“It was twenty years ago today… or something like that” - TWR takes a trip down memory lane recalling the Calling All Stations album and tour. Photographs by Ian Jones, Jon Guntrip, Albert Gouder and Virgin Records. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
With all the recent anniversaries that we have celebrated including our own, this very important milestone in the band’s story was in danger of being overlooked and that would have been very remiss of us indeed!
|Fans were shocked to hear in 1996 that Phil had finally decided to quit the band in order not only to pursue his burgeoning solo career, but also to gain some equilibrium and space in his own private life. His decision had been announced at a dinner organised by the band’s manager, Tony Smith in 1994 but it was thought prudent not to make any public announcement while Mike and Tony considered their options. And so it was, that fans had to wait a further year until 29th March 1997 when the announcement was finally made that the band were continuing with a new face up front.|
|Their choice fell upon the shoulders of Ray Wilson former front man of heavy rock outfit Stiltskin. Not the most obvious of choices, Ray’s credentials were not the stuff of which prog rock bands are made. Or so it seemed. The fan base reactions were mixed. In the UK and Europe, fans were surprised but perhaps not as judgemental as their US counterparts, especially as at the time we had not heard a note of music by the new line up. Eventually, the first fruits of their work appeared in late August 1997 in the shape of the quirky Congo single backed by a suitably dramatic (and expensive) video shot on set at Malta Film Studios. Once again, not an obvious choice with which to herald the arrival of a new front man and the single only achieved a number twenty nine position in the UK singles chart.|
Two weeks later, on 1st September 1980, the new album, Calling All Stations was released and went straight in at number two here in the UK, number one in Germany and other European territories but astonishingly its highest position in the US was number 53! The band’s worst showing over there since the early Seventies. This was to have repercussions in the months to come.
But what of the album itself? Calling All Stations certainly put the “rock” back into Genesis’ credentials after a round of increasingly pop orientated albums which had preceded it. The title track alone made that statement and with others of a similar nature such as The Dividing Line, the band were making a bold statement of intent. Congo, harked back to the quirkiness of some of the band’s earlier efforts such as Happy The Man although even this was a heavier effort that most fans were expecting. In between these, here were lighter moments such as Not About Us, which is without doubt one of the best ballad-type songs that the band ever produced.
Indeed the quality of the song writing can best be assessed by the tracks that were either consigned to single only release or, as in the case of one notable exception, not released officially at all. Sign Your Life Away and Run Out Of Time in particular, are in the opinion of most fans who have heard them, stronger than some of their album counterparts and even the two instrumental B sides (themselves something of a rarity for Genesis) have a certain charm about them.
The album is an altogether darker affair than practically any Genesis album since The Lamb… and perhaps this was a reflection of the situation the band found themselves in whilst recording it? For by the time the album was released, the music scene both here in the UK had changed irrevocably. Bands of Genesis’ stature were no longer able to access the radio airplay they once had and even Phil Collins’ release later that year (Dance Into The Light) failed to make the impact that his previous releases had done.
With a new album to promote, it was no surprise that an extensive tour was announced. Initially starting with an arena tour of the US in the autumn of 1997 and a subsequent series of European and UK shows in the spring of 1998. However, events were to take a surprising turn as the complete collapse of the band’s US fan base led to the eventual downsizing of the tour to theatres and eventually to its cancellation altogether. Fans in Europe and at home watched as these events unfolded and wondered if their shows would be pulled as well. Fortunately the healthier showing for the album both at home and throughout Europe ensured that these gigs were to take place.
Ironically though, given the situation in the US the band chose to hold one of the album launches for it at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral Florida on 28th August 1997 preceded two days before by a similar event at the Telecom Tower in Berlin and from the footage that exists from both of these, the band appear relaxed and evidently enjoying themselves despite the situation regarding the American tour.
With the US shows cancelled the band’s promotional activities for the album were to focus on Europe and the UK and Europe with numerous interviews and TV appearances covering the intervening period between the album’s release and the start of the tour at the end of January 1998.
Two final dress rehearsals were organised for the tour including one at Bray Film Studios on 23rd January 1998 which TWR was fortunate to be invited to attend. And a subsequent one at the Sporthall Prague on 28th January. This was to be the first opportunity to see the new line up in the flesh. Once the band hit the stage there was never any doubt that things were going to work out. Ray managed to take on the mantles of both Peter and Phil without imitating either of them although his voice did lend itself more to the Gabriel era material; With classics such as The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Carpet Crawlers back in the set, this was a much more dramatic show than its predecessors although it may have been even more so had Ray had his way in the choice of the material. The undoubted highlight of this and every subsequent show though was to be the acoustic medley comprising Lovers’ leap from Supper’s Ready, Follow You Follow Me and Not About Us which was to be the band’s final single released during the UK tour in February.