Anthony Phillips - Private Parts & Pieces V - VIII

Anthony Phillips – Private Parts & Pieces V-VIII

I’ve never understood the need to endlessly compare Anthony Phillips’ work with Genesis. Sure, he was the original guitarist, but it has been over forty-five years since he quit the band; doesn’t the man deserve to be examined as an artist in his own right?

His is a sad tale, quitting the band after a mere two albums and a heavy dose of stage fright. While Genesis would get bigger and bigger record deals, this box set sees our protagonist struggling to create albums with more than one instrument. I can’t imagine what seeing your friends getting riches beyond compare must do to your psyche, but fortunately, we don’t have a Walter White situation on our hands. In fact, it would make sense that he doesn’t appreciate the limelight. More fortunately, his place in the original line-up was enough to create a cult following that has sustained him and his solo career over the years.

It seems as though AP is the type of artist to record “lesser albums” (which he helpfully denominates “Private Parts and Pieces”) amongst the fuller releases, rather like Hawkwind’s Flicknife albums. Just like those albums, Esoteric have wisely decided that it would be simpler and more aesthetically pleasing to release these as a 5CD clamshell box set. Parts I-IV were reviewed by our very own Tony Colvill if you need to take a gander; I’ll be covering Parts V-VIII in this review. I’m not normally a fan of “lesser” albums myself, but say “clamshell box set” to me, and I’m your guy.

Private Parts and Pieces V: Twelve

I’m immediately struck by the beauty of the album cover here, so rich in texture, concept, and detail. I would definitely have taken this off the shelf at a record store back in the day, but would probably have been shocked at what I found. The subtitle tells you all: A collection of pieces for solo 12-string guitar. No guests here, no drums, bass, or any other instruments, just Mr. Phillips and a dozen bits of metal attached to some wood. Nevertheless, his conviction is quite compelling using countless techniques to provide as much textural variation as possible with one timbre.

It’d be tough to do all this and manage to make a brilliant album, and in my reckoning, he just falls short. The man clearly has no lack of creativity, but the twelve pieces, which each reflect a different month of the year, fail to make a cohesive whole, as they seem to all pull in quite different directions. The album is quite overbearing too, at nearly 65 minutes. With 12 tracks, I’d expected them to last perhaps 3 minutes each, but the shortest track, September is just over four minutes! Apparently, the sound technician nearly had a heart attack when he found out how long the album was going to be; cutting 30 minutes a side to vinyl is no mean feat. There are of course highlights: for me, those are July and November which showcase Phillips’s more energetic and sombre side.

Private Parts and Pieces VI: Ivory Moon

After an album full of solo guitar pieces, what do we get next? An album full of solo piano pieces! Once again, the artwork is beautiful, an impression of Leith Hill Tower, incidentally only six miles away from my wedding venue. Phillips here proves he’s a dapper hand on the ivories as well, with pieces contrasting in light and dark shades, from symphonic to simplistic. Pianoforte means “quiet-loud” and Phillips understands this characteristic implicitly.

It really is the range that sets this album apart, and the range isn’t only in style, but how far apart the pieces were recorded. The longest and most symphonic of these tracks, Winter’s Thaw and The Old House, dominating at 9 and 15 minutes respectively, hark back to 1971, just after he Phillips had left Genesis. The bonus track Let Us Now Make Love was actually an old Genesis live standard, that never got a proper studio recording. The more recent pieces are just as good, and the 12-minute Sea-Dogs Motoring pseudo-suite is very enjoyable, my favourite part being Part 3: Sea Dogs’ Air.

Private Parts and Pieces VII: Slow Waves, Soft Stars

As Phillips prepares to flaunt his private parts again, the listener plays a guessing game at what they are about to hear. The answer is, of course, surprising – a move towards more ambient synthesiser music, evident from the very first few seconds of the Ice Flight suite that takes up the first 16 minutes of the album. Slow moving pieces and transitioning chords make up the bulk of this album, and that in part tells why this one is just a little disappointing.

On the first two discs we heard a master of melody, bringing rich and solid melody-based music to the listener’s ears. To replace this with shimmering drones is like replacing Phillips himself with an oversized prophylactic. As label Passport Records believed at the time, Phillips had managed to inadvertently create New Age music in a time when the genre was booming, something that he actively denies he did on purpose. There are some highlights though, the very final part of Ice Flight, titled Cathedral of Ice, has some interesting jolts in tone that come an odd number of waves after the last jolt. As a result, it’s difficult for the listener to predict the next jolt. It’s a little bit like odd time signatures, which is probably why I enjoy it so much.

Towards the end of the album, there is a run of solo guitar pieces to break up the monotony, and there is some joy to be found here also. Elevenses, just like the title suggests, features a repeated riff consisting of eleven notes that only prog fans will know how to bop their heads along with. Meanwhile, Bubble and Squeak, at only a minute in length, manages to pack a hefty medieval punch. One of the joyous things about listening to Phillips’ guitar is hearing the physical sliding of the fingers on the frets, knowing that this sound is raw, barely mutilated by machinery.

Private Parts and Pieces VIII: New England

It does feel like we’ve been building ourselves up to this album, which features not only more than two instruments, but vocals too! Sanctuary could definitely have featured as a single track had he wished it, though it is a bit twee. This album first came out in 1992, so we’re well into the CD era now, meaning there was enough space for not one but two suites on this album. Pieces of Eight is the more interesting of the two, showcasing many guitar techniques and even leaving a little room for some cello on Sea-Shanty.

The most prog-sounding track of this album – and indeed this set – is longer than both suites. Sunrise and Sea Monsters is a well-produced duet between guitar and soprano saxophone that takes the listener on a journey through an oil-painting fantasy world. Percussion added near the centre and the end of the song add more contrast and make this track even more of a standout feature.

Esoteric have once again outdone themselves with a very pleasing set of material in a delicious clamshell set. Each album comes in a slipcase that appropriately uses the original artwork, and features four very in-depth essays by Jonathan Dann featuring interviews with Phillips himself. There is a fifth disc too of out-takes and other goodies that will keep true fans entertained, as well as notes on each track in the booklet. While I would recommend trying one of Phillips’s better-known albums such as The Geese and the Ghost to start with, for those who haven’t heard his music before, you’d still have a good time with this set if you happened to pick it up anyway. There are still two ‘Private Parts and Pieces’ albums for Esoteric to release, so I don’t know what they’re waiting for!

Disc 1 – Private Parts & Pieces V: Twelve

01. January (5:58)
02. February (4:40)
03. March (5:11)
04. April (4:51)
05. May (4:41)
06. June (5:37)
07. July (6:23)
08. August (5:21)
09. September (4:09)
10. October (6:25)
11. November (5:13)
12. December (6:30)

Time – 64:53

Disc 2 – Private Parts & Pieces VI: Ivory Moon
Sea-Dogs Motoring:
01. (i) Sunrise Over Sienna (3:21)
02. (ii) Basking Shark (5:09)
03. (iii) Sea-Dogs’ Air (2:37)
04. (iv) Safe Havens (1:15)
05. Tara’s Theme (from Masquerade) (3:23)
06. Winter’s Thaw (9:40)
07. The Old House (15:22)
08. Moonfall (from Masquerade) (4:02)
09. Rapids (8:30)
~ Bonus Track:
10. Let Us Now Make Love (6:31)

Time – 59:47

Disc 3 – Private Parts & Pieces VII: Slow Waves, Soft Stars
Ice Flight:
01. (i) Flight of the Snow Petrel: Glacier Bay (5:18)
02. (ii) Flight of the Whale-Birds: Blizzard Mountain (3:39)
03. (iii) Flight of the Albatross: Ice Island (1:28)
04. (iv) White Heaven (3:30)
05. (v) Cathedral of Ice (2:18)
06. Beachrunner (2:51)
07. End of the Affair (2:49)
08. The Golden Pathway (1:42)
09. Behind the Waterfall (3:25)
10. Carnival (1:36)
11. Through the Black Hole (3:15)
12. Pluto Garden (2:09)
13. Sospirando (2:58)
14. Elevenses (3:11)
15. Goodbye Serenade (2:29)
16. Bubble and Squeak (1:03)
17. Vanishing Streets (4:20)
18. Slow Waves, Soft Stars (6:12)

Time – 54:05

Disc Four – Private Parts & Pieces VIII: New England
01. Aubade (1:00)
02. Infra Dig (1:47)
03. Sanctuary (4:04)
04. La Dolorosa (4:00)
New England Suite:
05. (i) (1:47)
06. (ii) (4:12)
07. (iii) (3:44)
08. Last Goodbyes (2:19)
09. Sunrise and Sea Monsters (10:37)
10. Iona (0:58)
11. Cathedral Woods (4:18)
12. If I Could Tell You (2:00)
13. Jaunty Roads (1:06)
14. Spirals (0:52)
Pieces of Eight:
15. (i) Pressgang (2:22)
16. (ii) Sargasso (3:12)
17. (iii) Sea-Shanty (4:53)
18. In the Maze (0:56)
19. Unheard Cry (4:03)
20. Now They’ve All Gone (7:00)

Time – 65:01

Disc Five – Private Parts & Extra Pieces II
01. Cathedral Wood Link (0:57)
02. Jongleur (5:07)
03. Sanctuary (Piano Mix) (4:40)
04. Emerald Forest (1:48)
05. Unheard Cry Link (0:27)
06. Skylarks Over the Water (6:55)
07. Sir Isaac (from Masquerade) (3:25)
08. Across the Forbidding Horizon (5:59)
09. End of the Affair II (2:28)
10. Autumn Falls (1:16)
11. Beachrunner II (3:18)
12. Highland Dawn (1:28)
13. Sanctuary Link (0:27)
14. Unheard Cry (Guitar Demo) (4:07)
15. Moonfall (from Masquerade) (Demo) (4:26)
16. Pluto Garden (Alternate Mix) (1:10)
17. Cathedral of Ice (Alternate Mix) (1:50)
18. A Place to Rest (1:36)
19. The Riddle of the Sands (10:18)

Time – 61:34

Total Time – 5:05:20

Anthony Phillips:
– On Twelve: 12-string Guitar
– On Ivory Moon: Piano
– On Slow Waves, Soft Stars: Roland Jupiter 8, Casio CZ5000, ARP 2600, Polymoog, Yari Classical Guitar, Roudhloff 8-String Guitar, Alvarez 12-string Guitar, Tom Drum Machine, Tibetan Bells & Chimes, Zither
– On New England: Guitars, Mandolin, Charanga, Keyboards & Vocals
~ With:
Enrique Berro Garcia (on Slow Waves, Soft Stars) – Classical Guitar (on Beachrunner & End Of The Affair)
Ralph Bernascone (on Slow Waves, Soft Stars) – Frying Pan (on Bubble & Squeak)
Martin Robertson (on New England) – Soprano Saxophone, African Drums
Simon Morris (on New England) – Cello
Paul Clarvis (on New England) – Rainstick, Cymbals, Shakers, Darbouka, Tabla (on Sunrise And Sea Monsters)
Joji Hirota (on New England) – Rolled Cymbals, Prayer-Bell, Mark Tree, Gong (on Sunrise And Sea Monsters), Shakers, Japanese Drum (on Pressgang)

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 52561
Date of Release: 23rd September 2016

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