The record label boss was quite ecstatic over him. "He has a touch of evil about him when he gets onstage”, said Tony Stratton Smith, solemnly and slowly, in a long-gone conversation. " He almost reminds me of Jagger at times.')
Jim Morrison? Lou Reed? No? Er um. Well, then Iggy Stooge. Wrong again, huh.
The truth is, he doesn't look much of a charismatic figure off stage. Like, he's sitting in this office while we re talking and he's wearing this shapeless sweater and nondescript slacks; an anxious, painful little smi1e keeps flickering across his face, and every time you ask him a question he looks at this other guy, another member of the band, as if he wants to be reassured that he is not talking out of turn.
He is a most unlikely pop star is Peter Gabriel, but then pop stars are most unlikely people. May be "star " indeed is unlikely word to use as yet about him.
Gabriel, in fact, is lead vocalist with Genesis, a five piece band who last year produced "Trespass," an album 'which, in its lyrical depth and flawless technique, instituted a minor masterpiece.
His vocals are among the best things on the album: with an expressive hoarseness but mostly steeped throughout in a desperate romanticism, reaching out for something that he can't quite grasp.
The band essentially began in 1966 as four songwriters, Gabriel, Tony Banks, Michael Rutherford and Anthony Phillips. Some of their demo tapes were heard by Jonathan King and they got a contract with a record company, whence their releases disappeared into oblivion. "Fame and fortune somehow evaded this merry combo," their press handout puts it whimsically.
Since then they have run the whole group gamut: the country cottage, the Soho hustlers, the big evanescent promises. They found a friendly soul in Stratton Smith, however, the Matt Busby of the record business, who signed them to his recently-formed Charisma label. Under his avancular direction they are achieving a growing reputation as one of the country's "Thinking" bands.
Over the four years the personnel has altered, not surprisingly, with Phil Collins, ex-flaming youth on drums, and Mick Barnard, formerly of a band called Farm, replacing Phillips on lead.
I said- that from their album they seemed very much a studio band. Some critics had even suggested that "Trespass" was essentially the creation of its producer, John Anthony.
"I don't agree, it's not a producer's album."
He paused a while. "I think he did a good job, a very good job, but it's always a compromise. There was very little that we didn't want done in the studio.
"We look on him as another member of the band, rather than the one with all the power, the one who dictates what we want and what we don't want. The group did all the arrangements and we considered the type of sound we wanted before we went into the studio."
Was he pleased with the outcome?
"I don't think people are ever really satisfied are they? By the time-the album comes out the original conception has gone. You lose a part everywhere. The stage it is at its fullest is in your head, and you lose all along the line from there. Personally, I think some of the songs were too long. We started very ambitious for more adventurous, things getting out of pop but also with straightforward melodies. Ambitious, because not so much complexity . . . we take music there and work around that as a piece not as a song with the addition of Phil and Mick it's made me more rhythm conscious."
The band had a spot not long ago on Disco 2, which was fairly disastrous. What had been the reason for that?
"Well, I've always got an idea of what the songs should sound like, but John (Anthony) is our cohesive force. Left to ourselves, as we were on television, we were a drag with insufficient technical knowledge. As a band we'll always need a producer.
"On that show the backing track was the same as the album but I did the vocal on top and I was very nervous on that occasion. I don't want to do TV again for a long time. It was a shocking performance and ['m not trying to excuse it. I'm just not an animal, a performing animal being put through his tricks, how the sound engineer saw it.
"You should have a say in shows like that. You should have some control like you do with an album sleeve. We're not performers to be manipulated by those people. I think the BBC has a condescending attitude to pop and pop musicians. It's only entertainers who are required to give a good performance every night, to put on a show. To try and get a BBC producer to understand what you want to do in a programme . . . The whole problem is that they don't believe the intricacies of sound balance make a difference to us. They think it's a fuss about - nothing.
“When we first went out on the road we thought we'd just get the music out and play behind a black curtain, but it wasn't working out. So we have to perform a bit, but it's now just as a means to an end, to get the music across."
He paused, clenched his hands together and smiled. "I see the band as sad romantics, you see," he said quietly.