Monday, 29 February 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 1: From Genesis To Revelation

Growing up in the 1970s I had a favourite band (everyone had to have one), and it was Genesis. I'd discovered them through their live album 'Seconds Out' and from there had delved into their back catalogue as much as paper round and pocket money would permit. Since then I've collected all their recorded output: most on vinyl and now all on CD, and recently I've had the urge to revisit their material, from cult Prog masters to global pop rock sensations.

Renowned in their early heyday for their epic length songs rooted in myth and an English eccentric narrative tradition, I was fascinated to come across a reissue of their debut album, marketed as 'Rock Roots: Genesis', in my local record shop. Written when the band were still students at Charterhouse, one of England's more historic independent schools, the album was released in March 1969 on the Decca label when the band were aged between 17 and 19.

The songs range from 2 minutes to just over 4½ minutes in length - a far
cry from the 10-20 minute epics that were only 3 or 4 years away, and seem to fit into the psychedelic pop genre rather than that of progressive rock (itself only in its infancy). Lyrically they are (naturally) quite 'sixth-form': poetic, drawing on literary and biblical imagery, with only the occasional love song alongside pangs of adolescent existential angst. Musically the dominant sounds are those of Tony Banks's keyboards and Anthony Phillips's 12-string guitar: the former would go on to dominate the Genesis sound for the ensuing 30+ years; the latter sadly missed after Phillips' departure following their sophomore release. Alongside them are Mike Rutherford on bass, guitars & backing vocals (with Banks the only other consistent member of the band), and John Silver on drums, one of three sticksmen used by the band before the arrival of Phil Collins. And overlying all this was the burgeoning vocal talents of Peter Gabriel, already exhibiting a breadth of range and texture that would define his style for the remainder of his long career.

The original sleeve
The hand of Jonathan King lies heavy on this collection, and it is definitely a creature of its time. But without King, himself an Old Carthusian, the band would not have got the break they needed to become the genre-defining stars they became. From these humble beginnings sprang recordings that are hailed as timeless classics, and as an insight into the early musical minds of the band this album repays careful listening.