Great covers 7. Genesis: Selling England by the Pound

Robert Webb
Friday 22 March 1996 01:02

great covers

7. Genesis: Selling England by the Pound

The awkwardly poised figures in their formal garden on the cover of the fifth Genesis LP seem to spring from Arcadia, not rock 'n' roll. And yet this magical picture fits so well. To the average teenager in 1973, this seemed as good a starting point as any to discover what you like in art. And paintings, it emerged, can tell whatever stories you want them to.

Peter Gabriel's interpretation is the track "I Know What I Like (in Your Wardrobe)". A simple fellow, Jacob, lunching on the bench, daydreams of his elders, popping out from between the hedges, deciding his future, while he keeps his mowing blades sharp and his thoughts, presumably, on bedroom furniture. The painting is a watercolour by Betty Swanwick, ARA - a Scillonian-born Royal Academician, then in her late fifties. Clearly influenced by Stanley Spencer, and no doubt also Blake and the pre-Raphaelites, Swanwick claimed that she only painted subjects with Biblical associations (although you'd be hard pressed to find a scene in either Testament that alludes even vaguely to a lawnmower and a garden bench); she thought Christ was the biggest rebel who ever lived. She thus extolled the cardinal virtues of both art and rock: expression, conviction and subversion (who said "pretension"?).

In those days, before we knew what Phil Collins really looked like, the cover was, and in a way still is, mysterious and other-worldly. "Come up to town," chivvied Mr Farmer in the song, but Jacob had no truck with your arty city types: he knew what he liked, and these days, I'm definitely with Jacob.


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