"The Time Machine, Genesis Style (Part 1)" - By Steve (no relation to Alan - HONEST!) Hewitt.

The Location: Southampton Civic Centre Guildhall
The Band: The Musical Box
The Project: To recreate the classic 1973 "Foxtrot" show performed by Genesis
The Date: Thursday 30th October 2003

Having caught a couple of the shows last year, I was in two minds about making the trip from the Channel Island of Jersey (for financial reasons; nothing to do with the Jersey gig that didn’t happen - honest!). The thing that made up my mind was hearing that there was to be a one-off show of the Foxtrot set and this was to be in Southampton two days before the Selling England… show at the same venue - the die was cast.

Setting out early from Jersey, I left the rain behind only to have it catch up with me before I could even locate my lodgings (OK, I confess… I brought it with me!). My second soaking found me at the yet to open Guildhall. Can this be the place? No signs or anything … I wonder? But it was indeed the right place as a member of the road crew confirmed from the cab of a cosy truck (what a life!).

After finding nourishment and checking out the neighbourhood I found my way back to the doors just after 7pm - now whatever else you may think of the people who turn up early and wait in the rain; there is always an interesting conversation to be had - but back to the story. But back to the story. The doors opened just after 7.30pm and we poured in. Some interesting items on the merchandise stall (still no DVD which I am sure everyone wants to see) you know how it goes… T shirt, programme, etc…Now for those who attended the original shows perhaps this seems all the stranger, but to someone who was only three at the time, this is the closest I am going to get unless someone builds a time machine. Excitement is relative?

So, on inside - many more interesting people to talk to - but you don't want to hear about that, you want to hear about the show and the view from seat C6. Now I had been a little concerned about seat C6, thinking it might be too far to the left; but despite my fears, the view was wonderful.

Around 8.30pm, the lights dimmed and the crowd erupted (anticipation is half the fun). The band arrived and the ominous rumblings of the Mellotron introduced a strange visitor to the hall - the Watcher Of The Skies. Has anyone heard the rumour that Peter Gabriel has been cloned? Denis Gagne, possessed by the spirit of Peter Gabriel fixes the crowd through luminous eyes, flanked by the now famous batwings. I have to wonder what went on in peoples' minds three decades ago when there were no stories or photos to look back on - this was something new! The simplicity of the effects; the gauze curtain; the white painted equipment; the ultra violet tubes, all combined with the simple, rich tones of the spot lamps…

The throbbing builds to a point it can't go beyond (there has to be a song title here somewhere) then we're off - abstract conjecture or rare insight - the song rolls along with a life of its own, these guys have studied hard and the proof is right there on stage. It's not Denis up there; it is Peter Gabriel - it has to be - after all; it looks; sounds and moves like Peter!

Then the vocals are over bit the music goes on; building to a crescendo. Then just when you can't take it anymore, we reach the end. The Mellotron ends as it began - the crowd erupts - clearly there are an awful lot of memories being stirred in this hall, not just the imaginations of late-comers.
Click to enlarge
Genesis then ...Watcher Of The Skies circa 1973
(B&W Photo unknown)

The second song is actually the highlight for me and alone would have been worth the admission - Can-Utility & The Coastliners, a song I simply HAD to hear live. I came to the conclusion reading the flight magazine on the way to the UK, that this song, with its link to Southampton must be the reason for the one-off Foxtrot show. The legend of King Canute is based in Southampton (the perfect time to find out - did everyone else already know this?). Certainly this song also gained the approval of my new friend in seat C5, who assures me that it wasn't played at the gig he attended 30 years previously.

This song has everything you could want from a Genesis classic: quiet opening passage; wonderful lyrics, fantastic melody; an awe-inspiring atmospheric instrumental section climaxing with the screamed punch line; "See a little man with his face turning red/ though his story's often told/ You can tell he's dead…" the joke is on you King Canute. I still can't believe this song had such a short stage life.

Click to enlarge
The Musical Box ...now
Photo: A Hewitt/TWR
Next up: shock headline: " Little Henry streaks at croquet match!" (perhaps he thought it was a cricket match?) Still, a bit much to lose your head over. The Musical Box in its simplest form - before the old man mask (I half expected a red dress and fox's head). Clearly another favourite with the gathered throng - I often think the cheers should come after the song, especially when the opening of many of these classics are so soft, but you can't beat a good atmosphere. With this song being performed at every Musical Box gig it's no wonder it sounds so perfect - right up to the stark anguish of the ending as the lights drop, leaving the vocalist alone, lurching over the flashing "up light" fantastic stuff!

While not being a favourite of mine; Get 'Em Out By Friday works well live (especially if you have never seen it performed live before). This provided a wonderful opportunity to check out the fretwork especially on the first verse. The bass part also deserves closer inspection. Hats off to Denis Champoux and Sebastien Lamothe respectively.
Bowler hat is donned as "The Winkler" goes to work on unsuspecting tenants but the best effect has to be the end - as a single white spotlight, aimed just off centre of the glitter ball casts a crescent moon on the curtain behind and stars into the hall -simple and very effective. I had thought part of the lyric around the "Genetic Control" part was sung by Phil, so I was surprised the at new drummer; Martin Levac didn't sing here (all other Phil parts were dealt with) but I may be wrong on this point?

I have to say there ought to be a law preventing "Old Michael" from perverting those worms in that fashion! Doesn't the worm King (a five inch slob) have anything to say about it? Yes, you guessed it: Supper's Ready!
Now, what did I say about cheers at the start of a song? The crowd goes wild! Performance wise it is all there - the crown of thorns, the apocalypse box and of course the flower. Only the slides are to be added (see my Selling… review) but you don't miss them. Too much has been written about this song for me to add anything new - suffice to say it deserved the standing ovation - but was the UV tube, brandished sword-like over the closing bars, used on this tour? It beats me how Tony ever played these complex keyboard parts - so much admiration for David Myers, note perfect throughout the night.

Don't worry it's not over yet. The set closes with The Return Of The Giant Hogweed which really kicks ass live. Our Monsieur Gagne struts his stuff up and down the stage as the carnivorous plants wage war on humanity, just a shame he resists the urge to hurl the mic stand at the end (Peter's spirit must be losing its influence following the exorcism of Supper's Ready). All too soon the band members are gone but we know we have at least one encore to come.

Sure enough, the band return for a storming rendition of The Knife I am glad that mic stand isn't loaded! After all, it can't be a good idea to shoot your audience, can it? The live lyric caught me out again. I know I have it somewhere but it is the original album lyric that is burned into my memory (note to self: must rectify that). They just don't write them like that anymore. Still, I guess that is the enduring appeal of this music as you look around to see people who weren't even born when these songs were written, next to people who were old when they saw the show first time out.

How many bands around now will warrant this sort of treatment thirty years on? Or have so many various tribute bands singing their praises (although The Musical Box are more like a Historical Re-enactment Society)? I hear 350 tickets were left unsold before the doors opened (the music of Genesis still seems to be more popular everywhere else but in its home!). Despite the show not being sold out, the noise of this grateful audience could easily fool you into thinking the hall was packed to capacity. Shame on those who didn't attend. But once again the band is gone, although I heard a rumour after the gig that Fountain Of Salmacis was to have been a second encore - still there is no use dwelling on what might have been. Better to concentrate on what was.

One last observation - I keep hearing stories of favourite bands playing other countries where the crowd doesn't shut up and leave when the lights go on - they stay and clap and cheer and stamp their feet until the band realise they are not going anywhere. Now I have not experienced this (most of my gigs have been in the UK) and I have come to the conclusion that the English audience, complete with hecklers, simply doesn't have the staying power for one more encore. But enough of that!

(You obviously haven't attended some of the gigs I have, Steve - AH).

Click to enlarge