Genesis: Turn It On Again

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Given that they’re no longer a going concern, Genesis have been busy of late.

First they released R-Kive, a three-CD anthology curated by the band. Its USP is that it’s the first Genesis compilation to also make room for songs from the respective solo work of the classic line-up: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett. Then there’s the documentary Sum Of The Parts, an accompanying DVD that was first broadcast (in truncated form and under the title Genesis: Together And Apart) by the BBC in October 2014. The film features contributions from all of the above members, assembled together in one room earlier this year, alongside interviews with founding guitarist Anthony Phillips and manager Tony Smith. It’s a fascinating insight into the inner dynamic of a band whose path hasn’t always run smooth. It has also provoked a fair deal of debate among Genesis fans. One of the chief criticisms was its almost total disregard for Hackett’s substantial solo career. The singer-guitarist himself voiced his disappointment soon afterwards. “It does not deliver the theme of Together And Apart,” Hackett wrote on Facebook. “Whilst [R-Kive] represents us all equally, the documentary does the opposite… In interview I spoke at length as much about my solo career as my time in Genesis, but was not given any editorial involvement.” Hackett’s followers posted hundreds of online comments in support, and the episode brought an added edge to this concentrated spell of Genesis reflection. But just how harmonious has it all been anyway? Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford open up to ProgWhat was it like to reunite for the documentary? TONY BANKS: “I’ve seen everybody individually over the years, so it was quite fun to have us all in the same room. I remember us talking about the writing of Supper’s Ready, which I wrote on guitar. And Peter seemed surprised by that. He knew it, but he’d sort of forgotten it. So nothing really sensational came out of it, but we had fun bickering about who did this and that and who caused most of the problems. Most of them seemed to think I was the biggest problem, which I probably wouldn’t deny. I was a bolshy kind of person and tended to get my own way.” MIKE RUTHERFORD: “I had to prove that it was justified doing it. The general public sometimes don’t know that Phil played drums, that Peter was in the band or that I’m in Mike + The Mechanics. So it seemed to be a good reason for making a documentary. We agreed that in order to make it work, we all had to be in the same room at the same time. Reliving the bits, which we did for a day or so, was good fun. Unlike most bands, we never ever fell out with each other.” Did the documentary work out as you’d hoped? TB: “It didn’t go quite as far as I wanted it to. It concentrated quite heavily on the early period, but I could’ve done with more on the solo stuff. Especially when it comes to Steve, who didn’t really feature in the solo section, which is wrong. And there’s no mention of the Calling All Stations [1997] period, for instance. But it did show the connections between the individuals within Genesis and outside of the group. It was good to do a kind of timeline, so you can actually see where these solo things flip in.” In his autobiography, The Living Years, Mike says that Genesis was a democracy in theory. How well did it work in practice? MR: “It was never going to be quite like that. Towards the end, there were only three of us and we were less resistant to approving things. But when we were younger, we were fighting to prove how good, how brilliant and special, we were. A five-piece Genesis was never going to last – there were too many writing ideas. The book was quite good timing. I sent a copy to everybody at the end of last year and they all read it and enjoyed it, I think. All those memories kind of warmed us up for the film.” TB: “It was pretty much a democracy in Genesis. Mike’s book is all lies, you know that, particularly in relation to me. I thought he was a bit unkind to me, actually. Not in the way that Keith Richards wrote about Mick Jagger, but just generally quite dismissive. I told him so and he admitted a certain amount of it. He also changed a few stories so that he’d look better than I did. But in essential fact, it’s fairly accurate.” The book mentions one occasion at an early Genesis gig where Tony suddenly screams at an unresponsive audience: “We’re no ordinary rock band!” TB: [Laughing] “That’s a bit of an apocryphal one. There were times when we were asked to play dances, but after we’d got through a few time-signature changes, they weren’t quite so sure about us. I remember playing the Revolution in London. It was so hip that they didn’t applaud. You’d finish the song and there was nothing. Then you realised that people were just there to drink and pick up girls, so we ended up getting very drunk. By the end of the third set, I had no idea what we were doing. I seem to remember one gig where I got irritated with the audience. I was easily irritated back then. I don’t think I would’ve shouted it very loud though, because I was probably frightened that someone might throw something at me. “We had a lot of arguments in the early 70s, normally about whether there should be a chord here or there. Peter and I were best friends, it’s just that we had moments of strife and I tended to flare up quicker than anybody else. I think I mellowed sometime in the mid-70s.” Genesis have a reputation for being slightly po-faced, but there was always a playful side to the band. Do people still tend to have a false perception of you? MR: “Oh yeah. They think that we were very serious. But our approach was always to sort of get in and bang it around. It’s not cerebral. You always imagine Tony as a classically trained thinker, but he’ll jam and make some horrendous noises. In the early days it was slightly more ‘written’, because we had so many guys contributing. Later on we went in with a blank bit of paper. It’s very like jazz: turn on the gear, cross your fingers and just dig in.” TB: “We always liked humour. Peter was quite good at a subversive kind of humour – Harold The Barrel and Willow Farm, stuff like that. I think he was probably more responsible for that element in the early days. It’s one of those things that a lot of groups, particularly the early progressive ones, didn’t really tend to have.” When I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) became Genesis’ first hit in 1974, did you feel like you’d finally landed? MR: “We’d all grown up with hit singles – The Beatles, The Small Faces, The Kinks. Then there was a weird divide in the late 60s and early 70s. You were either an album act, like us, or you were a pop act, like Pickettywitch or Mud. There was no middle ground. I Know What I Like cheered up our manager at the time, but we turned down Top Of The Pops. It just felt wrong.” TB: “In terms of singles, Follow You Follow Me was our first proper hit [No.7 in 1978]. That was quite fun, because for the first time a whole section of the public became aware of us. Suddenly we were on the radio and started getting more females at the shows. It almost happened overnight. Usually guys would be saying to their girlfriends, ‘Let’s go and see Genesis.’ And they’d go, ‘No! Not them!’ But after Follow You Follow Me, it was like they were dragging the boys along.” Both songs are on the new R-Kive set, which combines Genesis tracks with songs from your respective solo careers. How did you go about compiling it? TB: “We said we’d have three solo pieces from each of us, which we thought was the best way to do it. In many ways, a lot of the tracks selected themselves. I wanted to choose a few more unusual ones, because many of them have appeared on things like the Platinum Collection [2004 box set]. I did manage to get Back In N.Y.C. on there though, which is about the only thing I achieved. But in the end, we wanted one or two from each record, then the solo tracks. So we were pretty tied.” Some of the online fan forums were pretty lukewarm about R-Kive, viewing the tracklist as overly safe… TB: “I agree. I’d like to have had slightly more variety. But although it is for the fans, to some extent it’s for a slightly wider audience who don’t really know so much about us, so they can then put the whole thing together. It gives them a chance to hear those other songs in context.” The old cliché about Genesis is that you became less adventurous after Peter had left. Is that a reductive view? TB: “Certainly was from where I was standing. In many ways I think our most progressive album – if progressive means most adventurous in musical terms – was Wind & Wuthering [1977]. Particularly Eleventh Earl Of Mar, One For The Vine and Blood On The Rooftops, which are quite expansive musical pieces. So I think it’s just an easy thing to say: ‘Oh, they were great with Pete and they weren’t great without him.’” MR: “Things tend to get potted, a bit like statements getting shorter: ‘Peter did the long songs, Phil did the short ones.’ That’s partly true, but people forget that long songs have always been part of Genesis albums with Phil. The counter of that argument is that when we played live, especially in America, kids would come to the show who only knew the singles, but they ended up loving the longer songs too. It’s a wonderful feeling: ‘Right, we’ve got you now. We’re going to show you the other side of Genesis.’” Having compiled R-Kive and been through the documentary process, did you discover anything new about Genesis? TB: “I’m beyond surprise when it comes to Genesis, really. Though sometimes you read interviews from people at different moments in their careers. Having decided to make himself look as unattractive as he could in the later Genesis period, by shaving his hair and everything, Peter then went through a time where he made himself look as pretty as possible. And he capitalised on that. You see him interviewed at that point and he’s a slightly different guy. Phil went through lots of periods when his confidence really rose too, especially around the time of No Jacket Required. People change.” Do you have any regrets about any of it? MR: “In the early 80s, we were the biggest touring band in the world for two or three years. But you don’t ever think in those terms. You never go, ‘Wahey, this is it!’ Though I kind of wish I had done that a bit more. In life, you never realise that that moment in time is a pretty special one because you’re so busy working.” TB: “I would’ve liked to have had more success as a solo artist, or an independent artist. I felt A Curious Feeling [1979] always deserved more recognition than it got. But then I had fantastic recognition within Genesis, so I’m not really complaining. You can’t have it both ways. I’ve had it far more than most people get. I really couldn’t have wished for more from a professional career.” I Know What I Like, the Genesis app, is out now: see bit.ly/genesis-itunes-app.