Music: From Genesis to re-evaluation

Flares, Abba and disco have all been rehabilitated. Now Seventies revivalism faces its sternest test - prog-rock.

IT'S A strange spectacle, the Old Gabriel-era Genesis line-up standing around at Heathrow Airport for a promotional photo-shoot. Former members Antony Phillips and John Silver, who played with the band long before they became famous, have even been unearthed for the occasion.

"Is this the first time you guys have all been together in the same room?" the photographer asks. "Yeah, we've been let out by the nurses," replies Peter Gabriel.

"The zimmer frame aspect of this is too good to miss," Phil Collins tells the photographer. "Ah, but we've got computers now," the photographer reassures him. "So we'll end up with long, flowing hair and lithe tummies..." says Collins.

Genesis are the unacceptable face of British rock and even in a pop climate intent on recycling every last detail of 70s kitsch we hold our noses and avert our eyes from the excesses of the progressive-rock era. So a four-CD boxed set devoted to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis is an archival venture that invites the dusting down of all the old criticisms: that they were musically bombastic and absurdly theatrical in their presentation; that they were the dinosaurs that punk thankfully laid to rest.

When I get my allotted 10 minutes with Collins he tells me that "there are a lot of bands that are afraid to come out of the closet that would own up to being fans of the early Genesis", and follows up with a couple of anecdotes on how Topper Headon, drummer with The Clash, and a member of The Dead Kennedys had both approached him to admit - in whispers, no doubt - their guilty secret of having once been fans.

But by the Britrock catalogue of cardinal sins, Genesis were damned to start out with. Gabriel, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks were ex-Charterhouse public schoolboys who were originally encouraged by the old boy network in the unforgivable shape of Jonathan King, the Svengali of tasteless pop pranksterism.

Many would see Genesis as King's ultimate revenge on pop, but even he couldn't have guessed at the longevity of his discovery. It's forgotten how odd their early work was, informed by a pop sensibility that took The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper as an incitement to push the structural envelope as far as it would go. Other influences were soul-based - both Gabriel and Collins, who joined in 1971, were and remain obsessed by the black musical tradition - which overlapped with an affinity for English church and choral musics.

The Archive collection recapitulates what made the Gabriel-era albums distinctive. For all the cod-mysticism of the earliest records - Trespass (1970), Nursery Cryme (1971) and Foxtrot (1972) - they now sound like awkward forays into describing, through musical textures and character- driven lyrics, a certain kind of Englishness.

In his ambitious study of "pop-life in Albion", England is Mine, Michael Bracewell locates an abiding landscape of British pop as "Arcady... recalled with the sentimental nostalgia of infantilism: the adult reflex that yearns in crisis to re-create the remembered comfort and security of childhood. Communing with Arcady through the English countryside, we can become children again."

In the early Genesis work, the music's folk-rock textures provide a green and pleasant backdrop for Gabriel's imagination to people with strange characters and a mixture of humour and grotesquerie. This period now sounds like the missing link between Monty Python and Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie. The English nonsense tradition is fed through a certain fairy-tale savagery to emerge as... a rock frontman kitted out in a red dress and a fox's head.

Gabriel's penchant for rock theatrics set Genesis aside from their prog- rock peers, Yes and ELP, in a way that their baroque compositions couldn't. And by the time of their sixth album, Selling England by the Pound, they were pushing themselves to the Americans as Britpop avant la lettre. Gabriel toured this album done up as Britannia and singing about East End gang wars on "The Battle of Epping Forest" with mockney inflections that sound closer to Eric Idle than Mick Jagger or Damon Albarn.

The Genesis Archive prompts the question, why have they been so thoroughly airbrushed out of the line-up of credible British rock acts? Part of the answer must lie in the band having continued after Gabriel left, becoming first a core Establishment group, then an efficient if uninspiring pop machine. Had the last record with Gabriel, the concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, been Genesis's swansong, the period of the Archive, from 1967 to 1975, might have been more acceptable for critical reconsideration. For, if the whole idea of the concept album has been revitalised recently thanks to artists as distinct as Radiohead, Goldie and Roni Size, The Lamb... is the granddaddy of them all.

Two CDS of the Archive collection are given over to a live version of The Lamb..., revealing it as their darkest work. Gabriel wrote the story of a young Puerto Rican gang member, Rael, undergoing a transcendental experience in a mythical world beneath the New York streets and has re- recorded the vocals for the current project. Over 30 years, his voice has matured from a choirboy quaver through what one rock writer described as "a raven-throated croak" to an emotive soul instrument. Two tracks in particular benefit from the revoicing: the sinister lullaby "Carpet Crawlers" and "Back in NYC", an all-out rocker covered by the late Jeff Buckley on the posthumous collection Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk.

If The Who could get away with Tommy, then Genesis have nothing to apologise for with The Lamb.... And, like Townshend's venture into rock-opera, Gabriel's also had its filmic connections. "I spent some time working with Alejandro Jodorowski who'd made El Topo, which was like a spiritual Western, very rough and violent. It made a huge impact on me. We devised a script together. In the last two or three years there have been three or four people that have expressed interest in pursuing it as a film.'

He admits that he's surprised when The Lamb... still comes up as an influence, "because I'm used to 15 years of people badmouthing prog-rock. Although there were some really embarrassing moments, there was a heart to what we were trying to do." But whether that is inducement enough for timid fans of early Genesis to leap out of the closet or not remains to be seen.

Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker