‘The scattered pages of a book by the sea
Held by the sand, washed by the waves
A shadow forms cast by a cloud
Skimming by as eyes of the past
But the rising tide absorbs them, effortlessly claiming’.

These lines from ‘Can-Utility and the Coastliners’ sum up Genesis for me: literary, historical and mythical landscapes characterised by bookishness and, in the title, a propensity for punning. The album from which this track is taken, Foxtrot, also features the Peak Prog classic ‘Supper’s Ready’, a twenty-three minute banquet of sumptuous synthesisers and apocalyptic lyrics. I want that song played at my funeral.

On Thursday 7th October 2021 I watched Genesis play The Last Domino at the Glasgow Hydro, within ten days of seeing former band member Steve Hackett at another venue in the city. The last time I had this much Genesis action was in 1980 when I saw Peter Gabriel (28 February), Genesis (28 April) and Steve Hackett (14 June) at the Glasgow Apollo.

Genesis – where did it all begin? It began when my sister heard ‘Carpet Crawlers’ on the John Peel show in early 1975. Hearing that haunting refrain – ‘We’ve got to get in to get out’ – got my sister her into Genesis. I found out later that John Peel didn’t just play ‘Carpet Crawlers’; he also reviewed the single for Sounds on 26 April 1975, describing it as ‘a slow and reflective work, repetitive and yet with a certain intensity’. Peel went on:

‘Despite myself I found that I was being drawn into it, hearing echoes of such diverse folk as Roger Chapman and the Strawbs as I listened. I’m not clear what a carpet crawler is, but “Carpet Crawler” is a most satisfying release – although not one likely to ensnare the Bay City Rollers and Goodies fans who seem to be taking over the country’.

For the record, I took carpet crawlers to be social climbers, the aspiring class who keep the system going:

“There’s only one direction in the faces that I see
It’s upward to the ceiling, where the chamber’s said to be
Like the forest fight for sunlight, that takes root in every tree
They are pulled up by the magnet, believing that they’re free
The carpet crawlers heed their callers
We’ve got to get in to get out
We’ve got to get in to get out”

Whatever the song’s meaning, hearing ‘Carpet Crawlers’ led my sister to buy the next Genesis album, Trick of the Tail, when it came out in February 1976. That’s when I first heard the song ‘Ripples’ and I was hooked straight away:

‘Sail away, away
Ripples never come back
They’ve gone to the other side
Look into the pool
Ripples never come back
Dive to the bottom and go to the top
To see where they have gone
Oh, they’ve gone to the other side’

Genesis became a real obsession from then on. You could say I blind tasted them, since I didn’t know what they looked like. They were faceless to me – just the music and vocals. I started to buy the back catalogue, backtracking all the way back from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) through Genesis Live (1973), Selling England by the Pound (1973), Foxtrot (1972), and Nursery Cryme (1971), all the way to From Genesis to Revelation (1969), where the only song that really stuck in my mind was ‘Am I Very Wrong’. By the time I got to Trespass (1970) I knew I’d been right all along.

For someone used to singles the Genesis album covers were works of art. I found out later that the cover for Selling England by the Pound was an original painting called ‘The Dream’ by Betty Swanwick, an artist in the English mystical tradition whose works included a portrait of Tolkien. She was a perfect fit for Genesis. ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’, the single from the album, is actually a lyrical expression of her painting. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was the first ‘concept album’ I listened to, and that was when I first really began to appreciate the visuals.

The cover was by Hipgnosis, the outfit who designed Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). It was a departure from the mystical-pastoral covers of earlier Genesis albums. With The Lamb I remember being struck by the gatefold sleeve, the black & white photographs, and the sleeve notes telling the story of Rael, Imperial Aerosol Kid. The male model who played Rael on the cover was credited as ‘Omar’. At first I thought he might be a band member, maybe Gabriel himself, since at this point I still hadn’t seen a photo of the group.

The first album I bought as a new release was Wind and Wuthering, in December 1976. I remember the slightly raised surface of the sleeve, the mist-shrouded tree shedding its leaves, and the by-now-familiar Mad Hatter logo of Charisma Records. The inner sleeve had the lyrics laid out lovingly with indented verses and italics. Genesis lyrics always looked like poetry to me, as well as sounding that way. There was a standout song on every album and on Wind and Wuthering it was ‘One For The Vine’, an epic tale of a follower who becomes a leader and then renounces both roles. That song got to me. When it came to Genesis I was a follower. I still know all the words by heart. Poetry in music. I bought a Wind and Wuthering sweatshirt in 1977, same design as the album cover but in different colours, a rich dark blue with that solitary tree now shedding red and brown leaves. When I was counting votes at Kelvin Hall for the General Election in 1979 an elderly gentleman who was invigilating saw my sweatshirt and said his son was a roadie for the band. I remember thinking that would be my dream job.

It wasn’t just the music. The band’s literary muse appealed to me. Wind and Wuthering, for example, drew on the gothic atmosphere of Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights (1847). I loved that book, especially the last lines in the graveyard: “I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” The album included two instrumentals called ‘Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…’ and ‘…In That Quiet Earth’. As a reader, I appreciated those literary allusions. ‘Cinema Show’, the standout song on Selling England By the Pound (1973), riffed on T. S. Eliot’s great modernist poem ‘The Waste Land’. In Genesis my two worlds of reading and music met.

Genesis became the single most important thing in my life in my late teens. It might seem odd that a boy from a notorious Glasgow scheme was drawn to a band full of public schoolboys, but I needed to escape and they were the getaway car. And I wasn’t alone. Our house was always full of music. With five big sisters there was a wide selection of records to choose from, and beyond Radio 1 there was Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg for alternative listening. Outside, in the scheme, punk had never made inroads – nobody seemed to want to dress poorer than they were – but soul, disco, glam rock, reggae and yes, prog rock, were popular forms.

At school I found a small group of like-minded individuals and we’d swap Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Supertramp albums. I bought some of these records too, but Genesis was my first love and in 1977 I joined the official fan club. I made up a folder and started collecting the newsletters and other memorabilia.

By this time, the line-up had changed again. I wasn’t aware of Genesis at the time Peter Gabriel quit the band in the summer of 1975 but I felt sad when Steve Hackett departed in October 1977, just as the live double album Seconds Out was released (1). Hackett seemed a pivotal figure in the band. I loved his short acoustic piece on ‘Horizons’, a beautiful solo guitar instrumental on Foxtrot. When I found out it took him a year to write, and that it was influenced by two great composers, William Byrd and Johann Sebastian Bach, I wasn’t surprised. Another song, ‘Blood on the Rooftops’, from Wind and Wuthering, has a lengthy acoustic prelude. The song is about a father and son and a home life where culture consists of light entertainment on TV:

‘Dark and grey, an English film, the Wednesday Play
We always watch the Queen on Christmas Day
Won’t you stay?’

The programmes namechecked in that song – Batman, Tarzan, Name Your Prize, Be Our Guest, The Streets of San Francisco – are familiar to anyone whose childhood encompassed the 1960s and 1970s. The key theme was that the father wants to escape reality – ‘Let’s skip the news boy, I’ll make some tea’. The point of the song was that the father wanted to be entertained, and needed to switch off from politics. My own father never missed the news and couldn’t switch off from politics. But for me Genesis were an escape, an outlet. Watching tv was never enough – I needed books and records to survive.

The next Genesis album, And Then There Were Three, was released in March 1978, its title alluding to the fact that only three core members remained: Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford. The time had come to see them live before they dwindled further and became a solo act. My sister had friends in London and I’d heard through the Genesis newsletter that they were headlining at Knebworth that summer, Saturday 24th of June. The concert was billed as ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and there was no way I was going to miss it.

The day of the concert the sun shone but it was bitter cold. Luckily the stage gave off a great glow. Devo, Roy Harper, Jefferson Starship, Tom Petty – these were just warm-ups for what would be the experience of a young lifetime. The hours dragged slowly and in the end Genesis came on later than anyone expected. For a lot of people that didn’t matter. They’d come prepared with tents or sleeping bags or late lifts arranged. But we had to catch the last train back to our digs. There was no way we could stay for the whole set. We had to make tracks and that meant missing tracks. We caught ‘Eleventh Earl of Mar’, ‘In the Cage’, ‘Burning Rope’, ‘The Fountain of Salmacis’, ‘Deep in the Motherlode’, and ‘Ripples’. But soon after that it was time for us to sail away. As we crossed the field heading for Stevenage station we could hear the first strains of ‘One for the Vine’ and then the chorus kicked in:

‘Follow me!
I’ll play the game you want me,
Until I find a way back home.’

My Knebworth experience was bittersweet but the fact that the concert was cut short for me only made me want more. I kept playing the albums, kept getting updates from the fan club, kept dreaming of more midsummer nights. The next album, Duke, appeared at the end of March 1980. That was a turnaround year for me. I saw Peter Gabriel at the Apollo on 29 February and caught Steve Hackett there on 14 June. In between, on 28 April 1980, I saw Genesis at the same venue, live and uncut. This time I had no worries about getting home and could stay for the encore. I’d had a letter via the Genesis fan club from a guy who followed them around the country and he asked if he could come up for the Glasgow gigs and kip on my bedroom floor in his sleeping bag. His ticket was for the first night – 27th April – so he was able to rave about them the night before I went. He’d been following them for longer than me, and in a more determined fashion. It amazed me that he could go from venue to venue like that so he knew the set inside out. He told me how Phil Collins had grown as a frontman, how easy he was with the audience. He’d seen them in their heyday with Peter Gabriel in his outlandish outfits so that stuck with me. My own experience was that Phil Collins was less of a showman but he had a great rapport with the audience.

Genesis got me through my late teens, from fifteen to nineteen. I spent a lot of time reading, daydreaming, listening to music on the record player. Outside my window the scheme sounds of sirens and screams were never far away but inside the language was lyrical, and the melodies were mellow. Those were golden years for all things Genesis.

1980 was when it all ended for me. The big prog rock event of that year was Pink Floyd’s monumental double-album The Wall, and by then I was already into The Clash, The Police, The Pretenders, Blondie, The Beat, The Specials, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and so many other bands, and I was out and about, dancing and socialising, not moping in my bedroom. My four-year love affair with genesis ended with Duke. It wasn’t so much a concept album as a breakup album, and it put a stop to my relationship with the band. It was the last album of theirs that I bought. Duke is now known as Phil Collins’s divorce album, and at nineteen I was just too young to appreciate the mature melancholy of it all. I didn’t like the title or the cover art either. Compared to the earlier covers, which were artworks, collectors’ items, the image by French illustrator Lionel Koechlin appeared cartoonish rather than atmospheric or intriguing or arty. The spell had broken for me. Yet listening to it now I can see why the band thought it was the album that best captured the quality of their live act in the studio. Songs like ‘Heathaze’ get to me now in a way they never did back then:

“The trees and I are shaken by the same wind but whereas
The trees will lose their withered leaves
I just can’t seem to let them loose.”

From 1980 onwards I got more and more into The Jam. Their revival of the sounds of the sixties took me back to the music I’d listened to when I was younger, especially The Beatles. The Beatles were also a big influence on Genesis when they started out. I was always aware that music was much more joined up than the artificial boundaries of fandom would acknowledge. I did try to follow Peter Gabriel into the 1980s. ‘Solsbury Hill’ (1977) was a stunning song, but although I bought the solo albums right up until 1986, I remained much more strongly attached to his Genesis years. Same with Steve Hackett. I bought Spectral Mornings in 1979 and loved the title track but for me the story ended there. I bought Tony Banks’s solo album A Curious Feeling in 1979 and original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips’s Wise After the Event (1978). But these were afterglows. The real fire for me was in the Genesis albums of the 1970s, not the ‘prog pop’ that followed.

I heard Gabriel interviewed on the radio in the summer of 1980 after his third solo album came out. Paul Weller played electric guitar on one song, ‘And Through the Wire’, and Gabriel explained that he liked Weller’s open chords. He thought The Jam singer-songwriter had come much further than his punk roots. That confirmed my view that the branches of the family tree of rock were intertwined (2). On that same Gabriel album Kate Bush contributed vocals on two tracks, ‘No Self Control’ and ‘Games Without Frontiers’. She already had a connection with Genesis insofar as her first hit, ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1978), followed in the footsteps of Wind and Wuthering. In fact I had her poster next to the one for Seconds Out on my bedroom wall.

Kate Bush & Genesis on my bedroom wall

Genesis survived my departure, just as they’d carried on without Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett. The depth of talent in the band was clear from the fact that Collins and Gabriel would go on to become two of the most influential solo artists and distinctive male vocalists of the 1980s and 1990s. In Gabriel’s case his pioneering work in terms of sound proved influential for many later artists (3). While I gave up on Genesis my brother Eddy took over the reins from me, starting with Abacab (1981). I remember him playing Invisible Touch (1986) and only half-tuning into it. It didn’t reach in and grab right hold of my heart the way that earlier songs had.

Years passed. My pal Shug, expert on all things musical and literary, introduced me to a BBC mockumentary series about Brian Pern, former lead singer with fictional 1970s prog rock legends Thotch and the frontman who had ‘invented world music’. A good-humoured Peter Gabriel made a guest appearance as himself. Gabriel’s post-Genesis duet with Kate Bush, ‘Don’t Give Up’ (1986), was hilariously parodied. Brian Pern presented prog rock as an overblown dinosaur in need of deflation and by then I could kind of see why. I had always thought of prog rock as music that you listened to rather than danced too, classical-influenced and literary, and album-based rather than aimed at the singles market, but over the years prog rock had become a lazy label, shorthand for something stale, pretentious and past its best, ‘glum rock’ for loners in bedsits land.

Yet the story of progressive rock is as complex and varied as the music. As early as 1968 New York underground music magazine The East Village Other quoted community radio pioneer Larry Yurdin, who favoured free form music, where the DJ rather than the sponsor chose the playlist. For Yurdin: ‘The distinction between progressive rock and Free Form lies in the fact that progressive rock merely substitutes album cuts for singles while remaining in the context of the dry Top Forty format’. The East Village Other passed its own judgment on prog rock a few months later: ‘As progressive rock progresses out of the reach of its listeners, the rock-is-art schmucks try to turn their audiences into boring symphonic turds with tightly crossed legs and a polite handclap. The question of the music’s validity is being raised with an academic smugness that pigeonholes the sound into a dusty textbook’ (4).

I can see the force of these early criticisms. Prog rock’s artiness and its ostensibly uncommercial ethos concealed the fact that it was just another brand looking for an audience, but in the 1970s, I loved listening to the music and didn’t question its motives. For me it was about entering another world through long hours of listening. Since prog rock meant albums, not singles, it was less likely to be encountered on Radio 1, or on Top of the Pops, and more likely to be heard on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Genesis made their first appearance on TOTP with ‘Turn It On Again’ in 1980 from Duke, the beginning of a much more mainstream period and a shift away from prog rock as it had been envisaged in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Despite my gradual estrangement, Genesis still held a place in my heart, and it stung when British music journalists used the word ‘naff’ of Phil Collins. I take the same line on music as I do on culture generally: I hate snobs and sectarians, and most of all I hate people whose knowledge of the history of a particular artform stretches back only as far as the day before yesterday. I was glad so many American hip-hop artists sampled Phil Collins, and gave him the love his outstanding talent deserved. The only thing that’s naff is a cloth-eared or cultish attitude. Even though I hadn’t got into his solo stuff I could see what a talent Collins was as a singer-songwriter and as a drummer. As far as Genesis were concerned my fandom had been dormant, not dead.

It began to revive slowly. A few years ago, I heard that Genesis and Peter Gabriel were special subjects on Mastermind and that made me wonder how I’d have fared on the 1970s stuff. I’d not get many right answers on the later period. Around 2013, I started listening to Genesis again for the first time in years, on Spotify in the kitchen rather than on vinyl in my bedroom. The music sounded as good as ever. Then at the end of 2015 a friend got me tickets to see to see Genesisn’t, a tribute band that played the early stuff, at Òran Mór in Glasgow. It was the end of the year, that limbo time between Boxing Day and Hogmanay. When I walked into the venue with my sister I expected a very small audience because of the time of year and the fact that it was a tribute act, but the venue was absolutely rammed and the music was a revelation. When the band played the whole of ‘Supper’s Ready’, I realised just how much I’d missed the music. Genesisn’t? No, Genesis!

In October 2017 I heard that Bill Bruford was giving a lecture to music students at the University of Glasgow. I was really excited. I knew Bruford was a former drummer with Yes, King Crimson and, most importantly, Genesis. He now had a PhD in Music and gave a great lecture on percussion, examining the relationship between virtuosity and passion, expertise and creativity, discussing levels and types of drumming, using the example of the Australian Pink Floyd. It was fascinating but I had been drawn there as a Genesis fan. I felt like a groupie. I even managed to sneak a photo, the closest I’ve got to an invisible touch of Genesis. I look like I’m photobombing him.

In November 2019 I saw Steve Hackett play Selling England By The Pound at The Playhouse in Edinburgh. In 2020 my brother John bought me Mario Giammetti’s book, Genesis 1967 to 1975: The Peter Gabriel Years. It had interviews with all the original band members and in-depth reflections on all the albums of my favourite period in their history. I devoured it and laughed at some of the Brian Pern-like patter. For example, Tony Banks said of ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ that it ‘probably would have been quite a big hit if it hadn’t had this wardrobe in the title, which no-one could understand’. Gabriel got his own back: ‘I never really loved the chorus; it was one of Tony’s melodies and after a while I got very bored of it’ (5). Band bitching at its best, with former members trading polite percussive blows. Giammetti’s book put me on the trail of other critical material on Genesis and I realised there was a whole seam of scholarship on the band waiting to be explored (6).

My fandom revival continued to pick up pace and I eagerly bought tickets to see Genesis in 2020 for what looked to be their swansong tour, aptly named The Last Domino. Then the pandemic hit, leading to the concert being postponed, not once but twice. Finally, on Thursday 7th of October 2021, for the first time in forty-one years, I got to see the band that had lifted my spirits and kept me sane in my youth. Shug, the prog rock guru, had got me a T-shirt with Peter Gabriel as a flower, a nod to one of his stage costumes for Foxtrot, and I wore that for this last throw of the domino. The line-up was Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Phil’s son Nic on drums, and long-time guitarist Daryl Stuermer, who had been with the band when I saw them at Knebworth in 1978 and at the Glasgow Apollo in 1980. It was a performance worth waiting for. Two and a half hours of pristine prog rock segueing into pulsating prog pop, starting with some songs from Duke, by now a record redeemed in my eyes and ears, some classics from the vintage years of the 1970s, including an instrumental section from ‘Cinema Show’, ‘Afterglow’, a new version of ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’, ‘Follow You Follow Me’, an excerpt from ‘Firth of Fifth’, and ‘I Know What I Like’. I liked the use of deconstructed songs and medleys to give a taster of stuff they didn’t have time to play in full.

What I appreciated most of all though was hearing some of the later stuff that had passed me by. While ‘Mama’, ‘Land of Confusion’, ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’ and ‘I Can’t Dance’ still left me slightly lukewarm, as they had on first hearing, others struck me as beautiful and haunting, including ‘Home by the Sea’, ‘Fading Lights’, ‘That’s All’, ‘No Son of Mine’, and ‘Throwing It All Away’. Even ‘Invisible Touch’ finally got its hands on me. As an encore, the opening lines of ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight’, sounding very timely – ‘Can you tell me where my country lies?’ – gave way to the perfect ending, the song that started it all for me, the single my sister heard John Peel play way back in 1975, ‘The Carpet Crawlers’:

‘There’s only one direction in the faces that I see
It’s upward to the ceiling, where the chamber’s said to be
Like the forest fight for sunlight, that takes root in every tree
They are pulled up by the magnet, believing they’re free’.

Phil Collins took the role of MC and was engaging, relaxed, witty, responsive and generous. His teasing tambourine theatrics on ‘I Know What I Like’ were no match for the percussive dynamism I remembered from 1980 when he was playing throw-and-catch at the Apollo. But, sitting in his chair throughout, infirm but on form, Collins was the maestro. When he playfully tapped the tambourine off his elbow, knee and head I was reminded of Val Kilmer in Tombstone spinning that little whisky jug in front of Johnny Ringo. Collins riffed on the Domino Theory and invited the audience to demonstrate how it worked. We did, with increasing enthusiasm. As the last lines of ‘Carpet Crawlers’ rang out – ‘You’ve got to get in to get out’ – I felt time shift the way it did when I first heard that song, travelling from fifteen to sixty in a few minutes.

I began this blog, which is probably as overblown and self-indulgent as the music it celebrates, with a verse from Foxtrot (1972). I’ll end with one from We Can’t Dance (1991). It was an album I knew nothing about beyond that annoying single, ‘I Can’t Dance’. But when they played ‘Fading Lights’ from that album I heard echoes of ‘Ripples’, and felt a wavelet washing over me:

‘Like the story that we wish was never ending
We know some time we must reach the final page
Still we carry on just pretending
That there’ll always be one more day to go.’

I was fifteen when I first heard Genesis. I followed them, there and back again, from Trespass to Duke. I’m sixty now. ‘Ripples never come back’ runs the refrain. But they do, you know. That’s all.

1. I soon realised that bands can survive breakups just as people do. See Ronnie J. Phillips and Ian C. Strachan, ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Resilience of the Rock Group as an Organizational Form for Creating Music’, Journal of Cultural Economics 40, 1 (2016): 29-74.
2. See Sean Albiez, ‘Know History!: John Lydon, Cultural Capital and the Prog/Punk Dialectic’, Popular Music 22, 3 (2003): 357-374.
3. See Franco Fabbri, ‘“I’d Like my Record to Sound Like This”: Peter Gabriel and Audio Technology’, in Sarah Hill (ed.), Peter Gabriel, from Genesis to Growing Up (London: Routledge, 2010), 173-182.
4. Cited in The East Village Other 3, 34 (26 July 1968), p. 9; Bob Rudnick and Dennis Frawley, ‘Kokaine Karma’, in The East Village Other 3, 45 (11 October 1968), p. 7. See also Jarl A. Ahlkvist, ‘What Makes Rock Music “Prog”? Fan Evaluation and the Struggle to Define Progressive Rock’, Popular Music and Society 34, 5 (2011): 639-660; Chris Anderton, ‘A Many-Headed Beast: Progressive Rock as European Meta-Genre’, Popular Music 29, 3 (2010): 417-435; Edward Macan, ‘The Music’s Not All That Matters, After All: British Progressive Rock as Social Criticism’, in Jonathan C. Friedman (ed.), The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music (New York: Routledge, 2013), 123-141; David Nicholls, ‘Virtual Opera, or Opera between the Ears’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 129, 1 (2004): 100-142; and Jay Keister and Jeremy L. Smith, ‘Musical Ambition, Cultural Accreditation and the Nasty Side of Progressive Rock’, Popular Music 27, 3 (2008): 433-455.
5. Mario Giammetti, Genesis 1967 to 1975: The Peter Gabriel Years, trans. J. M. Octavia Brown (Kingmaker Publishing, 2020), p.178.
6. See for example Sarah Hill, ‘Ending it all: Genesis and Revelation’, Popular Music 32, 2 (2013): 197-221; Kevin Holm-Hudson, Genesis and the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Farnham: Ashgate, 2008); and Julian Wolfreys, ‘“Chewing through your Wimpey Dreams”: Whimsy, Loss, and the “Experience” of the Rural in English Music and Art, 1966-1976’, in Haunted Selves, Haunting Places in English Literature and Culture (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). For a herbicidal battering see Charles R. O’Neill Jr., ‘Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum): Poisonous Invader of the Northeast’, NYSG Invasive Species Factsheet Series 7.1 (2009): 1-4.