Friday, July 6, 2018

In the Beginning - Genesis - 1967

The founding members of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, met at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey. Gabriel and Banks had arrived at the school in September 1963, Rutherford in September 1964 and Phillips in April 1965. All four found the environment of Charterhouse restrictive, as it favored team sports and scholastic activities that each disliked. Banks had been taking piano lessons since he started prep school aged 7, while Rutherford had been playing guitar since he was 7 and Phillips had already played in a band, the Spiders, before arriving at school. The group evolved from earlier school bands, The Anon (Rutherford and Phillips) and The Garden Wall (Banks and Gabriel), and joined forces in April 1967 in order to record a demo tape. That first line-up consisted of Gabriel on vocals, Phillips on guitar, Banks on keyboards, Rutherford on bass and rhythm guitar and Chris Stewart (drums) and was tentatively called The New Anon.

Having recorded a demo containing "Don't Want You Back", "Try A Little Sadness", "She's Beautiful", "That's me", "Listen on Five" and an instrumental, "Patricia," the group wanted to get the songs professionally published and recorded. They would fail to do so until a friend gave Jonathan King the demo who was immediately enthusiastic, later saying "I thought it was fabulous." Under King's advice, the group recorded another demo that led to a recording contract. Charterhouse alumnus Jonathan King had left in 1965 and achieved success in the pop world with "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," the iconic summer hit of 1965 that reached No. 4 on the British charts and No 17 in the U.S.

By late 1967, Chris Stewart left the band due to his parents' unwillingness to allow him to drop out of Charterhouse. Stewart was quickly replaced by percussionist John Silver. The group recorded another session at Regent Sound Studio in Denmark Street, London, where they attempted a number of longer and more complex songs, but King was unhappy with these, and advised that the group stick to straightforward pop (retrospectively horrid advice). In response, Banks and Gabriel wrote "The Silent Sun," a pastiche of the Bee Gees, one of King's favorite bands (with Gabriel oddly impersonating Maurice Gibb). The song was chosen to be their first single and was recorded at Regent in December 1967. The group suggested a number of names, including King's suggestion of Gabriel's Angels and Champagne Meadow from Phillips, before taking King's suggestion of Genesis. The single achieved airplay on BBC Radio One and Radio Caroline, but the record didn't sell. A further single, "A Winter's Tale," a somewhat Monkee-esque tribute, was recorded and released in 1968, but it also failed to chart.

Though the singles didn't sell, King felt the group's songwriting and sound might be better suited to an album. The result, From Genesis to Revelation, was recorded over a ten day period in August 1968 and released in March 1969 on Decca Records. King assembled the tracks as a concept album, which he produced, while Arther Greenslade added its pretentious and overstated string arrangements, oddly mixed quietly in the background. The band were unhappy with the presence of the strings, which they felt swamped the rest of the instruments, despite the understated mix. The album omitted the group's name as Decca noticed there was another group in the U.S. called Genesis, and simply listed the title on a black cover. The album sold a dismal 649 copies and Genesis split with both Decca and King, who continues to hold the rights to the album, reissuing it several times under a variety of names (seven that I count). The band have since given a negative view of the album and have been embarrassed by its re-releases. Although dismissed by the band, From Genesis to Revelation is a statement of who Genesis would become. There are bright spots that point toward Trespass, and even some glimpses of Nursery Cryme, but the LP tended more toward a stoic and static psychedelia, miring itself in the 60s. Still, it was at about this time that Gabriel, becoming more accustomed to performing, began to adopt the costumes and personas that would grace Genesis' best years, from Trespass to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Genesis was indeed something new.