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.
Thoughts on books written by Phil, Steve and Mike
A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour
And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett