May 23, 2020

Alternating sections of gentle, fluttering notes and commanding strumming

With thirty-one studio albums, a host of compilations, boxed sets, and a massive amount of library music to his credit, Anthony Phillips is not the type of musician whose catalogue is easy to trim down to an hour’s worth of favourites. But ‘Ant’ was tasked with doing just that back in 1993 when presented with the idea of performing a set from his own living room for an American radio series. Distilling his oeuvre to fourteen individual pieces, Ant managed to strip them of their studio enhancements and present them as an intimate but entertaining solo retrospective of career highlights. Drawing largely from his beloved debut The Geese And The Ghost and his much lauded Private Parts & Pieces series, Ant skillfully performed renditions of these cherished twelve-string guitar and piano pieces for the broadcast, and by popular demand, an edited version was issued on CD as The Living Room Concert in 1995. Now long out of print, Esoteric have seen fit to include it in their ongoing reissue campaign, remastering it and restoring some previously unreleased tracks from the original performance. Included also is a new write-up from longtime archivist Jonathan Dann.

Admittedly a tad on the nervous side, and with discomfort stemming from his intense twelve-string practice, Ant nonetheless impresses with his style and abilities on full display. Reaper is chosen from the first volume in the Private Parts series as a worthy set opener, showcasing numerous aspects of Ant’s guitar prowess. Of the thirteen remaining tracks, several stand out as obvious high points, and none are disappointing choices – though some omissions might be. Ant assumes the vocal role originally handled by Phil Collins on Which Way The Wind Blows, and despite the difference in their voices, manages to retain the delicate beauty of the piece. The always captivating Henry: Portraits From Tudor Times, co-written with Mike Rutherford for The Geese And The Ghost, is surely the centerpiece here (as it was on Geese). Ant plays this tour de force and career cornerstone brilliantly through its alternating sections of gentle, fluttering notes and commanding strumming, those familiar, handsome melodies dotted throughout.

Conversation Piece was a then-untitled composition from 1976 that Ant had written as the first movement of a guitar quintet, and fits alongside the other twelve-string pieces here, as it surely would have done had he included it on a studio album (other selections from this piece have subsequently been unearthed on more recent releases). Lights On The Hill is plucked from the lengthy Arboretum Suite that opened A Catch At The Tables, the fourth volume of the Private Parts series, and this sparser rendition may be the better one, now relieved of its dated, chirping drum machine sounds. It’s almost a shame to take this section out of context; I would like to have heard the entire thirteen minute suite here, as it remains one of the finest moments of Ant’s vast catalogue.

Last Goodbyes, from New England (the eighth volume of Private Parts), forms a trio of piano pieces with Collections and Sleepfall. Another New England track, Jaunty Roads, made the original radio broadcast but was not included on the 1995 CD. It is restored here along with two more previously unreleased bonus tracks: the semi-obscure Let Us Now Make Love, a Trespass-era track from Ant’s days in Genesis, was originally a full band piece with Peter Gabriel soulfully crooning while Ant and the others provided their choirboy-like backing. Here, it is refined and resurrected as an impassioned piano piece, with the vocals scrapped and the melody standing on its own merit without the youthful schmaltz of its original form. Finally, Lucy: An Illusion rounds out the proceedings, a pleasant guitar and vocal piece (surprisingly the only one chosen from the popular Private Parts & Pieces II: Back To The Pavilion).

Esoteric continue to impress with their attention to detail and their dedication to an undersung artist worthy of much more spotlight. Numerous titles have been given their loving treatment and presented in attractive deluxe editions. With this latest expanded volume, they further display their harmony with a fan base who prefer that catalogue titles not be overlooked in favour of what might simply be the biggest sellers. Ultimately, The Living Room Concert proves a charming entry in Ant’s catalogue and this spiffy new upgrade is a recommended addition to any fan’s collection. Personally, I’ll take as many as they’re willing to release.

The Living Room Concert remastered & expanded is released 24 July.

Reaper · Which Way The Wind Blows · Henry: Portraits From Tudor Times · Conversation Piece · Flamingo · Field Of Eternity · Sistine · Lights On The Hill · Last Goodbyes · Collections · Sleepfall · Jaunty Roads · Let Us Now Make Love · Lucy: An Illusion