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A Light On The Hill - Rezension

A Light On The Hill - album review

The album reviewed by someone who wasn't involved


info & order | track by track | review | interview | Slow Dance project

Preface

Often when I listen to music by Anthony Phillips, the verses of the little poem "Abendständchen" by Clemens Brentano come to mind. A sensitive listener is receptive to the colourful splendour of the tones, which open up the boundaries between reality and dream for him. In the spirit of Romanticism, the world is to be poetised, musicalised. Is this not also a concern of Anthony Phillips? With The Geese & The Ghost, the Private Parts & Pieces series, Slow Dance, or Tarka, to name but a few, he achieves this state, doesn't he?

Now Ant, one of Britain's greatest contemporary composers and musicians and the youngest Genesis (ex-)member after Ray Wilson, celebrates his 70th birthday on 23 December 2021.

Considered the musical genius of the band from a young age, his departure almost led to the end of Genesis. Even after his Genesis days, he was in demand from his mates: first and foremost Mike Rutherford, with whom he supported each other in solo work, Phil Collins, with whom he almost released a single and who helped him out with his vocals, or Peter Gabriel, who invited him to the first recording sessions for his first solo album. Even Steve Hackett booked his skills for his later work.

Ant belongs to the quiet ones of his guild, has made a living mainly with the composition of Liberary music. The round birthday now gives friends, fans, companions the opportunity to lift him into the unwanted limelight. How can this be done without offending him?


The Project:

In spring 2014, the German Genesis Fanclub it organised its Anthony Phillips Event over two days. Since Ant did not want to play music himself, fan club members volunteered to bring pieces of his to the stage. Ant himself was good-naturedly critical, gave advise and was very happy about the interpretations of enthusiastic, talented amateurs and semi-professionals. The desire among some of the performers arose to record these pieces of music for posterity.

In 2019, when the band Rocking Horse Music Club released Which Way The Wind Blows, a CD of Ant's music, and also presented it live at Trading Boundaries, the above-mentioned wish became topical again. Some of the fans were present at the concert, especially Tom Morgenstern, and probably thought: "We did that five years ago, we just didn't record an album!" The pandemic intervened and so it took until February 2021 until Tom, with the help of the fan club, had drummed up 15 music-making fans who immediately worked on 10 songs in parallel. Two months later, three songs were already finished and only needed to be mixed.

With Jonathan Dann, a friend of Ants and his archivist, homepage designer, CD compiler, fan contact etc. was won, who helped with his knowledge and contacts. The biggest surprise, however, is the participation of Steve Hackett, who shows off his fine playing on the electric guitar on the song F Sharp.


Cover-Artwork:

CDThe album is released in a so-called mini LP sleeve. The album comes with an A4 poster of the cover motif. The design is strongly reminiscent of the front cover of The Geese & The Ghost. Through an archway-like window the listener looks into the vastness of a river landscape (the Moselle), over which an airship floats, geese fly, in the foreground ants leave their hill, a knight fights them, a snail crawls across the meadow, a golf ball rolls along etc. The eye-catcher, however, is Ant with a guitar, as a (garden) dwarf and the silhouette, no not of a fairy, but of an ant! The front cover is garnished with the album title A Light On The Hill and the Ant band crest. The back cover is based on Private & Parts & Pieces I. A wheat field with a monk and a scythe, a guitar-playing ant and a masked, predatory hamster are juxtaposed with the list of songs in the form of an official document. In the inner sleeve we find liner notes by Jonathan Dann and the listing of the musicians involved in the project. An eye-catcher is the head of a 12-string Ovation guitar with a picture of the Bard from The Geese & The Ghost on the headstock. The cover captures the rich detail of Peter Cross, as well as Ants humour. A beautiful work by club co-founder Helmut Janisch. A jewel for every collection!


The songs:

The selection stands out from the Rocking Horse Music Club tribute CD. There are no duplications and the diversity of Ant's work is beautifully represented by it. The time span covers the end of the sixties to the end of the nineties. Among other things, demos, guitar studies, ballads, rock songs and even a notation have been used as templates.

Sistine: This piece, originally recorded in 1982, was originally intended for Invisible Men, but ended up on Private Parts & Pieces IV: A Catch at the Tables. A piano-only version can be heard on Private Parts & Extra Pieces (Box 1). A small piece of music, created on the occasion of the visit to the Sistine Chapel, with a dark synth start, a duet between guitar and keys, longing vocals and a beautiful melody. Compared to Ant's version, the piece seems fuller, more powerful, but without leaving the basic structure. Already here, Robin Morgenstern's voice puts an exclamation mark and you can hear a real band making music. A sobbing electric guitar from minute two fits nicely into the melancholic pop song.

F-Sharp: The demo from 1969 was released in 1998 on Archive Collection 1. It was a small sensation at the time, as it represents the origin of The Musical Box. The parts played on 12-string and acoustic guitar by Ant and Mike clearly reveal the melodies of this very special Genesis piece. With this version we experience the next sensation: Steve Hackett gives himself the honour to play a lead guitar part that has it all. However, he ennobles a little masterpiece of the Ant band, who give the song, the demo the incredible power of the later classic. It sounds like the young Genesis themselves making music here. Fantastic!

Sanctuary: Ant's template for 1992's Private Parts & Pieces VIII: New England is a gentle piano ballad with breathy vocals and a very sparse arrangement. The Ant band transforms the song into a straight pop song reminiscent of the Beatles. Drums (programmed by Tom Morgenstern), bass and a beautifully soloing electric guitar contribute to this. The piano solo makes the listener melt away.

CD BackcoverGod If I Saw Her Now: That's brave! To cover one of the most beautiful love songs in rock music history, in which Phil Collins sings so heartbreakingly in a duet with the much too early deceased Viv McAuliffe. Is it still necessary to mention that it was released on The Geese & The Ghost in 1977 and that a demo version from 1970 exists on Archive Collection 1? One has to state that the courage has paid off. The beginning is like the original with 12 string and classical guitars, keys, bass and the vocal duet, here congenially performed by Nina and Robin Morgenstern. Nina sings beautifully, Robin does his best, but can't match Phil's most soulful vocal performance of his career. Kirstin Middeke plays a beautiful flute, Tom's bass is to be admired and the listener likes to take a bow!

She'll be Waiting: Ant's 1995 original has made it onto two albums: it can be heard on Meadows of Englewood and Private Parts & Pieces IX: Dragonfly Dreams. The two versions of the song, played on guitar and with vocals, are not very different from each other. This one, however, is very different. The little song turns into a strong rockpop song, reminiscent of the Beatles and the late Strawbs. The keyboard solo is striking, echoing prog pieces of the 80s, e.g. by Marillion. Could the Genesis of the 80s sound like this with Ant?

Study No. 1 in E Maj (excerpt): This is the second sensation. The piece has not yet been published by Ant on a recording. Only the sheet music, which appeared in the collection Six Pieces for Guitar, is available. Gereon Schoplick attempts the short study for classical guitar with bravura.

Unheard Cry: Again we turn to Private Parts & Pieces VIII. Here, Nina Morgenstern takes over the vocals, holding the melody, which is underpinned by weird keys and distorted guitars. In this way, the version moves further and further away from the original. From minute 1:55, the band plays up, spinning like the sung-about merry-go-round and ending with a plink on the keyboard. The quiet, acoustic, melancholic, echoing, wind-swept original is thus countered by an exciting, humorous alternative. "And the lights go out on the carousel / Infant innocent, so long, farewell." How beautiful...

Salmon Leap (from 'Scottish Suite'): The instrumental from 1976 was first released on Private Parts & Pieces II: Back to the Pavilion. It was intended to be part of music for a TV series based on pieces by Shakepeare - motto Macbeth meets rock music? An early version, based on piano playing, can be heard on Archive Collection 2. Unfortunately, the project turned out to be too ambitious. On the 1976 version we hear Mike Rutherford and Andy McCulloch rocking hard alongside Ant. This music would have fitted wonderfully on an early Genesis album. The Ant band adds a lot to it. The arrangement is even more complex, multi-layered, progressive, varied and modern - a highlight of the album!

Postlude (End of the Season): In a smooth transition, we come to this song from 1976, also released on Private Parts & Pieces II: Back to the Pavillion, a piece for 12-string guitar (though originally recorded with doubled 6-string guitar), played by Gereon Schoplick, who sticks very closely to the original. It can be heard as a "live" version from 1978 on Ant's Radio Clyde album from 2003 and is billed as Last One to Leave. It's a first project for the great Library Music chapter. Compliments to Gereon!

InnencoverStranger: We turn to 1969, when Ant and Mike sat together and recorded numerous demos of acoustic pieces for Genesis. On the CD bonus track of Private Parts & Pieces I, the two play 12-string and classical guitar. This is also how the Ant Band cover begins, only to rock out with keyboards, drums, bass, electric guitar. From minute 2:10, the listener must think of the mood of Snowbound from Genesis' And Then There Where Three. All too soon the magic is over. A little pearl of the album.

Lucy: An Illusion: Another song from the 69 session, this time released on the Private Parts & Pieces II album as a CD bonus track, another melancholic love song, another wonderful band version that is in no way inferior to the acoustic model. Could Genesis have arranged these two demos like this? It's quite conceivable. The keyboard solo from minute 2:25 with Marillion-like fanfares seems a little intrusive, but only briefly disturbs the melancholy mood.

Moon's Lament for the Sun (from Masquerade): Here we have the vocal version of Moonfall, released as a piano piece on Private Parts & Pieces VI: Ivory Moon 1990, originally planned for a musical based on Kit Williams' book Masquerade. The third sensation of the album. The lyrics of the song by Richard Scott were previously unpublished. The ballad is beautifully sung by Nina Morgenstern. She is accompanied by drums, bass, keyboards, piano and acoustic guitar. How sensitively Nina breathes out the verse "I've lost your love". The piece lives from Bert Wenndorff's piano playing. He refines it with wonderful gentle cascades. In the new edition of the Archive Collections (as a box set) we will get to hear the demo versions of the musical.

Master of Time: While Ant's demo from 1973, released as a CD bonus track on The Geese & The Ghost, spreads a campfire atmosphere with piano and acoustic guitar accompanying the vocals, The Ant Band plays big. While the track still begins acoustically, keyboards quickly kick in to lead into Robin Morgenstern's vocals. He is joined by drums and bass, but without becoming obtrusive and disturbing the melancholic mood. From minute three, a great solo on the acoustic guitar can be heard, which is replaced by the vocals. The piece ends with a slight swing.

Slow Dance (excerpt from part 1): Here is the version that already thrilled me at the Ant event in 2014. Martin Brilla, Sascha Krieger, Tom Morgenstern and Thomas Waltner build up sombre keyboard carpets, garnish them with 12-string guitar (beautiful, the solo) and woodwinds. They congenially stick to the original and round off a fantastic tribute album.


All in all:

GesamtCan a musician get anything nicer as a birthday present? How much enthusiasm, effort, playing skills, financial burdens - in short love, are involved in getting such a project off the ground? You have to imagine that this was completed alongside work, private life with family and friends and under the difficult Corona conditions to be able to appreciate how wonderful this gift is. The CD does not need to hide behind the Rocking Horse Music Club album. The cover versions show the beauty and brilliance of Anthony Phillip's music with their rich variety. It's fun to listen to and leaves you wanting more. Highlights include F Sharp, God if I Saw Her Now, Study No. 1 in E Maj, Salmon Leap, Stranger, Moon's Lament for the Sun and Slow Dance.

Well done, folks!


Concluding remark:

The liner notes of the Private Parts & Pieces boxes, the CDs mentioned above, the lyric book and the liner notes of the CD reviewed form the basis for the wealth of information and background on the songs. For the "Abendständchen", see Clemens Brentano, Gedichte 1793 - 1803, Werke 1, Hanser Verlag, Munich 1968, page 144, omitting the attributions to the protagonists Fabiola and Piast.


Auhor: Thomas Jesse


A Light On The Hill is available here:

Bandcamp (CD/poster + high res. download, ships from Germany)
Burningshed (CD, ships from UK) NEW
AmazonUK (digital album)
iTunes / Apple Music (digital album / stream)
JustForKicks (CD, ships from Germany)


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