The story of Nursery Cryme. Narrated from the original hogweed nursery by Alan Hewitt.
1971 was to be an eventful and traumatic year for Genesis in so many ways. The original line-up had already seen some changes but the departure of Anthony Phillips in July 1970 was to be, by the band’s later admission, the only occasion when they gave serious thought to quitting.
Phil Collins’ arrival in August 1970 and then that of Steve Hackett at the beginning of the new year definitely brought the band a harder edge and yet one which was perfectly at home with their style of music. Collins’ tasteful percussion and Hackett’s impressive range of moods and atmospheres on both electric and acoustic guitar brought greater dynamics to the band.
Trespass had not been a massive hit, although reviews and fan reactions were in the main, very favourable. Charisma, switched their attention to the current flavour of the month, Lindisfarne who were riding the crest of the wave generated by their massive hit “Fog On The Tyne”. This did not deter the band who continued touring up and down the country throughout the remainder of 1970 honing their craft and gaining a wider audience.
By the time Steve Hackett finally joined the band in January 1971, Genesis were a formidable proposition, as Steve himself recalls…
“It was University College in the city or City Of London University College in Moorgate. It was a very shaky concert… not a pleasant experience. There were lots of mistakes and I had a fuzz box that I’d been rehearsing with all week and suddenly they gave me a different one on the night and it was like… it was really like the difference between the amateur and the professional. This fuzz box started to feedback and I played bum notes all night and I thought That’s it; I haven’t got the gig.”
With the final piece of their musical jigsaw now firmly in place, Genesis began to give thought to the follow-up to Trespass.
The new album was to prove quite a difficult one in many ways. Not many bands get to their second album let alone a third and Genesis had already survived more traumas than most bands do in a lifetime. The band took themselves to Crowborough, the house of Charisma Records boss, Tony Stratton-Smith where they set about selecting the material which they thought would be the most successful. Much of this material had already been written and road-tested in front of audiences as Tony Banks recalls…
“At that point Musical Box was a live success. We wrote The Return Of The Giant Hogweed and that took over from The Knife as being the song to close the set with and it worked pretty well. Fountain Of Salmacis worked well, it was something of a departure from the norm.”
The band already had a surplus of written material from which to chose. The problem was, how much of it could they fit on one album? Some tracks, as Tony has already recalled, were firm favourites with the audience although even some of these had room for improvement as Steve recalls…
“The Musical Box was the only song that I think was written before I joined and at that point I felt that nobody was… although the song was written there was still a lot of room to make improvements. No-one was making the sound of a musical box for a start. So I felt, Well, here’s me for a start. Also Tony was… they did a few fgigs without a guitarist before they had Mick (Barnard) and Tony said he was going to play in a guitaristic kind of manner with his keyboards. So he had a Hohner Pianette going through a fuzz box, not a synthesizer. This was way before all that stuff and I thought, That’s interesting, here’s a keyboard player trying to sound like a guitarist and so some of the lines I came up with on that song I wanted to sound like a keyboard.”
The obvious favourites were Musical Box, Fountain Of Salmacis and The Return Of The Giant Hogweed all of which were, by the time of the recording of the album, already established as on-stage tracks, but there were others equally as popular with the audiences, which soon fell by the wayside. These included both Going Out To Get You and Twilight Alehouse which had been in the band’s repertoire for a long time. Others such as The Light, remained undocumented until comparatively recently with the appearance of an audience recording of one of the band’s first overseas gigs in Belgium.
In fact, Belgium was to be the first country which really recognised the band’s talent and by the time they crossed the English Channel for their first gigs outside the UK in March 1971, Trespass had reached the top of the Belgian album charts!
Throughout the rest of 1971 the band continued to gig and record. Their tour diary for 1971 runs to 118 gigs and several TV and radio sessions both here and in Belgium. Sadly, the Belgian sessions – several of which were for TV, appear to have been lost but one precious session done for the BBC’s ‘Sounds Of The Seventies’ programme has survived and makes interesting listening, coupling as it does the new live stage favourite, Musical Box, with one of it’s predecessors, Stagnation.
The new album, Nursery Cryme, eventuall appeared on 20th November 1971, by which time the band had established themselves as one of the most original and hardworking on the UK circuit. The band’s show would draw upon most of the new album and it’s predecessor as well as several other tracks which, in some cases have still not seen the light of day, even on the first Genesis Archive box set! Sadly, apart from the recording mentioned previously, no live recording from this period appears to have survived, which is criminal when you think about the number of excellent recordings available from this period by other peers of the band such as Yes and Jethro Tull.
Listened to now, Nursery Cryme is by turns an exciting and deeply frustrating album. You can sense where the band are striving to get to on tracks such as Musical Box and Fountain Of Salmacis, both of which are classic examples of Genesis storytelling art. However, production values really let these numbers down. The album itself is a hotch-potch of ideas not all of which work. The epics are fine, but the tracks which are sandwiched between them do not always benefit from this. Seven Stones and Harlequin in particular still, even after all these years of listening to them, have the air of being unfinished. For Absent Friends, with it’s air of whistful melancholy is a delightful song but totally out of place here.
The epics of course, are what this album is firstly formed for and the triptych that is Musical Box, The Return Of The Giant Hogweed and Fountain Of Salmacis are among the truly great Genesis tracks. It is difficult to believe that at the time of its release, the album only sold a little over 6000 copies, not really advancing over the sales of its predecessor.
|Undaunted, the band continued to gig to promote the album well into spring of 1972 by which time another European country had succumbed to their charms. In April, the band crossed the channel again, this time for shows in Italy where the new album had reached number 4 in the charts. Fortunately, our earliest surviving visual documents of the band are from this vitally important period in the shape of a TV broadcast for the Belgian TV show “Pop Deux” and clips of the bands show at the Piper 2000 club in Rome, both of which give us a tantalising look at how the band looked and sounded at this time.|
By the spring of 1972 Genesis were an established act both at home and increasingly popular in mainland Europe too and they were soon to take the gigantic leap in status which their work deserved with their next album, but that dear reader, is another story!
Nursey Cryme TV/Radio Sessionography
Brussels TV studios. 8-9/3/71.
Session for “Pop Shop”
This session is now believed lost.
BBC TV studios Shepherds Bush, London 10/5/71.
“Sounds Of The Seventies” session:- Musical Box/Stagnation
Brussels TV studios. Session for “Pop Shop” 4-6/6/71.
This session is now believed lost.
BBC TV studios Shepherds Bush, London 9/1/72.
“Sounds Of The Seventies” session and “Top Gear” sessions:- Harold The Barrel/Harlequin/Fountain Of Salmacis/The Return Of The Giant Hogweed
Brussels TV studios. 22/1/72
Brussels TV studios. 24/1/72
Possibly performances for either “Pop Deux” or “Rock Of The Seventies”. Both sessions have since been lost.
BBC Paris studios, London 2/3/72.
“In Concert” session:- Fountain Of Salmacis/Musical Box/The Return Of The Giant Hogweed
Brussels TV studios. 20-21/3/72
“Pop Shop” performance:- Fountain Of Salmacis/Musical Box/Twilight Alehouse/The Return Of The Giant Hogweed
This is the earliest surviving visual document of the band currently available to fans.
It is very likely that the band performed many more TV or radio sessions during this period. Sadly the details, like the recordings themselves, appear to have been lost to posterity.