"Small Talk With A Big Voice" - A chat with Ray Wilson. Interview by Richard Gorman.
After his excellent acoustic set in Dundee's Doghouse, Ray Wilson was good enough to spare some time for an informal after gig chat. Sitting at the bar with friends and relations he was amiable and accessible taking the time to sign a couple of autographs and exchange banter with other performers over a drink, coffee in Ray's case.
On "Calling All Stations" Ray shares the writing credits with Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford for "Not About Us", "Small Talk" and "There Must Be Some Other Way". So after hearing the quality of his own songs, I asked him how much input he had into the compositional process of "Calling All Stations". "None. None at all really. Tony and Mike had put down most of the music before I came in." Ray's contribution was lyrical, on the Polish television broadcast of the band's European tour he describes being told to sing spontaneously over a pre-recorded studio track and being inspired by the pressure of the situation to sing the lyrics "There must be some other way". Recalling the early studio sessions he knew where his strengths lay as far as the band were concerned. "I have a strong voice so I was completely confident about the singing. It was the song-writing side of things that I was really nervous about." Having just heard him play "Millionairhead" and "Another Day" I suggest the nerves may have been misplaced. "I don't know if they fit the Genesis style as they are", says Ray, "but I'm sure the writing would have improved if we'd continued working together".
This inevitably brings up the difficult question as to why the band threw in the towel after what appeared to be a musical return to form. His reply suggests to me a missed opportunity. "Actually I had a contract to record two albums with Genesis. At first I think Tony Smith and Tony Banks were keen to go on. "Calling All Stations" had a lot on it for the die-hard Genesis fan and actually it did quite well in Britain and Europe. The problem was the American market where most of the money comes from. Over there they really wanted to hear Phil." The cancelling of the American tour must have been a blow so I ask why they didn't organise a tour of smaller theatre venues as they did so successfully for the "Duke" tour. "You're right I think there are enough die hard Genesis fans around to fill theatres and the new material would appeal more to them. But you've got to remember that kind of gig could feel like a big come down after you've been selling out a place like Wembley. I can understand how the other guys feel." Ray Wilson however clearly has no qualms about playing a small venue like The Doghouse. "I could go for Radio 2 type airplay and maybe avoid small gigs but I'm happy to help out young acts. I"d rather play to ten or fifty people who really care than take that route."
On stage Ray declares himself a great fan of Genesis and Gabriel, performing "Mama" and "Biko", two of his favourite songs, but is less enthusiastic about Phil Collins material. "Phil's a nice guy but I don"t like a lot of his music." However he regards "In The Air Tonight" as a classic and performs a rousing acoustic cover version. Those who saw him live with the band will have been struck by his enthusiastic vocals on songs like "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" and he clearly loves the more expansive Genesis material. "I pushed for a lot of that on the tour. There's some great stuff on the later albums like "Home By The Sea" and "Fading Lights", that's a lovely song". When asked how he felt about performing the pop hits of the 80s like "Invisible Touch" he is straightforward and honest. "I fucking hated it! But I knew I had to do it, a lot of people there had paid to hear those songs so I did my best for them." He agrees that his own more throaty vocal style is more suited to the dramatic rock oriented material and contrasts with that of his predecessor. "Yes, I think Phil's voice was more pure if you like, a bit like a trumpet."
Talk turns to the future. Genesis never gave Ray Wilson the publicity or exposure which provided the platform for the remarkable solo successes of Gabriel or Collins. However the Dundee set demonstrated his own writing talents. "A good song is a good song," he says, "but the trick is getting people to listen. With my background I could probably get airplay on Radio 2. But I'm after a more contemporary sound. You need really up to date production if you want attention from the likes of Radio 1. I'm only 32 and a trance dance floor mix of "Another Day" would get me heard by a younger audience. They're listening to people like Van Muhren and Judge Jules. I want to put out a solo album but I'm going to make sure I have the right team around me."
Reflecting on Ray's comments afterwards it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the apparent premature end of his time with Genesis represents a missed opportunity for the band. If expectations of widespread popular acclaim could have been put to one side and Wilson integrated into a return to a less mainstream style, another album may well have been a great success. Amid all the wishful thinking of a reunion tour I for one would be delighted to see him continue as frontman. I can't think of anyone better suited to the role of Rael. However the time for such wishful thinking has probably passed and Ray Wilson's mind has rightly turned to the future. If he can produce songs of the quality of "Another Day" and find the audience his talent deserves it promises to be a bright one.