Genesis, Peter Gabriel, and the story of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

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On August 16, 1975, Melody Maker posited a front-page question. Pushing a story regarding Frank Sinatra’s return to the UK down-page, it pictured Peter Gabriel in his full Watcher Of The Skies batwings, next to the legend: ‘GABRIEL OUT OF GENESIS?”. It became clear that the most mercurial of 70s frontmen was no longer working with the band he had co-founded at Charterhouse School in 1967.

All five members – Gabriel, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett – it seemed, had a great deal to lose. They had just 10 months previously released the double album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, which was, for many, their most complete artistic vision to date. They had finished a US and European tour of the album that had offered one of the most complex multimedia stage shows of the age. After years of toil, the undying faith invested in them by their record label, Charisma, and with new manager Tony Smith, the band seemed on the verge of actually making some money.

But for this incarnation of the group, it was the end, and the protagonists had known since late 1974 what was going to happen. It was a testament to their long-standing relationship that they remained together, tight-lipped, working their way through their long tour. The recording, content and the performances of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway laid bare the divisions within the group.

After the success of the Selling England By The Pound album and tour, Genesis began writing their next album. With a Top 30 UK single behind them (I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)) and modest chart success in America, it was clear that their next work would garner considerable attention.

Genesis relocated to Headley Grange in Hampshire in late spring 1974 to start the writing and rehearsal process. The former poorhouse had been owned by Aleister Crowley, which had drawn devotee Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin to record there. It was in a state of some dilapidation with rats scurrying about. Although Mike Rutherford said in recent documentary Sum Of The Parts that Headley Grange was “a funky old place… a nice atmosphere”, Steve Hackett recalls: “If anything was a haunted house, that was. You’d hear extraordinary noises at night – it was almost impossible to sleep.” The album was to be sketched out with the band playing and delivering material to Gabriel who was to write his lyrics in a separate room.

The group had a surfeit of musical ideas and decided to release a double album. “I went down to the Grange where they were rehearsing,” co-producer John Burns says. “I’d worked with Traffic and Jethro Tull, but I hadn’t done any doubles. They were seen slightly as white elephants, like ‘the white album’, but then Exile On Main Street came out, which was, to begin with, really slated by the press, but I loved straight away.”

Above: Phil Collins by RICHARD-HAINES/PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

Above: Phil Collins by RICHARD-HAINES/PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

Two ideas had been suggested for the theme of the album. Influenced by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 Mexican cult movie, El Topo, Gabriel came up with the character of Rael, a Puerto-Rican street punk who embarks upon a form of Pilgrim’s Progress in New York, to be known as The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Alongside Gabriel’s concept of Rael, there was another idea – principally supported by Mike Rutherford, to write an album based around The Little Prince, the 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Gabriel was vocal in sidelining Rutherford’s plan: “Too twee,” was his assessment of the idea.

Gabriel, however, had more on his mind: he was distracted by a request from The Exorcist film director William Friedkin. Friedkin had read Gabriel’s essay on the sleeve of Genesis Live and wanted Gabriel to come up with concepts for a new film. “He was trying to put together a sci-fi film and he wanted to get a writer who’d never been involved with Hollywood before,” Gabriel said in 1984. “We were working at Headley Grange… I would go bicycle to the phone box down the hill and dial Friedkin in California with pockets stuffed full of 10p pieces.”

Rutherford has said it was “a strange feeling when one of the guys you are working with is a little less keen than you. It made it funny all round, really.”

Above: In the kitchen…. by RICHARD-HAINES/PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

Above: In the kitchen…. by RICHARD-HAINES/PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

More importantly than the band or Friedkin, Gabriel’s wife Jill was having severe difficulties at this time with her pregnancy, and problems continued after the birth of their child, Anna-Marie on July 26. There were life-changing events happening around him. “When Angie and I had a baby and Tony and Margaret had theirs later, we realised it was life-changing.” Mike Rutherford said in 2013. “Pete’s came very early on and we were not good at change. We were very unsympathetic towards him. That was a big part of the problem really.” Steve Hackett was very aware of what was happening as he was in a similar boat: “Pete was going through his version of hell, and I was going through mine. My first marriage broke up and I had a son. There was a tremendous amount of guilt; I just wanted to get on with the music, but modern life just kept crashing in all the time.” With all of this happening, it was a wonder an album was made at all.

With rehearsals completed and a concept in place, the band decamped to Glaspant Farm, Newcastle Emlyn, Wales to record. John Burns was returning for his fourth album with them. “I’d been to public school and been through that crap, so on that level, I got on incredibly well with Peter and Tony,” he laughs. Using the Basing Street Mobile, the recording took place in the farm’s barn with Burns and engineer Dave Hutchins outside, looking at the proceedings through a small closed-circuit television in the mobile studio.

“It was basically a cowshed with a pitched roof,” Burns says. “I had to send out hardboard to nail up around the drums.”

“It wasn’t really finished, so it just felt like camping out,” Hackett adds. “It was madness really. It was an album that was created in a number of derelict houses.” However, it was far from being all doom and gloom: “We had lovely weather,” Burns recalls. “Phil’s then-wife and my then-girlfriend were there. It was a nice atmosphere; there were mattresses on the floor – the girls would cook, and sometimes Tony would chip in.”

Meanwhile Gabriel to-ed and fro-ed with both Friedkin’s storyline and the weighty, portentous plot for The Lamb, between the hospital in London, his family and Wales. Without Gabriel’s full-time presence, Banks, Rutherford, Collins and Hackett worked on the musical ideas. “Peter was pretty absent at the farm,” Burns remembers. “He would come down from time to time. I was aware there was something going on with Peter, but quite honestly, I had my hands full. I’d seen bands break up and get back together again. I had to let it go over my head. The main thing was to get the album finished.”

Gabriel’s insistence that he held onto all the lyrics and the artistic flow-through of the story created further divisions. “We had written a lot of stuff,” Tony Banks said in 2013. “90 per cent of the record was there, so we just carried on the idea of the album. Peter was getting difficult, and suddenly he had a different attitude. And from that moment, it wasn’t as much fun.”

“It’s a strange feeling when one of the guys you are working with is a little less keen than you… it made it funny all round, really.”

Gabriel asked if he could take a break from the album: the group refused to let him. “Friedkin freaked when he heard he could be responsible for breaking up the band,” Hackett says. “Pete came back to it.”

With both Charisma boss Tony Stratton-Smith and Tony Smith working out a middle ground for the group, Gabriel ultimately did not work on Friedkin’s project, which became Sorcerer.

“Our time was up,” Hackett says. “We’d exhausted everyone’s patience by turning it into a double album – schedules were going out the window left right and centre.” At the start of September the band moved to Island Studios, West London to finish the recording. “We had a month off,” Burns recalls. “I presume that was to sort out Peter’s stuff as he hadn’t much in the way of melodies or lyrics.”

The recordings so far had importantly shown Banks, Collins, Hackett and Rutherford that they could create music without the involvement of Gabriel. When Gabriel came back all he did was fill everything with words. The sessions have a reputation for being fraught. “Yes, sometimes they were,” Hackett says. “It wasn’t easy for Pete. His ideas were really important to him for that project.” And Gabriel’s main idea was Rael.

Rael. One of Gabriel’s most loved, debated and discussed characters. “Yes, of course there was a bit of me in Rael,” Gabriel said in 2012. “The thing is: he was freer than me to live out things that I was never going to be able to.” One of the most obvious, political statements was Rael’s look, an integral part of the concept. Gabriel wore an open leather jacket and white T-shirt, with his hair cut short. It was something that prog rockers were not doing in 1974. Although his character was rooted in the supernatural and at times, the mythical, this was about as far away as he could get from the romanticised England of the previous release. Setting his tale in New York at once gave the music a link to the burgeoning underground and art scene. This was the New York that incubated punk and disco: a dangerous place synonymous with murder, drugs, prostitution and violence.

Above: Mike Rutherford by RICHARD HAINES/ PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

Above: Mike Rutherford by RICHARD HAINES/ PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

New York provided a huge inspiration for the group’s music. When they first went there in 1972, they were all no older than 22, and New York then wasn’t the pop-on-a-plane-shopping-weekend package it is today. As a result, the music reflects “The density of a city that is on permanent overload,” Steve Hackett says. “The first time we were there, we were not able to sleep at night because of the sound of the sirens. It seemed that the city was permanently on fire.”

At Island Studios, Gabriel engaged Brian Eno to assist, notably on The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging on which he put Gabriel’s vocals through his ARP synthesiser. “Eno was a breath of fresh air,” Hackett recalls. “He came in full of enthusiasm – he added some radical treatments. He was intelligent and passionate about stuff.” Gabriel credited Eno for ‘Enossification’ and Banks felt that it was too much. “His contribution to the album is minimal actually,” he said in 1992. “I often wonder why we even credited him, because what he did was very little.”

As with all of Gabriel’s recordings, the lyrics came last, often at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour. “We would do a compilation of two or three vocal takes based on two or three tracks.” Burns recalls. “He would sing it different every time. I’d have to drop in ts and ds. I got very good at that. Phil, Mike and I all smoked dope. Sometimes when you are stoned with someone who is not, you can mis-communicate – but there was absolutely no way that that was ever a problem with Peter, who didn’t drink or smoke – he was naturally that way.”

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was finally delivered in late September 1974, ready for November release. It was unlike anything Genesis as a group had recorded before, or, as a whole, since. It looked and sounded different. Go-to 70s album designers, Hipgnosis, designed its arty, angular photographic sleeve, featuring male model Omar as Rael. Shot in black and white, it was a huge step away from the otherworldly paintings of Betty Swanwick or Paul Whitehead. With George Hardie’s graphics – including a new, line-drawn logo – and his graphically stunning inner bags, the sleeve, shot in Wales and in the vaults and tunnels under London’s Roundhouse offered purchasers a cornucopia of stoned interpretation.

Above: Tree huggers by RICHARD HAINES/ PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

Above: Tree huggers by RICHARD HAINES/ PHOTOGRAPHS FOREVER

What added further to the density of the concept was Gabriel’s’ impenetrable text laid out across the album’s gatefold sleeve. Here were five columns of tiny words, telling the story of Rael, and his struggles in subterranean New York to locate his brother John. The reader is introduced to characters such as the Slippermen, Lillywhite Lillith, the Lamia and Doktor Dyper. “I think some of the lyrics are great,” Banks said in 2013. “But I don’t enjoy the story as a whole. It owes quite a bit to Kurt Vonnegut’s The Breakfast Of Champions. It encourages the idea that the album was dark and dense, and it isn’t really, it’s got some quite light pieces.”

“It’s like a poem everyone can read differently,” Mike Rutherford added. “It lacked cohesion. It was a wonderful journey, but I feel that a conversation should be able to be explained in one long sentence or in a paragraph and you can’t really with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.”

If the artwork foxed you, wait until you heard the music. Given its problematic inception, the music on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway with its incredible, metallic soulfulness ranks among the very best the group had ever recorded, with its rousing title track – the final song that Tony Banks and Gabriel wrote together – moving to the show-stopping Fly On A Windshield, which, in Banks’ opinion has Genesis’ single greatest moment where the full weight of the band slams in. Back In NYC is one of the hardest things the group ever recorded with Gabriel moving frequently from a scream to a whisper. The folk-soul of The Carpet Crawlers serves as a five-minute distillation of the group’s glory. Riding The Scree contains 14 seconds of the funkiest Genesis ever got on record. The album concludes with it, all acoustic guitars and showboating, with Gabriel’s pun on the then-current Rolling Stones’ single and album, It’s Only Rock’n’Roll.

The Lamb… was finally released on November 18 1974, just over a year after Selling England By The Pound.

Above: Peter Gabriel, by ROBERT-ELLIS/ REPFOTO

Above: Peter Gabriel, by ROBERT-ELLIS/ REPFOTO

With its sheer wealth of material and its impenetrable plotline, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was not, however, accepted warmly at the time. Melody Maker journalist Chris Welch, one of the group’s most ardent supporters in the UK, led its detractors: “Genesis have given us so much, and deserve respect for their efforts. Perhaps we must be patient and wait for The Lamb to grow on us. But I have the feeling it is a white elephant.”

If patience was what was required with the album, what on earth was needed when it was played in concert? It was conceived for live performance. The complexities thrown up by the 102-date tour that supported the album are well documented. Firstly, there will always be issues, no matter how devoted your fan-base, with playing a new album in its entirety with hardly any concessions toward older material. To compound matters, when the tour started, the album hadn’t even been released, and audiences, especially US ones, who had just acclimatised themselves to the group’s material were confronted with unfamiliar, complex songs and an ahead of its time slideshow. Collectively, they had heard about the man with the flower and the old man’s head and the batwings and they wanted to see some more. Instead they were confronted with a bewildering array of images, music unlike anything by the group to date and the lead singer looking like a short-haired street punk.

Three dates into the US tour, at the Swingos Hotel, on November 25, 1974, Gabriel told the band of his decision to leave them. In an orange-walled hotel room, Gabriel announced his intention at a meeting hastily convened by Tony Smith. Gabriel said in 2007: “The hotel was part of rock’n’roll culture and I realised, ‘I’m part of this machinery and I don’t feel this is where I should be or who I am’. I could feel the pressure mounting and I had to punch my way through it.” The band initially went into denial, and thought they could persuade him to stay as Gabriel agreed to honour all touring commitments into May of the following year, but it was clear Gabriel was not for turning. Banks had lost his old friend and sparring partner. “In some ways I felt a sense of personal loss,” Banks said. “But it was a relief as well, I can’t deny that. We then had something to prove, which gave us a new goal. Fortunately the audience wanted to stay with us.”

Above: Cover-shoot by AUBREY-POWELL.

Above: Cover-shoot by AUBREY-POWELL.

In April 1975, Gabriel performed his final public duty aside from the gigs as a member of Genesis. Charisma gave a reception for the group at the Savoy Hotel on London’s Strand, to celebrate the gold album sales of Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. To commemorate their elevation into rock royalty and critiquing it at the same time, Gabriel wore a waistcoat made out of pound notes. There is a picture taken of the five of them and it speaks volumes – Gabriel looks relieved, delighted almost, waving a fond goodbye. The remaining four are positioned, calm and serene, as if it is their first solo press shot. The gap between Banks and Gabriel can only be a matter of inches, but it could be miles. The tour eventually ended in France a month later; quietly all five went their separate ways.

And so, four months after they had last played together as a five piece, it was time for the story to go public. The two factions had gone on with their lives. Hackett quickly made the Voyage Of The Acolyte, while the other three began shaping what was to become

A Trick Of The Tail. Gabriel was now ensconced in family life in the West Country when the news hit Melody Maker in August 1975. All five seemed vaguely surprised with all the attention it suddenly received.

Both parties issued a press release in response. Melody Maker printed Gabriel’s in its September 6 edition. It was a deeply personal statement that he delivered by hand to the UK music press. He talked about growing cabbages and suggested he would at some point return to music and that there was absolutely no animosity between him and his old friends.

The letter concluded with a characteristically theatrical finale: “The following guesswork has little in common with the truth. Gabriel left Genesis:

1) To work in theatre.

2) To make more money as a solo artist.

3) To do a ‘Bowie’.

4) To do a ‘Ferry’.

5) To do a ‘furry boa around my neck and hang myself with it’.

6) To go see an institution.

7) To go senile in the sticks.”

Above: Cover shoot 2 by AUBREY-POWELL.

Above: Cover shoot 2 by AUBREY-POWELL.

In August 1975, Genesis issued a simple statement: “They are now looking for a new singer. They have a few ideas but nobody has been fixed. The group are all currently writing material and rehearsing for their new album, and they will go into the studios shortly to record. The album will be released at Christmas and Genesis will go on the road in the New Year.”

Of all of Genesis’ work, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is the one that people return to, an ultimate vindication of the group’s toil. Peter Gabriel looks back at The Lamb with great affection; he told Prog in 2012: “I’m not sure if the story made much sense to most people, but it did mean something to me, in essence, it was about an awakening. He was on a journey to find himself, in a seductive, magical place.” Much has been made of the varying indifference that other members have had towards the project, and many look to Tony Banks’ range of reactions across the years to The Lamb.

“Peter and Tony got on, but they were rivals, basically,” John Burns – still one of the country’s key analogue producers – concludes. “Tony is definitely the influence for the Genesis sound; it was a keyboard band, really. Peter had all the live things, the dressing up. I love it as a work of art.” Hackett adds, “The agenda goes back a long way with the Genesis guys, they were always competitive with each other; they still are today, even though there isn’t a band.” There is one fan in the camp, Phil Collins, whose playing on the album is, like Banks’, never less than remarkable. He said in 2014: “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was the best we’d ever been on a record.” And to many, it remains that way.

This article originally appeared in Prog #56.