The Story of…. Calling All Stations. Your Station Master: Alan Hewitt.
Yes, taking our peripatetic wanderings through the history of the band's albums, we come to this, the last studio album by the band. I suppose it is timely to examine this album; it is now almost TEN years since it was released. As usual, we shall look at the album through the usual mix of interviews, concert reviews and a look at the various bootlegs which are around from the subsequent tour.
The middle months of 1996 were difficult ones for Genesis fans. Monday 29th March 1996 had seen the official announcement of Phil's departure from the band via a Virgin Records press release. No indication was given at that time about the current state of the band - had they split? Were they looking for another singer? Had they found another singer? The silence was deafening and speculation was rife. Obviously, trying to replace someone as well known and popular as Phil was not going to be an easy task but some of the speculative suggestions that were put forward were almost laughable.
Towards the end of November 1996, one of the more scurrilous of the Sunday tabloid papers here in the UK, carried a small feature on the band announcing that Ray Wilson formerly of Stiltskin had in fact been appointed as the new lead singer of Genesis. I remember reading the feature myself and laughing at the very idea…. I had seen Ray during his time with Stiltskin and simply could not imagine him fronting Genesis; the phrase "chalk and cheese" came to mind. There was still no sign of any official announcement from the band or their record company and so the idea faded from memory.
Fast forward to June 6th 1997 and the announcement that Ray had in fact been selected as Phil's replacement. To say that I was surprised is an understatement and, if truth be told I was seriously considering packing the band in. Thankfully, common sense eventually prevailed after all; had I done the same when Peter had quit well… this article would not be being written for starters! After all, as yet I hadn't even HEARD anything from the band with Ray at this time. That was put right a few weeks later when Virgin very kindly provided me with a copy of the six track "sampler" for the new album : Calling All Stations. From the moment I heard the title track; I was hooked. I must have driven the neighbours crazy playing that sampler incessantly.
I had had great reservations about Ray's capabilities prior to hearing the album itself, I admit, but once I had got my hands on it then it was time for a serious reassessment of the band and what they were all about. The latter part of Phil's tenure with the band had seen them become (and I do not mean this to disparage either Phil or the band) a "Pop" band. By that I mean that they had learned the art of self-editing to a ruthless degree, songs were simpler but just as effective. The band's popularity (which is after all where "POP" comes from) had increased to incredible levels as evinced by the shows which they staged in support of both the Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance albums.
Here we were with an album that was altogether darker and more melodramatic. The choice of Ray as singer had given the band a harder edge to them which they had never really possessed before; even the obvious similarities to Peter's vocals were really minimal. Ray's delivery was uniquely his own. He didn't try to be either Phil or Peter and for that, I at least, am grateful.
Here was a chance to possibly experience what it must have been like for both the band and fans alike back in 1975. Genesis were the underdogs then and they were again. Many fans, wrote the new look band off without a backward glance or without even giving the new album a PROPER listening. For me, there was never any doubt that Genesis were as good as they had ever been and Calling All Stations was as good a slice of ROCK as I could possibly wish for. Having the fortunate opportunity of interviewing Tony Banks prior to the album's release and then the rest of the band during the rehearsals for the tour; one thing became quite obvious: Genesis were determined to make this new line up work. Ray in particular, was emphatic in his determination to give the fans the performance they wanted and deserved and his subsequent performances on the tour certainly more than lived up to my expectations.
Sadly things were not to work out as originally planned. A tour of arenas in the USA and Canada in the autumn of 1997 was downsized to larger theatres and eventually cancelled altogether much to the concern of fans in the UK and Europe who watched developments and feared for the safety of their own tour dates. It is hard to credit but apparently true that the major fault for that cancellation lies with the insane decision of Atlantic Records to effectively pull the promotional budget for the new album - resulting in the bizarre situation of fans in many parts of the States not even being aware that a new album by Genesis was even in the record stores!
No such problems appeared here in the UK and Europe with promotional materials being all over the place - even down to advertising posters in most mainline train stations - appropriate in view of the album title, I suppose! Nor did the album perform too badly in the charts here or in Europe either. Had it been released one week earlier in the UK it would have hit the top spot instead of number two which is where it peaked behind the ubiquitous new Oasis album. Elsewhere the album did as well if not better and the day I arrived at the rehearsals I discovered that the band had already been awarded silver discs for sales in excess of 250,000 copies in Germany and that was a mere THREE weeks after the album came out -and only one territory!
My first encounter with the new look Genesis was at the warm-up gig for the tour at Bray Film Studios on 23rd January 1998. From that moment, I knew the band was in safe hands. Yes, it has to be said, the band played it safe in terms of the material they played in the new set but nonetheless, when Ray cut loose on track such as Calling All Stations, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Mama I know I wasn't the only one experiencing goose bumps up and down my spine! In all, I eventually saw a further eleven shows on the Calling All Stations tour including all nine of the UK shows and shows in Lyon and Helsinki. Had the band's performance been anything other than top notch, would I have gone to such lengths? Methinks not!
"The Genesis New Boys" Photos: Ian Jones/TWR(All rights reserved)/Guido Karp.
My expectations for the band were very high as the tour finished and I consoled myself that they would soon be back in the studio working more fully with Ray on a follow-up to Calling All Stations, a second album which would consolidate their new position and gain new ground. Sadly, that was not to be. By the beginning of 2000 it had become apparent that the band had effectively imploded. Ray had effectively been ditched and the band had surrendered without a fight.
The loss of the lucrative US market must surely be the major reason for the astonishing demise of the band. The appalling performance of the album in the US charts (it peaked at number 54) must have been a massive dent to the band's ego. Nonetheless, the success of the album and tour in the UK and in mainland Europe should have been enough to keep the band going. Who knows, a second album and successful tour might have been enough to bring the US back into the fold? Sadly, we shall never know now and that for me is a tragic way for the band to end such an illustrious career.