“The best headache I have ever had!” or "How I came to write my latest book" - A Selection of Shows. By Alan Hewitt.
The title is extremely apt. Here are some amazing statistics for you to consider folks. Between them, Genesis and the various solo members who on one concert stage or another have performed some 4840 (and counting) concerts since 1976 and that is only according to the records I have kept! Therefore, the title of my latest opus “A Selection Of Shows” (thanks for the title, Phil!) is entirely appropriate.
When I first started thinking about this project back in 2004, I had just begun work on Steve’s biography and was also in the process of updating my first book (2000’s Opening The Musical Box A Genesis Chronicle) , so I was not entirely sure how to go about it. Would a book focussing on the live performances since Phil took over as the band’s singer be of sufficient interest? Where do you draw the line in terms of how many gigs do you cover from each tour? Five? Ten? All of them? And how do you avoid becoming repetitive in what you say about them? No one in their right mind would write a book about EVERY gig even if the recordings for each and every gig existed and many are still lost, missing or hidden even in these days of Internet downloads etc and many others were simply not recorded for posterity. The fact that I was also juggling those two other book projects at this time goes a long way to debunk certain comments recently on Amazon attributing rather sinister reasons as to why it took so long to get into print (but more of that later, folks!).
So, the first thing was to draw up a (not so) short list of which gigs are of significance either for events that happened on stage or the choice to play different songs than those usually played during a tour set. Did I focus on radio broadcast and soundboards to the exclusion of audience recordings or did I include the latter? In the end that decision was easy to make as I did not have access (nor did I ask for it) to the band’s archive of recordings having what I considered a sufficiency of material to choose from in my own archives. So, if that statement disappoints some people expecting exclusive knowledge of the band’s archive then I am sorry but access to the material the band have would not have changed the overall tenor of the project in the slightest after all this is a GUIDE and not an encyclopaedia.
That decided I took a further decision which might have taken a few of you by surprise. To extend the idea to cover the various members of the band’s solo careers too. After all, there is almost forty years’ worth of solo performances to look at as well as that of the band itself. And in fact, it might come as a surprise to some of you reading the book that the members of Genesis actually have lives outside of the band but as the book demonstrates, most of them most certainly DO! That said, I did wonder if perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew here and I admit, as the project progressed it became harder and harder to decide where to draw the line and thankfully I had the other projects I was working on to consider so I could take a break and return to the fray suitably refreshed, if that is the right word!
Eventually, instead of documenting gig after gig from each and every tour which would have been impossible anyway, I decided to look at those recordings which stand out for one reason or another and to mix it up between radio broadcasts, soundboard or mixing desk recordings, and audience recordings to give a proper flavour of the kind of material that is out there for collectors. After all, some people hate audience recordings and other people like them. There is even room for the odd DVD recording as well where it is relevant to include them.
I know that there are many recordings which have not been included in this project and if your favourite show is not within the pages, then I am sorry but hope that what you do have is a broad over view and flavour of the performances by the band and its solo members and how those performances have grown and improved as the years have gone by and how the various bands’ set lists have evolved. That is the central aim of the project and I think the end result has not turned out to shabbily at all really but the proof of the pudding will be in what YOU - the fans think and I await your comments with a mixture of anticipation and in the case of one individual, stoic resignation.
And speaking of “headaches” I would like to take this opportunity to rebut the singularly uninformed, not to say spitefully vitriolic and outrageous (I could use other words but TWR is a family magazine) comments that have masqueraded as a series of increasingly ranting“reviews” of this project on Amazon from someone whose comments clearly display a lack of regard for accuracy and indeed reality of their own among other things. For the benefit of the “writer” of those scurrilous pieces and for anyone else here are a few FACTS about my latest project for you to consider:
1. As outlined elsewhere in this feature and in my various conversations about this project, I NEVER set out to write an encyclopaedia on this subject, merely to give fans a flavour of the sheer amount of material that is out there for potential collectors to get to grips with. Indeed, there are fans out there with much greater knowledge of the world of live recordings and far larger collections of same than I possess and several of them are acknowledged in the credits to this project for their contributions to it. The key is in the two words which appear in the book’s title: “Selection” and “Guide” which for most English language speakers should be a fair indication of what is intended and if that didn’t work, then the introduction itself makes my intent plain to anyone with a grasp of the basics of the English language. However, this was evidently not the case of a certain Amazon “reviewer”. With 4830 and counting gigs to consider I defy anyone to write a book which features each and every one and actually have a publisher consider such a work for publication, even assuming that recordings of all of them actually EXIST and many simply do not.
2. I am not a musician nor a musicologist and have never pretended to be, so it was never my intention to provide an analysis of Tony Banks’ finest arpeggios or Steve Hackett’s greatest riffs or anything else of that nature either. Rather to give an impression of what it was like for a non-musician in the audience at some of these gigs, as I was. Perhaps you should view it as a “scrapbook” of memories? Maybe the aforementioned “reviewer” may have been more verbose in their descriptions I don’t know nor indeed do I care, when /if they have their work published then they can extol the virtues of Steve’s riffs to their heart’s content. Nor have I ever referred to myself as an “expert” on the band’s story either although others have kindly done so. The term “informed amateur” is much more accurate as far as my work is concerned.
3. Any gig omissions are purely part and parcel of the “selection” process and not a deliberate slur or insult on the gigs in question , the musicians who played them or the venues at which the shows were staged. Merely an effort on my part to keep this project to manageable proportions.
4. Having access to the band’s archive of recordings would not have made the slightest difference to the end result of this project apart from potentially a difference in some of the gigs actually mentioned within it. Nor despite the assertions to the contrary from the “reviewer” was access to the band’s archive denied me. In fact I never ASKED for access to it in the first place! A recording is a recording after all no matter where it originates from and the songs are still the same if they are in the form of an audience recording, radio broadcast or mixing desk tape from the band’s own desk are they not? Nor would an interview with any of the band members have made any difference to the overall content either and in fact, interviews with Phil, Mike, Tony, Ray and Steve and many others associated with some of the tours that are part of the project HAVE featured in TWR and extracts from some of those DO appear in the “Afterglow” section of the book do they not?
5. The “reviewer’s” comments re: Phil and Steve’s forewords displayed a worrying lack of respect for Messrs Hackett and Collins neither of whom had to or were paid to write the words they chose to but were asked of they would write something and did so out of respect for my efforts on their behalf over the years . And I hasten to point out, Messrs Collins and Hackett HAD seen the text of the book BEFORE it went to print and the rest of the band were offered the chance to peruse it beforehand as has been the case with ALL of my previous works. As I have a high regard for THEIR professional reputations AND for factual accuracy which might be the reason why I have been called upon to assist with several projects which I am sure you are all aware of and which is reinforced by Mike’s very kind comments about my first book which appeared in #256 of Record Collector Magazine: “ I took his book on holiday and its’ so detailed, you’re reading things about your life you’ve forgotten. I think he knows more about us than we know…” Hardly something Mike would have said had it been wildly inaccurate now, is it? Nor indeed would the producers of both the Mastermind TV series or The Genesis Songbook documentary have engaged my services if I wasn’t up to the job. That said, even I make mistakes and I am not in the slightest bit offended if anyone points these out to me - it is all part of the learning process and the reason why I am still doing this “job” after all these years. And with thirty years of Genesis gigs AND thirty seven years of solo gigs to deal with, the odd omission is bound to creep in somewhere isn’t it?
6. An appendix or index was not necessary for this project. Every gig was prefaced by its location and date and the tracks were correctly listed as well. All quotes within it are correctly credited where used unless the exact source is not known, and all photographers whose photographs are included were correctly credited in the acknowledgements section of the book where known - something I personally made sure of before it went to print. I would assume that any self respecting photographer would actually RECOGNISE their own work without having to be told it is theirs and in most cases the photographers involved were personally asked by me or the publisher direct for the use of their work. In some cases they even volunteered it without being asked! And for that I would like to take the opportunity of thanking them once again for their generosity in allowing their work to grace mine. As for the “reviewer’s” inane carping comments about the quality of the photographic reproduction within the book. I am reliably informed by several of the photographers whose work appears within it that the digitisation of old film stock may result in some potential distortion revealing faults within the film stock used - many of the images in the book are almost FORTY years old for goodness’ sake! That is what they have told me. Me? I’m just a writer to paraphrase a certain song! The same photographers have declared themselves more than happy with the end result and who am I to demur from their professional and expert judgement?
Anything else which this particular “reviewer” may or may not have found fault with within this project really do not merit any further comment from me except to utterly refute the outrageous and vile attacks on my personal character made by this “reviewer” in said “reviews” and which have nothing to do with a critique of a literary work and which instead are personal attacks of the worst kind and which if they continue will be dealt with accordingly. I have to say that when the individual responsible has spent as long working on a project such as this or any of my previous offerings including as they put it a “half decent” biography of one of the band’s members which, as insulting as that is to me personally, also misses or chooses to selectively ignore the fact that the person in question: Mr Stephen Richard Hackett actually AUTHORISED the project in question, was consulted at every stage of its development and wrote the foreword to it. None of which I am sure he would have done had the end result not done him justice and been accurate! More importantly when this individual has actually had something PUBLISHED and I have had the pleasure of perusing it, and subjecting it to the same strenuous analysis that the “reviewer” has evidently subjected my work to, then I might just take their puerile carping seriously. There is an old saying here in the UK and it is certainly true of this individual: “Those who can , do. Those who can’t, criticise” and boy has this individual done their share of the latter with precious little of the former to their name.
I have already received several very useful critiques of the book which do highlight omissions or mistakes, and I have taken them into consideration as is only right and proper without throwing my toys out of the pram in the process. I am human after all despite some opinions to the contrary! After all this is still very much a learning curve for me as I am not a professional writer by trade nor have I maintained otherwise although after doing so for TWENTY EIGHT years, perhaps I should refer to myself as such, I don’t know, what do you think folks? The day I don’t learn something new about this band and its musicians is the day I give it all up but as things stand, that day is still a LONG way away which is something I know that said “reviewer” will be disappointed about. Well, tough cookies my friend!
I am disappointed that I have had to bore you all with writing such a lengthy
defence of what was put together as a work which people were supposed to ENJOY
and hopefully be informed by and I sincerely hope that for the majority of people
who have purchased it, that has been the case but hey, you can’t please
everyone no matter how hard you try, can you?
Even though the book bears my name, it is NOT a solo effort and a great many people have contributed to it in one way or another and I would like to extend my grateful thanks once again to those individuals and to Messrs Collins and Hackett for taking the time to write some kind words about it. It was a labour of love and now I am going to take a well - earned break… until the next edition of TWR that is. And with that in mind, where did I put those Mike Rutherford questions…?