Glenn Phillips at the Rainbow Reviews

Atlanta Journal Constitution
Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016
 Jon Waterhouse For the AJC

Not only should fans be grateful for Glenn Phillips’ musical chops, they should thank the Atlanta-based guitar hero for having such a meticulous personality.

Phillips catalogs his own live recordings with librarian-like precision. Now 39 years after the fact, he and his band’s performance at London’s legendary Rainbow Theatre gets a proper release. To celebrate “At the Rainbow,” the Glenn Phillips Band will replicate the live disc on Friday at Eddie Owen Presents at Red Clay Music Foundry in Duluth.

“I still to this day hear from people overseas who saw me at the Rainbow,” Phillips said. “That theater is sort of England’s equivalent to the Fillmore.”

Among those who saw Phillips back in 1977 at the Rainbow was Shagrat Records owner Nigel Cross. Cross, a die-hard Phillips fan, saw to it that Phillips’ acclaimed debut solo disc, “Lost at Sea,” received a 40th anniversary deluxe reissue in 2015.

“In the wake of that, we were talking, and he told me he would give anything to be able to release a live recording of that show,” Phillips said.

When Phillips dropped the bomb that he had the tapes, Cross went gaga.

In the late 1970s, Phillips’ star saw its ascent on the European music scene. Richard Branson of Virgin Records had personally ventured to Phillips’ Brookhaven home to sign the guitarist to the fledgling label. Phillips’ first two records had found momentum overseas, and even well-respected BBC jock John Peel gave a rousing seal of approval. Virgin’s grand plan: to record a live album while Phillips and company toured England.

The label chose the highly regarded Rainbow as the venue. They enlisted the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit to capture the show. Yeah, the same equipment used for the Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” Led Zeppelin’s “Led Zeppelin IV” and other rock classics.

The time capsule recording finds Phillips performing instrumental gymnastics. He soars across the fretboard with the type of commanding leads that give credence to the critical claims that sometime place him alongside Beck and Hendrix.

Yet, Virgin’s plan to make Phillips a household name began to unravel. The live recording included material Phillips was honing for his impending third studio release, what would later become “Dark Lights.” The guitarist didn’t want the live versions to see daylight first, so he asked the label to hold off on releasing the Rainbow recording.

Although Phillips recalls his relationship with Virgin as amicable, he didn’t always agree with label brass. They wanted the Glenn Phillips Band to release a single of the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” a live staple for the group at the time. Phillips didn’t want to gain notoriety for recording a cover song, so he passed.

Branson also wanted Phillips and his band to relocate to England. After the 1977 tour, Phillips opted to return to his Brookhaven digs. Not too long after the band came home, Virgin’s U.S. office folded, and they were dropped from the label.

“These were not necessarily the best business decisions on my part,” Phillips said with a laugh. “I’ve always been a very independent artist. It’s the best thing for you to do for yourself artistically, but it’s not the best thing for you to do for yourself commercially. It was a choice I made, and I don’t regret having made that choice.”

Now 39 years later, the Rainbow experience comes full circle. Bassist Bill Rea, who played alongside Phillips at the original show, returns to join the guitarist at the upcoming Duluth concert. Former Glenn Phillips Band keyboardist Dana Nelson, who hasn’t played with the group since the early 1980s, rounds out the lineup with regular Phillips collaborators Jeff Calder (guitar) and John Boissiere (drums). In addition to playing “At the Rainbow,” the band will perform the “Dark Lights” album in its entirety, too.

With time comes perspective, and Phillips said he couldn’t be more content with the past and where his career has gone. Widespread celebrity, he said, wasn’t a goal.

“I feel very lucky,” Phillips said. “Everybody has different reasons for doing what they do. For me, music was a process for self-discovery. … It was about finding some kind of truth about myself through the music, connecting with that and seeing where that took me. And it took me to a place where I’m 66 years old now, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Creative Loafing
Oct. 24, 2016
Chad Radford

In October of 1977, former Hampton Grease Band guitarist Glenn Phillips visited the U.K. to play 15 shows opening for his Virgin Records labelmate, ex-Gong guitarist Steve Hillage. Phillips had hit an early peak with his first two albums, 1975’s Lost at Sea, and ’77s Swim In the Wind. Both records illustrated his phoenix-like ascent away from prog rock mania into a sophisticated, almost lyrical style of playing guitar. And both records defied ’70s rock virtuosity, as Phillips rose above showmanship with a singularly expressive style that flourished outside most rock trends of the era.

Phillips’ albums drew acclaim from British fans and critics including the late BBC DJ and tastemaker John Peel. Jumping across the pond for a round of gigs was only logical. Glenn Phillips At the Rainbow (Shagrat Records) captures the final show of his U.K. run with a stylish performance at North London’s Rainbow Theatre. The Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit captured Phillips’ impressive instrumental compositions and high-energy performance with a top-notch recording that, until now, remained filed away in Phillips’ archive.

Performing alongside rhythm guitarist and keyboard player Dave Wilson, bass player Bill Rea, and drummer Doug Landsberg, Phillips begins with an uneasy rendition of “The Flu” from his debut album. The song unfolds with a natural sway that expands and contracts between rhythms and guitar lines. The human imperfections are only slightly perceptible, but they create an air of spontaneity that stables out in songs such as “Dogs,” “Sex Is So Strange,” and “Druid Hill.” Phillips and his bandmates share equal trust in each other as they delve into the grooves of a one-of-a-kind avant-garde rock atmosphere.

Live, the songs exude a palpable energy, and Phillips’ demure Southern accent when he responds to the audience’s cheers with a humble “Thanks a lot ...” illustrates how exotic and American his presence must’ve been for London’s musical climate of the times — bookended by Pink Floyd’s stadium-sized psychedelia and the Sex Pistols punk sneer.

“Lies” from Swim In the Wind fires up the B-side with a vicious snarl that makes the original recording feel mild by comparison. It was never apparent until dropping the needle on these live versions, but every song the group plays here possesses a full-bodied harmonic depth that their proper studio versions don’t quite project.

The album ends with a studio recording of a previously unreleased song titled “Drive On.” The song was originally played as the opening number for this show. However, technical difficulties that night at the Rainbow Theatre rendered it unusable. Here, the studio take blends seamlessly with the live material. It’s inclusion here is a bonus gem tacked onto a live album that already shows off a new dimension of the Glenn Phillips Band’s live presence in the early days.

In 1985, eight years later, Phillips fronted an entirely different lineup of players to release the Live LP, recorded at the long-defunct Buckhead music venue Hedgens. That performance and setlist have not aged nearly as gracefully as what the At The Rainbow captures: The songs on this newly released LP are what cemented Phillips’ musical legacy into place. Nearly 40 years later, Lost At Sea and Swim In the Wind are still finding new life. This live LP falls on the heels of Shagrat’s deluxe reissue of Lost At Sea, and makes an excellent companion piece for this deep dive into Atlanta music archaeology.

Phillips has written many songs and released many albums over the years. He raised a high bar for himself early in his career. At the Rainbow captures the purity of his artistic intent at a crucial stage in his development, stamping in time a night in the life of an artist unaffected by changing technology, while gaining a clear understanding of his own musical identity. It’s obvious that music was never a game for Phillips. It was the pursuit of a lifetime, and nothing illustrates his legacy quite like the songs, the energy, and the performance on At the Rainbow.

Stomp & Stammer
October 31, 2016
Tony Paris
8.5 Stars

People keep searching for that pot of gold. You just know it’s there, somewhere over the rainbow. For fans of Glenn Phillips that gold has been found. Glenn Phillips At The Rainbow is just that. Recorded November 3, 1977, at London’s famed Rainbow Theatre, this live album captures the guitarist at the peak of his then-still-being-formulated powers.

The concert topped off a 15-date tour of England during which Phillips and his then-band – venerable bassist Bill Rea, long-time drummer Doug Landsberg and pianist/second guitarist Dave Wilson – were performing in support of the then-just released Swim In The Wind and Phillips’ earlier debut, Lost At Sea.

Captured during perhaps the longest road trip for any of Phillips’ post Hampton Grease Band bands, At The Rainbow burns with the intensity and interplay which only comes from a group of musicians playing together night after night. Indeed, while the album, like all of Phillips’ recordings, showcases his prowess and expressiveness as a guitarist, At The Rainbow finds him really cutting loose on his solos, assured that the band is laying a foundation upon which he can build – and build – and build.

At this point in Phillips’ career, his playing was more fluid, his notes ringing off each other to create a whole rather than each making a statement of their own. A somewhat simpler approach? Far from it. More soulful? Definitely. Such is the case when artists are first finding their identity. And that is what makes At The Rainbow so revelatory. At the time, one would have thought Phillips had reached the pinnacle of his playing. Almost forty years on, we realize he was just getting started.

Longtime fans will recognize the titles here – “Dogs,” “Lies” and “Phoebe” among them – but their delivery is something you would know only if you were in the audience that Thursday night in Finsbury Park.

During its heyday as a music venue, the Rainbow Theatre’s status was legendary, not unlike the Fox Theatre’s here in Atlanta. The Rainbow is where Eric Clapton was prompted into performing live again as he was coming out of heroin addiction. It was the Rainbow where the enigmatic June 1, 1974 by Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Nico and Brian Eno was recorded. Countless other, far more popular artists – The Jam, Ultravox, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Thin Lizzy, The Ramones, Sweet, Little Feat, Fairport Convention, Queen and Van Morrison – also recorded live albums there.

Almost forty years later, Phillips, too, has added to the canon of the theater’s legacy, while providing a much-need missing piece to his own. The building that housed the Rainbow Theatre is now home to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian Pentecostal Church. While singing the praises of the Holy Spirit may be commonplace in the old Rainbow today, Glenn Phillips created a joyful noise on that same stage four decades ago. The difference, of course, is then you didn’t need to fill the coffers with money in seeking salvation, you only had to purchase a ticket and give yourself to the music.

Glenn Phillips will celebrate the release of At The Rainbow with a special concert at Duluth’s Red Clay Music Foundry on Friday, November 4th. The new album will be played in its entirety along with keyboardist Dana Howard Nelson joining the band to perform the 1980 album Dark Lights in its entirety.

October  2016
Phil McMullin

Well, this is a treat! Recorded live at the Finsbury Rainbow in November 1977, Glenn Phillips (who hopefully will need no introduction to regular readers, given how I’ve been singing his praises as one of the finest guitarists on the planet if not beyond pretty much continually since 1992) runs through a triptych of familiar numbers from ‘Lost at Sea’ (including the utterly brilliant ‘Dogs’) plus instrumentals from the then newly released ‘Swim in the Wind’, which the band were over here to promote via a fifteen date tour in support of fellow Virgin Records recording act and hippie icon sans pareil Steve Hillage. The Rainbow show was the culmination of that tour and the band here are as tight as a printers’ chase, all the more surprising given that bassist Bill Rea, drummer Doug Landsberg and keyboard player Dave Wilson had barely met one another prior to the gigs.

The second side is a real joy, especially for long-time fans, featuring as it does an otherwise unrecorded song entitled ‘Drive On’, in addition to the excellent ‘Phoebe’. Another outstanding feature of the album is Andy Childs’ splendid sleeve notes, which as all the best sleeve notes do tend to not only accompany but embellish the fine, fine music that lives within. As Andy so eloquently puts it, “There is joy, sadness, pathos, frustration, rage and a range of emotions in these grooves that only exceptional music can evoke…”

I’d give an awful lot to see Glenn Phillips over on these shores again. Hopefully the interest generated in this fabulous collection will make it financially worthwhile, since it goes without saying that artistically and creatively it’s a must!