online music magazine and proponent of proper booth plurality
foxy d home <> features <> reviews <> columns <> about <> contact <> digitalis

by Nuno Robles

 When i read the editorial of the latest issue of legendary magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope, I thought that this would be the perfect timing to interview the no less legendary Phil McMullen, the man behind one of the most fascinating and influential music adventures of the last fifteen years. It would be a great opportunity to look back at a way of living and writing about music that nobody else seemed to care about. I’m not the only person touched by the genius of both Phil and Nick Saloman (a.k.a Bevis Frond)…their courage and vision influenced a whole community of musicians and writers that found in the Ptolemaic Terrascope a chance to share their musical and personal experiences.

About a week before I got in touch with Phil, I realised that what he said in that editorial was more serious than I feared and, suddenly, he was no longer the editor of the magazine that he started in 1989.

I’ve got in touch with Nick Saloman and asked for some words on his friend…his thoughts are definitely the best way to introduce you to this interview... ”Phil McMullen is one of that rare breed, a music fan who doesn't want to be a musician. Phil is, has been and always will be the kind of guy who is just happy to let the music take him to various faraway places. He has a deep knowledge, immaculate taste, and a startling ability to hear something in an unknown band which convinces him they'll become universally adored. And he's usually right. Phil has championed many unknown artistes, only for them to become huge and no longer accessible to the likes of us. Why no major labels have ever offered him a job as head of A & R is a total mystery to me. Alternatively, if the BBC are looking for someone to take over where John Peel left off, Phil should be high up the list. He's been totally dedicated to The Terrascope for years, a dedication which has severely threatened his family relationships, his life savings, not to mention his sanity. He's been instrumental in organising the wonderful Terrastock Festivals, let's hope they keep going in some shape or form. He's been a good friend to many people who've needed support when their careers have been going nowhere. He's relinquished control of the Terrascope after 15 years, just to give himself a much-needed rest. Remember, all that time he's held down a high pressured job as well. Somehow, I can't see Phil staying out of the scene for too long. He's got too much to offer, too many views, too much enthusiasm. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that Phil is a great writer with a brilliant ear for that magical whatever that makes bands big. He's a good guy, and I'm pleased to have been mates with him for so long”.

Let’s read what Phil has to say about his experiences with Terrascope… we’re in for a great love story… This is part 2 of 2. To read part 1, click here.

…And it’s impossible to find these days…at first, what did you think that it would happen? Did you look at it as a long time project?
I don’t think anyone, least of all us, expected it to last quite as long as it has. Fifteen years was just unimaginable to me back then! That’s the same as the period from 1968 to 1983, and if you think of all the different musical trends that came and went in that particular timeframe, it’s faintly astonishing that we managed to stay true to what we believed in across the same number of years. More importantly though the one thing I think nobody could ever have predicted is the whole community which has sprung up around the Terrascope. As far as I know it’s completely unprecedented – there’s plenty of magazines which report specifically on a particular scene or musical genre, but I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that the Terrascope ended up spawning an entire scene all of its own.

Ptolemaic Terrascope started, or at least influenced, something that I can’t quite define…a way of listening to very different kinds of music, an appreciation of long forgotten music heroes….how do you look at what you achieved with the magazine?
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there – it’s definitely a way of listening to different things, of somehow knowing instinctively when you hear something that it “belongs”. And as you say, that’s completely irrespective of when or even where it was recorded. You can’t pin the sound down because there is no one particular sound. It’s not easily categorised because it’s neither folk, psych, rock or experimental, but any combination of the above. As to what I achieved with the magazine – I’m always very reluctant to take any direct credit for what’s happened because apart from getting behind certain unknown bands and artists and giving them a bit of well-deserved publicity from time to time, I can’t see that we actually DID anything. I do though like to think we helped create an atmosphere, a musical circumference, that enabled others to believe it was alright to be themselves and to follow their own path. It’s when certain things happen that I look back and think yes, we did actually help that in some way. If you were to draw a map of underground/psychedelic music over the last twenty years and populate it with all the most important or influential bands or artists, and then draw lines joining each one of them together, I’d be willing to bet that the Ptolemaic Terrascope would feature somewhere along a lot of those lines. I mean, almost anyone could draw a fairly straight line between Davy Graham and Jack Rose, for example. But bend that line so that it passes through Pelt along the way, and I think it would take a pretty astute mathematician to have calculated that linear curve before it happened. I’m not saying that we predicted it, but the Terrascope certainly documented the start point and the end point and all points in between, so I believe we are due a little credit for that. There’s a myriad other examples as well. I remember some eyebrows being raised that we dedicated several pages a while back to a completely unknown Texan band named the Mike Gunn. Admittedly the Mike Gunn themselves didn’t really go anywhere; a couple of albums, originals of which are now worth a fair bit on the collectors’ circuit: but then when you look at all the successful bands that evolved out of that particular embryo – the Linus Pauling Quartet and Charalambides to name but two – and once again you find yourself drawing lines on the musical map which unavoidably pass right through the Terrascope at some point. Who for instance could ever have predicted that someday you’d be able to join up Tom Rapp’s Pearls Before Swine with Ghost via Damon and Naomi and Kurihara? It’s mind-blowing when you sit down to draw a chart of stuff like that. And it’s really enjoyable when you turn over a stone and unearth a surprise, like when recently I set out to write a feature about a current band called Verdure and discovered the guy’s father had been in a semi-legendary lost 1960s band called Country Weather. Another line drawn on the musical map which passes right through the Terrascope. I love it when that happens.

Talking of graphics though, have you ever stopped to think what an amazing line-up of artists the Ptolemaic Terrascope has featured down the years? For me, that’s one of the real stand-out things about the magazine. The original artist R.M. “Cyke” Bancroft was a genius – that’s the only word for it – and when his world eventually fell apart (as tends to happen with geniuses, sadly) after 16 issues or so we were incredibly lucky to secure the services of Davina Ware, who I’d long admired as an artist (and as a person it has to be said) and who understood exactly what was needed. Davina took the magazine onto a whole new level again, to my mind, between issues 20 and 30 – it’s those issues which many people remember now when they think back to when they first stumbled across the magazine. Unfortunately I had a breakdown myself around that time and one of the initial victims was my friendship with Davina, which I bitterly regret to this day. I really didn’t deserve to luck into another great artist after all that, but somehow or another (and I honestly can’t remember how it came about now; those were not particularly good times) I stumbled across Iker Spozio, who of course took the Terrascope to an entirely new level again. Incredible. And in between times we’ve featured covers by the likes of Timothy Renner, who’s work is immediately identifiable and unique. Truly, I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside the very best there is. I often said it was those guys producing work on the highest order which pushed me to trying harder and harder to keep up.

What were your main music influences? The most important records that, in one way or the other, changed your life or the way that you looked at music?
 I don’t think there’s any one record that sits and glows like a hidden nugget of Kryptonite at the very centre of my record collection, a weak spot which conversely I couldn’t live without – but yeah, I know exactly what you mean: there are a few albums which definitely shaped my future as soon as I heard them. One of those records would have to be ‘Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics’ by the Man band. Man were the very first “underground” band I heard, and from the very first moment the needle landed on ‘C’mon’, the opening track of their 1972 album ‘Be Good To Yourself Once a Day’, I knew this was the music I’d always been searching for. I was too young (thirteen at the time, and with no older siblings or neighbours) to go and see them play, but I read up on them and saw they were touring with a band called Help Yourself, so I went out and bought ‘Beware the Shadow’ by the Helps, and immediately changed my mind: this was the music I’d always been searching for! I also saw Man being compared to Quicksilver Messenger Service in a magazine article so I went out and bought the first Quicksilver album (strangely enough, I didn’t get to hear ‘Happy Trails’ until a year or so later) – and immediately changed my mind yet again: no, wait, THIS was the music I’d always been searching for! This is it!

In short, I fell hopelessly in love – you know the same feeling I’m sure – and the fact that the bands were comparatively obscure only added to their lustre for me. I worked back and scored copies of everything else I could find by each band mentioned above; I bought United Artists’ ‘All Good Clean Fun’ double LP compilation because it featured both Man and Help Yourself and through that discovered other great new bands like Cochise and Morning and Gypsy – and Amon Duul II, which in turn opened a whole load of new doors into German music.

And then the magical thing happened, or at least it seemed quite magical to me. I’d read that Help Yourself had effectively broken up after recording what was to my mind their masterpiece, ‘The Return of Ken Whaley’, in 1973. I was understandably devastated. The good news however was that the Man band who had that same year released the double LP ‘Back Into The Future’ which, quite frankly, I’d been a bit disappointed with, were also having a line-up shuffle in advance of their next album – and that Malcolm Morley and Ken Whaley from Help Yourself were joining! This was like being served my two favourite puddings all at once: just too good to believe. The resulting album was of course ‘Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics’. If you check the cover, the band are sitting in a room (more properly called a “pad” I suppose) which features amongst other things a poster of Quicksilver’s ‘Happy Trails’. I felt like I’d arrived home. It was 1974, I was 15 years old, and that was the first album I ever ordered in advance from a shop and experienced that desperate wait for it to turn up.

On another day I’d probably pick another album altogether and tell an equally convincing story about why it means so much to me, but I’ve been reminded of the feelings I experienced when I first heard that Man and Help Yourself were joining forces several times during the “Terrascope Years” so it seems particularly relevant here. For instance, who could ever have predicted members of Vermonster and Galaxie 500 would come together as Magic Hour? Or the numerous collaborations which have come about as a result of the Terrastock festivals – Bardo Pond and Roy Montgomery, Tom Rapp and the Spacious Mind (or, just about everyone really!) – the list goes on. And every time I hear about something like that happening I still get that same little shiver of excitement that I did back in 1973.

You only have to look at the cover of the first issue to see that this was a very different music magazine, focusing on bands that nobody (or at least almost nobody) was writing about. Like you’ve said before Bevis Frond, Twink, Green Pajamas (for me the band that symbolises the most what this magazine is about)…was it always a necessity for you, to write about such kind of bands?
I think so, yeah. I like digging up ground that either nobody’s ever disturbed or which hasn’t been gone over for a very long time. Don’t forget when I wrote the very first features on the Bevis Frond and the Green Pajamas all those years ago in ‘Bucketfull of Brains’ they were completely unknown; in fact, the Pajamas interview was done on the basis of a cassette I’d heard, they hadn’t even released an album at that time. Incidentally, talking of lines connecting bands – I still believe a line can be drawn between Help Yourself’s ‘Jesus What Are Little Kids For’ from 1973 and Green Pajamas’ ‘Kim the Waitress’ from 15 years later – the two songs definitely share a common vibe, which in some ways was I think what immediately attracted me to the Pajamas when I first heard them.

The thing is, it’s not so much that I like trying to be first (actually I’m not particularly competitive at all), it’s more that I enjoy doing my own thing. Often people would say they were surprised we hadn’t reviewed a particular album in the Terrascope because it was the “best of the year” – and actually that’s exactly why I chose not to review it, because plenty of other people had already done so, and because I considered our readership to be intelligent and switched-on enough to check most things out for themselves without waiting to see if it received the Terrascope’s “seal of approval”. I saw our job as more about turning over rocks to see what was hiding underneath them – both in terms of new releases and the “archaeology”, the hidden gems from the past.

When I think about the past issues of Ptolemaic Terrascope I remember that you featured pretty definitive articles like the Pearls Before Swine epic, the David Ackles interview, one of the first Guided By Voices interview that I read, definitive writings on Spirit and many others…since those issues are impossible to find nowadays, shouldn’t you publish a book compiling some of those unforgettable moments?
What, like Drag City recently did for ‘Galactic Zoo Dossier’, you mean? I would really like that; I’d absolutely love to see a book of the “best of the back issue Terrascopes”. I was quite envious when I saw that book, to be honest, although on the other hand all credit to Steve Krakow: GZD was a beautifully drawn and incredibly well researched magazine which fully deserved a wider audience. Sadly however there’s no way I could ever afford to publish something like that myself. Although I’ve approached countless publishers down the years with the idea, every one of them has either completely ignored us or turned me away – apart from Borderline Publications, who generously offered a “vanity publishing” deal whereby I stumped up the money to produce a limited run of copies and they laser-printed and bound it for me to distribute. It was kind of them to offer, but to be perfectly honest I’m quite capable of doing that myself if I had the funds!

You’re right though, looking back on it we really did cover an extraordinary amount of ground. We interviewed the Rolling Stones (Charlie Watts), the Beatles (Paul McCartney, twice!), XTC, Caravan, Robert Wyatt, Spirit, Country Joe & the Fish, Captain Beefheart, (Frank Zappa &) the Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground, the Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, the Kinks, the (Jimi Hendrix) Experience, final interviews with John Cippolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, David Ackles, and the Bonzo Dog Band’s Vivian Stanshall (all now tragically deceased); Man, of course; Hawkwind, The Nice, Arthur Lee of Love, Joey Ramone, Tiny Tim, the Incredible String Band, Tom Rapp & Pearls Before Swine, Mick Farren & The Deviants, Shirley Collins, Hawkwind... the list goes on and on. And yes, that was the very first interview Guided By Voices did outside of their hometown. We were also the first anywhere to interview Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control and Ghost, I believe, and did some early pieces on the likes of Bardo Pond and the Spacious Mind.

Of course, we invariably got labelled “the magazine that writes about weird stuff that nobody’s ever heard of”, which I always took as a compliment – it meant that we remained fresh and weren’t slavishly following everyone else all the time. It’s incredible how few of the bands that we covered down the years remained completely unknown though – we were always lucky like that. Maybe now really is a good time for me to hand over to someone else, because you can’t keep riding your luck forever.

What are the interviews (yours and other writers’) that you remember as the most important for you?
 Oh, there’s so many! I’m torn between relating the ones which meant the most to me personally and the ones which really shaped the Terrascope… Tom Rapp was (and remains) a total pleasure to work with – like quite a few people who started out as Terrascope interviewees, he went on to become a personal friend really. I remember when Tom was over here for the Terrastock festival in London, John Peel rang me up and asked whether Tom was, you know, fully “compos mentis”. He was longing to have him on his show, but Tom Rapp had been a hero of his from years before and he couldn’t bear the thought of finally meeting him and discovering he was a wreck. I assured him Tom was most definitely all there, and then some – but sadly I’m not sure if they ever did get to meet.

Amongst the early interviews which helped define the future of the Terrascope I think one of the most important was probably the Walkingseeds. They’re criminally overlooked now, but in around 1989/90 there was a real sense that they’d be the ones to break through and reintroduce psychedelia to the masses. They did a European tour which culminated in a show in Berlin with Nirvana on the day the Berlin Wall came down… Nick Saloman produced a mini-album with them, they did a UK tour with Mudhoney – they were in every respect the first of the truly “Terrascopic” bands.

Another landmark interview has to be the one we did with John Cipollina, of the Quicksilver Messenger Service of course. Not only was he to my mind amongst the finest guitar players of all time (although I have to say Kurihara comes close!), but we were “lucky”, if that’s the right word, to secure the last interview he ever did, right before he died. Not that anyone was to know he was about to die, of course – we may well have interviewed quite a few people who have subsequently passed away, unfortunately, but we’re certainly not ambulance chasers! What I’ll always remember though is that when every other magazine and newspaper were running obituaries for John Cipollina, we instead ran a major feature and an interview with the man himself. Ha.

Of the articles which meant the most to me personally, I’d have to say the Clark Hutchinson feature is high on that list – tracking down Mick Hutchinson was a mission in itself, and it was great to see that the interest generated meant that their albums were re-released (including one previously unissued collection). A similar thing happened with the Hampton Grease Band and the Silver Apples, and others as well. Doing major interviews with Help Yourself and Man (this was back before the band had their own newsletter and fan club and were at the time suffering from a chronic lack of exposure) were obviously, from what I’ve been saying, features I’d been promising myself for a very long time.

One band that slipped through the net though, interestingly, was Mad River. They were one of the bands I definitely wanted to cover in the Terrascope when we first started out – along with Quicksilver, probably my very favourite American west-coast outfit of the ’60s, plus they had the added cachet of having had a relationship with Richard Brautigan (who read some poetry on their second album). Somehow though they repeatedly eluded us, and I never did quite manage to pull it off – until it was almost too late. David Biasotti was just putting the finishing touches to a series of interviews with Mad River for me which I’d intended to distil into issue 36 of the Terrascope. Understandably Pat Thomas wanted to start with a clean slate however when he took over, plus the feature has turned into something of an epic by now – way too big to squeeze into a regular issue of the Ptolemaic Terrascope – so I’m going to try and put it out at a later date as a one-off special issue magazine. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll call it yet – the ‘Terrascope Navigator’ has been mentioned, or someone else suggested ‘Tayles from the Mad River bank’, which is just a tad eclectic to say the least! Either way it’s an interesting project and one which I really hope will see the light of day in the next year or so.

One very important and essential part of this Terrascope adventure is the Terrastock festivals. I believe that it all started in May of 1997 and there were four more festivals…for everybody that was there, musicians and audience, it always seemed to be a very magical and memorable experience. Why did you decide to do it? Were these festivals a reflex of the spirit and soul of the magazine?
Actually the guys at Flydaddy Records and in the band Medicine Ball deserve the credit for getting the whole Terrastock circus off the ground, back in 1996. It wasn’t an intentional idea, “hey let’s get everyone together and throw a festival!”. Flydaddy had re-released our ‘Succour’ fund-raising double compilation CD for the US market and a few of the bands involved who happened to be fairly close geographically thought it would be a neat idea to throw a “record release party”. Medicine Ball, V. Majestic and Cul De Sac were all involved at the outset I recall. Kevin from Flydaddy suggested adding a couple of Flydaddy artists who happened to be touring at that time (Papas Fritas, Richard Davies and the Olivia Tremor Control – and poor old WitchHazel who never got to play because of a communication breakdown) and suddenly a “party” had become a “gig”. I mentioned it to Nick (Saloman) who thought it sounded fun and a good opportunity to take the Bevis Frond live sound to the USA for the very first time. That in turn attracted others who were keen to get involved and help out. It was really only when the ball had actually started rolling that I realised that the concept of staging a live version of the Ptolemaic Terrascope was actually a great idea, with young bands and veterans alike each taking turns to share the stage, or in several cases all getting up together. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Tom Rapp got up and sang with Damon and Naomi at Terrastock 1, for instance – and yet they’d only met for the first time that morning.

Windy Chien from Aquarius Records in San Francisco drove (yes, drove!) across to Providence, Rhode Island for the first Terrastock, and enjoyed the whole event so much that she offered to help stage something similar in San Francisco the following year. I think that one remains my favourite to be honest, even though it was a lot of hard work and a number of mistakes were made along the way (not least by myself, although the important thing of course is to learn from them). The third one was in London in 1999 and was definitely a major error of judgement on my part – too expensive and not enough of an audience interested in attending. I felt I had to try though, and in many ways it ended up being the best one of all – certainly the line-up of bands involved still takes my breath away whenever I see it, and the building, with stages on three different levels, was simply amazing. I loved the way the 3rd stage became a “sign-up” stage that anyone could play on – bands performed up there, I discovered afterwards, who I hadn’t even realised were at the festival! But, it was all a bloody expensive mistake, as I say. The fourth one, in Seattle the year afterwards, was a joy to be involved in from start to finish – Chris Porter’s such a class act to work with, and Seattle’s one of my favourite cities in the world anyway – and the fifth and most recent one, in Boston back in 2002, was sheer excitement from start to finish, featuring elements of every Terrastock that had gone before it (including a last minute change of venue the same as in San Francisco four years previously!)

The name “Terrastock” was initially meant to be ironic, but I rather regret it that now since a load of other festivals have sprung up since with similar names (not least of course ‘Waynestock’ in the second Wayne’s World movie!) so it’s become a bit clichéd. I’m also fairly sure that the Terrastock concept of getting a bunch of like-minded people together in one place to watch a number of hand-picked bands, indoors in a multi-purpose building rather than on a stage in a field somewhere, led indirectly to subsequent huge commercial events such as ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ taking place, which is a nice thought – we must’ve been doing something right, even if we did never quite manage to break even.

Incidentally, another book project which has been rejected by every publisher we’ve approached so far is a collection called ‘The Terrastock Nation’, a compilation edited by Jeff Penczak. It documents every Terrastock festival to date, with interviews and features concerning every band that’s appeared so far and cross-references and indexes the entire tribe. There’s a wealth of photos available – and the first three were professionally recorded as well, although I gave up on that when I realised nobody was interested in releasing the results. One or two bits and pieces have appeared since, and a couple of bands have even released their entire sets as a live CD, which is always nice to see.

Do you think that the festivals will be still taking place in the future? Would you like to be part of it?
Oh, absolutely! It’s one of the things I insisted on, that the whole Terrastock name, concept and “brand” (for want of a better word) remains solely with myself. Pat Thomas has been perfectly understanding about it – we’ve basically agreed that he is free to organise shows, concerts, festivals or whatever he likes that are associated with the music featured in Ptolemaic Terrascope Magazine, but he cannot use the name “Terrastock” to describe them. As a matter of fact I believe he’s hoping to organise a launch party in San Francisco at some point when the first of the new issues appears – it’ll obviously be more low-key than the 3 day extravaganzas that were the Terrastock festivals, but it’ll feature bands associated with the magazine in exactly the same way. I’m really looking forward to hearing about that. I’d love to go! Meanwhile I’m currently tentatively starting to plan a Terrastock 6 festival for March 2006 which will be billed as “a celebration of Terrascopic music”, but instead of restricting it only to bands which had been featured in the magazine, as before, it’ll be a hand-picked selection of music chosen by myself and the Terrastock 6 curator, who this time will be my old friend Jeffrey Alexander from Secret Eye Records. I’m gambling on the fact that the Terrastock name is trusted and hopefully even respected enough now that people will want to check it out irrespective of whether it’s associated with the magazine – who knows, it may even encourage more people to attend out of sheer curiosity!

That’s so great, really! The soul of the magazine lives on, definitely! …Looking at what’s happening today in music, do you think that you’d feel motivated to start a magazine like Terrascope?
 I have to say yes, yes I would. I really do think there’s still a place for fanzines. There’s something about the look and the feel and the smell of a magazine which cannot be replicated digitally. Just as much work went into producing each Terrascope as goes into recording an album, and I’ve often thought that magazines are like LPs in comparison with the digital, CD-like format of a website - and in just the same way there’s always going to be divisions amongst fans over which is the “best”. Actually of course the truth is that neither of them is the best: they both have their own unique advantages and disadvantages… hyperlinking (on websites) is just so cool, y’know? They lend themselves so perfectly to writing about music: click here to listen to a song by the band that you’re reading about, click there to see a list of every other band the lead guitarist has played with, click over there for a complete label discography. What I’d give to be able to produce a printed magazine which contained hyperlinks!

So yes, I’d still like to be involved in producing a magazine if I had the opportunity, or rather the money. I believe there’s a lot of good music out there still, and a lot of connections still to be made with bands and artists of the past who have been forgotten or unjustly overlooked. It was only a severe lack of funds which forced me to stop publishing the Ptolemaic Terrascope, not a lack of passion or desire – my pockets may be empty, but I’m not emotionally empty. I’d love to have taken it further if I could have found an investor to guarantee its future. It would need to be a lunatic with money to burn though because I’d never want to get back onto the bandwagon of producing a commercially viable magazine now – my dream would be to publish a magazine which featured an editorial, a nice meaty selection of interviews and features and a short round-up of current tours and new releases. Plus a few advertisements, but only for things we ourselves really dug. Record ‘reviews’ would be few and far between, or would simply consist of statements like, “the new album by the Unregulated Gastank is one of the best things we’ve heard all year” – and people would go and seek it out solely on that basis, because they’ve learned to trust what we say. They’ve literally “bought into” the whole Terrascopic music concept, in other words. Writing lengthy record reviews sometimes feels like such a totally pointless exercise anyway. Mail order catalogues contain perfectly acceptable reviews of new releases. It sometimes felt like we were simply working as an unpaid record label publicity machine. I remember David Wells from Tenth Planet Records once told me he’d only send us promotional copies of his releases if I promised to run a review of each one in the next issue. There was no way I was going to agree to that! I believe the only 10th Planet release that got covered in the Terrascope after that happened several years afterwards, and it was one which Steve Pescott had bought and paid for himself. How can you remain impartial if you’re made to feel you owe something to whoever gave you the album you’re writing about?

What have you been listening to lately? Of the new bands being released now, have you been listening to something in particular?
In a way it’s been a really smooth transition for me from running the Ptolemaic Terrascope to running Terrascope Online – Simon Lewis is still Reviews Editor and as mentioned most of the same reviews team is still contributing, so we’re pretty much listening to and writing about bands in much the same way as before. The only difference really is that whereas before the writers would have to wait about six months before seeing their work published, new reviews are posted online on a monthly basis now, with updates in-between, so it’s a lot more rewarding on a personal level – you can hear a CD and get excited about it, write a review of it while it’s still fresh in your mind, and know that people are reading what you’ve written just a few days afterwards while it’s still easily available. And for a writer that’s a really good feeling, y’know?

As for me personally, I’ve been listening to a lot of instrumental bands just recently – particularly Explosions in the Sky, Paik, and especially Thought Forms. Thought Forms actually practice round at my place and I count myself really lucky to have had the opportunity to watch (and listen) to them developing. They recently played at a club over in Trowbridge – the last time I went there it was to see the Walkingseeds, about fifteen years ago now. My daughter, Emily, was only a couple of years old at the time. If you’d told me then that someday I’d be watching her play drums at that very same venue I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s strange how things turn out.

Well, I guess that the best way to end this fascinating story is with the words that Pat Thomas, the new editor of Ptolemaic Terrascope sent me when I asked for some words on Phil…

I've known Phil for over 15 years and I was fan of his writing even before that - when I would see his name in Bucketful of Brains magazine in the early to mid 1980's. I think Phil did an excellent job with Ptolemaic Terrascope - as he helped "turn on" young people to the likes of Pearls Before Swine, Shirley Collins, Davy Graham, and helped "turn on" the older people to new artists such as Greg Weeks and Abunai. Running a magazine like Ptolemaic Terrascope is a giant pain the ass and a sure why to lose money and lose your mind - Phil has performed a "public service" by starting and running the Terrascope for all these years. He has my respect for his work and adventures. Long may he run.”….

Finally, a quick plug for the website located at, which Phil now manages. There you'll find a complete listing of the contents of Ptolemaic Terrascope issues 1 to 35 plus all the various EP and CD releases, archived copies of some of the best interviews from across the years (including a few "outtakes" which never made it into the magazine), full details of all the Terrastock festivals to date, a list of almost a thousand of the most "Terrascopic" albums ever released – all this plus NEW reviews and feature interviews, updated on a monthly basis.

photo credits from Phil:
1. Me outside Joe Ross of the Green Pajamas' shack
north of Seattle in 1994

2. The cover of issue 20 of Ptolemaic Terrascope,
artwork by Iker Davina Ware.

3. Pete Frame (yes, THE Pete Frame) sat in his garden
in Cornwall in 2002, a photo that he captioned himself

4. the cover of issue 34 of the Ptolemaic Terrascope,
artwork by Iker Spozio, 2003