1984 and all that
Anthony talks about 1984, the TV series Rule Britannia and the Private Parts & Pieces III album.
This interview by Geoff Parkin originally appeared in #22 of Genesis Information Magazine.
How did you decide to do something musically with the idea of 1984?
1984 - well 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! I was going to call it Circles at one stage and then I found out that someone else had an album out called Circles, which was Joni Mitchell.
A friend of mine called 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! It doesn't represent a change to nastiness, or more nastiness, from me at all - it's just that particular project which was fundamentally electronic...
The themes do fit the idea very well.
Well, that is probably more by chance than by design -possibly in its presentation we managed to make it work better. The vocoder stuff towards the end which sounds a little disturbing, that all came later, but I enjoyed it! I would have liked to do more with the title. At the end I kept on thinking "Damn, if I'd thought of this earlier I could have got more mileage out of it.." Somebody still will probably get a lot of mileage out of the idea because it is a national institution now, 1984.
Did you intentionally set out to make a strongly keyboards-based album? Did you write it initially on keyboards?
Well, I had all these electronic keyboards for about two years and I hadn't really done that much with them on Sides - most of those things were based around the guitar. I was beginning to do more jingle work and library stock music - because it is the composer's bread and butter that work - and you get paid just to go in and experiment in the studio. So, I was working more towards electronic keyboards, experimenting and just finding - as much as I love playing classical guitar and all the rest of it - that keyboards do afford, by virtue of their versatility, more possibilities for just total expression be it something lyrical, something frightening, whatever...or odd rhythmic sounds. So I was moving in that direction.
When I started the album I was going to do three instrumental pieces. One was an old Polymoog piece that didn't get on to 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 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!
It just grew from there?
Yes, so the other two pieces still haven't been recorded! It just got out of hand. It's a funny thing but in classical music, or what we erroneously call classical music, there are all these forms, and people tell you that form is important in music. Of course it is - form is inherent in anything - there are strict forms in some classical music. I remember going through the 1984 ideas and thinking: 'Is there any form to this thing? Does it conform y to any conventional form at all?' And yet, what is to say that it is wrong? That is one of the more interesting things that I have felt has come out of rock music - it is too early to say.
Or is it just another way of doing things- to take up, expand on, or follow through?
I don't know, we all tend to... I mean some of the Genesis lads, particularly Tony Banks, tend to vary the, what I call the wave-form, one section running into another, each actual join working, but with not necessarily any relationship in between the ensuing parts. There's nothing actually wrong with that.
I tended to do that a bit with 1984, but I stopped repeating after a while. There's a half-hearted attempt to repeat something at the beginning, then after that it just l keeps going, keeps changing, and it keeps up the momentum - and it holds your interest if you like that sort of music. I think the first piece could have been a hit, personally.
Well, there was an excellent review of it, wasn't there - "Single Of The Week" in one of the papers...
Yes, it was fantastic, wasn't it! Strange really, I mean you can only push so much. With RCA there is no work on singles at all. Terribly sad, because I don't set a great store by singles, but I think that one was quite catchy.
Well, the way the radio works in this country, you need the single played so people get to know what the album is like - they may not hear it otherwise.
Well, this is the problem I have got. I'm not really going to break out of the "cult artiste" stage without a single, or some sort of record success. I wouldn't tour or form a band and get terribly into debt unless there was a lot of money for backing, and unless I was financially secure. I'm totally realistic about that. Anyway, I am very happy creating, composing and innovating. As much as, in a way, I would like to go and play and meet the people who have bought the records, the amount of sacrifice of composing time in any given year is pretty critical. To try to make a career as a composer, you have got to be available. I have been working with Andy Latimer recently; the guitarist from Camel. We were talking about this, because he is moving towards that - picking up more composing work but it is very difficult because he is away for half the year. by the time he gets back, he's missed a lot of things, and lost the continuity. With picking up that sort of work, you have really got to be pretty devoted to it. I honestly think that the way the touring thing seems to be structured that it is unlikely that I would choose that as a way of selling more albums, unless one album happened to be a big success and I could tour , do a small concert tour and control it. As opposed to it controlling you - getting terribly into debt with a record company, then HAVING to go on tour and keep touring - that is a terrible vicious circle. I have nothing but admiration for Genesis, the way they have done it, but it doesn't seem to really be practical.
Is it the difficulty of wanting to go out and play live and get an audience reaction, without it becoming an enormous process that you have to keep up?
Yes, because it would be fun, honestly, to have some of the stuff done live. Besides which, I miss the volume - the volume is really stirring. But there it is; you can't have everything. There are so many drawbacks to touring that in a way I am happier to put up with the slight sadness of not hearing some of the stuff live. I think on balance people don't enjoy touring, that's the sad thing about it. My own experience of Genesis was of enjoying one gig in ten; feeling ecstatic, but the rest of the time being far from ecstatic. Static!
How did you get into doing the music for the Rule Britannia TV series?
Well, I have been picking up a bit of background music; jingle work and stuff for a couple of years for a company called Himan Music. They got Rule Britannia and I was the only one they reckoned could do it. They have got lots of in-house composers who specialise in certain things - the trouble is I have got ear marked for this kind of "English Vaughan Williams" kind of stuff, and can't seem to break out of it. I keep telling them; 'I'm a rocker as well, I can still do it' but they don't really believe me. It is not about being startling and innovative, because that sort of work is normally about just being very professional and run-of-the-mill. I was very lucky with Rule Britannia, because they didn't want a format thing; they wanted something quite creative. It wasn't THAT innovative, but the idea of taking Vaughan Williams-type English string music and playing it on synths and making it slightly colder; twisting it - which is what they wanted. Producers always want things which are complicated symbolism - their minds work in layers, I think. But they were a nice crowd, actually.
James Bellini was a bit remote, too clever for the rest of us. I think the series was good in that it was controversial. I was lucky with that because it was a bit of a pioneering programme I didn't want to become that associated with the ideas necessarily, but it was nice to be involved in something that wasn't a dreadful format thing. There was a bit of a tense feeling about whether it would even get on.
Had you seen all the film before you did the link music?
No, that's the big joke. I saw the title shots, and I had to do the title very carefully; frame by frame, like that first bass note when the hammer came down. That was h great fun actually, constructing that. The rest of it I didn't see; the rest of it wasn't put together, so I was handed a list of words; like "Greed"; "Irony" ... can you believe it? I had to sit and write IDEAS to "Greed". It was chaos. Luckily I was doing it at the Himan Music studio, I was doing it with an engineer called Chris David who then did 1984 with me, and Simon Mortimer who was the guy at Himan Music in charge of it; and luckily everyone had a good sense of humour so we all... it was great fun in the end we were all saying 'Is it ironic enough?' 'Well it is really, but not...' Actually it was quite challenging though. The Rule Britannia team were quite exceptional - they were all very interested, not just to listen to the title music but to listen to all the music I had done, actually spending a whole day. I think I was lucky, I think television work normally isn't like that.
Is it a problem that the music that has been written sometimes gets messed about with, and chopped and changed? Like Mike and Tony did that work on the film The Shout and in the end it was a waste of time as far as they were concerned..
They weren't happy with that. Mind you, neither was Rupert Hine. He got credited with "Electronics" but he did a lot of background music. They did the theme, and one or two other bits, but he did most of the background music, and just got credited with "Electronics".
Is there another Private Parts & Pieces on the way?
Oh yes! I have already done it actually. I did it in June with an excellent guitarist friend of mine called Quique (pronounced Keekay, which Anthony assures me translates into English as Henry Watercress!) who is an Argentinian; he has unfortunately had to leave the country now which is all a bit sad, but he was absolutely brilliant. He is the best guitarist I have ever worked with by an awfully long way in that he is completely versatile, he has got the best ear. He is not the best composer; certainly not the best composer; he tends to be... He is the all-round man: like me, he was a pop musician first in a sense, if you can divide it like that; and he was over here studying classical, and he has taken classical guitar further than I have, and he is becoming very good, almost concert standard - pretty flash stuff. You can play anything and he will harmonise it - play almost straight off, and his memory is fantastic.
Is it just the two of you on the album?
Yes, really it is just an album of guitar duets. I remember talking to Tony Smith and thinking it would be a good idea on one of the Private Parts & Pieces albums to go for... maybe in one way specialise a bit. We didn't really have much time, and not much encouragement - no obvious financial backing. It tends to be a bit tricky with the PP & P albums really. I have tended just to compile them out of previous "bits". For this we didn't feel we could justify tons of time either; I got on fabulously well with him. I used to go round and spend evenings with him at his place in Putney. What we wrote literally came out of the wine! Which is why there are too many slow ones again, I'm afraid!
Slow ones are always easier to write - post dinner, melancholic haze that falls upon you and makes it easier to come up with slow things - one guy can play nice chords, the other just plays the melody. Actually constructing faster things is difficult - one good fast one that we wrote as a new piece took a couple of days. So there are too many slow ones, I will freely admit it but I do think it works. There's one thing which I arranged as a duet which is an old Genesis song which never got recorded - years and years ago. It used to be called Little Leaf - it is not going to be called that now. One of the things we started to do when we first went on the road - we used to start with a couple of acoustic numbers and everyone used to be on guitars and things... funny, really.
When will the album be out?
It is going to be out in February, I hope and Pete (Cross) is going to do another cover, which I am really looking forward to because I missed him on the last one.
What happened, was he really just on holiday, or would his work not fit in with the idea of 1984?
No! No! he has been finishing his book you see. He has been doing a book for six years now. Fantastic! The book is really magic, and he didn't really have the time. I actually also didn't feel it was quite right for him - I felt that the album was going in a different direction. I am sure he could have done something - he is not just a pastoral landscape man. He was basically a graphic designer - he is really good with weapons and stuff like that. Pete has created another world really, which he just lives - he doesn't escape to it - he lives there, virtually. That's why his work is so convincing; because he is in it.
It must have taken him a long time to do your various album sleeves; with all the little jokes and interesting bits in them..?
Wise After The Event was the longest one - it took him about two months. I think he works too hard personally - I have got nothing but admiration for him.
So we can look forward to a new Peter Cross cover design?
Yes, he is going to do a cover I hope and that is going to be out in February. I really hope that we do get a little bit of reaction from it because I would love to persuade Quique to come back for a couple of months a year, and develop this a bit - because he is so good. If we put some time into it I think we could produce something really; really good. I think this is pleasant, it has got a few high moments. It is more organised than most of the previous Private Parts & Pieces are... it doesn't really ramble in the same way.
And it is more current; in that it is of a particular time?
Yes, that's right. I have actually got another collection ready. Quite a few Polymoog pieces, some twelve string things. I could put another one out straight away - which is good because I don't know, what with television things coming up, when I am going to get down to my next album. I have got millions of ideas, because actually I have been stocking ideas for so long now, you see. This last instrumental album was supposed to be a quickie, and it wasn't a quickie at all. I am left now with a lot of ideas. I wan to do an album in that sort of style; using that sort of sound. I would obviously love to work in normal studios and use people like Simon Phillips, but there is still something about this idea of doing it all yourself.
At the time I was doing Sides and Wise after the Event, I couldn't think why I had been doing it all at home before, but having got through those albums, got over the glory of the big drum sound; big production and got it back on the cassette; the difference is not that big a deal, and I am now begin to wonder whether the personality doesn't get lost, and the message gets a little bit confused, obscured with lots of different people's ideas.
Once my studio is done I am going to try what I have wanted to do for a while; which is record songs as I go, and not do all this writing for one big period of recording. Probably two of the most inspired things on the last album; I reckon; were done in one afternoon each. They were added to later, but the beginning-piece and the end piece were done just after I got the then new drum box. I literally just put the thing on, had an idea at the keyboard and went straight through and did it. It took very little time was very inspired and both pieces I think, are very effective. Other sections that I spent months over are probably not as effective at the end of the day. There is something about being absolutely fresh, just going in and putting it down.
As opposed to going into the studio; adding vocals to this, bits to that... instead of concentrating on the whole thing at one time?
That's right. That's why it is a really valid medium. I think the idea of possibly recording too much at any one time is a bad idea. Sometimes a fantastic energy is built up. When you start an album you don't necessarily want to do all the rhythm tracks and then do all the overdubs. Sometimes you get on one track and you just race from instrument to instrument.
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