Paperlate: Genesis Extra

The extra bits that didn’t make the magazine feature…

What was it like to sit down together for the Genesis documentary, Sum Of The Parts?

It was quite fun to have everybody in the same room. It would’ve been nice to have covered everything in the documentary, but I suppose you can’t get it all in. But it does show the connections between the individuals and the group. I know it’s not the case with you guys at Prog, but many people out there still don’t realise that Peter was ever in Genesis. And the same goes for Phil. And Mike still has people who follow Mike + The Mechanics who don’t know he was ever in Genesis. I could’ve really done with more music in the documentary, but everyone has their own way of doing things. It’s not quite how I would’ve done it.

What about when it came to the tracklisting of the new R-kive compilation?

I was quite keen to have a few more unusual tracks on there, because I think they’re just as good and not played as much. But in the end we wanted one or two tracks from each record, throughout the whole period of our career. And then there are the solo tracks, of course. If we’d made it a 4-CD set, it might’ve given us a bit more space. That said, there probably aren’t a lot of people out there who’ve heard every track on the album.

One of the less obvious choices is Ripples, which was originally the b-side of 1976’s Trick Of The Tail single…

We tried to get what we felt were the most representative tracks and we all like Ripples. And choosing one track from_ Wind And Wuthering_ [1977] means that you end up with Afterglow, which in a way is a Genesis classic. But it’s a pity not to have Blood On The Rooftops or One For The Vine. Those tracks have their merits too.

Is Afterglow a personal favourite?

Yeah, it became an important live track too. It worked very well visually and is a good example of how things can be strange. That particular song could just as easily have been on A Curious Feeling [Banks’ 1979 solo debut]. Yet the songs on A Curious Feeling are not ones that everyone knows, to be honest about it. It’s a funny thing that sometimes a track that you write ends up on a Genesis record and does a lot better than it does on a solo record. And they could just as easily have swapped places. But I was always pleased with Afterglow because it was a very spontaneous piece. I didn’t think about it at all, I almost wrote it in as long as it took to play it. I like to do that sometimes, it’s a valuable way of writing.

Would that also apply to another improvised track, 1973’s The Cinema Show?

Well the end part of it, obviously, where Mike has this riff and I move around on top of it. The first part is more of a group composition, with all of us contributing ideas. I love the first part of it actually, then you get all the harmonies, which work pretty well. It’s a bit Crosby, Stills & Nash. As a totality, that’s more of a written piece. It took a lot longer to write than Afterglow.

In his book, The Living Years, Mike calls _The Cinema Show _“the essence of Genesis for the next 20 years”…

I don’t really know. I think we’d started the ball rolling with Stagnation [from 1970’s Trespass], which we’d done with guitars and keyboards. And although there was one on Stagnation, the solo probably started with Apocalypse In 98 off Supper’s Ready. So it was just a development of that. I don’t see it as a particularly key track, but I think what Mike was probably saying is that he and I worked it together. We wrote that very much between the three of us, jamming around, but we’d done exactly the same thing on Apocalypse In 98. Quite a lot of the time, Peter would be singing or writing a lyric and Steve often wasn’t involved in these bits and pieces. So when we got to the stage where we were down to just three people, that’s how we were writing. It worked well.

Contrary to popular wisdom, Genesis’ songs were often very playful…

We always liked the humour. Peter was very good at that in the early days. Then when he left I wrote the lyrics of_ Robbery, Assault And Battery_ [from 1976’s A Trick Of The Tail] and was quite conscious of trying to give it a light touch. Then later on, Phil got quite good at the sort of Jesus He Knows Me type lyric [1991]. You can be very serious and then sometimes lift it to get the contrast.

Tell me about The Knife, which kicks off the R-kive set…

Peter and I wrote the piece together – we wrote a lot of things together - and when it came to doing_ Trespass_ [1970], we looked at the possibility of extending a lot of these pieces. So we started doing this improvised bit. I played the chords, Ant [Phillips] played these notes on top and then we developed these extra bits. It developed through improvisation really, then we returned to the song at the end, where the minor goes major and vice versa. When I hear the album now, it’s one I’m not so sure about. It’s a period piece, more of a period piece than some of the others. Though lots of it still stands up pretty well, like the ‘We are only wanting freedom’ section. It’s a great line. People always thought The Knife was a real protest song, but it was meant to be a bit of a joke.

Has that whole prog label been both a blessing and curse?

It’s just one of those labels to hang on the music. For us, it was all about trying to push boundaries. We were trying to do that throughout our career, but more obviously towards the end of the ‘70s, maybe up to Duke. There’s no doubt, and we keep coming back to them, that pieces like Domino [1986] and Home By The Sea [1983] couldn’t have been done by any other group. They’re very much Genesis pieces. Even something like Tonight, Tonight, Tonight [1987] has extended sections and goes to different places.

The_ Lamb Lies Down On Broadway_ is coming up to its 40th anniversary. Was that a difficult record to make?

It was difficult all round really, because while we were actually writing it Peter got offered to do this film script for William Friedkin and he was sort of off. In a sense, we thought OK, we’ll just carry on and do it without him. All the music that had been written at that point didn’t involve him very much, but obviously he came back and pretty much wrote the story. It was a kind of departure for us. Although I think a lot of the lyrics are great, I’m not so crazy about the story. Then we did the tour and it was fun to set all that stuff up. It never worked perfectly. It would’ve been great if it had, but it never did. So it was very frustrating every night. And in the middle of the tour, Peter sort of left. I have to say that my least favourite part of being in Genesis was that time of doing The Lamb. I’m very proud of a lot of the music on there, but I think the two albums that came before [Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound] work better as a totality.

Brian Eno is credited with “enossification (treatments)” The Lamb… What did he actually do?

He had a very small role. He was there for one evening and fiddled around with the voice on _The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging and a bit on In The Cage_. He did a couple of other twiddles that we didn’t really use, a little bit of a twiddle on my piano at the front. I was away when Eno came in and fiddled around with this front bit. Peter said, ‘Look, I think it sounds much better.’ He played me the introduction and it was like [makes incoherent squiggly noise]. I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ So it got fed in occasionally, but the basic thing was my piano part, which I was rather proud of and I didn’t want it to just turn into a noise. But I really liked what he did on The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging, it’s one of my favourite songs on the record. It’s a weird old world really, because by the time The Lamb… came out, it scraped into the top ten. We had our following, but we weren’t a big band. In many ways, those albums are only looked at the way they are now because of what came later, what we did and what Peter did and so on. We were selling vastly more quantities later on, which isn’t necessarily a merit in itself, but it does tell you that we expanded our audience.

The Carpet Crawlers is a key Genesis song, not least because it’s been used to illustrate the transition from Peter to Phil…

It was originally written when Peter had a moment in his [Lamb] plot where he needed a link piece, something to go in there. We didn’t have one, so Mike and I just sort of sat down and did this chord sequence, then Pete sang on top of it. It was one of the most simple songs that came together on the album. It’s a wonderful melody, I think. The song could probably have been a hit single if it’d had a slightly different lyric. But that’s the way you go. What was quite interesting was the version we did with Trevor Horn in 1999 [re-recorded for comp album, Turn It On Again: The Hits], where the voice changes from Peter to Phil. That’s a fantastic moment. When Phil comes in and sings, ‘Mild-mannered supermen’, it sends a shiver down your spine. It sort of comes out of nowhere. Peter always sounds great in the lower registers and Phil sounds great in that tenor range. I think it’s the best moment on that record.

After Peter, the gigs became different. Out went the theatrics, in came the light shows…

What Peter liked to do on stage was what Peter liked to do, which was fine and a lot of fun. But we got involved in the Vari-Lites, which was a thing we worked out with Showco, the people we were hiring the lights from. Pre-Vari-Lite, the idea was that you just went on stage with 20 blue lights and 20 red lights and flicked between them as much as you could. But we wanted one light to produce all the colours and it didn’t seem to be beyond the realms of reason. The first tour that we used them on was pretty impressive, because we had all the lights changing from red to green for use on the_ Wind And Wuthering_ piece, In That Quiet Earth. Your eyes didn’t know what to do with it, you’d never seen this kind of thing before. It was very exciting. And I think we were the first group to use the Jumbotrons [giant video screens] on stage, as a backdrop to what we were doing, rather than just an enhancement of people’s faces. That side of it interested me more, shooting films and working on what you could do. You could get some pretty exciting moments, particularly the final parts of the Domino section. The last two or three tours were always quite breathtaking.

And I’m guessing very rewarding from a personal point of view…

Mike and I were always much more involved in the visuals than Phil and really enjoyed doing all that, working with different people and trying to get something up there that made it unique. On stage I’m probably the least visual person in the universe, so I needed the help.

What was your thinking behind the three solo tracks you chose for R-kive?

I wanted to choose one of the orchestral pieces [2012’s Siren]. I think it was between two or three. My favourite piece I’ve done orchestrally is Black Down, which is on Seven [Seven: A Suite for Orchestra, 2004]. But it’s quite slow and I thought it probably wouldn’t work in relation to this album. So it was really between the violin piece and the saxophone piece on Six [Six: Pieces for Orchestra, 2012]. And I thought violins sometimes attract more prejudice than saxophones. Then I wanted to choose something from A Curious Feeling, because it’s the favourite of my albums. And _For A While _is the only track that really works out of context. And for Red Day On Blue Street, I like Nik Kershaw’s voice and I think it’s a good song with a good lyric. That’s why it’s there.

Why is A Curious Feeling your favourite album?

From ’72 to ’80, I was writing a lot of stuff. A lot of it got used by Genesis, and even more after Peter and Steve left. During that time I wrote stuff on A Curious Feeling as well and I like it because it works as a totality. It contains, musically, some of the most interesting moments for me, particularly the instrumental pieces. I can still listen to it all the way through and enjoy it, whereas some other things I have to skip. It’s a subjective point of view, but it was a creative time for me and I found it very easy to write.

Talking of instrumentals, there’s that story about Genesis maybe carrying on without a vocalist after Peter left…

It was a joke, really. Phil says that he thought that, but Mike and I never did. We were songwriters, we were never going to do instrumentals. Phil was doing his Brand X stuff, so maybe he was happy doing that, but I write for singers and always wanted a singer. The problem was finding one.

Finally, what are you up to at the moment?

Well, I did this piece for the Cheltenham Music Festival, a 15-minute piece that was performed there and was quite fun to do. And I’m working on adding to that and probably doing another orchestral record. I’ve got a couple of pieces that are fairly complete and have a few more to add.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.