"Come with us for a trip down memory lane" - "Selling England By The Pound" performed by The Musical Box, Wolverhampton Civic Hall, May 27, 2002. Review by Peter Gozzard.Before I start I have an admission to make. I am not much of a fan of the idea of tribute bands. I prefer to listen to a band playing original material. Watch them develop, mature, change direction and then follow that with the inevitable split up! However, I did see one such tribute band on October 2, 1982. That was on a rainy day in Milton Keynes. They were called "Six Of The Best" and I loved that show. There were mistakes made, the conditions were awful but nostalgia can be a strange thing!
Back in October 1973 I was at the Birmingham Hippodrome to witness the original "Selling England By The Pound" show. Times have changed and to a certain extent, so have my musical tastes. I continue to search for new groups and new sounds. My 70s collection is no longer such a frequent visitor to the CD player. When they do, however, find a way in I still enjoy the music. Many have become "classics". Yes, I cringe at the odd song or lyric but I probably did that the first time around.
I attended this show with a little bit of background information from our editor, who had made trips to Canada and had returned with glowing reports. I also visited the group's web site, which is well worth checking out (http://www.themusicalbox.net). The group has now performed this show since 1993. That is longer than Gabriel was in Genesis! Their mandate is "to attempt to recapture the magic of those concerts by giving the people the most complete impression possible of being at the actual shows..." So, do they achieve their objectives?
Upon arriving at the venue I passed by the merchandise store. There are some T-shirts but no sign of the "Twilight Alehouse" flexi disc package. The stage set up was the next thing to strike me. My memory may not be spot on but everything seemed to be as near as possible identical. This time around I would have a better view. In 1973 I was on the back row down stairs. 8.30pm, the lights go down and it is on with the show...
The opening chords of "Watcher Of The Skies" are struck and we are transported back almost thirty years. I cannot go into technical details. I would not want to anyway. Anyone with an interest in the band during the Gabriel years will know everything that followed for the next two and a quarter hours. "Moonlit Knight", "Cinema Show", "I Know What I Like", "Firth Of Fifth", "Musical Box", "Horizons", "Supper's Ready". All of the costumes appear, all of the stories, the Gabriel mannerisms, the slide show and yes, the music - played almost note for note, with some excellent guitar and keyboard solos. The overall performance was even better than anyone could expect. This was pure rock theatre the way Genesis did the show back in 1973. Throw in an encore, "The Knife", that was not performed first time around and I went home very happy. I met up with the editor outside for a brief chat, before he disappeared to watch the next five shows around the country. He set me the task of reviewing this show.
While recovering from the exertion of my night out, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon the night. Everything seemed to go as planned. Overall I think it is the theatrical side of the show that justifies the performance. Watching them is like attending a play. We all know the script. The actual music was excellent. The use of some modern equipment allowed them to recreate all of the studio performances. I also suspect that the band was not plagued by some of the technical hitches or limitations of 1973.
The vocalist is probably the most important to any tribute band. How does anyone recreate "Peter Gabriel"? Well, Denis Gagne did an excellent job. I cannot recall if he forgot any words but you can bet that Peter did in '73! The similarities in the voice are most noticeable during the louder sections of the songs but with all of the masks, costumes and the mannerisms it was very easy to believe. The vocals during "Battle Of Epping Forest" were hard to understand, but was that any different from the first time round? I am told a certain Mr Gabriel attended the show in Bristol the night before. I wonder how he felt?
I cannot imagine that the classic Genesis/Gabriel era line up will ever reform and even less likely that Peter would want to don the old masks. The fact that Genesis have provided a licence to a tribute band for the first time suggests they know what a good professional show is being staged. I realise now just how pioneering the theatrical side of the show was. Other bands played similar music but no one did anything remotely like this and no one else has tried since either. This was stories, moods and characters - not a spectacular light show or jumbo screens in arenas. No better or worse, just a different era.
I understand that this relatively short tour has sold reasonably well. The audience at Wolverhampton was relatively small but enthusiastic, about 900 people. The band will surely need more support to justify the expense in staging such an elaborate show in the UK. On the plus side was a major prestige show at the Royal Albert Hall and some BBC coverage. If there is another tour in the UK, then go along and see them and you will not be disappointed.
I for one would like to see them return and perform "The Lamb..." There is little or no video footage from that tour and I for one would like to "take a trip back" to the Birmingham Hippodrome for a repeat of that superb show in may 1975, if only for one night.