Peter Gabriel has quit Genesis. And that’s official!
The Melody Maker last week front-paged the growing doubts about Gabriel’s future in the band. Reports, denied by the management of Genesis, indidcated that Gabriel was unhappy with his role as a rock star and had already left the group. And this week an official statement admitted the split in Genesis. “They are now looking for a new singer,” said the band’s management. “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.” It is understood that Gabriel will now concentrate on straight theatrical ventures.
* Genesis and Gabriel – background to the split – see page 3.
Although they were hoist by their own petard later, when audiences seemed to demand even more theatrical trickery, they held a respect painstakingly earned from the earliest days, when they built their club following. Friars, Aylesbury, was just one venue where Genesis gained almost fanatical devotion before the rock world at large was aware of their existence.
Over the last year, there were growing rumours and vibrations from within the band that not all was well. The musicians of Genesis – Phil Collins (drums), Tony Banks (keyboards), Mike Rutherford (bass and 12 string), and Steve Hackett (lead guitar) – found it increasingly difficult to relate to the attention given to the visual aspects of Genesis, and felt their own performances were not getting the attention they deserved.
Phil Collins gave some indication of the pressures when he talked to the MM earlier this year: “We’re all happy but there are frustrations and disappointments. The reviews of the band are most upsetting. It’s a good thing that the show can get across by the visuals, but a lot of people don’t listen to the music. That’s a bit of a drag. No, it’s not jealousy. If it were, I’d feel it towards Peter and I don’t at all. It’s a big drag for him as it is for us. I’d like to see Mike and Tony come out more. After all, they started the band. It must be very frustrating for them when they write a lot of the music, and get very little out of it.” It was suggested that if anybody left the band it was going to be Phil, who enjoyed singing as much as drumming and liked to play on sessions with other artists. He has even taken the step of forming his own band for local gigs.
Genesis progressed in, at times, tortuous fashion. They seemed assailed by debt and doubts. While fans cheered, there would be wringing of hands behind the scenes at their quaintly eccentric and English public school approach to the business of rock. Mike Rutherford delighted in telling how in their early days the band would take hampers with them on the road, as if they were going on a picnic. “We thought it was the thing to do,” said Mike.
They had a great capacity for spending money, and liked to take off each summer in order to write and ponder upon their next musical creation. Albums like “Nursery Cryme,” “Foxtrot,” and “Selling England By The Pound” were not conveyor belt products. They would spend long hours in perfecting every note and nuance, and even more attention was given to polishing the ultimate stage presentation. The band were … odd. They would delight in the fact that everybody, lead guitarist Steve Hackett included, sat down to play, while Peter stood at strategic points about the stage, sometimes motionless, sometimes embarking on a whole series of mimes and gestures that seemed to encompass everything from copulation to black magic rites. They might dress a stage all in white and use the smallest amplification cabinets possible with Hackett’s guitar apparently coming from a crystal wireless set. And yet behind all the eccentricities was the solid musicianship inherent in the playing of classically-trained pianist Tony Banks, the tasteful, accurate drumming of Phil Collins, and the measured, dynamic guitar playing of Steve and Mike.
America beckoned and they toured there successfully on several occasions. But their appeal in the States seemed limited to certain areas, mainly on the East Coast. It was in Italy and France that Genesis really took off, outside of Britain. Genesis appealed to the Continentals’ love of drama and mystery. In America, where they frequently had to play on tours with eminently unsuitable artists, they ran up against beer can hurling and shouts for “boogie!” All of this Genesis appeared to take with phlegmatic calm. Yet passions seethed beneath their cultivated breast.
While we keep talking, perhaps unfairly, of Genesis in the past tense, the departure of Gabriel is certainly an end of an era both for the band and British rock. Their long and distinguished career together began in 1966. It will come as a surprise to those who think of them as a relatively new phenomenon. But that was the year the four schoolboy songwriters,Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter, and original member Anthony Phillips, made a tape of their songs and sent them to rising rock mogul, Jonathan King. This resulted in their first album, recently re-released on Decca, “From Genesis To Revelation” (SKL 4990). The band worked with drummers Chris Stewart and then John Silver. In 1969 they went to a country cottage to get it all together (not a word of a lie), and eventually signed with Tony Stratton-Smith, who managed the band and released their second album on his Charisma label – “Trespass.” By this time John Mayhew was on drums, but in July 1970, both Mayhew and lead guitarist Anthony Phillips were replaced by Phil Collins and Steve Hackett. “Trespass” defined the slowly evolving Genesis, with one piece in particular that was to help win them a loyal following. “The Knife” was a dramatic example of their writing style, a mixture of careful arrangement and taut imagery. “The Knife” was a plea or demand for a surgeon’s knife to cut the evil from men and society. And in “The Musical Box” Gabriel sang: “Now in this ugly world, it is time to destroy all this evil. Now when I give the word, are you ready to fight for your freedom, NOW!” The vision of Peter shouting his staccato “NOW!” is one that will long stay with Genesis afficionados (transcriber’s note – the lyrics quoted here are incorrectly attributed to “The Musical Box” when they are actually from “The Knife;” the staccato “NOW!” is from “The Musical Box”). The album was beautifully packaged, quite daring for a small label and a virtually unknown group, and set a standard for future work, like “Nursery Cryme,” with its Paul Whitehead sleeve design, and such classic Genesis epics as “The Musical Box,” “Harrold The Barrel,” and “The Return Of The Giant Hogwell (sic).” Genesis rapidly became a cult. No other band then had such flair, and tempting touch of evil. Death, disfiguration – these were themes that recurred in the spoken introductions Peter delivered in deadpan fashion, to wild cheers. “While Henry Hamilton-Smythe was playing croquet with Cynthia Jane De Blaise-Williams, sweet-smiling Cynthia raised her mallet high and gracefully removed Henry’s head …” began the verbal introduction to “The Musical Box.”
As the music developed, so did Peter’s stage performance, as he brought in bizarre costumes to complement his usual black cat suit. His wriggling body struck any number of statuesque or even athletic poses, and from kicking sand in his audience’s face, he would shock them by appearing in a huge fox head, or most famous of all, a pair of bat wings, his eyes made up to glow with extraordinary ferocity. His costume was designed to enhance the fantasy tales that brought fans flocking to the various town halls and clubs where Genesis began to draw capacity crowds. One of the first occasions I saw them, they were playing to a virtually empty Upstairs room at London’s Ronnie Scott Club. A year later they were the toast of the Home Counties, with fans who knew every word and every gesture of their performance.
“Foxtrot” featured more remarkable pieces like “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” (Peter suffered a lot from landlords), with such characters as Mr. Prebble and Mrs. Barrow (a tenant) who wailed: “Oh no this I can’t believe, Oh Mary, they’re asking us to leave.” There was strong Dickensian flavour to their imagery and humour. “Watcher Of The Skies” was destined to be one of the most requested items, which displayed the band’s ability to utilise controlled dynamics, with new drummer Collins’ working brilliantly in unison with Tony Banks’ doom-laden Mellotron. Virtually the whole of the second side featured their first extended work, “Supper’s Ready,” another milestone and portent.
This 1972 release was followed a year later with “Selling England By The Pound,” which contained their first hit single “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” which had such commercial appeal that even Tony Blackburn played it on Radio One, and Phil Collins’ vocal outing on “More Fool Me.” But “The Battle of Epping Forest” and “Cinema Show” never quite equalled the magic of their earlier works, nor transferred as well to stage production. A “Live” album came out the same year, a rare burst of activity for the band, and featured a compilation of their best-loved songs like “Watcher Of The Skies,” “Get ‘Em Out By Friday,” “The Return Of The Giant Hogweed,” “Musical Box,” and “The Knife” (Charisma Class 1).
Then in 1974 came the result of a year’s work, the adventurous “Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” which moved to New York for its setting and influence and became the basis of their by now hugely extravagent stage show, complete with lights, smoke, and back projections. For some fans it was a disappointment, more calculating in its surrealism and lacking the stealth and subtlety of earlier works. It was a successful double album, and the music took on greater effect in the live appearances the band made throughout America, Europe, and Britain. But Peter was disappointed at the criticism it received and the stage show became more and more difficult to bring off to full effect. And the chief character, Rael, did not rest as naturally on his shoulders as some of his more English creations. Nevertheless, they performed the work brilliantly in Paris last March and not quite so well in London a few weeks later. “It’s quite a barrage of words and there should be an award for people who go through!” Peter said deferentially about the work, but described it as: “A series of events that could happen to somebody who doesn’t even know his subconscious exists.”
Genesis’ career can be measured by their many great concerts that became events in the rock calender. Like their New York debut in December in 1972 when they won over a wondering American audience; Reading Festival in 1973; their five nights at London’s Drury Lane in January of 1974; and Empire Pool last April when “The Lamb” made its first British appearance. But their finest moments were at the Rainbow Theatre, where the band could utilise the stage facilities in a relatively compact environment. It was not really true that audiences did not perceive the musical ability of the band and were completely blinded by Gabriel’s role. They could roar like controlled thunder, and the tones employed by Hackett and Banks were among the most distinctive in rock.
But whatever the reasons for the split, and doubtless all will be revealed soon, Genesis have emphasised that there is no personal animosity. They simply want to go their separate ways. Said Phil Collins: “We were not stunned by Peter’s departure because we had known about it for quite a while. We’re going to carry on and we’ve been rehearsing for three weeks for the new album. This hasn’t hit us suddenly, we’ve been talking about it for some time, and I think there will be room for both Genesis and Peter on his own. No – there were no musical differences. I don’t really know what to say about it at the moment. There were no reasons for anything,” he added mysteriously. “It was Peter’s decision and I can only emphasise that we are carrying on as if nothing happened.”
Bands have recovered from surgery of this kind before. It remains to be seen if the public can accept the knife used in such drastic fashion.
Transcribed for The Path by Joe Harden