“A Charismatic boxed set” - the new Charisma boxed set reviewed by Alan Davidson.

This utterly superb boxed set has appeared in the shops with apparently little or no publicity. It covers the complete career of this eclectic label and pays homage to its founder; Tony Stratton-Smith . Priced at just over £40 for the four CDs (strange.. All the shops I have seen it in are charging at least £50 if not more! JD) with possibly the best accompanying booklet I have ever seen, it is a must for every serious Genesis collector and for fans of Seventies Progressive Rock.

The distinctive cover is a painting, depicting Stratton-Smith dressed, of course, as the Mad Hatter, holding a tea party surrounded by a selection of his label’s artists. Mr Gabriel and Mr Collins are shown holding a “25 years” cake and it is nice to see that the artist has painted Gabriel complete with shaved forehead.

On opening the box, you come first to the booklet and it is absolutely stunning. Contained within its large format 48 pages are hundreds of photographs, depicting long-forgotten album covers, books, magazines and memorabilia. Each major Charisma artist is given two pages with limited yet informative text alongside a montage of great photography. The booklet, of course, would not be complete without some detailed text outlining the label’s beginnings and subsequent history, and a glowing tribute to the man who started it all.

The discs themselves however, unfortunately show not only the classic side of Charisma: Genesis, Monty Python, The Nice, Van Der Graaf Generator etc, but they also scrape the barrel with a scattered selection of has-beens and never-weres. To concentrate on the positive side, Genesis and its related artists are fairly well represented. The Knife and a genuine rarity; Happy The Man, are the two Genesis tracks. Given the cost of obtaining the latter track on single makes buying the compilation a viable proposition in its own right. There are five other Genesis-related tracks, namely Solsbury Hill and Working In Line, And The Wheels Keep Turning, How Can I? and Disco Suicide. Interestingly though these selections are; I am sure many fans would have welcomed more rare tracks, such as the hymn written by Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford from the Beyond An Empty Dream compilation, and Ant’s contribution to the Intergalactic Touring Band album.

For me, the next best after Genesis comes in the form of the three Monty Python tracks (and yes, my hovercraft is definitely full of eels!) The Travel Agent, Finland and I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song On The Radio. But why, oh why not their all-time classic; Cheese Shop? Perhaps the cat has eaten it? (No, the van broke down this morning - JD).

As I said earlier, some real progressive classics are included; Rare Bird’s Sympathy, Van Der Graaf Generator’s Refugees and Theme One and Karelia Suite by The Nice (funny, I thought that was by Sibelius? - AH) are among the serious tracks. The rest of the box’s selection is made up of eccentric, whimsical and absolutely silly, perhaps too silly tracks that made Charisma such a diverse label. There is Folk in the shape of Lindisfarne and Bert Jansch, sporting talk from John Arlott and Peter O’Sullivan, and even poetry from John Betjeman. If there is one thing that spoils the whole set for me though, it is the inclusion on disc four, the aptly titled “The Terminal Years” of a few obscure dance-rap bands from the Eighties. I mean, who the hell are the Rock Steady Crew and the World’s Famous Supreme Team??! Still, the boxed set is supposed to be a fairly complete assessment of Charisma’s history and I think a great job has been done by all concerned.

Interestingly, to accompany this set but available separately, is an eighteen track sampler CD, The Charisma Poser, retailing at about £5.99, although it features the same artists, the track selection is NOT on the boxed set - Afterglow is the Genesis track featured here. So, to recap, for any Genesis completists or pretentious Seventies buffs, this set is a MUST!

The Famous Charisma Box Charisma CAS BOX 1 £41.99

The Charisma Poser Charisma POSER 1 7243 8 39171 29 £5.99