"1977-78 - A pivotal year" - TWR takes a look back at oneof the most important periods in Genesis' history. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
Much has been made of Peter’s decision in 1974 to leave Genesis and reams have been written on the reasons for it and the what ifs that have plagued fans ever since. Of equal importance although perhaps not realised at the time was the decision by Steve Hackett to leave the band announced just prior to the release of the now legendary Seconds Out album in October 1977.
So, I shall take this opportunity to re-examine the events leading up to that decision and its immediate aftermath in this feature.
The dawn of the new year of 1977 saw Genesis riding high on the back of their first Gabriel-less album, A Trick of The Tail, a quantum leap in terms of commercial success from its predecessor, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Proving fans and critics wrong, Genesis had managed not only to return with a strong and cohesive album but also one which managed to retain its Prog credentials almost intact. A successful tour of the US, Canada Europe and the UK brought many new fans into the fold as well as keeping older ones happy. All looked rosy on the Genesis front but appearances were to prove deceptive as we shall see….
There were changes ahead in the music scene here in the UK too, by the time Genesis released their second album of 1976, Punk had announced its arrival with The Sex Pistols gaining immediate notoriety with their debut release, heralding the arrival of a complete sea change in the musical landscape of the UK.
Into this rabidly anti melodic atmosphere, Genesis who had been in Holland quietly recording their follow up to Trick… when this musical storm broke, did so with an album which in many respects harked back to the days of Foxtrot. Wind & Wuthering, the title itself is laden with imagery and indeed, the album artwork is without doubt one of the most striking ever to grace a Genesis album. But what of the music….
Here we have an album that has been viewed as the last gasp of the Progressive band Genesis had been evolving into over the preceding ten years. In many respects, that analysis is right on the money but there is much more to this album as the tracks and the musicians themselves reveal…
Eleventh Earl of Mar, ostensibly about the antics of the historical “Bobbing John” Irvine a key figure in the Jacobite movement but also one who was notoriously fickle in his allegiances. So far, so good. However, this song can also be possibly viewed not only as a reference to the band’s previous incumbent (Peter) and also a prophetical nod to the position Steve was in during the recording of the album and the subsequent tour. Whether you read that deeply into the song is, of course, your own choice, but what is not in doubt is that this is a scintillating opener to the album.
“The opening to Eleventh Earl of Mar is one of my favourite group of chords I suppose although I’d been dong that before, it was the first time I had extended it and it immediately set up an atmosphere…Quite a lot of the chorus parts were Steve’s as well…” (Tony Banks)
“I have always loved Eleventh Earl Of Mar too. I enjoyed writing the whimsical section in the middle which contrasts with the rest of the song…” (Steve Hackett)
One For The Vine, rightly acknowledged as one of Tony Banks’ finest compositions for the band. Apparently influenced by one of the “Eternal Champion” series of books by Michael Moorcock, this tale of a man fleeing persecution who ends up being the very Messianic figure he was leaving behind once again, can be viewed as a nod towards Peter’s increasingly untenable position prior to his departure. Musically, this is one of the most symphonic tracks the band ever released and once again its symphonic and operatic overtones were one of the reasons that this album attracted me in the first place. Here we get to hear Steve and Tony at their duelling best, each bringing out the best in the other whilst the rhythm section of Mike and Phil is tight as one of Phils’ snare drums!
“Some of the songs I like more than others, like taking the riff I had for One For The Vine and making something quite different out of it, that was quite fun and I had never tried that before…” (Tony Banks)
Your Own Special Way, Genesis do a love song.. Shock horror! Mike’s composition is a pure delight from start to finish. Phil is at his absolute peak vocally here with a performance to die for.
The Jazz Fusion tinged Wot Gorilla? is, as most fans would probably agree, the album’s only real weak link. That said, it proved that the band were prepared to branch out and explore. It is frustrating that the band did not expand this one a bit further as the most frustrating thing about it is that it ends before it really gets going!
Another track that divides fan opinion is All In A Mouse’s Night. Personally, I love it. The story is brilliantly picked out in both lyrics and music with Phil delivering a series of characters. A latter day Harold The Barrel story with its tongue wedged firmly between its teeth.
For me, the true heart of the album has always been the four tracks with which it concludes, beginning with the social commentary of Blood On The Rooftops. One of Steve’s finest compositions for the band and a true delight from start to finish. Here we have an all too brief example of the kind of work that he and Tony could pull out of the hat when they put their minds to it. The interplay between them on this is simply glorious.
“I still feel particularly proud of Blood On The Rooftops with both its acoustic section and strong song which I feel has very much stood the test of time. There is string instrumental stuff on it too, things that were clever rhythmically such as In that Quiet Earth. (Steve Hackett)
“There were also things like Blood On The Rooftops which I didn’t have that much to do with in terms of writing but quite a lot to do with in terms of arranging. That was the first time that Steve’s writing had really fitted in to the band and it was Phil’s chorus with Steve’s verse so it was the both of them …” (Tony Banks)
Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers and in That Quiet Earth are a musical tour de force, the likes of which the band never attempted again. A musical tone poem of the kind that the likes of Sibelius would have been proud which leads us to the final that is Afterglow. An apocalyptic masterpiece and one which proves without doubt that less can indeed be more as this one manages to say more in its four and a half minutes than many manage to say in twenty!
The story does not quite end there with the music though, because the band had sufficient material left over to produce one of those EP (Extended Play) thingies, remember them, folks? The humorously titled, Spot The Pigeon EP was released a few months after the album and contains three of the most diverse songs the band had ever penned.
In keeping with the EP’s title, the opening cut , Match Of The Day is a hilarious look at the antics from the terraces of a football match. Sadly the promotional video which accompanied this and which featured Phil on the terraces of his beloved QPR has long since been lost (deliberately I suspect!). Pigeons, is, without doubt probably one of the weakest tracks the band have released. A wry look at the situation the band currently found themselves in with the “fifty tons of shit\” being dumped on them by the metaphorical “pigeons” of the press and the punks who were now the critics’ darlings. Either way, this is very much a throwaway track.
Which leaves us with … Inside & Out, the one track which just about every fan (and at least one band member) think should have been on the album. A brilliantly written tale of a miscarriage of justice and its consequences, it is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1977.
The album was an instant and deserved success and was released on 23rd December 1976. Although critical reaction was mixed but usually favourable and by the end of the year, fans were already looking forward to another extensive round of touring from the band which began with a warm-up gig at London’s prestigious Rainbow Theatre on 31st December followed by a three night residency there commencing on New Year’s Day 1977.
This was followed by an extended tour of the major cities and theatres in the UK throughout January including many places which had not seen the band for several years and would never see them again. The show that fans saw was once again, a combination of the very best of the band’s musical output along with the very best in terms of lighting including the first lasers used as part of a rock show. Being the pantomime season here in the UK when the tour started occasionally led to unexpected “additions” to the stage show. None more so than at the Empire Theatre in my home town of Liverpool. Apparently, the panto that year was Snow White and one of the props was an inflatable pink castle. The head of the band’s road crew secured its use for the shows and so at one point during the proceedings fans were greeted by the sight of a pink inflatable castle being lowered from the lighting gantry! Speaking of inflatable things (!) during Willow Farm, two enormous inflatable sunflowers sprang up on each side of the stage!
The UK tour was followed by another month’s jaunt in the USA and Canada where the first signs of what would become an increasing trend for the band, as their increasing popularity saw them upgraded to performing in arenas as well as theatres. May saw the band head further South with their first gigs in South America performing a series of ecstatically received gigs in Brazil to massive audiences. Not everyone was quite so ecstatic however, as during the tour, Mike contracted severe food poisoning and was extremely unwell for most of it - not a great impression for your first visit!
The band returned to Europe for a further series of shows including several major festival appearances as well as a handful of shows in the UK again this time in the surroundings of London’s capacious Earls Court Arena where they were supported by Richie Havens. The tour finally ended at the massive Olympiahalle in Munich on 3rd July after which the band returned to the UK.
Unusually for the band, the set changed several times over the course of the six months the band were on the road with several notable changes throughout. Their opening night at the Rainbow for instance, saw a unique performance of Lilywhite Lilith which was never performed again. All In A Mouse’s Night was dropped after the end of the British tour while Inside & Out was brought in to the set in time for the band’s gigs in Brazil and was present until the tour concluded in early July.
The band decided that the time was right to release another live album and with so much material to choose from the resulting album was to be a double and to bear the ironically humorous title, Seconds Out . It was during the editing and mixing sessions for this album that Steve’s decision to leave the band became definite and in fact he left during the final mixing of the album. Fans were shocked by the announcement but it was not one which Steve had rushed in to. He had considered leaving the band on several occasions before not being sure that he was bringing enough to the band to merit staying. Now, however with a successful solo album (Voyage Of The Acolyte) under his belt, he had confidence in his own abilities which perhaps he bad been lacking previously.
There is no doubt that his solo success did ruffle a few feathers within the band and I will leave Steve to outline his reasons for departure in his own words…
“I think at the time I was anxious to do a string of solo albums and this was something that worried both Tony and Mike. Phil wasn’t in the least bit worried as he had operating with Brand X for quite some time but I think it was regarded as less of a threat because at least he wasn’t pushing albums out under his own name but everyone knew by then that Brand X was his band and he was going out on his own and doing gigs with it, so perhaps if I had come up with another group title or something it might have been a lot less of a political hot potato but it did seem to create some waves.
Nonetheless, I felt that I was coming up with far too many ideas for the band to fully exploit, explore is perhaps a better word and in order to develop I felt I had to work with other people. I felt that to achieve the level of greatness we had in Genesis for myself I had to do it outside of the band. I felt that I needed to paint pictures on my own which would not be seen as a threat to the established order almost. But it was perceived as q threat and it was basically a two year decision . I didn’t make it lightly and I didn’t do it overnight . Even now I still think it was the right decision for me because I would have had to say goodbye to a lot of great music….”
The band themselves in subsequent interviews were guardedly diplomatic over the situation as can be seen from these comments from Phil and Mike during an interview during the subsequent round of promotional duties for their next album…
(Phil): “You see, the one overriding thing is that you don’t want anybody in the group who isn’t into it. If anybody is in the group you have to be 100% into it or we don’t want you around really. As soon as those kind of seeds of discontent are starting to grow then you think: if that’s the situation, let’s go…”
(Mike): “It was very simple really, he wanted more money (laughs) I think his solo career became more important to him to get more of his material out than he could get on the Genesis albums each year and he just decided to pursue a solo career and the compromises he was making within the group became unsatisfactory and he went off on his own. It had built up over a long time and it was pretty clean cut really. …”
The release of Seconds Out was therefore somewhat overshadowed by the news of Steve’s departure but that did nothing to stop it reaching the number two spot in the UK charts and when you consider the material that was on it, it isn’t hard to see why as the album is perhaps the best resume of the band’s work with Peter and without him, and it is regarded rightly by Genesis fans and rock fans alike as one of the best live albums ever released.
With Steve out of the picture, the band took some time out to consider their options without him. Once again they chose to relocate to Holland for the recording of the new album, a task which occupied the winter of 1977. By this time the UK and elsewhere was well in the grip of what has since been termed the New Wave. As bands like Genesis, Yes, and those members whose solo careers were just about getting under way at this time (Peter, Steve and Anthony Phillips) the consequences of this were to be seen in the work they produced and how it was received by both the critics and fans alike.
Genesis meanwhile, continued to put together their new opus well away from such distractions but as was soon to be seen, they were not ignorant of or immune to them. As the new year of 1978 dawned, fans were to be inundated with a wealth of new albums by the various members of the band with Peter Gabriel releasing his second solo album and hitting the road again with a new sound and look which showed that he for one, had embraced the Punk mentality and outlook with varying results. Steve Hackett too was to release his second solo album : Please Don’t Touch (more of that elsewhere though) and Anthony Phillips was to release his second solo album: Wise After The Event. So, there was already much for fans to enjoy but of course, most of us were waiting with bated breath to see what our heroes would pull out of the bag now that Steve was no longer in the band.
March 1978 saw the new look band and new sound revealed. First in the shape of the first single from the album: Follow You Follow Me. This was to prove to be quite contentious. For a start it was only three and a half minutes long and was a love song but if old school fans were mortified, then that was more than compensated for by the droves of newer fans who it attracted. These were there in sufficient numbers to ensure that the single became the band’s first top ten hit reaching the number seven slot and securing them their second ever appearance on Top Of The Pops (almost five years after they refused to appear on that august programme to promote I Know What I Like) .
The album itself, humorously titled And Then There Were Three, was released a week later and immediately reached the number one spot in the UK album charts Fans were in for another shock. Here was an album which sported eleven songs in total with not one clocking in at over five minutes in length! So, before we go any further, let’s have a look at the album in a bit more detail…
We get under way with Down And Out , a marvellous synthesiser driven effort which also features some incredibly ferocious guitar from Mike who, I guess had a point to prove with Steve’s departure. Ostensibly a look at an executive’s fall from grace, this can equally be interpreted as an accurate reflection on the position the band found themselves in at the height of the Punk revolution. And none more so than in the lyrics…
I don’t want to beat about the bush
But none of us are getting any younger.
There’s people out there who can take your place
A more commercial view, a fresher face…”
A telling sentiment and one which is repeated at regular intervals throughout the album.
This is followed by what is, to my ears at least, one of the most glorious songs the band ever penned: Undertow, a Tony banks classic, replete with emotion, lush chords and a superbly delivered and emotional vocal by Phil. It is rumoured that there was a twenty minute version of this song recorded, but for me, at just over five minutes, this is perfect as it is and anyone who says that this is not the equal of some of the band’s lengthier epics has evidently never heard it!
A cowboy ghost story next in the shape of Ballad Of Big, driven along again by the haunting and choral sounds of Tony’s keyboards and some stunning percussion from Phil, this is probably one of the most underrated songs on the entire Genesis canon.
Snowbound, is another magnificent slice of Genesis storytelling with the twist being that the snowman is actually alive! This one for me harks back to the dark humour of Harold The Barrel.
Burning Rope, is without doubt, one of the finest songs the band ever committed to record and one which should certainly have had a longer shelf life in terms of live performance as in that context it was absolutely astonishing. Another reference to the vagaries of life and life’s fortunes, and the fact that nothing ever remains the same forever it contains some of the most wonderful lyrics to ever come from the pen of Mr Anthony George Banks and the synth line is simply magnificent too!
Back to the wild west next for a tale of the various gold rushes in the late nineteenth century. Or is it? Looked at from a different perspective, this one can take on a variety of other meanings. Seizing the day is definitely the main theme and one which is brilliantly evoked in music and lyrics.
Genesis do social commentary, shock horror?! Many Too Many poignantly examines a depressive’s viewpoint on life. Many Too Many have indeed stood where the central protagonist is standing and sadly many more are doing so now. Once again, never take the good things in life for granted… *I thought I was lucky/I thought that I’d got it made/how could I be so blind?” thought provoking words indeed, and here we have one of Phil’s finest ever vocal performances. A superb song and one which the band should have performed in concert.
Next up another one of those cartoon style vignettes that Genesis used to do occasionally. Based on the Little Nemo cartoon strip, here we have a child’s dream brought vividly to life in a delightfully tongue in cheek romp driven along by a wonderful reggae styled bass riff from Mike.
From the lighthearted to the depths of despair next with what once again for me is one of the most poignant songs the band have ever written: Say It’s Alright, Joe. If they were grasping for “earthy reality” with The Lamb… then they achieved it here with this tale of life as seen from the bottom of an alcoholic’s glass. Pure brilliance throughout and one of the first glimpses of the song writing skills which Phil was soon to bring to the fore.
The Lady Lies, is perhaps one of the weaker songs on the album, a tad too melodramatic for its own good and Phil generally overegging the vocal delivery a Disney meets Tim Burton styled opus with its tongue firmly in its cheek, this one instantly became a live favourite.
And that brings us to the album’s final number, the natty little ditty which became their first top ten single. Follow You Follow Me, a love song pure and simple and there is nowt wrong with that in my book. It certainly proved to be a resilient one surviving in the band’s live set right up to the 2007 tour.
Many existing fans bemoaned the lack of extended epics and the rambling instrumentals which had categorised much of Genesis’ musical output certainly during the Gabriel years, but one thing the band had become increasingly aware of was the need to change in order to survive. They had survived the initial onslaught of the New Wave but by the time they released this album, the musical landscape had begun to change irrevocably and the band had taken that on board and made the relevant changes within their musical chemistry to ensure survival.
Their new album may well have lacked a Supper’s Ready or a Rael-like figure, but it was not short on drama, instrumental excellence or storytelling and now all that remained was for the band to hit the road to promote it.
Demand to see the band had begun to increase dramatically over the last few years, especially in the US where an increasing round of touring had begun to pay dividends. 1978 was to be no exception and during the course of the year the band undertook no less than three lengthy US tours including visits to many parts of the country which had never seen the band before. In between these, the band sandwiched a further two European tours but sadly the only UK this year was staged at the massive Knebworth Park where 120,000 fans (myself included) saw the new look band in all their glory.
If the album featured no epics, then the new look stage show certainly took things to new heights. Replete with the usual array of lights including Boeing 747 landing lights, the stage was also graced with six computer operated hexagonal mirrors and an array of lasers which, when all co-ordinated resulted in an impressive visual display. The music was not lacking either, as with another show drawing on the strengths of the new album alongside classics from the band’s more recent albums, there was less room for the Gabriel era material, which isn’t surprising, a line had been drawn under that era effectively with the 1977 tour and the Seconds Out album, and so the band were free to place the emphasis on the newer material. When they did reach back however, the results were astonishing. Both In The Cage and Fountain Of Salmacis were reinstated with superb results. New guitarist, Daryl Stuermer made his mark immediately by putting his own stamp upon the guitar parts here and elsewhere with superb effect and he was immediately welcomed by fans and deservedly so.
A second single was released just prior to the UK gig with Many Too Many being the A side. This was to be the band’s second stab at one of those EP things, and featured two none album tracks; the sci fi driven The Day The Light Went Out, and the altogether more sedate Vancouver, which if anything owes much to The Beatles’ She’s leaving Home, a beautiful song. Sadly, neither the single and the two different variants of its promotional video (one filmed at Knebworth and the other at the Postgate Pavilion in Merriweather USA) bothered the charts but that did not really matter as by now, the Genesis bandwagon (pun intended) was in full gear.
Shows at various territories varied from theatres, to arenas and increasingly in the US, stadiums as demand for tickets was such, along with the increased size of the stage show, that only these venues could accommodate them. What didn’t suffer was the performances as the various bootleg recordings from this tour demonstrate.
Another indication of the increasing popularity of the band at home at least was the first proper documentary about them; a behind the scenes look at the band on the road in Europe and at Knebworth filmed by the BBC and broadcast in the summer of 1978, this remains a fascinating glimpse at what goes in to putting on a show of this magnitude.
The year culminated with the band’s inaugural visit to Japan at the end of November for a series of shows in Tokyo, and Osaka and once again, the band were filmed both by TV and privately and the existing footage gives an idea of what it was like to be present at one of these gigs.
By year’s end, the band could reflect on a job well done. They had not only survived the departure of yet another band member but they had come back with another strong and commercially successful album. America had finally succumbed to the magic of Genesis and audiences were increasing in Europe and the UK too.
And so, it is the very fact that the band not only managed to survive the departure of another key member, but that they managed to reinvent themselves once again against the challenges imposed by a rapidly changing and increasingly hostile music scene, that makes the 1977-78 period one of the most important ones in the band’s story.