“Genesis - the BBC sessions” - An in-depth examination of the band’s BBC radio sessions by Jonathan Dann.
Undoubtedly one of the most interesting activities that the band engaged in during the early Seventies were their occasional performances of songs recorded specifically for the BBC. Always popular items with fans, they provide us with the opportunity to hear the band “live” where bootleg recordings do not exist. In some cases, the sessions have provided us with priceless moments that never made it to record, most notably through the Night Ride session from 1970 with songs like Pacidy and Shepherd and the 1971 session which allows us to hear the original arrangement of Musical Box. These sessions have tended to be the subject of much debate over the years with many rumours circulating about what was recorded and when. However, we are now able to piece together the complete picture for the first time.
When talking about the band’s BBC recordings, there are some things that should be held in mind. The BBC in the late Sixties and early Seventies had a policy of erasing tapes after six months through an agreement with the Musician’s Union. The hierarchy also tended to view tape as a more valuable commodity than the music recorded on it! Thankfully the BBC has seen the error of its ways and all sessions are now carefully preserved. Unfortunately, many a classic session has disappeared and whilst many of the band’s recordings have survived they have not completely escaped the curse of the bulk eraser as we shall see.
No doubt many readers will be asking why the band’s sessions have not been officially released, either through the Strange Fruit label which has been set up specifically to release the best of the available sessions or as part of a larger retrospective package. The band have been approached on several occasions to give their permission for release but have refused each time despite the fact that they are freely circulating on bootlegs. This must be another item to file in the “wouldn’t it be a great idea if they released that officially!” pile along with the Tony Stratton-Smith Presents… film, the non-album tracks compilation etc, etc. Anyway, on to the sessions….
For many years it was thought that the Trespass line up had escaped being captured in a session or live environment. Fortunately this is not the case as this previously forgotten session finally re-appeared courtesy of Alan Freeman on his Saturday Night/Sunday Morning show at the unearthly hour of 1am. It has gone on to be a popular item with fans not least because it features three songs that have never appeared on record. It has also been pressed to death by the bootleggers.
Recording Date: Sunday 22nd February 1970
Recording Location: Studio 4 BBC Studios Maida Vale, Delaware Road, London.
Producer: Alec Reid.
Engineer: Nick Gomm.
First Broadcast: Wednesday 1st April 1970 between midnight and 2am on Night Ride.
Songs Recorded: Shepherd/Pacidy/Let Us Now Make Love/Stagnation/Looking For Someone/Dusk.
Recording Format: Mono.
The session producer Alec Reid had already been involved in recording some demos for the band at Send Barns which included a version of Stagnation. No doubt, this helped to gain the band the opportunity to record this session. In his report to the Radio One listening panel, who would give the band the thumbs up for any future sessions; Alec Reid wrote… “I recommend this band very highly”. The band’s first radio session was only recorded and broadcast in mono as Radio One had yet to secure any FM broadcasting time. Studio 4 at Maida Vale was only equipped with a mono recording facility at this time the session was done and in fact remained that way up until late 1972. Trivia fans may like to know that John Mayhew is listed on the contract for this session as Jonathan Mayhew.
The band start the session with Shepherd, an elusive Tony Banks composition which only exists as far as I am aware in recorded form on this session. It is a fine piano-based piece with some great melodies. What is particularly interesting about this song is that it features vocals on the chorus section by Tony, his only Genesis lead vocal to date! This was a song which the band were performing on the road at the time but which was “butchered on the road” to use Ant’s phrase and was sadly dropped from the live set.
Memorably announced by Alan Freeman as being called “Cacidy” (a mistake which it is rumoured some bootleggers have failed to correct!) this is another of those lost Genesis songs. Written by Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford, the song has been recorded elsewhere on the band’s session at Regent Sound (20/8/69) which is in the custody of Tony Banks. A snippet of this piece appears on Ant’s Private Parts & Pieces album in the middle of Field Of Eternity.
Let Us Now Make Love
The final rarity on the session comes in the form of this song which was originally written in 1968. Described by Nick Drake as being “dangerous” through its quality and impact, the song has resurfaced in more recent times in instrumental form on the CD of Ant’s Ivory Moon album. Backing vocals (“now and forever”) are by Ant.
Fairly similar to the version that would surface on Trespass some eight months later, this performance is notable for the final section of the song which features those “treasure trove” lyrics. As we revealed in the last issue of TWR, these stemmed from the band’s music which accompanied a programme about the poet, George Macbeth.
Looking For Someone
Again, a similar version to that which would eventually surface on Trespass, although this is interesting as a “live” version of a song from this era.
This is the one part of the session that has not withstood the ravages of time, for a specific reason. When the sessions were recorded, they were edited on tape into individual tracks which were then stored in individual tape boxes. Somewhere along the line the tape of this song vanished as it is missing from the Radio One tape archive. Therefore we can only assume that the performance included was similar to the Trespass version. An early version of the song under the name “Family” appears on the Regent Sound session mentioned above.
Another associated part of the session which has not survived were the introductions made by the group members before each track was played. As Ant recalled in the last issue of TWR, “each guy just introduced each track in a very simple way but I couldn’t handle it and I disappeared !” The BBC listening panel were very impressed by this debut session making reference in their report to the “intriguing tone colours” of the band’s music and giving the while thing an “enthusiastic” pass. Anthony Phillips for one was unhappy with the group’s performance and the overall sound quality of the session. Even now, some twenty four years later he still cringes whenever I mention it to him! “The versions of the songs are so desperate. They all sounded a hell of a lot better live. There used to be all the jokes about BBC sessions where the guy would come in with a crowbar to get a reverb effect and the sound on that session is terrible!” he says.
By the time the band came to record their second session they had experienced a change in personnel. New drummer, Phil Collins had joined the band in September 1970 (August 4th 1970 actually - AH) and guitarist, Steve Hackett had taken up his place in the ranks in January 1971 and both of them make their studio debut with the band on this session. What is most noticeable about the playing on this session is the harder, more aggressive sound that the band have, particularly on the version of Musical Box which they include here.
Recording Date: Monday 10th May 1971.
Recording Venue: Studio T! BBC Transcription Service, Kensington House, Shepherds Bush, London.
Producer: Pete Dauncey.
Engineer: Adrian Revill.
First Broadcast; Monday 31st May 1971, between 6 and 7pm on Sounds Of The Seventies with Bob Harris.
Songs recorded: Musical Box/Stagnation.
Recording Format: 8 Track.
As with the night Ride session, the original broadcast of this session was only heard on AM in mono. However, he session itself was recorded on 8 track, allowing the band the opportunity for overdubs and was then mixed to two track for broadcast. From this session on, the rest of the band’s BBC recordings were made at the BBC Transcription Service studio and were subsequently pressed on to record as part of the BBC’s “Top Of The Pops” shows which were sent out to subscribing radio stations around the world. It is mainly due to this fact that most of the band’s sessions have survived the ravages of time.
Appearing some eight months before the release of Nursery Cryme, the band’s first track for this session was a full blown version of Musical Box. What is most interesting about the performance is the fact that the middle section of the song has a different arrangement. This is almost certainly how the song would have been heard in live performance at this time and it is quite possible that the final arrangement (which was the version performed at live shows subsequent to the release of Nursery Cryme) only came about during the recording of the album. There is some great interplay here between Tony and Steve on the song, and it is interesting to see how well Steve fitted in to the band framework just a few months after he joined.
Again, this is another competent performance which is almost indistinguishable from the version on Trespass. During the closing section of the song, Tony Banks manages to slip in a quick reprise of that “treasure trove” theme from the Night Ride performance, quite possibly as a recognition of that particular arrangement being solely a BBC item.
Come 1972 the band were starting to see some rewards for all their efforts. Trespass had reached the top of the Belgian charts and Nursery Cryme was soon to take off in a big way in Italy. Meanwhile, at home the band had maintained a vigorous touring schedule and in order to get their music across to as many people as possible, the band recorded two sessions during 1972 for the Sound Of The Seventies show hosted by John Peel.
Recording Venue: Studio T1 BBC Transcription Service Kensington House, Shepherds
Recording Date: Sunday 9th January 1972.
Producer: John Muir.
Engineer: Nick Gomm.
First Broadcast: Friday 28th January 1972 between 10pm and midnight on Sounds Of The Seventies with John Peel.
Second Broadcast: Friday 17th March 1972 time and programme as above (see notes on Harlequin).
Material Recorded: Fountain Of Salmacis/Harold The Barrel/Harlequin/Return Of The Giant Hogweed.
Recording Format: 8 Track.
This is by far the rarest session that the band recorded for the BBC. Unfortunately the master tapes for this session have been lost which explains why it has not been broadcast since the dates shown above. However, a cassette recording taken from the radio broadcast does exist and it is from this that the detail of the session has been obtained. For the first time the band’s sessions could be heard on FM although only in mono. Sounds Of The Seventies gaining an FM spot during October 1971. (Since this feature was initially written, the master tapes for this session have been located and recently BBC Radio Six re-broadcast it in its entirety including the previously believed lost performance of Fountain Of Salmacis with the added bonus of a previously unheard second “take” of Harold The Barrel - AH)
Fountain Of Salmacis
Unfortunately, this track has not survived as far as I am aware and so we can only assume that the performance included in the session was fairly similar to that which the band performed a short while after for Belgian TV. (The version broadcast recently is substantially different from the TV version and indeed from the album version too. Tony’s keyboard intro has considerably more reverb on it for starters - AH)
Harold The Barrel
A lively version of this song was the second track on the session and it features Peter Gabriel attempting to replicate all of the various voices heard on the Nursery Cryme version of the song. Phil Collins assists with the vocal duties, and the song ends with Tony Banks providing a mournful piano part as Harold leaps to his fate. “Be careful what you say about the Beeb lads, they’re listening” declares John Peel after the track has ended.
With many of the BBC sessions, it was often the practice to record more tracks than were to be used in one broadcast of the session and then to hold one track back to be used when the session received its second broadcast. In this case, Harlequin was used in this way (see session data for the second broadcast date). John Peel took the opportunity to remind listeners that they could hear the show on FM should they wish before playing this track. The version of the song is fairly similar to the album version with some nice vocal harmonies. the song itself comes to a halt rather than fading as it did on record.
Return Of The Giant Hogweed
Another lively performance this is almost exactly the same as the album version and the version here is almost identical to that on the Belgian TV show “Pop Deux”. At the song’s conclusion, John Peel declares, “that’s the last from Genesis and it’s been a nice session from them I think” and adds that the show” must have them back” which leads us quite nicely to….
Recording Venue: Studio T1 BBC Transcription Service, Kensington House, Shepherds
Recording Date: Monday 25th September 1972.
Producer: John Walters.
Engineer: Bob Conduct.
First Broadcast: Thursday 9th November 1972 between 10pm and midnight on Sounds Of The Seventies with John Peel.
Track Recorded: Twilight Alehouse/Watcher Of The Skies/Get ’Em Out By Friday.
Recording Format: 8 Track.
The official BBC data for this session lists the first broadcast date for the session as 7th November but this seems to be inaccurate as the 7th was a Tuesday and John Peel’s show was broadcast on Thursdays at this time. We can only assume that this apparent error has come from a mistake on the official data sheet such as a badly written 9 which could be read as a 7! In any case, this session was the first time that Sounds Of The Seventies appeared in stereo on FM, with the first broadcast being made at the start of the week in which this show went out.
Appearing over a year before it was finally released on record as the B side to I Know What I Like, this song dates back to 1969/70 when it was a regular feature of the band’s set. The performance here echoes that which had been seen on the “Pop Deux” TV show. In common with the other tracks on this session, the performance is excellent and it serves as a good indicator of how strong the band had become in live performances.
Watcher Of The Skies
Again, another excellent performance of this song which remains fairly similar to the Foxtrot version, although Gabriel’s vocals have had some extra reverb added to them for additional effect.
Get ’Em Out By Friday
This rounds off the session in fine style with another faultless performance, which remains faithful to the recorded version of the song.
What is remarkable for the most part about these session performances is the quality of the playing which only goes to prove how a good live act they were (and still are). As I have said it is a great shame that the band are against any sort of official release of these sessions as they form a vital part of the band’s story. The band did not return to the session studio again, and I think it highly unlikely that we will ever see them in session in the future. It is worth noting two other BBC performances involving members of the band while we take a look at the BBC sessions: Phil Collins was involved in two sessions recorded by Brand X in 1976 and Steve Hackett elected to record his own sessions for the Friday Rock Show in 1983. There is of course, one other important BBC appearance for the In Concert series which we will detail next time.
Enormous Mr Equator-like thanks to the following people who have helped with the detail on this article: Phil Lawton (archivist at Radio One), Ken Garner, Vernon Parker, Peter Morton and Anthony Phillips for poignant recollections.
No doubt readers have noticed the session detail here and thought “wouldn’t it be a great idea if somebody put details of all of the BBC sessions recorded over the years into a book? Well, the good news is that they have and a salute must go to Ken Garner for his excellent book “In Session Tonight” (BBC Books) which, as well as providing essential data on a huge variety of sessions recorded for Radio One also details the whole history of session recording at the BBC. ]