Frankfurt 1981: Genesis Bootlegs

I blame Peter.

Or maybe Hugh.

No. Perhaps it’s all Phil’s fault.

That’s Peter Gabriel, Hugh Padgham and Phil Collins.

Blaming them for what exactly? Well, that drum sound for starters, known as a ‘gated’ or ‘gated reverb’ sound, apparently. It was a big (in more than one sense) part of the transformation of Genesis as they followed a new chart-friendly formula at the start of the new decade. And it wasn’t just the Genesis sound that radically changed. The writer Stuart Maconie (quoted on Wikipedia) described Phil’s use of the gated drum sound on his first solo single as “setting the template”; another writer (also via Wikipedia) called it “the sound of the ’80s”.

And all, it seems, a happy accident. Phil was helping Peter with his third album (‘Melt’). Peter didn’t want to use any cymbals at all. Hugh, the engineer, was therefore able to place the mics much closer to the drums than normal. A few tweaks of various knobs and, hey presto, the booming drums of Intruder kicked off Peter’s highly acclaimed album (the first one of his I bought, on the back of a great review in Sounds, and still a favourite). Fast-forward a few months, and Hugh and Phil try to recreate the sound for Phil’s solo song In the Air Tonight. Forty years, and the occasional gorilla, later and it still packs a mighty punch.

Hugh was also on board as engineer for the new Genesis album. The Duke sessions had already seen a fresh approach to writing — more collaborative, more spontaneous. This method was taken further with the new album. Tony, Phil and Mike contributed just one individually written song each; the others were all studio creations.

With Padgham on board, it wasn’t just the drums that sounded different. I hated the Abacab artwork at the time, but there’s no doubt that it neatly encapsulated the music it housed: bold, brash, stark. It was also abstract — as abstract as the title track, a gibberish word made up of letters representing an early arrangement of the song. As Tony said, this is not an album with lyrics about goblins and fairies.

To say that I loathed the music as well as the cover would be going too far. Genesis were certainly not the only ’70s band to be modernising their sound at the start of the new decade, and the first 30 minutes of Abacab are enjoyable enough.

The title track bursts in like a surprise guest and, like many good album openers, sets the mood for what is to come; the second half of the song, meanwhile, is more of a leisurely (if somewhat unadventurous) jam, with plenty of space in the soundscape for instruments to breathe.

Keep It Dark has an experimental quirkiness about it. No Reply at All — with its Earth Wind and Fire horns — is distinctly un-Genesis and, as such, bound to divide opinion, but it’s catchy and has a great middle eight. Me and Sarah Jane (Tony’s song) is probably the closest thing to ‘typical’ Genesis and perhaps the best track on the album, along with Dodo/Lurker which opens the original side two.

At this point, however, there is a startling drop-off in quality. The final third of the album lacks sparkle and ends, with Another Record, on a decidedly downbeat note. Of Who Dunnit?, more below.

The album was released in September 1981. Looking back, Tony, Mike and Phil seem to emphasise the album’s importance (Phil, in Chapter and Verse: “This gave us a genuine reason to carry on…”) rather than its quality. Tellingly, none of its songs featured on the 2007 reunion tour. And it certainly divided fans at the time: at their show at Leiden in Holland, for example, the new songs were loudly booed. But whatever the views of long-time Genesis fans, the wider public seemed to like the new direction, at least judging by record sales — it was Number One in the UK and sold more than two million copies in the USA. The commercial success of both single and album cemented Genesis’s place in the big league.

Concerts in mainland Europe to coincide with the album’s release were followed by a tour of North America and then shows at Wembley Arena and Birmingham NEC just prior to Christmas. A live double album was released six months later.

I have written elsewhere that Seconds Out, recorded primarily on the Wind and Wuthering tour in 1977, is one of the great live albums. It is safe to say that Three Sides Live isn’t. The album did much at the time to strengthen my misgivings about this ‘new’ Genesis, in part perhaps because it is such a difficult album to categorise and ends up trying to offer something for everyone. It suggests that the band themselves were unsure about how far to push their new sound and still wrestling with the ongoing conflict between what Phil was now regularly referring to as “old shit” and “new shit”.

The original sides one and two are a somewhat random and randomly organised selection of highlights from the Duke and Abacab albums. The combination of Behind the Lines and Duchess was an effective show opener on the Duke tour, though here relegated to side two. Similarly, Dodo/Lurker and Abacab were live highlights from the current tour.

Turn It On Again, a big audience-widening hit, opens side one, even though it actually featured towards the end of the main set. Misunderstanding and Follow You Follow Me (the latter from the Duke tour, as it was dropped for the Abacab tour) ratchet up the singles quotient. The outlier is Me and Sarah Jane, a standout track from the Abacab album but hardly a live showstopper. Much of side three is given over to the medley of old songs, ending with Afterglow, the only song also to feature on Seconds Out.

And then the bizarre side four. The UK iteration of Three Sides Live featured three apparently randomly chosen classics, as played in 1976, 1978 and 1980 — a pattern of sorts there at least. The closing it. / Watcher of the Skies, the encore on the Trick of the Tail tour, thus features both Steve Hackett and Bill Bruford. The rest of the world, meanwhile, got a compilation of the recent single Paperlate and some non-album b-sides — hence the album’s title.

Random, indeed. One thing Three Sides Live did have in common with Seconds Out: it misrepresented the Genesis show. The set list for the 1981 legs of the Abacab tour was as follows:

Behind the Lines / Duchess / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / Dodo/Lurker /Abacab / Carpet Crawlers / Me and Sarah Jane / Misunderstanding / No Reply at All / Firth of Fifth / Man on the Corner / Who Dunnit? / In the Cage / The Cinema Show [excerpt] / The Colony of Slippermen [excerpt] / Afterglow / Turn It On Again / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos / I Know What I Like

The songs shown crossed through were not included on Three Sides Live

The outstanding bootleg from the Abacab tour is from Frankfurt on 30 October. It is astonishingly good, an absolute must-have for any Genesis fan’s collection. It demonstrates that Genesis hadn’t suddenly become a crap band, even for those of the opinion that the new album was very much heading in the wrong direction, and that the show as a whole retained a reasonable balance between older and newer material, a fact that wasn’t obvious from Three Sides Live.


Long-time favourites such as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (restored to the set after a four-year hiatus) and Carpet Crawlers still sound great. Firth of Fifth also returns, this time of course with Daryl in the spotlight rather than Steve. Fans of ’70s Genesis are unlikely to bemoan a set list liberally studded with gems of old; on the other hand, despite a back catalogue bulging with crown jewels, much of it remains locked away in the vaults. The In the Cage medley, augmented for this tour with the keyboard solo from The Colony of Slippermen, is now on its third journey round the world. The close of the show — Dance on a Volcano, the drum duet and Los Endos, ending with an encore of I Know What I Like — also feels more than a little familiar.

Unsurprisingly, there is more of an ’80s vibe or sensibility about all of these revisited classics. There’s Phil’s ad lib during The Lamb, for example: “I’m not your kind, bitch — I’m Rael!” And then there’s the shoutier, more aggressive vocal during songs like Man on the Corner and I Know What I Like. Or perhaps it’s just that Phil’s singing voice, like his on-stage persona, has simply become harsher and raspier after years of touring.

Phil’s monologues seem to be getting longer, and maybe it’s to do with the larger venues on this tour but the between-song chatter generally feels less playful; the introduction to Man on the Corner at Frankfurt — “Everybody thinks he’s a bit stupid” — isn’t funny at all. There’s plenty of the usual Carry On-style slapstick but, as noted in the reviews of the earlier tours, some of it hasn’t aged at all well, like the description (at the final show at Birmingham) of Cindy Lou as a “beautiful young tart” and comments like “the good things in life — necrophilia, bestiality, incest, rape.”

The new album features heavily — six tracks. As noted above, the standout live tracks are probably Dodo/Lurker and Abacab, played back to back in one fifteen-minute burst. Less successful are No Reply at All, minus the horn section, and to a lesser extent Me and Sarah Jane, neither of which was retained for the following tour.

The low point, however, comes mid-show — a mediocre Man on the Corner, whose mysterious subject is not so much standing around as wandering aimlessly towards a downbeat drum-machine destination, abruptly morphs into Who Dunnit? Watching Tony Banks, a naughty gleam in his eye, discuss the song is to imagine him back at Charterhouse, refusing to apologise to the house master for some minor act of teenage rebellion, like drawing a willy on a textbook or turning up for class with a shaved head. Who Dunnit? is awful but Tony doesn’t care. It’s his punk moment.


Following the release of the Three Sides Live album in June 1982 (and an accompanying film), the band toured again with a revamped set.

Dance on a Volcano / Behind the Lines / Follow You Follow Me / Dodo/Lurker / Abacab / Supper’s Ready / Misunderstanding / Man on the Corner / Who Dunnit? / In the Cage / The Cinema Show [excerpt] / The Colony of Slippermen [excerpt] / Afterglow / Turn It On Again / Los Endos / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / Watcher of the Skies / I Know What I Like

Dance on a Volcano is back opening the set for the first time since 1976. Another highlight is an extended bridge between The Lamb and Watcher of the Skies. The most eye-catching change, however, is the return of Supper’s Ready (along with the two virgins, Romeo and Juliet), played for the first time since 1977. It features on a very good bootleg of part of the Saratoga Springs show on 26 August. The performance itself is terrific too, in spite of Phil’s silly Mexican/Spanish ad libs during the Willow Farm section. One wonders whether this was the origins of (the now rather cringe-inducing) Illegal Alien on their next album, in the same way that Paperlate is said to have emerged out of soundchecks of Dancing with the Moonlit Knight.

In early October the five touring members of Genesis joined with Peter Gabriel for the one-off Six of the Best concert at Milton Keynes to raise money following the commercial failure of the first WOMAD festival which left Peter facing financial ruin. Steve Hackett joined them on stage for the encores. It was a nostalgic — and final — reprise of ‘old’ Genesis. The following year was to see even greater commercial success for the band and the beginnings of global superstardom for Phil as a solo artist.

More about Genesis

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

1978

And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett

1980

Genesis, 1980 — and this time it’s personal. Reflections on the Duke era.

Books About Freddie Mercury and Queen


Reviewing a biography of Queen by Laura Jackson on Amazon back in 2002, I bemoaned “the frustrations of the literate Queen fan”. It was a (very) clumsy — not to mention pompous — way of saying that here was yet another 300 or so pages of drivel in the ‘popular’ biography genre (ie books about celebrities written for the mass market).

“What is so desperately needed [I went on to say] is a Johnny Rogan of the Queen world to give us a sympathetic yet objective account; yes, to unearth the obscure but also to offer us much more. Someone to detail the downs as comprehensively as the ups, the mistakes as well as the triumphs. Someone to probe, to question, to challenge.” I have never been a big reader of books about music (precisely because of the non-existent quality threshold), but Johnny Rogan’s biography of the Smiths, The Severed Alliance, was at that moment in time by far the best I had come across, combining thorough research with great writing.

Things have moved on in the last couple of decades, though I still generally steer clear of music-related books. There is decent and often good writing to be found in music magazines, not to mention several websites catering for obsessives interested in arcana, minutiae and all things encyclopaedic. My go-to website is queenlive.ca

There are also some good Queen books out there now as well. The first to appear was As It Began in 1992, written by Jim Jenkins and Jacky Gunn. An important caveat is that the authors are both lifelong fans (Jacky is a longtime runner of the fan club) and neither of them is (to my knowledge) a writer. Nevertheless, As It Began plugged a big knowledge gap.

Another notable book, by Peter Freestone, came out in 1998. ‘Phoebe’ was Freddie’s personal assistant for the last twelve or so years of the singer’s life. Although the publisher’s blurb did not augur well — “the most intimate account of Mercury’s life ever written … Now [Freestone] tells all” — it was actually a very enlightening and enjoyable insight into Freddie’s life, a book for genuine fans who wanted to know more about their hero but not in an obsessive or prurient way. I wrote at the time: “For anyone curious to know about Freddie’s lifestyle, this book surpasses anything else I’ve seen.”

There are two very good ‘coffee table’ books, both now much cheaper than when first published (and perhaps available under different titles). One is the official 40 Years of Queen (2011). The other is Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock by Phil Sutcliffe. Both books are sumptuously presented, full of great photos and packed with memorabilia (the official book, literally so). I should also mention Brian May’s Queen in 3–D which is a must-have for a Queen fan, one that literally presents Queen in a new way. Meanwhile, the nearest thing to a Johnny Rogan-type book is Mark Blake’s detailed and, for the most part, decently written Is This the Real Life: The Untold Story of Queen?

And so we come to Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones, a book I resisted buying when it was released and only picked up from a charity shop a few weeks ago. Originally published in 2011, it was reissued in 2018 with a new title, no doubt to cash in on the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic. I am not aware of an official tie-in but snippets of the film script mirror the book’s contents (most obviously Freddie’s ‘coming out’ conversation with his girlfriend Mary Austin — though I strongly suspect the supposed dialogue between Freddie and Mary was already in the public domain when this book was published).

It is not uncommon for books (and films) to begin with a scene-setting introduction, usually a pivotal moment in the story arc — something to whet the appetite, to build towards. Mark Blake chose Live Aid for his Queen biography (as, of course, the Bohemian Rhapsody film did too); he later chose Live 8 for his excellent Pink Floyd biography, the performance at Hyde Park when those best of enemies, Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters, put aside decades of ill-will for twenty minutes to help out starving people.  

Lesley-Ann Jones has not one but two such chapters: an introduction entitled Montreux and Live Aid as chapter one. It is chapter two — Zanzibar — that whisks us back to Freddie’s childhood. The introduction is written in the first person. Fair enough for an introductory chapter, perhaps, but this Jones-centred perspective foreshadows one of the most irritating features of the book: the author’s frankly intrusive presence. Jones evidently wants the reader to be aware of two things: (i) that she has done plenty of background research (ii) that she had some privileged access to the band back in the day. The inclusion of photos of the author with some of her interviewees handily reinforces these twin messages.

The very first sentence of the introduction is: “We didn’t write it at the time.” Her point is that music journalists (of whom she is one) did not take notes or use tape recordings in many of their interviews; instead, they relied on memory, frantically scribbling things down at the first available opportunity. In chapter one our location is a quiet bar in Montreux in the early hours of a spring day in 1986, just before Queen embarked on their biggest ever European tour. She and a fellow hack had found themselves in conversation with Freddie who — for whatever reason — was opening up to them. On page 5 there is a paragraph — in quotation marks — of more than 100 words. There are several such paragraphs — Freddie’s words, seemingly verbatim. Quite a feat: either Jones has a prodigious memory or quotes such as these are not quite what they seem. Or perhaps it comes with the territory: the pages of Obama’s memoirs, just published, for example, are peppered with snatches of conversation.

The list of interviewees is long and includes several people who played a notable part in Freddie’s life — Peter Freestone, Jim Hutton and so on. There’s also Spike Edney to talk about the final two tours. On the other hand, it is hard to see what unique insights session musician James Nisbet, who never to my knowledge worked with Queen, brings to the table. As far as I can tell, Jones has not interviewed any of the surviving members of the band for the book; nor does she appear to have had special access to either Mary Austin or Jim Beach, Queen’s longtime manager and one of the executors of Freddie’s will.

Many of the quotes the author uses seem to be recycled from previous research that she has done or taken from other publications and programmes. Much of the Live Aid chapter, for example, is built around previously available material. With quotes featuring so prominently throughout the book, the lack of quality control is a weakness. In offering us his thoughts on Freddie’s lyrics, Frank Allen, bassist with the Searchers, refers to two songs that Freddie didn’t even write.

Lexico defines ‘definitive’ as “the most authoritative of its kind” and ‘authoritative’ as “considered to be the best of its kind and unlikely to be improved upon”. Despite the recommendation of Sir Tim Rice in one of the puff-quotes, Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury is neither definitive nor authoritative. To be fair to Jones, it is not riddled with the sort of factual howlers common to other books about Queen. But even if we interpret ‘definitive’ in a looser sense to mean ‘covering all relevant areas in appropriate depth’, it is not that either.

In an attempt to appear definitive the writer offers a mass of redundant detail. There is a paragraph about the history of the unrest in Tanzania and Zanzibar in 1963–4 that led the Bulsara family to relocate to London. We learn about Zoroastrian rituals, even though Freddie never seems to have adhered to them. These parts of the book feel like quick cut-and-paste jobs from Wikipedia. Other research lowlights include reproduction of a band press release about the Magic Tour (x miles of cable etc); a paragraph of completely irrelevant detail about Elton John’s marriage, and the name and date of birth of his son; even a couple of paragraphs on the semiotics of clothing in gay nightclub culture.

This is a shame because at times Jones puts her journalistic skills to good use, uncovering some minor but nevertheless intriguing facts about Freddie’s early life. Tracking down Freddie’s first ‘girlfriend’ gives us a fresh perspective on his teenage years, and the best nugget of all is that, if Jones is correct, Freddie lied about his O-level results. [I now realise that Mark Blake’s book, published a year earlier, makes the same claim.]

The book as a whole is unbalanced and suffers from some glaring omissions. Much of its first half might be described as ‘emergence of a rock star’, but there is little of value here for the reader interested in the music itself. Take, for example, two significant early Freddie songs from Queen II. The lyrics of The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke are based on a detailed and intricate painting by troubled nineteenth-century artist Richard Dadd. They are obviously the result of painstaking research, certainly not something one would associate with later-era Freddie. The March of the Black Queen, meanwhile, over-reaches and almost keels over under the weight of its grandiosity; yet it is utterly audacious and quite magnificent. It is impossible to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody and not hear echoes of Black Queen.

From Jones there is not a word about either song. The narrative focus at this point is on describing Queen’s commercial breakthrough. And then — once we reach 1975–6 and the extraordinary success of Bohemian Rhapsody — it shifts largely to price-of-fame stuff, specifically its destructive effects. This is, of course, a biography of Freddie Mercury and not a book about Queen and their music, but Jones’ approach means that interesting and relevant questions about Freddie go all but unexplored:

  • What kinds of songs did Freddie write and what were the main themes in his lyrics?
  • How and why did his songs change over the years?
  • What was the nature of his creative input into the band in later years?
  • How did his friendship with each member of the band evolve over time?

A more imaginative approach to structure might have involved organising the book into different parts or themes. Separate sections dealing (a) with Freddie’s personal life and (b) with Queen and their music would have ensured that the one wasn’t completely elbowed out by the other. It would also have helped keep details of Freddie’s personal life within reasonable limits and helped the writer to focus more on how it developed over the years.

Alas, details about Freddie’s relationships move to centre stage, increasingly consisting of interview quotes reproduced at length. By the time the narrative reaches the 1980s, discussion of Queen’s music is relegated to a handful of anodyne sentences indistinguishable from the content of the fan club magazines of the time — except for the occasional somewhat bizarre throwaway, such as Roger’s second solo album being “widely ridiculed”. References to the rest of the band’s personal lives, on the other hand, are typical of tabloid newspaper fare:

Brian had already managed to fall in love with a girl called Peaches down in New Orleans. John, generally mindful of his domestic commitments, had taken up with the bottle. Roger was always the life and soul of anyone’s party, rarely knowingly alone between midnight and breakfast.

Bohemian Rhapsody, page 182

This is not the only weakness of the writing. Any biography is prone to succumbing to a form of teleology — the sense that the subject’s rise was somehow inevitable, events all part of a long-term plan mapped out at the very beginning. Most people who reach the top are clearly driven; it is one of the reasons why they get there. Equally, however, we all have grandiose aspirations and ambitions in our youth. It is an easy mistake to make to confuse the one with the other.

An example of this comes in chapter one when Jones asserts that Live Aid was Queen’s “ultimate moment, towards which they had been building their entire career”. This ridiculous assertion might usefully be described as ‘hindsightery’ — explaining the motivations behind decisions in terms of what later transpired.

Brian and Roger were in a group called Smile; Freddie, though already a friend, was in various bands of his own, one of which was called Wreckage. In chapter six we are told: “He soon quit the band [Wreckage], resolved to wait for Brian’s and Roger’s pennies to drop, and auditioned for a band called Sour Milk Sea.” It surely isn’t just the writing that is dodgy in that sentence. What actual evidence does Jones have that Freddie was patiently waiting for Smile to implode so that he could step in?

Some of the writing just reads like Sunday-supplement copy. Smile were on the bill for an event at the Royal Albert Hall, as were the band Free: “… little could Brian and Roger have known that, thirty-five years later, they would be collaborating with Free’s lead singer Paul Rodgers.” No, I don’t imagine they could have known. Or this: “Freddie was not yet ready for anything like marriage. Little did his family know at that stage that he never would be.”

There’s more. A poorly edited version of Liar from the first album was released in North America by their record company (ie without the band’s input): “It had now dawned on the band that, only by retaining close to complete control over their work could they relax enough to take risks with their creativity. This was to set the template for Queen’s entire career.”

Equally dubious is the practice of describing how the writer imagines someone would feel. Take this, about Freddie’s birth: “When the news reached her husband at work, Bomi rejoiced. The family name would continue.” Regarding the decision to send Freddie thousands of kilometres away to boarding school in India: “Jer and Bomi must have felt that they were doing the right thing at the time.”

There is an awful lot of speculation and guesswork masquerading as psychology — attempts to ‘uncover the real X’, another celebrity biography trope. Jones uses several epigraphs (quotes at the beginning of each chapter) from a “consultant psychiatrist”. Most of the time, though, it’s amateur-hour stuff: “Perhaps what he felt in his heart was …”. Friends and colleagues offer their wisdom too. Here’s Jim Hutton: “All the petting and stroking which he lavished on the cats, for example: it was what he wanted for himself.”

Worst of all is the chapter on Mary Austin, complete with comments from “music publisher Bernard Doherty”. The depths are properly plumbed when he witters on about the “Mother Mary” lyric in Let It Be by the Beatles — “coincidentally”, we are told, released in 1970, the year that Freddie met Mary. “Mary was the Mary in that song. She was pure.” To his comment that by the end they weren’t having sex, Jones asks rhetorically: “Because by this time Freddie had chosen to be gay, rendering Mary a born-again virgin?” Then there is an attempt to describe Mary’s feelings for Freddie as “Mother Love”, ending with: “No surprise that this would eventually become the title of a plaintive track sung by Freddie and Brian …”. Yuk.

The attempts to interpret Freddie’s lyrics are awful — it is a subject that Freddie himself hated discussing. A page of utter tosh about the lyrics of Seven Seas of Rhye ends with: “We can’t know”. Tim Rice’s musings on the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody are quoted at length, and space is even found (again) for the views of the Searchers bassist.

Expect plenty of ridiculous tabloid-esque hyperbole. Roger is described as “almost too beautiful”, as if he were some Greek god. Smile’s music is described thus: “… dramatic drums, insistent guitars, strong lead vocals and intelligent harmonies … The overall effect was multi-layered, embellished and breathtaking.”

A much-overused word in music journalism is ‘legendary’. Jones doesn’t disappoint. The Queen logo designed by Freddie is “now legendary”. DJ Alan Freeman’s ‘not ‘arf’ catchprase is similarly “legendary”. Rockfield Studios, where Bohemian Rhapsody was part-recorded, has “legendary status”: indeed it is legendary because Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded there.

To conclude, then, this isn’t the worst book of its type — it is well researched and the author has uncovered some interesting nuggets — but the reader should nevertheless be prepared for the sensationalism and hyperbole typical of the tabloid journalist rather than the objective, dispassionate approach of the serious writer.

Let’s finish with three examples of pure-grade drivel. After stating that Brian and Roger soon came round to the name ‘Queen’, Jones says this: “The point being that no male could be more macho, more straight nor more besotted by women than these two.” As for Queen’s response to the arrival of punk: “There was only one thing for it,” says Jones — the “only one thing” she refers to was not to adapt to the changing mood but to tour North America supported by Thin Lizzy. And finally, an extremely tenuous connection between Queen and David Essex, involving Mel Bush — he managed Essex at the time of his Gonna Make You a Star hit and then promoted a breakthrough Queen tour in 1974 — is described by Jones as a “bizarre twist of fate”. Bizarre, indeed.


More about Queen

185–161

Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects

Books, TV and Films, October 2020

1 October

The Romantics and Us is the latest TV series from Simon Schama, who is perhaps best known to non-historians for his A History of Britain TV series at the turn of the millennium. Watching this is part of ongoing efforts to broaden my cultural awareness. Art is one of many weak spots.

Schama himself is fascinating. He is a frequent interviewee on news and current affairs programmes like BBC’s Question Time. Unlike Peter Hennessy, who I mentioned last month in the same context, I find him frustrating to listen to in open discussion — the ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ and unpolished sentences matching his sometimes awkward physical jerkiness as he tries to articulate his thoughts. I find him much more watchable when he is working to one of his own scripts. One of his specialisms is art history; he fizzes with enthusiasm and radiates authority (assuming you can fizz and radiate at the same time).

He is also an absolute joy to read. I finally tackled Citizens, his huge and rather unorthodox history of the French Revolution, last year. And I will never forget his essay on the front page of The Guardian after 9/11, powerful and moving. It is included in a book of his collected writings called Scribble, Scribble, Scribble. Odd how memory plays tricks. I was sure it was the front-page lead in the newspaper the very next day, but the book dates it to 14 September.

2 October

Not quite uncharted territory but my latest read sets me on a journey I don’t normally undertake. My destination is the world pre-1600, specifically the Tudor court of Henry VII. Winter King by Thomas Penn comes highly recommended, judging by the cover quotes and the prestigious awards it has garnered.

As a proofreader, my antennae are attuned to these things, I suppose, but I was immediately intrigued by the style rules the book follows. A basic rule followed by most style guides is that jobs and roles are lower case and titles are upper case. I agonise over the distinction sometimes and, judging by proofreaders’ blogs, nothing seems to infuriate people more than seeing their prestigious role in a company rendered in lower case, as if it is an egregious attack on their dignity or a personal slight. Take the time to look when you are reading your ‘quality’ newspaper (maybe not the Telegraph, though) or trawling a respected news website like the BBC’s, and you will indeed see ‘the president’, ‘the prime minister’, ‘the chief executive of …’ and so on.

Anyway, a sentence from Winter King (page 85 of the paperback, opened at random):

The entourage, which included Garter king-at-arms John Writhe and a number of prominent nobles, was headed by Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey.

4 October

I watched both episodes of Honour last night. Terrific, not least Keeley Hawes as DI Caroline Goode. I know Hawes from Ashes to Ashes (for which she drew a lot of unfair criticism initially, the series being compared unfavourably to Life on Mars) and more recently from my Spooks lockdown binge-watch (she appeared in the first couple of series or so).

Honour tackled the subject of so-called honour killing via the real-life case of Banaz Mahmod, a young Iraqi Kurdish woman from London who was murdered on the orders of members of her family because she ended an abusive forced marriage and started a relationship with someone of her own choosing.

The drama has received some criticism because its focus was the police investigation and not the murder victim herself. Be that as it may, I found it compelling, moving and terribly sad, not least the failure of the police to protect Banaz Mahmod on at least four separate occasions before her actual murder occurred.

I found its depiction of the work of the police entirely believable — from the under-resourced computer analyst to the long hours of boring but essential investigative work. There was nothing remotely glamorous about this portrayal, a sense nicely reflected by Keeley Hawes as the down-to-earth and — dare I say — dowdy detective inspector in charge of the case. We are so used to scenes of senior officers using their rank to scold or belittle their junior colleagues — none more so, perhaps, than the curmudgeon-in-chief Inspector Morse — that it was also refreshing to see how well DI Goode worked with, and led, her team, who referred to her affectionately as ‘Smudge’. Off the top of my head, the only other fictional senior police officer I can think of who is unfailingly polite to junior officers is Columbo.

9 October

I recommended the original The Dead Zone film (ie not the later TV series, which I haven’t seen) to a friend and decided to watch it again myself. It’s a film I first watched at the cinema back in 1983. At the time (I was in the sixth form) I was a regular cinemagoer, influenced by a friend who was a huge film buff. It was the time when video shops were beginning to take off, so a huge selection of previously unavailable films was suddenly at my fingertips. My friend was heavily into cult directors like Brian de Palma and Nicholas Roeg. The Dead Zone was, I think, the first mainstream film of David Cronenberg, a cult horror director, who went on to do a remake of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum.

Watching it again, the film perhaps feels a little dated in places, particularly the ‘visions’ sequences. But what is most noticeable is how stripped back the storytelling is. Anyone familiar with the author Stephen King’s writing will know that he likes to take his time. It’s a hefty book and it meanders around (or so I thought when I read it, which was almost certainly only after having seen the film), with a much more prominent role assigned to the charismatic politician, Greg Stillson.

The film, by contrast, is very sharply focused: the accident, the visions, the rise of Stillson. Only the suicide of the homicidal police officer feels somewhat out of place, as if Cronenberg is clinging to his horror roots. The bathroom scene in which Officer Dodd opens his mouth wide before impaling himself on the open scissors — bringing to mind countless sci-fi and horror films in which an alien in human form finally reveals its true non-human appearance — is not quickly forgotten.

I found all the characters (and the actors’ performances) convincing — particularly Johnny’s long-suffering parents and the sympathetic doctor played by Herbert Lom. Christopher Walken is outstanding as the awkward misfit, his body slowly weakening as his visions become ever stronger. Martin Sheen has specialised over the years in playing charismatic politicians, of course, though a political figure less like President Josiah Bartlet (of The West Wing) than the malevolent Greg Stillson is hard to imagine. With his finger literally on the nuclear button, Stillson’s unhinged ravings in the film’s closing sequence make for uncomfortable viewing in the age of Trump.

10 October

I get frustrated at the build-up of unwatched films and other programmes in the ‘My Recordings’ folder of my TV box, and then I add to the problem by not only recording new things but also revisiting stuff I have already seen. Yesterday, The Dead Zone; today, Maigret Has a Plan, the pilot for the short-lived series of ITV Maigret dramas starring Rowan Atkinson.

I thoroughly enjoyed it first time round and was surprised to read some less than flattering reviews. The Guardian‘s TV critic called it “leaden”; I wrote back then that it was “dark and broody”. Far from regarding it as slow and ponderous, ‘giving itself time to breathe’ is precisely what I most enjoyed about it. Wasn’t this exactly what critics were applauding when Inspector Morse reinvented TV drama with its single-episode, two-hour dramas back in the eighties?

13 October

I finished Winter King earlier today. It is a terrific book, one that has definitely fired up my curiosity for reading more pre-1500 history, about which I know so little. Considering that he reigned for 24 years, Henry VII is almost the ignored Tudor. Time and again, the focus of books, documentaries and films seems to be Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, with Mary I close behind (and Edward VI the forgotten rather than the ignored Tudor). Thomas Penn shows us what a fascinating and controversial reign it was.

Two things resonated powerfully as I read the book. The first were the steps taken blatantly to rewrite history at the start of the new king’s reign in a bid to strengthen his extremely weak claim to the throne (he was the grandson of the Welshman Owen Tudor who had married Henry V’s widow). The aphorism ‘History is written by the victors’ is heard so often that it probably counts as a cliché, but the thing about clichés is that they usually contain at least a kernel of truth. Terms like ‘spin’ and ‘fake news’ are part of modern-day political vocabulary, but are they anything other than just new ways of describing patterns of behaviour that have always existed in the world of power politics?

The second was how the Crown rode roughshod over any notion of justice, fairness and the rule of law in its insatiable appetite for wealth. Of course, England was far from being a modern constitutional monarchy in the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, proponents of English exceptionalism love rolling out a narrative that explains how our fundamental rights and liberties as ‘free-born Englishmen’, first set down in Magna Carta and enshrined in common law, have been passed down to us through the centuries.

It is as much myth as reality, of course. Magna Carta says nothing about fundamental liberties, let alone parliaments, human rights and democracy; it was a document drawn up by the barons in their tussle with the king of the day. Meanwhile, Penn shows how, during the reign of Henry VII nearly 300 years later, the king and his chosen advisers made a mockery of any sense of fairness, employing an army of spies and informers as they targeted well-to-do individuals, threw them in jail and plundered their wealth with impunity. In order to help secure an orderly transition of power after the king’s death in 1509, one of his son’s first acts was to issue a general pardon making clear that in future justice would be “freely, righteously and indifferently applied”. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

Having being shocked and dismayed by Love, Paul Gambaccini, Winter King reinforced anxieties about present-day ‘rule of law’ issues, not least the principle of an impartial justice system. Rights we think of as fundamental suddenly no longer seem sacrosanct but rather up for debate. The government, to take just one example, has indicated that it intends to look at the role of the Supreme Court, with a view to clipping its wings.

Recent events in the USA, meanwhile — and the possibility that the Supreme Court may (again) play a decisive role in deciding who the next president will be — are deeply disturbing, especially when the choosing of the most recently appointed Supreme Court justice was such a nakedly political act (Trump himself openly declaring that he wanted his appointee Amy Coney Barrett on the bench before the presidential election on 3 November). The more I read of the political system in the USA, the more it seems an appalling advert for a written constitution, as much a corruption of ‘democracy’ as the Soviet Union and its satellites were a corruption of ‘Marxism’.

[Added: 28 October] This sense of angst was deepened after I watched a brilliant film documentary on the Sky Arts channel called White Riot, about the rise of Rock Against Racism in the years after 1976. The context was appalling levels of racism in the UK and the growing popularity of the National Front. The levels of everyday racism — and the behaviour of elements within the police force — were dreadful. Another reminder for people over, say, the age of 50 that the sixties and seventies were not the good old days.

Now for another Sam Bourne. This time, The Chosen One.

15 October

Blimey. This paragraph in The Chosen One made me laugh out loud. It was written in 2010, long before Trump came along to debase the office of American president. Sam Bourne is the nom de plume of Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian columnist who writes knowledgeably on, among many other things, American politics:

Americans could tolerate all manner of weaknesses in each other — especially if they were accompanied by contrition and redemption — but not in a president. They needed their president to be above all that, to be stronger than they were. Few men ever met that impossible standard. But a nation that looked to its leader to be a kind of tribal father never stopped expecting.

from The Chosen One, Sam Bourne (2010)

21 October

I finished the Sam Bourne book with the usual double helping. Brilliant, as ever. His publishers use the tagline ‘Suspense with substance’. Like a Robert Harris novel, you know that with Sam Bourne you are going to get not just all the elements of a pageturner but also cleverly constructed plots, well-researched detail and credible characters.

I dipped my toe into the murky waters of writing about politics with two blogs earlier this year, focusing particularly on what I described as ‘failures of leadership’. As Boris Johnson continues to demonstrate that he is not up to the job of being prime minister in a crisis, it is time to read the views of someone who really knows what they are talking about — the political commentator Steve Richards and his book The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to Johnson.

23 October

A rare visit to a bookshop today, my first since July. So many interesting new titles (this autumn was apparently a bumper time for new books, many of them delayed because of the pandemic); lots to look forward to when they eventually appear in paperback. I spent some time browsing in the history section; again, lots to choose from, especially with Winter King whetting my appetite for pre-1600 history. I bought another Thomas Penn book, this one called The Brothers York. Fifteenth-century England is not something I know a great deal about. There was another book that I will probably pick up on my next visit — The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones, which, as a more general history of the Wars of the Roses, might have been a better place to start. I found his The Plantagenets very accessible a couple of years ago.

A book I have been intending to read for some time is the biography of Thomas Cromwell by Diarmaid MacCulloch. It has received sensational reviews, and will doubtless be an interesting companion piece to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, which has of course been similarly lauded. Two masterly writers of history; two contrasting approaches. I thoroughly enjoyed MacCulloch’s A History of Christianity and his book about the Reformation is practically shouting at me as well.

Much of the history I read is produced by left-leaning or avowedly left-wing writers, but I would like to think that I am open-minded enough to enjoy writers who look at history from a different vantage point. These are the things that matter: the thoroughness of the research, the writer’s judgements and the quality of the writing. Simon Heffer is very much a creature of the right, a long-time columnist for the Daily Mail. That said, I enjoyed his biography of Enoch Powell, and so the third book I picked up from the shop was his The Age of Decadence, a history of Britain between 1880 and 1914.

28 October

Steve Richards’s book on prime ministers since Harold Wilson is every bit as good as I thought it would be. He is someone whose political analysis I always listen to.

Although the book is set out with separate chapters on each prime minister bookended by an introduction and conclusion, one of its real strengths is that Richards is throughout comparing and contrasting them — what was similar and different in terms of their qualities, their approach, the events that confronted them and so on. It is an excellent and stimulating work of analysis and ensures that he does not get bogged down in unnecessary narrative.

As the subtitle says, his theme is leadership, and he continually returns to his ‘lessons of leadership’ — where it was demonstrated, where it was lacking, leadership traits that tended to produce good outcomes, and traits that contributed to bad outcomes. You probably won’t agree with every judgement he makes but, having been a watcher of politics for decades, he is a compelling and authoritative voice.

One criticism I would make of the book is that the writing lacks a bit of polish. It is the first Steve Richards book that I have read, but I am assuming it is connected with how the book came together. Most of the chapters are based on a series of unscripted straight-to-camera broadcasts (à la AJP Taylor) that he did on the Parliament Channel. As I say, he is constantly comparing and contrasting prime ministers, so there is inevitably some repetition. But it is noticeable how often particular words are repeated, sometimes within the same paragraph.

At one point, for example, I think I counted three uses of the word ‘fleetingly’ on the same page. The word ‘slaughtered’ (not my favourite word anyway) crops up more often than in a Stephen King novel — as in, ‘The Conservatives were slaughtered at the 1997 election’. Other errors (I think) include David Cameron’s ‘hug a husky’ policy (wasn’t it ‘hug a hoodie’?) and (regarding Gordon Brown) ‘the means justified the ends’. Like Richard Evans’s The Rise of the Nazis, there is also a howler in paragraph one of page one: “Boris Johnson, who entered Number Ten following the seismic general election in 2019.” It is curious that such errors were not corrected for the paperback edition.

More Books, TV & Film Chat

July

Philomena; On Chesil Beach (the film); Richard J Evans; The Second Sleep; Marxism

August

On Chesil Beach (the book); Peter Hennessy; vampire films; Ben Elton; Ice Station Zebra

September

Paul Gambaccini and Yewtree; The Post, Strike and Ad Astra; Sebastian Faulks, Paris Echo

Radio Blah Blah: Records and Record Buying in 1977

Giving away my record collection about ten years ago — all bar a couple of rarities — was an easy decision to make. Vinyl might once again (in 2020) be the cool way to listen to music, but not a decade ago, a time when record shops were an endangered species. Besides, there is no turntable in the house to play them on and I have CDs of everything I used to own, many with remastered sound and/or additional tracks.

Dusting off the old vinyl in the loft to help me compile a list of the first records I ever bought is not, therefore, an option. The official charts website will instead be my trusty guide through the gathering gloom of failing memory.

This ought to be easier with singles than with albums. Record shops used to stock albums going back years, but singles carried more of a ‘sell by’ date. Most shops sold older singles as well, usually in tightly packed, randomly ordered rows — and no doubt I picked up one or two singles cheaply long after they had fallen out of the charts — but I am fairly confident that I bought everything mentioned below when it was actually in the charts, making it possible to establish a more or less accurate timeline.

First, some pre-history.

My parents were not pop-music people. The only pop records I recall in the house when I was young were a couple of early Beatles EPs and Teenage Rampage by The Sweet (still my favourite Sweet song). That dates the memory to about 1974. Later there was a copy of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, presumably bought by my brother, who is older than me. The less said about my impromptu science experiment — playing the b-side using a nail as a stylus — the better. Hint: It is a one-time experiment.

I was too young to watch Van der Valk on television (early 1970s, with Barry Foster as the title character) but was obsessed with the theme tune, played by the Simon Park Orchestra. Eye Level reached No 1 in 1973. There was also a version with words sung by Matt Munro called And You Smiled. We had an album of popular TV themes as well. Favourites of mine, probably not on the album, included The World at War, Colditz and The Avengers.

I was a kid; there was inevitably a novelty single or two. One was a spoof song called King of the Cops, featuring somebody doing impressions of TV detectives to the tune of King of the Road by Roger Miller. The other was Trail of the Lonesome Pine by Laurel and Hardy, the beginning of a lifelong affection. I was gutted that it peaked at No 2, unaware that the song in its way was Bohemian Rhapsody. Over the years I have agonised every time a Queen single has stalled at No 2 — it is quite a list — so that probably counts as a bit of irony.

We bought our first music centre in about 1976: a radio, record player and cassette player, all in one. It meant that you could tape things directly from the radio or from a record, so the quality of the recording was good. I remember endlessly playing and re-playing a BASF C60 cassette with only four songs on it. One was definitely Mississippi by Pussycat and another was If You Leave Me Now by Chicago — so probably October or November 1976. The other two may have been Under the Moon of Love by Showaddywaddy and either Dancing Queen or Money Money Money by Abba. More about them shortly.

And so to January 1977. Jim Callaghan had taken over from Harold Wilson as Labour prime minister the previous April, Jimmy Carter was just beginning his term in office as US president, and the Christmas hit When a Child Is Born by Johnny Mathis was still No 1 in the first Top 30 of the new year.

I was 10 and beginning to soak up music like a sponge. This included obsessing about the singles chart, frantically scribbling down every song as it was read out on Radio 1 before writing the whole thing up neatly afterwards. I then taped all the new entries off the radio, using a mini-library of cassettes, with the DJ’s waffle over the intro and outro of each song lopped off. There were cassettes for repeat use and one reserved for songs I liked. Cassettes came with a small plastic square in the top corner; breaking it stopped you from accidentally taping over the contents.

There is a familiarity about the Top 30s of January 1977, so I must have been a regular listener by this point. A few songs are admittedly a complete blank — Bionic Santa by Chris Hill? — but it is surprisingly easy to remember the ones I hated. The chart of 23 January features Don’t Cry for Me Argentina by Julie Covington, When I Need You by Leo Sayer and David Soul singing Don’t Give Up On Us Baby. The entire universe watched Starsky and Hutch but it was obvious even to a 10-year-old that ‘Hutch’ wasn’t No 1 because of his singing voice.

The new chart was announced on Radio 1 on Tuesdays. Top of the Pops was on BBC One on Thursdays and there was a weekly chart show on the radio on Sundays — the Top 20 at first, later morphing into the Top 40. Knowing the exact order of songs to be played, this is where the taping mainly happened. Presented by Tom Browne back when I first started listening, it was a simultaneous broadcast on Radio 1 and Radio 2 — and in glorious stereo. Radio 1 itself was only in mono. As the reception, particularly after dark, was awful, it made recording anything from it a waste of time.

The chart of 30 January features a couple of 7-out-of-10 songs by groups I now listen to a lot: Don’t Believe a Word (Thin Lizzy) and New Kid in Town (The Eagles). But only one song grabbed me at the time: More Than a Feeling by Boston. It remains a huge favourite, a definite maybe for my yet-to-be-written list of the 20 best songs by 20 different artists (there are about 50 songs on that particular shortlist). I didn’t buy it, but the song later featured on a fairly obscure film soundtrack album that I got sometime in 1978 called FM.

The film itself wasn’t a success. Almost certainly I bought the soundtrack because it included We Will Rock You (a hefty 2 minutes out of 80 minutes of music). Looking back at the track list, it is still too ‘American’ for my taste — James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Linda Ronstadt — but I immediately warmed to Life in the Fast Lane (The Eagles), Life’s Been Good (Joe Walsh) and Lido Shuffle by Boz Scaggs.

And so we get to 6 February 1977.

Boogie Nights (Heatwave), Don’t Leave Me This Way (Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes) and Chanson d’Amour (Manhattan Transfer) have joined Leo Sayer, Julie Covington and David Soul at the top end of the charts. But new in at No 30 is Rockaria by ELO — I think, my first ‘proper’ single.

I picked up a great-value box set of the entire ELO catalogue on CD not long ago. Their first few albums, in particular — featuring Roy Wood as much as Jeff Lynne — are excellent and unexpectedly experimental in places. A New World Record was their big commercial breakthrough; Rockaria was one of several singles from it. Beyond the reference to Beethoven, the lyrics seemed like gobbledygook. I probably liked the song for the ‘novelty’ operatic voice and the feel-good, upbeat tempo.

A month or so later and Knowing Me Knowing You is dominating the charts. It is blindingly obvious to me now that Abba were exceptional — classic pop tunes, brilliant arrangements and surprisingly dark lyrics — but I detested them at the time. David Bowie’s Sound and Vision is also in the top 3. Apart from the catchy riff, I liked its unusual structure: a short piece anyway, the vocals only come in halfway through. This was the start of Bowie’s Berlin period when he did some of his most influential work, though it didn’t sell particularly well by his standards. Sound and Vision was his last really big hit until Ashes to Ashes in 1980. Even Heroes, released later in 1977, was not much of a commercial success.

Once I was buying albums, most Saturdays involved touring the record shops of Wigan, principally Javelin and Roy Hurst’s, who in an act of wanton vandalism routinely stamped their name and address in ink on inner sleeves. But on this particular occasion in April I walked down to Mr Records, a local shop on the main road in Pemberton — long gone now, of course (the shop, not Pemberton) — intending to buy another single. Have I the Right by the Dead End Kids, No 6 on 24 April, was top of the shortlist, though 10cc, The Eagles and Peter Gabriel all had records out as well. Solsbury Hill was Gabriel’s first solo single after leaving Genesis. It is still one of my favourites; even as a 10-year-old I must have liked it.

Sad to say, I didn’t choose any of them. Instead — idiot alert — I bought the latest Top of the Pops album. The vinyl equivalent of the Turkey Twizzler, Top of the Pops albums were cheap and full of shit. Singles probably cost about 90p, albums perhaps £3.50. My weekly pocket money was 50p, let’s say, so I could afford a record every few weeks. A Top of the Pops album featured a dozen or so current hits — the Now! of its day — at a bargain price of about £1.20. Cheap but, alas, not cheerful. None of the tracks were original versions; they were all played (badly, if memory serves) by an in-house band. The one and only attractive thing about a Top of the Pops album was the model on the cover.

No such schoolboy error a week or two later, buying what was probably single number two: Hotel California by The Eagles. Like Rockaria, it is unusual and distinctive — six minutes plus, with a lengthy introduction and, of course, perhaps the greatest twin-guitars solo of all time. Definitely a thing for guitars, then. In our first music lesson at my new school in September we were asked what instrument we would like to learn; I wrote ‘electronic guitar’. Songs with offbeat arrangements seem to be high on my list, too — soon after buying Hotel California, I got 10cc’s Good Morning Judge, a clever, quirky song by a clever, quirky group.

Another stone-cold classic (unknown to me) in this week’s chart is Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. Also up there is the ultimate earworm, Mah-Na, Mah-Na by the Muppets, and a fantastic but only moderately successful song called Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold that often gets a mention on Ken Bruce’s Pop Master quiz.

The charts tended to behave in a fairly predictable way: perhaps five or six new entries on the Top 30, with the highest new entry and the highest climber always getting a special mention. Going Underground by The Jam was the first single I remember actually entering the chart at No 1, a few years later. It is the most uneven double A-sided single I know: Going Underground is one of The Jam’s best songs and Dreams of Children one of their worst.

The highest new entry of 29 May is God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols, in at No 11. Listening to the Sunday chart rundown I wait, fingers poised above ‘Record’ and ‘Play’.

“In at No 11, the highest new entry this week is God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols … and at No 10 is OK by the Rock Follies …”

They didn’t play it. They didn’t play God Save the Queen. Why not?! What did I know of BBC bans and names like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. Lyrics like “fascist regime” were yet more gobbledygook. By the following week it was No 2, just beaten to No 1 by Rod Stewart. Again it wasn’t played. It is often said, of course, that God Save the Queen was actually the ‘real’ No 1, but that this was deemed unacceptable in the week of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee by the bowler-hatted powers-that-be.

If you have been reading closely, Mah-Na, Mah-Na may be playing in your head by now.

Speaking of Her Majesty, at some point in the first half of the year two friends at school — Keith and Andy — mentioned the names Freddie Mercury and Queen. Somebody to Love was already on one of my cassettes, ending with the final note of the piano and DJ Tom Browne saying “Ha! Qu–” before I pressed the Stop button. I wasn’t even aware of their next single, Tie Your Mother Down, which didn’t trouble the scorers — a shame, as it’s their best ‘live’ video.

I had already taped Elton John’s Greatest Hits, which my dad had borrowed from somebody at work. There are few better openings to an album — albeit a greatest hits collection — than Your Song followed by Daniel. But I am fairly certain that the first album I actually bought was Queen’s A Day at the Races, possibly in Llandudno and probably during the Whitsun holiday in late-May.

Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy — actually ‘Queen’s First EP’ — was their next single. It may have been my next buy, though possibly one I bought some time later. DJs spoke of records ‘climbing’ the charts and then ‘peaking’ and ‘dropping’. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy was one of those that actually yo-yo-ed around: 36 … 29 … 21 … 24 … 19 … 17 … 23 … 22.

Off school ill one day and lying in bed listening to Radio 1 (it may have been the Tony Blackburn show, 9am to 12pm), I heard Fool’s Overture by Supertramp. This was unusual because (a) it is an album track and daytime Radio 1 tended to play only singles, and (b) it is about 10 minutes long. Give a Little Bit was Supertramp’s current single. I didn’t buy it and, surprisingly (because it is brilliant), it was only a very minor hit, but their album Even in the Quietest Moments, which includes both songs, was another of my first album buys.

It is a puzzle why I bought nothing during the summer holidays because there were some great songs around between June and August — Telephone Line (ELO), Match of the Day (Genesis), Fanfare for the Common Man (ELP), Oxygene (Jean-Michel Jarre), Dancin’ in the Moonlight (Thin Lizzy).

A big summer hit was the groundbreaking I Feel Love by Donna Summer, with its Giorgio Moroder electronic pulse: it is yet another song that I loathed at the time but grudgingly appreciate nowadays. Meanwhile, Elvis Presley died in the middle of August. His single Way Down had failed to even reach the Top 40 but suddenly raced to the top of the chart when his death was announced. Much the same thing happened after the murder of John Lennon in December 1980. His then-new album Double Fantasy was No 1, as were the singles Woman and (Just Like) Starting Over — collectively his biggest hits since the Imagine single and album a decade earlier.

I bought We Are the Champions as soon as it came out in early October. Maybe all my money was going on buying Queen albums because my next single only entered the Top 30 several weeks later: She’s Not There by Santana. It’s a great song (an old Zombies hit) but it was definitely the spectacular and (for a single) lengthy guitar solos that caught my ear. That guitar thing again; not that I had any idea who Carlos Santana was.

In contrast, it was the synth solo that stood out on my next buy, another old song, though a re-release not a cover: Virginia Plain by Roxy Music. The second coming of Roxy Music in the late 1970s was not to my taste — too suave, too smooth — but Virginia Plain is from their earlier art-house period when Brian Eno was in the band. Whenever Eno later collaborated with musicians I listen to, he always added a magical ingredient, something deliciously quirky and offbeat: try The Waiting Room by Genesis or Memories Can’t Wait by Talking Heads (with that brilliantly jarring and discordant middle eight at roughly 2:01, before it all comes back in tune with the line “Everything is very quiet…”).

The chart of 6 November sticks in the memory. We Are the Champions was on its way to becoming a big hit, getting to No 6 the previous week. There was every expectation that it would be top 3 this week. Radio 1’s Paul Burnett always announced the new chart at 12.45pm on Tuesdays, straight after Newsbeat. He played the new No 5 through to No 2 and then did the rundown of the full Top 30, finishing by playing whatever was No 1. This all happily coincided with school lunchtime. My friend and fellow Queen fan Keith lived in the road behind school. We sat in his porch with a transistor radio listening in. I didn’t expect Champions to be either No 5 or No 4. It wasn’t. Nor was it No 3. Great, it was No 2. Except it wasn’t.

A non-mover at No 6. Cue the end of the world.

Well, not quite. The following week it jumped again to No 2 and looked all set to be their second No 1, only for Abba’s Name of the Game to crush our hopes. For two weeks running the top 3 was Abba, Queen and Status Quo’s Rockin’ All Over the World. Then Paul McCartney and Wings were No 1 forever with the turgid Mull of Kintyre (actually, nine weeks — the same, coincidentally, as Bohemian Rhapsody first time around).

A television advert for an album, presumably broadcast in the run-up to Christmas, acclaimed the band in question as rock gods who routinely sold out stadiums in America. Impressive stuff. I was duly intrigued. They were Yes, and the album was Going for the One. I bought the single of the same name, actually their second hit from the album. The first was the exquisite Wonderous Stories, the spelling of which looks like something Americans would write. The song’s writer Jon Anderson is from Accrington, but he is a West Coast hippie through and through. The b-side of Going for the One was called Awaken PT 1, which I cheerfully pronounced ‘pee tee 1’. The penny didn’t drop until I bought the album a couple of years later that it was ‘Part 1’: the full version lasts about 15 minutes.

Going for the One was my final buy of 1977. By this time I was fast becoming a Queen-aholic [more memories from the 1970s here]. I joined the fan club and saw them in concert for the first time the following May. This is also roughly the time when the local British Legion started a weekly disco for under-18s. The DJ used to play a handful of heavy-rock tracks, the same ones week in and week out; Paranoid and Black Dog are two I remember. It was my introduction to headbanging.

On a school holiday to a residential site called Hammarbank in the Lake District in July 1978 we played a copy of 24 Carat Purple (a sort of Deep Purple ‘best of’, one of many) to death in the evenings on the communal record player. Another Hammarbank favourite was the single Rosalie by Thin Lizzy from their album Live and Dangerous, which I got for my birthday soon afterwards. It is one of the great live albums.

That, then, was my year that was. Plenty there that I still like and listen to, as well as much that passed me by at the time. It was the following year — 1978 — that I properly started to build up my album collection. Some of the early punk singles were already charting by the end of 1977, but the likes of Genesis, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were on my horizon, and my brother was playing weird, heavy prog rock by a Canadian band with a singer who seemed to literally shriek about hallowed halls, temples of Syrinx and drinking the milk of paradise [my Rush appreciation here]. There was never any doubt that it was rock music for me.

There is just one outlier that comes to mind, a record that bucks the guitar-heavy trend — a K-Tel album. These compilations were better than their Top of the Pops equivalents because they featured original versions of songs, though with early fade-outs to fit in more tracks. This particular K-Tel collection was called Disco Fever. I have no idea why I was obsessed with this album but I was, for a few weeks at least. Baccara. The Floaters. Hot Chocolate… Not too many screaming lead singers or scorching guitar solos to be found on that album, then.

Mah-Na, Mah-Na.

More about Music

Queen

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects

Rush

An appreciation of (cliché-alert) Canada’s finest power trio. RIP Neil Peart

Genesis

My history of Genesis, told via their best bootlegs, reaches the Duke tour in 1980

London 1980: Genesis Bootlegs

Genesis, 1980 — and this time it’s personal.

By the time I was discovering rock music as a young lad in the late-‘70s, the ‘classic’ era was already over and its surviving big beasts were fast mutating into something altogether cuddlier and more house-trained. Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door featured as much piano as guitar and even a flirtation with synth-pop. Tormato by Yes offered up nine songs (and an awful album cover), only three fewer than the total number of tracks on their previous three releases, one of which was a double. Perhaps oddest of all was Pink Floyd — plus schoolchildren — with the Christmas number one single in 1979.

I got into Genesis sometime in 1978 — or possibly 1979 — via And Then There Were Three. Within a few months I had caught up with their back catalogue. Duke, released in March 1980, was the first Genesis album that came out in ‘real time’, as it were.

Their approach to writing some of the tracks that ended up on Duke has echoes of the pre-Trespass days, this time with Phil’s home substituting for Richard Macphail’s parents’ cottage in Surrey where much early writing and rehearsing had been done. It was collaborative and spontaneous, and came about in part, perhaps, because of the lack of individual material to hand. With Phil away trying to rescue his marriage, Tony and Mike had both released solo albums. On his return Phil, too, had begun writing and recording material that eventually became Face Value.

The Armando Gallo book, my Genesis bible at the time, ends in 1979 with talk of an extended piece of music, which this young fan — who was playing Seconds Out to death at this point — naively interpreted as a return to musical adventures à la Supper’s Ready and The Cinema Show. Alas, it was not to be. The piece was broken up into its component parts, the radio-friendly Turn It On Again and Misunderstanding became successful singles, and a ‘new’ Genesis-for-the-eighties came into being.

Forty years on I look back on these years — 1978 to 1980 — as a time of transition, a staging post on the journey to the brave new world of commercial success. Duke continues along the more accessible path mapped out by And Then There Were Three. But both albums also contain more than a few moments for even the most diehard fan of ‘old’ Genesis to savour — extended instrumental passages, soaring choruses, lyrical references to maidens fair and foul. An alluring mixture of familiar fragrance and flavours strange, you might say.

But it didn’t feel like that at the time — at least, not to this young fan. It actually felt like a huge and hugely unwelcome change of direction. It was as if they were forsaking their roots. Selling out.

Even the artwork — the cartoon figures, the childlike scrawl of the lyrics — reinforced these thoughts. It was all a bit too lightweight, too direct, too commercial. I avoided the new single (Turn It On Again), unlike my friend and fellow compulsive record-buyer Dave. Also a Genesis fan, he was generally more open-minded about chart music than I was. I probably picked up Duke, belatedly and grudgingly, a few weeks after its release.

And then, as Genesis transformed themselves during the early-‘80s, I took refuge in Foxtrot, Wind and Wuthering and the rest, leaving my doubts about Duke to fester and grow. To this day Duke strikes me as the weaker of the two ‘transition’ albums, a judgement more to do with the overall sound than with the quality of particular songs. Where Tony’s lush keyboards on And Then There Were Three wrap the listener in a warm embrace, Duke tracks such as Alone Tonight, Cul-de-sac and Heathaze sound colder and thinner to this (untrained) ear.

On this I am doubtless in a small minority. Genesis fans generally seem to regard Duke with huge affection. It was certainly a big seller at the time. Tony himself describes it in Chapter and Verse as his favourite album. Only relatively recently — perhaps after finally buying a copy of Tony’s A Curious Feeling five or so years ago, perhaps a little earlier — have I really made an effort to listen to Duke with fresh ears.

And so we come to the live shows, lengthy tours of Britain and North America. In addition to audio bootlegs — including high-quality recordings from Sheffield (broadcast on FM radio) and London — there is also a visual record of the tour. The London Lyceum shows on 6–7 May were filmed by the BBC. A very watchable video of the entire show is in wide circulation, though only a 40-minute edit was ever broadcast, initially as an Old Grey Whistle Test special.

Genesis had played only one British date on their 1978 world tour — at Knebworth. Phil ended the show with the promise of an extensive British tour the following year. Actually it ran from March to May 1980. And in the manner of Queen’s Crazy Tour a few months earlier, the focus was very much on a return to smaller venues, the likes of Exeter University and the Hexagon at Reading.

After the radical restructuring of the set list in 1978, its core remained in place for the 1980 tour. It ran roughly as follows:

Deep in the Motherlode / Dancing with the Moonlit Knight [excerpt] / Carpet Crawlers / Squonk / One for the Vine / Behind the Lines / Duchess / Guide Vocal / Turn It On Again / Duke’s Travels / Duke’s End / Say It’s Alright Joe / The Lady Lies / Ripples / In the Cage / The Colony of Slippermen [excerpt] / Afterglow / Follow You Follow Me / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos / I Know What I Like / The Knife [shortened]

Genesis opening songs have been somewhat hit and miss over the years. The brooding intensity of Watcher of the Skies was perfect in its day. On the other hand, as I have written elsewhere, Squonk (used in ’77) isn’t one of their strongest songs, and it’s frankly a mystery why they chose to go with Land of Confusion on the final (1992) tour. For the first few shows on the Duke tour they appear to have opened with the muscular Back in NYC from the Lamb album. It’s not an obvious choice, the song not having featured in the set since the Lamb tour; it’s also a throat shredder for Phil. It was quickly replaced by Deep in the Motherlode, one of their very best openers, with its dramatic keyboard riff and Phil’s emphatic call to “Go west, young man!”

“We’re going to play some old songs, and a few new songs, and some songs you won’t have heard for a long time,” announces Phil in Sheffield, almost word for word the formula that he had used on the previous tour, a formula that he was to continue using to the end. After Deep in the Motherlode comes a trio of well-established songs — a snippet of Dancing with the Moonlit Knight segueing into Carpet Crawlers, followed by the aforementioned Squonk (still in the set!) and then One for the Vine. All designed, one assumes, to placate longstanding fans. All cheered to the rafters.

The Cinema Show has gone … again … but will return … again. Gone, too, are Eleventh Earl of Mar and The Fountain of Salmacis, the early classic resurrected for the previous tour. Burning Rope and Ballad of Big from the previous album have also been dropped. For the North American leg, Carpet Crawlers and Say It’s Alright Joe are replaced by Misunderstanding, out as a single in the USA by that point.

The most eye-catching feature of the set is the placement of the new songs. Unlike on most tours, when new material is sprinkled liberally throughout the evening — on the previous tour it was done with almost mathematical precision — Duke is represented by a single block of songs.

Behind the Lines / Duchess / Guide Vocal / Turn It On Again / Duke’s Travels / Duke’s End

It is, in effect, the extended suite that was envisaged way back at the start of the Duke recording process when, according to Chapter and Verse, what became Turn It On Again was little more than a riff, a bridge between the two main blocks of ‘Duke’ music.

It is fascinating — and a joy — to hear it played in its entirety, particularly Duke’s Travels / Duke’s End, which didn’t feature on the following tour and was only resurrected (in part) for the 2007 Turn It On Again comeback tour, minus the vocals.

“Evening, chaps. Good to have you aboard,” says Wing Commander Collins to the Lyceum crowd. To watch Phil’s performance is to appreciate what an outstanding front man he had become by this point, as well as reinforcing how important he was to the Genesis live experience. It is not just that his voice, particularly his falsetto on the likes of One for the Vine, is now much stronger. Tony and Mike are relatively static and undemonstrative on stage; Daryl and Chester, as ‘extras’, are never going to claim the limelight. It is to Phil that our attention continually turns.

He is on sparkling form. This is still likeable Phil. Funny Phil. Hairy Phil. Not Armani Phil. We are up close and personal. To watch the video is also to appreciate the meaning of ‘intimate venue’. We see every gesture, every facial expression, every bead of sweat. At a time when his personal life is crumbling around him, it is an assured and compelling performance.

Storytelling remains a part of the Genesis show, as it has been since the early days. Phil’s one-liners are only marginally less humorous with the knowledge that much of it is scripted. We meet the character of Sidney, the drunk from Say It’s Alright Joe, complete with Columbo-style raincoat, whisky bottle and even a small table lamp perched on Tony’s keyboard. The routine comes across well enough in a smaller venue, but it is hard to envisage it working in somewhere like Madison Square Garden (hence the reason why it was dropped for the US tour, presumably). And, as on the last tour, The Lady Lies is another opportunity for some playful interaction with the crowd around a hero/villain narrative.

Laddish humour abounds (though in interviews Mike has commented more than once that as the hit singles increased so did the number of females in the audience). There is Roland the bisexual drum machine who plays with anybody. Juliet is no longer tied to the steering wheel; now it is Albert having sex with a television set. And there are silly puns aplenty referencing Albert’s cultural achievements: Romeo and Albert, Albert in Wonderland, Albert vs Kramer. ‘Albatross’ is a great shout from the audience, the heckler either exceptionally quick-witted or (perhaps more likely) someone seeing the show not for the first time.

Back to the music. Ripples is outstanding. Two tours in and Daryl is starting to capture Steve Hackett’s distinctively delicate and haunting sound, though it’s noticeable that the audience cheers for Chester are louder than those for Daryl. The interplay between guitar and keyboards is gorgeous, and there’s a deafening chorus of “Sail away, away” as the crowd join in. Next comes a breathless In the Cage, now segueing into the Slippermen keyboard solo, which is making its first appearance as part of an embryonic medley that ends with the glorious, soaring Afterglow.

After playing their biggest hit to date, Follow You Follow Me, proceedings conclude with the Dance on a Volcano / drum duet / Los Endos medley, followed by an encore of I Know What I Like (and occasionally The Knife — “This is the only other song we know”). It is a familiar way to close the show, complete with landing lights. But that’s fine. In fact, it is more than fine. It is magnificent. It is classic Genesis. The big commercial hits — the likes of Abacab, Mama and Invisible Touch — are in the future. No, the band were no longer writing songs like Supper’s Ready and The Cinema Show, but nor had they abandoned their roots.

Essential listening — and a great watch too.


As mentioned in the main article, there are some great recordings from this tour, principally Sheffield on 17 April and the London Lyceum on 6–7 May (and it seems that the Drury Lane show on 5 May was also recorded). The Lyceum shows were filmed by the BBC. A very watchable video of the entire show is in wide circulation, though only a 40-minute edit was ever broadcast, initially as an Old Grey Whistle Test special. The 6-CD/6-DVD box set Genesis 1976–1982 that was released in 2007 includes this footage.

There is a very listenable recording of the Madison Square Garden show on 29 June at the tail end of the US tour. It includes Back in NYC, which they played there as an additional encore.

The Genesis Archive 2 box set includes great-sounding live versions of Deep in the Motherlode (Drury Lane, 5 May), Ripples (Lyceum, 6 May), Duke’s Travels (Lyceum, 7 May) and The Lady Lies (Lyceum, 6 May). Duke’s Travels also includes Duke’s End, though this isn’t credited on the sleeve. One for the Vine, recorded at Drury Lane, was featured on the UK version of Three Sides Live.

More about Genesis

1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

1978

And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett

Dijon 1978: Genesis Bootlegs

Follow You Follow Me, released in February 1978, was the lead-off single for the And Then There Were Three album. The song was essentially a quick and spontaneous studio creation. There are no references to mallet-wielding schoolboys and rampaging hogweed or to ‘Slippermen’ and even more slippery Lamia. It wasn’t their first simple love song — think Your Own Special Way — or even their first catchy, radio-friendly single — they don’t come much catchier or more radio-friendly than Match of the Day — but it was their best and it became the biggest hit of their career thus far.

Behind the cliché about this or that artist or band providing the ‘soundtrack of our lives’ is the fact that listening to music is an intensely personal experience: it stirs old memories and emotions. And Then There Were Three was the first Genesis album that I got into, probably in 1979 and certainly before the release of Duke in March 1980, and it remains a favourite to this day.

Genesis had first appeared on my radar via a school friend, who was obsessed with The Knife. It was a bit beyond me at first — I was about 12 years old — but I was drawn to the more accessible sound of And Then There Were Three. Within a few months I was listening to the entire back catalogue (well, from Trespass onwards).

The album’s title is of course a reference to Steve Hackett’s departure, actually during the mixing of Seconds Out in the summer of 1977. As with Peter Gabriel in 1975, the band filled the vacancy from within, Mike Rutherford assuming responsibility for all guitars.

This was the heyday of punk and new wave. ‘Dinosaur’ was a popular music-press label for bands of the early seventies — ancient, out of time and place, doomed to extinction.  And Then There Were Three was released in the same month that This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello and the Attractions and Plastic Letters by Blondie were in the top ten. Songs — like hair — were shorter, fashions sharper, and the mood and music uglier. It is one of their least-liked albums, at least judging by comments on an online fan forum — comments echoed by the band themselves:

Of all our albums And Then There Were Three was the weakest, without a doubt.

Mike Rutherford, quoted in Chapter and Verse (2007)

It is a difficult album to categorise — is it the first of a new Genesis era or the last of the old era? For all the tentative first steps towards a more commercial sound, it also has many of the hallmarks of the immediate post-Gabriel period. It is clearly not a return to Genesis à la Foxtrot, but nor is it some radical departure either. With Mike Rutherford very much finding his feet and Phil Collins not yet the prolific songwriter of the 80s, Tony Banks remains the dominant musical influence, as he had been since Peter’s departure. His lush keyboards cover the album like a warm and reassuring blanket.

Songs like Burning Rope, The Lady Lies and Many Too Many would be at home on A Trick of the Tail or Wind and Wuthering, as would other highlights such as Mike’s Snowbound. If pushed to choose a personal highlight, it would perhaps be Undertow, which — like Afterglow — soars defiantly:

Let me live again, let life come find me wanting
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter

Undertow (Banks)

The band’s most recent release had been a live double album, over half of which consisted of music from the Gabriel era. This tension between past and future presented itself in even starker form in the live setting, with a significant proportion of any audience obviously made up of long-time followers of the band. Phil’s standard opening remarks to the crowd about playing some old songs and some new songs date from this tour; he was still saying exactly the same thing on what became the final tour in 1992.

Set lists usually evolve over time: new songs are introduced and older material eased into retirement. The new set list, on the other hand, involved more than just a little reshaping and reshuffling. The running-order for the Dijon show on 3 June was as follows:

Eleventh Earl of Mar / In the Cage / Burning Rope / Ripples / Deep in the Motherlode / The Fountain of Salmacis / Ballad of Big / One for the Vine / Squonk / Say It’s Alright Joe / The Lady Lies / The Cinema Show / Afterglow / Follow You Follow Me / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos / I Know What I Like

The new songs are indeed there — six of them at Dijon — sprinkled at regular intervals throughout the set. Down and Out was also played at some early shows. Squonk, One for the Vine and Afterglow all remain from the previous tour but have been moved around. I Know What I Like is now the encore. Gone are classics such as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Carpet Crawlers. Firth of Fifth — Steve’s set piece— has also been dropped.

Also missing is Supper’s Ready, which at nearly 25 minutes’ duration made up a hefty chunk of the performance: a big song in every respect and so a big decision to leave it out. To maintain the balance between old and new, several Gabriel-era songs make a welcome return: the magnificent The Cinema Show, a rollercoaster In the Cage, and — perhaps the biggest surprise — The Fountain of Salmacis from the Nursery Cryme album, released in 1971. Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, segueing into The Musical Box, was played at Chicago in October. Although it may only have been played at this one show, it became a regular part of the set on the Duke tour.

Beginning at the end of March, the huge world tour that followed the album’s release lasted most of the year and involved three separate tours of the USA, two European tours and a short tour of Japan. The single British show took place at Knebworth Park on 24 June in front of a crowd of about 60,000 people. Chester Thompson was retained on drums for the live shows and a fellow American, Daryl Stuermer, was brought in to replace Steve Hackett.

And then there were three … plus two.

Classic opening songs are usually some combination of punchy, immediate and dramatic — Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll, Deep Purple’s Highway Star, Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak. The lengthy Eleventh Earl of Mar therefore seems a bit of an odd choice. It had (very) briefly been used on the Wind and Wuthering tour before Squonk took its place. By the Duke tour Deep in the Motherlode was opening the show, with its far more dramatic keyboard opening and Phil’s emphatic call — “Go west, young man!”

In the official Chapter and Verse book, Tony waxes lyrical about Daryl Stuermer’s talent — “probably even greater technical ability and fluency than Steve” — and cites Stuermer’s ability to play fast as the reason why In the Cage, a Lamb highlight, was reintroduced. Stuermer’s playing does indeed seem to be note-perfect throughout, at least to this amateur’s ears, though it is hard not to miss Steve’s unique and subtle style on songs such as The Fountain of Salmacis and Ripples.

The ‘narrative’ songs from the new album all translate well to the stage. Indeed, it is not immediately obvious why one of them, Ballad of Big, was dropped mid-tour. Less successful, perhaps, is Say It’s Alright Joe, in which Phil adopts the persona of a drunk in a bar. All shows need to vary their pace, but the verses are ponderous and the long outro seems to meander nowhere in particular. But perhaps that was the point.

It is probably no coincidence that The Lady Lies follows, building to a frenzied climax as the naive knight in shining armour succumbs to the charms of the evil lady in her lair. Cue a spot of audience interaction, as Phil invites the crowd to loudly boo the wicked temptress — “wait for it, wait for it”. Freddie Mercury’s call-and-response routine, which developed into the well-known ‘Day-O’, also started in 1978.

The hit single Follow You Follow Me is given a prime slot just before the grand finale, even though something of the warmth and intimacy of the studio version is inevitably lost in a huge auditorium. Despite their soaring choruses, there is no space for some of those excellent new songs mentioned above — Undertow, Snowblind and Many Too Many. It is left to Afterglow to supply the emotional punch. If the Seconds Out version is a little too finely polished, then these bootlegs offer raw and visceral — perhaps definitive — performances of the song. Phil’s slightly off-kilter wail at Dijon, surely never to see the official light of day, is somehow perfect.

Phil has now taken over all the between-song chatter, sticking fairly closely to a basic script from one night to the next. There are introductions for Chester and Daryl, naturally. He invites us to a late-night barroom ahead of Say It’s Alright Joe and educates us about hermaphrodites before The Fountain of Salmacis. The young nymphomaniacs, Romeo and Juliet, are again up to their Carry On-style antics involving steering wheels and the like, once more (as in Gabriel days) an introduction to The Cinema Show.

We hear him reaching out across the language barrier in Dijon. He reads from a prepared sheet. It’s obviously a hastily prepared sheet and not one done with the assistance of a fluent French speaker — though, to be fair, “And Then There Were Trois” made me chuckle. He starts with the best of intentions but, as the show progresses, his attempt at French quickly dissolves into what the writer Miles Kington called ‘Franglais’ or just plain old English in a dodgy French accent. Thus, he introduces us to “Big Jim Cool-ie” (“Jim” pronounced with a soft ‘j’ sound), and by the end of the Romeo and Juliet monologue he is delivering lines like “Juliet (soft ‘j’ again), you cannot leave me like zis” and “Stark naked mate … nue”.

The Dance on a Volcano/Los Endos medley brings the show to a now familiar close and the band return for an encore of I Know What I Like. As on the previous tour, it is an extended version, complete with tambourine gymnastics from Phil and a semi-improvised section that references Stagnation from the Trespass album. Placed mid-show (and on side two of Seconds Out) it seemed to drag. It works much better as an encore, the band taking their time to say farewell after the formal part of the show is over.

In 1978 Genesis spent eight months on the road in Europe, the USA and the Far East. The album and tour were both a huge commercial success but it came at great personal cost: Phil’s marriage disintegrated, setting off a chain of events — for him and for the band — that were of huge significance.

Armando Gallo’s book I Know What I Like was written in 1979. If memory serves, a final picture shows Mike, Tony and Phil in a field outside Phil’s home in Surrey, starting the process of writing and recording their next album. There was talk of an extended side-long piece of music. It was not to be. As Gallo’s book closes, so does the era of classic Genesis. Despite all the comings and goings of personnel over the years, this was perhaps the big turning-point of all.


There are a number of excellent audio recordings of the And Then There Were Three tour. The best are Dijon on 3 June and Chicago on 13 October. Both are essentially complete and the sound is outstanding. The Knebworth show was broadcast on the BBC on the Alan Freeman Show shortly after the concert itself, apparently in quadraphonic sound. Alas, some songs are missing and for some reason Squonk was used as the opening song, even though the standard running-order was used during the concert itself. An edited version of the Houston show on 22 October was broadcast on the US radio programme King Biscuit Flower Hour and is widely available.

Alas (again), there is no visual material of comparable quality. The highlight is a 50-minute BBC documentary called Three Dates with Genesis, which includes clips of the band performing in Germany and England.

More about Genesis

1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

1980

Phil is on particularly sparkling form during the Duke tour of smaller venues

Montreal 1974: Genesis Bootlegs

It is 1974. In Britain and parts of Europe, notably Italy — though not yet North America — Genesis have broken through to the big time: top-ten albums, decent-sized venues such as the London Rainbow, front-cover status in Melody Maker. This bootleg — an FM radio broadcast — captures the band in Montreal on 21 April. For many longtime fans, this is ‘classic’ Genesis: the Tony Banks / Phil Collins / Peter Gabriel / Steve Hackett / Mike Rutherford line-up. It is the era of the Mellotron and twelve-string guitars, of fox heads and old-man masks, of hermaphrodites and hogweed.

As on the previous tour, Watcher of the Skies opens proceedings — the eerie, doom-laden sound of the Mellotron familiar to fans from the Foxtrot and Genesis Live albums, a foretaste of the drama and (imagined) theatrics to come. Prog rock à la Genesis delights in long, complex pieces with repeated changes of mood and tempo. The set-list draws from three classic albums of the genre — Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot and the then-current Selling England by the Pound:

Watcher of the Skies / Dancing with the Moonlit Knight / The Cinema Show / I Know What I Like / Firth of Fifth / The Musical Box / Horizons / The Battle of Epping Forest / Supper’s Ready

The first ‘proper’ Genesis album, Trespass, is here unrepresented. The Knife, the standout Trespass track, was only very occasionally played on the tour as an encore, it seems. Indeed, on most nights they appear to have ditched an encore altogether.

Lacking the studio polish of the official releases to balance the sound and smooth away the rough edges, several passages here sound pleasingly urgent and aggressive, and it is interesting to compare the songs that also feature on the official Genesis Live album, released a year or so earlier. The bass (or bass pedal) during the Watcher of the Skies opening is more apparent, for example, adding to the sense of drama and foreboding, and during the heavier Musical Box sections it is as if Steve is battling to control his volume pedal.

My original caption said that at least part of this image (Mike Rutherford) is reversed and it is actually from the later Lamb tour. A reader pointed out that it’s in fact a still of the Genesis tribute group The Musical Box, which I suppose reinforces the point I was making about the amateurishness of much bootleg cover art.

This recording is by no means perfect — radio interference leaks into the sound during quieter passages — but one of the pleasures of bootlegs for fans is the chance to hear their favourite bands in the raw, as it were: the mistakes and mishaps on stage, the experiments that didn’t work and were subsequently dropped, the early performances of songs before further reworking.

Firth of Fifth is a case in point. An undoubted Genesis masterpiece, it is hard to believe (see the Chapter and Verse book) that it almost wasn’t recorded. Here it is played in full, complete with Tony’s opening solo, dropped for subsequent tours. Played on keyboard rather than grand piano, it lacks the majesty of the original recording — in other words, it’s easy to see why it was dropped in favour of the powerful “The path is clear…” opening. Steve’s playing also seems at times to be a little less fluent than on the later Seconds Out version, for example.

Other than the opening and closing drone sound, I Know What I Like is less drawn-out than in later years — and better for it. Bootlegs capture Peter weaving his elaborate between-song stories — here delivered in schoolboy-though-passable French to the Quebecois French-Canadian audience. They are also the only way — at the time of writing, at least — to hear live versions of The Battle of Epping Forest. Only Steve’s Horizons, played here on electric guitar, seems a little out of place. It appears to have been alternated on this tour with another slight song, More Feel Me, sung by Phil, which features on the Genesis Archive #1 release, recorded at the Rainbow in October ‘73.

Searching for images of the band to accompany this article, I was struck by how bare the visual record of the Gabriel period appears to be. For more thoughts on Genesis as a visual spectacle at this time, see below.

Much of the sense of drama came from Peter’s on-stage antics, inevitably all but lost in audio-only recordings. To the already established costume-changes — bat wings, fox’s head and the rest — he has now added the character of Britannia, who introduces Dancing with the Moonlit Knight. Its closing section evokes a pastoral feel; Steve’s lilting guitar combines with the soft tones of the Mellotron, Peter’s flute, the sound of church bells ringing and even the call of the cuckoo.

It serves to further accentuate a strain of eccentric Englishness that lies at the heart of early Genesis, with lyrical themes and references ranging from King Canute and Kew Gardens to fox hunting and evocations of quiet country villages. The lyrics — and Peter’s vocal delivery more generally — are also a source of much of the quietly eccentric humour. As well as bringing to life a rich cast of characters, he has developed a number of peculiar vocal mannerisms, enunciating particular words and phrases in a singular style — “has life again destroyed life?” during Watcher of the Skies, to take one example. Elsewhere, with the band still not quite ready to begin after Peter’s ‘Britannia’ monologue setting up Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, he utters a single word — “Interlude” — as if he were part of a Monty Python continuity sketch.

This quaint and quirky and distinctly English sense of the absurd is further explored in I Know What I Like and The Battle of Epping Forest, each with its cast of characters, whose eccentricities are played out on stage by Peter. The latter, in particular, features whimsical wordplay — “a robbing hood”, “a karmamechanic with overall charms” — and there’s an amusingly down-to-earth little interchange involving Phil on backing vocals: “What’s the trouble, then?” It’s easy to picture Peter shuffling across the stage as the lecherous old man in The Musical Box, as he wheezes lines like “Brush back your hair and let me feel your flesh”.

The climax of the show is the epic Supper’s Ready, perhaps the quintessential prog-rock piece. The closing section of the song, As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs, is soaring, magnificent, glorious. Yet, watching the official Shepperton Studios live footage, shot the previous October, the song’s visual power comes principally from the use of simple fluorescent effects. Indeed, watching the film as a whole, the viewer is struck by its amateurish feel: the set is extremely basic, the lighting is poor and Peter’s costumes look home-made. The dramatic energy comes from the music and, in particular, from Peter’s extraordinary on-stage performance. In this sense, too, the ‘Selling England’ tour represents a crossroads for Genesis.

Genesis at Headley Grange recording the Lamb album, a few months after the Montreal concert. This photo was by Richard Haines. You can see more of his work at genesisfan.net

In a radical departure, the band played The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in its entirety on the following tour, with only The Musical Box and sometimes Watcher of the Skies surviving as encores. Peter then left the band. This bootleg is valuable, therefore, in capturing the end of a Genesis era, with the band at their prog-rock peak. By 1976, they were back with Phil on vocals, a much more expensive and professional-looking stage show, much — though by no means all — of this classic material retired, and a warmer, less edgy sound.

Note: Officially released live recordings at the time of writing are Genesis Live, and the Genesis Archive #1 recordings from the Rainbow (October 1973) and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The official but as-yet-unreleased film of the band recorded at Shepperton Studios in late-October 1973 is widely available online, as is a longer version of the Genesis Live recordings, including more between-song audio and Supper’s Ready, and a longer version of the Rainbow show.

More about Genesis

1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

1978

And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett

Calling All Stations: Not the Worst Genesis Album

Setting to one side From Genesis to Revelation, essentially a pre-Genesis album written and recorded by schoolboys — literally so: they were still pupils at Charterhouse when the first demos were put down — Calling All Stations is almost certainly most fans’ least favourite Genesis album. It’s the embarrassing uncle, the black sheep of the family, the unloved one, the one that nobody mentions.

It was released in 1997, five or so years after We Can’t Dance and one year after the official announcement that Phil Collins — drummer, lead vocalist and one-man 80s hit machine — was leaving the band. And then there were two.

Enter Ray Wilson on vocals, ex-singer with a minor-league outfit called Stiltskin, whose fifteen minutes in the spotlight — a number-one single — came courtesy of a Levi’s advert. And then there were three … again. It was a distinctly odd choice, with age and musical experience only two of the glaring differences between, on the one hand, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford — ex-public school, softly-spoken practitioners of traditional English reserve, home-counties chaps to the marrow — and, on the other, Wilson, a brash working-class lad from Scotland.

In relative terms — relative, that is, to previous Genesis record sales — the album bombed, as did the subsequent tour: the US leg was cancelled due to poor ticket sales. Plans for a second album were scrapped out of concern for the Genesis name. And then there were none.

Looking back, Tony and Mike damned the album with the faintest of praise:

I felt that the … album was OK (Mike Rutherford)

I … thought the album turned out pretty well (Tony Banks)

Quotes from Genesis — Chapter and Verse (2007)

I remember checking out the lead-off single, Congo, a couple of times and taking an immediate dislike to it, not least the cringeworthy attempt at an arty, politically on-message video. Middle-aged men desperately trying to look cool didn’t work for me (aged 30 at the time). On the back of Congo, I gave the album one highly sceptical and cursory listen, decided it was crap and duly parked it for the best part of twenty years.

Out of curiosity, I dusted it off — literally — just a couple of years ago and gave it a spin. Only two or three tracks stood out on first listen, but I persisted and the whole album soon started to grow on me.

Eleven tracks, 67 minutes of music — and no out-and-out fillers or obvious padding. It certainly starts strongly, the title track a moody and dramatic guitar-driven affair with BIG Collins-esque drums and a soaring chorus. Congo isn’t as poor as I remember, though the inclusion of African rhythms to bookend the song invites inevitable comparisons — and not flattering ones — with Peter Gabriel’s epic Biko.

Even the more run-of-the-mill efforts — Small Talk, If That’s What You Need, There Must Be Some Other Way — are listenable and certainly no weaker than the selection of songs on side two of their self-titled 1983 album (the one that starts with Mama, a song that isn’t as strong as people say it is). The Abacab album, to make another comparison, runs for 47 minutes and includes two of the weakest songs in the entire Genesis canon — Who Dunnit? and Another Record.

Calling All Stations isn’t classic Genesis, of course, but it sounds good, there are some great hooks and instrumental passages dotted around, and Ray can certainly sing — a husky voice, deeper and less warm than Phil’s, closer in fact to Peter Gabriel’s.

Tony and Mike are in charge, of course. Drafted in after much of the music had already been written, Ray’s creative input was apparently minimal — a musical idea here, some lyrics there. I have recently bought Banks Vaults, a box set of Tony’s solo albums. A Curious Feeling apart, I am hearing his solo stuff for the first time and currently playing it non-stop. Much of it is great; some of it is outstanding. There are echoes of his solo work, particularly from Still and Strictly Inc, all through Calling All Stations. Other than The Living Years, I am unfamiliar with the back catalogue of Mike and the Mechanics — Mike’s extra-curricular project — but If That’s What You Need is what I imagine a typical Mechanics song sounds like.

When Calling All Stations is good, it’s very good. Shipwrecked, for example, has a great chorus. Anyone familiar with Morrissey’s work might note a similarity between the main keyboard riff and a fairly obscure Morrissey b-side called Lost (released, coincidentally, in the same year).

As on the previous We Can’t Dance album, the inclusion of longer songs allows the band to break free from the verse-chorus-bridge straitjacket. The Dividing Line runs to eight minutes and features some terrific keyboard lines, reminding me of Tony’s excellent The Serpent Said from his 1995 album Strictly Inc.

It also sounds like they enticed Phil back to play drums on the track. In fact, the drumming throughout the album is strikingly good, especially considering that Genesis were without a permanent drummer. The stool at the back was occupied by two guest musicians, one of whom — Nir Zidkyahu — was then invited on the subsequent tour.

The lyrics of One Man’s Fool (among other songs) may be distinctly uninspired at times — “One man’s hot is another man’s cold” — but its overall message about the dangers of (religious) fanaticism, written pre-9/11, of course, resonates now more than ever. This, the closing song, was the first to really hold my attention. At nine minutes, it’s the longest of the album’s eleven tracks, shifting gear midway through to conclude the album in style. Tony — the writer, presumably — sees it differently. Speaking about writing music with Phil’s voice (and creative input) in mind, he is quoted thus:

The first half of the song was good, but the second half suffered. If Phil had been there I just know it would have just taken off and gone somewhere else.

Tony Banks, quoted in Genesis — Chapter and Verse (2007)

Alien Afternoon is the quirkiest song on the album. It quickly settles into a fairly unremarkable groove: a humdrum tune with humdrum lyrics about a humdrum existence. Something seems to happen to our narrator mid-song — a paranormal episode or extra-terrestrial experience of some kind. Ghostly voices ring out like an angelic choir — “We are home / We are your home / We are all your home” — with suitably unsettling and other-worldly mood music from Tony and Mike. A close encounter of the Genesis kind. Great stuff.

Again, it very much reminds me of another song — probably my favourite by Simon and Garfunkel, The Only Living Boy in New York. Paul is fed up, stuck at home writing songs for the new album while Art is away in Mexico pursuing a film career. Then we hear Art’s heavily treated vocal calling from the ether — “Here I am” — as if he’s hearing Paul from afar.

Genesis excel at songs dealing with despair, pain and loss — the live version of Afterglow on Seconds Out towers above everything. Not About Us sounds like classic Mike writing. It is not unlike his Snowbound, a favourite from And Then There Were Three. Along the same lines, Uncertain Weather is probably the best song on the album. The ease with which the listener can project his or her own experiences onto lines about fading photographs and fading memories gives the song added power:

All gone long ago
Leaving no trace
Disappearing like smoke in the wind

Uncertain Weather

Goosebumps-good. Alas, the spell is broken by the inclusion of awful half-spoken lines midway through the song.

Overall, then, Calling All Stations is not bad at all: it’s time to bring the uncle in from the cold. For readers who know their Genesis history, it’s nowhere near as good as anything from the 70s but, especially if shortened to about 50 minutes (the length of a typical first-released-on-vinyl Genesis album), it would certainly stand comparison with anything released post-Duke (1980). It is better than Abacab (1981) and Genesis (1983), and probably on a par with Invisible Touch (1986) and We Can’t Dance (1991).

More about Genesis

1974

Bonsoir. We visit Montreal as part of the Selling England by the Pound tour

1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1977

A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour

Queen On Fire — Live at the Bowl: Reviewing the Review

Introduction

I was interested to see what, if anything, had changed — my knowledge of Queen, my thoughts and opinions, other contextual information — in the fifteen years since I wrote my review of the Queen On Fire – Live at the Bowl DVD. At the time, I titled the review ‘A Crown Jewel’ and awarded the DVD five stars out of five. It was published on Amazon in November 2004, a week or so after the DVD’s release.

As I write now (July 2019), the DVD is not available from the official online shop, though the audio is available for download. It was never officially released on Blu-ray.

The original review text is shown in italics.

For Queen obsessives, the advent of remastered CD and DVD has served to keep the – ahem – ‘magic’ alive long after the demise of the band itself as a creative unit. The latest release is this long-awaited Milton Keynes Bowl concert, recorded June 1982, on the European leg of the Hot Space tour. A heavily-edited film of the show was first used, improbably enough, on Channel 4’s alternative music show The Tube in 1983; that edit has since featured regularly on VH1. Individual songs have also appeared in video montages and compilations. Now, after the success of the Live at Wembley Stadium DVD, this is the MK show in its entirety – warts ‘n’ all – and very welcome it is too.

The opening sentence was obviously written in the resigned belief that the days of Queen as a going concern were over. Though purists would doubtless question the whole notion that Queen are again a creative unit, the ‘Queen’ brand is certainly very much alive and kicking. The beginnings of the Queen/Paul Rodgers collaboration were in 2004, leading to major tours in 2005 and 2008 and to the The Cosmos Rocks album. Even more successful has been the Queen/Adam Lambert collaboration. That’s not to mention the longevity of the We Will Rock You stage musical and the phenomenal success of the Bohemian Rhapsody film.

Alas, contrary to my remark in the last sentence, not quite every wart was in fact included in the DVD. Check out the clip below [at roughly 2:22] which was left in the original Channel 4 broadcast but polished out of the Live at the Bowl release.

Previous ‘live’ offerings from Queen too often suffered from heavy handed editing, remixing and general interference, sometimes due to the limitations of technology at the time but more often in a mistaken attempt at quality assurance. The nadir is 1986’s Live Magic which employs a ghastly mixture of omission and (unbelievably) song editing to fit a two-hour show onto LP. A close second is the video of 1985’s Rock in Rio triumph: Brian May’s guitar is hopelessly buried in the mix and the overall band sound is dull and blunted. Now, as this DVD demonstrates, even on basic home equipment, digital remastering brings a raw freshness to the sound as well as sharpness and colour to the picture.

I think this paragraph generally holds true, though whether the freshness and sharpness I applauded at the time is simply the result of digital mastering I now realise I am not expert enough to say. I have written elsewhere about the failure of official releases to capture and authentically convey the live Queen sound. The release of the Live at the Rainbow ’74 box set in 2014 set a new benchmark. Despite the “limitations of technology at the time” [my words], both of the 1974 concerts sound superb, particularly the 31 March gig. I still regard the Procession/Father to Son opening as probably the most powerful beginning to a live album that I am aware of, though to be fair the Milton Keynes opener (Flash/The Hero) is great too.

After the pomp and grandeur of two world tours between 1977 and 1979, their stage show by 1982 had adopted a pared-down, ‘hot and spacey’ feel to match their changing musical direction. The grandiose ‘Crown’ lighting rig in 1977-78 and the ‘Pizza Oven’ roof of lights that spectacularly adorns the Live Killers sleeve were replaced by relatively modest, moving banks of lights and powerful spots. Musically, while the new songs from the sharply criticised Hot Space album undoubtedly benefit from a live work-out, this viewer well remembers their muted greeting by the crowd at the previous week’s Elland Road concert.

Absolutely. Back Chat and Staying Power both sound superb. It baffles me why one of these two songs was not released as the lead-off single for the Hot Space album. For the subsequent US and Japanese tours, other Hot Space tracks were given a workout, notably Put Out the Fire and Calling All Girls. Even Body Language didn’t sound completely awful played live. As it happens, I have recently been listening to Genesis bootlegs from roughly the same period: the muted crowd reaction to the newer Abacab material is similar to what I describe here. It was a tough time to be a fan of ’70s rock giants!

However, Queen always delivered onstage and this DVD magnificently captures the power of Queen live. Freddie is in particularly mischievous form, teasing and energising the crowd (“are you ready…are you ready brothers and sisters?”). The consummate showman bounds across the stage and athletically utilises gangways incorporated into the stage set to project the band in larger venues. Though Freddie did not personally write a Queen blockbuster after 1979’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love, he was still fit and lithe, aged 35 in 1982, the singing voice strong and assured. Only later did a combination of wear and tear, age and smoking lead to difficulties at the end of long shows and tours. Before AIDS (first identified in 1983), it is also interesting to note the overtly sexual nature of much of his onstage banter, strutting and posing.

The obvious error in the above paragraph is the one relating to Freddie’s voice. When I wrote those words, I hadn’t really heard many bootlegs of Queen shows, so I only had official releases and what I remember actually hearing live to go on — neither of which is (sad to say) a reliable guide. Having listened to a lot of bootlegs since 2004, I now realise how inaccurate the statement is. In reality, from the later-1970s at the very latest, Freddie was regularly struggling with his voice on stage, especially towards the end of long tours and particularly towards the end of shows.

Japan definitely got the shortest of short straws in this respect – unfortunate, as they were particularly keen to film the band’s concerts. With the exception of the February ’81 Budokan shows, all of the band’s tours to Japan followed on from extensive touring in other parts of the world. Listen, to take just one example, to how Freddie struggles to sing Bohemian Rhapsody during the 1979 Japanese dates. You can point to lots of similar examples from the ’82 and ’85 tours. We Are the Champions always presented problems — Roger to the rescue! — as did (from 1984 onwards) Radio Ga Ga.

Now think about the official releases. Montreal ’81 — voice superb — came after a month-long break. Milton Keynes ’82 — voice superb — came after a three-day break on a mini-British tour of just four shows. Live Aid too — voice superb — came after a very lengthy break. Hammersmith ’79 — not an official release (yet, but we live in hope!) but generally acknowledged to be a superb vocal performance — came after a four-day break (and Christmas dinner).

Jumping ahead to Wembley ’86, there were relatively long breaks between most shows on the Magic Tour. But Freddie was older, the stage was enormous and the filmed Saturday show followed on from the additional Friday concert. It’s not too bad vocally, but there’s lots of stuff sung in — what is it called? — the lower register, masked by the impressive-sounding cod-operatic delivery. True, Budapest was a stronger vocal performance than Wembley, but it came on the back of a five-day break.

The performance – and the filming – is not quite as polished as 1986 and casual buyers might begin their collection with the aforementioned Live at Wembley Stadium DVD. It was 1985’s Live Aid that truly elevated Queen to superstar status. In 1982, the set list still contained obligatory new-album material and hard-rocking (but relatively uncommercial) stage favourites like We Will Rock You (fast) and Sheer Heart Attack. For the Queen connoisseur, however, there is much to enjoy. Particular highlights include Somebody to Love: a singalong favourite and live staple from 1976, it was inexplicably left off the Live Killers LP and finally dropped in 1986. If Queen’s finest hour (or, rather, 17 minutes) at Live Aid can be criticised, it is surely the inclusion of Hammer to Fall at the expense of Somebody to Love.

Absolutely. The whole show sounds great, and the performance of Somebody to Love is indeed a highlight, as is The Hero opening, Fat Bottomed Girls — “You made an asshole outta me!” — and Save Me, to choose just three. I also still think I am correct about the Live Aid set.

One criticism I don’t mention is that the final twenty minutes or so feel a touch predictable. Once Freddie plays the opening bars of Bohemian Rhapsody, you can guess how things are going to pan out. The close of the show could have done with some refreshing by this point, I think. After all, albeit with some moving things around on occasion (and the introduction along the way of Another One Bites the Dust), Tie Your Mother Down / Sheer Heart Attack / We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions had been the basis of the latter part of the show since late-1977.

We now know that earlier in the Hot Space tour they appear to have mixed things up a bit — Tie Your Mother Down and Sheer Heart Attack were both tried out at the beginning of the set after The Hero, for example, and Liar was even played in its entirety on a couple of occasions — but by the time of the British shows they had reverted to the ‘usual’ ending. It’s just a thought, but one wonders whether they were nervous at the reaction to their new material and tacking to safer waters.

Another fine Milton Keynes moment is the gloriously un-PC Fat Bottomed Girls. Unfortunately, a raucously out-of-tune scream by Freddie has been polished out – but at least problems with Brian May’s lead during his earlier solo spot have been left in; anoraks truly treasure such moments! This tour is also noteworthy for fans as the first to feature additional (off-stage) keyboards to supplement the band’s sound. Brian’s ‘chat’ before Love of My Life is also somewhat unusual. Dedicating the song to people “who have given up their lives for what they believe”, it is a reference to the Falklands War that dominated the headlines that spring and summer: Queen were in an acutely difficult position as they had played in Argentina the previous year, were selling phenomenally well over there and had just released a single in English and Spanish – Las Palabras de Amor.

Overall, Live At Milton Keynes Bowl is another top quality Queen DVD. What delights await next Christmas? Paris 1979? Houston or Earl’s Court 1977? Hyde Park 1976, please.

As it happens, none of the above suggestions have yet seen the official light of day in full. Oddly enough, I didn’t mention Hammersmith 1979. I had high hopes that footage from 1979 might be released this year — there is plenty of it — to tie in with the fortieth anniversary of the release of Live Killers. Alas, nothing has appeared as yet.

Footage of Sweet Lady from Hyde Park has appeared as a DVD extra, and some of the Houston footage was used in the Old Grey Whistle Test documentary released in 2017. My Melancholy Blues and We Will Rock You (fast) from the same gig have also appeared officially, as have Fat Bottomed Girls and Sheer Heart Attack from Paris.

I neglected in the original review to mention the bonus material in the original review. It’s decidely patchy. There are some tour interviews, a photo gallery backed with a live version of Calling All Girls, some backstage Milton Keynes material, and some footage from Austria earlier in the tour. The highlight is about thirty minutes’ worth of footage from Japan from November 1982, the very final show of the world tour. It has long been available as a Japan-only VHS release. As suggested above, with Freddie’s voice cracking in places, the show is unlikely ever to be given a full release.

More about Queen

185–161

Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects

Seconds Out — The Greatest Live Album?

Reflections on Seconds Out and Genesis live on the 1977 Wind and Wuthering tour

I probably bought Seconds Out in 1979 aged twelve or thirteen, having discovered the band via And Then There Were Three. As luck would have it, my local library stocked Armando Gallo’s lavishly illustrated book, I Know What I Like, so I soon had a good sense of how Seconds Out fitted into the Genesis story. Recorded in Paris in June 1977 towards the end of six months on the road promoting the Wind and Wuthering album, it captures ‘old’ Genesis and features almost the very last performances of the four-plus-one line-up: Steve Hackett’s absence from mixing-desk duties over the summer effectively signalled his departure from the band. If memory serves, Gallo refers in his book to this being his favourite tour, the band, he says, performing almost flawlessly night after night.

The original October 1977 release featured twelve tracks spread across four sides of vinyl:

Side 1: Squonk / Carpet Crawlers / Robbery, Assault and Battery / Afterglow
Side 2: Firth of Fifth / I Know What I Like / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / The Musical Box (excerpt)
Side 3: Supper’s Ready
Side 4: The Cinema Show / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos

With Peter Gabriel’s departure in 1975, the harshness and aggression noticeable in their earlier material — the likes of The Return of the Giant Hogweed — has given way to a softer and more polished sound. In part, this comes from Phil Collins – his vocal more soothing and melodic than Peter’s husky voice. Tony Banks, meanwhile, is the dominant musical presence, his lush keyboard sound leading the way in song after song and smoothing away the rough edges of the original recordings. With Steve Hackett’s guitar often an elusive, spectral presence floating free in the air, it falls to Mike Rutherford’s bass to provide counterpoint to Tony, such as during the exquisite keyboard solo starting at roughly 2:25 of Robbery, Assault and Battery.

I found this list when I was going through some old papers. It’s called ‘Top 50 Albums’ and dated 14 August 1983. I’m more than a little surprised that I put Simon and Garfunkel at number one; I think I’d just bought the album and was blown away with it. However, pretty much everything listed here would still be in my top 40 (though not necessarily in the same order) and much of it in my top 20.

Carpet Crawlers — an unlikely staple of the live show over the years — builds gently but insistently from its delicate opening. Robbery, Assault and Battery bounces with cockney swagger, allowing Phil to dust off his boyhood Artful Dodger character. The Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos medley closes the main set in thrilling fashion, as the 747 landing lights and dry ice depicted in the spectacular front-cover photo bathe the stage in ghostly white.

It gets better. Ahead of us lie perhaps the four finest Genesis moments on record.

A Genesis diehard will more than likely argue that Supper’s Ready, which dominates the third quarter of the set, is the band’s signature song – their Stairway to Heaven, their Smoke on the Water. It is epic, ambitious, daring — and on Seconds Out it is magnificent. The delightful sound mix helps, of course, but so does Phil’s front-man masterclass — by turns quirky and playful, soaring and majestic — offering his own interpretation of the song and more than doing justice to Peter’s original vocal.

The finale, As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs, is heady stuff indeed:

The lord of lords
King of kings
Has returned to lead his children home
To take them to the New Jerusalem

Supper’s Ready

Turn it up to 11, sit back and try not to shed a tear or two.

Two songs from arguably their best album — Selling England by the Pound — are a particular joy. The Cinema Show is a patchwork quilt of musical ideas — a succession of miniature keyboard flourishes and dazzling drum fills from the Bruford–Collins combination at the back, building to a show-stopping bass run from Mike at approximately 9:52. Though it is primarily a Tony Banks song, Firth of Fifth is Steve’s moment in the limelight. Often a peripheral presence, here is a chance for guitar to take centre stage.

And then there is Afterglow — an as-good-as-it-gets, goosebumps Genesis moment.

Now I’ve lost everything I give to you my soul
The meaning of all that I believed before escapes me in this world of none
I miss you more

Afterglow

Written in minutes (says Tony) and set lyrically in the immediate aftermath of some cataclysm or other, it builds from a hypnotic guitar riff to a spine-tingling climax, complete with angelic choir1, an effect he uses elsewhere on the album with equally dramatic results.

Ironically, Squonk is, for this fan at least, one of the weaker tracks – ironic in the sense that, for obvious reasons, the set opener is usually exceptionally strong. I Know What I Like, their first hit single, is also a dip of sorts. Performed live, it stretches out over eight minutes and more, a space for Phil’s on-stage antics with a tambourine. It’s an interlude of musical light relief, though the improvised middle section drags somewhat.

Everything I thought I knew about Genesis live in the seventies came from three sources: the Gabriel-era Genesis Live album, Gallo’s book and Seconds Out. Times change. Today the Genesis fan has an abundance of source material – the lengthy interviews making up the official Chapter and Verse book, for example, are a mine of useful detail, anecdote and context.

Armando Gallo had privileged behind-the-scenes access, but we can all now follow in his footsteps and check out the tour at various stops along the way. These reflections are based on seven excellent bootlegs from the Wind and Wuthering tour, all readily available for download completely free of charge: the London Rainbow and Southampton (January), Dallas and San Francisco (March), Sao Paolo (May), Earls Court, London (June) and Zurich (July). Listening to them offers us a far more complete picture of Genesis live in 1977 than the one presented by Seconds Out.

A cover of one of several excellent Genesis bootlegs from 1977. Sadly the Viva Les Bootlegs website is no longer updated, but there are other sites where bootlegs can be downloaded free of charge.

The actual running-order of the live show varied considerably from the Seconds Out track-listing. After some experimentation during the initial British dates (including, it seems, the short-lived inclusion of Lilywhite Lilith and Wot Gorilla), the set list eventually settled down to this:

Squonk / One for the Vine / Robbery, Assault and Battery / Your Own Special Way / Firth of Fifth / Carpet Crawlers / In That Quiet Earth / Afterglow / Eleventh Earl of Mar / Supper’s Ready / Dance on a Volcano / Los Endos / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / The Musical Box (excerpt)

Songs that were played live but don’t appear on Seconds Out are shown struck through

Eleventh Earl of Mar occasionally opened the set, and The Knife was included as an additional encore towards the very end of the tour, featuring on the Earls Court bootleg. All in a Mouse’s Night was played in the first few shows and then dropped relatively quickly for no obvious reason. Your Own Special Way was probably included as the then-current single. On stage, it falls rather flat despite some gorgeous additional piano from Tony. With the release of the Spot the Pigeon EP later in the year, the lesser-known but excellent b-side Inside and Out, another showcase for Steve’s guitar, took its place.

The Cinema Show was recorded on the band’s previous tour, having been dropped from the set by 1977. The reason for its inclusion here is not immediately obvious — a courtesy to Bill Bruford, perhaps (the band’s first fill-in drummer on stage: Chester Thompson took over drumming duties for the Wind and Wuthering tour and features on the rest of the album), or a discreet admission that leaving it out of the set had been an error (it was back for the next tour).

The decision to include The Cinema Show on Seconds Out and to omit several songs from Wind and Wuthering has a significant impact on the overall musical balance of the album. Unlike the live show, it is dominated by Gabriel-era music — in total, something like two-thirds, including the entirety of sides two and three — whereas at Dallas on 19 March, to choose one gig at random, Gabriel-era music comprises less than half the set. Five songs from Wind and Wuthering are performed (it was six in the early shows when All in a Mouse’s Night was played), of which only Afterglow eventually made it onto Seconds Out.

A cutting from the excellent The Genesis Archive fan site

The words ‘supper’s ready’ are spoken by Phil to introduce, well, Supper’s Ready. They are the only words spoken on the album (except for a brief, breathless “merci, Paris” and “merci, bonsoir”). It is all deeply serious. Except, in reality, it wasn’t. Seconds Out omits all the between-song chatter — and there’s a lot of it — and with it much of the humour that was integral to a Genesis show.

Phil is at the centre of it all, naturally. He’s following a tradition started by Peter, filling space to allow time for retuning and assorted tweaking and twiddling. So we miss out on the dodgy exploits of Harry the bank robber and the saucy goings-on of two virgins, Romeo and Juliet, the detail more or less titillating from one night to the next, presumably depending on whether the show was being broadcast live on radio. Mike joins in the fun. Your Own Special Way — about “Myrtle the Mermaid” — is apparently “racing up the Venezualan charts”. The story of Eleventh Earl of Mar, meanwhile, is set in Scotland, “a small country just north of England”. This levity is all perhaps a bit too much for Steve, who politely informs the audience that Firth of Fifth is “a song about a river”.

When the audience heard Phil announce at, say, Southampton Gaumont Theatre on 20 January 1977 that “this next one is from our new record”, did they already have an inkling that what they were hearing was one of a collection of songs that would stand the test of time — songs that are as fresh and exhilarating to hear in 2019 as they were when first released over forty years earlier?

Bootlegs offer us a more rounded picture than official releases — rough edges and raw mixes, mistakes and miscues — and as such they are essential listening for any fan. But Seconds Out provides something more. Beautifully mixed (to this amateur’s ears, at least), it captures a band at the peak of their game, playing many of their finest songs and sounding exquisite throughout. It is a classic album – classic in the sense of ‘the best, the highest quality’, but classic also in its timelessness. It deserves a place on the shortest of shortlists of the greatest live albums of all time.

More about Genesis

1974

Bonsoir. We visit Montreal as part of the Selling England by the Pound tour

1976

London’s Hammersmith Odeon: it’s Phil’s first tour as Genesis front man

1978

And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett

Notes