Thursday, May 4, 2017

Genesis Touring The Lamb in 1975 - Gabriel quits

What does a rock singer who has dressed up as a sunflower and a creature with unfeasibly large testicles do for his next trick? If you’re Peter Gabriel, you “walk right out of the machinery” and don’t look back.

The story of Gabriel’s shock departure from Genesis played out during the 1975 Lamb Lies Down On Broadway  tour. Tensions had built up in the band owing to the fact that their singer was undeniably the star of the show and, as a result, got all the credit. Gabriel, with his funny stories and costumes, the English whimsy of his between song flights of fantasy, had gained Genesis recognition in the music press, allowing them to play to bigger audiences.
But that recognition for Gabriel created resentment among the band, who felt their contribution was being overlooked. Keyboard player Tony Banks explained it this way: “After a while the make-up and props became a blessing and a curse. There can be some bad feeling when the lead singer hogs all the attention. It can be quite hard to take for the rest of the group.”

The problem for Genesis was that they were musically ambitious and competitive but they were a publicist's nightmare; t
he most demonstrably un-rockstar like group you could imagine. Guitarist Steve Hackett was still sitting down on stage at this point. The NME's Max Bell joined the group on the European tour. He wrote that, in person Gabriel was shy and stumbled over his words. But on stage: “he strides the boards like Sir Henry Irving, an acting colossus with the audience in the palm of his hand. Ironically, he unwinds only in performance, bolting straight out of that shell.”   

In continental Europe, their box-office success was up there with The Stones and Led Zeppelin. But record sales-wise Genesis were still in the second division.  By this stage in their career, onto their sixth album, a double, replete with expensive cover art by Hipgnosis and a fantasy narrative penned by Gabriel, they might have expected to break out of their cult status and become a mega Prog act like Pink Floyd and Yes. But they remained under appreciated at home and only truly massive in certain parts of Europe. The more this went on, the more their frustration spilled over.  Hackett told Max Bell, “We’ve played to half a million people on this European tour and we’re still bloody making it”.

‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ is the story of a New York street punk named Rael and his fantastic journey of discovery. Gabriel described it as “A series of events that could happen to somebody who doesn’t even know his sub-conscious exists”. Tony Banks had apparently come up with an alternative concept that was closer to the style of their previous albums. The decision to go with Gabriel’s idea was the beginning of the end in many ways. Gabriel said, “I felt Genesis were becoming stuck in a formula and needed to come right down to earth. When the band had accepted the idea of a single story album, we went through the routine of voting on each proposal. This was bullshit on my part, as I had already decided there was only one story I was going to develop.”

Genesis at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, January 1975
In spite of their not having achieved the same degree of success as their prog peers, Genesis had great belief in themselves. They didn’t consider it a risk to play a complete double album of unfamiliar material in their live show. Their confidence was justified because, especially on the west coast of America and in Europe, Genesis already had a loyal following. If you listen to the live version of ‘The Lamb’ recorded at the Shrine Auditorium in LA, there is a strong sense that Genesis were among friends. But it was Gabriel the fans had come to see. 

The story of The Lamb, such as it is, is not that easy to follow. During the live shows, Gabriel would provide the audience with short descriptions of how the story would unfold.  Musically, the Lamb is probably the band’s most diverse work, and Phil Collins is on record as saying it was the most fun to play, because of its complexity.  The record also contains, especially on the first two sides, some great songs. Like most double albums there are indulgent passages but overall, if you can buy into the concept, the record is absorbing and well produced.

Melody Maker said of The Lamb: “For some fans it was a disappointment; more calculating in its surrealism and lacking the stealth and subtlety of earlier works. The music took on greater effect in their live appearances, but the show became more and more difficult to bring off to full effect. Nevertheless they performed the work brilliantly in Paris in March and not quite so well in London a few weeks later.”
The NME's Max Bell on the road with Genesis, March 1975
Max Bell’s NME article from March 1975 offers some insight to the troubled minds of the members of Genesis at this time. In their interview, Gabriel defended Genesis against what he perceived as a prejudice by rock journalists, particularly the NME. He agreed with Bell’s suggestion that the more popular a band becomes, the more likely the press are to pull them down: “I’m surprised to hear anyone from the NME say that because it’s definitely true. The NME is the only place where we didn’t get good reviews last time. It’s obvious to me there is a lot more to music criticism than criticising music. The elevation of rock journalists to superstars proves that.”

Haven’t Genesis always laid themselves open to allegations of pretension, asked Bell. “We’re easy to put down," replied Gabriel. “You can say the characters are far-fetched, the music is over-ornate and that we’re riding on my costume success. There, I’ve done it for you.”

But Bell gave the band credit for delivering a powerful show: “Anyone who still holds the precious opinion that Genesis ain’t a rock band has their head well buried.”  He observed, though, that “the rest of the group have grown increasingly pissed off at Peter getting the lion’s share of the publicity. But while they grumble in private, they’re too reserved to force the issue.” Steve Hackett told Bell: “It annoys me when people think Peter did everything. On the last album he wrote less of the music than us.”
Gabriel as the Slipperman. Phil Collins provides vocal support
This unhappy situation in the band was compounded by the technical problems they encountered putting on The Lamb show. It was an elaborate production with three large projection screens and several costume changes for Gabriel, some of which prevented him from singing clearly. Banks says “Frankly speaking, it was a bit of a disaster. The album wasn’t a big seller and the tour was dogged by equipment problems. We were trying to put on an amazing show on a tiny budget and there were many, many nights when things went wrong.”  Budgets were clearly very tight because although Genesis toured The Lamb in the US, Europe and the UK, not one of the shows was filmed. The only footage that exists is a few very short clips filmed from the audience (see below).

Max Bell concluded his NME piece by suggesting that Genesis will not compromise their art. “For a brief moment Gabriel-as-Rael and Rael-as-Gabriel coalesce into one person speaking with a common voice: “I’ll tell you something. We’re not going to be a band to sit still. We’ll self-destruct before we stop running.”
We now know that much of the behind the scenes unrest stemmed from Gabriel’s desire to pursue projects outside the band. He had been approached by William Friedkin, director of 'The Exorcist' and 'The French Connection', after Friedkin had read the sleeve notes to the Genesis Live  album. The two agreed to try working on some scripts. The band saw this as a lack of commitment from Gabriel and were adamant that if he wanted to go and work with Freidkin, that he should leave the band. Gabriel, for his part, as the only member of the band who was married at that time, also wanted to spend more time with his family. Friedkin didn't want to be the cause of a break-up, so backed away from the idea.
The Melody Maker front page, August 16th 1975

But the damage had been done and the rift in the band never healed. In August 1975, rumours circulated that Gabriel had quit Genesis. The MM ran a front page headline and a few days later it was confirmed. In the following week’s MM Phil Collins said, “We were not stunned by Pete’s departure, because we had known about it for quite a while. We are going to carry on and we’ve been rehearsing for three weeks for the new album. It was Peter’s decision and I can only emphasise that we are carrying on as if nothing happened.”

Years later Collins would admit their initial reaction was to rubbish Gabriel’s contribution to the band. They were stung into action by his leaving and were clearly determined to show the world that Genesis was more than just their singer. 

From Gabriel’s point of view, it must have been chastening to see how, almost immediately, his former bandmates produced a commercially successful album, A Trick of the Tail, and by focusing on the music, showed that there was indeed more to Genesis than funny costumes and weird stories.

For his part, Gabriel took time out before carefully re-emerging with the first of four albums called Peter Gabriel. The music was distinctly different from Genesis; edgier and, especially on albums 3 and 4, more experimental. His only nod to his old band was the lyric for Solsbury Hill (see below) his first solo single in 1977.  And gone were the flamboyant costumes. Playing his first shows in the US with the new band in April 1977, Gabriel wore a grey track suit.

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho' my life was in a rut
Til I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" he said "Grab your things
I've come to take you home."
The live footage that exists of the The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway shows in 1975 
is largely taken from a show in Bern, Switzerland. This clip is of 'Counting Out Time'

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