“Genesis Look at themselves – An Autodiscography”
The front cover has a picture of Mike, Phil and Tony standing in what looks like an old church or museum with marble pillars and mirrors. The caption with the picture reads: “Genesis Look at themselves – An Autodiscography”
The Genesis Autodiscography – By Jon Young
Nobody could have predicted when ‘From Genesis to Revelation’ came out in March, 1969, that the band would develop into a bona fide rock institution. Genesis’ initial effort was a typically unsteady debut, full of half-realized ideas that gave little hint of the future.
A lot has happened since that first LP. Rather than seek commercial success at all costs, Genesis has always made the pursuit of valid, credible music its top priority. The band has repeatedly survived the departure of key members – most notably singer Peter Gabriel in the mid-’70s – to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and new directions to explore. In 1981 ‘Abacab’ became Genesis’ first Top 10 album; the group now looks healthier than ever. Keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford have been with Genesis since the beginning; singer/drummer Phil Collins joined shortly before the third LP. Each has been crucial to the band’s progress (and has a good memory!), which makes this frank retrospective special.
‘From Genesis to Revelation’ (1969) –
Tony Banks: Peter Gabriel and I used to play around with the piano at school. We did a lot of Otis Redding and Beatles songs; I’d play piano and he’d sing and play flute. We also wrote a couple of songs. At the same time we were close friends with Anthony Phillips, who knew Mike Rutherford – he was in the same school but we really didn’t mix. Those two had done a bit more playing in groups and they were keen to make a tape. So Peter and I said, “We’ll help you do the tape, and maybe we could do one of our songs as well.” We did one of ours and five songs of theirs. The only track off that original tape that ended up on an album was called “She is Beautiful”; it later became “The Serpent.”
So that was how the group came together, from four songwriters playing together. With that first tape we were able to get enough interest from Jonathan King, the English producer, to fund us for a series of tapes over the next few years. He happened to be an old boy at the school we went to, so we threw a tape into his house and said, “Listen to this.” I don’t know what he thought of it, really.
What we were writing was pretty much straight pop music; that’s what we wanted to get into. We ended up doing a couple of singles and one album with him before we decided we weren’t going anywhere with that. Then we decided to go professional, ’cause we were just doing that on a part-time basis. We had never played a live gig. The first time I played organ was in that studio. It was fun to do, just schoolboy’s fun.
Jonathan King gave us the name of the band. We had a single out called “The Silent Sun” in 1968. (It was also on the album.) We needed a name for the band and King suggested Genesis. We thought it was quite nice. When we got to the album we called ourselves Revelation over here; that’s why the album is called ‘From Genesis to Revelation.’ We were Genesis in England and Revelation here, ’cause there was another group called Genesis here (U.S.) at the time.
I felt the album was a pretty terrible version of a lot of the songs we were doing. One or two stand up. I think “Silent Sun” works; “In the Wilderness” is probably the best song on the album. “The Serpent” was really good when we used to play it, but the version on the album was terrible – and that applies to a few of the others. “One Day” is another song which was really nice when we used to play it, but didn’t sound good on the album. There were nice things on it, but not exceptional.
Anthony and Mike wanted to go professional; Peter and I didn’t. We were both bound to do other things: I was at the university and Peter wanted to go to film school. We said we would help them out for the summer until they found new members. At the end of that summer (1968) I found I was really getting into it and maybe wanted to stay. One day I’d persuade Peter to stay, and the next he’d persuade me. We couldn’t really decide because it was quite a commitment.
I finally took a year off from university to do it; I felt this was a chance that would come up only once in a lifetime, and if I didn’t see it through I would really regret it. You see, rock music was very unlikely for me, considering my English middle-class background. I came from the wrong end of the spectrum; most people in rock groups came from the working classes at that time. It was difficult for a person from the middle classes to get involved. When I took the year off, my family thought, “Well, he’ll get it out of his system.”
After I’d taken a year off the band decided we would go on. We hadn’t had any success but I felt that as a unit we were much, much better, and we were starting to do something original. I took another year off at the university. I’m still taking years off from the university.
Trespass (1970) –
Tony Banks: By this time we’d done three or four months of live playing on the road. ‘Trespass’ was about 50 minutes of music out of our hour-and-a-half set. We had a lot more music that never got recorded. One song, “Twilight Alehouse,” we recorded a lot later; by the time we did, it was played out. ‘Nursery Cryme,’ the next album, was all new material, so all the old stuff got shelved.
By the time ‘Trespass’ songs got onto the album they were definitely group things, but you could pinpoint where they started. “Visions of Angels” started off as an Anthony Phillips composition. “The Knife” was something Peter and I wrote. Both these songs developed in length and complexity through all of us working together.
‘Trespass’ had millions of faults. It was our first attempt to do anything other than just play songs in a studio. We got very caught up; we used to have six or seven guitar tracks at once. “Stagnation” had all these acoustic guitars playing the same thing and the final sound is very muddy.
The producer we had at the time, John Anthony, was new at the game. He was producing Rare Bird, who were on Charisma and also doing Van der Graaf Generator, so he was almost the Charisma house producer. Even then we all had quite a strong say in the production.
We used to do support gigs, like opening for Mott the Hoople. We’d play to maybe 200 people, and pick up a certain number of people who would be interested. That is how we did it in England, just steady buildup; the smallest audience we played to was three people. We did alot of very small gigs – 10, 15, 20 people – in those early days. Even a group like us, who had no success with records or anything, could play 120, 130 gigs a year. And that’s how it built up.
Anthony Phillips left because I think he just found it too much playing onstage – just general stage fright. He was the youngest of us all, originally the keenest to do it, but he got very scared of the whole thing.
Once Anthony left I didn’t think the group would carry on. I was quite surprised when Mike and Pete said they wanted to continue; it seemed the magic within the group depended on all four of us being there. But they felt we could do much more, so I said, “OK, I’ll stay – but I really think we should change the drummer.”
John Mayhew just wasn’t right, didn’t fit in. Everything he played was taught to him by the rest of us, and I don’t think his heart was in it. I almost made it a condition of carrying on. It’s important to have a very strong foundation to the group, and drums definitely seemed weak to me.
We auditioned then for both a new drummer and a new guitarist, and we couldn’t find a guitarist. We tried quite a few drummers, of which two or three were very good, but Phil told the best jokes. He was actually the best, with a fluency lacking in all the others.
We went around as a four-piece for about six months. Then we found a guitarist, Mick Barnard, who was like we were a year before; he just wasn’t good enough, so we had to change him.
Up to that point Mike had been auditioning the guitarists. It seemed logical because he was the guitar player, but he wasn’t getting anywhere. Peter and I felt maybe he was looking so closely for someone to replace Anthony that he’d never find him. So Peter and I went to see Steve Hackett. He was strong, and we felt there was scope in what he was writing. We brought him into the band; then Mick left and we ended up with five pieces. That lasted five or six years.
Nursery Cryme (1971) –
Tony Banks: Steve was in the band a very short time when we recorded ‘Nursery Cryme.’ All the guitar parts on “Musical Box” were actually written by Mick; Steve tended to play pretty much what Mick had played ’cause there wasn’t much time to learn new parts. Most of the guitar on it is Mike anyhow – all the rhythm guitar, it always was. There wasn’t that much lead guitar on it.
I don’t feel the album was much of an advance. I think two songs on it, “Musical Box” and “The Fountain of Salmacis” are exceptional. The rest of the album has a lot of low points: “For Absent Friends,” “Harlequin” and “Giant Hogweed” are all lesser songs to me. We gained a certain quality on “Fountain of Salmacis” from having a fluent guitarist (Steve), but the response from the record company was very bad, and sales were almost identical to ‘Trespass.’ But then we had gone through what I considered probably our most traumatic period when Anthony left – far more serious because of our age and the state of the band at the time than either of the later departures.
We used to have flash pots on-stage for the last section of “Hogweed.” Peter’s stories between songs were developing quite a lot, and that was quite a strong feature; it was just to cover up our tuning. There were no other props. The masks in “The Musical Box” came about a year later; Peter put a fox’s head on during that song just to get his picture on the front page of Melody Maker. There was no other justification for it. We then realized how effective a song like that could be from a publicity angle, but everything else we did was totally integrated. Every light, costume or whatever was thought out very carefully to go with the music.
Foxtrot (1972) –
Tony Banks: This was the culmination of something that runs through those three albums after ‘Genesis to Revelation.’ The strength of some of these songs is their length. It’s no coincidence that I feel the strongest tracks on those albums are “Stagnation,” which was about eight or nine minutes, “Musical Box,” which is about 10 minutes, and “Supper’s Ready,” 26 minutes. If you do it right you can tell a story within a song like that, and use the contrasts in the music.
“Supper’s Ready” was lots of bits. The first part was a guitar piece, which was mine. We got to the end of the section and had this idea to stop and do “Willow Farm,” a complete song written by Peter that had nothing to do with anything else – just to put two completely different things next to each other to see what the effect was. Once we’d done that, what came after was obvious and the whole song developed from there. The “Apocalypse” section, which was just a keyboard solo, took the song onto another level, making it into an epic. Since Peter had written a lyric for “Willow Farm” as a complete song, he wrote the lyrics for the rest around it. The way it turned out gathers momentum and has a very strong overall mood, which makes it our most successful song from those early days. I’m less fond of “Can-Utility and the Coastliners.”
“Watcher of the Skies” is a very atmospheric song. It was the set opener. On the ‘Genesis Live’ cover you can see a white curtain and we used to use dry ice (which wasn’t such a cliche in 1972), and you couldn’t see any gear. Then you’d hear these very strange ethereal chords to start off the set; it made an incredible starting point. People knew they were going to get something a little bit different. Our set was then about 45 minutes long. It was easy to be impressive in that length of time.
Production on ‘Foxtrot’ was something of a farce. We started off with Bob Potter, who worked as an engineer with Bob Johnston (who had produced Lindisfarne). Potter looked like he might be good, but he didn’t understand what we were all about and he didn’t like things like the introduction to “Watcher of the Skies.” So he went. Finally Charisma brought in Dave Hitchcock. We needed someone for the sake of the record company; they had to have someone there who looked like a producer. Then we got rid of the first engineer and got John Burns; we got on very well with him. The latter stages of “Supper’s Ready” we pretty much produced ourselves with John Burns. David Hitchcock was there but he wasn’t very important. That’s why we didn’t use him again after that. The album was very fragmented anyhow. We did an Italian tour in the middle of making it.
I’d say it was with the songs on this album that the costumes came in. We had very complex lyrics with “Supper’s Ready” and bad P.A.. systems. To get across any meaning at all you had to do some acting out, with that song particularly and also “Get ‘Em Out by Friday” and “Watcher of the Skies.” Those three songs lend themselves to a more theatrical presentation. Pete picked his own costumes; it was a question of what he felt he could carry off.
Genesis Live (1973) –
Mike Rutherford: Tony Stratton-Smith, who owns Charisma (not runs it), produced. We did it for an American radio program; then he persuaded us, once it was mixed, to put it out as alive album. We were against it at first, but we gave way. We weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do, or how good it was. I look upon live albums as not a new album but as an extra. They shouldn’t be compared to new albums.
Tony Banks: You end up with every track strong to a degree, ’cause they’ve been weeded out; obviously, live you play songs that go down better. The only thing it didn’t have on it was “Supper’s Ready,” probably our strongest track to date, but we felt we couldn’t have two albums in succession with that on it.
Selling England By The Pound (1973) –
Phil Collins: I don’t know how I started singing lead. I did sing a song on ‘Nursery Cryme’, “For Absent Friends.” My big vocal debut – it was only two minutes long. I did a lot of singing with Peter, and he thought it was a good idea too. As time went, Pete and I did most of the vocals. On ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ I did all the backing vocals and Pete did the lead vocals. On a lot of songs, like “Counting Out Time” and “Harold the Barrel,” we’re singing together.
Tony Banks: This is the first album where we actually had a writing period. We took about two months off to write it.
Mike Rutherford: Bloody hard to write, too, wasn’t it?
Tony Banks: To me it was the most depressing time of all. We had two bits that sounded good: one was a song called “The Block,” which ended up as part of “Epping Forest”; the other ended up being “Firth of Fifth.” We used to play those every day, and they sounded pretty good. They started sounding less good as we played them more and more, ’cause we couldn’t come up with any ideas. We were really stuck for ideas.
Mike Rutherford: The funny thing was we thought we had the bulk of it written. “Cinema Show” was put on the end, and that became one of the best things – one example you shouldn’t force writing. The first couple of weeks we did OK, but the next month was grim.
Tony Banks: It was one of our unsatisfying moments, from my point of view. I remember during the writing you [to Rutherford] got particularly depressed.
Mike Rutherford: It was an effort.
Phil Collins: Maybe that was the beginning of my depression, wanting to start with Brand X. At that time before ‘Lamb’, I actually started feeling I wasn’t able to play.
Tony Banks: We all thought about leaving the band, almost every week, in different ways. That was one of the worst times.
Mike Rutherford: If we had that again, I think we’d knock it on the head. We were forcing it.
Tony Banks: Production-Wise, it was our first album with any semblance of a sound to it. On all the rest we were very unsure about the sound.
Mike Rutherford: To be honest, until we got Dave Hentschel [Trick Of The Tail], the studio was always a struggle. I enjoyed recording, but only to a point.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) –
Phil Collins – We recorded that on a mobile.
Mike Rutherford: Peter left in the middle. William Friedkin, who directed ‘The Exorcist’, got back to Pete about doing something, and at one point he actually left – went away for a week. It was very much the three of us; I always felt Steve was left out a bit on this album. The three of us got on like a house on fire with the writing. Toward the end it was getting desperate, ’cause Pete took on all the lyrics himself and he had a double album to write. He was way behind, so we were downstairs doing the music while he was doing the lyrics. The writing was good, it came easily. A lot of jams, a lot of good stuff.
Phil Collins: Because Peter wrote the lyrics people assume the whole thing was him. Ninety percent of the music was written by the four of us – the three of us as a core, while Peter wrote the words in the other room. It took about eight weeks to write.
Mike Rutherford: The recording was in a wierd place in Wales: sort of a mad hippie’s house, 18 people to a bathroom. The backing tracks were done with breakneck speed, but the lyrics were so late and the melodies were so late that it dragged on and on – another two months. It’s one of our best albums. It had problems, but different sorts of problems.
Phil Collins: We did ‘Lamb’ in its entirety onstage. There was little room for change, apart from “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats” and “The Waiting Room,” where you had to get from A to B but how you got there was up to you. “The Waiting Room” was one of the high points of the show every night for us. Those were great stage pieces.
When Peter left the group I remember sitting down on the steps on the front of the house, and saying, “We’ll definitely carry on. We’ll do an instrumental album or what?” Before we’d come to decision he was back a week later. But I think the seeds were sown then. We knew there was something odd. Something didn’t feel quite right. When someone does something like that you think it could happen again, but we did about a years’ tour.
Mike Rutherford: I reckon he got a taste of being completely responsible for something, like lyrics, and not wanting to give that up.
Tony Banks: There was no way we wanted to do that again. I think Mike and I felt there was no particular reason why he should have written all the lyrics. We did feel a bit wierd about that. But I think the main reason he left was personal. So often you get a feeling, and what actually pushes you over the brink might be something fairly slight. But once you put yourself in a position where you know you’re leaving, that’s it.
A Trick of the Tail (1976) –
Mike: The four of us were going to go in and write and see what happened. We got a bit of “Dance On A Volcano” and “Squonk” going. It definitely felt strong straight off. The minute we got to that stage, I think there was no question.
Phil: We auditioned vocalists every Monday. We put adverts in the paper. The office would go through all the tapes that were sent, and – who knows? – we might have found Mr. Perfect. We got edited tapes, and every Monday we’d audition the best.
Tony: We listened to 40 or 50 of these cassettes, and ended up seeing about 12 guys.
Phil: It was amazing. They’d send us a cassette with one of our records in the background and a microphone up close.
Mike: Then one day Phil himself tried “Squonk” and we didn’t look back after that. Even after we finished the album we were looking for a vocalist to go on the road. Then we said, “Fuck it, let’s get a drummer.”
Phil: It was easier to get a drummer because I was a good friend (and big fan) of Bill Bruford at the time. He had been in and out of Yes, in and out of King Crimson. I didn’t ask him because I felt he wanted to do something else, but I remember he was playing with Brand X at the time. He said, “How come you haven’t asked me?” I said, “I didn’t think you’d fancy it.” He said, “Sure, I’d love to do it.” So we met, he played a couple of things, and that was that.
To be honest, I was really looking forward to singing because I felt that our singing was suffering from Peter’s being out of breath. He’d be in a Superman costume trying to get a mike anywhere near his throat, and be out of breath – all twisted up. Towards the end I felt the singing wasn’t really being heard; the songs weren’t really being heard. Suddenly I thought, “Great, what I wanna do is just stand there and bloody sing the songs.” So I was really looking forward to that part of the change. I was obviously nervous about it – making people laugh, carrying the in-between-song banter.
Tony: The main thing was how the audience was going to receive us without Peter. Our publicity had emphasized Peter so much throughout the years; for the ‘Lamb Lies Down’ show, the number of times any of the rest of us were mentioned by name you could count on the fingers of one hand. All the press ever talked about were the effects, the lights and Peter. We knew we could write an album and sound good. It was just a question of whether our audience would accept us without him. I don’t think they had much of a problem. They didn’t see it the way the press did, needing one person to talk about. So the audiences were great. I expected endless shouts of “Peter Gabriel!” That first tour we hardly heard that. It was unbelievable. It was gratifying. We needed that.
Phil: It was a very nice feeling, like you won double what you put in.
Tony: I think having Bill in the group helped a lot. He had quite a strong following himself.
Phil: To some people we were probably mainly a visual group. Bill gave us credibility coming from Yes, who although played a similar kind of music, were considered much more musical. And King Crimson had that mystery.
Tony: I felt ‘A Trick of the Tail’ produced three exceptional live numbers in “Volcano,” “Squonk” and “Los Endos”; that was something we really needed. Since we played those three onstage so much I’m not as fond of them as I was.
Mike: When the band started we were very much writing collectively. But as the albums ticked by it wasn’t that at all, really – in some ways, but a lot were by one or two or three. If we’d been credited individually with the songs by the time Pete left people would’ve said, “Well, there’s three of them left. They wrote those and he wrote that.” They would have seen there was still a strong writing team there. What did us in was that the way the media put it across, everyone imagined it was all written by the singer. We were saying, “we can write well,” and at that point we thought, “Christ, we’re gonna make sure we show it.”
Tony: There was an imbalance in the writing. Mike and I tended to write a lot more than Steve and Phil at the time, and I was getting a bit fed up with it. I felt I wrote a lot on ‘Foxtrot’, and I suggested to Mike that we receive individual credits on that album. I just felt it wasn’t an equal contribution from all five of us; it was a little silly to pretend it was, but somehow it blew over. ‘Lamb’ was more of a group album, but on ‘A Trick of the Tail’ we did “Mad Man Moon” straight like I’d written it. We decided to give individual credits.
Wind and Wuthering (1977) –
Tony: We were advised we might make some money if we recorded in Holland. You’re allowed to keep 25 percent more of your money if you record your album out of the country.
Phil: We weren’t doing incredibly well in England financially. We were putting on big shows, and Europe was just starting to take notice.
Tony: We didn’t break even until after ‘Trick of the Tail’. So for ‘Wind and Wuthering’ it seemed logical to try.
Mike: We quite liked going off ’cause we’d be away from all distractions.
Tony: ‘Lamb’ was definitely our most extreme album in one direction, ‘Wind and Wuthering’ in another: our most romantic album. It contains many of my most favorite things.
Mike: To me it didn’t cover any new ground. On most albums I can find new ground, or changes.
Tony: But I think it was best at what we had been doing. “Earl of Mar,” “One for the Vine,” “Afterglow” and “Blood on the Rooftops” are pretty romantic songs, but I thought they were the best romantic songs we ever did. They had something magic about them. Maybe I’m biased ’cause a couple of them are mine. Also, I like that it had very little about it that was commercial.
Phil: I like “Wot Gorilla?” the best. That’s a real bit of jazz fusion there.
Tony: It was important that Phil tried to steer us a bit in that direction. It’s less easy for Mike and myself, but that’s not to say we don’t like it. That’s the advantage of having different tastes in the group: you do pull people in different directions, and you get something out of them they would never do on their own. “Wot Gorilla?” is a good example. I didn’t like it very much at the time, but when I’ve heard it since I really like it.
Mike: I still think if “Your Own Special Way” had been arranged properly it could have been a big hit. It was very underarranged – acoustic guitar…
Tony: It was a song that fell together. It had three of Mike’s bits, and we put them together in this particular way. There are three different time signatures. I think it could have been done better in a different way. The first bit’s lovely, but I always felt the marriage between verse and chorus wasn’t quite right.
Mike: It didn’t feel right for a single, anyway.
Tony: We didn’t try it for a single.
Phil: It was the most commercial track on the album.
Mike: I started to feel unhappiness from Steve; sensed his frustration as a writer. He was writing more and wanted to get more on.
Phil: Alot of his things – 5/4, 7/8, 9/8 bits – were all over the place, it wasn’t really happening.
Mike: He’d done a solo album, and come the next Genesis album he couldn’t face working with other people again.
Phil: Songs have to turn us all on. There might be some exceptions, but 99 times out of 100 each song appears on an album because everyone likes it.
Tony: Or at least they can contribute to it. We felt we couldn’t do much with Steve’s songs; I know Steve found that difficult to accept.
Seconds Out (1977) –
Tony: The one big advantage to this live album was that we hadn’t included “Supper’s Ready” on ‘Genesis Live’ and we were playing it so much better now. That’s such a strong song from our past; on ‘Foxtrot’ the final parts sound great but the early parts are a bit rough. ‘Seconds Out’ was a chance to do the whole thing with some flow to it, which it didn’t have before.
Mike: Phil’s singing made the earlier songs sound very different.
Tony: “Carpet Crawlers,” for example, is much better on the live album.
Steve left during the mixing of ‘Seconds Out’. He was there for a couple of days, and then rang up and said he’d left. We just carried on. We weren’t particularly surprised..
Phil: I passed him on the street, driving to the studio. I stopped and said, “Do you want a lift?” He said, “No, no, it’s okay. I’ll give you a call later. Later Mike said, “Have you heard? Steve said he’s gonna leave.” It was very wierd, ’cause just then the phone rings in the control room. It was Steve saying, “I think it’s best if I leave.” I said, “Alright, see ya.” It was so emotionless. It’s always worried me that his leaving like that could not bother me at all.
Mike: I remember I felt a bit of relief. You feel strange when someone isn’t as into it as you are.
Tony: It felt like it was time for him to move on.
Phil: We had lots of discussions around the time of the show recorded in Paris. That stuck in my mind, that there were problems. And suddenly there was no problem.
And Then There Were Three (1978) –
Mike: We thought of adding another guitarist.
Phil: But then, when it comes down to it, you write within your own capabilities.
Tony: Rhythm guitar and all the picking and acoustic stuff was mainly Mike anyhow. We hadn’t used that much lead guitar. It wasn’t like we were Van Halen; lead guitar wasn’t that important in the group. I don’t want to underestimate Steve’s contribution, but we could do it differently. Mike could play a bit more lead guitar, and I could do some things on guitar I might not otherwise have done.
Mike: I was so preoccupied with trying to play lead guitar on that album that I can’t remember what we were doing. Our direction was almost secondary. I couldn’t play fast; it’s probably something I never will do. I wouldn’t have felt bad about bringing someone in, but we learned you can do so much more in your camp than if you bring in someone from outside. There are so many problems that come with that.
Tony: It was a relief to come down to a three-piece.
Mike: We missed not having some humorous, lightweight moments, like “Match of the Day” and “Pigeon,” on ‘Wind and Wuthering’. So we said to ourselves, “Let’s not make the songs quite so long. To get more variety on it.” I feel that set the mood of the album more than Steve’s departure.
Phil: “Follow You Follow Me” was not intended to be a hit single. Lots of lovely blowing on that. It came from one of Mike’s chord sequences.
Mike: We used to jam with an uptempo version of that riff.
Tony: It was our only truly group-written number. Mike played the riff, then I started playing a chord sequence and melody line on it, which Phil then centralized around. It worked so well as a very simple thing; it was enough as it stood.
Phil: I think it has a great rhythm track.
Mike: I wrote the lyrics in about five minutes – literally.
Tony: I’d just written a simple love lyric for “Many Too Many,” and I think Mike was keen to try the same thing. Maybe “Follow You Follow Me” was almost too banal, but I got used to it. I think we find it much easier to write long stories than simple love songs.
It’s funny how seriously most people take lyrics. I consider lyrics secondary to music, barring an exception like Paul Simon, who writes great lyrics. This group is as popular as it is because of the music, apart from odd things like “Supper’s Ready,” where some people got very much into its faintly metaphysical bullshit. That was a very tongue-in-cheek lyric – this idea of the guaranteed eternal sanction. It was a joke as far as we were concerned.
Tony: I think of all the albums I have heard in recent years I’m always surprised by ‘And Then There Were Three’. I like it more than I think I’m going to. I sometimes dismiss it from my mind, but it contains three of the best songs I’ve written for the band.
Phil: It was the first time I’d written a lyric on me own [“Scenes from a Night’s Dream”].
Mike: By doing all short songs to get more variety, we ended up with a narrower framework.
Tony: The heavier tracks, like “Down and Out,” don’t sound so good. That kind of song needs more room to stretch out.
Mike: That’s why “Down and Out” was never a good live song: over so quickly.
Duke (1980) –
Phil: The 1978 ‘And Then There Were Three’ tour lasted all year, and it finished my marriage. I was going to live in Canada, because my wife’s parents lived there. Mike and Tony both started work on solo albums, which gave me a lot of time to sort myself out. That’s why there was a long time between ‘Three’ and ‘Duke’. By the time they finished their albums they wanted a break.
We were a little bit out of synch with each other. By the time I sorted myself out they were about to start their albums, so I did Brand X. (I was starting to write ’cause I was on my own; my songs were to become my album.) We all got together at my place and slowly started rehearsing bits and pieces. It was getting back to the beginning of the group again, group writing. “Misunderstanding” would have been on my album if it hadn’t been on ‘Duke’.
Tony: Phil played us a number of songs and we picked the two we liked best, the ones we felt we could contribute something to. We each had two or three songs. Then we wrote a lot of bits and pieces.
Mike: We started writing as a group again, which used to bring all those magical moments. We hadn’t really had those for a long time.
Tony: “Behind the Lines” was the one that came together first. Lots of jamming – we were using a rhythm machine. “Duchess” came out of Phil banging along with his drum pads; we developed the riffs and melody lines. “Misunderstanding,” it seems to me, proves that Americans are suckers for anything that goes boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Maybe That’s unfair.
Phil: It had an American tempo and Beach Boys-type lyrics. Anyone could relate to it.
Tony: It doesn’t represent us but it’s definitely just one zone of the group. I think when you have a single it’s probably always that.
Phil: Because of my divorce, ‘Duke’ was the first album I was 100 per cent involved in. I had a lot of time on my hands; I was the first one in the studio and the last to leave.
Abacab (1981) –
Phil: We wrote an awful lot – enough for a double album. Only three songs were by individuals. We recorded all of them; they’re all going to come out, too, at some point. We didn’t want to put out a double album, though.
[Producer] David Hentschel wanted to change his role, and we wanted to change. I had worked with Hugh Padgham on my album and was confident he would make us sound different. On ‘Abacab’ we sound much more the way we do at rehearsal. We always had a rough edge, but it was cleaned up by David, or ourselves.
My contribution in the past were bits and pieces of lots of songs, especially on ‘The Lamb’. I had never finished a song until I started my solo album. That gave me confidence, so I was much more involved in ‘Abacab’. As I said, I was involved with ‘Duke’, but it wasn’t the same kind of involvement. The whole band is changing and I think this album is the beginning of a new period.
We’ll all be doing individual things next. I want to do another album. I’m producing Anna-Frid from Abba. John Martyn’s album is about to come out on our label, Duke Records, that Atlantic has given us.
We had our own studio built on what used to be a farm; the cowshed is now a 24-track studio. It’s just for us, it’s not a commercial studio. I worked on Gary Brooker’s album there. He’s the only outsider who’s used it, and That’s because I was involved. The band wants to get into the studio more often. Quite often you can’t recreate what you do at rehearsal – the moods. You can’t say, “Let’s do that again in two weeks.” Now, the first time we hit magic, we’ll have the 24-track running.
To lots of other bands, having your own studio means you can take as long as you like. I guess it means that to us, too, but we don’t work any less hard at it. We worked 12, 14 hours a day on ‘Abacab’. We like to get our teeth into a project and work hard.