The Musical Box, Geneva Théâtre du Léman, 25 November 2016

Growing up in the late 1970s, there was a certain amount of friendly rivalry between my younger brother S. and me, in music as in other areas such as sport. Whereas I, at the age of 11, was a hardcore Numanoid and Kraftwerk fan, the 10-year-old S. cottoned on at an early age to other electronic pioneers such as John Foxx and The Human League. (Not for us the dire worship of heavy metal that seemed to afflict so many of our peers at grammar school in Salisbury.) Even before that, S. was only nine when he first heard on the radio, and promptly fell in love with, Genesis’ breakthrough 1978 single “Follow You Follow Me”. At that age, and with pocket money a severely limiting factor, the extent of your appreciation for a band was measured by whether you merely bought the single or went the whole hog and shelled out for the album. If you were in the latter category, you probably hadn’t heard anything else on the album; but you were confident, based on your liking of the single, that there would be further stuff on there that you would enjoy. Thus it was that S. came home one Saturday afternoon with a copy of And Then There Were Three, if I remember rightly not only his first Genesis album, but the first album he ever bought.

S. rounded out his Genesis collection over the following months, with a double cassette of Seconds Out gradually followed by the remaining works by both the Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins incarnations of the group. He wasn’t the only one in our family whose ears were attuned to Genesis, either. Picking us up from school one afternoon, our mother told us that she had been in Threshold Records in Andover that day (a record shop owned by the Moody Blues). I have no idea what she was doing in there, as it certainly wasn’t one of her usual hangouts. Anyway, she told us that she had heard the music being played over the shop’s PA and had casually asked the guy behind the counter, “is this Genesis?” And of course she was right, the song she heard being the studio version of “Carpet Crawlers” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I seem to recall that she told us this story before S. had acquired his copies of both Seconds Out and The Lamb, which makes her act of identification all the more remarkable.

As for me, I kept my nascent Genesis fandom to myself, although I secretly liked the music very much. This was my entry point into the world of progressive rock, a genre that was to become increasingly important to me as time wore on. It wasn’t until 1983, when I belatedly discovered Pink Floyd, that I finally had a prog rock band I could call my own. Yet for all my love of Floyd, I couldn’t exactly deny that there was something doleful and depressing about them that was entirely absent from Genesis. These songs were dramatic, funny and engaging, and were lent immense power by Phil Collins’ yearning vocals and powerhouse drumming and the intricate constructions of Tony Banks’ keyboard melodies.

I specifically mention Collins’ vocals, because it was A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering and And Then There Were Three (plus Seconds Out, of course) that appealed to me the most. I liked the Gabriel era well enough, but there was something callow and baroque about it that gave the Collins era a certain edge. Much later, I was to discern a similar distinction between the (at that time) two periods of Van der Graaf Generator, with the science-fiction melodramas of the 1970-71 era being easily surpassed by the leaner and meaner 1975-76 period. But I digress.

Anyway, to admit to being a Genesis fan would have meant losing face, since they were S’s group and therefore off limits to me. He was a member of the official Genesis fan club, Genesis Information, which was run by a bloke called Geoff Parkyn. Every so often S. would receive an A5-sized, photocopied fanzine, which was rich in the kind of minutiae I liked (and still like) to read about the group. S. also had a large-format book by Armando Gallo called Genesis: I Know What I Like, which I would occasionally read when his back was turned. I recently tried to find a copy of this book on the internet, and was dismayed to discover that it is very rare and eye-wateringly expensive.

If any further proof is needed that S. was by that time a true Genesis fan, I need only mention the fact that he bought copies of Tony Banks’ first solo album, A Curious Feeling, and that of Mike Rutherford, Smallcreep’s Day, on their respective days of release. Both were excellent, especially A Curious Feeling, an album I still return to frequently today. The first new Genesis music to emerge since And Then There Were Three, however, was problematic. Duke certainly had plenty to admire, but it also had stuff like “Turn It On Again” and “Misunderstanding”, stupid pop songs that had none of the drama and excitement of A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering or And Then There Were Three.

Unlike many Genesis fans, by the way, I had no problem with And Then There Were Three. Its melodic power and lyrical excellence were in no way compromised by the brevity and concision of the songs. And because it was the first Genesis music I ever heard, it retains a special place in my admiration for the group.

By 1981, though, it was all over. The one-two knockout punch of Abacab and Collins’ solo début Face Value was more than enough to convince both S. and me to get off the bus. Driven by the greed of Phil Collins and the treachery of Tony Banks, Genesis descended into a morass of inconsequential pop shit from which they would never recover. It was an ignominious end for one of the world’s greatest bands.

Needless to say, I never saw Genesis live. The 2007 reunion tour didn’t make it to Vienna, and I didn’t have the appetite to go and see them in Linz, the tour’s nearest stopping-off point. Which brings me to the point of this story, as last month I saw The Musical Box, the world’s leading Genesis tribute band, in Geneva. When they last played here in 2005, Phil Collins joined them on drums for the encore; it would have been nice if that had happened again this time, but it wasn’t to be. Not that it mattered much, since The Musical Box were a highly enjoyable proposition in any event. In fact this was less a tribute gig than a theatrical re-enactment, so totally and unnervingly did Denis Gagné immerse himself in the role of Peter Gabriel. Prowling the darkened stage (this was, after all, the Black Show from the Selling England by the Pound tour) in a succession of striking costumes, Gagné captured Gabriel’s wounded bark of a voice to precision, while the four musicians around him effortlessly conjured the epic splendour of Genesis in full flight.

In 1973 S. and I, then aged five and six respectively, were living in a small village near Andover in Hampshire. It’s strange now to think that one October evening that year Genesis were only 30 miles away from us, playing “Supper’s Ready”, “Cinema Show” and the rest at the Gaumont in Southampton. Until they invent a time machine able to take me back to that evening, The Musical Box are easily the next best thing.

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