“John Anthony - a charismatic producer!” (co-starring the delicious talents of Paul Whitehead). An examination of one-time Genesis producer John Anthony’s work by Patrick Vigneron. With additional bits and pieces by Jonathan Dann.
On Thursday 19th February 1970, Genesis supported Rare Bird at the Marquee Club in London./ Steve Gould, Rare Bird’s prolific singer was so impressed by Genesis’s music that he mentioned them to his friend, and producer John Anthony, and asked him to listen to the band. John was then producer of Rare Bird having recently worked on their hit single, Sympathy, which was also the first ever release on the Charisma Records label.
This new company was founded by Tony Stratton-Smith, then manager of Van Der Graaf Generator who had been inspired by their lead singer Peter Hammill to have a go at the job of record company executive, previously having helped them record a single for Polydor (Firebrand) in 1968. On his advice, John Anthony had already produced their first album; The Aerosol Grey Machine at Trident Studios in London and released on Mercury Records in October 1969. The sleeve notes for the album included John’s invaluable guide to making an LP, giving such advice as “take 4 people, blend thoroughly until they are a group, add a producer (of sorts) and a good engineer (to taste)” and concluding with “serve on a warm turntable… with a stereo pick-up. Garnish your head with whatever turns you on”.
John was looking for new talent and so he went to see Genesis when they played at Ronnie Scott’s Club in March 1970. He was suitably impressed by songs like Visions Of Angels and he persuaded Stratton-Smith to see the band there the following week. Strat was very impressed by what he saw and heard and clearly saw their potential. March also saw the release of the first album on his new label: Van Der Graaf’s The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other.
Meanwhile, in April 1970, Genesis signed with Charisma Records and an album was planned for the summer. John Anthony was to produce Trespass and he brought in his friend Paul Whitehead to design the artwork for the sleeve. Whitehead had already designed the first proper advertising logo for Genesis for their UK tour in February/March. For the album he created a medieval type design. Trespass was finally released in October 1970 and marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between artist, producer and designer. The next album to feature their delicious talents was released a month later and was Van Der Graaf’s H To He: Who Am The Only One, which also featured a guest appearance by Robert Fripp.
At the end of January 1971, Genesis toured with VDGG in the UK and this lead to a deepening bond between the two Peters (Hammill and Gabriel) as well as with John Anthony. In February 1971 there came the self-titled album by Colin Scott, this time appearing only in the USA. It featured guest appearances from members of Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, VDGG and even Rare Bird. For contractual reasons, may of the Charisma artists couldn’t appear on the album under their own names, so they appeared instead under aliases - Peter Gabriel became “P Angel Gabriel”, Phil Collins became “P C Genesis” and Peter Hammill became “Van Der Hammill”. It is curious that the album was not released in the UK, for this moody and sensitive album would not have been out of place on the Charisma catalogue, especially with such a number of appearances by Charisma artists on it.
The next album that John Anthony produced was Peter Hammill’s solo album; Fool’s Mate, which was released in July 1971. Once again, Robert Fripp made a guest appearance on this album. In November this was followed by the release of VDGG’s classic album; Pawn Hearts with Robert Fripp appearing once more. November 1971 also saw the release of the next Genesis album; Nursery Cryme, with the now famous Victorian logo designed by Paul Whitehead. Also featured on that album is the Mellotron (“The Black Bitch”) which King Crimson had put to such good effect on their first album - an album which had influenced the formative Genesis so much. Peter Gabriel had bought it from Robert Fripp after a meeting at Ronnie Scott’s Club.
Sadly, 1972 saw John Anthony’s last work with Genesis. He maintained a low profile that year, only producing two singles - the fabulous Theme One for VDGG and the other for Genesis in toe form of Happy The Man. On 26th June 1972, Genesis opened the show once again for VDGG at the Olympia in Paris just before the latter disbanded.
The next Genesis album Foxtrot was released in October 1972 and although the cover design is by Paul Whitehead, the album was not produced by John Anthony who had been sacked for spending too long producing the former single! Instead, David Hitchcock took over the production in conjunction with the band. John Anthony did have some influence over some of Foxtrot however - an incident involving both him, Peter Gabriel and Peter’s wife Jill during 1972 went on to inspire Supper’s Ready. In December 1972 Charisma released a commemorative album of VDGG material titled 68 -71.
Peter Hammill continued working on his second solo album; Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night which was issued in May 1973, just after he opened for Genesis at the Olympia in Paris! In an interview given at the time, he said that some members of Genesis, in particular, Phil Collins, had participated on the album, although there is no mention of this on the album’s credits.
The last production work carried out by John Anthony was another Hammill solo album - The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage which was released in February 1974. It contains an incredible track called Modern, which all Lamb… fans MUST listen to because it deals with the same subject matter as a certain double album released later that year! I am sure that it had a strong effect on Peter Gabriel and besides, Genesis were supported by Peter Hammill during some of the Selling England By The Pound shows in the US during the spring of 1974.
The links between VDGG and Genesis don’t end there, however. Peter Hammill has made guest appearances on Peter Gabriel’s fourth solo album and more recently on Us, while both Peters and Phil Collins appeared on Robert Fripp’s solo album; Exposure, released in 1979. Also in 1979, Peter Gabriel played shows at which VDGG’s sax player, David Jackson made a guest appearance. In addition, drummer Guy Evans appeared on Anthony Phillips’ album Tarka in 1988.
Well, thanks for that insight, Patrick into the careers of some of the prime movers in the early days of the band.