It’s a busy time to be a Genesis fan. Busy, as in having an awful lot to listen to, all descending upon your head at once, and if you’re one of those souls for whom the entire history of the band is of paramount fascination…
…well, I guess we won’t see you for a while.
Sum of the Parts is the DVD/Blu-Ray (Eagle Vision) of the much-heralded two hour BBC documentary, aired at the end of last year, that brought together the classic line-up of the band for… well, for the first time since they last got together. Which probably happens more often than we think, but let’s say since the last major retrospective was released.
This time, they’re marking the release of Arkive, the 3CD anthology reviewed here before the holidays… and, though they probably didn’t notice, the forty-fifth anniversary of From Genesis to Revelation, the scintillating debut that they cut while still at school, which itself was reissued on vinyl last year, as part of Record Store Day’s Black Friday celebrations.
Six former members of the band were present… guitarist Anthony Phillips, who was such an integral element of the line-up across that album and its successor Trespass - and with whom we will be speaking in just a few paragraphs time; fellow founders Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford; and finally the two new boys, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett, joining in time for the group’s third album and… well, you know the story, don’t you.
The reunion itself is a shade underwhelming. The combined forces of Genesis are together on camera for probably twenty minutes tops. The bulk of the interviews were shot individually - maybe for time constraints, but maybe also because Tony Banks spends so much time looking either angry, disdainful or scornful that they were probably scared to remain in the same room with him.
Road crew, management and auxiliary musicians are given their day in the camera’s glare, and add their memories and impressions to the band mmbers’ own. Indeed, they all do such a grand job of things that the smattering of talking heads (a DJ, a journo, the usual suspects) who are also involved seem quite spectacularly irrelevant to the tale. Particularly when it becomes clear that not one of them has any more involvement (or even familiarity) with the band than the average viewer could boast. Outside perspectives are all very well, but this bunch just don’t work.
So far as the mainmen are concerned, the interviews are good; the archive footage is well-chosen and enjoyable. Of course there are gaps in the story and breaks in the narrative… the band’s Calling all Stations swan song, for example, doesn’t merit a mention, while Hackett fans in particular could be excused for feeling their idol’s contributions to the story were seriously underplayed.
But overall, Sum of the Parts is as strong a visual history as we’re ever likely to get, and if it’s whetted your appetite for more, Eagle Vision has also reprised the band’s 1981 tour documentary, Three Sides Live.
Filmed that November as the Genesis machine abacabed its way across North America, it offers up a surprisingly invigorating 83 minutes worth of what had now developed into a Collins-led, Hackett and Gabriel-less synthiprog act. High on fidgety hits-in-waiting, as the sprawling epics of the past were eased out, it does suffer a little from the overall sameness of the group’s latest material… a riotously successful and popular singer he may have been, but Collins basically has one note, one tone, one voice, and he sticks to it throughout.
Love it, and this is a smorgasbord of wonder. Otherwise… well, don’t despair, because there’s some scintillating instrumental passages too, and once the concert itself is over, another 48 minutes awaits of audio. A couple of tracks serve up full length versions of songs that are abridged in the movie; the remainder is fresh meat, and rather jolly it is, too. Particularly pleasing is the return of “Fountain of Salmacis” to the live show, albeit just fleetingly. It reminds us of… ah, but if you’re buying Three Sides Live, you maybe don’t needed to be reminded of such things.
But if you do….
We glanced towards Anthony Phillips’ Harvest of the Heart box set way back when, upon which occasion we said… and I quote… “Anthony Phillips’ five CD Harvest of the Heart (Esoteric) might not reflect the most commercially successful of all the post-Genesis progeny, but it certainly pursues the most eclectic – silent between his departure from the band, followingTrespass in 1970, and The Geese and the Ghost in 1977, Phillips has followed a course that might best be compared to an Anglo John Fahey, and for that reason alone we should cherish his output.”
The box was compiled by Mark Powell of Esoteric Records, itself one of the most glorious of all UK reissue companies, and Phillips’ liner notes mention the possibility of "notable omissions.” Was there, Goldmine asked, anything that he particularly had in mind?
AP: Not really notable omissions to me, but others do have their special tracks and might have felt miffed as to their exclusion ! A ready example would be Mike Rutherford, who always loved the piano piece ‘’Autumnal’’ (In fact still doodles around with it!) and that wasn’t on.
GM: You have maintained a steady stream of well-receive archive collections in the past - do you think these glimpses "behind the scenes" are an important part of an artist's relationship with his audience?
AP: Yes - to the dedicated fans and purists, but these are not flagship albums to new fans who would be baffled by much of it. There has been a big trend for these works which are often of as much historical interest as musical and I was really just following this trend.
GM: Talking of unissued material do any of the more recent unreleased tracks at the end of the box set’s fifth disc offer any clues towards your own next album? What can you tell us about it?
AP: No they don’t ! There are many types of album I would like to do, given a fair wind prevailing ! Something in the vein of the Geese / Slow Dance perhaps, or a more song-y album…we’ll see !
GM: Going back to the beginning, it's common knowledge that your track, ”F Sharp,” formed the basis of Genesis’s "Musical Box,” recorded after you left the band. Do you recall what sort of piece of music you were originally intending it to become?
AP: It originated in the summer of ’69 before Genesis took the plunge on the road, and Mike [Rutherford] & I, not knowing at that time what the future held, were doing our own acoustic-based thing on the side. Lots of 12 string pieces and sweet, lyrical songs….most [of which] have now seen the light of day. That piece was just a very basic 12 string sequence of Mike’s, to which I added an upper part, and then we dived off into that rhythmic bit and then the later sequence with the nice tune. All very inchoate at that stage but great fun.
GM: Looking back on your two Genesis albums, and the third that could probably be compiled from subsequently released demos, out-takes etc, what do you feel was their greatest strengths? (And not necessarily when compared to what the group went onto)
AP: Good Lord, that’s a tough one! A very good singer and great lyricist, an excellent, very innovative keyboard player /ditto bass player… some quite original 12 string bits, a good solid drummer, decent songs and good arrangements. This is more Trespass, of course… From Genesis to Revelation was quite good songs, good lead vocals and some ok playing.
GM: One noticeable omission from the box, I think, is “Take This Heart,” which you recorded for the Charisma label collection Beyond an Empty Dream in 1973, but which has barely been seen or heard since then….
AP: Yes, I’m sorry about this. It didn’t feel right on this one, but I have an idea for a future retrospective where it would. Charisma commissioned an album of modern Hymns in 1973, and I had this piano piece that Mike liked and so we knocked it into shape, co-wrote the lyrics - drawing on our love of the English Hymnal tradition at Charterhouse, and asked the very kind music director there, Bill Llewellyn, to arrange it as I was still a little off the pace in that respect !
It was then performed in the School Chapel (quite bizarre!) by the Charterhouse Choral Society, organ by Robin Wells, and recorded by our old friend, Brian Roberts whose studio we used for the early Anon demos, the first four songs that Genesis did, and on which Jonathan King signed us ! - and finally the demos for From Genesis to Revelation - lost, alas! He never really got adequate thanks and credit for that !!!
GM: What were your own musical preferences around this time... were you listening to/enjoying any of the other prog bands, for example?
AP: Mike and I, post Sgt Pepper (as well as paradoxically very much embracing the blues scene !) began to listen a lot of ‘’underground’’ bands - not really weird stuff but groups like Family, Fairport, Procol Harum and many others like Love and the Moodies. Inspiring stuff ! Traffic were great and of course, a bit later, Crimson whose first album of course really upped the ante in terms of what was possible !!!!
GM: You left Genesis in 1970, and it was nearly seven years before you resurfaced publicly, with The Geese & the Ghost - whose release seems to have been a fairly torturous procedure? (And which is in line for a deluxe edition reissue in just a few more weeks.)
AP: Yes, Punk was coming in and this type of album was being threatened ! It sat on a shelf of over a year before my saviour, Marty Scott, of Jem Records in the US, picked it up…not an easy time but what a relief.
GM: Since then, you’ve maintained a constant, and brilliant stream of releases, a well-selected fraction of which is spread across the box set. If someone who doesn't really know your music was sitting looking at the box, which disc would you suggest they listen to first?
AP: A really tough one - again! If I were pushed, disc one.. or four…
Thanks to Anthony Philips for taking the time to talk with us!