Everyone’s musical odyssey is unique, influenced by the times, surroundings, possibly parents, siblings, or maybe even peers. However, what we all have in common are those key moments that are pivotal to both the development and direction that our journey will take, a journey that for some of us will last a lifetime and go some way to defining who we are.
For me those early seeds were sown through the love of the radio that sat in the kitchen churning out the hits of the sixties during each mealtime. Food for the body, mind and soul. That love would intensify at the beginning of the seventies when we relocated as a family to West Germany through my father’s work, and I was given my own radio to appease my annoyance at the lack of options on the television. I quickly became an expert with the dial, finding station such as radio Luxembourg, as well as those from the numerous American Army bases supplying sounds from home for the countless servicemen and woman clearly suffering from the same frustrations as myself. Pocket money in those days stretched to just enough to buy my favourite song from the charts each week, purchased from the NAAFI in the local town. Glam rock was in its ascendancy and the sounds of T. Rex, The Sweet, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie filled my head far more than those so called words of wisdom from the classroom.
The start of my teenage years coincided with our return to the UK, just in time for the three day week, power cuts and candles, but at least the risk of the television threatening my love affair with the radio was nullified, my battery powered companion was as reliable as ever. Things were changing though, my new school friends were introducing me to new sounds and acts whose names were stencilled all over the obligatory Adidas sports bag that impersonated the school satchel and occasionally carried the correct school books for the day. Initially pocket money had not kept pace with my increasing demands despite my threat for strike action that seemed so fashionable during these times, so I was reduced to borrowing records from my peers, listening to bands that didn’t release singles, – singles were so not cool – acts like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Yes. This was a whole new world, and I couldn’t get enough.
As 1975 became 1976 the pocket money was increased, quite considerably, though with the caveat that I had to knuckle down at school, important years coming up. Mmm, well at that moment in time the only thing of importance was what my first purchase was going to be. The final decision went right to the wire but with the passing of time I have long forgotten what were the deciding factors that swayed me to Genesis, and their seventh studio album, ‘A Trick Of The Tail’.
Now I appreciate that for many people, Genesis were a somewhat annoying band that had numerous hits in the 80’s fronted by an equally annoying singer who quite simply seemed to be everywhere. However, a decade earlier they were a very different band at the forefront of the new progressive rock scene that was coveted primarily by long haired, spotty teenage boys. The band was originally formed by five Charterhouse pupils that made their name as one of the best live acts of the early seventies fronted by Peter Gabriel, a singer who had a passion for dressing up on stage in the most outlandish costumes, providing much of the inspiration for Spinal Taps hilarious interpretation of this musical period. By the summer of 1975 the bands continued trajectory to the top of the progressive rock pile came to a sudden stop with the shocking news that Gabriel had decided to leave to pursue a solo career. It was assumed by many that his departure meant the end of the band, in fact Chris Welch writing in Melody Maker at the time declared Genesis dead. However the band had other ideas, and fully aware that the gun was truly at their head they reconvened in East Acton and set about writing material that what would become, ‘A Trick Of The Tail’. During this period they continued to audition for a new lead singer with Collins who’d supplied backing vocals on the previous four albums, guiding each prospective candidate through the tracks old and new, but as time passed it was clear that it was he that would best fill the role. Collins was initially reluctant, he was the drummer and considered one of the finest in the country, and as hard as it might be to believe today, he did not want to give up the drum stool for the spotlight.
The ensuing forty-six years have shown that it’s not just nostalgia that entices me back to this album as its reverence has well and truly stood the test of time. Full of songs that would remain part of the bands live cannon for many years. From the opening track, ‘Dance On A Volcano’, the first track the new four piece had written for the album with its musical intro lasting a full minute before Collins’ vocals enter to, ‘Entangled’, with some sublime acoustic guitar playing from Steve Hackett, evoking an old England folk mysticism that emanates through the whole album and must surely have been an inspiration for such bands as The Decemberists. Next up is, ‘Squonk’, the story of a mythical creature and typical of the bands style of the time set against a heavier beat not so dissimilar to Led Zeppelin’s, ‘Kashmir’. The whole album has a fantastic sense of balance and pace, light and shade, mixing uptempo numbers such as ‘Robbery, Assault and Battery’, where Collins does his best Artful Dodger impression, with the ethereal, such as, ‘Ripples’, where its twelve string guitar and piano gently weave a truly magical spell. This may still be ‘progressive rock’, but there is no, ‘pomp’, here, but rather a fragility and intimacy. The albums title track is a Tony Banks song inspired by a William Golding novel, ‘The Inheritors’, with an infectious chorus that should have been a hit single long before they started having hit singles with far less inspired material. The instrumental ‘Los Endos’, suitably brings the album to a close, incorporating sections of the previous tracks into one emotional finale, proudly and defiantly waving the progressive rock flag in the face of the changing times. The faint smell of punk was in the air and soon the whole musical landscape would be turned on its head, never to be the same again and sounding the death knell for many a band with a leaning to the progressive and unable or unwilling to change. As the dying embers of the decade were replaced by a new generation more obsessed with image than sound, video had indeed killed the radio stars. As for myself, my musical journey would take me down many roads, and many a tangent. Firstly jazz and blues before folk, country, and the singer-songwriter path that would deliver me to the gates of what we now call americana, all with key pivotal acts and albums that helped light the way. but it was here with this album that my pilgrimage truly began.
History shows that Genesis were able to adapt better than most through the changing of the musical guard, though not without a price that for many of us original fans was just too high to pay. But that should never detract from this masterpiece, and yes I believe, essential listening for the serious music fan. An album of its time that has truly stood the test of time and dare I suggest, that if were released new today would not be out of place being reviewed in the hallowed pages of this on-line magazine. Maybe that’s a step too far, but before you move away from this page just allow yourself the time to listen to the attached tracks. It might just be the best thing you do today.