I grew up listening to progressive rock when the genre was in rapid decline during the late 70s. The popularity of artists that only a couple of years back had huge followings and were loved by critics, all but disappeared. The consensus was that punk killed prog, a murky opinion I do not agree with, because I see punk not as a music genre but rather a social/cultural phenomena. The simple fact is that very few rock or pop genres since the 50s peaked for more than five years, and progressive rock is no different. It had a great run between 1969 and 1974, went through a decline until 1977 and that was it for its classic period.
Prog fans started looking elsewhere for the qualities that attracted them to the genre: long form compositions, complex arrangements, musical prowess, interesting melodies. Many of them kept listening to their cherished prog records and like me took advantage of the music education that prog provided by exposing its listeners to all that’s good about music as an art form. I started to listen to early, romantic and modern classical music, 50s and 60s jazz, modern jazz labels like ECM, Enja, Soul Note and Steeplechase, and folk, focusing on the British folk revival of the 60s. One of the albums from that period that combined early classical music with progressive rock was Anthony Phillips’ The Geese and The Ghost, a favorite of mine to this day.
Anthony Phillips was part of the very beginnings of Genesis. He formed Anon, one of two bands at Charterhouse boarding school from which the band formed, the other being Garden Wall with Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks. Anon included Michael Rutherford, and the two formed a close relationship that continued after Phillips left Genesis. That departure happened just before Genesis hit the big time, after the release of Trespass in 1970. The pressures of touring combined with stage fright proved too much for the quiet guitarist. He also realized after listening to Sibelius that there is so much more education to be had beyond playing a 12-string guitar. Thus started a 4-year period of learning piano, classical guitar and orchestration.
Before he left Genesis Phillips was a major contributor to the the band’s compositions. Even though they all share the writing credits on Trespass, there is no doubt of his critical part in delivering pieces such as Stagnation and Dusk from Trespass. The guitar work between Phillips and Rutherford on that album served as prototype to similar guitar interaction between Steve Hackett, Rutherford and sometimes Tony banks. Listen to the opening of The Musical Box and Harlequin from Nursery Cryme, Can Utility and The Coastliner and the epic Supper’s Ready from Foxtrot and you get the idea. That staple aspect of the band’s style, the 12-string guitars, the delicate English folklore touch that made early Genesis so unique, all started with Phillips and Rutherford.
After he left Genesis Anthony Phillips started working on a project with Mike Rutherford. Some of the material included pieces of music they worked on when Phillips was still with the band but never made it into the Genesis repertoire. Phillips also started composing new pieces of music influenced by his music studies. Work on the album was not consistent due to Rutherford’s commitments to Genesis. In the meantime Phillips recorded a song with Phil Collins, one of the drummer/singer’s first lead vocal performances, Silver Song.
The project made a significant leap forward in 1974 after Steve Hackett injured his hand by crushing a wine glass just before Genesis was to embark on their The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour. The lull in band activity allowed Rutherford to resume work with Phillips on what would become Phillips’ first solo album The Geese and The Ghost: “We had this reprieve and although it wasn’t enough time to do the whole thing it was enough to get going. Which Way The Wind Blows was the first piece we kicked off with – that was on electric guitar but played to sound like classical guitar”.
However that album still had a long period of gestation ahead of it. Rutherford was back to the hectic schedule of touring, Phillips took his time and on top of it the record label Charisma to which Genesis was signed, saw the album as too similar to Mike Oldfield’s early records Tubular Bells and Ommadawn (very wrong observation on their part) and shelved the album. The album was eventually released in 1977 by Passport, a label that had a number of great bands on their roster such as Brand X, Camel and Nektar. In a period when prog rock was a curse word and punk or disco ruled the air waves, The Geese and The Ghost was a foreign object. The mostly instrumental, reminiscent of English-of-old material, was not what the radio and its listeners were hungry for. Surprisingly the record was able to get a glimpse of Billboard’s top 200 LPs chart were it peaked at #191 on April 9, 1977.
My favorite piece on the album is Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times, a long suite made of seven short parts. Most of it was composed by Phillips in a ten-day period right after he left Genesis, a creative spurt that also brought to life two more beautiful songs on the album, Which Way The Wind Blows and God, If I Saw Her Now, both of them featuring a more experienced Phil Collins on vocals. Apart from the wonderful guitar work by both musicians there are interesting contributions in this piece by Lazo Momulovich on Oboe and Cor Anglais and Wil Sleath on various flutes (Baroque Flute, Recorder and Piccolo).
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