“One for the vaults” - Anthony Phillips talks about the early Genesis recording sessions. Interview by Jonathan Dann.
Following on from Part One of this feature which detailed Ant’s solo session work (to be found in #4 of The Pavilion) we take a look at the band’s formative years and their early demo sessions.
JD: Let’s start from the very beginning and ask you about the very first recording sessions you did at the studio in Putney, recording Pennsylvania Flickhouse…
AP: (Cornish accent) You mind my compressors! ctually his accent wasn’t like that but it was at Tony Pike Sound in Dryburgh Road, Putney. I came across a friend of mine recently who worked there as a tape op and he said that in fact Tony Pike knew his stuff - he probably did actually, and we didn’t. The fact was that we were used to playing our amps quite full and so they got a lot of power from the overloading. You can do it more easily now with fuzz boxes and the like. He insisted that we turn everything down because he said (in Cornish accent) “You’re overloading my compressors!” (laughter). Instead of this great riff - it was a Satisfaction crib with a great fuzzy resonant sound - it was all clinky and horrible, rather thin and weedy - it was a disaster! We did a song called Don’t Want You Back which became known as Don’t Wash Your Back.
JD: Was this at the same session?
AP: Yes, the same session. It was a complete disaster, it was absolutely awful!
JD: So you recorded those two songs then. Do you still have the tape?
AP: I certainly don’t! A lot of the early demos I don’t have but we recorded early demos before that at Brian Roberts’ house and later on we recorded a lot of early Genesis demos there too, but this was in the days of Anon. So the Tony Pike Sound was our first experience in a proper studio.
JD: And there were demo sessions before then?
AP: We did rough demos at Brian’s place including a couple of Stones songs - I think we did Lady Jane. We certainly did a version of In Hiding which was called Patricia in those days. However, the big moment came when we went out to Tony Pike and had a disaster! Later there were the Genesis demos recorded with Brian.
JD: Are we still in the dark as to where all of this resides?
AP: Where the tapes are? I don’t have them but Brian Roberts may have a lot. He could have a treasure trove of material. Knowing him he would be very well organised. It is possible that the tapes have deteriorated as a lot of these tapes do - the oxide tends to come off.
JD: Is it possible that Mike or Tony might have copies?
AP: I’m sure Tony Banks would have copies of some of the early Genesis demos - he was probably the most organised in terms of keeping things. Mike and I did demos of our songs in late ‘69 and we never kept the tapes! Tragedy because there would have been early demos of things that ended up on The Geese & The Ghost and in fact there would have been one piece that had some stuff from Musical Box on it. Then there were the first demos that we got the contract with Jonathan King for and the only one that was presentable out of that was the song called She Is Beautiful which became The Serpent. The others were absolutely horrendous. I don’t think we did Don’t Wash Your Back, that was just during Anon days. We did one called Listen On Five which was really dreadful!
JD: Don’t Wash Your Back is quoted as being on that tape.
AP: That’s on it? How dreadful! (laughter) A man with pride in his work! Then there were numerous incarnations of Genesis demos which were song demos, just piano and vocal. We endlessly traipsed in and out of studios like Regent B to do these.
JD: There was another one following on from that, where you chose the two best songs from the first tape and did them along with two other tracks, one of which was a thing called The Image Blown Out.
AP: Image Blown Out, of course, that’s right! Something which I strongly recollect is that we did actually record in the summer of ‘67 a version of Sour Turns To Sweet as a single which never came out. It was before The Silent Sun, Image Blown Out - I think that was recorded at the same session. That song was certainly recorded for From Genesis To Revelation and wasn’t released (as was an early version of Visions Of Angels - JD). You’re quite right, it was done as one of the early demos. I have a feeling that it was going to be the B side for that Sour Turns To Sweet single, it would have very much fitted into that summer - post boxes red and all that sort of psychedelic lyric stuff.
JD: One thing we should mention here is a Genesis bootleg CD which includes a track called Mary, Mary. It’s claimed that it is a 1967 song taken from an acetate.
AP: I’ve never heard of it.
(NB: Since this interview took place it has come to light that this track is actually by the American Genesis. The track on the CD is also lacking much in the way of any keyboards or piano which would undoubtedly be present on any recording by the band)
JD: So where did it progress from there?
AP: Well, this is something that hasn’t been mentioned before. Genesis actually did do a session when we were going to be managed by a guy called Marcus Bicknell. He was very nice and he was the first guy to show interest when we had done our crash rehearsal period at Send and we suddenly sounded like a live band. Tony Banks had got into the organ and The Knife was on the way - it was beginning to sound exciting. Marcus Bicknell came down and he had a friend called Robert Kirkby. Robert Kirkby eventually did the arrangements and orchestrations for a number of people including Nick Drake. He was involved in some songs with a character that I have since met actually, a sort of film editor character and they had these songs. So, we found ourselves doing these songs in a studio in London - we were a band with our own style, we were trying to cut our teeth as a progressive band and it didn’t really work. I remember seeing the lyrics and saying “My God, who wrote these?” and the engineer said “John Lennon!” I always remember that, I felt very embarrassed about it. So, Genesis were session artists for Robert Kirkby and Roy Benson - Joshi (Joji Hirota) ended up trying to write a musical with this guy years later.
JD: So that was recorded?
AP: Yes, they were demos but they must exist somewhere. Somebody somewhere has got the whole Genesis band doing this set of songs.
JD: Can you remember how many songs there were?
AP: There were just stacks of them with these awful lyrics!
JD: After you did Genesis To Revelation, the band recorded four songs at Regent Sound in August 1969 - including Going Out To Get You, Pacidy and two others…
AP: I don’t really remember that one. I remember the whole summer being fairly depressing when we were trying to write bluesy songs and it didn’t work. Then I remember the period September/October when things did start to work. I recall mucking around with acoustic songs and things like The Movement, but I don’t remember demoing all the things from this era.
JD: So it’s unlikely that a complete performance of The Movement was ever captured?
AP: I tell you what, there was another tape done when Brian Roberts came down with a guy who worked for the BBC, called Alec.
JD: Peter Gabriel remembered that being recorded at Send Barns.
AP: Yes, that’s right. There was a lot of acoustic stuff with a fairly full version of what became Stagnation but with some parts that were very influenced by The Weaver’s Answer (classic Family song - JD). I was very influenced by that. Tony Banks got quite a shock when he heard that! (laughter).
JD: Just to fill in, there was a session or two done for the BBC for a programme about a painter…?
AP: There was one for a poet who died recently - George Macbeth. The theme was some music about treasure troves.
JD: That would explain the lyrics in Stagnation as performed on the BBC Night Ride session? (Join with us/Upon the quest for gold etc…)
AP: yes, it was all about that. Peter changed the lyrics for that.
JD: People have picked up on that - they’ve said “different arrangement, different lyrics”
AP: George Macbeth, he was a good poet. However, I think there was another BBC session as well. I know that for one of them we wrote lots of stuff that became tagged on to the end of Looking For Someone that long sort of instrumental medley. Certainly those treasure trove lyrics are absolutely right. Some of the bits obviously existed from the previous summer but some of the new bits came along because of that BBC session. There was a lot of resistance in the group to doing it. Tony Banks really didn’t want to do that, I remember that quite strongly. We did it at the very last minute. At that stage the gigs were going so-so the thought of doing stuff for the BBC had a good ring to it but then we thought “hang on - this isn’t really us”.
JD: Then you did the BBC Night Ride session which most people know about now….
AP: Yes, I can clearly remember that because we did it and the sound was terrible, we played appallingly and you have since heard the results, sadly.
JD: A lot of people don’t share your sentiments on that.
AP: Well, that’s great - it’s great that they like it. All I can assure you is that it sounded a hell of a lot better live. I can clearly remember funking one bit where each of us had to do this piece when it went out. Each of us had to go and be interviewed and introduce a track. Things weren’t going well for me at the time in the group and I was very edgy and I couldn’t deal with it. I just panicked and thought “I can’t do this!” It’s funny now when I think about it because now radio interviews - they worry me a little but never a lot. The others had to go up in turn and I remember I just funked it. Each guy went up and was interviewed and I just disappeared. They just introduced each track in a very simple way.
JD: That hasn’t made it in the re-broadcast of the session. Did you ever record rehearsals or actual gigs? Again, there have been ideas floating around that the band have live tapes of all these concerts. Or were you concentrating too much on the music?
AP: Oh yes - in the early days no one ever thought about recording things. I’m sure as it went on people did. But we never used to record them and listen to them - we never did that exercise. There weren’t really Walkmans in those days, there were just big cassette players all installed in units in the home you couldn’t take it out on the road. Peter Gabriel and I co-bought a Bayercord in 1970 but that was almost as I was leaving, so none of us had that kind of thing. We had very basic tape machines which we would never have dreamt of lugging on the road. The van was so cramped as it was. So those ideas re wrong.
JD: So we can discount any rumours that there are live recordings from that period?
AP: Somebody else may have tried but there were no official ones from that period.
JD: There haven’t been any bootlegs from that period either.
AP: Somebody somewhere may have recorded something but I doubt it actually. I just think the technology would have been against it. It wasn’t like nowadays - this (here Ant is referring to my Walkman) would have seemed like the moon in 1968/69. It really would have done. There were portable cassette machines but they were terrible quality.
JD: The recording of Trespass, that was done at Trident?
AP: Yes, I think that was done on 8 track but I’m not sure about that. John Anthony was fun - he kept telling us dirty jokes and we were fairly straight laced in many respects, it used to go over our heads. Quite a serious group, Genesis, it wasn’t a group where you could go off to the pub and have a few pints. Mike was in that mould but he sort of subordinated that side of his character I think.
JD: Here’s a good trivia question for you. On The Knife, there is a riot in the middle section. Who does the voice that says “OK men, fire over their heads!”?
AP: I think it was John Anthony who did that. It was supposed to be (deep and serious) “OK men, fire over their heads!” and in fact it was (light and wimpy) “OK chaps, fire over their heads!” (laughter).
As always our thanks to Ant for providing such a fascinating insight into the
early days of the band.