PETER GABRIEL is a quiet and nervous chap. He sits twisting his hands while his eyes bore from a high forehead that might indicate supreme intelligence, or is simply the result of shaving part of his scalp.
He ponders a while then out comes a rush of sentences, a message to the outer world. Get it down quickly, because transmission may suddenly cease' and Peter will be winding himself up inside again.
"Try beer" I suggested "It helps you relax." Peter shook his head. "Coke" he said faintly. " I'll have a Coke." Not bad going, because Peter, the flute player who will take on a motley audience with menacing verbiage, had thrice refused refreshments, even while his fellow musicians were vladly absorbing lager.
It never ceases because surprise that the most extrovert characters on stage prove to be mild mannered, gentle souls away from the glare of footlights and strobe.
There was Jimi Hendrix, P. J. Probyr Arthur Brown, Keith Emerson, all a blur of flaming guitars, ripping trousers, blazing helmets and flashing knives whilst on public display.
But behind the scenes just plain old world courtesy every time.
And Peter Gabriel who can hold an audience with hypnotic ease, and launch into the most powerful flights of fantasy, has none of the brashness normally associated with the hard gigging rock musician.
Peter and Genesis have come a long way since their debut album under the auspices of Jonathan King who produced them back in the dark ages.
Their music and attitudes have changed, improved, and progressed until they have reached that most exciting time for all groups, when they haven't quite cracked the publicity barrier, but are enjoying the much more worthwhile and rewarding acclaim of genuinely appreciative audiences
For Genesis have their fans who know about the music, and the lyrics and the aet, and plot their course through the clubs and corn exchanges. They cheer when Peter launche5 into a brief resume of the plot of "Musical Box," one of their most emotive pieces. And they leap to applaud when the lights explode to the music with brilliant timing.
What struck me most about the band, after not having seen them for a year or so, was the strange aura they managed to sustain even within the municipal confines of the Watford Town Hall.
They seem to be super, relaxed, or floating which probably stems from the habit of the guitarists in sitting down to play. Even delays between numbers do not seem to matter. The audience knows the next piece will be equally, if not make listeners restless.
The Strongest interplay seems to come between their remarkable drummer Phil Collins and Gabriel, probably because Phil has a strong personality and Peter used to be a drummer.
In fact Pete still hangs on to a solitary bass drum which he raps from time to time, between singing and fluting.
The feeling and excitement of a band that is happening musically, and knows it, is only rarely experienced. It happened for Led Zeppelin, the Nice. Jethro Tull and a few others when they were just starting out as support bands or local club attractions.
That feeling is happening now with Genesis although they are not entirely convinced that success is just around the corner. How do they feel about " success," how will the band evolve? and how do they feel about such contemporaries as Alice Cooper and David Bowie?
Peter, Phil and guitarist Steve Hackett assembled to talk this week in London just prior to a lightning assault on Holland.
"Yes, our style has changed a lot evolved in the last year," said Peter, sinking onto an uncomfortable stool and wobbling slightly.
"It changed when Phil came along and Steve joined on guitar. And it will change again, because we will be doing all new stuff for our next album. It's the only time we can get to write when we work on an album. We hope to have a new show by January which will be a complete musical presentation,"
Said Phil: "We'll be using back projection with a big screen behind us. What we've got at the moment is very basic as far as lights go. A lot of light shows are just rubbish, with pretty patterns playing on the band. We went through a period when one of our roadies left us and the lights just didn't happen. It was bad kharma. But with lights anything dramatic that helps the music is valid."
Peter began to muse. " Originally we tried to do folk type numbers, and it's all worked up to a crescendo. Now we've got an act we've started to take control of the audiences. In the past, we bodged our way through things.
"I suppose it started for us at the legendary Friars, Aylesbury. That's where people first got to know us. It's all built up mostly through gigs rather than publicity. People seem to know our numbers, and those who dislike our music the first time, pick up on us later."
"Happy Is The Man " was their last single release, and it didn't knock me out. But after hearing it live, it's a song I constantly whistle, in tuneless fashion.
Said Phil: 'It was hard to get across on a single in three minutes what the band is all about."
So what is the band all about?
"I don't consciously think about it all as an act," says Peter, whose stage movements have a balletic quality that could earn him an audition at Covent Garden. "A lot of it is based on fantasies, without them taking over from the music. There is a lot of freedom in the music. Nobody has to compromise toe, much. In our writing we are trying to do something that hasn't been done before, and that is to write a combination of sections that match.
"We have a number called 'Musical Box,' that is composed in this way. It's quite a complicated story about a spirit that returns to bodily form and meets a Victorian girl. He has the appearance of an old man and the relations with the young lady are somewhat perverted, so he get's bumped off into the never-never."
Who's the leader of the group. Peter?
"No! We just squabble. We have a democratic system. There are five in the group and three represents a majority.
"When we are on stage we really feel the energy coming off man." Peter laughed. "That sounds American. The energy flows in. and we push it out."
"We need success to get the band into the next stage. And anyway, the band is úl4,000 in the red at the moment.