“Always the bridesmaid and never the bride…” - TWR’s editor, Alan Hewitt interviewed by Frank Rogers with guest appearances by Mr Steve Hackett and Mr David Negrin. Interview conducted by Frank Rogers at TWR HQ on Sunday 2nd September 2012. Photographs and memorabilia: TWR Archive.
Yes folks, after twenty five years of giving other people the third degree it was my turn to be on the receiving end of a grilling. Thankfully Mr Rogers did it gently and I hope you find the results interesting…
FR: Well Alan, always the interviewer but seldom the subject… firstly congratulations on 25 years of The Waiting Room, that is some achievement. We shall come back to that later. But first….
AH: There is one thing I should like to get straight for the record here and now. The Waiting Room is… a lot of it IS my work but credit has to be given to all the people who have been the backroom staff over the years. Over the twenty five years we have had a good crew. I couldn’t have put it all together on my own. I am not that kind of person and I don’t have the technical know how so all credit to the backroom boys.
FR: Right back to the beginning… Do you remember your first encounter with the sounds of Genesis? The first time you heard anything by the band? What? Where? When? Tell us about it.
AH: I actually remember that very well. It would have been in the damp, frosty days of … Autumn ‘76 and it was before Wind & Wuthering was released officially but a local radio DJ who is no longer with us; the late great Phil Easton, played Wind & Wuthering on his radio show. Now I can’t remember why I was listening to his radio show because at the time I wasn’t that interested in rock music. Anyway, I listened to it and as soon as Eleventh Earl Of Mar started, my ears pricked up and the next thing I knew, forty five minutes had gone by and I had heard this album and I thought ‘wow! Who are these guys?’ And basically as I remember, the album was officially released on 23rd December 1976 and it was early January 1977 at a friend’s house and he had the album. My REAL introduction to Genesis was that night when during the course of it I heard Wind & Wuthering, A Trick Of The Tail AND Selling England By The Pound back to back. That is why I don’t carry any particular torch for any era because I pretty much heard both sides at the same time.
At the time I was, and I still am, very much interested in orchestral and classical music and everything that I like about orchestral and classical music was there in this band and so that was literally where it started
FR: What was the first Genesis album you bought?
AH: The first Genesis LP that I bought was Wind & Wuthering which is strange because the first Genesis LP that I bought on vinyl was Wind & Wuthering and the first Genesis LP that I bought on CD was Wind & Wuthering! Although funnily enough, the first Genesis-related LP that I bought was Anthony Phillips’ The Geese & The Ghost which I still have after all these years - if only I’d known then where those purchases would lead me!
FR: Can you remember when did you first see Genesis live and since then, approximately how many times have you seen them or the Genesis solo members?
AH: Oh yes. Saturday 24th June 1978, Knebworth Park Stevenage. It is surprising because that was a strange day. It was my first big open air gig, my first Genesis gig. I had already seen Peter Gabriel a few times by then, three or four times in ‘77 and I was due to see him three or four times in ‘78. That was also my introduction to the wonderful world of drinking at concerts! Festival zoider, oh yes! It was a strange day. It has taken me over thirty years to find anyone else who remembers Roy Harper’s appearance at that gig! At two separate occasions during the day Roy, came on stage on roller skates and sang. It was one hell of a day, and it rained! Genesis and open air so of course it rained!
FR: Where is the furthest you have travelled to see the band or solo members?
AH: My wallet cringes every time I try to think of how many times I have seen Genesis but it is a LOT, over fifty shall we say. I have been all over the place; Europe and done some daft tours. I suppose the daftest one was going to Canada to see a Genesis tribute band - not once but THREE times!
FR: Tell us about some of the major experiences you have had - the absolute highlights…
AH: I think with regard to Genesis one that will stick out more than just about any others was the trip to Lyon in 1998 for the Calling All Stations show there. I already had tickets for all of the shows in the British Isles and been lucky enough to attend the final warm-up at Bray Film Studios, but I had always wanted to see the band on my birthday so I checked the itinerary because all of those gigs were in February/March and I found out that they were playing in Lyon in France on my birthday. So I contacted the band’s management and asked if they could arrange for a couple of tickets to be on the door and they agreed. Then it was a case of finding someone insane enough to accompany me to Lyon.
Fortunately, the guy who was TWR’s first web master, Martin Dean agreed. He had already organised our transport for the UK shows so he agreed to drive to Lyon and we got there early on the day and we got to the box office and I explained in my best broken biscuit French that we had tickets reserved, blah, blah. They weren’t ready yet so that gave us time to find a hotel and then we went back and I explained again and this guy at the box office had a white shoe box full of white envelopes with people’s names on them and so when I told him my name he pulled two envelopes out and gave one to me and one to Martin. I opened my envelope and there were two tickets inside it which made me wonder what was in Martin’s envelope? Now the way Martin tells this on the odd occasion we have spoken about it since, he says he wishes he had had a camera to take a picture of the expression on my face because when he opened his envelope, we had two “after show” passes. So we went in, sat there and then… I may be wrong here but there were only a handful of people backstage after the gig and we were the only fans there. The rest were either friends or relations and the band all came out and wished me a happy birthday. You don’t really get much better than that!
Funnily enough, the worst experience with Genesis was on the same tour, about a week later when I went to see them at Earls Court in London and it was a dreadful gig. The sound was everywhere. I couldn’t see half the screens and it is the only time that I have ever felt about half way through a gig, that I was ready to get up and walk out. It was dreadful. We had interviewed the band’s sound and lighting engineers a day or so before in Birmingham, and they both said that Earls Court is not ideally suited for a concert and we spoke to them again afterwards at the Newcastle gig a few days later and they both said that the Earls Court gig had been the worst of the tour.
The BEST gig of that tour, for anybody who was there was… the consensus of opinion is that the best gig was the second night at Cardiff when that was pure unadulterated magic. Something very, very special happened that night. I don’t know why, I have never been able to put my finger on why that was the case but every moment of that gig is ingrained on my memory.
The shows have always been great. I have never come away from a gig thinking ’why did I bother?’. The band have always put in 110% in terms of performance but you have got to have a bad one once ever so often.
FR: Who was the first person you interviewed and can you remember what that was like? How did you feel?
AH: I was going through some paperwork the other day and it reminded me. We started the magazine in July 1987 and around the same time there was an Australian magazine called Ripples, they got going in 1986 and when we both got going we both advertised in the old official Genesis Information magazine and so that’s how they got my contact details and they wrote to me and we swapped magazines and I wrote articles for them and they wrote articles for us. One of the editors had a mutual friend who was friendly with Anthony Phillips and they very kindly gave me Anthony’s address and I wrote to him in November 1987 along with the first two or possibly three issues of the magazine and asked if he would be prepared to do an interview. Now Anthony was a hero of mine and so a month went by and it was the end of January 1988 when I finally got a letter back off him. I was off work at the time with both flu and laryngitis and I had just about got my voice back and I heard the postman put the letter through the letter box and staggered downstairs and opened it and didn’t recognise the handwriting. In fact I could barely read the handwriting because Anthony has awful handwriting! It was like one of those moments in an old silent film where the hero/heroine gets a letter and it is either very good news or very bad news and the camera pans in to the face to see their reaction. Well, there was just this one line in this letter …” I would be delighted to help your magazine” and then I looked at the address again and went “yes!” and because I had laryngitis, I lost my voice again (laughs) it was just completely gone. And at the end of the letter Anthony had provided me with his ’phone number and said give me a call, and I had to wait another five days before I could call him because I had no voice.
So, anyway I ’phoned him and an interview was sorted out and that took place on Saturday 31st May 1988 but before then Steve Hackett had re-emerged after a while under the radar and he was doing his tour for the acoustic Momentum album and we had gone to the gig in Manchester and waited around backstage where we met Steve and his manager and we requested an interview and they asked if we were going to any of the other gigs and fortunately we were going to the gig in Nottingham. So, the actual FIRST interview for The Waiting Room took place with Steve Hackett on Saturday 14th May 1988 at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. Then two weeks later we had the interview with Ant so within a matter of a couple of weeks we had two exclusives and so that is where it all started.
The Hackett interview was bizarre because it was in such a strange … it was backstage in the dressing room and we had musical accompaniment because in the next dressing room John Hackett was practising his flute scales so we had a lovely accompaniment to the interview but the interview itself is a blur actually. I don’t remember much about that interview at all. I don’t know why.
|The interview with Anthony at his home on the other hand is one I remember vividly because I went down with Peter Morton and Ted Sayers the other two co-creators of The Waiting Room and Ted had to physically place my hand on the door knocker because I was scared witless! For me that was like meeting God. Anthony opened the door with a big smile on his face and within five minutes it was as if I had known him all my life. We were just laughing and Anthony has a bizarre sense of humour based around Monty Python so once you are used to that anything can happen! It was great fun and these things turned into conversations. I have never actually sat there with a microphone under any of these guys’ noses and said, ’right, talk!’ It is always a chat and that is the way I do things and it seems to work better that way.|
They are human beings, they get up in the morning, look in the mirror and go,’ Oh my God, that was a bad night’ the night before or whatever, the same as we all do. Out of all the members I have met they are all decent human beings. They are BUSY human beings but as long as you are genuine about what you are doing and you know what you are doing, then they will give you the time.
FR: What/who was the most challenging interview subject and why?
AH: Oh without a doubt the first time we interviewed Tony Banks. He did have a reputation for being… but we went down there and I freely admit that is the only time I went into an interview with a crib sheet like you have there, and had all the questions in two halves, one about his solo career and one about Genesis. I flipped it and I was very lucky that I did and we did the solo interview first and that obviously made Tony think; ‘Ah, these guys know what they are talking about’ and doing that made him relax a little bit more. It’s funny but England were playing, it was a Test series in the cricket going on and one of the roadies, because we did this at The Farm, and one of the roadies kept on coming in with the cricket scores, because Tony wanted to know what the score was in the cricket! So that went off remarkably well, but he had this reputation that if you don’t know your stuff or if you ask a stupid question, that will be it. He was fine with us. A three and a half hour interview so we must have done something right! That was the only one where I thought this could be awkward.
FR: Is there any band member you haven’t been able to interview and is there a reason why not?
AH: The one member of Genesis that I have never spoken to for TWR is Peter Gabriel. It is NOT for want of trying! In the old days Peter used to get the magazine sent to his office and I am sure that he must still look at it now that it is online but getting an interview out of him has never happened. He has always been busy on tour or busy in the studio, he has always been “busy” but apparently it is not just us, there used to be a guy who ran a magazine dedicated solely to Peter’s career and in the ten or so years that he ran that, he only ever got one interview. So we are in good company and Peter just doesn’t seem to like interviews which is a shame really but there you go. It would be nice to be able to say thanks for all the music. Even if it was… we would probably never get an interview with him about his ENTIRE career, that would probably take days! But even if he granted us an interview about a new project I would be delighted. In all honesty, I don’t think it will ever happen but you never know. I didn’t think TWR would carry on for twenty five years but here we are. He is the only guy out off the band that we haven’t spoken to. I have met him, many moons ago but never to speak to properly. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. You can’t have everything and you have to have something to aspire to.
FR: I heard a rumour that you did something for the Mastermind TV programme, tell us about that?
AH: It’s not a rumour. Yes. It was the last series of Mastermind that Magnus Magnusson did as the quizmaster and I got a letter from the BBC requesting that I write questions for Mastermind for a contestant who had chosen the music of Genesis as their specialist subject. To this day I don’t know how the BBC got in touch with me but I can only assume that they contacted the band’s management and they said, ‘we can’t do it but we know a man who can’. So basically they asked me and I still have the contract and it is wonderful. Legalese, it covers you for the UK, the Earth, the known solar system! Copyright belongs to the BBC (So if in a parallel universe someone on the Planet Tharg is thinking of using the questions - DON’T! AH) They asked me for I think it was twenty five questions and in the end I think I gave them forty four and as it happened, the questions were actually used in the final -of what was supposed to be the last ever series of Mastermind. Unfortunately, the contestant didn’t win; she did very well on my questions but her general knowledge let her down. That was weird, and then seeing my name in the closing credits - and I got paid! Fifty pence and a pickled egg (laughs).
People always call me an “expert” on Genesis. I don’t call myself that, I call myself an informed amateur but it is nice that other people, including the band and their management think “that guy knows his stuff” that is always nice to hear but it was strange. And then the bastards brought it back afterwards! I thought it was the last ever Mastermind and then they brought it back! (laughs).
FR: At the recent Steve Hackett show at the Floral Pavilion in New Brighton, Steve dedicated his final track to you in recognition of your fiftieth birthday. How does it feel to have Steve as a personal friend after being someone you have looked up to for so many years?
AH: He dedicated Spectral Mornings to me. It felt fantastic but not quite as good as a similar thing that had happened with Steve a few years before. This was in the days when I used to help out with the merchandise at Steve’s gigs and it was the first gig of the 2004 tour and we had driven down to Dartford and we were setting everything up beforehand so I didn’t really hear the sound check and I didn’t know that this particular song was going to be in the set. So basically by the time we got to the last song of the first half of the show Steve came to the microphone and says; ’this next song was originally written for a drummer to sing and tonight we have got a drummer to sing it; this is Blood On The Rooftops’ at which point I am at the back of the balcony, surrounded by Steve’s family and ex-band members and I am just literally in tears.
Anyway the rest of the gig passed off uneventfully and I thought; ’great, I have another eight gigs to go’ and the following day the show was in Northampton and we arrived early and the band were still doing the sound check and I saw Steve standing at the mixing desk, and went up and gave him a hug and said; ’thank you for playing Blood On The Rooftops’. And so that night and for the next three nights, Blood On The Rooftops was dedicated to me. It is my all time favourite Genesis song that the band never played and there it was. So that was rather special.
FR: You have written several books on Genesis and your recent biography on Steve but what got you into writing?
AH: I have always liked writing. I have written short stories, poetry, articles, I have written stuff for all kinds of magazines, not all of them connected to music. I just like writing but the idea of writing a book never entered my head until a few completely insane friends of mine said back in 1998, ‘ why don’t you write a book on the band?’ The reason I eventually decided to go ahead and write the first book was after a meeting with… and this is where that trip to Canada to see a Genesis tribute band comes in. It was The Musical Box and I will give you the whole story because it all fits into a piece…
Jack Beermann, a very good friend of mine from America, a very big Genesis fan had been talking me for about two years about this band, ‘you have to come and see them’ and at the time I wasn’t enamoured of tribute bands. I had just started to see ReGenesis here in the UK, but even so the idea of going abroad to see a tribute band is daft even by my standards! Eventually in 1998, Jack said; ‘you have got to come over, it’s their last ever gigs’ so I thought, ok, I can justify this as a holiday so I went over.
Jack picked me up at the airport and drove to his place in Boston and I saw his collection and was suitably impressed. Then we drove to Montreal where the gigs were being held. We got to the hotel and checked in and then Jack said; ‘there are a couple of people I’d like you to meet’ and there were two people at reception with their backs to us and he goes over to one of them taps him on the shoulder and says; ‘hi Armando, I’d like you to meet my friend Alan’ and it was Armando Gallo! This was the guy who had written the book which had pretty much got me started on reading about the band. So I stood next to him and then he said; ‘oh and this is Paul’ and it was Paul Whitehead, the guy responsible for the band’s early Charisma album sleeves. So there was I was and soon I got chatting to Paul and Armando and we just hit it off.
|The day of the gig I did a big interview with the pair of them at a restaurant in Montreal which has been published in TWR (#38 if you’re interested, folks!) and during the conversation with Armando, because he had done a hardback re-issue of the 1980 book - I Know What I Like and was promoting it at these gigs. I asked him had he updated it and he said no. So I asked him why and he was quite honest about it, he said he had lost real interest in the band at the time of the Abacab album. So, that was when I thought to myself, he’s not going to do another book on the band because I was never going to put myself up in competition against someone like him. So, I went and saw the gig and I don’t think I have ever cheered so much as I did that night because they were frighteningly good. Those gigs were scary, they were that good.|
So basically I came back from that trip and thought let’s go and I sat down at the computer one night and literally started to put down a few ideas and three months later I had a book which was Opening The Musical Box - A Genesis Chronicle. I hawked that around to a variety of publishers, most of whom weren’t in the slightest bit interested. Eventually I got a publisher and in May 2000 … I think it was May, the book came out and it did very well and subsequently got an Italian translation and that was that.
I did that and then thought well, at some point it is going to have to be updated and so I continued adding to it and six years later it was updated as Genesis Revisited and then in the interim, because I had got a good working relationship with Steve, people started to say; ’why don’t you do a book on Steve?’ and I knew that Steve had been approached by other fans with the idea of a biography to be done and apparently his reply had been less than helpful but eventually I sent an e-mail to his then manager, expecting to get no reply or ’Steve’s not interested’ and back came the reply …’Steve is very amenable to your idea, after all you do have some history…’ So I just started putting ideas together for that and obviously the second Genesis book and Steve’s biography overlapped to a great extent but the good thing about that was when I got fed up working on one, I could switch to the other. Steve’s biography was published in hardback in 2009 and in paperback in 2011 and that is where we are book wise at the moment although I am working on two other projects at the moment.
FR: It has been going for twenty five years but what made you decide to do TWR?
AH: The bane of my life! (laughs). I didn’t. I am sure this story is old. I am sure there will be a lot of fans who when they read this will go; ‘oh yeah…’ But it is true. I was NOT responsible for TWR. I was in at the birth of TWR but I was not responsible for the conception of TWR. Responsibility for that belongs with two young gentlemen by the names of Ted Sayers and Peter Morton who were good friends of mine. It was at the end of the Invisible Touch tour in mid July 1987. Peter lives in Sheffield and Ted doesn’t live that far away from me and they were both visiting me at my old place and we got talking about the then official fan club; Genesis Information. God rest him, Geoff Parkyn is no longer with us but the magazine was always very slow and the information was out of date and this is the problem with a printed magazine it is always going to be out of date even TWR when it got going was always out of date.
Ted in particular had had a hand in writing a magazine before with a fanzine on Peter Gabriel in the early 1980’s and so it was he who suggested ’why don’t we have a go at writing a magazine about Genesis?’ and I said ’no’ quite emphatically ’no’ and I had a very good reason for saying no, or so I thought at the time and that was because a few months before, Ted and I had had this brilliant idea that we were going to write a novel together. And, I got really into it and Ted got bored and I don’t blame him for getting bored to be quite honest with you. So, here he was saying ’ now we’re going to write a magazine’ and I was thinking to myself I know what’s going to happen here; you’re going to get bored again and I am going to be left holding the baby. It is an entirely different thing when you are writing a magazine that hopefully other people are going to read and they’re going to say; ’we like this, we want another copy’ and then you’re not there any more and I am left to do all the work. So, that is why I said no.
Eventually at the end of that night we all agreed to go home in their cases, and put together some ideas and see what comes up. Obviously this was in the days before the Internet and home computers so everything was handwritten or typed. A couple of weeks later I had this little mound of stuff that the other guys had sent in. There was one big problem: I didn’t have a typewriter or a word processor, so we had to get another person involved who had that technology, so this is where the fourth member of the original TWR team comes in, a young gentleman by the name of Iain Buckle and he had that technology and he typeset the first couple of issues. I designed the covers if you can call them “designs” and we put the first one out in August 1987. If I remember correctly , and I might be wrong, you might have to speak to either Ted or Pete about this, I think we had fifty copies made and we sold them at 50p each and they sold out. Then I got people writing to me asking when the next edition was due out.
I think we got three issues out in 1987. I am pretty sure that the first three issues came out in 1987 and it just took off. Everybody was happy. Peter was mainly responsible for the printing and the distribution, I put it all together and Ted wrote articles for it and contributed photographs for it and that was the way the division of labour remained pretty much and so that is MY version of how it all started!
FR: Can you remember the first article you wrote for TWR?
AH: Err… no (laughs). Without looking at the first edition of TWR I couldn’t tell you what the first article I wrote was. Actually, the first few editions of TWR have been transcribed and should be going online soon because we are going to try and put everything online eventually but it takes a LONG time to transcribe.
FR: How do you go about building up the network of connections that you have done over the years?
AH: In terms of getting contact with the band, it is really fairly straightforward because their management companies are in the ‘phone book if you know where to look. In actual fact, most of the guys in the band are in the ‘phone book if you know where to look. It was just a case in the early days of TWR of sending the magazine to the management offices and to Ant, Steve and Peter and building up the contacts from there. Then getting in contact with some of the people associated with the band through the band members referring them to us or whatever. It is pretty straightforward, anybody can do it. There is no great secret to it really. I am surprised that more people haven’t done it and I have looked at some of the magazines and web sites that were established at the same time as TWR or since and I am astonished that TWR has carried on while they haven’t and I don’t know why. There were a couple of cracking magazines that were going in various parts of Europe and there were a couple of superb web sites that got going at roughly the same time as we did and they have all disappeared and I don’t know why. I can only assume that the people have got bored or whatever. I am just the sad case that didn’t get bored, or the sad case that hasn’t really got a life; I don’t know! (laughs).
FR: When you are researching, whether for TWR or when working on a book, obviously people want to see/hear new stuff rather than seeing the same stuff in a different format, so how do you go about researching your material?
AH: That’s a good question and I can’t really answer it because I have been doing it for so long that it is second nature to me. I admit that nowadays it is more difficult to try and think of a new slant on an established subject. In the old days it was a case of, ’oh, nobody has done a feature on Anthony Phillips’s solo albums or nobody has done a piece on Brand X’ or whatever. In fact, thinking about it, TWR has never done a piece on Brand X I am ashamed to say - so if anyone wants to write one….?
It was always the case that with a band with a group of musicians who have so many different off shoots there is always something to talk about, there is always something to look at. It was never difficult. It IS now because most of that stuff has been covered and so we are starting to think, well I certainly am, are we treading water here? But there still seems to be some mileage in it. Eventually, at some point in the not too distant future, TWR will ride off into the sunset and be no more but when that will be, I don’t know. It may be six months down the line, it may be another five or six years I don’t know but as long as there is something to write about, then I will write about it. The problem I have is that I like writing, so the problem is persuading other people to write for the magazine so that it doesn’t appear to me my ego trip. It isn’t me, me ,me. The more people that write stuff, the bigger the issues can be and the longer it can carry on. It has always been difficult to persuade people to write and I don’t know why. The last few issues we have had quite a few people contributing articles, photographs or reviews and that is great and the more people that can do it, the better! Mainly because it gives me some time off! (laughs).
FR: Tell us about your books and what made you decide to write them?
AH: The idea behind the Genesis books was quite simple, I just wanted to get all the facts, the figures and everything else I knew about the band in one place so that if somebody wanted to know what the band were doing on a certain day or when a record was released it’s there. I have always said that the two Genesis books… the first one should have been called “A thousand and one things you didn’t know about Genesis and didn’t know where to look” but it wouldn’t have fitted on the spine of the book! (laughs) That’s what it was intended as; an anorak’s bible. That is what they are. They are NOT biographies, I am not a biographer, that is NOT my forte.
That was why, Armando had done the biography and I provided the facts and the figures. When you put the two of them together it is all there. It was the same when Chapter & Verse came out, you had the band’s story and at the same time you had Genesis Revisited so you had the biography and the almanack if you like. Put them together and that is what they were intended to be. Steve’s story was obviously different because that is a bona fide biography and that was incredibly easy to write because I had so much help, and the occasional bit of hindrance but we won’t dwell on that.
FR: If you were offered anything from a Genesis band member what would you like to have and why?
AH: That’s easy. It’s a lovely dream but I would want Steve’s Gibson gold top guitar. Because that has been the soundtrack to the better part of my life. I have said that to Steve, my last unfulfilled musical ambition is to have a photograph taken of me holding that guitar and Steve has said that one day that will happen. I absolutely adore that instrument. I would never actually play the thing because strangely enough for someone who has spent so much of their life following musicians and writing about music, I can’t play a bloody note!
FR: What is your view on the Genesis tribute bands and if you had to pick one, who would you say were the closest to the real thing and why?
AH: I would not do that! My first introduction to tribute bands was through then friends of mine who used to rave about this band called Geneside. I said I am not going to see a band called Geneside, it sounds like something you would do at a Nazi rally! This went on for about two years until eventually in 1997 I got a call again and when I asked was it Geneside, they said, oh they’ve changed their name now. I asked what are they called and was told they are called ReGenesis and I thought, ok, that’s acceptable and I went down to their neck of the woods and saw this band and thoroughly enjoyed it.
|There are obviously moments when you think, that’s not right or not so much that but you know it is not the real deal which is just as well because if there was a tribute band that were that good I would be looking for the tape deck and asking ‘is it live?’ There have been some good tribute bands, there have been some great tribute bands and there have been some bloody awful tribute bands. I have not seen all of them by any stretch of the imagination. I have seen most of the ones that are based in the UK and I have seen a couple of ones from abroad and I have always been… that’s not true, there was one band which I won’t name even though they are no longer a gigging band, but I only ever went to see them twice and it didn’t do it for me or most of the audience if truth be told. You have to admire the fact that these people got up on stage and did it at all because it is something I couldn’t do!|
FR: You do a lot of reviews on the band, its members’ solo work and tribute bands etc but how do you keep that objective rather than just an expression of personal taste?
AH: It’s a case of being honest. I will give you one example, there is a well known UK tribute band, well it was two actually and I saw four gigs, two each over the period of a month. So I decided to do a compare and contrast between the two bands over the four gigs. It was strange because both bands had an off night and both bands had a great night but me being me, I called a spade a spade, and it got me into a certain amount of trouble with a certain individual in one of the bands because they don’t react to negative criticism very well. That’s my job. It isn’t my job to sit there and say ‘that’s wonderful’ when I am really thinking ; ‘why am I here?’ I won’t massage anyone’s ego - not even my own! (laughs).
|It is the same with the band members themselves. I have told Steve that there is at least one of his albums that personally I hate and others that I am not too keen on. I slated Rewired by The Mechanics because I genuinely disliked it. Periodically I still get involved in helping Anthony Phillips select music for his albums and it is a case of; ‘no, that’s not going to make the cut, no that’s not up to scratch’ and you have to be honest. That is what it comes down to. If you are reviewing something it is always subjective no matter how hard you try. As long as you can say ‘I think this is great because…’ or ‘I think this is dreadful because…’ then at least people can see where you are coming from and they may not necessarily agree with it but at least they can see my point of view. At the end of the day, it is MY opinion and if you don’t agree with it, then send in your own and we will print it! I am sure that there are people who have been terrified of sending in an article because they think I will be sitting there looking at it and laughing my head off thinking, ‘this is crap’. It’s not my job to judge their views . It might be my job to tidy up their grammar or their spelling although mine isn’t perfect, but it might be my job to do a bit of tidying up but it isn’t my job to alter their views. As long as they are prepared to do it, that’s fine by me. And in fact one of the nicest compliments that has even been paid to me was by Steve when he told me several years ago…“I always read your interviews because you always quote me faithfully…”|
FR: Obviously there have been a lot of good times and positive memories but are there any real nightmares that stick out?
AH: Not with the band no. There has not been an occasion where anything has gone drastically wrong.. There have been a few times when I have been late for interviews due to transport delays etc. I was supposed to be interviewing Steve the other week and basically it took me six hours to get to London because the clockwork on the train broke down! So we ended up postponing the interview and going out to dinner at friends instead. If anything had gone that drastically wrong, we wouldn’t have been able to carry on doing it because the band or their management would have said ’ no, you screwed up there, you’re not getting another chance’. There have been individuals where I have thought to myself, ‘why did I get them involved with that?’ or ’why did I let them loose on that?’ but that’s another story entirely. In terms of the stuff with the band it hasn’t all been plain sailing and the choice of The Waiting Room as our title was inspired as we have, on occasions had to WAIT a long time for things to happen, but it has not been difficult either but that is because the people involved know that you are genuine about what you are doing and the wait has invariably been well worth it!
FR: Liverpool is your home city, do you have any special memories of Genesis or any of the band members playing there?
AH: Well, I have never seen Genesis in Liverpool - bastards! (Laughs). The last time they played here was 1980 and I was still doing my A levels at the time and they were much more important to me than gigs, even Genesis gigs! Solo wise, Gabriel has played Liverpool, Hackett has played Liverpool. Funnily enough, Phil has never played Liverpool apart from with Brand X, I saw him here with Brand X in 1979 I think.
Memories of Genesis- related gigs in Liverpool…Gabriel’s first gigs here in ’77 were amazing. The first time I saw Steve in Liverpool in 1979 on the first Spectral Mornings tour, that was something special. The first time The Mechanics came to Liverpool in ’96, that was outstanding. A gig’s a gig, the fact that it is in your own home town is fantastic and I suppose the New Brighton gig from this year that you mentioned earlier, that has got to be up there. It wasn’t quite my home town but it was as near as damn it. I suppose the one I will remember the most was the Hackett gig at the Neptune Theatre back in 2003 when I was actually doing the merchandise in my own home town.
FR: Are there any experiences you have shared with individual band members that you would like to talk about?
AH: That depends on what you mean by “experiences” young man! (laughs). I have become very good friends with Steve and Anthony and I know that is going to upset some people but facts are facts, and there are things like going out to dinner or having a social evening with these people but I won’t go into details because that is just two mates, that’s it.
I suppose the experience I had which will always stick in my mind although it didn’t involve anyone else was the birthday present that Ant got me for my fortieth birthday because I had always wanted to go to the Last Night Of The Proms in London and Ant got me a ticket for it that year for my fortieth birthday and that was wonderful and something I will never forget- and I got to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone in the Royal Albert Hall that night as well!
FR: How do you feel Genesis’ music has changed over the years?
AH: Genesis’ music? It has got simpler but less sometimes is more. I don’t think the Genesis of 1972 for instance could have written a song like Fading Lights. But the Genesis of 1991 couldn’t have written a song like Watcher Of The Skies either. They learned how to edit themselves down very, very well. They can write a song now and the listener doesn’t have to have a dictionary of phrase and fable to understand what the lyrics mean. They became more realistic, that’s the key. People turn round and say; ’oh prog is this, prog is that…’ For me the key to Progressive music is actually in the word “progressive”. Progress goes forward, it doesn’t stand still and these people who want Mellotron chords and songs about elves or goblins, that’s not progress. The fact that Genesis changed on every album and each one was never the same; that’s progress. That makes Genesis a genuinely PROGRESSIVE band and that goes right the way through From Genesis To Revelation to Calling All Stations in my opinion. They were always a progressive band but they changed because they learned how to become simpler, leaner and more realistic.
FR: Of course Genesis is a group/team effort but if you took out one of the members which of them do you think has been the most influential and why?
AH: Tony Banks. Far and away Tony Banks, that man IS Genesis. And that is not to disrespect the other members of the band. The key (pun intended) to what makes Tony Banks Genesis is Fading Lights. You listen to that song and imagine anybody else writing that song and playing the keyboards on that song. Nobody else could do it. Well, other musicians could do it but it would not be Genesis. I have heard a couple of the tribute bands perform it and it is played very, very well but it is not Genesis. Nobody else can do that. It is the same with watching somebody else play Spectral Mornings; they can get the notes right but it isn’t Steve. I think most Genesis fans if they were honest, would agree with me there.
FR: Tell us about the book you are currently writing, what will that be about?
AH: Ah well, if I told you I would have to kill you! (laughs). You may have read a book in 2004 called Play Me My Song by Paul Russell? That was a look at the Genesis live recordings and live performances from 1968 to 1975. I decided to take that idea and run with it from 1976 onwards but also in addition to that, include all the solo tours to cover everybody. That project is done, apart from a couple of minor details, and that will be published next year. Then probably at some point, I might update Genesis Revisited again for one last time. I have continued to update the text of that quite substantially; all the gig guides and everything else have been kept constantly up to date. It’s rather like painting the Forth Bridge, you start at one end and by the time you get to the other side, you have to go back to the beginning again. There are still people I would like to speak to, to get information into that book and it is simply a case of trying to get hold of them and doing an interview with them.
So, those are the two projects, one is finished pretty much and the other one I am toying with at the moment and I don’t think there will be anything else from me about Genesis after that. I think I will have definitely said EVERYTHING I want to say about Genesis after that!
FR: Okay, if you could look back on the last twenty five years, what would be your most notable Genesis-related experience?
AH: Not one , because there have been so many. You could say the first time you met any of the guys but that would be obvious. I suppose one that does stick out and even more so because the guy is no longer with us is when I met John Mayhew at the Genesis Convention back in 2006 and I was instrumental (accidentally) in getting him back together with Anthony Phillips and especially now that John is no longer with us, that does give me a nice feeling that they did actually get to meet and discuss all those issues.
There are so many like the daft ones like being able to take fans with me to interviews, being able to take fans with me to gigs or rehearsals but that is not really something that I have done. That is something that the band or their management have allowed me to do, they organised it; I just put the people together. Although the fact that I have been able to enable other fans to do that is something that sadly, certain individuals appear to have forgotten of late even though they benefited from it themselves! I suppose the one thing that the band and their management can say about me is; ’ok, he’s a nutcase, but he knows how to do the job properly’.
FR: Did you believe then, twenty five years ago that we would be here today looking back on twenty five years of TWR?
AH: No. I didn’t know you twenty five years ago! (laughs). No, I honestly thought that when The Waiting Room started in 1987 that we would scratch around for a couple of issues and then we would all get bored and we would all bugger off. In the end, the rest of the original contingent DID all get bored and bugger off! (laughs). I was right in my prediction that they would bugger off and leave me holding the baby eventually. It just took a bit longer than I thought. Why I decided to keep it on is anybody’s guess, I REALLY don’t know. Am I bloody minded? Awkward? Yes, absolutely! You have got to be to keep something like this going for that length of time, otherwise you would never do it. Why do I still do it after twenty five years? Because I still enjoy it. When I stop enjoying it will be the day that it stops. And of course, I have been in the position as a result of running TWR, to be able to get to do things that fans (myself included) would normally only ever dream of. In fact, when we started TWR, my one dream was to finally get to meet Anthony Phillips and we now know what happened there, don’t’ we?!
FR: Talking about stopping then, final question for you. In your wildest dreams, Genesis have decided to reform with everyone to do one final gig, if that was ever the case and they had to do one final track and you have been given the task of choosing that track, what track would you choose that sums up “Genesis”?
AH: Fading Lights. I always remember when I heard it for the first time at the press launch for the album, and I was in tears as I listened to it and nobody had any idea at the time that Phil would leave but I thought, ’that’s it, the band are saying goodbye’ and if they were going to do that, then that would be the best way to say goodbye. The final line of the song… “these are the days of our lives, so remember…” You don’t need a better epitaph than that!
And with that rather philosophical thought, we come to the end of this interview.
I hope you found it interesting. My thanks to Frank for putting it together
and for roping in some intriguing questions from his co- inquisitors.