It is June 1976, the beginning of a long and swelteringly hot British summer. The backdrop is one of industrial decline, financial crisis and political turmoil, and the music scene is soon to experience a not-unconnected upheaval of its own.
Deep Purple’s brilliant but moody guitarist has left the band. Emerson, Lake and Palmer are on an extended break, having released no new material since 1973 — and fellow prog-rock giants, Yes, none since 1974. Led Zeppelin are battling both the UK exchequer and personal demons: they are tax exiles and Robert Plant is lucky to have survived a serious car crash. Pink Floyd are holed up at their new Britannia Row Studios in London, writing their bleakest album to date.
In short, rock music’s titans are lacking a sense of direction, and punk is about to emerge from the underground to chart a very different course.
Genesis are also undergoing a revolution of sorts, their music fast evolving out of its prog-rock beginnings. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway had itself been a departure, a boundaries-redefining concept album recorded under highly strained circumstances. Eventually, Peter Gabriel — lead vocalist, focus of much of the on-stage theatrics and, in the eyes of most uninformed onlookers, the group’s leader — left.
And then there were four.
The band were keen to continue without Peter. The musical ideas flowed, but it was music in search of a vocalist, the story often told of how one replacement singer after the next was tested and rejected before drummer Phil Collins eventually stepped up.
Rather than the usual catch-all ‘Words and music by Genesis’ formula, songwriters were now individually credited for the first time. Tony Banks’s growing dominance is therefore evident to the reader as well as the listener. Two of the eight tracks on 1976’s A Trick of the Tail are Banks solo compositions, and he is credited as co-writer on all the others. Overall, the mood is undeniably softer, warmer and more FM-friendly — easier on the ear after the shock of The Lamb: the sharp edges we associate with Gabriel-era Genesis have been smoothed away.
This bootleg, which sounds wonderful throughout, is from the Hammersmith Odeon in London on 10 June 1976. It is complete except for a couple of fade-ins between songs and is probably an official recording, as Phil announces to the audience that the show is being taped for release. It was recorded midway through a British and European tour, the second night of a run of shows at Hammersmith.
It wasn’t only the music for The Lamb that was wildly ambitious: the stage production featured elaborate costumes (for Peter at least), triple screens to project images illustrating the narrative, even a giant inflatable penis. On this tour, the staging is more conventional, though on a budget more suited to the larger venues they are now playing.
The setlist, like the band, has undergone something of a transformation:
Dance on a Volcano / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / Fly on a Windshield / Carpet Crawlers / The Cinema Show / Robbery, Assault and Battery /White Mountain / Firth of Fifth / Entangled / Squonk / Supper’s Ready / I Know What I Like / Los Endos / it. / Watcher of the Skies
Much of what is familiar to fans from the 1977 Seconds Out album, which omitted most of the Wind and Wuthering tracks played on that tour, is already in place. Indeed, the version of The Cinema Show included on side four of the original live album was actually recorded on this 1976 tour. Squonk is here too, placed midway in the set. Firth of Fifth has lost its piano introduction; I Know What I Like has found its tambourine solo. We are also introduced for the first time to Harry, anti-hero of Robbery, Assault and Battery, here preparing to “rob the Brentford Nylon Offices of their weekly takings”.
“Good evening, London! Great to be back,” announces the band’s new lead vocalist, Phil Collins, after the opening song. No explanations for Peter’s absence; no apologies, certainly. One of only two references to past Genesis history is a mention of the previous tour when they played the Lamb album in its entirety, Phil’s happy-go-lucky persona immediately asserting itself:
…tonight we’ve taken three pieces from the story — a bit here, a bit over there and a bit around here — put ‘em together and rather casually retitled it ‘Lamb Stew’.
Phil has huge shoes to fill, but he fits into them comfortably. The spotlight wasn’t a completely new experience for him: he had, of course, performed on stage from a young age. A tour of North America had also presumably ironed out a few front-man wrinkles. His voice is not yet as strong as it will become — he reaches the falsettos but struggles to find the necessary power at times, particularly on Entangled — but he is superb with the classic Gabriel-era songs and, despite disappearing behind the drum kit from time to time, never seems to miss a mark.
Gone, then, is the manic intensity of Peter and his ever more bizarre cast of characters. Gone, too, is a brooding presence stage right. Steve Hackett has grown — literally so, as he now stands throughout the show. His appearance, too, is visibly altering — no longer shielded behind the heavy-rimmed glasses, the thick, black beard and the dark clothes. The release of his debut solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte, was clearly about more than just the music.
He even gets to speak. Introducing Entangled as a song about a man who needs psychiatric help for a recurring nightmare, he responds to a playful shout of “Why?” from out in the audience with: “because he’s suffering from insomnia, that’s why, you idiot!” A more assertive Steve, indeed.
Unlike on Seconds Out — he left the band during the mixing process — Hackett’s guitar is delightfully prominent in the mix throughout this recording and is a joy to hear, not least during Carpet Crawlers and, of course, the epic Firth of Fifth. It must be said that Phil’s introduction of Steve as “the man they couldn’t gag, the Cambridge rapist” is jaw-droppingly inappropriate to modern sensibilities.
And then we are introduced to the new man at the back:
… our resident, temporary, permanent, stand-in drummer … the well-known misprint and typing error Mr Bill Bloomington … Straight £5 a night, he’s not bad, is he?
Bill Bruford is far from being an anonymous presence. To these untrained ears, the duets with Phil sound terrific, and he serves up a percussion masterclass, particularly on Supper’s Ready: indeed, during the latter stage of Willow Farm, Bruford seems determined to hit everything except for the empty milk bottles outside the stage door. However, he was apparently too much of a maverick for a band highly reliant on cues on stage, and he did not return for the Wind and Wuthering tour.
An unexpected delight on first hearing is the return of White Mountain to the set. Mike Rutherford takes us on a nostalgic journey back into Genesis’s past to when “the clinking of beer mugs could be heard very clearly” during songs from the Trespass album — “acoustic songs off the Trespass album”, he quickly clarifies, presumably after shouts for The Knife. Elsewhere, Steve informs us that the lyrics of Entangled are based on a painting by Kim Poor, who went on to design several of his solo album covers and who he later married.
Dance on a Volcano and Los Endos bookend the show, as they do on A Trick of the Tail. For fans growing up on Seconds Out, it’s odd to hear them separated out in this way — particularly the drawn-out introduction to Los Endos which was omitted on subsequent tours. The encore, familiar from the (UK version of the) Three Sides Live album, starts with the song it. from The Lamb before segueing into a shortened version of Watcher of the Skies. The same format — with two different songs — was used on the Wind and Wuthering tour.
Selling England by the Pound is probably (at least in this fan’s opinion) their best studio album, but the 1976–1977 period — what we might refer to as ‘The Tony Banks Years’ — represents Genesis in their prime, particularly on stage. Their music, led by Tony’s keyboards, is ambitious yet accessible, Steve Hackett is still committed (it seems) to the band, and Phil Collins has successfully made the transition from drummer to front man, able to deliver Gabriel-era material as least as convincingly as Peter himself. Their stage lighting and production is also becoming vastly more ambitious. This bootleg, then, is an outstanding recording of Genesis at their peak.
Note: This Hammersmith 10 June bootleg is, to my knowledge, the best audio recording of a complete Genesis show from 1976. A 42-minute film of Genesis live in 1976 called Genesis: In Concert is now widely available, having been officially released as part of a reissues package for A Trick of the Tail. Sadly, it is heavily edited but features about 30 minutes’ worth of excellent footage shot elsewhere on the British tour. It sounds great too. As mentioned above, the version of The Cinema Show used on Seconds Out was from 1976, as was it. / Watcher of the Skies from the UK version of Three Sides Live. Entangled, recorded at Stafford Bingley Hall, appeared on the Archive 2: 1976–1992 collection.