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Anthony Phillips - Anthony Phillips & Andrew Skeet: Seventh Heaven CD (album) cover

ANTHONY PHILLIPS & ANDREW SKEET: SEVENTH HEAVEN

Anthony Phillips

 

Symphonic Prog

3.79 | 25 ratings

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Trollheart
4 stars Ah yes, Anthony Phillips, the "forgotten man" in the Genesis story. With them from the beginning, he played on both their debut album, From Genesis to Revelation, which was quite a long way from the prog-rock masterpieces they would later turn out, but a nice little album, and also on their first "real" album, 1970's Trespass, but then he developed a severe bout of stage fright. This is not a good thing to have in a band, and his doctor advised him he should quit the band for the sake of his health, which he did. We all know what happened to Genesis of course after that: under the guidance of Peter Gabriel they became one of the most important and influential and loved progressive rock bands on the 70s and early 80s, but after Gabriel left and Phil Collins took over they drifted more towards a commercial/pop sound, eventually losing it in 1982 when they released Abacab. They recovered slightly with the next few albums but eventually Collins himself left and the band more or less imploded under the pressure of trying to keep pace with the demands of the charts.

As for Anthony? Well, whether he recovered from his stage fright or not I don't know - though I haven't seen any evidence of him touring ever - but he certainly did not give up music. Far from it. After leaving Genesis -and worldwide fame, had he known it - behind, he released his first solo album in 1977, and has pretty much put out one a year since then. He's also guested on other albums, most notably ex-bandmate Mike Rutherford on the guitarist's first solo album, and again with ex-Genesis guitarist (but not bandmate, as he was not there at the same time) Steve Hackett's Out of the Tunnel's Mouth. In addition, he has collaborated with figures in the world of classical and soundtrack music, like Joji Hirota and Harry Williamson. In total, he's recorded, played on or assisted with over fifty albums. Not bad for a man who was too scared to get up onstage with Genesis!

After a somewhat disastrous attempt at breaking into the world of commercial, chart music in 1983, Anthony swore to concentrate on film, classical and instrumental works, and in that sphere he has been rather wildly successful. This is his latest collaboration, a partnership with composer Andrew Skeet, and it's a double album.

There are thirty-five tracks to get through here, but most stay within the 2/3 minutes mark, with one or two under 2 minutes, and just the one clocking in at almost seven, so it shouldn't be too hard to get them all reviewed. It opens, rather annoying and unsettlingly for me, with an operatic vocal. I personally have no time for opera (other than rock opera!): I just can't stand the high-pitched voices and the fact that it's a story you're supposed to follow while being written - and sung - in a language foreign to me has always made it totally inaccessible to these ears. So opera is not what I want to hear as my first impression of this album. Still, like most of the tracks on this album, "Credo in cantus" is short, just over two minutes, and the music is certainly nice. Mostly driven on violin and guitar, with some nice plinky piano played by Andrew Skeet, it's not as harsh a vocal from Lucy Crowe as I often hear in the few operatic pieces I've been subjected to, and it's a slow piece, which gives way to "A richer earth", a sumptuous strings arrangement carrying the melody, which gets a little heavier and more dramatic and builds to a crescendo, very film-like, and very moving.

Some nice rolling drums, as there often are in pieces of this nature, quite little in the way of guitar I have to say, but then although he made his name as mostly a guitarist, Anthony Phillips is a multi-instrumentalist, and plays at least eight different instruments on this album, many of them guitars but also piano, bazouki, oud and fylde. It's in the next track though, "Under the infinite sky", that we hear his expertise on his instrument of choice, and though there is a lot of strings backup on the piece, it's mainly taken on the guitar melody, reminiscent of Steve Hackett's "Horizons" from Genesis's album Foxtrot. It gets a little frenetic, of sorts, halfway through, but then drops away into a heavenly, celestial strings melody that itself falls away to leave Anthony solo on the acoustic guitar to take the song to its end.

Nice harpsichordical opening to "Grand Central", and though we're really reviewing this as an Anthony Phillips record, praise must also be given to his partner, who not only composes almost all of the album with him, but also plays the lovely piano melody on this track. Great violin attack too, taking the whole thing up a notch, then softer violin and classical guitar takes us into the lovely "Kissing gate", very pastoral and relaxing, evoking memories of summer days and lazy warm nights under the sky. The strings swell here too, but the main melody is carried by the guitar and the violin, while "Paquinade" has a very Mozart feel to it, with pizzicato strings and oboe, a slow stately piece with some lovely sighing violin coming in.

There's much more lively violin on "Rain on sag harbour", a very short piece, just over a minute and a half, but it bounces along nicely, then another short track and a chance for Phillips to shine on the piano in "Ice maiden", a beautiful little almost intermezzo on the keys, a solo piece for the composer, while lush strings carry "River of life" alongside his gentle acoustic guitar lines, but he really breaks out the classical guitar for one of the longer tracks, close to four minutes of "Desert passage". Almost a solo spotlight for more than half of the song's length, it's eventually joined by percussion and flute and strings, with a definite ELO-style feel near the end, and taking on a very Arabic texture. It's followed by the second vocal piece, this time voiced by Belinda Sykes, with an ominous strings melody as "Seven ancient wonders" continues the eastern-styled music with more of a chant really than singing from Ms. Sykes, very effective.

This takes us into the second-shortest track on the whole album, just three seconds over a minute, with "Desert passage reprise" carrying on the Arabic/eastern influence and then some lovely acoustic guitar leads in "Circle of light", again recalling some of Phillips's best work with Genesis, particularly "Stagnation" and "Dusk": very introspective, and again a solo performance from the composer. It takes us into "Forgotten angels", which seems to start on a glockenspiel melody, joined by strings and very nursery-rhyme or music-box themed, with choral vocals sounding like a flock of angels (what is the correct collective term for angels, anyway?), some lovely oboe and something that may be a harp. Very celestial, very ethereal, very relaxing.

"Courtesan" on the other hand borrows just a touch from the melody of "Speak softly love", the theme to the movie The Godfather, by Nino Rota, and travels on soft acoustic guitar aided by lush strings and perhaps some mandolin: always hard to know when a full orchestra is involved. Great sense of space to this piece, evokes images of staring out to sea over a high cliff in some Mediterranean locale. Strings drive "Ghosts of New York", accompanied by some soft piano and some tenor saxophone, or possibly clarinet. There's a sense of drama, urgency, even panic about "Shipwreck of St Paul", rising strings building the tension along with some low brass, then there's a suitably grave tempo and mood to "Cortege", which closes the first disc. Very funereal, very stately, low bassy strings are joined halfway through by high, soaring ones, and the two meld to create perhaps hope out of despair. I must say, this reminds me of nothing more than the theme to Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire movie.

And so we come to the end of the first disc, and I feel like I've already reviewed a full album, but there are seventeen more tracks to go. And with quality like this, I'm glad it's not over yet. Disc two opens with the full instrumental version of the piece that began disc one, "Credo in cantus", and without the vocal it's possible now to appreciate fully the nuances of the piece. It's very grand, very expansive and has a lovely violin and cello melody complemented by piano, with Andrew Skeet again behind the keyboard, reprising the role he played in the vocal version. An upbeat tune then for "Sojourn", with happy violins and cellos, guitar adding its own special flavour courtesy of Anthony, giving the piece at times a very Genesis flavour.

Anthony is back at the keyboard though for a piano solo piece in "Speak of remarkable things", another short track, just over a minute, then "Nocturne" is one of the longer pieces, just under four minutes, again recalling Hackett at his best as Anthony puts in a beautiful performance on the classical guitar, backed by some swelling strings that only complement his playing, never seeking to take from it. "Long road home" is another piano piece, again backed by powerful strings with some intense percussion that really helps up the drama, then gentle flute or clarinet reduces it all back down to basics again, this theme maintained for "The golden leaves of the fall", driven on quiet piano backed up by soft strings then some cinematic style rolling percussion ups the drama level in a melody that's, to be fair, not a million miles removed from John Williams' theme from Jurassic Park. Sorry, but it's not. There's a short guitar piano and cello piece then for "Credo", then rolling thunder effects start off "Under the infinite sky (Guitar ensemble version)" - the parentheses being there to separate it from the version on disc one - which is, not surprisingly, a showcase for Phillips's guitar talents on the acoustic, while there's far more of a full classical, even chamber feel to "The stuff of dreams", mostly led by clarinet and flute; reminds me a lot of "Neptune, the Mystic," from Holst's The Planets Suite opus. It gets a little heavier though with that rolling drumbeat and some bassoon (?), then slips back into the lighter groove it began on, almost ethereal with some lovely full strings coming in.

That takes us to easily the longest piece on either disc, "Old Sarum suite", which is almost eight minutes long, and is broken up into eight separate movements. As a suite, it changes and evolves as it goes, and is perhaps the most versatile of the tracks on the album, showing a breadth of experience, expertise and talent in the different moods, themes and tempos used. It seems to be concerned around some sort of battle (see track listing) but I'm not familiar with it. I'd go into it in more depth, but there are still seven tracks to go before we close, so moving on, next up is "For Eloise", which I have to admit I thought would be an adaptation of the Beethoven classic, but seems to be an original guitar piece.

The next track puts me in mind, uneasily, of the old kids' scary TV show Children of the Stones, but it's actually called "Winter song", and is a solo for cello, gorgeous and breathtaking thanks to Chris Worsey, with Michela Srumova providing the soprano voice at the beginning that gave me the willies. She comes back in near the end again, after the piece has jolted into something of a Russian folk song melody, but it slows back in and ends on sad cello, taking us into "Ghosts of New York". I know we had this already, but this is a piano solo version, with Skeet again showing his prowess on the Steinway, then "Daniel's theme" is another classical guitar piece, with horn and low violin backing, another slow, melancholy tune, with some powerful strings coming in, while "Study in scarlet" is led by horns and violins, evoking images of Sherlock Holmes, which I would assume it's intended to. It is in fact the shortest track on the album, exactly one minute. It ends on sudden powerful dramatic strings, and then everything eases back for "The lives of others", a soft violin-and-piano driven piece, and we finally close on the shimmery piano of "Forever always", a lovely, slow, soothing piece which closes an album that really evokes that kind of mood. Some absolutely wonderful musicianship, some amazing compositions, a fine melding of two fine talents, even if neither are that well known in the world of commercial music.

An interesting aside, before I finish: the artwork on the album cover (at least, the layout and design) is by one Mark Wilkinson, best known for his work with Marillion and later Fish, and most recently on Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman's The Living Tree - nice to see there's some some prog rock linkage to be had, even if Anthony is no longer really working in that side of things, mostly.

This is a long album, there's no denying that, but with the tracks all so short, it really doesn't seem like it runs for the over an hour and a half that it does. It's great for background music, or to listen to as you fall to sleep (hardly any, if any, surprises in sudden fast/loud tracks) but it's also an album that deserves to be listened to in depth, paying attention to all the little tunes and melodies and idiosyncrasies of the full composition. As a collaboration this is a real triumph. As an album it's great value for money: where else are you going to get one with over thirty tracks? And as a reminder to those who knew him in the early years, it's proof that Anthony Phillips, though he missed out on the "big time" with Genesis, has quietly and determinedly forged his own path through the music world, playing the music he likes, and following his own dream.

Over forty years after he left them, Genesis are now gone as a band, and Anthony Phillips is releasing yet another new album. Doesn't that say something about the man?

Trollheart | 4/5 |

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