Saturday, 31 December 2016

Repulse: Europe at war 2062-2064

So, as 2016 draws to a close, I've spent the last day's of the year reading about the future, and here's a very brief review of it!

What does the future hold? This is a subject that many have speculated about, but when the matter is considered in a combination of science fiction and war reporting it takes on a whole new complexion. In this book, Chris James reports the 'history' of a conflict in Europe between NATO and the Persian Caliphate which lasted (will last) from 2062-2064, told in a narrative style which draws on many 'contemporary' sources; politicians, military leaders and ordinary folk caught up in this troubling conflict.

This is a very believable tale - disturbingly so at times, excellently and engagingly told, but losing none of the horror that such a conflict should rightly engender. I would highly recommend this work (as I would some of the other stuff that Chris has written, which is very different), though be warned, the language can be a little emotive and near the knuckle sometimes.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Music of 2016

Another year end approaches, and I'm conscious this year that it has taken quite a heavy toll on the music world. From David Bowie & Keith Emerson to Leonard Cohen & Greg Lake, many icons of progressive music have passed from this life, but they leave with us a lasting legacy of years of material and of influence for subsequent generations of artists and musicians.

2016 has offered many opportunities to me for enjoying music, both recorded and live. Having a sabbatical of 3 months earlier this year meant that I was free to attend a few gigs that would otherwise have been impossible for me, and the summer was nicely full of live music and its associated camaraderie. Good music seems to have been reasonably profuse this year: I have acquired 127 albums released this year, the top 50 of which I will list below.

Before then though, I usually have 3 shorter categories in my year-end review.

Live Albums of the Year
5. Snarky Puppy - Family Dinner vol 2
4. Heliopolis - Epic at the Majestic: Live at Rosfest
3. Steve Hackett - The Total Experience Live in Liverpool
1=. Tigermoth Tales - Live at Summer's End (Official Bootleg)
1=. Big Big Train - A Stone's Throw From The Line

Discoveries of the Year
Acts that I've only become aware of in the past 12 months, that have stood out for me.
3 from the world of jazz:
Christian Scott, whose trumpet playing is just sublime;
Jason Rebello, a pianist whose album 'Held' is simply stunning;
Dinosaur, a 4-piece of Laura Jurd, Elliot Galvin, Conor Chaplin & Corrie Dick, who together show that the future of the genre is particularly bright.
2 from the Progressive field:
Firefly Burning, who draw together folk, prog, world music and their own particular style, and who brought a particular light to the Sunday morning of Summer's End;
I Am The Manic Whale, who would probably have been Top 3 last year for me if I'd found them in time. Inventive, modern yet rooted progressive music up there with the best of the genre.

Gigs of the Year
As I mentioned above, I've attended a few more gigs this year than in previous years, but here's my Top 5:
5. Soft Machine @ Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal
4. The Power of 3 @The Lexington, London
3. Yes @ Sheffield City Hall - proving that there's life in the old dog yet since the demise of Chris Squire
2. Geoff Banks Memorial gig @ Boston Music Rooms, London - an excellent evening with The Gift; Alan Reed; Andy Tillison. Matt Stevens & Theo Travis; and Francis Dunnery
1. Summer's End  @ Drill Hall, Chepstow

And so to my favourite albums of 2016. Bubbling under the Top 20, in alphabetical order:
Lee Abraham - The Season's End
Aisles - Hawaii
Jacob Collier - In My Room
Edensong - Years in the Garden of Years
The Far Meadow - Given The Impossible
Fractal Mirror - Slow Burn 1
Kristoffer Gildenlow - The Rain
Glass Hammer -  Valkyrie
Steve Hughes - Once We Were part 1
Iamthemorning - Lighthouse
Lazuli - Nos Ames Saoules
Mice on Stilts - Hope for a Mourning
Mute Gods - Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Opeth - Sorceress
Matthew Parmenter - All Our Yesterdays
Tony Patterson - Equations of Meaning
The Pineapple Thief - Your Wilderness
Rikard Sjoblom - The Unbendable Sleep
Damien Wilson & Adam Wakeman - Weir Keeper's Tale
Steven Wilson - 4½

The Top 20
20. Neil Cowley Trio - Spacebound Apes
19. Body English - Stories of Earth
18. Snarky Puppy - Family Dinner volume 2
17. Half Past Four - Land of the Blind
16. Tim Garland - One
15. Farmhouse Odyssey - Rise of the Waterfowl
14. Jason Rebello - Held
13. Frost* - Falling Satellites
12. Dinosaur - Together, As One
11. The Gift - Why The Sea is Salt

10. David Bowie - Blackstar. The final, portentous offering from the rock & roll chameleon, still as sharp as ever.
9. Mothertongue - Unsongs. A gentle melange of madness from Manchester's finest
8. Karmakanic - Dot. More genius from Jonas Reingold and company.
7. Southern Empire - Southern Empire. One up-side to the demise of Unitopia is the appearance of both UPF & Southern Empire from the ashes. Some excellent antipodean prog!
6. Red Bazar - Songs from the Bookcase. A simply delightful collection of songs delivered as only Peter Jones can.

5. Knifeworld - Bottled out of Eden. Sublime progressive music delivered as only Kavus & co can do, building on their success with The Unravelling
4. Andy Tillison Diskdrive - (Machte Es) Durch. Some of the best ambient electronic music around at the moment.
3. Colin Tench Project - Hair in a G-String (Unfinished but sweet). In turns beautiful, sublime, bonkers, lyrical, rocking; some of the best guitar-based prog you'll hear in a long time, and it has Peter Jones' hand all over it too.
2. Big Big Train - Folklore. One of 5 releases by the band this year (including a BluRay, a live album, live audio from the BluRay, and a re-release of English Electric), this collection of new material continues to cement this band's place at the forefront of the English progressive scene. Some quite outstanding material here, particularly 'The Transit of Venus across the Sun'. More to come, along with live shows, next year!

1. Anderson/Stolt - Invention of Knowledge. Progressive music as it has historically been produced, by two of the the finest proponents of the art still with us, yet not fixed in the past. This is, to my mind, the finest music anyone associated with Yes has produced since 'Awaken'.

That was 2016 - bring on 2017!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Methodist Stationing - some reflections (part 4): when it doesn't work out

A couple of years ago my wife & I wrote some reflections of our experience of the Methodist stationing system, as we traversed its delights (?) for the first time in 11 years, looking at the early stages, the 'matching', and a spouse's perspective on the process. The result for us was that I was matched with the Kendal circuit as Superintendent (for the first time), and we subsequently moved here from Sheffield in August 2015.

Getting used to a new geography, albeit a very beautiful one, and a new role and responsibility, presented the usual challenges: names, faces and locations to remember; contexts and histories to learn. My standard practise in these situations is to take time to 'get a feel' for a new place, and the same goes for the new role of Superintendent minister that I was coming to terms with. All was going reasonably well, and then, on December 5th 2015, Storm Desmond struck the North West and large parts of Kendal were submerged, including the church at Sandylands. Still working out what my role was in normal circumstances, I was left struggling to adapt to this new situation.

One of the things which attracted me to the appointment from the outset was a priority in their profile to 'enable the completion of the Circuit Strategy', which I took to mean that work was on-going in this area. Unfortunately (and maybe I should've picked this up earlier) little if anything had actually been done towards this, and that work took centre-stage on the Circuit Leadership Team (CLT) agenda almost from the off. Again, this was probably a little early for my natural inclinations of taking stock.

Finally, in the spring of 2016 the treasurer of the main church in Kendal, Stricklandgate, informed the Church Council that on its current financial trajectory the church would be effectively bankrupt within 3 years. We resolved to embark on a Strategic review of the church's life, to ascertain its viability in the context of the wider place of Methodism in Kendal, the on-going circuit strategic review, and the ecumenical framework across the county.

I was conscious of feeling increasingly swamped, as if a 'perfect storm' of problems, issues and challenges was brewing, over which I had very little control and for which I felt increasingly ill-equipped to cope. By the summer I was beginning to question whether I was in the right place, or whether I was in the right 'job' - as Superintendent or even as a minister. Fortunately (or serendipitously) I had a 3-month sabbatical planned from August to October, which gave me the chance to get away from the situation and re-assess where I was and what I was doing. On return earlier this month I met with the Circuit Stewards who asked me how things were going: so I told them! Thankfully they had also felt that something was wrong, and were relieved when I confirmed their feelings. After some discussion we reached the conclusion that perhaps the gifts and skills that I had to offer were not after all what the circuit were looking for in their Superintendent at the present time, and it was agreed that I would speak to the District Chair about a possible curtailment of the appointment. This I did the following week, and we concluded that, both for me and for the circuit, this would be the best course of action.

It's easy to look at such a course of action as an admission of failure or defeat, but I don't think it is. For me it is a recognition that sometimes things don't work out the way we would have planned them, or the way we want them to. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes it causes more upset not facing up to these things. One of the hardest things for me in all of this was standing in front of my 2 congregations last Sunday and telling them that I would be leaving them next summer, and from what they've said to me since then, it was equally hard for them to hear it. God's people are, on the whole, wonderful, kind, understanding and gracious, and they have demonstrated that many times over the past week.

Sooner than I had anticipated, I am back in the stationing system - the next round of matching is on Monday. I believe that God's hand is on what will follow (as I believe God's hand was on our coming here), and look forward to the next stage of my ministry journey in anticipation and faith.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Three in Three

As my Sabbatical comes towards its close, I'm managing to squeeze a few gigs in before returning to work. Last week I managed to attend concerts on three consecutive nights, a first for me (outside of festivals).

Thursday evening saw me make my first visit to a local venue here in Kendal, Bootleggers Bar, which is tucked away in one of the many 'yards' that are a feature of Kendal. It is a cosy, intimate venue, with a good selection of ales to slake ones thirst before, during and after the show, and a good ambiance. The entertainment for the evening was provided by blues guitarist Ben Poole, ably supported by bandmates Ben Matthews (drums), Tom Swann (bass) and Steve Watts (keys). This was great guitar-driven blues rock of the highest order, and it is easy to see why Ben is one of the most highly respected and talked-about guitarists of the moment, attracting plaudits from Jeff Beck and the late Gary Moore.

On Friday I drove about 20 miles down the M6 to Lancaster, for the latest in a series of gigs called 'Prog in the Priory'. Previous acts have included Rick Wakeman & Gordon Giltrap; Thijs van Leer & Menno Gootjes; and Marco Lo Muscio & John Hackett, with John Young in support. This time we were royally entertained by Steve Howe, who gave us an acoustic evening of his own material and selections from Yes, including excerpts from The Remembering & The Ancient, a version of To Be Over, a tribute to the late Chris Squire, and an encore of Roundabout and Clap. It was a good evening, the only down side of which was Steve's singing: I wish he'd just stuck to what he does best. Sadly he didn't allow photos during the show or afterwards, but I did manage to snap his guitar set-up before the gig.

Finally on Saturday I had a longer journey, as I travelled to Maltby for the Classic Rock Society gathering with Jump, supported by Jeff Green. Jeff played a brilliant short set of songs from his albums Jessica and Elder Creek to an appreciative crowd, before Jump entertained us with their brand of powerful rock music with a great narrative lyrical style, and the great repartee of front-man John Dexter Jones. This band tell great tales, in word and song, and display great technical skill. A thoroughly enjoyable night, shared with folk from across the country who had made the trip 'up North'.

After some soul-searching, I decided not to make it 4 in four and attend The Room in Bilston. But all in all a great weekend. I'm not sure I'll be doing anything like that again for a while.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Francis Dunnery, and a cast of... about a dozen

Living as I do these days in the somewhat isolated county of Cumbria, I don't get many opportunities to get down to London for concerts - which, sadly, is where most of the more interesting ones seem to take place. However, through the generosity of the Methodist Church I have (as I've possibly mentioned before) been given the gift of a sabbatical: 3 months away from my normal work, during which time I have had space and time to make the journey south on a couple of occasions.

The most recent of these was on Friday last, 14th October, when I journeyed down for a tribute gig for the late Geoff Banks, a one-time pillar of the progressive rock community. I have to confess that it wasn't Geoff that drew me there - I'd never met the man, and only knew of him through heresay and anecdote - but the line up of musicians that had been assembled to pay the aforesaid tribute.

The venue was the Boston Music Rooms, otherwise known as the Dome, Tufnell Park, handily situated opposite the tube station. It was a place (again) that I had heard of: the scene of many historic concerts in the past, and perhaps a fitting place for such an occasion. A small stage at one end, a bar down the side (reasonably priced, for London) and an enthusiastic crowd of discerning music lovers from across the country, and even further afield! And a great night of music awaited us!

The evening started frustratingly early, due to having to accommodate 4 acts and having a 23:00 curfew, at 18:30 with a short set from The Gift, who gave us a selection from across their repertoire including material from their soon-to-be-released 3rd album, 'Why The Sea Is Salt'. Unfortunately the set was bedevilled with technical problems, and to be honest was just too loud for comfort, but Mike Morton and the gave a great performance to a small but appreciative audience despite these issues.

Next up was Alan Reed, former front-man with Pallas, accompanied by Mark Spencer, who presented a set of songs from his own solo material as well as cut-down renditions of Pallas songs, and did so with passion, energy and, at times, at risk of losing his voice. Unfortunately the set was somewhat spoilt by very loud chattering at the bar which I could see was causing Alan (as well as some of us in the crowd) a certain amount of annoyance!

One of Geoff Banks' legacies was helping to organise the Reson8 and Celebr8 festivals a few years ago, and the next act was a kind of recreation of something that took place at one of those (Celebr8.2, I think), when Andy Tillison and Matt Stevens played a short, improvised acoustic set together. One of the joys of such a venture is that no-one (not even the musicians) know what's going to happen, but we were not disappointed as these two excellent musicians created magic for us on the stage - helped for a large part of the set by the equally talented Theo Travis on flute & sax. Influences from King Crimson, Pink Floyd (Careful with that sax, Theo!) and even Rory Gallagher were in evidence, and the steadily growing crowd were well and truly wowed by the occasion!

The headline act came in the person of Francis Dunnery, founder member of It Bites, outspoken Progzilla Radio 'shock-jock' (!), and musical maestro, who gave us  90 minutes or so of anecdotes, humour and some quite stunning acoustic renditions of songs from his own solo material and from the It Bites back catalogue, accompanied by nothing more than his acoustic guitar and the wonderful Dory Jackson on vocals. The now capacity crowd lapped it up, and sang along with many of the tunes with knowledge and gusto. Sadly curfew came too soon, and we made our way home fully sated with great banter, good ale and absolutely awesome progressive music of the finest quality.

Cheers, Geoff! I never knew you, but if that's the kind of community you helped to inspire, then long may your legacy last!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Summer's End 2016

The Summer's End Festival is now in its twelfth year, and provides a great opportunity for fans of progressive music to hear a great selection of the best current live acts from across Europe and, in some cases, the world! It's one of hose events in the prog calendar that I've always wanted to get to, but as it's a) normally held in the South West of England, and I'm based in the North West, and b) it's held over a weekend at the end of September/ beginning of October, which usually clashes with Harvest Festival weekend, I've not previously been able to make it. This year, however, I had my chance, as the Methodist Church has granted me a 3 month sabbatical! So I packed my bags and headed down the M5 to Chepstow for this year's festivities!

The Venue
Chepstow is a smallish historic market town in South Wales, on the River Wye around its confluence with the Severn. Nestled among its narrow streets is the Drill Hall, a functional venue for the festival. Big enough to accommodate the numbers who want to come, but small enough to provide the intimacy that makes this festival special, there is sufficient space for bands, fans, Merch and catering - all one needs for a successful weekend. There are also a number of pubs and eating places nearby, within easy walking distance, allowing for further refreshment without having to miss (too much of) the music.

The Atmosphere
As a first-timer at the festival, I was struck by the easy camaraderie that there was among festival goers. It is clear that many of those present are regulars at this and other events, and that sense of being a part of something that transcends place and time was evident. I was able to meet a number of friends from the virtual world, some for the first time, and as a 'novice' it was easy to quickly feel a part of this wonderful institution. There is a definite family feel to the event, and a relaxed banter between fans and musicians which is a feature of the prog gig scene.

The Music
Across the board the music was outstanding. One of the strengths of progressive music is that it is not  a monochrome genre: variety is part and parcel of what it is. We began on Friday evening with Ghost Community, a new band from Wales who played a selection from their sparkling debut album, 'Cycle of Life' - a great start to proceedings. They were followed by Norway's Magic Pie, who were due to play last year but had to pull out at the last minute. They gave us a storming set of material from their 4 albums, but principally the critically acclaimed 2015 release, 'King for a Day'.
Saturday began with a full band set from Peter Jones' 'Tiger Moth Tales', excellently executed by Peter and members of Red Bazar, to rapturous applause from a packed hall: for many the highlight of the festival! Next we're Holland's Sylvium, with a selection of their hard-edged rock, and they were followed by Seven Steps to the Green Door, from Germany, whose jazz-tinged prog was well received, despite a slight hiccup mid-set when there was an issue with the bass amp. Heather Findlay was next, though I only caught the end of her set due to enjoying a rather good curry and equally good company. The evening finished with a bravura performance from neo prog legends IQ, drawing from their extensive back catalogue as well as their most recent offering, 'The Road of Bones', and demonstrating that after 35 years they are still at the top of their game both visually and musically.
Sunday opened with the unique, eclectic, soulful, joyful delight that was Firefly Burning, demonstrating the variety that is at the heart of true progressive music. A sign of how well they went down was that the CDs sold out within about 10 minutes of them coming off stage! Then a first for Summer's End - indeed a first for anywhere, with the debut performance of Damanek, a band fronted by Guy Manning and featuring Sean Timms, Marek Arnold, Henry Rogers, Dan Mash & Luke Machin. No one outside of the band knew what to expect, and we were left in no doubt that the debut album will be a must buy in 2017. Then Strangefish gave us a bonkers, rocking, crowd-pleasing set of songs old and new, in their first appearance for 10 years. Karnataka (another Welsh band) stormed through a marvellous high energy hour and a half, ending with a fantastic cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' to wild applause from the hall. The proceedings were brought to an end by Germany's RPWL, but I can't comment on their set, as I had to leave before they came on stage, other than to say that reports were more than positive!

Having enjoyed all (or nearly all) that Summer's End had to offer this year, will I be returning? All I can say is, I hope so (though other events in London next year may make it difficult for 2017!)

Genesis: The Re-Evaluation of John - Chapter 20: Live Over Europe 2007

After a break of 10 years, Banks, Collins & Rutherford decided to go back on the road together (with Thompson & Stuermer) for what would be their final tour, the 'Turn It On Again' tour. During June & July 2007 they travelled around Europe and the UK, and in September & October 2007 across the US. The set-list remained unchanged throughout the tour, and the final show of the European leg, from the Circus Maximus in Rome, was filmed and subsequently released as a DVD. The final album released by the band, a compilation of songs from the European tour, was released - in set-list order - at the end of 2007 as 'Live Over Europe 2007'.

Of the songs used, the vast majority (15 of the 25 played or referenced) are from the trio's repertoire, with 3 from the post-Gabriel quartet and 6 from the Gabriel era (Cinema Show, Firth of Fifth & Stagnation in instrumental excerpt form), with the Drum duet ('Conversation with 2 Stools') being a creation of Collins & Thompson on the night.

Much of the material is standard live fare: in fact only 'Ripples' has not appeared on an official live recording before this one, and this is clearly a crowd-pleasing 'Greatest Hits' package with the aim of pulling together fans of all eras of the band. That said, there is no material from the first four albums here, apart from a brief instrumental riff from 'Stagnation' during 'I Know What I Like', and nothing from the final studio recording, 'Calling All Stations'. As a mix, there is a good balance between the 'pop' and 'prog' side of the band, and it stands well as a record of what made the band who they were over the (then) almost 40 years of its life - though maybe for that it needs 'Watcher of the Skies' and/or 'Musical Box' to be comprehensive. There is a good deal of energy in the performances and Collins in particular is able to show just what a brilliant front-man and showman he is.

Nine years on (as I write) there is no sign that this will not be the final flourish of the band, though a recent return to the stage for Phil Collins has raised speculation again. It is increasingly unlikely that the 5-man line-up will resurface, though Steve Hackett has, over the last few years, drawn on his Genesis legacy to great effect and reasonable commercial success, so there is clearly still a market out there for the music.

Genesis remain, in their many guises, one of the most successful and popular British rock bands, and while their entire repertoire may not please all the people all the time, they have left a legacy which will last, and I am sure that their music will be being played, in some form or other, for many years to come. With this article I have reached the end of my exodus through Genesis: I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I have writing and listening again.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Genesis: The Re-Evaluation of John - Chapter 19: Calling All Stations

The final seismic shift in Genesis's long and tortuous history came in 1996 when Phil Collins announced his departure from the band. Having negotiated the transition from 5-piece to 4 with Gabriel's leaving in 1975 with only a slight change in musical direction; and from quartet to trio 2 years later, a move which had a  massive effect on both the band's direction and subsequent popularity, how would this impact on the sound and future of the group, particularly noting that Collins' charisma, and the strength of his solo work, had had a huge influence on where the band ended up?

The two remaining members of the band, Tony Banks & Mike Rutherford, started working on new material and began the search for a new vocalist. Among the contenders for the job were Nick van Eede, from Cutting Crew; Francis Dunnery, from It Bites; David Longdon, who went on to front Big Big Train; and Ray Wilson, from Stiltskin. Any of these would have been suitable, but Banks & Rutherford eventually offered the role to Wilson. This line-up was to record just one album together - 'Calling All Stations', most of which had been written by the time the trio was formed, though Wilson was able to supply lyrics and riffs to a number of the songs. The drumming stool on the album was filled by Israeli session man Nir Zidkyahu and Nick D'Virgilio, then of Spock's Beard and latterly of Big Big Train.

The album opens with the title track, 'Calling All Stations', a rocky number with a steady, uncomplicated beat throughout. Wilson's vocals are deeper, huskier and less strained than Collins's of late and seem to fit the music well, and the guitars, which dominate early in the song, seem to hint at something perhaps a little less pop-y than hitherto. This is a song looking for direction: I'm not sure it completely finds it as it slowly fades out, but a reasonable start, nonetheless.

One thing that this album failed to find was huge commercial success, particularly in the USA. 'Congo' the second song on the album, just managed to creep into the UK Top 30 singles chart, and the album peaked at #2 in the UK. It starts with some 'tribal' rhythms, and a verse that appears to have a couple of beats too many in each line. The chorus is catchy enough, though the bridge seems a little incongruous, but on the whole it's 'neither nowt nor summat' as we say in Yorkshire - I just don't get it as a song.

'Shipwrecked' has a bit more structure to it, and of the songs so far it's one I can imagine Collins singing, but there's still that spark missing. "I'm helpless and alone, drifting out to sea" may sum it up, really. It all seems just a little flaccid, and therefore an obvious single.

'Alien Afternoon' opens with some dreamy keyboards, but soon turns into son of 'Illegal Alien', with pseudo-reggae rhythms and and echoes of 'Home By The Sea' - a kind of mish-mash of the worst and best of the band's 80s catalogue.

'Not About Us', the third and final single from the album, is the first song that Ray Wilson gets a writing credit on, and opens with a simple acoustic guitar riff over which the first couple of verses are sung. The chorus has a fuller musical feel to it, and on the whole this is quite a pleasant ballad, giving some scope for the more emotional side of Wilson's voice to show through.

'If That's What You Need' is a standard song - verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, instrumental, verse, chorus - and as such it ticks all the boxes, musically and lyrically: a quiet, gentle, inoffensive love song, which would probably have made a better single than 'Shipwrecked', but is sadly lacking in any kind of nuance or inventiveness.

There seems to be a pattern with Genesis albums of the 80s & 90s, in that amongst all the pop there is always at least one little ray of hope that the band haven't completely abandoned their more progressive roots, and here 'The Dividing Line' is the one that makes me sit up and pay attention. The opening 1:55 is so reminiscent of early 3-man Genesis, it's almost as if the 80s never happened!, and that vibe carries on as Wilson's vocals come in. Perhaps the drums are a little more muted than Collins would've played them, but there is a clear 'Duke' feel to this song. The stand-out song on the album for me.

'Uncertain Weather' is a song that kind of creeps up on you. It seems quite tame to begin with, but has a certain depth to it that is quite disarming, telling as it does of the fragility and impermanence of life, and of the significance to some of even the most insignificant of lives: 'He must have had a life, maybe with a family, people who meant everything to him...'. It reminds me of It Bites' 'Map of the Past' in many ways.

'Small Talk' sees Ray Wilson providing the lyrics for the only time, and perhaps that's not a bad thing. The song doesn't really seem to go anywhere, to be honest, and it leaves me feeling 'meh'.

Next is 'There Must Be Some Other Way', which launches with some ominous keys, bass and drums - in fact probably the most pronounced bass riff so far on the album (Rutherford seems to have been concentrating on his guitar more). Wilson almost sounds like David Coverdale here, particularly towards the end of the chorus, and musically there is more than a hint of the band's late 80s sound in the instrumental passage (Second Home... comes through clearly for me).

'One Man's Fool' closes the album, and is, in effect, a song of two halves, or maybe two songs knitted together as one. The first three verses and choruses seem to be one entity, and the rest of the song another, though they do seem to be linked with an underlying theme of a search for truth in an increasingly pluralist and uncertain world., and the futility of nationalism & creeds, and war as a tool of enforcing these. A song for our Postmodern age - a far cry from the nymphs and demi-gods of 25 years earlier!

As I mentioned above, this experiment in the life of Genesis failed to make a meaningful impression on the important and lucrative US market, leaving tours having to be cancelled and the band having to rethink their future. From 1998 the band effectively folded, and have produced no new material since. As an experiment it showed that perhaps the strength of the band was in the sum of its parts, and as those parts were reduced, so was te creativity of the band as a whole. For me, Genesis's golden age in terms of creativity and pushing musical boundaries was when they were a 5-piece band, and nothing has quite matched the quality of the material that they produced between 1970 & 1974. Perhaps, despite some high points, this was an album too far and Phil's departure should've marked the end point of Genesis, but they carried on, and we have what we have. The trio of Collins, Banks & Rutherford (augmented by Stuermer & Thompson) did have one final fling in 2007, and that will be the subject of my final piece in this series. I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I have writing them!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Progarchy Radio

I recently recorded an edition of Progarchy Radio with Brad Birzer - you can find it here.
Progarchy Radio Episode 11.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 18: The Way We Walk

Following hard on the heels of their 1992 album, 'We Can't Dance', Genesis embarked on a wide-ranging tour of the USA, Europe and the U.K. This was to prove to be their final concerts together until the reunion tour in 2007, as Phil Collins would quit the band in 1996. But posterity was served as some of the concerts on that tour were recorded and subsequently released, augmented by three tracks from 1986 & 1987, as two CD sets: 'The Shorts' & 'The Longs' in November 1992 & January 1993. For the sake of this article I'm considering both collections together.

'The Shorts', as it suggests, has 11 songs running between 3½ and 7 minutes, all drawn from the band's 'popular' period. It is, effectively, a concert performance of their greatest hits. 'Land of Confusion' opens the show - a faithful rendition, with the large, enthusiastic German crowd joining in the 'whoa-oh's. 'No Son of Mine' follows, with Collins demonstrating his tendency to not be able to leave an instrumental passage without scatting over the top of it, and then 'Jesus He Knows Me' which rattles along at a fair pace, and includes some 'preachy' ad lib-ing towards the end. We move from Germany to Knebworth for 'Throwing It All Away', with Phil and the crowd sparring with the opening gibberish, as well as later on. 'I Can't Dance' allows for some improvisation, though it takes a little time for the German crowd to realise which song it is. 'Mama' is the first of two songs from July 1987's Wembley show - a large crowd in fine voice, though Collins does seem to be finding some of the higher notes a bit of a struggle (a number of songs on these albums were apparently played in a lower key to help his voice). This is a good version, with some passion and power coming through in the singing and some great guitar work. 'Hold On My Heart' is a faithful version, which just seems to drag on a little, almost as if they'd not really worked out how to finish it. 'That's All' is again from Wembley 1987, and is clearly a crowd-pleaser, with a good guitar break at the end. 'In Too Deep' is the earliest recording on the set, from October 1986, and to be frank Collins' voice sounds the best it has so far: clearly touring, and a flourishing solo career, was beginning to take its toll. The set ends with a segue from Invisible Touch, beginning with a cut-down version of 'Tonight, Tonight, Tonight' (just the opening section) which flows into 'Invisible Touch', with the obligatory f-bomb and an extended play-out with some reggae-style chops. On the whole a good record of their live performances of the new, more accessible Genesis, though it does seem to lack a certain amount of spontaneity - just a little too clinical really. But maybe the length of the songs doesn't allow for too much of that?

'The Longs' comprises 6 tracks, 5 of which clock in at 10 minutes plus, and demonstrates the more progressive side of the band (not as overtly dominant in their later years as in their formative ones). All of the songs are taken from 2 nights played at the Niedersachsenstadion in Hanover, Germany (as was a large part of 'The Shorts'). The set opens with 'Old Medley', which does exactly what it says on the tin - a collection of tunes from the classic period of the band. It starts with the opening section of 'Dance on a Volcano', sliding seamlessly into 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' (minus the third verse). As this winds down Collins can't help slipping in a 'Tonight, Tonight, Tonight', before the classic segue into the closing section of 'Musical Box' (as per 'Seconds Out'). We're then into the instrumental section of 'Firth of Fifth' with Daryl Stuermer taking Steve Hackett's part on the guitar and giving it a slightly rockier feel. The medley ends with an extended jam based around 'I Know What I Like' which, confusingly for an Old Medley, brings in brief excerpts from newer songs after Phil's obligatory tambourine dance - 'That's All', 'Illegal Alien', 'Your Own Special Way', and 'Follow You, Follow Me', with a bit of 'Stagnation' uncredited towards the end. Clearly both the band and the crowd enjoyed themselves immensely: shame there's not more of their older material on show here. Following that 19½ minute feast, we move to some of their more contemporary material. 'Driving the Last Spike' from 'We Can't Dance' tells the story of the building of the railways in England in the 19th Century, and is faithfully played: there doesn't seem to be much space in the song for any elaboration, anyway. 'Domino' follows, and seems to lack some of its oomph, with the keyboards a little high in the mix at the expense of the drums in the 'Glow of the Night' section. They also seem a little keen to get into the 'Last Domino' - the transition seems to lack some of the tension of the studio recording for me. Last Domino rocks nicely, but seems to end a little abruptly. 'Fading Lights', the other long song on 'We Can't Dance' is next - a solid rendition - followed by the 'Home By The Sea' suite. The transition from 'Home...' to 'Second Home...' is a little better than the 'Domino' one, but the guitars seem a little quiet in the mix in 'Second Home' as opposed to the keyboards, until around the 8:40 mark when they start to come into their own. We end with what had become de rigeur at Genesis concerts ever since Chester Thompson joined the live set up: a 'Drum Duet' between him and Phil Collins. The two know each other's styles very well, and play off each other wonderfully, switching tempo effortlessly. Maybe not quite up there with the 'Seconds Out' duet, this one comes close, and demonstrates what exceptional drummers both of these guys are (or at least were).

As a collection, these two albums demonstrate that Genesis, even at the height of their commercial success, were still a live force to be reckoned with, despite Phil Collins starting to show signs of deteriorating as a performer. Sadly this band would not perform again for another 15 years, but this record stands as testimony to their tightness as a live unit, drawing crowds in their tens and even hundreds of thousands to hear songs old and new.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Observations of America - Part 2

After almost two weeks in the USA, most of that time enjoying the delights of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I thought I would offer an update on my reflections on the trip. I concede that some of these points may be particular to the parts of the US that we have seen, rather than being generalisations about the entire country, but here we go...

1. Despite being, relatively speaking, a young nation, there seems to be a great deal of pride in the country's heritage and history. Virginia was the first permanent settlement, and consequently there is much to note around the towns of Jamestown & Williamsburg, which we visited. As English tourists, you get used to being apologised to for the past, too!

2. There are some spectacular memorials around, particularly in Washington DC, and they especially like to remember (some of) their presidents - Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt and Jefferson stand out (Jefferson more so in Virginia, his home state). But their war memorials - for Korea, Vietnam and the Marines Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington - particularly impressed me.

3. The Flag is everywhere: on public buildings, businesses, private houses, even in the church we attended yesterday. This is probably a link to the obvious national pride that my earlier points illustrate. In Britain this would bother me more than it does here.

4. I mentioned in Part 1 that everything is big here. This is a big country, with lots of huge open spaces, and the scenery is quite breath-taking. We had a day exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park and were astounded by the scale, scope and grandeur of it all.

5. I have also been struck by the hospitality of people here - and not just, I think, because they are church folk. People have been very helpful to us, getting used to different ways of doing things, and the perhaps clichéd refrain of "Have a nice day!" seems for the most part to be genuine and heart-felt. One practical out-working of this was that everyone at church had name-tags that they could wear, which helped with introductions at times of interaction.

6. A consequence of that hospitality is that we have received a number of invitations to eat with folk: we managed to garner two lunch invitations for yesterday! This usually means eating out, which people here seem to do quite regularly, and there is always a wide choice of cuisines to choose from.

So, just a few further thoughts. Another week here in VA, then we head north before heading home. Maybe a little more reflection later...

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Observations of America - Part 1

Jude & I have come to the a United States for a few weeks, as part of my Sabbatical. Having been here for a few days now, I thought I'd reflect briefly on things I'd noticed about life here, compared to life in Britain.

1. It's a cliché, but everything seems so much bigger here. The roads are wider, the portions are larger (and, as a consequence, the girths seem to be too), and our hotel room in Washington is HUGE!

2. Life seems geared around cars rather than pedestrians. In the parts of Richmond where we were staying, sidewalks seemed absent, and trying to cross a 6- or 8-lane highway was interesting to say the least!

3. For those without a car, buses are a reasonably cheap way to travel, but as white folk we stood out on the buses.

4. Tipping is expected, and is assumed to be a means of providing a living wage for many in the service sector. 18% seems to be the norm, but part of me wonders why they don't just increase the minimum wage. And if a discretionary payment becomes almost obligatory it loses its meaning.

5. Taxes seem to be added to most things, and at vastly varying rates. Why can't the price shown be the price charged?

6. Contrary to the myth often heard in the UK, I have not seen many weapons on display: in fact the only one I was aware of was carried by a police officer outside the White House. Maybe it's different in 'open carry' states?

7. And finally (for now): it's HOT! Daytime between 28 and 35 C, and night-time not much below 22 C. And it's humid. When we arrived at our first hotel it was the first time my glasses had misted up stepping outside. AC is great, but the rooms can get a little cold because of it!

More later, when I've had time to experience more of this interesting nation.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 17: We Can't Dance

Having formed in the late 1960s, come to prominence in the 70s and risen to mega-stardom in the 80s, we find Genesis in their fourth decade as a band, with their 14th studio release, We Can't Dance, which saw the light of day in1991, after a five year break from recording for the band.

In some ways this is a return to previous patterns of album-making for the band, in that there are a couple of story songs and also a couple of tunes clocking in at (just) over 10 minutes. At a total running length of 70:36 it is one of their longest single albums - a feat made possible by the demise in vinyl records in favour of CDs. The album was produced by the band in conjunction with Nick Davis, replacing Hugh Padgham, who had worked with the band since 'Abacab'. The cover art is by Felicity Roma Bowers, and she also provides iconic works of stylistic, simple watercolours which illustrate each song.

No Son of Mine begins with the steady tick of a clock and slightly menacing guitars, for a song about domestic abuse and the breakdown of relationships within a family, setting the mood quite well. The keyboards don't really feature until towards the end of the song, which is heavily guitar-led, along with the steady gated snare. Not a bad song, but perhaps lacking in musical imagination a little.

Jesus He Knows Me is a (some would say justified) dig at Televangelists, that melding of capitalism and fundamentalist Christianity that seems so popular in certain circles. It is a subject ripe for the picking, and the band do so quite well and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek. A pacy song, again with the dominant gated snare, with a jaunty reggae-style middle section and a delightfully comic video to accompany it. And can I say, that as a Christian minister, I'm more offended by the people being parodied here than by this song!

The pseudo-faith of the previous song is starkly (though not uncritically) contrasted in the next: Driving the Last Spike, a song which tells of building the English railway system in the early 19th century. In the opening verse we find our 'hero' saying: "I looked to the sky, I offered my prayers/ I asked Him for guidance and strength/ But the simple beliefs of a simple man/ Lay in His hands, and on my head." Like the best of Genesis's material, this song has a strong narrative thread running through it, telling of the hardships faced by the workers, in conditions in which many did not survive. Musically there are a number of themes present, which gives the song an epic, symphonic feel, but with a harder edge than their classic material, perhaps more fitting to the era. The song builds in intensity, delving into England's industrial history in a way that perhaps has become Big Big Train's legacy now: is this a prototype BBT song?

I Can't Dance does what it says on the tin, really. To me it's a kind of anti-dance song: music you can't dance to, at least in the conventional way, and as such the band devised a kind of Pythonesque anti-dance to accompany the song. Maybe it's about not being able to 'pull': maybe it's a critique of the image-conscious times it was written in. Whatever it is, I'm glad it's under 4 minutes! Not quite 'Whodunnit?', but not far off.

It wouldn't be a latter Genesis album without a love song, and Never A Time is such. And like so much of the material of that particular genre by the band, it's one about a relationship coming to an end. Perhaps good for a slow dance for people who don't listen to the lyrics of these songs.

Dreaming While You Sleep is probably my favourite track on this album. It concerns the guilt felt by a driver involved in a hit-and-run accident caused by their falling asleep at the wheel, which left the victim in a coma. Movingly told, it is a song of great emotion, the consequences of which are told in an equally stunning short story by the author Chris James in his first collection of Stories of Genesis. Musically there is an interesting interplay between the three musicians with counter-rhythms working with each other to create a rich atmosphere for the lyrics.

Tell Me Why has a nice jangly  12-string opening, which gives the song an interesting feel for one about the poor, dispossessed and starving in the world(!). And as a piece of political commentary, it's a little weak in offering any solution. Maybe another piece symptomatic of its time, when we were very good at saying 'Isn't it awful' but did we do anything about it?

From the starving of the world we move to the latest dietary fads, in an attempt at Living Forever. The song shows up the futility of it all and concludes that we should just get on with living: not a bad idea. The song has an extended (almost half the run-time) instrumental section to finish, which is OK but nothing spectacular, though it has the feel of something which would work well live (It appears, however, that it was never played in a live setting!).

Hold On My Heart is definitely a slow dance number, but this one is just right for that time in the evening. This is, to be fair, quite a beautiful love song: soulful, contemplative and heart-felt (no pun intended), and suits Collins' quieter register and more Motown-y vibe. Not Prog, not really rock, but nice!

Way Of The World is another anomaly of an up-tempo song about the desperate state of the world. Maybe not quite as jolly as Tell Me Why, but probably just as innocuous, and seems resigned to things being as they are: "it's just the way of the world/ and that's how it's meant to be." A protest song for the post-Thatcherite world?

Since I Lost You was written by Phil Collins for Eric Clapton following the accidental death of his son, Conor, and seeks to deal with the strong emotions caught up in such a tragedy. After the bridge in the song, and again in the fade at the end, there is a short, almost Clapton-esque, bluesy guitar solo, which seems quite apt in the circumstances. This, above all the songs on the album, has the Collins solo feel to it.

We close with the other 10 minute-plus song, Fading Lights. Drum machine pattern leads into sweeping chords from Banks before Collins' soulful vocals come in. Guitars finally appear towards the end of the second verse, to take up into an extended instrumental section. This is at quite a pedestrian pace for most of the time, but has a certain amount of power to it nonetheless. As the vocals return for the final verse things kind of drift, and Phil Collins' time with Genesis ends more with a whimper than a bang.

Yes, this will be the final time that Collins would record new material with Genesis: indeed, many were surprised that he made this record with the band, as his solo career had blossomed so much. His 25 years with Genesis had produced some quite sublime progressive rock, and some memorable pop-rock - and some stinkers. He had increasingly been able to bring his theatrical training to the service of the band, particularly in the MTV age. But his legacy will be a lasting one: I'm just not sure this was the best way for him to go out.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 16: Invisible Touch

Since the recording of their eponymous album in 1983, Genesis had drifted into a kind of hiatus as the three members worked on their individual solo projects. For Collins this was a time of growing popularity, and his success seemed to have a knock-on effect for the band. The three of them re-convened towards the end of 1985 at The Farm in Surrey to work on creating their 13th studio album. All the compostiton was done in the studio, and as with the previous offering all the songs are credited as band compositions.

'Invisible Touch' was released in June 1986 and was an immediate hit on both sides of the Atlantic and across Europe. It was the band's fourth consecutive number 1 in the UK, and reached number 3 on the Billboard charts - their highest position. Reflecting the band's more 'commercial' style, the album spawned five singles, all of which made the Top 5 in the US with the title track becoming Genesis's only #1 single. This feat was a first for a group and a non-US act, after Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson & Madonna.

We begin with the chart-topper, 'Invisible Touch', which opens with a flourish on the drums before the chorus motif comes in on keyboards & guitars. Structurally a simple song (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, instrumental break, chorus, verse, key-change for chorus, and repeat with counterpoint), lyrically unchallenging and musically memorable in an ear-worm sense, this does, to be fair, have all the hallmarks of a hit record, and the band seem to have learnt from (or been influenced by) Collins' solo success. It just seems to lack the flair, imagination and inventiveness that marked Genesis out as something different even ten years earlier.

'Tonight, Tonight, Tonight' does seem to have a little of that 'difference' about it. The drum pattern that starts it off (and continues to form the background for the first half of the song) has a certain lyrical quality to it, and the keys & guitars give it an interesting texture. In the instrumental break after the third chorus there are sounds akin to blowing across milk bottles - are these keyboards or drum synths? But this builds a nice tension to the music which crescendos to the 'You keep telling me...' section, after which the song drives along and there's even a hint of a guitar solo towards the end. This is a bit more like it for me.

'Land of Confusion' is an interesting song. Lyrically a piece of social/ political commentary; musically quite a heavy song in places, with some staccato, almost machine-gun rhythms going on, but with an almost elegiac passage around the 'I remember long ago...' section. This heavy feel made it an easy cover for metal band Disturbed. But for me it will always be difficult to take this song seriously because of the promotional video that was made for it, using Spitting Image puppets of the band and others, which naturally puts a comic slant on it.

'In Too Deep' is a soulful ballad, a love song, pure and simple, and is perhaps indicative of the issues that many people have with this album as a whole. This is, more perhaps than anything else on this collection, so much like Phil's solo material as to be almost indistinguishable from it. In fact the only thing that sets it apart is the brief instrumental interlude which could've been lifted from Tony's solo debut.

If 'Land of Confusion' was unintentionally comic, 'Anything She Does' is, I hope, meant to bring some light relief (if relief is the right word). There can't be many mainstream rock/pop songs which tackle the subject of pornography in quite the way Genesis do here, but that's what they do, with a kind of carnival feel to it. Is it meant to be so horn-y, I wonder? (OK, I'll stop now)

'Domino' is a song in two parts, and clocks in at just over 10½ minutes, and is the longest song Genesis had recorded since The Cinema Show in 1973. In contrast to the more tightly structured, poppy songs this has a more complex feel to it and is (along with Tonight, Tonight, Tonight) more on the band's Progressive side. 'In the Glow of the Night' gives us a rich and complex tapestry of rhythms and tempos with a quite soulful edge at times. The transition to 'The Last Domino' is gentle, but takes us into a more pulsating, driving section which lyrically has echoes for me of 'The Lamb...' and has a kind of salsa feel musically in the 'Now see what you've gone and done' section. This is a great song - Rutherford apparently claims it is one of the best things the band has done: I would certainly say the best they've done in the 1980s for sure.

'Throwing It All Away'  - from the sublime to the mundane, I'm afraid. It's all a bit dreary, to be frank: a love song with very little passion in it. A good sing-along live, but little else.

'The Brazilian' rounds things off: an instrumental which seems to have some quite complex rhythms going on, but which seems to be dominated by Collins' drumming. It's only during the last minute or so of the song that the full band get to interact with each other, playing drums, keys and guitars almost in counterpoint, which gives it a more rounded sound. Not a bad way to finish, but maybe the jam could've gone on a little longer.

Somehow a band who prided themselves on some spectacular musical arrangements and instrumental virtuosity have, with one or two exceptions, morphed during the 1980s into nothing more than Phil Collins' backing band. There are glimpses here of what the three of them could be capable of, but having cracked the lucrative American market it seems that they are content to tap it for all they can, with the occasional brief flurry of artistic integrity. But so much of this material coud have been released as Phil Collins solo material with very little change to it, and that is perhaps its greatest weakness. Having said that, this is a collection of on the whole memorable tunes, albeit mostly pop-rock rather than Progressive, and in the 30 years that have elapsed since its release it still stands up as a good example of the genre.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Power of 3

It's been about 51 weeks since I last ventured to the Capital for music: last year it was for the historic Big Big Train gigs at King's Place, but last night my destination was The Lexington on Pentonville Road for 'The Power of 3': a triple-bill of excellent Progressive music, in the company of some fine people.

Opening the show was the annoyingly talented Peter Jones, performing some of his classic Prog-influenced 'Tiger Moth Tales' material, with selections from both his 'Cocoon' and 'Story Tellers' albums, along with 'City and the Stars' from his collaboration with Red Bazar, and his particular covers of a couple of Genesis songs and a terrific rendition of Peter Gabriel's 'Family Snapshot'. Although Peter would be the first to admit that there were one or two flaws in the performance, I would say that they are understandable and forgivable bearing in mind the complexity of the material for one man on his own to play live.

Second on the bill were 'We Are Kin', who brought their unique brand of bluesy, indie, electronic progressive rock with cuts from their two albums to date, 'Pandora' and 'And I Know'. Emma Brewin-Caddy shone with her powerful, blues-tinged vocal performance (though perhaps she could've been a little higher in the mix, as she was a little too understated at times and was lost behind the excellent playing of her colleagues). But a great set, showcasing what great talent and potential they have as a band.

Rounding things off for the evening were 'The Gift', the only one of the evening's acts that I'd seen before, but now enhanced to a six-piece. We were treated to powerful renditions of material from their first two albums, 'Awake & Dreaming' and 'Land of Shadows', as well as a preview of a song from their third release, scheduled to appear this autumn, an atmospheric, moody piece which bodes well for the future. Mike Morton, the singer and front-man was, as always, the consummate showman and led a powerful and emotional performance from a band who simply oozed confidence and presence.

All I can say is that this was an outstanding evening of contemporary progressive music, showcasing some of the amazing talent that is out there, and which deserves a much wider audience. Music was the winner: along with Macmillan Cancer Trust, whom the profits from the night will support.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 15: Genesis

The year is 1983, and as Marillion seek to recreate the sound of Genesis past, the band themselves continue to develop a new musical identity in their 12th studio outing, the either untitled or eponymous collection of nine songs, all credited to the trio of Banks, Collins & Rutherford.

This album continues the development of the Genesis sound of the 1980s begun on 'Abacab', though it would be fair to say that that development is patchy at best. The sleeve design is another piece of work by Bill Smith, who had designed the 'Abacab' cover, and features a dark and slightly blurry collection of geometric shapes from a child's shape-sorter, with nothing else other than the band's name (or the album's title).

The album opens with 'Mama', an atmospheric song which begins with a pattern on the drum machine which loops throughout the first part of the song. The song builds with the introduction of keyboards and then vocals. By verse 2 guitars are introduced to give a little more shape. There is a little menace in Collins voice, which grows as the song proceeds, and the middle section builds to a peak as the gated drums come in and dominate from then on. Collins' voice becomes more strident and passionate as the song builds to its crescendo and this rocking tune slowly fades.

'That's All', by contrast, is quite a light, jaunty number. It starts with a simple 2-beat kick drum/ hi-hat rhythm and electric piano leading into the vocals, with guitars coming in at verse two. Structurally simple, it comprises verse 1, chorus, verse 2, chorus, bridge, instrumental verse, chorus, bridge, verse 1, instrumental finish, with a lyrical simplicity to match. Pure pop.

Side one finishes with an extended two-part song, 'Home By The Sea' and 'Second Home By The Sea', which may be some kind of ghost story, or may simply be about losing ones identity as life ebbs away in a nursing home. Either way, this is perhaps the most 'prog' song on the album. There is good interplay between the guitars and drums, some eerie, ethereal keyboards at times, and a sense of passion and power in the vocals - the band at their best here, I would say: certainly at their most inventive for a while. 'Second Home...' is mainly an instrumental where the whole band gets to make their mark, with thudding drums throughout, soaring keyboards and choppy guitars.

From the (almost) sublime to the (almost) ridiculous, as Side two opens with 'Illegal Alien'. Quite why Phil has to sing this song in the style of Speedy Gonzales is beyond me, other than he was clearly in acting mode here. A mixture of Latin and reggae rhythms does slightly confuse the song, and some might think the lyrics and delivery a little un-PC these days.

'Taking it All Too Hard', although credited to the whole band, has a strong Banks feel to it in places, but not so much in the chorus: perhaps that's where the collaboration happened? It's harmless enough, but there's just not that much to it as a song, to be honest, though it does give scope for Phil's more soulful voice at times.

If the last song was Banks' work, then 'Just a Job To Do' sounds very Rutherford in its make-up. Staccato guitar dominates the early part, and it's quite a guitar-heavy tune throughout. Interestingly there are a couple of occasions where we get a short EWF-style horn 'stab', but playing on the keys this time. All in all not a bad song, with a good driving beat throughout: not great, but not bad.

'Silver Rainbow', however... what can I say? It appears to be a song about being in love, but for me it's just 4½ minutes of my life I won't get back. Lyrically banal and musically tedious. Not a big fan, in case you couldn't tell.

We close with 'It's Gonna Get Better' (perhaps apt after the last song). It begins quite moodily with reverse keyboards, then drums - emphasis on the third beat, which seems to happen quite a bit on this collection - and a quite lyrical bass line. There seems to be some level of social commentary here: this was the era of Thatcher and record unemployment: no longer are Genesis singing about nymphs and hogweed, but about real issues in today's world - as they will on later albums.

So, an album of two halves, really, with side one definitely the stronger of the two. As I pointed out above, this was Thatcher's Britain, where commercial and financial success seemed to be all that mattered, and maybe that was being reflected in the kind of music that Genesis were producing (or were being encouraged to produce). Sadly so much of what the band have shown themselves capable of producing seems to be missing from it.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 14: Three Sides Live

This third live recording focuses on the band's work as a three-piece and was released as a double album in 1982. I must confess to being a little confused by the title when I bought it at the time, as all four sides contained live recordings, but this was due to there being an alternative version released for the US market which included the tracks from the band's '3x3' EP and a couple of rejects from the 'Duke' sessions which saw the light of day as B-sides. More on those later: but the original UK vinyl copy and the remastered CD will form the basis of my thoughts here.

'Three Sides Live' is chiefly a record of the 1981 'Abacab' tour, with a couple of tracks from the 1980 'Duke' shows and material on side 4 from 1976 and 1978, featuring Steve Hackett and Bill Bruford. Otherwise the trio of Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford are augmented by Daryl Stuermer on guitars and bass, and Chester Thompson on drums. The shows were held in Birmingham, New York, London and Glasgow.

We open with 'Turn it On Again', and immediately from the off you get the sense of a huge auditorium as the cheers of the crowd introduce the song. The chugging chords seem to go on interminably before Collins brings in the keyboards with the customary '1-2-3-4'. It is a faithful rendition, with Collins scatting a little during the final chorus, and an extended climactic ending to counter the fade on the original. 'Dodo' follows, and here the keyboards seem to missing some of their top end early on. Collins vocal performance is very strong. The track segues into 'Lurker' (though this is not credited). 'Abacab' rounds off side 1, and the intro has a brief jam feel to it before the standard stuff kicks in. The bass (Stuermer?) seems to have few extra flourishes here than on the studio recording, and Collins jumps on the kit for the extended instrumental finish, which rocks out quite nicely towards the end.

The appreciative screams of the Nassau Coliseum crowd in New York greet the opening strains of side 2's opener 'Behind The Lines', and they are equally vocal when Collins leaves the stool as the instrumental section ends. Phil is clearly engaging well with the audience here. The drum machine kicks in as the song morphs into 'Duchess', and Phil gives a great rendition of what is quite an emotional song, though the bass seems a little tame - needs more bass pedal for me. 'Me & Sarah Jane' is OK, but it misses some backing vocals in places to give it a bit more depth. I'm not convinced it works as a live track, to be honest. Side 2 wraps with their first big hit, 'Follow You Follow Me', which has the London crowd clapping along from the off.

Side 3 is a contrast: it opens with 'Misunderstanding' which seemingly fails to pique the enthusiasm of the Savoy Theater Crowd in NYC until it ends - so no misunderstanding after all (!), and then moves into almost 12 minutes of 'vintage' material flowing from 'In The Cage'. The song starts off a little on the slow side, but picks up and is soon driving along as only this song can. As it ends it morphs into the instrumental section of 'Cinema Show' (to the obvious delight of the crowd), with a short stab of 'Riding the Scree' included, and finally into 'The Raven' (not Slippermen, as it says on the sleeve). This gently segues into the perennial 'Afterglow' (which appears on 3 of the 4 live albums Genesis have released since the song was recorded): a good version of a good song.

'One For The Vine' opens side 4, and starts off a little slow and hesitant on the guitar/ piano intro before giving a fair if ponderous rendition, but the lack of Steve Hackett is clear. 'Fountain of Salmacis' follows, and opens well, but Collins seems to be struggling a little with the singing - possibly not quite in his best register. The middle instrumental section, though, still gives me goose-bumps! The album concludes with an amalgam of 'It' and 'Watcher of the Skies', recorded in 1976 and featuring Steve Hackett & Bill Bruford. It starts with some gentle drumming before the guitar comes in and livens up the crowd. Again Collins struggles with the words in places, but on the whole a stand-out version of a great tune. As'It' fades, and Phil says 'Thank you, see ya!', we slowly transition into 'Watcher...' with its familiar Mellotron chords, but 'Watcher' without the words. But a fitting end to the show, which Ethel Merman once again brings to a close.

Of the three lives outings so far in the Genesis canon, this has to be the most disappointing for me. One of the highlights for me of earlier live recordings was Phil's drum work, but this seems to be in short supply here, and it just doesn't thrill me in the way that 'Seconds Out' did, and still does.

Just as a footnote, I mentioned above that the original US release had only 3 sides live, and the fourth was a collection of other studio material. First were the tracks released as the '3x3' EP: 'Paperlate', a jangly, catchy tune, featuring the Earth Wind & Fire horns but with very little evidence of keyboards, whose title comes from Phil using the opening lines of 'Dancing with the Moonlit Knight' during sound checks; 'You Might Recall', which has a kind of Latin feel to the intro and bridge, and feels quite 'Duke-y', which may be why it wasn't used on 'Abacab'; and 'Me and Virgil', another of the Wild West songs, about growing up on a frontier farm in the 1880s, which has quite a heavy feel in the mid section and what sounds like a 12-string solo! Added to these were out-takes from the 'Duke' sessions, later released as B-sides: 'Open Door',  a quiet, breathy ballad, which was very reminiscent of 'Alone Tonight' in places (possibly why it was dropped); and 'Evidence of Autumn', quite a moody piece to begin with (autumnal?), with quite a quirky mid section, and clearly a Tony Banks composition. Of the five songs, I would say this is the strongest and perhaps deserved wider distribution than simply being the B-side to 'Misunderstanding' in the UK and 'Turn It On Again' in the US.

So, I'm not sure who had the better deal in the end: the US or the UK. Both 4th sides contain some excellent material, so whichever side of the pond you are, at least the album ends on a great note.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Dream - A Shakespearean Mash-up

There have been many tributes paid to the Bard of Avon in this the 400th anniversary of his death, and many productions of his works, but none can have been more striking than the latest Sheffield People's Theatre production, "A Dream". This company, drawn from across the city, always brings something fresh to the stage - last year's "Camelot: The Shining City" extended beyond the stage onto the streets of the city itself - and for 2016 they brought one of Shakespeare's most loved comedies into the present and into the heart of South Yorkshire's principal metropolis.

As you may surmise, 'A Dream' is a reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream, but this time set in the Northern General Hospital, with the mischievous Puck the pharmacist whose medications wreak havoc in A&E. A cast of doctors, surgeons and nurses interact with characters drawn from across the Bard's canon: an elderly man, Tony and his wife, who he describes as his queen, Cleo; a gay couple, Romeo & Jules, brought in with a suspected overdose; and Beatrice & Benedick, 30 years wed, arrive for Ben's knee replacement.

The show was witty, well-paced and wonderfully acted by the hundred-strong amateur cast which spans the generations from school-children to pensioners, with stunning sets and a great score. Chris Bush's script is a triumph and the 2 hours 35 never drags. Lois Pearson as Puck exudes energy and fun throughout, but the whole company, and indeed the whole city, shines in this performance.

A wonderfully entertaining evening! A shame the run ends tonight...

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 13: Abacab

The transformation of the Genesis sound, which had begun on Duke, continued apace with their next release, 1981's Abacab. If 'progressive' means ever developing, never standing still, then this is truly a progressive album, taking the band in a totally new direction from their earlier work. Indeed, it is said that the band decided to reject any new songs which sounded like anything they'd done before, and subsequently a whole raft of material was jettisoned based on that criterion. If, however, 'progressive' refers to the style and content of the music, then maybe this is lacking something.

Coming hot on the heels of their first UK number 1, Abacab also scaled those dizzy heights, and reached #7 in the US, selling over 2 million copies over there. The cover was designed by Bill Smith and consisted of an abstract design which came in four distinct colour schemes. The album title comes from an early arrangement of the title track, which was put together in three sections: a, b, and c. Although the final version came out as 'Accaabbaac', that earlier version was 'Abacab'.

The title track kicks things off, and the immediate impression of Abacab as a song is the sparseness of the sound. Gone seem to be the lush arrangements of the past in favour of staccato rhythms from guitar and keyboards and a driving beat from the drums over a repetitive metronomic bass line. Lyrically a little obscure, and feeling longer than its 7 minutes, the song does drag a little towards the end and perhaps needs a more dramatic finale rather than the slow fade.

No Reply At All is a little more inventive, and brings the world of funk into the Genesis universe through the introduciton of the Earth Wind & Fire horn section, who Phil had used on his 'Face Value' album earlier in 1981. Jangly keyboards, stabbing horns and a bass line that seems to be quite high up the register contribute to somewhat of a party feel to the song, a little at odds with the lyrical theme of miscommunication. Again it ends with a fade as the final words 'Is anybody listening' repeat.

Duke gave each of the band members two opportunities to present their own material: on Abacab there is only one solo song for each, and Me And Sarah Jane is Tony Banks' offering. It begins with drum machine and keys in a kind of Egyptian Reggae style. This continues until the bridge, when one begins to get a hint of a more recognisable Genesis sound (the 'First I'm flying...' section) which seems to echo some of the 'And Then There Were Three' and 'Duke' feel.

Keep It Dark is an interesting interplay of different rhythmic elements. Throughout the song (almost) is a 7-note guitar riff that forms the base for the keyboard and drum parts to interact with and sometime even to fight against. A song about alien abduction? Perhaps... but we must keep it dark.

Dodo is a much bigger sounding song, at least in its opening bars - a kind of 'Squonk' for the 1980s. There's more reggae here, and soaring keyboards and guitars to book-end the song, but the grandeur of earlier days is sadly only hinted at here. The song segues into Lurker, with Collins' TV reportage-style vocals multi-tracked to give them a feeling of depth, which lead into a keyboard riff that is, essentially, the heart of the track. The sung verse brings a feel of 'Ballad of Big' for me, and together these songs are perhaps the high point of the album.

Who Dunnit? is probably best described as an experimental piece, and has more of contemporary Peter Gabriel or maybe Talking Heads about it than the 3-man Genesis. To be honest, maybe it should've been called Why Dunnit? A stand-out track, but for all the wrong reasons, that eventually grinds thankfully to a standstill.

Phil's solo contribution is Man On The Corner, which kicks off with a pattern on the drum machine, followed by simple piano. This is very like Phil's early solo work and could easily have found a place of 'Face Value'. It builds nicely, if somewhat predictably, to a crescendo before fading as so many of the songs on the album do.

Like It Or Not is Mike's solo composition, and it starts with some promising guitar work and some good ideas in the opening verse, but by the chorus it seems to have lost its way a little - in fact there seems to be two or three songs here fighting with each other for dominance. I would have loved the musical ideas in the first verse to be developed, but they get lost in the melée, and the closing section, which repeats almost ad nauseam, leaves that opening part lost in the memory.

The album closer, Another Record, opens with some wonderfully moody piano and guitar which promises something dreamlike. Sadly that promise fails to materialise. What we get is a bluesy, melancholic ballad with rattling, busy drums over the top which seems so much at odds with the overall tenor of the song. If the mood of the opening bars could've been continued throughout the song, what a difference it could've made.

Although a commercial success, I'm afraid that artistically Abacab leaves me, for the most part, cold and frustrated at what could have been. Perhaps if instead of deliberately trying to be different from how they had been in the past (for whatever reason), they had simply sought to produce the best songs they could, this may have been a much better product. I think I'll go and put another record on...

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 12: Duke

The 1970s had begun with Genesis defining their style with seminal albums 'Nursery Cryme' and 'Foxtrot' - in fact defining not only their own style but to a large extent that of English Progressive Rock music too, with their complex song structures, lyrical inspiration and increasing virtuosic dexterity. By the end of the decade the make up and feel of the band had changed (along with much of the musical landscape of Britain): they were now a three piece band, drawing on the talents of Chester Thompson and Daryl Stuermer to produce their music in a live setting.

After recording and touring '...and Then There Were Three' in 1978 the band took some time out. Phil Collins' marriage was struggling, and he moved to Vancouver to try to save it. While he was there Tony Banks & Mike Rutherford each worked on a solo album: Banks producing 'A Curious Feeling' and Rutherford 'Smallcreep's Day', both of which garnered critcal acclaim. The band reassembled towards the end of 1979 to begin work on their next album, but material was in short supply due to the solo projects. Collins had quite a bit of material, but didn;t feel it was suitable for the band, and kept most of it for his maiden solo work. 'Face Value'. In the end they decided on two solo pieces each for the band to work on, and the rest of the album, which was to be called 'Duke' would be composed by the group together.

The inspiration for the group material came from a French children's book 'L'Alphabet d'Albert', which had been published that year and featured the artwork of Lionel Koechlin. Koechlin's style was almost childlike in its distortion of perspective, and was an interesting departure from the Hipgnosis style that had been used by the band for the previous five years, though no less eye-catching. The hero, Albert, would become the focus of a 30-minute suite of songs that were at one point to feature as one piece, but which in the end would top and tail the album, with another part appearing mid-way through.

The album opens with 'Behind the Lines', the start of the Duke suite - the story of Albert. There is none of the gentle, subtle starts of 'Watcher of the Skies' or 'Down and Out' here: Bang! We're off and running! Keyboards, bass and drums kick off at a driving, rocking pace, joined by guitars which soar subtly. A brief quieter period soon gives way to the incessant 3-chord pattern which then takes us into the vocal section. If anything the music seems a little stilted here, lacking the fluency of the opening section, and Collins' vocals seem just a little high in the register for absolute comfort. We segue gently into 'Duchess' as Collins gets to play with his new toy, the Roland Drum Machine. Electronic music was beginning to come into its own at this time, and clearly the band didn't want to be left behind. Gentle electric piano plays over the top of a looping drum pattern, alongside quite atmospheric keyboards giving an ambient feel. The intensity grows as the piano takes up the looping rhythm, leading into the vocal section. This is a stronger performance from Collins, to my mind, and the lyrics tell a powerful story of fading glory and dreams of lost fame. As the glory fades, so does the song, back to solo piano and the metronomic drum pattern. This takes us into the contemplative 'Guide Vocal' - part of the band's Duke suite, but credited to Banks. Short, tender, this is a gentle interlude that brings us to a natural break in the story of Albert. The song will reprise towards the end of the album.

The first section of solo-written pieces kicks off with Rutherford's 'Man of Our Times'. This is quite a heavy, riffy song, but played quite reservedly - it could be a lot harder with less keyboards and more distortion on the guitars. I get a sense of Mike being something of a frustrated rocker here. But this is Genesis! Sadly it loses some of its impact in the chorus, which strikes me as a little weak compared to the rest of the song. Then there's 'Misunderstanding', the first of the Phil Collins relationship breakdown songs - and there will be more (so many more...). With this song all pretence at Prog has gone: this is pure pop. A simple premise, simple chords and structure, and a minor hit. But not the band's A-material. 'Heathaze' does try to restore some progressive credentials. Banks has been experimenting with interesting chord progressions for a while now, and these are to the fore here, along with more obtuse lyrics. Increasingly though in Genesis's canon, this kind of song feels 'like an alien, a stranger in a alien place'.

The next movement in the Duke suite is 'Turn it On Again', the biggest hit from the album (peaking at #8 in the UK) yet to my mind the weakest of the group compositions. Yes, it does have some interesting changes in signature, and Collins' vocals are harsher and more powerful than in other places, but lyrically it falls short and is just too repetitive.

We return to solo-written material. 'Alone Tonight' is a different kind of song from Rutherford to 'Man of Our Time'. This is a gentler song; a pleasant enough ballad with a nice key change for the third verse and it plays to Collins' more soulful voice very well. Another side of Rutherford here. 'Cul-De-Sac', the last of the Banks songs, is the most reminiscent of his work on 'A Curious Feeling'. Again there are some interesting chord sequences, but the overall sound is a bit same-y and there doesn't seem to be much room for guitars here - it's a very keys-heavy song. As is 'Please Don't Ask', probably written by Collins on piano and another of his 'marriage-going-down-the-pan' songs. To be fair it does address some of the difficult emotional aspects of the breakdown of a relationship, but as the subject-matter for a song it's two-for-two on this album (and more on his solo work).

The album concludes with probably the strongest material on the album, the twin instrumental ends to the Duke saga, 'Duke's Travels' and 'Duke's End'. We begin with a kind of piano jam over thrumming guitar chords which eventually fades out as the drums take up a 12/8 rhythm, which is picked up by Banks on keys. This drives along at a blistering pace, occasionally pausing for a period of half-tempo playing before picking up the pace again. Collins seems in his element drumming here. We move into a reprise of 'Guide Vocal' after some ringing guitar from Rutherford. A spot of fairground organ rounds off the first part of the finale, and then Duke's End - essentially a restatement of the opening part of 'Behind the Lines' - brings things to a rousing, climactic conclusion.

Clearly the work that the individual members of the band had done over the 12 months prior to this album had had a profound effect on how this collection turned out. Each of the three of them have developed their own particular style, quite distinct from each other and from the work that they produced collectively. Because of this, the album ends up with a kind of disconnected feel to it. That said, it was the band's first number 1 album and genuinely marked that new direction - in a more commercial vein - that the band would be taking throughout the coming decade and beyond. This is not the band of 10 years ago: but is this progression?

Friday, 3 June 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 11: ...and Then There Were Three...

Having built their reputation as a five-piece band, with a flamboyant and charismatic front-man and vocalist, Genesis re-invented themselves very effectively as a four-piece following the departure of Peter Gabriel. But within two years of that bombshell came the loss of guitarist Steve Hackett: what would the band do now? Would they recruit a new member; would they call it a day; or would they carry on? They decided on the latter course, one which was to prove the making of them, at least in commercial terms.

The first recording from this new incarnation of the band was called, perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek, '...and Then There Were Three...', and was released in April 1978. The sleeve again was the work of Hipgnosis, featuring light trails and time lapse photography in an attempt (unsuccessful, in the view of designer Storm Thorgerson) to convey an idea of transition. Musically it is indeed a transitional piece, with both progressive and 'pop' elements musically, instrumentally and structurally vying for prominence, and the more progressive increasingly taking a back seat. The Mellotron, that doyen of prog instrumentation, will make its last appearance on a Genesis recording, and in its place will come the guitar synthesiser.

'Down and Out' opens proceedings with a single note on the keyboards accompanied by a succession of chords before the guitar enters with a staccato rhythm (in 10/8?) which is subsequently engulfed by rattling off-beat drums. The rhythm is slightly jarring and I recall at the time of the record's release working in a record store, and having people bring their copies back thinking that they were scratched! I did my best to reassure them that that was what it was supposed to sound like! Lyrically the song seems to be a prescient foresight of 1980's 'yuppies', and the associated aggressive business style that The City in Thatcher's Britain came to epitomise, and Mike Rutherford's guitar is some of the heaviest it's been.

The flow of recent albums, with an alternation between 'heavy' and 'soft' songs, continues on this collection. 'Undertow', the next song, is a Banks ballad, simple in its construction of verse, chorus, verse, chorus where the verse is quietly played on piano and soft guitar, and the chorus builds to a crescendo of full band which, even after all these years, is still one of those 'goose-bump' moments for me. My only issue would be with a line like 'Wine flows from flask to glass and mouth', which frankly is a beast to sing! Banks picks up themes from this song in the aptly-titled 'From the Undertow', the opening track of his first solo album, 'A Curious Feeling'.

'Ballad of Big' is a saga from the Old West, when men were men and cattle had to be moved hundreds of miles often through hostile 'Indian' territory; a tale of bravado and ultimate defeat, with a ghost story twist at the end. Lyrically not the most challenging piece the band have ever written, this is a pleasant-enough rocker, but not among the band's best material.

Mike Rutherford-penned 'Snowbound' follows. Another simple ballad, this musically puts me in mind of Anthony Phillips with 12-string guitar to the fore in the verses and some pleasant recorder (probably played on the keyboards) at the start. It just (perhaps like the snow in the song) seems to drift a little too much for me and the heavy strings in the chorus give it a slightly overblown air.

One of the more 'prog' songs on the album is 'Burning Rope', which closes out side one of the album. This is a great, symphonic piece - a reminder of what the band are (still) capable of. Lyrically a little obscure and symbolic, and even philosophical; musically uplifting, and even leaving space in a Banks composition for Rutherford to flex his guitar solo muscles for the first time - a task he pulls off surprisingly well. All in all, the stand-out track on the album for me, with perhaps more than a hint of 'One for the Vine' about it.

Back to the West we go for 'Deep in the Motherlode', but not so much cowboys & indians this time, but the Gold Rush and tales of those leaving all behind them in search of that elusive fortune as they 'Go West, Young Man'. Interestingly, as this album was the one that would propel these three to multi-millionaire stardom, are the words "If you knew then what you know today / You'd be back where you started, a happier man / And leave all the glory to those who have remained." I wonder if Mike Rutherford would write that same sentiment today?

'Many Too Many' was the second single from the album and seems in many respects to be the antithesis of the first ('Follow You, Follow Me', which I'll come to in a while) in that it a song about the end of a relationship, or perhaps a feeling of being trapped in a dying one. This is a theme that the band will return to many times in the coming years, mainly due to Collins seeking catharsis for his failed marriages, but this time it's Banks who provides the material (though not, it seems, from personal experience - he and Margaret have been happily married for over 40 years now). This track is the last time that the Mellotron appears on a Genesis album, though not in such an iconic way as it did on 'Watcher of the Skies'.

There now follow three of what I loosely will call 'story songs'. 'Scenes From A Night's Dream' draws from the exploits of cartoon character Little Nemo, who appeared in the New York Herald & New York American from 1905 to 1926, and recalls some of his more fantastical dreams that were a feature of the strip. Musically it has a kind of 'jangly' feel, and makes good use of vocal harmonies (Collins multi-tracked, by the sound of it).

'Say it's Alright, Joe' is a melancholic torch song, a tale told to a barman as the protagonist slowly and inevitably descends into an alcoholic haze. There's a subtle ebb and flow in the song from the 'woe is me' kind of drunk to the 'take on the world' type. It is perhaps one of Rutherford's better songs.

'The Lady Lies' the final solo Banks composition, is straight out of Grimm's Tales and perhaps just out-prog's 'Burning Rope'. It is a story of a man who encounters a fair maiden in a forest, who is in fact nothing but a demon. One wonders, with this and 'Many too Many' what was going through the mind of a six-years married Tony Banks, on the verge of fatherhood, that he wrote such stuff... The music is really interesting and enticing, particularly the instrumental break after the first bridge, and Collins at times sounds more Gabriel-esque in his singing than hitherto.

We end with what was to be the breakthrough single for the band, a song which was to propel them from cult status in the early 1970s to mega-stardom in the mid-80s: 'Follow You, Follow Me'. It is, pure and simple, a love song: not the band's first - 'More Fool Me' & 'Your Own Special Way' had preceded it, but without the popular success. It is said that the band were conscious that most of their fans were males, and they wanted to do something to redress the balance, and this is what they did. Rutherford not only wrote the words but also introduced the (then) latest technology by using a guitar synthesiser on the song to get the effect used at the start. It became their first Top 10 single and opened up their music to a wider (though perhaps not as discerning (he said, in a slightly patronising way)) audience.

So, a new stage in Genesis's life had begun, and '...And Then There Were Three...' is key to understanding where what was to come fitted with what had been. If not 'fin de siècle', this was definitely 'fin de la décennie', and a new sound and style, and fan-base, was soon to emerge. For some it was the start of something beautiful: for others...