He may have been absent for their greater successes, but as a founding member of Genesis, Anthony Phillips was at the very foundation of the progressive rock legends. The driving force behind the nascent act, Ant left the band in 1970, and has since gone on to release a string of solo albums. A respected guitarist and composer, this year he collected the Storm Thorgerson Grand Design Award for his Esoteric reissue series, at the Progressive Music Awards. We caught up with Anthony at the event, to talk about his solo career, and those early Charterhouse days. Where the Sour Turns to Sweet: Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Anthony, congratulations on your award this evening.
Hello! Thank you.
How does it feel to have won the Storm Thorgerson Grand Design award?
Incredible; considering all the other people in the category. I don’t know how I done it; I think maybe I must have slept with the right people, or done lots of voting myself. I’m joking - it’s fantastic. I’m not quite sure how [I’ve won], actually. Maybe all the other fans of the other artists [didn’t vote]. They’ve got loads of fans – I don’t have that many fans, but people must have liked the reissues, obviously.
Were you pleased with the final product of the reissues?
It was a great production all round; everybody did a great job – I did nothing! Yeah, I mean, the cover stuff was brilliant, the remixing and the surround was very good, and it’s just all the presentation, right across the board, to be honest. But also, sometimes on the bonus CDs, people just tend to put out old demos and stuff, but we managed to track down proper material.
Did you have a hand in sourcing that material yourself?
Well, I have a guy that does it all for me, but I would listen to it, and I would okay it. But yeah, he’s fantastic; he’s like my ‘Sonic Sleuth’, as I call him!
You were with Genesis right at the beginning of their career. What were those early Charterhouse schooldays like?
Yes, very much at the beginning – right at the beginning. Well, Mike [Rutherford] and I were the two, because we were in the pop bands at school – the others weren’t. We were the ones playing in what we call a ‘cover band’ now. So we were the sort of guitar wing, and we joined up with Tony [Banks] and Peter [Gabriel] who sang, and just sort of started mucking about with ideas. But Mike and I were the two that wanted to go on the road. The others were quite reluctant, really, considering what a great stage performer Peter Gabriel is. But he had to learn to act, you see - he’s a very dualistic person; he’s very shy on stage, and that persona took a while to develop, obviously. It wasn’t there to start with.
So you didn’t see any of the seeds of the stardom that was to come from Peter Gabriel in those very early days?
He had it; he was always very charismatic with women, and he had a sort of, mysterious quality about him. But he was quite a bumbler as well; he’d forget all the lyrics, and couldn’t do stage announcements to start with! No, there was no reason to think to start with that he was going to hold an audience. It was only when he developed this persona that he suddenly started commanding the stage. In fact, when he started touring again, solo after Genesis, he tried doing it as just; ‘friendly Mr. Peter Gabriel’ playing at the piano, and it didn’t really work. He needed that commanding persona.
When you stepped aside in 1970, were you surprised by the success that Genesis went on to achieve?
Not in terms of their talent, but in terms of how it’s difficult to be successful. But it was quite obvious that they were going to go that far. Pete was very clever; visually, he realised they were getting so far, that something else needed to happen, and it was his visual persona; putting all that stuff on, the colourful business, that really transformed things a lot. He’s a very clever guy.
Were you pleased to see them getting so far, after you’d been the anchor in the early days?
Of course, of course. I suppose I was sort of a prime mover; I was a big driver for it, but in terms of the writing credits, it was all pretty spread out. Gabriel and Banks were the strongest to start with, but on ‘Trespass’, Mike and I wrote an awful lot. I was just young and keen, and the first one in a pop band. The others were more circumspect about being in a band and playing songs together. They didn’t really want to go on the road; they didn’t like the idea of it. Tony Banks didn’t like playing the organ; he was a pianist, and you couldn’t amplify the piano in those days, so he wasn’t really into that. So it came together by a series of chance, really.
Is it nice for you, that you still get recognition for your contribution in those early days?
Yes, of course, of course. Tony Banks last year [on receiving the 2015 ‘Prog God’ award] made a particular reference that he was almost over the top about, but no, fair enough, it’s very nice.
Did you enjoy taking part in the ‘Genesis: Together And Apart’ BBC documentary that was filmed a few years ago?
Yep. I’m always happy to do them.
So, you’ve no regrets then?
Well… Not really, because there were other reasons I had to leave the group. It would have been nice to have been part of some of their tracks, but then of course if I had stayed, there’s things that I’ve written later that would never have happened. So it’s swings and roundabouts, isn’t it.
Are there any Geneses tracks in particular that you’d have liked to have been part of?
Oh, I think quite a lot, really. I mean, that’s a difficult question, isn’t it, but I think ‘Selling England By The Pound’ was a great album, so that would be an obvious answer.
But you’re here tonight because your solo work, and very proud to be recognised for that.
Yeah, indeed, and I just wish I could share this with all the guys that put in so much to the reissues.
Finally, what’s next for Anthony Phillips?
Well, we’ve got another of the ‘Private Parts & Pieces’ compilation that’s coming out. V – VIII are coming out, and I’ve put a lot of work into that, with a bonus CD of proper tracks; not just like dodgy remixes and other things, so that’s going to be quite exciting, and again, the artwork looks really good. After that, I’m toying with a new album, but that’s like, well, ‘toying’. We’ll see how it goes.
Anthony's Phillips' 'Esoteric Reissues' are available now. For more information visit Anthony's Official Website.
*Header photo courtesy of Esoteric Recordings.