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The rock revelations of Genesis

 

 

SELF_INDULGENT, or maybe just sentimental about the past, Genesis have always revelled in nostalgia. Their songs are filled with references to ancient legends, medieval England and even to their own earlier works. Their 1982 song 'Paperlate', for example, drew its title from the line "'Paper late!" cried a voice in the crowd' from 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight', track on 1974's Selling England By The Pound.

 

      Genesis fans delighted in this complex frame of cross-reference, which conferred on the music a sense of tradition, continuity and significance. Such notions, so redolent of the 'progressive rock' of the early Seventies, might sound pompous but, alongside the flatulent bombast of many Genesis songs, there were other passages of simple, aching beauty.

 

      Genesis grew out of two bands formed in the mid Sixties by boys at Charterhouse Public School, near Godalming, Surrey. After an end-of-term concert in the summer of 1966, the Garden Wall's singer Peter Gabriel (born 13 February 1950), piano-player Tony Banks (born 27 March 1950) and drummer Chris Stewart merged with guitarist Anthony Phillips and rhythm-player Mike Rutherford (born 2 October 1950) of the Anon. Working in a primitive studio, they put together a tape of five songs which they delivered to visiting old boy and pop personality Jonathan King, who was then an A&R man for Decca. Impressed, King financed more tapes, and signed the schoolboys to a contract.

 

      In February 1968 Decca released the first Genesis single, 'The Silent Sun', a gentle acoustic number written by Banks and Gabriel, followed by 'A Winter's Tale' in May. Neither was a hit, but King was encouraged to produce their first album From Genesis To Revelation later that summer, with John Silver replacing Chris Stewart on drums. The album's concept - the entire history of mankind - was wildly over-ambitious, but the record was pleasantly atmospheric, and 'Am I Very Wrong?' showed the band experimenting nicely with Lyrics and harmonies.

 

      The album heralded a frustrating period for Genesis. Banks went off to Sussex University and Rutherford to Farnborough Technical College, though they got together with the others during holidays and songs they had written individually and as a team began to take definite shape.

 

Trespasser in the nursery

 

In 1969, more tapes were sent to producers and returned. John Silver left the band and Richard MacPhail, an old school friend who would become a long-term Genesis aide, invited them to his cottage in Dorking where they began to lay down the basis of Trespass. John Mayhew joined on drums and in September Genesis played their first concert, a local party, followed by a' series of college dates in London and the provinces. A short season at Ronnie Scott's club led to Tony Stratton-Smith signing Genesis to the emergent Charisma label. In April 1970 they gave their first show at Friars in Aylesbury, the venue that was to provide them with their biggest and most devoted support.

 

      If subsequent records would shout Genesis's name loud and clear, Trespass - released that October - was a whisper. Most of the songs were quiet and predominantly acoustic, but the menace and pain in Gabriel's voice were barely suppressed. The lyrics were full of images of ice and snow, cutting and bleeding, watching and yearning. 'White Mountain', a revenge fable of wolves and crowns, 'Stagnation', with its poetry of decay, and the aggressive 'The Knife' all conveyed a powerful sense of despair.

 

      Dissatisfied with the recording of Trespass, Anthony Phillips left - though he was to work with his old colleagues on his first solo album, The Geese And Ghost in 1977 - and so did John Mayhew. The new drummer was Phil Collins (born 30 January 1951), a former child actor and Artful Dodger in 'Oliver!' in the West End, who had played in a group called Flaming Youth. Trespass, meanwhile, failed to chart.

 

      For a while Genesis rehearsed and performed as a four-piece. Then, in December 1970, Steve Hackett (born 12 February 1950) joined after Gabriel had spotted the guitarist's ad in Melody Maker. Despite Hackett's initial nervousness, they began to develop as a live band, with Gabriel introducing surreal narratives and mimes between songs.

 

Early in 1971 Charisma packaged them with stablemates Van der Graaf Generator and Lindisfarne for a modest tour, and in June they played again in front of their Aylesbury followers. Nursery Cryme was recorded, and entered the record shops in November. On this album Genesis first began to indulge the nostalgia that was to become one of their hallmarks - nostalgia for an Old England that never existed. Beneath the idyllic fantasy, however, was an insidious element of disillusionment the aura of May Day revels gone sour and Old King Cole as a lecher.

 

      'The Musical Box' incorporates that famous nursery rhyme into the story of a boy who is decapitated by his playmate at croquet and returns to menace her sexually as a fumbling old man. Gabriel's closing vocal - 'You stand there with your fixed expression/Casting doubt on all I have to say/Why don't you touch me, touch me, touch me'- has a desperation which transcends this English country house ghost story. The album also contained the keyboard extravaganza 'The Return Of The Giant Hogweed', the comic social comment of 'Harold The Barrel' and the shimmering classical drama of 'The Fountain Of Salmacis'. Although the album sold little better than its predecessor, in a year or two it would pass, like Trespass, into Genesis folklore.

 

      Nursery Cryme established the band's reputation in Europe, however, and Genesis subsequently did concerts in Belgium, Italy and France, where they were well received. Back at the Lincoln Festival in May 1972, they unveiled 'Watcher Of The Skies', which was soon to become their regular concert opener: 'The Knife', their heaviest rock number, was the usual closer. Gabriel would dominate the proceedings in makeup and black costume, acting out the storylines of the songs or ushering them in on flute. Soon would come the red dress and fox's head, worn by the singer for 'The Musical Box', and a whole wardrobe of bizarre guises.

 

      It was 'Supper's Ready', a seven-song cycle lasting 23 minutes and filling (with the brief acoustic workout 'Horizons') a whole side of their October 1972 album Foxtrot, that would really establish Genesis as a major British band. An uncanny piece of music, beautifully performed through a sequence of time and mood changes, it takes the form of a spiritual voyage and invokes the spectres of Christ, war, madness and a host of biblical and mythological figures. It became their most famous piece, both a celebration and a millstone around their neck in years to come, when fans wanted them to play it at every concert.

 

      Foxtrot also included 'Watcher', the mini-opera about eviction 'Get 'Em Out By Friday' and a passionate slice of English mythology in 'Can-Utility And The Coastliners'; it became the first Genesis album to enter the British Top Twenty. Late in 1972 they played a major charity concert at the New York Philharmonic Hall, performed before massive crowds in Italy where Foxtrot had reached Number 1, and toured Britain the following February.

 

      These concerts marked the era of vintage Genesis and their emergence as Britain's most elaborate visual act. Although the band's stage lighting, slideshows, dry ice, glitterballs and thunderflashes were all very impressive, the spectacle would have been hollow without Gabriel's mimes and masks. He turned the concerts into pageants appearing variously as a batwinged phantom motionlessly gazing out at the audience during the Gothic intro to 'Watcher'; in the wretched 'old-man' mask of 'The Musical Box'; cavorting around in a big flower-head or menacing in the red box mask during 'Supper's Ready'. These props gave Genesis a reputation as English eccentrics, a status indulged and adored at home but not in the US, where the band's spring tour in 1973 met with lukewarm response.

Broadway melody

 

Following the July release of Genesis Live, which climbed to Number 9 in the album charts, and a headlining appearance at the Reading Festival, Genesis returned to the studio to record Selling England By The Pound. It is their most pastoral album redolent of Britannia (whom Gabriel dressed up as when performing 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight'), the Thames, London and Romeo and Juliet. 'Firth Of Fifth', with Hackett's guitar solo welling up into a river of emotion, is a beautiful elegy; 'The Cinema Show' breaks into a consummate Banks-Rutherford Collins instrumental; and 'The Battle Of Epping Forest' is a Lyrical tour de force by Gabriel. ~Laden with puns, it tells the story of an East End gangland fight for protection rights. The album reached Number 3 in the autumn of 1973, and 'I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)', shorn of Banks's lawnmower synthesisers, became a quirky first hit single for Genesis; it reached Number 21 and was danced to by Pan's People on 'Top Of The Pops'.

 

      With Tony Stratton-Smith handing the band's management over to concert promoter Tony Smith, Genesis were able to capitalise on the success of the album with a string of prestigious concerts at the Rainbow and at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, throughout America where they were now better promoted, and in Europe. Despite their popularity as a live act, the cost of mounting their extravagant shows had put them seriously in debt. Amid mounting personality problems within the line-up, they recorded, in the late summer and autumn of 1974, their mammoth epic The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

 

      A double album, less accessible than their previous work, The Lamb told the story of Rael, a thuggish Puerto Rican punk given to spraying graffiti on the subway walls of New York. Rael is miraculously transported to a labyrinthine world beneath the city, where he meets the lost souls known as 'The Carpet Crawlers', the blind 'Lilywhite Lilith', the rapacious snake-woman 'The Lamia' and the leprous 'Slipperman'. As Rael nears the end of his torrnented journey, he is given a choice - to renounce his past misdeeds and save the life of his brother, who is drowning in a ravine, or to save himself. He opts for the humanitarian course - only to find that the body he has pulled out of the water is his own.

 

      Banks, Rutherford, Collins and Hackett provided most of the music - with contributions from Brian Eno - and Gabriel most of the Iyrics and all the storyline. But music and words are matched perfectly in Genesis's most experimental and least English album. From the sweeping but sordid New York street panorama of the title track, through the ferocious rock of 'Back In New York City', the sex comedy of 'Counting Out Time', the cowbells jam of 'The Waiting Room' and the seductive glide of 'The Lamia' and 'Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats' to the climactic realisation of IT, Genesis never let up the pace. The album is their most fully realised - and cinematic - rock work.

 

      Live, they performed it magnificently 102 times all over Europe and America with three sell-out concerts at the Empire Pool confirming their newfound status. The visual presentation was equally impressive, with exteni ve use of slides and Gabriel playing Rael in a leather jacket and jeans, using a host of incredible costumes for the other characters. The resentment that other members of the band felt towards Gabriel's resultant star-status threatened a split, but the singer had decided to quit long before the end of the world tour. Gabriel felt restricted by the band format and needed to find himself personally, or so he said in an open letter to the rock press. He departed for an intermittent but frequently brilliant solo career that saw him more in tune with what was happening in rock in the late Seventies than Genesis were.

 

      When the news broke in the summer of 1975, the rock world was shattered. Extraordinarily, Genesis carried on as if nothing had happened. Emerging from behind his drum-kit, Phil Collins took over as singer and frontman, while former Yes drummer Bill Brutord helped out behind the kit. Collins's voice was mellower and higher pitched than Gabriel's but equally suited to the music, and his onstage antics were ample compensation for the loss of Gabriel's mimes and masks. Songwriting duties were shared between all four members, and in February 1976 Genesis came up with A Trick Of The Tail, a dreamy and mellifluous album interrupted by the crashing 'Squonk' and the thunder and-lightning attack of 'Los Endos'. Instrumentally, it was their best record yet, owing much to David Hentschel's clean sounding production, and it outsold all their previous LPs. A tour of North America and Europe, climaxing in five nights at London's Hammersmith Odeon in June, broke new box-office records for the band.

Heights of success

 

Even better than A Trick Of The Tail was Wind And Wuthering, released in December 1976. If Trespass was Genesis's wintriest album, then Wind And Wuthering was their most autumnal. The centrepiece of its second side, the moody diaphanous instrumental 'Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers . . . In That Quiet Earth', takes its title from the last lines of Wuthering Heights; the intensely romantic and ghostly mood it evokes sums up the whole album, which includes a chapter of Scottish history in 'The Eleventh Earl Of Mar' and the strangely dramatic Tom and Jerry tale of 'All In A Mouse's Night'. Here, too, Genesis were still in search of a Messiah in 'One For The Vine' and provided their finest love lament in 'Afterglow', on which Collins's singing was heart-rending.

 

      With ex-Zappa drummer Chester Thompson replacing Bruford as a permanent member of the band for live work Genesis undertook a six-month global tour early in 1977. Notable features were the laser effects used in 'Supper's Ready' and 'Los Endos', and Collins's mastery of his dual role as singer-drummer. The democratic process that governed the band's choice of material for their albums had frustrated Steve Hackett during the recording of Wind And Wuthering and in July 1977 he left Genesis, not altogether on the best of terms though that rift was subsequently healed. He had already recorded - with fine contributions from Collins and Rutherford- a superb solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte (1975), and, though his later albums have disappointed, he built up a devoted following in the UK. A 1977 Genesis live album, the double Seconds Out, meanwhile paid tribute to his contribution to the band's recent history.

 

      The title of their next album . . . And Then There Were Three, which came out in April 1978, says all that needs to be said about Genesis's intentions to carry on regardless. Rutherford played the guitar parts on the album, with American guitarist Daryl Stuermer helping out on stage. The album's sales exceeded even those of A Trick Of The Tail and the LP provided two Top Twenty singles in 'Follow You, Follow Me' end 'Many Too Many'. But those are weak, insipid songs compared with the urgent Genesis numbers of the past, and if . . . And Then There Were Three was Genesis's most commercial and least conceptual album, it was also their worst. Only 'Deep In The Motherlode', a song of American pioneering days, and 'Burning Rope' achieve any atmosphere. They played those songs, along with many old favourites, during their performance at Knebworth in June, but it was not an especially memorable occasion. Genesis had become rather bland, and were building up a new, uncritical middle-of-the-road audience.

Collins gets going

 

Their 1980 album, Duke, was a vast improvement on its predecessor. Rutherford was as incisive on guitar as Hackett had been, and Collins was at his best, providing an anguished vocal on the lachrymose 'Heathaze', and a more cheerful one on 'turn It On Again', which made Number 10 as a single release. 'Duke's Travels' and 'Duke's End' combined to form an overblown- but effective - symphony from Tony Banks.

 

The insouciant 1981 album Abacab, with its chugging title-track (another hit single), showed Genesis in a relaxed mood, although they were still capable of remorseless power. Abacab was followed into the record shops by a third live album, the double Three Sides Live (1982).

 

All three remaining Genesis members enjoyed solo careers most notably Phil Collins, who had colossal success with two laid-back albums, Face Value (1981) and HelloI Must Be Going (1982). His interest in jazz and funk - which had earlier received an outlet in his sideline band Brand X - and his own compositions lifted both albums to the top of the UK charts. 'In The Air Tonight', from the first LP, reached Number 2 in the singles charts, and his bouncy cover of the Supremes' 'You Can't Hurry Love', from the second album, went one better early in 1983.

 

      At Milton Keynes Bowl in October 1982 Gabriel fronted Genesis for one night of magnificent nostalgia, and in May 1983 the original members collected an Ivor Novello Award for Genesis's Outstanding Contribution to British Music. That year also saw Genesis's early albums exerting an influence on the contemporary music scene as Marillion spearheaded a progressive rock' revival.