Together And Apart - The BBC documentary reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
What is it about Genesis and documentaries? It seems to me that every time the words “Genesis” and “Documentary” are strung together in the same sentence something never quite adds up. Both of the efforts which preceded this one (1990’s The Genesis Story and 2000’s The Genesis Songbook) failed to hit the mark in different ways. From the preamble to this one, I was led to believe that finally the powers that be had got it just about right. Did they succeed? Well, let us see shall we….
From the publicity for this effort I assumed that the emphasis this time would be weighted more towards the fact that Genesis as a unit had produced more successful solo careers than any other band of their era and that that those careers would be a prime component in this project. Therefore I was extremely disappointed to see that one of the founding fathers of the band: Anthony Phillips whose solo career spans thirty one albums (and counting) did not even rate a mention as a solo artist although his presence in the band was given a cursory glance and the footage from the infamous Roundhouse 1970 gig was nice to see. The presence of four so-called “critics” whom I for one had never even heard of occupied space in which Anthony, Steve AND Ray’s solo careers could have at least been given a mention but sadly not.
The subdivision of the documentary into distinct periods : “The Peter Gabriel Years”, “The Phil Collins Years”, “Together And Apart” and “Together Again” might have worked reasonably well although throughout each section there were some glaring errors and omissions. Selling England By The Pound, the most successful of the Gabriel era albums barely rated a mention whilst The Lamb… revealed the tensions between several members of the band at the time - and still to this day if the body language of the individuals involved during their chat about that album is any indication.
The irritating lack of attention to basic details such as the various errors in the release dates of several of the band’s albums and those of the solo artists was compounded by a monumental oversight by Tony Banks himself when he stated that the band’s first album to be recorded at their studio: The Farm, was Invisible Touch (no Tony, it was in fact Abacab!) makes me wonder exactly who the BBC were employing as researchers for this project and more importantly if any before broadcast proof reading was done and if so by whom?!
I remember distinctly that the omission of Abacab from the previous Genesis Songbook project was a major error on that project (especially as I was interviewed about that album myself!) and at least this time round the album received the barest of acknowledgements but this time it was Steve’s swansong album: Wind & Wuthering which was lacking and his departure barely merited any comment at all. Mind you, that is no surprise really, Steve’s departure from the band has always been glossed over. In fact, Steve’s solo career was another casualty of the re-writing of the Genesis story. By the time we got to the incredible success of Peter and Phil in the mid 1980’s I was expecting at least some mention of Steve’s solo work. After all he DID have a string of successful albums in the 1970’s and 1980’s himself and major success in 1986 with the GTR project and the later success with his orchestral projects such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, did he not? None of which were evidently deemed worthy of a mention here.
However, the person who has undoubtedly come off worst in this project is Ray Wilson and his brief but important period in the band. Genesis (and some members of the fan base) need to be reminded that they DID actually produce an album after Phil’s departure (even though this is evidently something they would like to forget) and in case their memories really are failing them that badly, then let me refresh them for you guys. The album was called Calling All Stations and it was released on 2 nd September 1997 and it reached the number two position in the UK charts (remember it now?). This was the story of GENESIS was it not? So why no mention at all of this part of their career? I do remember Phil’s statement on the subject of the reaction to Calling All Stations as quoted in the band’s biography: Chapter & Verse :“I personally was quite offended by the public reaction to that album” . Well, I trust that the band will understand if I for one am equally offended by their complete omission of this essential part of their story. I can only assume that the fragile egos of Tony and Mike are still coming to terms with the relative failure of this album even after sixteen years. I am even more appalled when upon enquiry to Ray himself I find out that he was not even consulted or asked to take part in this project - a disgraceful way to treat anyone in my book! I for one find this cavalier treatment of the band’s story and several of the key personnel in it deeply offensive as I find all revisions of history. I don’t mind differences of opinion among the members about how or where a record was recorded after all, memory can play tricks on you, can’t it Tony? However, deliberately and selectively omitting matters of fact and public record is unforgivable. OK, it is not in the same league as those who deny the Holocaust for example but nonetheless, some credit where it is due, eh?
Let us try and draw some positives out of this project though. OK, with a band whose collective and individual careers span such a length of time it would be impossible to do justice to them all within the ninety or so minutes for which this documentary runs. In terms of the band’s story itself, the project did manage to cover just about all bases with the exception of the total omission of the final recording incarnation of the band, and it was never going to please everyone. It didn’t come up with any startling revelations but that was not to be expected, Genesis have been extremely good at singing from the same hymn sheet over the years, haven’t they? And the admissions from both Gabriel and Banks that there were tensions and awkwardness were refreshing to say the least but hardly anything that we didn’t already know or at least, suspect. As an introduction to the band’s story for newer fans and the uninitiated, then it was pretty good going. But these days, Genesis’ fan base is shrinking not growing (sad but true) and most fans have already seen the previous documentaries on the band and are unlikely to learn anything new from this effort apart from the ongoing and now blatantly apparent animosity between several members which really doesn’t do any of them any favours, does it? Getting a large scale project about a band as unfashionable as Genesis screened by the BBC at all these days is a major achievement itself too but even when that is said and done, the complete lack of regard for the part played in the band’s story by several of its incumbents and their respective solo careers leaves me with a very sour taste in my mouth I’m afraid and if I were the likes of Steve Hackett and Ray Wilson I would be deeply unhappy about how my part in the band’s story has been misrepresented or in Ray’s case, completely ignored. Another missed opportunity to tell the story and do justice to everyone I’m afraid.
The project leaves several very important questions to be answered especially in the light of Steve Hackett’s quite justified disavowal of it and these are…
1. Were the band (and ex -members) consulted about its proposed content during the editing process? And if not, why not?
2. Did the band actually SEE the final cut before it was screened/broadcast? From Steve and Ray’s comments this seems not to have been the case which, if true, is astonishing.
3. Who was responsible for the final broadcast cut? The BBC?. Eagle Rock? Genesis’ management? Either way someone has some serious explaining AND apologising to do to certain members of the band AND to the fans whose reactions to this project have been mixed to say the least.
The end result has, I am sad to say, tarnished Genesis’ reputation probably beyond redemption and all for the sake of some proper consideration and above all, courtesy, which simply beggars belief!