ROCK / Masters of hype leave hoi polloi standing

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IN THE beginning was the word, and the word was 'money'. The pounds 22.50 on the front of the ticket is only the start: by the time you add the booking fee, the petrol, the car park, the programme, the survival rations at restaurant prices and perhaps a T-shirt, you are well in excess of a sum Phil Collins might call 'a bull's-eye'. This looks like a lot to the layman, but pop music is an expensive business, and it's a price nearly 120,000 people are willing to pay for the privilege of standing around all day in a Hertfordshire field, waiting for the 60th coming of Genesis.

Originally there were only supposed to be only 60,000 people, but someone realised that the stage could not be relocated quickly enough, after a preceding show in Leeds, to enable the first of the two planned performances to go ahead; so two became one with capacity doubled, and the 50 per cent refund that justice demanded was miraculously not forthcoming.

The concert is broadcast live on Radio 1 and round Europe on MTV, but the crowd does not get paid as extras. It may seem churlish to approach this whole event as a purely commercial transaction, but that is what the band appear to have done, and the gap between the sinister, 'nice-men- of-rock' hype which surrounds them, and the contempt for their fans built into this corporate pop day out, are glaring enough to demand comment.

Three banks of fenced-off seats rise above the standing hoi polloi, within which guests of the band, guests of the record company and guests of the sponsoring car firm are handsomely fed and watered. The only concession to classlessness is that everyone gets to see the same concert.

The three band members amble out, in C&A mufti, augmented only by a bassist and an extra drummer (perhaps backing singers would have been too expensive), leaving Phil Collins free to get out front and carry the show with his own uniquely self-conscious brand of anti-charisma. The sound is impressively sharp and deep for an outdoor event, and the video screens are unusually clear, which is a good job: because given that the stage is conveniently situated in a hole, they are all that a lot of people get to see. The show cannily bridges the gap between the interminable, twiddly indulgences of Genesis's past and their catchy car stereo-friendly present, providing no clue as to when it was that Progressive rock became Reactionary.

There's 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway', lengthy guitar and keyboard solos and a drum duet for those who've been with the band for the long haul, leavened by a slew of pithier material for the arrivistes, from their latest album We Can't Dance. The ballads are all right, especially a crisply mushy 'Hold on My Heart'. It's the social comment that is hard to take. 'Driving the Last Spike' hymns the nobility of 19th-century labour; as opposed to the nobility of 20th-century labour, which Phil feels very differently about.

In honour of Genesis's current single, 'Jesus He Knows Me', a savagely unoriginal assault on the hypocritical money-grabbing of TV evangelists, everyone in the car company's stand is given one of those little fluorescent blue and green tubes - now an unfortunate feature of every big outdoor pop event - to wave about in a bizarre fiesta of sponsorship. Is it just me, or is there an irony here?

What Mari Wilson doesn't know about irony probably isn't worth knowing. 'We're doing this one in G are we? That's novel,' she chides her accomplished backing quintet in the midst of a week-long residency at Ronnie Scott's. The beehive may have gone, but the attitude remains. Neasden's former Queen of Soul has shifted both musical and geographical location - reinventing herself as Lewisham's First Lady of Cocktail Jazz - but remained true to herself. She is still not afraid to wear gloves indoors. Adoption of a more classic style places new demands on her ability to send something up and be sincere about it at the same time - it's hard to be the new Marion Montgomery when the old one is still up and about - but she makes a worthy fist of it.

This is because with Mari there is no pretence at authenticity, so nobody has to worry about it. The audience is left free to enjoy the ease with which she picks up and discards different styles and moods: she sounds effectively Latin on 'The Rhythm', cinematic on 'This Town' and coquettish on the Gershwins' 'Someone to Watch Over Me'. There's a smooth blend of standards, less likely covers (her version of the Beatles' 'And I Love Her' swaps genders and pounds a selection of Lennon and McCartney's more hackneyed phrases into a featureless jelly) and her own material, mostly taken from her svelte recent album The Rhythm Romance (Dino).

The Wilson originals tend to come off best: not because of any weakness in her interpretations, but because the stuff she writes herself is surprisingly good. The single-mindedness with which she builds up her chanteusey glamour, only to deflate it cheerfully between numbers, is a delight

to watch.

(Photograph omitted)