Review – Anthony Phillips – Slow Dance 2CD Jewel Case Edition – by John Wenlock-Smith

Anthony Phillips is the forgotten former member of Genesis who was there at the beginning but due to his extreme fear of being on stage, quit the band after the ‘Trespass’ album, leaving the door open for a certain young Steve Hackett, whose story is widely known.

Anthony is not the first musician to quit or to struggle with stage fright as many others, like Eddie Van Halen and Ozzy Osborne have also suffered through its clutches. Andy Partridge of XTC is also a fellow sufferer, although that is more with anxiety though but still, it is similar in nature and has an a debilitating effect. Many others also are affected, more than you would imagine really. Anthony simply wasn’t able to function in this realm and he decided to leave the group he had helped found and devote himself to a more classical direction, he was also a qualified music teacher for a while and he also studied orchestration.

All of which leads me to this newly remastered and extended version of his 1990 album ‘Slow Dance’ which is heavily classically influenced and gives rein to his wonderfully inventive playing and orchestrations. There is more than a hint of 1977’s ‘The Geese And The Ghost’ album which has a similar style.

Whilst I am not a classical buff by any means, other than the basics and well known classics, I find there is much to appreciate in this fine reissue. I think of it more as a tone poem or score and as such, it is definitely a case of repeated listening to get the subtle moments of brilliance that are on display here. The main album is in 2 parts, although the extra tracks on the second CD are also interesting, mainly being edited portions of the entire main album.

I actually prefer Slow Dance Part One for some reason, I especially like the repeated gentle motif that reappears throughout the piece. This music is gentle, delicate and beautifully crafted, when you read in the accompanying booklet of the trials and tribulations that had to be stared down to enable its completion, you will, like me, no doubt be in awe of both the vision and commitment employed whilst making this album come to life. It really is a sumptuous piece of music, uplifting and life affirming in equal measure. It is a triumph of talent, perseverance and, above all, a towering testament to the grace and beauty of the music it contains.

Did I mention that it is totally instrumental? That said there is a wealth of creativity here. Slow Dance Part One is of twenty four minutes duration whilst Slow Dance Part Two is twenty six and a half minutes in length and has more orchestrations, strings and synths than part one does. The synths are all very 1980’s in tone and, whilst good, sound slightly dated in parts. I also feel that part two lacks the same emotional depth as part one, although that may be my perception having heard part one more than part two.

Let’s explore each part in greater depth shall we?

Part One begins with washes of synthesisers laying down a great sound and setting the stage for a delicate acoustic guitar motif that will be repeated at frequent intervals. The synths swell again before a fingerprinted guitar line is played and the opening melody is played on synths. I really like the gentleness of this pastoral sounding section, it is very satisfying to hear such gracious and gentle tones amidst all the synthesised backing. A stronger note then ushers in an almost pizzicato played part along with woodwind and a chopsticks sounding piano section that returns to the main melody played once again. Lush strings return to the chopsticks sounding part and a clarinet leads to orchestrations. There is then a sectionis reminiscent of the main theme of ‘The Geese And The Ghost’ album as it has a similar sound to it, not identical but definitely similar in sound. We then enter a section of syncopated percussion elements which is very effective, after which we return to the main theme once again. The final section of part one is a keyboard along with a drum machine playing and whilst it doesn’t affect the quality, it does date the music to the era in which it was recorded, this piece then ends with a few more syncopated piano notes.

Part Two is decidedly different and more keyboard focused with the major portion being concerned with keyboard orchestrations, there are less guitar parts in this as a result, although this does give the whole piece room to evolve naturally, again the drum machine plays its part in keeping the pace of the piece. As we get further in a sequenced section begins with woodwind playing alongside it most effectively, the theme from part one reappearing in a slightly different form. The vast orchestrations are introduced to the sound interspersed with the sequenced section and a harder section with guitar fills is added but soon gives way to the orchestrations once again. This is where I feel the piece lacks a little focus and is merely using synthesisers to swell the sound without much substance. The sequenced part returns with string flourishes which actually sounds really good, although a bit like 1980’s Tangerine Dream in places. After this section ends we return to the main theme through sweeping strings and synth orchestrations, I’m hearing the open sweeping soundscapes of ‘Stratosfear’ by Tangerine Dream once again but this proceeds at a stately pace. It is all very epic and measured, the final section returns to little piano and keyboard runs to good effect. Part Two ends on gentle notes before fading away in the distance with a final play of the central melody.

In summary a most interesting but, possibly for most, not essential release with a great booklet explains the background to the album. I am very glad to have heard this for myself as I really enjoyed it even it lies outside of my normal listening material.

Released 26th January, 2024.

Order from Cherry red Records here:

Anthony Phillips: Slow Dance, 2CD Jewel Case Edition – Cherry Red Records