Alice Island Band | ‘The Giant Tortoise’ by Tim Phillips | Interview

Uncategorized February 21, 2024

Alice Island Band | ‘The Giant Tortoise’ by Tim Phillips | Interview

‘The Giant Tortoise’ by Tim Phillips is the second of the four Alice Island Band projects, of the original LP from early 1968, only 20 copies were made back then.

A beautiful, whimsical, delicate, charming, sometimes childlike, self-composed collection of songs; echoes of Donovan’s ‘Songs For Little Ones,’ a whiff of mid period Kinks, vapour trails from the Incredible String Band and faint resonances of the more naive end of early Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. A genuine, utterly lost, hippy period piece stripped down and authentic, deceptively innocent with a constant acidic undercurrent of the pervasive sadness marking the end of the ‘Summer of Love’. The Alice Island Band body of work is directly comparable in date, ethos, rarity, quality and overall vibe to Howell/Ferdinando: Agincourt/Ithaca. ‘The Giant Tortoise’ by Tim Phillips is out via Bright Carvings, limited to 227 copies only!

Jon Groocock of Bright Carvings label recalls how he found out about Alice Island Band, “I had known about the Alice Island Band for years, and had a copy of the original, plus I knew about the Wah Wah Records reissue. What I didn’t know was about the other Alice Island/Blue Angel projects. Then one day last year I walked into Wanted Records in Bristol (brilliant shop, best in the city by miles) and a house clearance guy had just bought a pile of records that day and sold them to John Stapleton, amongst them the Tim Phillips LP. We played it and loved it and went away to try to track it down online. We discovered that Tim Phillips was in the Alice Island Band and then had made a couple of very collectable “Junkshop Glam” 45s in the mid 70s. While at Cambridge University he founded Spreadeagle who made an LP for Charisma in 1972 (‘The Piece Of Paper’). He was then picked up by a major label, RCA, renamed “Bunk Dogger” and released two LPs in the late 1970s that went nowhere, mainly notorious for the sleeve of the first one!. The trail ran completely cold in about 1983 and, with a common name, tracking him down on Social Media or directory services was going to be a problem. Frustrating. Then, literally the next day I got an email from a rare record contact, Quentin Orleans in France, wondering if I was interested in re-releasing the LP and giving me the Producer and Label owner Roger Moore’s contact details. To cut a long story short we met up and I discovered he was working on a very small pressing (50) private CD compilation of all the early work done by the Alice Island guys at Blue Angel Studios in the late 1960s/early 1970s. To my surprise there were actually four Alice Island related projects: An earlier LP, from 1967, called ‘Cinderella’s Party Song Book’ (30 copies made) which is excellent British pop/psych, then an EP ‘Dawn Tomorrow’ (only 2 Acetates survive) from 1968 which is lovely flower power and then obviously ‘Splendid Isolation’ the Alice Island Band LP that came out in 1974. Roger Moore has agreed to licence the first three to Bright Carvings for vinyl release and there will be a first CD release of ‘Splendid Isolation’ later this year.”

“Piano used for all our writing and recordings 1964-2021”

Would you like to tell us where you were born and what could you say about your upbringing?

Roger Moore: I was born in a quiet north London suburb close to Hampstead Heath where I spent many happy hours walking – and running in a cross country running team – usually coming close to last but enjoying getting very muddy with no recriminations!

I went to the local school which is where I met Tim Phillips and Keith Hughes – and of course other friends. I enjoyed school as I was good enough to be left alone but not so good that I was pushed to go to University or anything high flying.

After school I worked in market research – Keith also worked there – and after he left he helped me get a job at ICL computers in the exciting days of pioneering in the computer industry, after which I joined a multinational company and stayed there for many years until I set up my own business where I still work.

What did your parents do and when did you first get interested in music?

My father managed a cigarette factory – which gave me a lifelong aversion to cigarettes, and my mother was at home, “just” a housewife.

To my memory they were uninterested in music, and my musical education was listening to Radio Luxembourg on the radio in the kitchen … This was in the late 50s and early 60s.

School was very music oriented, producing such luminaries of classic music as Sir John Taverner and John Rutter, but I was not involved in the school’s musical life – unlike Tim and Keith.

Do you recall a certain profound moment when you knew you wanted to become involved with music for the rest of your life?

Hmm, it feels like music has always been an important part of my life, despite lack of school involvement. Maybe it was watching the musicians in groups like Manfred Mann and others in London’s legendary Marquee Club where we spent many evenings in our late teens when we should probably have been preparing for exams!

When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument? Who were your major influences?

I guess in the early 60s when we got a piano which I played badly – and still do. Just enough to tap out ideas for songs to Keith who then played them properly and arranged them.

In fact the same piano is now in my home all those years later and has featured on most of our albums. I then got a guitar – a 60s Fender Telecaster – which I also play badly!

A major influence was the blues revival in the UK in the 60s and I was fortunate to see so many of the blues greats, mainly in the Marquee – Memphis Slim, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and many, many others. I was very lucky! My only regret is I never got to see Muddy Waters.

Other than that, I was a huge fan of the American “pop” greats. The Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly at the top … but also the more poppy ones like Bobby Vee who I think are sadly underrated. Many would not agree with me about these, I guess, but that’s my view!

Tell us about Blue Angel Sounds.

Keith and I formed Blue Angel in 1968 as a way of having a company to deal with our administration and a good “brand name” for our song writing and recording efforts.

We gradually built up a set of recording equipment and, as well as our own albums, were active as a recording studio in the late 1970s/early 1980s. We stopped this as some of the groups misused our precious equipment and the money earned was not enough to compensate for the hassle.

We still have a collection of vintage microphones, tape machines and outboard gear that we use when we need. For the technical enthusiasts, our Revox B77 was used on ‘Cinderella’s Party Song Book’ as were the two AKG D202 microphones and JBL speakers. Most of what we do now is on Apple’s LOGIC X, augmented by our old analogue equipment needed to get the best sound.

So Blue Angel is our all-encompassing name for all our musical efforts.

See here for more information about Blue Angel.

The Conqueroos | Tim Phillips onstage in the mid-60s with his school R&B band The Conqueroos with Tony Cooper on bass and Jason Dickie on drums. Tim, along with Keith Hughes and Roger Moore (plus assorted friends) would be involved in several projects over the coming years, starting with Hughes and Moore’s ‘Cinderella’s Party Song Book’ album in 1967 (just 25 copies pressed). Next up was Phillips’ album in 1968, ‘The Giant Tortoise,’ on which Moore engineered and Hughes played piano.

Please let us know about Alice Island Band and speak about all four releases.

‘Splendid Isolation’ was recorded by the Alice Island Band which was formed in 1973/4 to record a set of songs Keith and I had written. It covered the period when I moved to York to live and Keith very coincidentally went to York University – which is where he met Cinny.

Driving the whole LP along are Tim’s backing tracks augmented by Keith on piano. Tim and Cinny shared the vocals and, as ever, I was engineer and producer.

‘Cinderella’s Party Songbook’ is our first recording, made in a Chapel in north London with Tim, Keith plus Tony on bass and Jason on drums from The Conqueroos blues band. There were also three girls from the Chapel choir who added extra vocals.

‘Dawn Tomorrow’ was recorded in a single weekend in my front room with Tim, Keith, Tony and Jason playing together as a group – I don’t remember many overdubs, so it has a very nice “live” feel..

I’ll describe ‘The Giant Tortoise’ later.

And since these first four, Keith, Tim and myself have recorded a number of albums in various permutations with other musically talented friends as well as various excellent York musicians.

What makes the second album, ‘The Giant Tortoise’ special?

After ‘Cinderella’s Party Songbook,’ Tim wanted to record an album of his own songs. So with me as engineer and producer, we set to work on what would become ‘The Giant Tortoise’ LP.

I think the atmosphere on it is magical and very much of its time. Tim on his guitar – plus some lovely clarinet playing by him – then Keith playing piano with Tony and Jason of The Conqueroos on bass and drums – and me enjoying adding a few sound effects.

Once finished, Tim sent the LP off to Apple as they had invited submissions in 1968, and this was also part of the reason he recorded it. He is still waiting to hear back!

Revox AKG D202 Bayer D12 used on ‘The Giant Tortoise’

Only 20 copies were pressed in 1968? Did it get any airplay or press?

None that I remember?

Tell us more about the other albums you were part of…

As noted above, the three of us (Tim, Keith and myself) have made a number of albums over the years…

Keith was joint-founder and Musical Director of the well-regarded Tone Deaf and the Idiots. They made two singles and the album ‘Catastrophe Rock’.

I then wrote and recorded a series of tracks over the following years with Tim and Keith.

Much of this is sitting in our archives but we did issue Angel Delight in the late 1980s as an eight track “sampler” of Blue Angel’s output.

And in the last few years, we have revived our musical efforts as I have turned to writing crime novels and have produced CDs of songs to accompany the novels, with backing tracks by me, vocals by Tim and Keith as Musical Director and adding guest vocals. Two are already finished and a third is in prospect.

So after 50-odd years, we are still writing and recording and enjoying the appreciated revival of interest in our work. Our deal with Bright Carvings has already meant the excellent, high quality release of ‘The Giant Tortoise’ – and next there will be ‘Dawn Tomorrow,’ ‘Splendid Isolation’ and ‘Cinderella’s Party Songbook’.

A final comment to end?

“All this happened, more or less.”― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Klemen Breznikar

Headline photo: Roger Moore produced the material released by the Alice Island Band collective in a variety of home studios. Here’s a picture of him at work in the early ’70s. Roger Moore produced Tim Phillips’ ‘The Giant Tortoise’ LP in 1968. 

Bright Carvings Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *