“Genesis Revelations” - Anthony Phillips talks at length about the formative years of the group to Peter Morton, Ted Sayers and Alan Hewitt. Interview conducted at Vic’s Place on 28th April 1989. Photos by Ted Sayers. Memorabilia: TWR Archive and Mino Profumo. Photographs by Jeff Layton and Decca Records.
TWR: What were your earliest musical influences, and what sort of music influenced you while you were at Charterhouse?
AP: The first musical influences were… The Shadows. I have to be honest with you. Pre- Beatles was my start which dates me a bit. The one thing was while I was at school was one guy played the guitar and I thought he was pretty clever because he did this. And there was one song by Lonnie Donnegan called: My Old Man’s A Dustman…this goes back a,ong way and I thought well, this is really the answer. So I was actually the lead singer in this band for one concert and of course, I forgot the words and I thought perhaps the guitar is easier.
I started playing guitar and we started by imitating The Shadows and then quickly after that The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. I can give you a quick potted history really; Beatles, Stones, then back to The Beatles again when they went through Revolver and stuff, through that and then I had my blues aficionado period… well most of us did really and followed John Mayall and his band in its various incarnations around the clubs and during school holidays. I was still at Charterhouse and then shortly after Charterhouse, the whole progressive rock thing began; Family and the lighter stuff like Fairport Convention and all of those bands had an influence on Genesis. The influence that came from Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks was more Procul Harum and sort of soul stuff apart from hymns and the English choral stuff.
TWR: How did you actually get involved with Anon? Do you actually still see any of them?
AP: Well, one of them is no longer with us, sadly, a very dear friend of mine… well, he was for many years and I lost contact with him. A lot of us did, actually and he went right off the rails, and one tends to remember him now with affection; a guy called Rivers Job who I used to play all my early guitar stuff with. He left Charterhouse early and got involved with blues bands. I think he was with Chicken Shack; Stan Webb’s lot. Basicaly it was he and I at Charterhouse and a great drumer called Rob Tyrrell who was a very funny guy… a marvellous drummer and then Mike.
There is this story when the group got together, the gathering of the members when we had to find a drum kit for Rob Tyrrell to play, and there was this guy in my house who was a nice guy but quiet and fastidious almost slightly old womanish … you CAN print that! (laughs) and when I tell you his name of course, and it was understandable; a couple of younger guys … tearaways wanting to borrow his drum kit. I didn’t know what he could do but he came along and said nothing and just sat there through this entire rehearsal and of course, it was Peter Gabriel (laughs). Well I didn’t know who he was and he wasn’t involved in the early stuff. He obviously did some drumming in the school holidays which we didn’t know anything about, and we were two years apart from each other and at that stage you didn’t really talk to somebody. So we knew that this guy had a drum kit and I wouldn’t have dared suggest that we ever play together, but could we borrow your drum kit? He was very nice and he came along to check out on the rehearsal on his drum kit. And it wasn’t until a couple of years later that we actually got together. It definitely started with Rivers and me finding this great drummer called Rob Tyrrell. He could do anything. At Charterhouse it was a revelation to actually have some guys who could actually keep in time with us and come back on the right beat.
TWR: Was it an enjoyable period?
AP: The early stuff was because it was just Stones numbers and it had that raw kind of quality. It was tough with the Establoshment, they really sat on us. That’s why we had no trick with classical music and it was all sort of stop doing that and listen to some serious music. Rivers kept on being banned from playing and it got a bit serious. Perhaps I got a bit too intense about it. Mike left and we got another guy called Mick Colman who was actually a brilliant musician but like a lot of brilliant musicians he has done nothing with it, as far as I know. He was a brilliant pianist, a brilliant violinist and he just picked up the guitar and did all the solos. I don’t know what happened to Mike (Rutherford) I think he was basically in the pub! (laughs) He was a bit of a lad in those days. He was, unlike the others, he was in with the “in” crowd.
TWR: Did you actually write anything at this stage?
AP: I started writing. I wrote some of the early stuff that Anon did and I made these poor buggers play them and at that time a lot of it was pretty crass. I remember writing a song called Pennsylvania Flickhouse which was an almost grotesque thing. It didn’t have a bad riff actually, and there was this awful song called Don’t What You Back which the others called Don’t Wash Your Back.
TWR: Did any of these ever get recorded?
AP: Yeah, A guy called Brian Roberts, he had a garage. This was the guy with the German mother who used to call them, both of them, the husband and the son by their surnames (laughter) Roberts, you get ze tea. She was wild actually. I remember a policeman came in once to see what we were doing because we were sort of sitting on the balcony and I have never seen a guy sent packing so quickly - he was just gone. We may have done rough cassette things at school. Almost every stage we did some stuff at his place. He would have tapes, he was super organised. He was a BBC cameraman. He might still have the first … all the Anon songs and one song; the first song that I ever wrote which was of any kind of worth called Patricia, which became In Hiding. She wasn’t very good looking anyway! (laughs). He would have all of those.
Actually, Patricia wasn’t that bad. I think it had Mick Colman playing some classical guitar on it. He would also have what would be the first Genesis tapes which was the session where Mike and I went to record our song sand since then I’d got to know this guy (Peter) who could sing a bit and he was kind of a wild guy who used to stand on tables and so on. I got Tony Banks to come and play the keyboards on it and he was going to bring Peter, his vocalist who I hadn’t really heard sing, to do one song. The deal was that Banks would come along and play keyboards if we recorded one song of theirs and course, their song was far better than any of our stuff and we actually got the publishing deal on the basis of their song which was called She Is Beautiful which became The Serpent and it was really good.
Mike and I were writing dreadful songs… I mean we wrote one called Listen On Five which was ghastly! We were trying to find a style, we were still kind of Beatles/Stones, early blues electric guitar. It was when we hit the acoustic guitar that things really started to happen. We were going through all of that and not being very convincing. The early things were terribly speculative. Peter came along literally to accompany Tony on the keyboards and that was the song that was thrust into Jonathan King’s hands and then we signed this publishing contract and got ten quid each.
TWR: After that I understand that you did some more songs that Decca and Kind weren’t very impressed by?
AP: Yeah. We went progressive and I liked a lot of that and when the other boys did Silent Sun I thought it was a terrible sell out and I really hated it to start with. I thought it was really… a sort of…. Jonathan King loved the seven chord trick because basically that was all he knew (laughs). I wasn’t really with all that stuff I thought it was OK but when they started writing this sort of simple…. Mike and I didn’t have the firepower to answer really. We could object. Mike, to be fair, wrote very little. I wrote quite a lot and moist of it was iffy. I didn’t like The Silent Sun. I came round to it. Was That’s Me on the B side? That was the one where I am supposed to have said “oh fuck” (laughs). There’s a glitch in the solo where it became know that I am supposed to have said “oh fuck” when I missed the bend. There is a slight pause on it and that was pretty awful as well, wasn’t it? I don’t know if I was involved in the writing , I think I probably was, actually.
TWR: So, where did all this progressive stuff end up?
AP: Good question really. I don’t remember really. I think it went nowhere. I’ll tell you what it was, he was probably right it was a bit 1967, a bit Flower Power. It went…Peter’s lyrics went very cosmic I think and there were songs like Barnaby’s Adventure and one called Fourteen Years Too Long. I remember that one. The others would have to tell you actually. There were about seven or eight, Brian Roberts would have those. This stuff was long gone, I mean there were two or three other eras before we even got to the road. Brian Roberts would have copies of those I mean we never used to keep copies of things, there weren’t the facilities like there are now for automatic cassette copying and stuff like that. I don’t remember if anything survived out of that, I just don’t remember.
TWR: I understand that you weren’t very happy when the From Genesis To Revelation LP was being recorded?
AP: We were dead naive and some of the playing was pretty rough on that album but it seemed to sound pretty good to most of us and we had this pretty naïve idea that putting strings on meant a lovely sort of string wash. Family had done a track on the album that I loved: Doll’s House and it had a full string sound like chords, rich. And I thought this was what we were getting with our twelve strings and it was very naïve but nobody said anything obviously. Suddenly, it was these high wheelers, solo strings and the worst thing about it was that because of the way it was recorded was that they stuck all of the backing tracks, having been the way it was recorded, was that they stuck all of the backing tracks having been the full picture, suddenly went left in the stereo and the strings were suddenly on their own with the vocals I think dominating the whole thing. I saw the rich orchestral thing as a bed on which the track would ort of sit on and not shift the whole track and then partly take over.
I couldn’t believe it, this thing that we had worked for was… and nobody else was saying anything! I think I did storm out, I felt that all these months’ work had been destroyed . To see the whole thing falling apart in front of your very eyes and see a lot of complacent people doing nothing about it, which was what seemed to be happening. I wanted to shake people and say do something about it. Jonathan King was very powerful and there was this phalanx of engineers: Tom Allen and these guys and Brian Roberts who was the tape operator/. Maybe it was partly commercial. Maybe to them it made it more accessible and we, me in particular, were too bound up with the original sounds.
TWR: Two songs that were recorded at that time, or at least were played live in 1969/70 were Going Out To Get You and Pacidy. Can you tell us anything about those?
AP: Going Out To Get You was an up tempo one. It was very much a group composition. I think it was… you seethe songs we took on the road to start with were a bit of a mix really of acoustic things which were more Mike and me. You see, Mike and I really came into our own in 1969 and when we first went on the road, Tony Banks found the organ a tricky proposition and he didn’t naturally adapt to it straight away and Mike and I suddenly found ourselves with the lion’s share of the cake for a while but we were also responsible for some of the more average stuff because our electric guitar stuff was still forming the basis of some of the louder stuff and it wasn’t the best stuff and I think Going Out To Get You was probably a hotch potch of some of our slightly blues riffs and I don’t really remember much more about it except that we used to start with it.
Pacidy was a thing of Mike’s originally, which was a kind of medieval kind of thing, lovely. I used abit of that, in a guitar piece, a track called Field Of Eternity. We had loads of nice acoustic songs all of which were basically butchered, not deliberately but by tech louts, the equivalent of lager louts in fact. We had this lovely idea and you can’t do that in front of tech crowds, you can’t build up from a small beginning to a big crescendo. It was an experiment that didn’t really work. We had a number called Let Us Now Make Love which was a very popular live number. It was regarded as one of the best songs and I remember Nick Drake coming up to us and saying; ‘who wrote that?’ and then something like ‘dangerous’ because he thought it was so good. But that died a death.
We used to do a song of Tony’s called Shepherd which was a really pretty song and we did another one which was mainly mine called Little Leaf which ended up as Old Wive’s Tale at the end of the Antiques LP and that’s five or six good acoustic songs. We had a good second set at one time I remember playing at Brunel University with Fairport Convention and effectively blowing them off stage with a set which had Visions Of Angels, Twilight Alehouse, Pacidy, probably Stagnation and The Knife and it was a good set. Pacidy lost in the end because it was just too slow and ponderous. The pressure came to accelerate everything and make it… because they weren’t proper concert audiences and you had to get a move on and it was just too slow. Twilight Alehouse was pretty good too.
TWR: Going back to your first profesisonal gig, Mrs Balme’s dance. Have you any particular memories of that?
AP: Absolutely. Always of Peter singing that song “Babies” in the corner and we couldn’t hear him! He had this style which has obviously become a very endearing style but in those days it wasn’t very confident, which was where he appears to pick at the piano and that’s fine if it’s obvious for the rest of us to know what tempo he is in, and of course, that relies on hearing him and he tended to drift and he was in the corner and a lot of people were talking over towards our side and he just drifted out of the frame really. He was still going but I don’t think anybody else was listening to him!
In those days we did these kind of multi big chord changes where everybody would suddenly end up by playing different instruments and nothing would ever work (laughs) and long gaps between numbers were things would be tried and passed around (laughs). There was a thing which used to be known as the “Strat Procession” which was my guitar which Tony Banks would sometimes play through his Leslie and it would often go round two or three times to see if it would work in different sockets. I think this is probably where Gabriel’s stories started because there was such a long time that had to be filled in because various bits of gear didn’t work. The song, to be fair wasn’t actually called Babies, it was actually a deep, terribly unfair this… that was a cynical line that Tony Banks called it because it was a heart rending song of Peter’s about being torn between two women and wanting children and stuff.
TWR: When you all retreated to the MacPhail cottage in the winter of 1969/70,how did you all get on?
AP: Well, I am always seen as taking the line of being the grim prophet. My side of this was always a downer. The others would always look at it as a formative period and forget about the bad times. It was definitely a formative period and the group had to go through that. I just look at it an think that we made an awful lot of mistakes in terms of how we handled it which meant that personality difficulties were going to be inevitable, in the sense that we never stopped. We never left the place. This was the big dream, getting it together and one couldn’t own up to being disillusioned but we were too young and I was certainly too young to realise that this is what happens when you work at something all the time it becomes a job and you have to get away from it, you have to get away from the people in order to keep the freshness and to stop things going sour. The music got better but the personalities started to fray and to move apart.
It is certainly not true to say that when I left I was the dissenting voice and everybody else was hunky dory - very much not so at all. I had grown very much apart from Mike and Tony Banks - I would say, and I don’t think he would mind me saying that he had grown even further apart. The atmosphere in the band ..I mean we had been playing the same songs with one change for nine months and there was no musical freshness and we decided of course, because the songs were all going down well on stage, to record those so there was no freshness there at all, all we did was add the odd extra part.
TWR: Were there any concerts performed in that period?
AP: It was from September through to June I think. It had its good moments but basically it was just overkill. let’s face it, probably all the things that happened would have happened anyway, but in a way it was all sped up because in a way we mishandled it by going at it too much. We literally never had days off!
TWR: When you were doing the gigs were there any that stood out?
AP: I think you remember the terrible ones and the good ones. I remember the
one that summer in the East End when there was only one guy in the audience
and Peter said; ’any requests?’ (laughs) I mean, that is a legendary
one! The one at Blaises which was this sort of awful nightclub and in those
days Mike used to play a cello and it was a tiny stage and he bowed up a woman’s
skirt (laughs) and that is obviously another one that you couldn’t forget!
A terrible gig at the Marquee when we had a showcase and my amp went wrong. The twelve string used to feedback and we had got to the quiet bit in Stagnation and it was just a complete funnel of sound going on so they whipped out the lead from the amp and I was playing the main guitar; twelve string so Peter was left trying to hear me and I wasn’t sure what had happened so I turned up rather than down so that when they plugged the lead back in there was this terrible roar so I remember that! This was in the second half and I remember somebody saying to me afterwards ’your problems were in the first half’ and I remember thinking could you have been at the same gig that I was at?
For one good audience reaction, I remember there was one at Brunel University,the very first gig was at Brunel, the one I am trying to remember with Fairport would have been the following February or March and the first gig was a nightmare because I had restrung and I shouldn’t have done and I had a loose machine head and we began with In The Beginning and we got to the bit where I had the first break and two strings had slipped really badly, and I just turned really wildly and I didn’t know what I was doing and all these people were looking round - an absolute nightmare. But it seemed to get better.
TWR: Do you remember what tracks were played at the early gigs? You obviously expanded the repertoire. Did you ever play things like Musical Box before you left?
AP: No. I think all the ones that were done in that first year we have mentioned. I can’t think of any others.
TWR: Were you happy with the production on Trespass?
AP: Yeah. I felt that I was fading out towards the end. I sort of had this feeling that the time was nigh actually whilst we were doing it. Nevertheless, it was fun, it was alright. I remember having a bit of a ding dong with the engineer about the twelve string sound. I remember him telling me that doesn’t sound like a twelve string and I had been playing this thing on the road for nine months and I had my own sound and it wasn’t everybody’s idea. I didn’t go in for this kind of washboard, percussive all plectrum kind of stuff. I was trying to aim toward the more orchestral thing and that was a bit funny. John Anthony was nice enough, he kept on telling dirty jokes all the time and we were all a bit precious and probably didn’t laugh in the right places.
TWR: Did you go to see the band much after you left?
AP: Funnily enough, I did to start with and then I just sort of drifted away. I was really impressed when they had no guitarist actually, they were excellent. It was a bit thin at times but it improved their technique like hell because Mike had to do all the guitar chords and bass pedals and Tony was having to do some of the guitar parts too.
TWR: Did you ever see them with Mick Barnard?
AP: Yeah. I thought they were great. I saw them once at… The Gin Mill , that was another place where we had a good gig when I was with them; the Gin Mill in Godalming. I saw them very much on odd times after that really. My kind of life just sort of drifted and didn’t see them at all for about two years. Also the gigs became a bit bigger and a bit more overpowering as well and whilst I was very happy for them that that was happening I didn’t feel quite so comfortable going along to those sort of things.