"The Story Of … Duke" - TWR takes a trip down Memory Lane to examine this album and tour as told through a selection of radio interviews and bootleg recordings from the tour. Your tour guide: Alan Hewitt.
I wish I could say "Aaah, the memories" but sadly, the 1980 Duke tour was one which I missed. Being a mere eighteen years old at the time and with A Level examinations (yes, in the days when examinations were REAL examinations!) to study for at the time the tour took place, and demand for the tickets being so enormous that being unlucky enough to miss the chance of face value tickets at the box office, there was absolutely no way of affording one from a tout - not that I would ever buy a ticket from such vermin anyway folks! And so, you can imagine the gnashing of teeth and wailing that went on in the Hewitt household on the evenings of 2nd and 3rd May 1980 in particular as the band took up residence at the Empire Theatre in my own celestial city of Liverpool!
I have consoled myself ever since mind you, and so even though this is one of my favourite tours by the band; I have been more than fortunate in other ways - as the pages of TWR have often documented! Nevertheless, this trip into the realms of nostalgia has been fuelled by a trawl through the TWR radio interview archives and numerous recordings from this tour whilst researching another project, and so I have combined the two aspects into one feature, so that you have a document of what the band were actually saying about the "new" album at the time as well as details of the material they actually played during the shows. I hope you find it interesting.
Prologue…. Duke - track by track.
The release of the Duke album in March 1980 finally relieved fans of any doubts they may have had about the band's continued survival after the appearance of long overdue solo albums by both Mike and Tony in the months leading up to the re-appearance of Genesis. Very much a transitional album, Duke continued the trend which had been set by its predecessor; And Then There Were Three for shorter songs augmented by the emphasis being placed more firmly on material written by the three musicians as a group rather than individual compositions. This may, of course, have had something to do with both Mike and Tony scratching their creative "itches" with their recent solo projects but even so, the strength of the album should also be judged by the material which was left behind and I shall examine those tracks too in this feature. But first, here's an affectionate look at the album itself…
Behind The Lines. If anyone had any doubts that Genesis could rock with the best of them, then hopefully this track should have blown them away along with any cobwebs that may have been lurking in your ears! A racy number which sees the trio in fine form obviously thriving off the invention and creativity which they together engender so well. I have pondered this track ever since I first heard the album and find it to be a brilliantly oblique examination of the fascination with television … the "book" referred to is the TV or Radio Times TV Guide perhaps? The shallowness of TV is superbly summed up and the music with its punchy rhythms and raunchy vocals - a great opener.
Duchess. Tony's favourite Genesis track and it is not hard to see why. The lesson of self-editing had been well learned and here we have an epic in miniature replete with all the drama and musicality that of old would have extended this song into probably twice its actual length. Here there is no need for such histrionics, the story of on ageing rock star is told succinctly and wonderfully evoked through the third person lyrics and driving music.
Guide Vocal. "The Prophet who has no honour in his own country" A tale of bitterness and regret, a rant at God and the divisive claims of religion perhaps? Either way another superbly depicted piece and one of the best to come from the pen of Mr Banks.
Man Of Our Times. The only song which seems to refer directly to the "Everyman" character depicted in the album artwork. Very much a track that I feel should have had its rightful place on Mike's solo album rather than here the "one of many" to my mind is definitely a reference to Smallcreep. However, the track fits snugly into the loose format of societal change and conflict which is the central idea behind the album.
Misunderstanding. Phil's first solo composition to appear on a Genesis album and much reviled by many fans at the time for being a mere "Pop" song. Nowt wrong with "Pop" to my mind as well as it is well done, and Misunderstanding is a superb slice of writing. A catchy tune surrounds a typical story of love's young dream gone wrong.
Heathaze. An extremely difficult song to draw a definitive opinion about, this one. At times I have thought it was concerned with a post-apocalyptic vision of the world; drugs or alienation of the individual. Who knows, maybe it is about all of the above? Maybe about none of them. Musically, the song evinces a feeling of isolation and regret which is still strong after all these years. Another classic slice of Tony Banks.
Turn It On Again. The theme of TV and its insidious influence on people returns with a vengeance here. A pungently observed lyric is accompanied by music in an undanceable time signature, the complete antithesis of the Pop "formula" which was already beginning to dominate the music in the charts. Once again, a complete story is unfolded in just under four minutes instead of thirty and none the worse for it, too!
Alone Tonight. Alienation and loneliness are the central themes of this brilliant Mike Rutherford composition. Who says that it is only Phil that can do angst? A plea from the heart which is delivered superbly by Phil's plaintive vocals and a track which shows just how great a song writer Mike really is.
Cul-De-Sac. Another mystifying track this one. On first appearances, it might be about the demise of the dinosaur (or dinosaur rock bands) but a second glance reveals an entirely different slant. The end of the world? Judgement Day? There are some potentially weighty matters being expounded here and this is the most underrated track on the entire album. A slice of Genesis drama that owes its evolution more to Watcher Of The Skies than Follow You Follow Me. Drama and obscurantism reach their climax here in this superb composition.
Please Don't Ask. The simplest and without doubt the most poignant song on the entire album. Without doubt, this track is a refugee from the material that Phil had been writing for what would be his first solo outing: Face Value later in 1980. As a first indication of that outpouring of emotion, this track has frequently been overlooked. A marvellous examination of the turmoil that relationships can cause and the unnecessary suffering that can be caused when they fall apart; this is one of the most evocative songs in the entire Genesis catalogue.
Duke's Travels/Duke's End. The kitchen sink was well and truly flung into the compositional pot for this two part instrumental romp which harks back to the days of yore in fine style and yet manages to retain a freshness and vitality which owes as much to the band's desire to "ladder their tights" and jam as it does to any reference to the old days. A perfect resolution of the album and one which leaves the listener exhilarated.
As I said at the start of this feature; the strength of any Genesis album can also be judged by the quality of the material which was omitted from it and in this case we have two wonderful tracks which deserved better than to end up as B sides. Open Door, a delightfully poignant Mike Rutherford composition dealing with the subjects' final moments before death - an unusual subject but handled here with a delicacy which really underlies Mike's qualities as a writer and lyricist. Evidence Of Autumn, also displays the wonderful observational qualities of Tony Banks as well as a slice of his delightful Jazz chords which add a nicely understated hint of wry bitterness to another brilliantly observed love song - love gone wrong of course, Tony doesn't write "happy" songs!
Duke represents the rebirth of Genesis as a band prepared to speak to their
audience directly in ways which made them accessible to many more fans than
previously. Courting popularity without sacrificing the musical and lyrical
essentials which had got them their audience in the first place. Even the fans
who bemoaned the epics and obscure lyrics must have had sufficient to keep them
happy here. This is Genesis at their most spontaneous and yet nothing is ever
quite as simple as it seems. Ask any fan for their opinion on the meaning of
tracks such as Heathaze and Cul-De-Sac for example and each one will be different
- that's the beauty of this most enigmatic of bands!