October 21, 2020

There’s been something of a renaissance these last several years with regard to the music of Anthony Phillips, and fans have been suitably spoiled as a result – especially those with an affinity for boxed sets. Esoteric Recordings have seen to that with their extensive reissue campaign, resurrecting titles from across Ant’s vast catalogue, giving them a sonic polishing, restoring original artwork, and unveiling a wealth of lost material for inclusion in attractive deluxe editions.

Esoteric’s Private Parts & Pieces reissue series part I of III

Such collections have run the gamut from classic titles such as The Geese And The Ghost and 1984 to lesser-known works such as The Living Room Concert and Field Day, as well as an exhaustive trio consisting of the eleven-volume Private Parts & Pieces series. Now, Esoteric turn their attention to sister series Missing Links, enhancing and augmenting it with newly unearthed material courtesy of resident archivist Jonathan Dann. Sleuthing cap firmly donned, Dann digs into the embarrassment of riches that is the Ant Phillips vault, uncovering over an hour of rare and previously unissued tracks, and compiling them into a bonus disc that caps off this breathtaking 115 track, five-and-a-half hour anthology.

Originally issued as four separate instalments over a twenty year period, the series is long out of print, with ballooning secondhand prices from E-bay tycoons putting them out of reach of the casual fan. But Esoteric have seized an opportunity to ensure this treasure trove is widely available again, giving the whole shebang a fresh remaster and pairing it with a whopping 62 pages of liner notes and an extensive new essay from Dann.

A breathtaking five-and-a-half hour anthology…

The purpose of Missing Links was to cast a light on Ant’s library music; archival and commissioned pieces for film and TV programs that usually required specific textures or motifs, and thus a separate entity from his rock-based music and its less stringent rulebook. Ant excels at this type of atmospheric composition, employing lush orchestrations, moody piano, exotic soundscapes, tribal rhythms, gentle acoustic guitar, and dreamy synths. These pieces can be stirring and dramatic, sad and wistful, playful and jaunty, commanding and triumphant… whatever the source material called for, Ant brilliantly delivered.

1989 cassette release

Often such pieces can come across as one-dimensional when taken out of context, but it’s noteworthy how well these stand on their own when plucked from the visual productions they were created for. Often sweeping and cinematic in scope (and paired with appropriately evocative titles), some of these tracks can be counted among Ant’s most compelling, demanding attention and burrowing their way into the subconscious. It’s an impressive feat to cause a listener to stop whatever they are doing and focus purely on melodies and sounds that are in essence quite simple.

The series began in 1989 as an independent cassette-only release with the first volume Finger Painting, showcasing library and TV music from recording projects over the previous ten years, including the centerpiece epic Land Of Dragons Suite. Second volume The Sky Road strayed slightly from that blueprint, expanding to allow unreleased album tracks dating back to the early 1970s. Also included was a quartet of pieces recorded during the fruitful sessions for the Private Parts & Pieces VIII: New England album, forming a bridge of sorts between the two series. Time And Tide featured collaborations between Ant and Joji Hirota, a full CD of library music commissioned by the Atmosphere label for use in various programmes such as travelogues and the famous documentary series Survival (fingers tightly crossed that the wizards at Esoteric eventually see fit to sprinkle their magic over the Phillips/Hirota album Wildlife, which would stand alongside these albums perfectly).

These tracks can be counted among Ant’s most compelling…

While those first three volumes were reissued as a combined collection a decade ago, fourth volume Pathways & Promenades is a touch more obscure. Released only in the U.K. and out of print ever since, it is finally (and thankfully) made available again here. Arguably the best of the series, it’s a surprisingly cohesive hodgepodge of rarities compiled from samplers, library releases, and standalone tracks from various artist albums. I dare suggest that the re-emergence and newfound availability of this disc is the number one selling point of this sparkling collection. (Read VT’s 2019 interview with Ant where we discuss my favourite track.)

Do titles get more ‘Ant’ than that?

The bonus fifth disc (subtitled Extra Missing Links) makes for a perfect companion piece, consisting of 27 tracks from throughout the period; some from forgotten compilations and some previously unreleased altogether. The styles range from mystical (Empire Of The Elephant), driving and energetic (Great Rift Valley, New Alchemists Suite), pastoral and serene (Dwellers Of The Deep, Flight Of The Snow Geese), tribal (Sumatra), and atmospheric (Antibes Cocktail, Wings Over The World).

Piano, synth, guitar, percussion and even sitar help colour these typically diverse tracks, and there’s even a piece recorded for a potential TV sitcom theme (Freeway Dude), complete with upbeat sax, synths and drums. Images spring to mind of a 1980s family with huge hair and bad jeans pulling faces while the credits play. One might be forgiven for considering this one the ‘sore thumb’ of the bunch, but then, variety is the spice of life – and there are 114 other tracks, after all. Ultimately, this bonus disc does not disappoint, and die-hards forever clamouring for ‘MORE!’ will be (at least temporarily) sated.

Esoteric have once again knocked it out of the park with this latest reissue, and are to be commended for not only their razor-sharp attention to detail, but for the simple fact that they’ve launched this music back into circulation where it belongs, without fans succumbing to inflated prices for dodgy used copies. Reviewing this ongoing campaign has been a joy, and to old and new fans alike, I can’t recommend these boxed sets enough, starting right here with this beauty… and hey, if you can’t stand the thought of stale and cringeworthy holiday music this year, it’s just in time for the Christmas season, too.

Missing Links I – IV is due for release on 27th November 2020 and is available to pre-order now from Cherry Red and Amazon.

London, August 2014, courtesy of Esoteric Recordings

Disc One – Missing Links Volume One: Finger Painting

Force Majeure · Mountain Voices · Lord Of The Smoking Mirror · Sea Horses · Dungeons · Between The Rings · Evening Ascent · Streamer · After The Rain · Rottweiler · Sad Fish · A Song · God’s Chosen Car Park Suite: Processional – Meditation – Cave Painting · Tropical Moon Over Dorking Suite: Estrangement – Myra’s Dream – Reconciliation · Fountain Pool · C.Q . · Three Piece Suite: To The Shrine – Through The Forest – Towards The Light · Boulevard Of Fallen Leaves · Land Of Dragons Suite: Land Of Dragons (Part 1) – Kites – Harbour At Sunset – Dance Of The Crabs – Sand Octopus And The King Crabs – Do The Shrimps Know They’re Chinese – Land Of Dragons (Part 2) · And A Prayer ·Tierra Del Fuego · Paradise Found

Disc Two – Missing Links Volume Two: The Sky Road

Exile · Lifeboat Suite: Opening Theme – Sunday Morning – Another Shout – Across The Sandbar – Storm Warning – Kim Waits – The Rescue Of The Janet C – Let Not The Deep Swallow Me Up – Closing Theme · The Bitter Suite: part 1 – Part 2 · Across The River Styx · A Flock Of Souls · Along The Towpath · The Sky Road · Tears On A Rainy Day · Tiwai: Island Of The Apes: Bats – In The Firmament · Wild Voices, Quiet Waters Suite: Twilight On The Lake – Winterloons – Waterstar · Serenita · Timepiece · Field Of Eternity (Excerpts From The Original Version) · The Beggar And The Thief

Disc Three – Missing Links Volume Three: Time And Tide

Amazonas · Peruvian Plains · Manatee Garden · Turtle Race · Indio Wedding · Underwater Forest · Fiesta Del Charangos · Slow Hand Sloth · River Chase · Sacred Kingdom · African Dream · Bedouin Train · Sandstorm · Kalahari March · Songoku · Schuan Journey · Slow Boat To China · Back In The Land Of Dragons · Shadow Puppet · Sea Jewel · End Theme For Five · Minnow Dance · Sunken Galleons · Haunting The Dark Sea · Time And Tide · Okavanga · Under Desert Stars · Lost In A Desert Night · Blue Lagoons

Disc Four – Missing Links Volume Four: Pathways & Promenades

The Golden Road To Samarkand · Promenade · Sceptred Isle · Danza Cucaracha · Fallen Idol · Cascades · Sky Dawn · Misty Mountains · It’s All Greek To Me · Haven From The Sea · Heavenly Gene · Ironclad · Water Gardens · Night Train · Sleeping Giant · Sombrero · Irish Lament · Aurora · Without You · Sad Exodus · Summer Of Love · Light Rain · Halcyon Days

Disc Five – Extra Missing Links

Opening Theme For Five · Empire Of The Elephant · Great Rift Valley · Dwellers Of The Deep · Exile Link · Freeway Dude · Sumatra · Tears On A Rainy Day Link · Is There Anyone Out There? · Antibes Cocktail · Tropical Moon Romance · Sitar Pastoral · Wings Over The World · Stakeout · Bush Babies Suite · Sky Road Link · Citizens Of The Coral · Estrangement (Piano Mix) · Night Search · Granada · A Noble Spirit · In The Heart Of Africa · Malvern Hills · Flight Of The Snow Geese · Never Meant To Be · New Alchemists Suite · The Beggar & The Thief (Instrumental Version)