Musical Ramblings

Anthony Phillips & Hawkwind: Plugging Away, Painful But Worth It

What’s that saying again? ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.’ It was apparently created by the Victorian educator, William Edward Hickson.

If you are of an optimistic bent, which I am I have to add, then the knocks from life will be but temporary occurrences. What, after all, is the alternative? Life is surely too short not to grasp it and make use of it. The first few positive steps after a knock back are the toughest. Once you’re underway, though, things get a lot easier.

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Anthony Phillips must have surely felt like that, “Anthony who?” you ask? Well, exactly. Phillips was one of the founders of the prog rock outfit, Genesis. He attended Charterhouse school with Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford. Phillips was one of the main composers in the band, in fact. When the album, Trespass was released, Phillips was suffering from terrible stage-fright and so he retired into the background and out of the band. Nevertheless, his songwriting skills can still be heard on the band’s album follow-up, Nursery Chryme.

A young Phillips with Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford

Phillips then became a solo artist from 1977 and began to utilise bits and pieces of unfinished work that he had written for Genesis as well as taking and evolving his style onto a number of solo works as well as projects for TV and film. His synth work is good but his guitar playing is truly brilliant.

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In an odd way, Anthony Phillips has had the last laugh. The joke is not only on Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, it’s also on us. Why? Because Phillips has quietly kept the soul of early Genesis safe and done so without much fuss. The magic in that early version of the legendary prog rock outfit? Phillips has held onto it for safe keeping. So for those who lamented and continue to lament the death of Genesis, the real Genesis and for those still wrapped up in the needless and sometime petty disagreements about the pros and cons of ‘Collins vs Gabriel’ and who still pursue the blame game, Phillips offers you both solace and healing because, to me, Phillips is Genesis. You only have to listen to his music and the recently released Esoteric CD box set Private Parts & Pieces V-VIII is just one minor example of that, to confirm that view. For a Genesis fan, this knowledge, once you hear Phillips’ music, is quite revelatory.

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Phillips has maintained that essential, classically ethereal sound and not only retained the music threads from the past but then developed and moved that sound forwards. He’s done what Gabriel (who left) and Collins (who went commercial) should have done with the early and, some say, true Genesis sound. If you are a fan of the classic Genesis albums such as Trespass and Nursery Cryme and you often sigh and wonder about the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘maybes’ then check out Anthony Phillips. He has all of the answers and is a glorious example of trying and trying again.

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Of course, Phillips is not the only one to have found success after picking themselves up off the ground after a knock back. If you look at bands such as Yes, King Crimson, Deep Purple and Hawkwind, you will see right there, bands who have ‘suffered’ dramatic changes in line-ups that would have killed most bands stone dead. Each of these bands featured strong determination to carry on. A dramatic will power, if you will.

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Hawkwind (who are the subject of a box set release called The Charisma Years 1976-1979) emerged from multiple band names (i.e. Group X, Hawkwind Zoo and then Hawkwind).

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Their early lack of success and then even more lack of luck that included multiple equipment thefts and health issues, despite ‘trying and trying again’ never got the band down. They even ‘appeared’ at the Isle of Wight Festival. Well, outside the fence in 1970 as The Who and Jimi Hendrix played inside it.

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The band kept plugging away – with more group members coming and going, their second single Urban Guerrilla withdrawn because of terrorist attacks in London, being arrested in Idaho, USA on non-payment of tax charges and on and on. Hawkwind existed and exists despite all of this. It continued and continues because of sheer bloody mindedness. The thing is, the fans love them dearly for it. In many ways, Hawkwind is the UK version of America’s Grateful Dead. Not in the type of music that both bands play – although there are related ‘spacey’ elements where both bands do touch upon in the upper regions of the ether. The similarity is partly because of the rotating roster but also because both are to be digested as a live experience and because the fans see the band as part of their extended family. Such was the band’s infiltration within their lives.

Trying and trying again can bring immense benefits both to you and the people you come into contact with. Often the value of trying and trying again is unforeseen but produces significant and powerful results, as we’ve seen above. And that’s what so exciting.

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