It’s inevitable that some things are passed on by our parents, whether deliberately or by accident. Ideas, views, attitudes and behaviours… And amongst the things which are inflicted or imposed upon us are aesthetics and taste. Or, at least, theirs influence ours in some way. For a while, that is.
As a constantly developing young person your taste can replicate that of your parents or, I think probably more commonly, be a reaction against it in an effort to claim your identity as distinct from theirs. Later, perhaps, you might find a way to appreciate some of the different components of their taste through independent exploration and discovery.
Ten days from now my wife and I are going to see Genesis in concert. My childhood was steeped in that band, and I like them both despite it and because of it.
Genesis was really important to my Dad in the 1970s (and the first year of the ’80s). From the Nursery Cryme album in 1971 through to Duke in 1980 he thought they could do no wrong. Particularly in 1975 when they released The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (an intense and dystopian epic, which I sometimes describe as punk-prog sci-fi).
It’s no surprise that my Dad went to see Genesis in concert several times during that decade. The live double album Seconds Out (recorded on tour in 1976 and released in 1977) is a flawless document of a band in its pomp. Musically, the members of Genesis are tight in each other’s pockets from the very first moment to the very last.
In my twenties I was drummer in a couple of bands myself – and I mined absolutely everything I could from my knowledge of the drumming on Seconds Out. Listen to any of our demo tapes or the two vinyl singles we made and you will hear a drum fill here or a roll there or something else interesting, and it was stolen from the pages of my secret textbook Seconds Out.
Dad also appreciated the 1981 studio effort Abacab, or at least a couple of parts of it, and the subsequent in concert album Three Sides Live. It was, like Seconds Out, an impeccable source of drumming smarts for me. But this is the point at which I recall the relationship between Dad and Genesis foundering. Singer and drummer Phil Collins had accidentally embarked on what was quickly to become a hugely successful parallel solo career and, as an unforeseen consequence of that, Genesis was redefined.
On downtime between tours and kicking his heels after a divorce, Collins had holed up at home and made a collection of rudimentary and rough demo recordings. With a clean-up and a little embellishment in a proper studio, they became the chart-topping Face Value album. It was released in February 1981, just two weeks after his thirtieth birthday.
There is something about this record which is utterly compelling. The unselfconscious honesty of ballads like You Know What I Mean and If Leaving Me Is Easy, definitely, but also the atmospheres in which most of the songs hang, and hang together. The record is coherent and all the songs on it are interdependent, but Face Value is imbued with the idea that Collins has no formula and is unaware he is making an album at all. He seems to be writing, singing and recording to please himself. Doing what he does as if no-one is listening. They were, of course.
They say a rising tide floats all boats… Thus it was when Collins started to sell barrow-loads of Face Value and its follow-ups, and become very well known indeed into the bargain. Genesis started to become very successful, too.
The band broke out of the ‘big cult’ city hall thing to become a household name and a fixture on mainstream radio and in arenas and football stadiums. Collins, a workaholic (as well as, it later transpired, an alcoholic), was everywhere all of the time, promoting whatever record was out at that moment, whether one of his own or one by Genesis. Really, it became not even the same sort of band as a decade before, though the personnel was give or take the same.
I remember playing my Dad their single Mama when it first came out in 1983 (on 12”, which I’d rushed to a record shop to buy on the day of release). It still sounds immense to me almost forty years on – all psycho-spook and seething and drums that sound like smashing steel. But my Dad thought it no more than merely “okay”.
Whatever he’d heard and loved in the earlier Genesis material had more-or-less gone. For me, things from this point onwards were mostly never less than okay, and there was an occasionally classic song after 1980 (Mama at the top of the list). But the moments where the old familiar magic – let’s call it ‘the essence of Genesis’ – could be glimpsed through a crack in things were rare.
Everything was increasingly layered under a conventional studio sheen and the self-conscious intent to ‘go to radio’. Not too many layers to peel away. Though a handful of things could still be described as a bit unusual, for the most part the songwriting had become much more direct and even orthodox. Generally speaking Genesis were playing to a much less discerning audience than in the 1970s. Hits seemed to become very important as, presumably, maintaining their mansions became a driver for Phil, Mike and Tony.
It seemed that it was mostly science and there was very little sorcery afoot anymore. It is impossible to imagine the band’s original frontman singing car-pop like Invisible Touch.
Peter Gabriel, an intellectual and art-thinker, left the band in 1975 after the tour to promote The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The necessity to make music ‘in a Genesis style’ had become too much for Gabriel who had big ideas and the intent to explore his muse unimpeded by committee.
He would, of course, later have a massive hit himself with the steroid-soul single Sledgehammer. It was a great big greasy glob of thinking man’s raunch, high moisture content indeed, and it was sexy and funny. Meanwhile, the Genesis single I Can’t Dance wasn’t and could only try to be. It played like a Carphone Warehouse assistant supervisor romancing his inflatable doll with a dry and additive-laden microwave meal.
When Gabriel departed from Genesis, drummer Collins became frontman. He stepped into the role with lightness in his feet and everyman mischief in his eyes. The albums Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering followed over the next couple of years, and they are an axis. The actual sound of transition between old and new Genesis. Thus, they stand apart from everything else.
These two records have become the sound of my parents reconciling after a separation but then separating again. And Wind & Wuthering is the sound of missing my Dad. Not even missing him in the conventional sense, really. More like the sound of being with him when without him, and the sound of being without him when with him.
I can feel an echo of it all when I hear certain things in that record. The staccato drumming which briefly flicks and skittles against the beat in Eleventh Earl Of Mar. The innocent and yearning keyboard melody midway through One For The Vine. The twelve-string acoustic guitars and the chords they play at the opening of Your Own Special Way. The brooding and dramatic atmosphere summoned as Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers In That Quiet Earth builds.
Wind & Wuthering was released in December 1976. There was still emotional fallout from my parents splitting up when Face Value came out, four years and two months later. Mum was still grieving, to some extent. Though she had moved on with her life, the hurt could still inform. She played it all the time, and the impact of this emotional Phil Collins album on her was truly cathartic in some important way. Forty years on she still talks about it, and him, with the kind of affection you simply cannot fake.
Now, at 70 and after decades of being one of the finest drummers ever, Collins seems virtually crippled. His back, leg, foot, arm and hand are done for and he can no longer hold sticks so can no longer drum. His 20-year old son will be behind the kit when my wife and I go see the band.
Collins Snr will remain seated throughout, singing the songs from a chair at the front of the stage. His voice is weaker – about an octave down and, if video footage of the band’s rehearsals for the upcoming reunion tour is anything to go by, he is unable to sustain even the transposed versions of the ‘special notes’ for very long when he hits them.
Collins was vital and energetic back in the day, all inoffensive ADHD, cheeky charm and musical muscle on stage. So should Phil Collins really be out on tour doing Phil Collins at about 31%? Who are we to say? He must feel he can do it, the others in the Genesis organisation must feel he can do it justice.
But my fear now is that there is going to be a sort of weird ‘Reverse Elephant Man Syndrome’ about it all. That the members of the audience will go through the gig completely conscious of the fact that they are completely ignoring the possibility Collins will either fall over or expire at any moment, perhaps during line-dancey adult-pop fluff That’s All.
His demeanour in an interview on the BBC breakfast news programme a few days ago was alarming. He was slow, low and negative. Dour and seemingly defeated, resigned to a broken spirit as well as body. It was grim and shocking to watch. But if I applauded Face Value for its unflinching honesty then I must also applaud this honesty in some way.
So I will be enjoying the show as best I can under this circumstance – and those rehearsal videos I just mentioned do reveal some exciting musical treats which my Dad would be sorry he is not here to witness for one last time. But I cannot bring myself to patronise Collins or those around him by pretending that this gig is in any way normal, just another Genesis gig (if such a thing ever existed).
A part of me knows that I will be witnessing the truth that all things must pass. This diminished version of something once so powerful will prove beyond doubt that we all eventually fade and fail. But I am going to choose to indulge the part of myself which will be crying in affection and nostalgia and thanks. The remembrance of my Dad and his deep love for this band, and gratitude to this band’s singer for the part he played in healing my mother.
Other than the keyboard solo in The Cinema Show, that’s the reason I am going to see Genesis. To pay my respects.