Tag Archives: selling england by the pound

Selling England Again

This fall The Musical Box is taking their production of the Genesis tour for 1973’s Selling England By The Pound (hereafter SEBTP) to Europe once again. Also a series of these shows are booked in Canada next April 2016, including one night for them to stage the Foxtrot show. I’ve seen The Musical Box many times over the last 5 years, including Foxtrot, SEBTP, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

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The performances are striking in their accuracy, transporting this viewer and those in the audience to a time long ago, when to many listeners, Genesis owned the English progressive rock mantle.  The experience of seeing this band is something better than tribute.  They actually recreate these shows down to the set design, including slides, costumes, and props, and very faithfully perform the live music itself, with the same interpretation the band employed during the shows from the era.

The SEBTP album and tour represent the most uniquely British, pastoral output of the band.  Between the “a cappella” opening of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” to the majestic “Firth of Fifth” and melodic refrains of “The Cinema Show” this is where the band really hit their stride.  The Musical Box capture the live experience deftly, and hearing the work in it’s live format, complete with visuals, and Peter’s stories, explain what all the fuss was way back in those days.  It was even grand to see them wind their way through “The Battle of Epping Forest” usually dismissed by the actual members of Genesis as a bit of a mess.

I talked to one of the founders of The Musical Box and their Artistic Director, Serge Morrissette about these shows and their plans for next year and beyond:

DH: Is there anything we should know about the most current version of these shows? Are there new technologies to aid in the production, or other factors?

For this tour, there is no technical advance that comes into play – we still use old equipment – it’s like a moving museum on stage. The only thing that might change is to stage the “black” show. We’ve been doing the “white” show with the white sets behind the musicians and have done the “black” show less often. Back during the original SEBTP tour when Genesis returned to North America for a second leg of the tour the set list was the same, but they changed the sets and the background was totally black. Visually it makes a difference. The black show has some different slides, but it’s not as nice visually overall because the black curtain does not react to the lights. The white fabric reacts to the lights more effectively. I’m sure it was done on purpose in the beginning, because when they put the sets and arranged the lights over it, they realized it was nice. One example where the black show is better is during “Watcher Of The Skies” which is more dark – it’s a dark song and fits perfectly, while in the white show its like you are in the cloud! If we haven’t been to a venue in the past they usually take the white show because it’s the most spectacular visually. But if we are returning and want to make the presentation different, the black show is available, so we offer it to the promoters there.

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In addition to these dates, there are going to be a lot of U.S. shows in February and March. It’s going to be a pretty extensive list of venues, which is surprising. From the beginning we always plan a year in advance. After the last tour of SEBTP/Foxtrot we were wondering if there would be demand for the show again. When the demand is shrinking we select a different tour to present. We thought we would change the shows for 2016 but this U.S. tour will be the biggest we’ve ever done. I don’t understand this phenomenon exactly because it’s the same two concerts again, but for some reason promoters want to buy it so that’s fine with us.

[Ed: in our view these shows are so fantastic and theatrical, many fans will return to see the same concert recreated again and again – just as one might a play or film. Doug saw The Lamb show three times!]

DH: Fans are aware there were occasions where Peter Gabriel was raised from the stage at the end of “Supper’s Ready.” Has Denis done that and how many times did Gabriel actually do it? [Denis Gagne is the lead singer, playing the part of Peter Gabriel]

We have done the flying effect a few times. Genesis did the effect twice, once in London and once in New York City. The thing is, to do that they wanted to do more than one night in the same place because of the installation – it was not a one-night proposition. They had to install the gear, and make sure it was working, and adjust the sets so that the wire can’t be seen. When they did London it was 5 nights – for them at the time the most important series of concerts they had done. They wanted to add something spectacular so they arranged the sets so there was nothing in the middle but a black curtain. You could not see the wire. They continued in New York City, which was also a main venue and something big for the states. It’s about the same for us – we need a stage that can support that effect, so we have done it only as a special event at a larger venue for multiple nights.

DH: I was struck by how effective the simple staging for Foxtrot was – with just a few bits of stagecraft compared to SEBTP.

It’s true. At the beginning Mike Rutherford once told me you put a white curtain on stage with some black lights, and it hides the back line equipment and creates a unique atmosphere… and it’s cheap! It’s surprisingly simple and creates a unique atmosphere.

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DH: You’ve most frequently staged the Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound tours. Would you go back to Nursery Crime?

The thing about Nursery Crime is back then the show was only 45 minutes long because Genesis was typically the opening act, or featured with other bands. We would have to do a short show, or combine say Trespass and Nursery Crime so you would have songs repeated. It’s not a matter of interest but more the constraint we have on doing a complete show.

DH: Any plans to present The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway again? Did your license to do these shows expire?

We don’t have plans to do it again. We have done it a few times. On the first attempt it took two years to get the rights. It had never been done before. There are some “grand” rights – it’s a type of legal contract – developed to protect musicals, operas, things like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, etc. When you have a concept like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or Genesis’ The Lamb, it’s a story with music, and characters, and things like that. The Lamb is protected by these grand rights. You need a license for the music, which is easy, but also for the story, which is extremely difficult. You have to make agreements with multiple parties as to the value of the music, and story. After that agreement, you have the lawyers draw up a contract, etc. Subsequent tours took about a year to arrange this paperwork, mainly to adjust the terms. It has never been a matter of not allowing us to do it, just about the terms of the contract, which covers two years at a time. We might do it again but we have no plans just now.

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DH: What was your involvement in using the repaired slide show for the Genesis Lamb DVD? [Ed: The Musical Box invested significant effort to re-sequence the slides for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tours, and Serge actually did the work to prepare these for the official Genesis Box Set which contains a DVD of The Lamb in 5.1 surround sound, with the slide show visuals during playback. It’s fantastic and worth the price of the whole set.]

I spent an afternoon with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks at the farm looking at the slide show. It was in 2008 and at that time we were doing the slide show exactly as David Lawrence [original projectionist for the Lamb tour in 1975] had shown us based on his memory and also as we could see in bits of amateur film. Part way into it Tony said “let’s stop. You are replicating what we did, but it’s not what we want. We want the dissolves to come at the right time with the image” and I knew exactly what he meant. Sometimes the guys did not get the slide show right. So Tony said some sequences were wrong and I agreed to change it. I made the adjustments, and sent those back, and they agreed or gave me changes. So that was really fun – to listen to the Lamb with Mike and Tony – Mike said it had been 15 years since he heard the album. Tony had been doing the remixes, so he was more recently familiar. It was an incredible experience.

Genesis_SOutDH: The Musical Box has gone forward in time to do the Trick of the Tail tour. Have you discussed doing the Wind & Wuthering concert from 1977?

The main problem with Wind & Wuthering is being able to keep to our main objective, which is the exact recreation of the show. Trick of the Tail was pretty easy because it was basically the Lamb show with a few adjustments in terms of size, while Wind was really an arena size show – designed for a much bigger stage. It’s the main limitation; a stage like that would not fit in smaller venues, 1,000 seat theaters, and I’m not sure there would be demand to fill arenas, even though it would be fun to do it. They stopped doing slides and film for Wind because at the time they would have needed more powerful projectors for the larger screens. That’s a problem, as you need more depth, you could burn film, and things like that. That’s when they started to add more laser effects along with other changes.

DH: It was also the last time they had any staging right? There were the flowers that popped up on each side of the stage.

Exactly, after that they did the mirrors for the …And Then There Were Three tour, and after that the custom lighting and that’s another level of effort. Once I was talking to Tony Smith about the evolution of the stage at the time. He said that the reason why they had the moving lights developed is because when they did the show with the mirrors, they needed a lot of spotlight operators – it was a manual lighting effect. At that time they had to use the local union guys in each city. So at the last minute in the afternoon they had to train eight guys on spots to be able to do the show and it was a nightmare for them. So they wondered if there was a way to avoid that – something like a robot to operate the lights. They developed the moving lights after that, which was a major evolution in lighting.

We have the same problem with our tours – about half the venues don’t have a crew, so we can use ours who are trained. The other half we have to use their people – so for example we have one guy at the follow spot, and we teach the operator in the afternoon if that’s required. So for each role we have a double, and the result is not always good when it’s not our crew, though it doesn’t go wrong that often.

DH: What is The Musical Box planning next, after April? How long can you keep this up?

You know, we started back in 1993 just for fun – it was a weekend. Now it’s been 22 years, and we have never thought more than a year in advance, not because of our interest but because we have to gauge the general interest of the audience. We are going to do it as long as we can. We are lucky to have the involvement and support of Genesis. The main advantage of a production like ours is we can change musicians as we recreate the original productions. We never wanted to focus as much on the people as on the productions. Denis is very good, very disciplined and dedicated – it would be difficult to fill that key role if he stopped performing. He keeps in very good shape, and in control of his vocals, so as long as he can do that we don’t have to worry. We don’t have any plans to stop. As long as there are people who want to see it, we will continue.

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DH: Make plans to catch The Musical Box this fall, or early next year. You will be happy to like what you know!

 

Genesis: Seconds Out, First In

Genesis_SOutGenesis released the double live album Seconds Out, their last consecutive album to feature guitarist Steve Hackett, in 1977. Steve left the band near the end of mixing sessions for this album, and ended what for many is the most important period of their history. Amazingly, in those two short years, with Phil Collins doing dual duty on both drums and vocals and Steve bringing in his best work to date, Genesis recorded some of the greatest progressive / classical rock albums of the 1970’s – namely Trick of the Tail and the pastoral, gorgeous masterpiece Wind & Wuthering. These studio albums and the tours to promote them, in 1976 and 1977, along with the live recordings on Seconds Out stand today as some of the band’s finest hours. The Wind & Wuthering tour was also my first opportunity to see Genesis perform live.

 

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genesis_philvocal_bradowenOn that night, nearly 40 years ago, on March 24, 1977, we drove to the Los Angeles Forum to bear witness to these artists. By then I’d seen about a dozen concerts, starting with Cat Stevens, and continuing with Jethro Tull, Yes, Queen and other luminaries of Genesis, but this was the one I’d really been waiting for. I can still recall an overwhelming elation as the lights dimmed and Chester counted the band into the opening number, “Squonk” during which Phil warmed his still childlike voice for a long night. I recall the impressive tambourine dance he performed on I Know What I Like”, the dual drum solo on “Cinema Show”, and the moment he got behind his kit during the complex sweeping midsection of “Robbery, Assault and Battery,” proving to all who listened what a powerful yet nuanced performer he was.

genesis_steve_bradowenNo longer sitting for the shows, Steve stood and commanded attention, stomping and swaying to accentuate his parts, including the haunting majestic solo on “Firth of Fifth,” his opening lead heralding the “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” and the aggressive jam on the brilliant “Unquiet Slumbers” instrumental. While Steve rightly complained of having his compositions squeezed off of these releases, his playing on every track that did make the records is off the charts, his ability to make the guitar drive melody unparalleled. Forget even calling out the technical and artistic brilliance of Tony Banks on keys and Michael Rutherford on guitar and bass – these were a given and their talents were on full display. At the time, these four players, along with Chester Thompson on drums were my number one musical heroes and they delivered the goods. It’s all on the record.

Genesis_TrickGenesis_WindGenesis_SpotAs a document of their ability to deliver impressive performances without Gabriel, the Seconds Out album is as timely and effective live chronicle as any in the progressive rock genre. Mostly complete renditions of their songs, from Foxtrot (1972) through to Wind & The Wuthering (1976), made up the set list culled from the the 1977 tour, with Cinema Show featuring Bill Bruford on drums, from the 1976 tour. Small snippets of one song each from their earliest albums Trespass and Nursery Crime were also mixed within the set. This approach was new to their shows then, and it worked, although longer medleys would become deeply annoying in their later more commercial years as a way to grant only passing reference to their early recordings. Also a few gems from the tours were left out, including a lot of Wind & Wuthering and it’s companion EP Spot the Pigeon, but given the length of their shows these would have yielded a four-album set! All of the recordings from these two tours are sonically amazing, though some may complain about the mix, which subverts a bit of Steve’s work, and leaves the lowest bass notes from Michael Rutherford inaudible. Vocals, drums and keys up front, as was so often the case. Still it yields an enjoyable set and an important offering.

genesis_tony_bradowengenesis_mike_bradowenVisually, the Wind & Wuthering tour itself was simple. While films and projections had been abandoned after the Trick of the Tail show, the subsequent outing honed their live skills, with the focus being on musicianship, and the lights that made it all visible. One of the simple most effective accents was the use of rows of vertical white spotlights with billowing smoke traveling through them, shown on the cover of Seconds Out. And, for the finale of “Super’s Ready” Phil’s ascent to a riser dressed in white to deliver the “Apocalypse in 9/8” segment was unforgettable. There is a decent film covering about half the Trick of the Tail tour, included in the latest re-master of that album, which actually hit theaters at the time. Though short, it is a great document, even if cut in parts with annoying silent films that interrupt the performance footage. It’s also on YouTube here Genesis – In Concert 1976.  For the 1977 Wind & Wuthering tour there is scant film, all of poor quality. Instead, there are some very nice complete audio recordings from this year that augment Seconds Out, which will lend a bit of insight as to this, arguably the better of the two outings.

genesis_phil_bradowenTogether, the albums of this period, Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering, Seconds Out and the Spot the Pigeon EP deserve more respect and attention from critics and those chronicling the history of Genesis than they receive. Much of the press surrounding this band has been grossly unfair, with this period basically ignored given the performance art that preceded it, and commercial appeal that followed it. This was again the case with the recent documentary “Genesis: Together and Apart/Sum of the Parts.” Instead, one could easily argue that the band produced their crowning achievements during this time. This was music and art blended seamlessly together – there is a kind of magic woven through the tracks that fuels the imagination. I know what I like, and I was there, so here’s a recommendation: skip the Genesis R-Kive set and the documentary, and pick up these four albums – along with Steve Hackett’s first solo album Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) – now that’s the best way to establish an archive for these master craftsmen.

(photos by Brad Owen at The Atomic Co)

Selling England by the Note

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATribute band The Musical Box brought their wares to the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco February 21, and 22 2014.  The first night they recreated the 1973 Genesis tour that supported Selling England by the Pound (SEBTP).  On the second night they performed the 1972 tour for the prior Genesis release, Foxtrot.

The performances were striking in their accuracy, and transported this viewer and those in the audience to a time long ago when to many of us, Genesis owned the English progressive rock mantle.  The experience of seeing this band is something better than tribute.  They actually recreate these shows down to the set design, including slides, costumes, and props, and very faithfully perform the live music itself, with the same interpretation the band employed during the shows from the era.

Having thus far only seen The Musical Box perform the 1974 masterwork The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, it was a rare treat to see these two prior tours.  For me personally, the SEBTP album and tour represent the best, most realized work in their early days.  Between the touching opening of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” to the majestic “Firth of Fifth” and melodic refrains of “The Cinema Show” this is where the band really hit it’s stride.  The Musical Box capture the live experience deftly, and hearing the work in it’s live format, complete with visuals, and Peter’s stories, explain what all the fuss was way back in those days.  It was even grand to see them wind their way through “The Battle of Epping Forest” usually dismissed by the actual members of Genesis as a bit of a mess.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the second night, the band recreated the Foxtrot tour.  What was remarkable about this was how effective the simple white curtain was compared to later more complex backdrops.  Without projections, and with lots of black lights and some fog, the opener “Watcher of the Skies” was able to be appreciated even more than on later renditions.  The rather minimalist stage and use of fewer costume changes actually focuses the audience more on the music, making me for one appreciate “The Return of the Giant Hogweed,” “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” and “The Fountain or Salmacis” more than any time in the past.

Notably, both shows included the classic prog masterpiece “Supper’s Ready” and encore “The Knife” which were highlights of both nights.  This is a highly recommended experience for any fan of early Genesis or of progressive rock in general.  Catch it before they are gone!