1984 at 40


A look at the creation of Ant's sixth solo album release on the 40th anniversary of its release

Written and researched by Jonathan Dann




The Story So Far


By the spring of 1980 Ant had released a total of four solo albums with the fifth - Back To The Pavilion, the second volume in the Private Parts & Pieces series - already compiled and awaiting imminent release.  Whilst he still had a recording contract with his US label Passport, Ant had been without an English record company after his contract with Arista Records came to an end the previous year following the release of Sides.  Ant was keen to find a new approach for his next album project although what that should be was not immediately obvious: "After the two song albums - Wise After The Event and Sides - had failed to set the commercial market alight, I was rather left to my own devices and felt not a little confused as to which direction to take." 


Speaking to Geoff Parkyn in late 1981, Ant revealed that the initial thought had been to base the new album project around two instrumentals - Poly Piece and Sea Piece - that he had written and recorded in demo form for potential inclusion on Sides: "When I started the album I was going to do three instrumental pieces. One was an old Polymoog piece that didn't get on Sides. Sides was possibly going to be quite instrumental but because of what Rupert Hine interpreted as Arista Records wanting, we went with songs. And there was another twelve string instrumental that didn't get on either. So I had these two instrumentals waiting, and I thought I would do a quick instrumental album. I persuaded my manager Tony Smith that it was a good idea to do a large scale instrumental album because I had wanted to do one on a larger scale since The Geese & The Ghost. I started working on this extra keyboard piece, which I wanted to be a more modern, short five minute piece - and that ended up as the whole album!"  Poly Piece would eventually see the light of day as an extra track on the expanded 2 CD re-issue of 1984, whilst two parts of Sea Piece were included on Private Parts & Extra Pieces, the additional CD that accompanied the Esoteric Recordings re-release of the first four albums in the Private Parts & Pieces series in 2016.


Separate to the idea of the album, in May 1980 not long after acquiring a Roland CR78 drum machine Ant recorded what would became Prelude '84 and Anthem 1984 under the working titles of "Instrumental Single" and "Strings & Drums" quite quickly, with recording of the basic parts for each track taking no more than 3 or 4 hours.  In addition during this period Ant also wrote and recorded a further keyboard piece under the working title of "Scale Strings". This latter piece would remain unheard for 27 years until it was rediscovered on the multi-track master tapes and mixed for the first time for inclusion in the double CD re-issue of 1984 under the new title of Ascension.


The main source of inspiration for the extra keyboard piece that Ant began working on which would end up as the final album were the two synthesizers he had recently acquired as he recalls: "I'd not long had the Polymoog and the ARP 2600 and I hadn't really done justice to them on the previous albums.  I'd used them a bit but not as much as I could and so the idea of doing a whole album based on these synths was actually a challenge.  What did come to mind was an idea to use a lot of interesting synth sounds - current electronic sounds if you like - but at the same time to be quite descriptive and almost semi-classical in a way.  The idea of a consistent rhythm was also there to stop it falling into the realms of background music.  In the wake of Punk and Disco, soft lyricism was out and roughness and rhythm ruled the day: I stumbled across a compromise really by accident, courtesy of the Roland CR78 Drum Machine - keep the rhythm going but try and use interesting harmonies on top!"  By the end of July 1980 Ant had written enough new material for a whole album and was ready to commence work on the initial stage of recording.




Recording of the album - phase I


Recording of what was to became 1984 began on 14th August 1980 with the first parts committed to tape being the drumbox parts.  To add some variety to the patterns from the CR78, Ant decided to make use of some real percussion instruments such as cabasas, bell trees and sleigh bells which were loaned to him by Phil Collins.  Ant was helped with the recording of the percussion parts by his friend Richard Scott, who also assisted by listening to rough mixes of the various sections of the piece and providing feedback on the work completed so far.  The recording of the many keyboard parts soon followed with the basic tracks being built up bit by bit, which without the use of sequencers was a time-consuming process as Ant recalls: "With only 8 tracks to play with, 'dropping in' well-nigh impossible and some quite technical lines to play on a fairly unresponsive keyboard, take 221(a) was a not uncommon occurrence !"



Original 1984 track sheet Original 1984 track sheet


Two of the original track sheets from the initial 8-track stage of recording the album. 

The sheet on the left shows the recording of the basic percussion parts to accompany the drumbox patterns, whilst the sheet on the right details the various synth parts recorded for some of the sections of Part Two of 1984.




Rule Britannia: Pictures of a People Like Us


With recording of 1984 well under way, in the Autumn of 1980 Ant received an offer to write and record the music for a new six part television series being made by ATV that had been conceived by writer and broadcaster James Bellini.  Ant explains how this came about: "By the time Rule Britannia came about I was associated with a company called Himan Music.  I was doing odd bits of work for them like jingles and they were starting to pick up TV commissions.  My name was put forward for the series because I was one of the few composers who had some experience of classical music."


Rule Britannia logo

The logo used for the Rule Britannia series, which appeared in the opening titles.

Ant's music credit from the show

James describes his own personal journey as being the main inspiration for making Rule Britannia: "I grew up in England as the fourth generation of Italian immigrants who came here looking for work in 19th century - any work.  In fact, both my grandfather and father ended up doing time as coal miners in the north east around Sunderland. So from my pretty simple upbringing I developed a fascination with the 'English ruling classes' and how they functioned socially. And when I won a place at Cambridge to read for the Bar I had a chance to see the whole social machine at very close quarters, surrounded by public school men and social habits that were totally new to me. An inside job if you like. I always vowed to record my experience somehow or another in some form or another."    


"After a spell in the think-tank and academic world I found myself at the BBC but soon realised they would not touch such a series idea with a barge-pole, being an Establishment institution disguised as a 'creative democracy'. So when I eventually fell out with the BBC and went to the proletarian ATV (part of ITV) the boss Charles Denton leapt at the idea."  The sub-title for the series was also derived from James' own experiences: "I actually married into the aristocracy after Cambridge to the daughter of Lord Englefield. But I was always politely reminded by my new in-laws that although I seemed a decent chap, I was not 'PLU' - 'People Like Us'.  So the sub-title to the TV series reflects this: 'Pictures of a People Like Us'. "  


As far as the choice of music for the series was concerned, this was also something that James was closely involved with: "I originally wanted a 'street' sound to convey a 'working class' critique kind of theme. My early preference was for Talking Heads. But as the filming progressed around the country it became clear a more classical and eternal music feel was needed. After all, the series was 'celebrating' the 900th anniversary of Domesday Book of 1086, the first ever survey of 'who owned England' and therefore the first survey of The Power in the Land. Vaughan Williams was an obvious choice, with an electronic element to give it a late 20th century feel". 


As a result Ant found himself presented with an initial brief that the music for the series should be 'Vaughan Williams with a twist'.  "There was a requirement for 'pointers' in the music although I didn't write to picture so I had a list of moods to try and reflect".  This proved to be quite a challenge, with the list of moods to be reflected in the music including irony, bitterness, violence and respect.  Having recorded a number of basic tracks for Rule Britannia at Send in October based on the brief that he had been given, Ant's next port of call was Atmosphere Studios in London where the second stage of the recording was to take place.  It was at Atmosphere that Ant was introduced to recording engineer Chris David, who remembers: "I was working at Atmosphere Studios in Soho when Ant came in to do the music for Rule Britannia. At the time Atmosphere was about the only place in town where you could record music in dead-sync with picture and I was their specialist mixer for recording to picture."  Ant and Chris also soon discovered that they had a mutual interest in cricket and Chris subsequently ended up as a regular on Ant's Send Occasionals cricket team.


During the sessions for Rule Britannia Ant also first met composer, multi-percussionist, flautist and singer Joji Hirota for the first time.  One of the pieces that Ant had written for the series needed to have some percussion added to it and as Joji was working at the time as one of the in-house musicians in the same studio, he was suggested as a suitable player for this purpose.  This initial meeting between Ant and Joji was to see the start of both a lasting personal friendship and professional relationship which has seen the creation of some outstanding music on a regular basis ever since.


Chris remembers the unusual way Ant was given the brief for the music: "Alan Bell, the producer of the series, had this wonderful way of coming in and asking Ant for music for particular words like "irony" or "depth" or "green". We always had a good laugh about that!"  Following the sessions at Atmosphere, two further days were spent recording additional pieces at the ATV Studios at Elstree on 25th and 26th November 1980.  It was during these sessions that Ant and Chris both experienced first-hand the control the Trade Unions had at that time over the working situation at ATV.  Chris recalls: "The deal was that they were using library music of his not specific score, and when the music ended up being dubbed at Elstree Studios there was a terrible fuss with the Unions there because we had left specific Rule Britannia slates on the beginning for the recordings. It was brought up at the next Union meeting but was quickly glossed over as this was the "plan-the-Christmas-party" meeting."  A final session for the recording the music took place at Atmosphere Studios on 27th November.


James was very pleased with the finished score for Rule Britannia as he recalls: "Anthony did an absolutely brilliant job - his music gave the series a totally different pitch - grand and sweeping, yet haunting and quizzical, and very much 'England' - exactly the feel I wanted to convey with the pictures and the script."  The series itself was broadcast on ITV seven months later, with the first episode (Power In The Land) broadcast on 23rd July 1981 and the final episode (The National Interest) shown on 27th Agust 1981.




Recording of the album - phase II


With the work on the score of Rule Britannia completed, Ant now resumed work on the recording of the album and by January 1981 the basic tracks were complete.  The decision was then made that the album would benefit from the addition of further parts to the 8-track recordings that Ant had made and in order to facilitate this, the masters were transferred onto 24-track using two-inch tape at Atmosphere.  By this stage the title for the album had also been decided upon - Ant had contemplated calling it Circles at one point but eventually decided upon 1984, a choice which in part was influenced by his friend Richard Scott.  He told Geoff Parkyn: "I think the most honest answer is that it was a nice title. I had this instrumental album which I'd been doing for quite a while. It got to the time when you have to start thinking about titles, it was very abstract, not really based on any particular idea to be honest - I know there will be a lot of disappointed people when they hear that, but it's true! Richard Scott was helping me do the mixes, and we started thinking why not have a title with a bit of drama about it, which was topical as opposed to another dreamy title which doesn't really mean anything - something which is topical, contemporary. I decided to call it 1984 quite late, which meant that it was beyond really changing the music so we just "nastied" the music up in one or two places, which was quite fun!"


Having transferred the 8-track masters, Chris David now had to edit the different sections of the album together - a labour-intensive process in the days before digital editing where it was necessary to physically cut the tape in order to remove any unwanted material.  He remembers: "I had to make more edits on the two-inch master tape for this album than any other project ever as the 8-track that Ant brought in was in a lot of small sections from 20 seconds to a minute or so long. They were however more or less in order which helped with the assembly, although there were one or two cock-ups and re-dos."  Maintaining a system of monitoring what was being recorded on which track also required a lot of effort as Chris explains: "Keeping track of track usage once we were overdubbing onto that master became really taxing requiring a film style cue sheet approach to the track sheets. The additional 16 tracks were not of course always enough with all the different synth, guitar and percussion overdubs so we had to make some sub-mix track bounces too. I believe I kept some tracks open for this and for some of the percussion on a continuous basis throughout and then reserved other tracks that checker-boarded between the sections that we could pre-lap or overrun slightly."  With additional guitar, synth and occasional piano parts being added to the tracks, another innovation was introduced in the form of the Vocoder which afforded Ant the opportunity to add some processed vocals to the second part of 1984.  Lastly, in order to add further to the percussive elements of the album a session was arranged with percussionist Morris Pert adding his talents to proceedings before mixing on the project started in March 1981.

Track sheet for Prelude '84

The original track sheet for Prelude '84 (listed here under the working title of '1984 Intro') from the later phase of recording for the album at Atmosphere Studios in London.

  The instruments on the first 8 tracks are those recorded at Send during the initial recording. 

The parts recorded on the other tracks (including the percussion parts played by Morris Pert) were recorded during the later sessions.


Chris' involvement with the album also saw him interrupt two honeymoons, a fact that was later acknowledged by Ant in the final credits for the album.  Chris explains: "The first honeymoon was actually our annual 6-8 weeks in Kenya (my wife is from Kenya), which if I remember correctly I cut short to dive back in to this project. One moment I was walking barefoot along the white sand beach under the moonlight, the next I was jet-lagged in a studio in Soho making 40+ edits to a 2" master. This must have been some time in February 1981.  We did the album, I got married March 28th and we went straight off for a few days to the Lake District which we drove around to the latest mix of 1984. It is of course the absolute perfect album for driving around the Lake District on honeymoon in the only two days sunshine seen so far that year in England."


Looking back on 1984, Chris feels that the mixing of the album afforded the opportunity to try and be more innovative with the panning of the audio: "It was also the first time that I really felt able to get some multi-dimensional panning of audio despite there really only being one dimension available in moving sound between two speakers. This is much easier for me nowadays as I have been mixing films in 5.1 format for the last 15 years."  He also looks back on working with Ant with affection: "Obviously it was wonderful to work with Ant, we were friends then and have remained in touch ever since even though I am now in Los Angeles".




The release of the album


With Passport Records set to release 1984 in both the US and Canada, Ant's manager at the time Tony Smith secured a deal for UK and European release for the album with RCA Records.  Ant recalls: "He was very surprised when he went into RCA with some other material and said, "By the way, I've got this" and they went for it very positively.  They offered an advance on the album, without which I wouldn't have been able to buy my house".    


The final element of the album to be completed was the cover design.  With Peter Cross being busy at the time completing work on his book Trouble For Trumpets (his absence being explained by a mention in the album credits that he was 'on holiday with Ralph Bernascone'), Richard Scott came up with the idea of using the image of an empty cage on the cover.  This was a direct reference to a scene depicted in the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four where for his re-education in Room 101 the protagonist Winston Smith is confronted with his biggest fear - a wire cage holding frenzied rats, which is held in his face.  The reverse of the cover included a logo at the bottom right consisting of the three letters that make up Ant's name.  The UK and US vinyl releases of the album had a variation in the cover design - on the US release Ant's name appeared immediately under the album title whereas on the UK release his name appeared below the cage.  In addition, initial copies of the UK LP release came with a 12" black and white insert with a photo of Ant in the studio at Send on one side, the reverse being blank.  1984 was released in both the US and UK in June 1981 where it appeared on both vinyl LP and cassette, whilst RCA also issued the album in a number of European territories including Italy, Germany and Spain.  The album was also released by RCA in Israel, which is believed to be the only one of Ant's albums to be issued domestically in that country.


UK release of Prelude '84   Back cover of the UK single release The Spanish release of Prelude '84   Rear cover of the Spanish single release




The front and back covers of the two 7" single releases of Prelude '84 - on the left the UK release (RCA 102) and on the right the Spanish release (RCA PB-5378)



To further promote the album, Prelude '84 was issued as a single in both the UK and Spain the following month, with Anthem 1984 serving as the B-Side.  Both releases came with different cover designs - the rear cover of the UK single release made use of the same photo of Ant in the studio included on the insert from the LP release, whilst the Spanish single included a text biography on the reverse. The single gained a positive review in the UK music magazine Record Mirror with writer Alan Coulthard declaring: "It's about time that the ex-Genesis guitarist received the attention his undoubted talent warrants, and this release is surely the one to bring him to a wider audience. Its moody, sepulchral tones are so powerful that it can be readily appreciated even out of context".  Interestingly, RCA Records in Spain also included Anthem 1984 on a Various Artists compilation issued both as a vinyl LP and cassette the following year called "La Era Del Tecno - 2a Fase" (The Era of Techno - Second Phase), where it appeared alongside tracks by the likes of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Fad Gadget.    


Press reviews and fans reaction


There was a generally positive reaction to the album from many reviewers, especially in the US.  Keyboard Magazine reviewer Jim Aikin observed: "Phillips lays down layers of fat polyphonic synthesiser chords in highly dramatic riffs over a growling synthesiser bass that Gary Wright wouldn't be ashamed of, and the drum box ticks away the time.  There are occasional discreet electronic effects, but the main emphasis is on ensemble keyboard work.  The orchestration is consistently excellent and sometimes spectacular , with plenty of new details added to each ongoing sonority to keep up the interest." Marc English, writing for Boston Rock, stated: "Phillips relies on heavily-orchestrated keyboards, a Roland drum machine and two well-armed percussionists to carry out his musings.  Basic themes are embellished and then transposed into other forms causing the album to literally flow from beginning to end.  Far from Orwellian, 1984 is sprightly, almost happy music.  Even the last song, "Anthem 1984" sounds contemplative though not melancholy.  Maybe Phillips 1984 is meant to be optimistic music created by the electronic instruments of today.  Sounds good to me."  Bruce Hughes (in a review for an unknown publication) summed things up nicely: "George Orwell prophesised a dark, fearful time for our generation.  Anthony Phillips looks upon the future with a clear eye and an open heart.  With such an outlook, how bad can 1984 be?"

Cashbox review of 1984 Billboard review of 1984 


US reviews of the album from (on left) Cashbox (8th August 1981) and Billboard (1st August 1981)


At the time of release, the album divided opinions among some fans (as Ant observes: "The album divided the 'faithful'. Many thought I'd deserted my acoustic roots and gone barmy; others loved it.") but the passage of time has seen the album re-evaluated and it is now held in high esteem by fans, critics and musicians alike. One aficionado of 1984 is musician Steven Wilson who regards it as his favourite of Ant's solo albums and one of his favourite electronic albums.  Writing in his forward for the 2016 re-release of the album he observed: "1984 still sounds totally unique when I hear it. It's an electronic album from the tail end of the great era of conceptual and experimental rock music, but to me it doesn't sound like any other synthesiser based music of that time. I think the reason is that at its heart it isn't really an electronic album at all, more like an Anthony Phillips album that just happens to be played on synthesisers instead of guitars."




Reissues and remixes


1991 Japanese CD release of 1984

The 1991 Japanese re-issue of 1984
Virgin Records had secured the rights to the majority of Ant's back catalogue in 1990 and as a result 1984 received a release on CD the following year in the UK, Europe and Japan, being re-mastered for this purpose by Simon Heyworth at the London-based mastering facility Chop Em Out.  Ant's contract with Virgin gave them the rights to his back catalogue for 15 years and whilst they subsequently agreed to a partial reversion of the rights for most of the albums so that Voiceprint could make them available on CD during 1996, Virgin retained the rights to the album (along with The Geese & The Ghost and Wise After The Event) for the full contractual period.  This situation meant that it was not until 2006 that work on an expanded re-issue of the album could begin. 

In order to source additional material for the re-issue with a view to there being a complete additional CD to accompany the original album, the 8-track masters for 1984 which had been recorded on one-inch tape were located in Ant's archives and were baked before being digitised.  The original 8-track masters for the Rule Britannia music in its original form were also located and transferred, being played for the first time since they were recorded some 25 years earlier.  Working from the transfers of these masters, this writer made new mixes of Prelude '84, Anthem 1984, the previously unheard Ascension and sections of the album from the early stage of the recording; the latter including some of 1984 Part One which was heard without the drumbox and percussion parts for the first time.  In addition, six of the cues for Rule Britannia were newly mixed to create a suite of pieces from Ant's score for the series.  This selection of additional tracks was complimented by a newly-mixed demo version of Poly Piece, which Ant had recorded in February 1979.  As with the first CD release of the album, Simon Heyworth was responsible for re-mastering
the album again for this re-issue.
1984 Expanded & Remastered Edition

The Remastered & Expanded Edition of the album, released by Esoteric Recordings.
In 2007 the Japanese record company Disk Union expressed an interest in releasing the majority of Ant's back catalogue, with each album to be issued in 'mini vinyl' card sleeves that replicated the original album covers.  The re-issue of 1984 was included in the first installment of the re-issues (alongside The Geese & The Ghost, Wise After The Event, Sides and Invisible Men) which were released in Japan in July 2007, with the extra CD for 1984 appearing in an additional card sleeve of its own.  This first batch of re-issues was also made available in a limited edition Geese & The Ghost box, which housed the five albums in their card sleeves together with small reproductions of the original obis (paper bands which wrap around an album cover with the title and other details in Japanese) from the vinyl releases of three of the albums.  Although new sleeve notes for 1984 had been written and were supplied to Disk Union to accompany the re-issue, they were not included with the album.  The notes appeared instead (along with the notes for The Geese & The Ghost and Wise After The Event) in a small booklet called 'Data File' which was made available exclusively with the final box set that housed the last installment of re-issues from Ant's back catalogue which were released in December 2007.  Lastly, Disk Union included miniature reproductions of the two sleeves for the Prelude '84 7" single releases as an additional item in the limited edition Ivory Moon box, which housed the second five releases in the Private Parts & Pieces series.

A release for the re-issue of 1984 for the UK and other territories outside Japan by Voiceprint Records followed in June 2008, with the album being released in a double jewel case complete with the new sleeve notes and contemporary illustrative material.

Following Ant's signing with Cherry Red in the spring of 2014, plans were made to revisit 1984 in the form of a 5.1 Surround Sound mix.  To facilitate this, the original 24-track masters for the album from Atmosphere Studios were baked and digitised, being played for the first time in 35 years.  Simon Heyworth and Andy Miles took on the challenge of revisiting the album to present it in both newly mixed stereo and Surround Sound form.  The results of their labours were rightly praised in the reviews of the reissue
with the US magazine Goldmine stating:  "It's fascinating to slip from the parent album to the bonus-stacked second disc, and catch the piece in an earlier mix - and then leap from that to disc three's 5.1 mix, which has to be experienced to be believed."


The Esoteric Recordings edition of the album was released on 24th June 2016 and appeared as a three disc digipack with the new stereo mix of the album on the first CD, the second CD containing the additional tracks from the previous release and a DVD containing both the 5.1 Surround Sound version and the new stereo mix.  The audio content was complemented by a new CD package design by Phil Smee, which also included a small fold-out poster that included the original line used by RCA to promote the album upon its original release: "A Concept Album for the Eighties".


  Article copyright © 2021 Jonathan Dann




This article is based on the sleeve notes for the expanded reissue of 1984, with quotes from interviews done in 2006 with Ant, Dr James Bellini and Chris David.  Additional quotes come from an interview with Ant conducted by Geoff Parkyn in late 1981, which was published in the Genesis Information publication Genesis Magazine No. 22, published January 1982.  Thanks to Jeremy Charlett for the scans of the Prelude '84 Spanish single.





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