BBC Sessions – 9 January, 2 March and 25 September, 1972
Studio T1, Transcription Service, Kensington House, Shepherd’s Bush, London, UK – 9 January 1972: BBC Intro (Part 1), The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, Harold The Barrel, The Fountain Of Salmacis, BBC Intro (Part 2), Harlequin, Harold The Barrel (Mix 2), BBC Outro; BBC Paris Studios, London, UK – 2 March, 1972: The Fountain Of Salmacis, The Musical Box, The Return Of the Giant Hogweed; BBC Studio T1, London, UK – 25 September, 1972: Twilight Alehouse.
With this release Godfather presents a selection of studio and live tracks culled from BBC sessions recorded during the era of Nursery Cryme and the indisputable classic, Foxtrot. The majority of songs here have appeared before on session compilations or as bonus tracks, though the advent of digital broadcasting has allowed Godfather to issue them again in excellent sound quality, thanks to the endeavours of BBC Radio 6.
Of the tracks from the session of January 9, Harold The Barrel and The Return Of The Giant Hogweed found their way on to the LP releases All Together! (Arc) and The Rarest Vol. 3 (Stemka) respectively. They can also be heard together on the CD BBC Sessions 1970-1972 (The Home(r) Entertainment Network).
The Live Tracks from the Paris Studios on 2 March appear on the Highland CD Live Rarities 1970-1973.
Twilight Alehouse, from the 25 September session, has appeared on numerous LP and CD releases, sometimes alone but more frequently in company with one or both of the other tracks from the session. On its own it appears on Genesis In Concert (Music Of Distinction, LP) and Twilight Alehouse (Flashback Records, CD); in company with Watcher Of The Skies it features on The Shepherd (Flashback Records, LP) and The Unreleased Live Collection (Never End, LP); with Get ‘Em Out By Friday it can be found on The Rarest Vol. 1 (Stemka, LP), Live In Montreal (The Swinging Pig, LP), Magnum (Lobster Records, CD) and Live In Montreal (The Swinging Pig, CD); with both other songs it appears on Some Old, Some New (no label, LP), The Unreleased Live Collection (Never End, CD), The Shepherd (Flashback Records, CD), From One Fan To All Others (Stonehenge, CD) and BBC Sessions 1970-1972 (Home(r) Entertainment Network, CD).
There have also been numerous CD-R releases, the most notable of which is The Almost Complete BBC Sessions, so named because it lacks Dusk (not broadcast and presumed lost) from the earlier session of 22 February 1970 and The Fountain Of Salmacis from the 9 January session reviewed here. (Since Godfather’s CD release it is now known to additionally lack Mix 2 of Harold The Barrel.)
The session of 9 January, which opens Godfather’s CD, was recorded for Sounds Of The 70s, hosted by John Peel. The producer was John Muir and the engineer John Walters. The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, Harold The Barrel and The Fountain Of Salmacis were broadcast on 28 January, whereas Harlequin had to wait until 17 March for an airing. The BBC, in collaboration with Virgin, had planned to officially release a complete BBC sessions CD set, but this was vetoed by Tony Banks. David Dunnington, author of the wonderfully informative The Complete Guide To Genesis Radio Shows from the website Genesis – The Movement, seems to imply that the sound quality of this session played a part in that decision, stating that, “the reported low fidelity of this material on the aborted Virgin release suggests the BBC no longer have their original master but instead intended to release a version of the tape copy available in trading circles.” Paul Russell, in his vastly informative book, Genesis: A Live Guide 1969 To 1975, published in 2004, refers to the later Paris Studios performance as having more “clout” and “a much fuller sound” than previous sessions such as this one, though he blames the “BBC sound system” rather than the quality of the tape.
The sound quality of the Godfather version is superb, however, and the sleeve notes explain this by claiming that, “in 1995, a box just marked ‘Genesis’ containing the original master was unexpectedly found on a shelf at the Transcription Service archive.” While Godfather’s claim is entirely plausible (after all, the tape has clearly been recovered, and the carelessness shown in mislaying it is not untypical of the BBC), I would be inclined to question the date. The obviously erudite and well-informed Dunnington, who created and updated his Guide between 1996 and 2004, makes no mention of the tape’s rediscovery. Moreover, he states that the aborted Virgin release, which utilized the inferior tape, dates from around the time of the release of the Archive 1967-1975 boxed set, which was released in 1998. Consequently, the rediscovery of the original tape must be later than 1998 and probably after 2004.
Overall, the songs played during the 9 January session are not substantially different from the album versions. This is unsurprising as Nursery Cryme had only been released in November 1971. The session begins with The Return Of The Giant Hogweed. The performance is a little more driven than the original (though less so than some later live versions), and it consequently shaves the best part of half a minute off the timing of the album version. Gabriel’s vocals are rather more upfront and all the instruments also have a little more presence. Hackett makes a fine contribution on guitar and, overall, this is a most effective performance. The next song is Harold The Barrel. It is the song’s description of Harold on the window ledge (“Forwards, backwards/Swaying side to side”) which provides Godfather with the title for this release. It was rarely played live (though it received a few outings on the Selling England By The Pound Tour), so it is good to have it here. As on the album, Gabriel does a fine job of singing the various character parts. The first instance of the twice-sung line “We can help you” from Mr Plod and Plod’s Chorus is for some reason omitted, though otherwise this performance is again similar to the album version. The song features some driving piano by Tony Banks and the muted piano part which ends the song is even more sombre here than on the original.
The Fountain Of Salmacis is not mentioned by Russell either in the track listing or in his account of the session. This is unsurprising, as Dunnington points out that, ”all known recordings are missing The Fountain Of Salmacis” – until now. The song tells the story of the Greek god Hermaphroditos, son of Hermes and Aphrodite, who bathes in the pool inhabited by the naiad Salmakis. (The song refers to them by the more common Latin versions of their names, Hermaphroditus and Salmacis.) Salmakis falls in love with him and prays to the gods to unite them forever and her prayers are answered literally as their bodies are merged to create a being with male and female sexual characteristics, a hermaphrodite. Chris Welch, in his essay on the band’s early years, Batwings Over Watford, which is contained in the substantial booklet accompanying Archive 1967-1975, refers to the song as “an important extended piece where the band plays together like a full orchestra…A miniature masterpiece.” The version presented here is an urgent performance with admirable vocals from Gabriel and superb ensemble playing from the whole band.
Harlequin, described by Russell as ”classic Genesis in miniature,” is given an splendid performance with beautifully shimmering guitar work. The delicate vocals, with Phil Collins well to the fore, are superior to those on the album version. As with Harold The Barrel, Genesis fans can be thankful that this excellent version has been preserved in such fine sound for, as Russell points out, “this is only one of two recorded live outings for this piece.” Closing the Radio 6 broadcast, which was hosted by Chris Hawkins, is “Mix 2″ of Harold The Barrel. It is not substantially different from the previously broadcast version (though it reinstates the missing lines referred to above), but it is good to have it on the CD for the sake of completeness. Unfortunately, Hawkins jumps in prematurely at the end of the song, rather spoiling the mood.
The live Paris Studios performance was broadcast as part of the BBC’s In Concert series. The show was introduced by Andy Dunkley, the producer was Jeff Griffin and the engineer Chris Lycett. The hour-long show also featured Max Merritt And The Meteors, whose set preceded the Genesis performance. Merritt. a soul/r&b artist from New Zealand, who played with his band on the UK pub rock circuit in the 1970s, must have provided quite a contrast to the music of Genesis. The first broadcast was on 11 March and the Genesis section was rebroadcast (minus Peter Gabriel’s brief introduction to The Fountain Of Salmacis) on 20 May 1989 during Alan Freeman’s Saturday/Sunday Rock Show.
Gabriel’s brief introduction also fails to emerge on Godfather’s CD and the Paris Studios performance begins with the decidedly atmospheric opening of The Fountain Of Salmacis itself. It is a very fine and spririted performance, though Gabriel has some trouble with the high notes and his flute playing leaves a little to be desired. Here, of course, the song is played in a genuinely live context, as opposed to the studio sessions where basically live run-throughs could be enhanced by overdubbing or partial retakes. Appreciateve applause from the audience greets the end of the song. As with the studio session performance, Tony Banks is impressive on organ and mellotron. “It’s the first time I’ve heard Genesis with the mellotron live,” says Dunkley, “and I must say it vastly adds to the sound.”
As is well known, Gabriel was a true performer rather than merely a singer. Neil Blackmore and Almo Miles, in the third edition of The Rough Guide To Rock, refer to him taking rock music “into a new level of theatricality…appearing in huge papier-mache masks and clownish make-up, and reciting stories aloud, with theatrical improvisations, between songs.” Referred to by Dunkley as “our court jester,” Gabriel recites a version of the story that often accompanied live performances of The Musical Box, and which appeared, along with the lyrics, on the packaging of the Nursery Cryme album.
This version of the tale begins with Henry being decapitated with a croquet mallet by his sister Henrietta. Later, in Henry’s room, Henrietta discovers a musical box which plays the tune of Old King Cole. As it begins, “a strange and somewhat familiar pair of old green knickerbockers were mysteriously lowered from the ceiling,” into which a reincarnated Henry drops. Gabriel then relates how the “randy” Henry “leads a young lady upstairs to the attic ” to show off his very fine water tank,” which prompts numerous guffaws from the audience. The story ends when the nurse, hearing strange noises, “rushed up, picked up the musical box and smashed it into the bearded child, destoying both.” Gabriel then elicits enormous laughter from the audience by claiming that, “in the middle of this number we’ve arranged for a small pair of green satin knickerbockers to be lowered from the BBC Paris Studios, into which, very casually, a naked Eddie Waring will be dropped.” Waring, who, as a television commentator had done much to popularize the sport of rugby league, found wider fame in the UK as an adjudicator and presenter on the television show It’s A Knockout, in which people from different towns and cities competed against each other in a series of silly games. There were editions of the programme in several European countries and there was also an international version. In France, where the domestic version, Interville, continues to be produced, the international edition was known as Jeux Sans Frontieres, and it became the inspiration for Gabriel’s later solo single, Games Without Frontiers. (Waring was not alone in his role as the butt of Gabriel’s humour; two days later, at Watford Technical College, Patrick Moore, presenter of televison astronomy programme The Sky At Night, replaced Waring in the story.)
Welch’s booklet essay refers to The Musical Box as a song which “contains all the elements of Genesis music – team work, interplay and a strong sense of dramatic structure.” The performance here largely mirrors the album version, though Collin’s vocal contribution is again somewhat more prominent. However, the faster, louder sections are superb, with the whole band driving forward relentlessly, clearly displaying the qualities of team work and interplay mentioned by Welch, and the effect is quite breathless, leading to further well-deserved applause from an enthusiastic audience. The performance closes with The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, in another driven performance which again takes half a minute off the timing. “‘Hogweed’ marches in, ” writes Russell, “with a good bass-filled sound to end this short, but very sweet, session.”
The session of 25 September was broadcast on John Peel’s Top Gear show. According to Dunnington, it was broadcast on 9 November and rebroadcast at least twice. However, Russell gives the date as 7 November and this is also the date given on the sleeve of the BBC Sessions 1970-1972 CD. Radio 1′s Keeping It Peel section of the BBC’s website comfirms the date as 7 November. The producer was John Walters and the engineer Bob Conduct. Godfather includes only Twilight Alehouse from this session, the rationale being to avoid straying into material from the Foxtrot album, though one hopes that the other two songs will emerge on a future release.
Twilight Alehouse is a very early Genesis song, which had been performed at the band’s first official live performance at Brunel University on 1 November 1969. It never found its way onto LP, but after being recorded during the sessions for Foxtrot, it did emerge as the b-side of I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), the single taken from the album Selling England By The Pound. It also appeared alone on a one-sided flexidisc included with the UK magazine Zig Zag in October 1973 and re-released in 1976 for distribution to the first thousand members of the fan club Genesis Information. More recently, the song has found its way on to the Archive 1967-1975 and Genesis 1970-1975 boxed sets. The performance here is very fine indeed, with the quiet opening (which prominently features Gabriel’s excellent vocals) being most atmospheric. As it alternates between the quieter and louder sections the song, in Dunnington’s words, “exhibits all the hallmarks of a classic Genesis song: imaginative composition, variety of mood and texture, strong and emotional vocal delivery, committed performance. The extent to which Phil’s contributon drives the band is particularly noticeable on the session, and this version of ‘Twilight Alehouse’ showcases his talent.” The song makes a splendid closer to the CD.
This release comes in Godfather’s usual tri-fold packaging and the sleeve design is based on the Nursery Cryme album, the front cover featuring the rear of the LP’s sleeve with a photograph of the band superimposed on it. There is an on-stage photograph of each band member and three further shots of Gabriel, together with some informative sleeve notes. Although the versions of the songs presented here are not radically different from the official releases, the quality of the performances, the professionally-recorded sound and the attractive packaging make this a CD that Genesis afficionados will want to add to their collections.