"Far From Conventional" - The 2006 UK Genesis Fan Convention at the Astoria London Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th May 2006 reviewed by Alan Hewitt.

Genesis Conventions and I have had a somewhat bumpy relationship since the first UK event back in 1999. It is a sad thought but true that out of the four events so far held in the UK, yours truly has only attended two of them. Due to various circumstances (not necessarily those that may have been circulated on the rumour mill by people with their own axes to grind against TWR and yours truly in particular, I hasten to add. Don't believe everything you hear on the Genesis Talking Shop for starters!!) I was not allowed to attend the G99 event and opted to stay away from the 2000 event to avoid a repeat of any of that unpleasantness. The more recent "Genesis Weekend" in Crewe in 2002 was a great success but extremely tiring for me as the person responsible for organising it, and so I have every respect for Doug Melbourne the organiser of this year's London event - these events are demanding in terms of both stamina, patience AND resources as I am sure Doug will tell you!

It was with genuine pleasure, however, that I accepted Doug's invitation to participate in the event which took place in London over the late May Spring Bank Holiday weekend and it is the tale of that weekend which will unfold here.

In fact the week which culminated with the Genesis Convention has been something of a Genesis Marathon for yours truly; beginning with John Hackett's gig at The Boardwalk in Sheffield (reviewed elsewhere in this edition), followed by a trip to the wonderful city of York for a very special bonfire party-cum-Genesis festival at my friend Richard Nagy's home (AKA : "Mike's Mince Pies" to those of you familiar with his Genesis Talking Shop alter-ego). Ah yes, watching the dawn rise around the embers of the bonfire whilst singing the final lines of Supper's Ready is not something I shall easily forget. Nor I suspect will their other guests including another familiar face from the Genesis Forum: David Yardley (AKA: "Kiwi Dave") who had travelled all the way from New Zealand for the festivities.

Gathering my strength and fortified by a damn fine evening at the home of John Wilkinson, and excellent hospitality from "Wrex" and his good lady Angie, I set off for London at the ungodly hour of 4.30am on Saturday morning accompanied by John and the rest of Face Value in their "Battle Bus" for what promised to be an extremely enjoyable weekend. After much banter; some snatched moments of sleep and a truck stop breakfast, we arrived at The Astoria and began the serious effort of getting everything into the venue. Checking in with Doug to ensure that I knew exactly what he wanted me to do during the event, I was introduced to John Mayhew whom I was delighted to meet and who proved to be an extremely entertaining companion throughout what remained of the morning.

Having ascertained that my "services" were not required for a while I detoured to the meeting place of choice: The Tottenham public house where several groups of fans and band members eventually made their way before the doors opened at 3pm for the first day of the event. As usual, it was a great pleasure to meet up with many familiar faces including some old and dear friends as well as making the acquaintance of many more new friends to boot!

Returning to the venue I was informed that Anthony Phillips had arrived and was enjoying a long overdue catch up with his former band mate John Mayhew. I managed a brief chat to him whilst collecting his contribution to the Quiz prizes, and then left them to their conversation. Strange to think that by accident, I had been instrumental in bringing these two former band mates back together again. Bringing them both with me later, into the venue, I left them in the capable hands of Chantelle, the merchandise-maitresse and I hear that during the rest of the afternoon the pair had great fun meeting fans and generally having as good a time as the fans themselves - in fact, Ant has since told me that he really enjoyed himself; especially the set he watched from Face Value; maybe we shall get you onstage at the next event yourself, Ant?!

Time eventually arrived for the music to begin. Opening the show were Tony Patterson and Doug himself with a rare treat: an acoustic piano/vocal performance of some of Peter; Gabriel's classic tracks which got the event off to a good start. Face Value are no strangers to the pages of TWR nor indeed are they strangers to events such as these and as such, they pulled out all the stops to get the event off to a flying start, despite the usual technical "gremlins" which always seem to dog their sound at events down South (strange that really, I recall no such problems at the Crewe event back in 2002 maybe we have better sound engineers "Up North"? ). Augmented now by drummer "Wrexham" Thompson; their set consisted of a marvellous selection of latter day Genesis classics including truly awesome performances of Fading Lights, Mama (specially dedicated to Kiwi Dave) and many others including many personal favourites of mine.

It seemed that I barely had time to draw breath (and a pint) before I was on stage announcing the second of the evening's bands: Genesis In The Cage. I had not had the pleasure of seeing these guys since my own event in Crewe almost four years before and doesn't time fly when you are having fun?! As usual, the band performed a great selection of vintage material including a couple of seldom (if ever) performed numbers which sent the audience home satisfied.

Beating a hasty retreat to the hotel along with the Doug, John Mayhew and Tony Patterson and Chantelle it was time to unwind after an extremely busy day and during the conversation over a final beer a rather wonderful idea was hatched which was to come to fruition the following day….

Sunday broke fine and dry (for a change!) and I met up with Tony, and his wife and John for the trip back to the venue. John had kindly agreed to an interview for TWR (his first in 36 years and which you can read elsewhere in this edition) and after that was conducted in the security of the venue; we adjourned for a bite of breakfast and a more informal chat which was a great pleasure and then off to the pub for John to have the chance of meeting more of the "family" he had missed for so many years. It has to be said; the warmness of the fans towards him and he to them was one of the highlights of the entire weekend for me personally. It was also chance for me to catch up with several more friends whom I had not seen the previous day and make the acquaintance of still more new friends. Yarns and pints were swapped and that is always one of the great things about events such as this; everyone has their own story to tell - maybe someone should write a book about them - oh, I've already done that, haven't I?!

Back to the venue to really start to earn my keep. The Quiz had proven too daunting to all but a handful of hardy souls but nonetheless I had received enough attempts to give me some amusement at some of the answers, and to eventually be able to award the variety of prizes to several very pleased fans. Before that however, there was the small matter of announcing the first of the evening's bands: G2 who once again turned in a magnificent performance which had me absolutely mesmerised as I watched from the side of the stage. Drawing their set mainly from magical 1976-77 period I was in heaven - marvellous stuff and I think the crowd thought so too.

Quiz announced and prizes allocated; I then had the pleasure of drawing the winners for the charity raffle in aid of a local hospice in the Farnham area which had originally been organised a part of a Genesis In The Cage gig but the prize winner had been unable to attend on the day specified for the visit to The Farm which was the special prize, and Steve Puddick and Nick Davis (who had organised the prize) had kindly offered it to us at TWR and it was great to have it as part of the weekend. Eventually, after some barracking from an idiot at the front, the four winners were selected and awarded their prizes. I don't know the final figure for the amount raised for the hospice but I gather it was somewhere in the region of £500 so thank you to everyone who bought a ticket! I hope that the sale of limited edition prints and singles by the people from the "Hope For Children" charity was similarly successful.

Doug kindly gave me a breather and announced the next band himself. It was another treat to see the John Hackett band take the stage. I had seen their gig at Sheffield the weekend before and knew exactly what to expect and once again I was not disappointed. The band's set drew on material from John's excellent album: Checking Out Of London, along with material from Tony Patterson's Barriers album; Nick Magnus's Hexameron album and several classics from John's brother Steve Hackett who took the stage towards the end of their set eliciting howls of delight from the crowd. In fact with the sheer amount of performances that Tony crammed in, I was beginning to wonder if this was not the annual meeting of the Tony Patterson Appreciation Society rather than a Genesis Convention (only joking, Tony!) Once again, the band turned in an excellent performance and I am sure that this is not the last we shall see from the John Hackett band!

And so to the finale; and I took the stage for the final time to announce the final act of the weekend: ReGenesis with a rather special "guest". Yes, that idea I mentioned before came to astonishing fruition at the culmination of ReGenesis's set which as usual, gave us a mix of classics from the Gabriel era with a few "new" tracks thrown in. This was bass player Andy Higham's last gig with the band and I am sure he was as emotional as the rest of us as John Mayhew took the stage to join Nigel Appleton for a tub thumping finale to The Knife which closed the set and indeed the event itself.

Mr Mayhew and I then retired in the company of several fans to a local hostelry for several more "shandies" before eventually retiring to the hotel. Sadly I missed my chance to say thank you properly to John and Doug the following morning because I had to depart for Twickenham and an interview I had lined up with Kim Poor for the Steve Hackett biography project and so that in effect rounded of an extremely busy weekend of music and socialising.

I am sure that everyone will agree that the event was a magnificent success which everyone who attended will remember for some considerable time to come. Before I leave this feature it would be remiss of me not to say a few "thank you's" and so here goes… First of all to the organiser of the event: Doug Melbourne who got everything together with consummate skill and for asking me to get involved in the first place (I hope it wasn't too painful, Doug?). To the staff and crew at The Astoria for all their help; to Chantelle Rae on the merchandise for all her expertise and good humour. Of course; thanks to all the bands who took part: Face Value, Genesis In The Cage; G2; The John Hackett Band and ReGenesis all of whom kept us royally entertained with the music we all know and love. Thanks also to James Hendry and the EFDVD team for their hard work in providing the video footage which kept everyone entertained whilst waiting for the bands to start.

My personal thanks are also due to the following people for making my part in this event a LOT easier. Thanks to Tony Banks, Phil Collins; Peter Gabriel; Steve Hackett; Anthony Phillips; Mike Rutherford; Annie Callingham at Philip Collins Ltd; Caroline Turner at Hyperactive Ltd; Carol Willis at TSPM and to Kim Poor and John Mayhew for giving up so much of their time for me over the weekend and for their generosity with the quiz prizes!

Finally, of course; to the fans without whom none of this would have been possible - or necessary! It is always a source of inspiration for me that so many people share the same passion for this music as I do and it is in no small part due to the enthusiasm that rubs off on me at such events that TWR has kept on going for so long so my thanks to all who took part especially Richard and Sarah for the most unforgettable bonfire party I have ever attended! To "Kiwi" Dave Yardley for proving that distance is no object when you love this music! To Kevin; Shirley and Rachel Powell; Dave Dunnington; Tom Morgenstein; Allan Morgan; Nick Rose; Stephanie Kennedy; Will Ingram and all the other fans who made themselves known to me over the course of the weekend - thanks guys - you are THE GREATEST! Here's to the next one!