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genesis of the most curious prog rockers of them all

Back in the day when punk stormed the barriers and liberated us from flares and long hair it became de rigeur for many people to perform a Stalinesque purge of their record collections.

Shiny new records, like the shiny safety pins on certain scenesters' jackets, were to the fore while tried and trusted old comrades were relegated to the back of the wardrobe, if not actually transported to the gulag of the second-hand record store.

In some cases this was well-deserved, hearing even a few bars of an ELP track now makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking, but some acts were rather unfairly demonised by the new order.

The wilder excesses of Prog Rock certainly deserved a good kicking but the likes of Yes had an ambition on albums like Close to the Edge which was admirable (and still works, more to the point) while Genesis were arguably the most curious of the lot.

A quintessentially English and eccentric outfit, they'd formed at the public school Charterhouse as early as 1967 and singed to Jonathan King's label, releasing a poor debut album, From Genesis to Revelation, which was a disaster saleswise.

Things only really got going when the toffs Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford were joined by guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins (right), the latter having been a child actor and experienced drummer.


In the early 70s pretty much all the focus was on Gabriel, an oddball frontman who'd deliver strange monologues to link songs and appear onstage dressed as a flower or wearing a fox's head and matching red ballgown. Through the albums Trespass, Foxtrot (featuring the 24-minute epic song-suite Supper's Ready) and Selling England By the Pound , yielding an unlikely hit single in I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), Genesis were building up a huge following and starting to make ripples in America until everything came to a head with the double-album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Gabriel's weird dystopian vision of a street punk adrift in a strange netherworld.

Tensions in the band grew, Gabriel left in 1975 to forge a great solo career and drummer Collins, who'd sung a few tracks up to now, stepped up to the mic as Genesis became a stadium-filling behemoth.

Tonight, BBC2 screens Genesis : Together and Apart, a documentary about the band which, hopefully, favours more the footage of the bizarre behaviour from the Gabriel days rather than the stadium rock of the Collins era. That's what punk should have obliterated.

> George Byrne