antiques
More wows here. The album is credited as Anthony Phillips and Enrique Berro Garcia, Suite in D Minor could happily grace an Pink Floyd album (Endless River?). Each of these albums builds on the last and the titles seem to highlight the love of a “good” pun, as in Danse Nude. I don’t know if it is down to the recording technique but the tunes on the third album in this ensemble are more like a mouthful than a sound bite, richer, considerably more involving and as El Cid closes, a track that ends too soon, I find myself wanting the next disc.
Disc 4 – Private Parts & Pieces IV: A Catch At The Table
Arboretum Suite is four short pieces that work well together, I think I need to listen to it in solitude somewhere in the grounds of Westonbirt, The National Arboretum; it is peaceful and the setting would be appropriate, I make do with the local mixed woodland. The piece seems seasonal; spring, summer, perhaps autumn (fall never feels right, lacks the romanticism of ‘Autumn’), and the final piece more melancholy, tinged with a little sadness and reflection on seasons passed. Maybe Mr. Phillips will say I am over romanticising it but different ears and all.
Earth Man is a product of the time it was written, layered keyboards creating form and texture, mood music – and the mood needs to be right. It reminds me a bit of the incidental music from Blake’s 7, a BBC Sci-Fi drama of the period, complete with wobbly sets and alien planets located in quarries.
Dawn Over the Lake is IV’s epic piece, using the percussion of the electronome found on 1984. It is a nice passage but like Earth Man before it, of its time. Bouncer makes me smile, that is more than enough from any music. Eduardo is the second long piece at almost 10 minutes, whereas Dawn… and Earth Man are fixed points, this is timeless. A solo guitar, then a touch of mandolin (I think), I shall put another log on the fire, close my eyes and enjoy. This works well for me, and easily compares with better known classics, Asturias by Andrés Segovia springs to mind (it’s on YouTube). Beautiful. From the 4 discs (5?), this is my gem. Sistine is a really nice break from instrumentals, and suitably soppy. There are Erotic Strings (key of G Anthony?), and anything with ‘Whale’ in the title is fine by me, presumably this was written for a documentary; a lovely item. I ramble, you need to listen.
Disc 5 – Private Parts & Extra Pieces
An album of extras, out-takes, different takes, pieces that took different directions, and because I like this sort of thing, it’s fine. An album for the analysts of whats, ifs and maybes, plus a few “oh I wish he’d used thats!”. Duchess of Kew? Is she related? Even here Anthony is never too far removed from the band to whom he once belonged and it would easily sit on a Genesis album of that era. Moonshooter Piano deserves expansion. There are a lot of experimental pieces on this disc that I wish had developed into bigger concepts, soundscapes painting pictures that in other worlds would have expanded beyond their frames. Beautiful little insights.
So my conclusion. Difficult, there are so many bits and bobs that I would not want to be without; personally there are other albums I think are better, I will get The Geese & The Ghost if for nothing more to compare Anthony’s original Master of Time with Big Big Train’s version. Wise After the Event remains a favourite for me, the attraction of it and Geese in 5.1 is very tempting. Father’s Day or Birthday perhaps. If you like early Genesis, or you have discovered the delights of Peter Jones’ Tiger Moth Tales and his early Genesis covers, or even Steve Hackett’s music, his classical playing is wonderful but different enough not to pick one over the other, then this from Anthony Phillips is a more than suitable addition to your shelves or digital library. This box set over the other AP boxes out there? A matter for your own discerning pallets. There are other albums I want to explore but I would buy this, as convenience replacements for vinyl and Slow Dance because it’s on cassette (remember those?).
This box set of the original albums with bonus tracks and the fifth disc of extras demonstrate what a fine and prolific composer Anthony Phillips is, from the first Private Parts through to the fourth I can hear a continuous development and confidence. My Favourite is the third, as a complete piece, but Eduardo on the fourth is perfect. One and two have much to offer, but even though there is some complexity there, I find them beautiful but less confident. But what do I know? My expertise is the triangle.
This man is more than the sum of parts, the parts that he is. He, creates little boxes of delight; simple pieces, complex suites, soundscapes, all painting pictures with notes. Nostalgic? We all came from somewhere but it is nice to take some of that where we are going.
Private Parts & Pieces
01. Beauty and the Beast
02. Field of Eternity
03. Tibetan Yak Music
04. Lullaby – Old Father Time
05. Harmonium in the Dust (or Harmonious Stratosphere)
06. Tregenna Afternoons
11. Seven Long Years
~ Bonus tracks:
12. Silver Song (demo)
13. Movement IV from Guitar Quintet
Private Parts & Pieces II: Back to the Pavilion
01. Scottish Suite
i. Salmon Leap
ii. Parting Thistle
iii. Electric Reaper
iv. Amorphous, Cadaverous and Nebulous
v. Salmon’s Last Sleepwalk
04. Postlude: End of the Season
06. Spring Meeting
07. Romany’s Aria
10. Magic Garden
11. Von Runkel’s Yorker Music
~ Bonus tracks:
12. Will O’the Wisp
14. I Saw You Today
15. Back to the Pavilion
16. Lucy: An Illusion
Private Parts & Pieces III: Antiques
02. Hurlingham Suite:
i. Ivied Castles
ii. Frosted Windows
iv. Church Bells at Sunset
03. Suite in D Minor:
04. Danse Nude
07. Otto’s Face
08. Sand Dunes
09. Old Wives Tale
~ Bonus tracks:
10. Frosted Windows (variation I)
11. Esperansa (alternate mix)
12. Bandido (early take)
13. Old Wives Tale (take 6)
14. Suite in D Minor (alternate version)
15. Frosted Windows (variation II)
16. El Cid
Private Parts & Pieces IV: A Catch at the Tables
01. Arboretum Suite:
i. Set Piece
ii. Over the Gate
iv. Lights on the Hill
02. Earth Man
03. Dawn Over the Lake
06. Heart of Darkness
07. The Sea and the Armadillo
~ Bonus tracks:
09. Erotic Strings
10. A Catch at the Tables
11. Flapjack (solo version)
12. Theme from Operation Whale
Private Parts & Extra Pieces
01. Sea Piece Intro
02. Prelude 3
03. The Princess Waltz
04. The Marionette Vignette
05. Duchess of Kew
06. Birdsong Link
07. Over the Gate (alternate mix)
08. Sea Sketches
09. Lines in the Sand
10. Study in D Major
11. Moonshooter Piano
12. Long Ago
13. Lullaby – Old Father Time Variation
14. Theme from Sea Piece
15. Sistine (alternative piano version)
16. Armadillo Air
17. K2 Link
18. Still-Born Love
Anthony Phillips – 12-String Guitar, Classical Guitar, Piano, Electric Guitar, Pin Piano, Harmonium, Vocals
Phil Collins (at various points)
Henry Williamson (of Tarka the Otter fame) (I)
Andy McCulloch – Drums & percussion (II)
Mike Rutherford – Bass (II – 1 & 4)
Rob Phillips – Oboe (II – 15)
Mel Collins – Flute (II – 17)
Enrique Berro Garcia – 12-string Acoustic Guitar, Classical Guitar (III)
Mark Emmey – Bugle (IV – 8)
Judd Lander – Bagpipes & Harmonica (IV – 8)
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Year of Release: 2015