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The history of prog rock

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Last updated:  2016-10-09


In the 1980s, a new breed of rock, dubbed neo-prog, helped to resuscitate a fading and once greatly revered sound.  Though bands of the neo-prog sub-genre initially relied heavily on formulaic musical devices and compositional approaches pioneered by classic bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  They represented a vibrant virulent strain of experimental music that codified progressive rock into a style that successfully incorporated such unlikely musical elements as funk, hard-rock, and even punk.

While 1970s behemoths were tarred as “pretentious and boring” for their self-important indulgence of classical musical flourishes and ornamentation, the ‘80s bands, while less visionary and groundbreaking than their predecessors, tightly picked up on the more immediate hard rock and techno dance vibes of their contemporaries to carve out their own niche in the prog rock universe.  Marillion, originally called Silmarillion, (a reference to the J.R.R. Tolkien novel of the same title), by founding member and drummer Mike Pointer, Marillion emerged from the post-punk music scene in Britain at a time when progressive bands such as Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Genesis had either died an unceremonious death or drastically changed their M.O. to become virtually unrecognisable to long-time fans.

Marillion existed as a bridge between punk and classic progressive rock, even to the point of the band being dubbed ”the new Genesis”.  The band’s lead vocalist, a certain Derek William Dick, (aka Fish), was instrumental in leading the charge.  His towering, raging stage presence complemented the band’s driving tempos and its sometimes rough-around-the-edges sonic assault, which boasted a sensibility that bordered on the new wave.  A lot of music fans hadn’t seen a band perform in the progressive rock musical vein with quite the same intensity.  It was an unusual combination, but it seemed to thrill a small but growing number of fans, (later called “Freaks” after a B – side to a single released in 1985).

Fish bounced around from job to job, band to band, and auditioned for a band in the south of England, but it didn’t work as they thought his voice wasn’t loud enough, (obviously enraging Fish), after which Fish hooked-up with his friend bassist Diz Minnitt and attempted to start a band of their own in Cambridge, this didn’t work either so they both decided to go back to the Scotland Borders.  They planned to buy a cottage and open a recording/rehearsals studio, but neither of these dreams materialised.  Then, whilst reading an advert in a music magazine for bassist/vocalist, both Fish and Diz got the job.  From the outset, the band set high standards for themselves.

Founding member Brian Jelliman was out in favour of keyboardist Mark Kelly, who was set up on the new technology.  Much in the same way Keith Emerson, Patrick Moraz, and Rick Wakeman used Moog, Kelly utilized portable organs and grand pianos, a PPG Wave 2.2, (a polyphonic analog/digital synth that could produce thousands of waveforms and featured sequencing capabilities and sound samples), and a Yamaha DX-7, generally referred to as the first affordable and portable digital synth.  The band evolved over the next couple of years.

A buzz was building around the band with the clown-faced front man.  Marillion’s strong local followings in St. Albans, Bedford, Milton Keynes, their home base was Aylesbury, and even London, (most notably at the Marquee), caught the attention of EMI, which had rejected an early demo made by the band.  EMI tapped David Hitchcock, who had worked with Genesis, Camel, Caravan and Renaissance, to produce the band’s early recordings.  Songs such as “Market Square Heroes”, inspired by Aylesbury Market Square; “Three Boats Down from the Candy” and the seventeen-plus-minute controversial epic “Grendel,” based on the John Gardner book of the same title.  The songs were a mixed bag of pop and Genesis style prog rock, with Fish’s thick Scottish accent neatly tucked away amid hints of Peter Gabriel, Dave Cousin’s and Peter Hammill vocal inflections.

Laugh as some critics did, Marillion continued to gain popularity, playing numerous shows around England and outside the country throughout 1982 and 1983.  Strangely, the band even attracted attention from the heavy metal press and hard rock fans, who identified with the band’s frontal assault.  Marillion’s rise in popularity in terms of the whole New Wave of British Metal happening in the early 1980s.  Suddenly there was a throwback to the Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple sound which was around during the rise of progressive rock in the 1970s.  By now Marillion, having cemented itself firmly in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and being featured regularly in the British heavy metal magazine Kerrang! Suddenly the band had a roughness an edge, even if it was only a perceived musical edge, something that a lot of the earlier prog rock bands lacked.


Mountains come out of the sky, Will Romano, Backbeat Books, 2010

Last updated:  2016-06-29


Jon Anderson and Chris Squire founded Yes in 1968.  The two met at a Soho nightclub in London, called La Chasse, and discovered they shared a mutual love of the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.  They began writing material together, recruiting drummer Bill Bruford, (found through an ad in Melody Maker), guitarist Peter Banks and classically trained organ player Tony Kaye.

Because of Squire’s background in the church choir, he brought his knowledge of harmony to the Yes creative melting pot.  Squire and Banks, the latter a self-taught guitar player and an emotional and musical free-spirit, were both in the hands of the Syn, and Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, (though Banks eventually left the band).  Anderson had previously been in a band called the Warriors, (which also included drummer Ian Wallace).  Hammond organ player Tony Kaye was playing in various bands, mostly notable Johnny Taylor’s Star Combo, and Bruford had, mostly notably, briefly joined Savoy Brown for a few gigs.

The musicians in Yes were all in their mid-twenties.  This was evident in the more mature numbers the band performed and recorded.  It seems the elements that made each member great were synthesized and combined to create a sound that the band would develop for the next five decades – three part harmonies, Anderson’s soaring vocals, Squire’s aggressive bass playing, guitar acrobatics and effective, mood – changing keyboard texturing.

Yes’ eponymous debut hit the shelves in the autumn of 1969 with memorable psychedelic pop rock songs such as “Beyond and Before”, “Harold Lang”, (which sounds as though it could have made an impact on a young band named Genesis), a jazzy seven-minute number cover version of the Byrds’ “I see you”, (one of the best examples of the Band’s harmonies at work that slips into a bit of classical-jazz-rock during the quiet portion of Bank’s extended solo), the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing”, (check the “Day Tripper” guitar riff that Banks slyly slips into the song), “Beyond and Before”, (co-written by Mabel Greer’s Toyshop guitarist Clive Bailey), “Looking Around”, and “Survival.” 

Jon Anderson’s idea to fuse an orchestra with Yes’ psychedelic pop rock sound achieved mixed results on the band’s sophomore record, Time and a Word.  (Deep Purple and the Nice had already utilized orchestras as well.)  Despite the bright spots, and mainly because of the lows, Time and a Word marked the end of the line for Peter Banks.  Though his guitar playing served a complementary function within the band, (his solos oftentime elevated songs), he never completely saw eye to eye with other members.  His sometimes erratic approach, (from the band’s point of view), didn’t always suit a prepared musical program.

Eventually Yes recruited Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe, who was much influenced by Chuck Berry as Chet Atkins, the countrified stratospheric boogie of Jimmy Bryant, (whom some had dubbed the most precise and fastest guitarist on the planet), and pedal steeler Wesley “Speedy” West.  Tomorrow had generated a buzz with their song “My White Bicycle”, something of a British psychedelic anthem.  Howe had also previously played with the Syndicates, the In Crowd, and Bodast, (as well as chief songwriters for the band, Dave Curtiss and Clive Maldoon, of Sepheryn/Ray of Light fame), and had worked as a guitarist for R&B/soul singer P. P. Arnold and with Delaney & Bonnie in 1969.

The impact of these artists is obvious “Cactus Boogie” displays Howe’s countrified soul, and the “Cracked Whip” heard in “Diary of a Man Who Vanished” from the guitarist’s 1979 solo record, The Steve Howe Album, is clearly influenced by Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Cracked Whip” in the song “Mule Train”.  (In Ford’s case, the crack was created by his voice; in Howe’s it was Howe hitting a metal tea tray with a drumstick adding a tape delay, then compressing with Urei 1176 while adding EMT plate reverb.

Yes’ first record with their new guitarist, christened appropriately enough The Yes Album, was a declaration that this was a new band, with a new direction, building on an established sound, which would essentially, give the band a career.  The Yes Album showed Yes in a different, perhaps better, light.  Though Emerson Lake and Palmer were headed for superstardom, (they were already considered a supergroup before they played their first gig), Yes appeared to be gaining ground on them as well as on similar acts, such as Jethro Tull and even their idols King Crimson.

The impact of Howe was felt almost immediately.  In the opening bars of the first track on The Yes Album, “Yours Is No Disgrace”, Howe wrings every ounce of twang and squeezes out a brassy, slightly metallic tone from his rig and his trusty Gibson ES-175.  “Yours Is No Disgrace” marks one of the longest songs to appear on a Yes recording to date – over nine and a half minutes, prominently featuring the Moog synthesizer, most notably in the opening instrumental section where it states the main theme.  The Yes Album was a breakthrough for Yes, reaching number seven in the British charts in April 1971, (it became a top forty hit in America in 1972). 

Yes was constantly in motion.  This fact coupled with a general frustration that Tony Kaye had to be dragged kicking and screaming into using the emerging technology of synthesizers, (though he had used a Moog on The Yes Album), caused the band to dump their organist in favour of a more flamboyant and flashy player, Rick Wakeman of the Strawbs, who had studied at the Royal College of Music and was not only committed to using synthesizers but had begun making a name for himself doing just that.  Yes were synthesizing all sorts of influences, beginning with the opening tune of Fragile, “Roundabout”, inspired by Yes’ travels through the United Kingdom’s countryside.

If Yes were established as five members, of varying degrees of musical knowledge and influences, spotlighting individual talent then Fragile was the clear culmination of Yes’ original mission that was left unfulfilled by The Yes Album.  Not only did each member have his place in the sun within each song, but on Fragile each member had the focus placed squarely on him.  Wakeman performed a multikeyboard interpretation of an excerpt of the third movement of Brahms’ Symphony no. 4 in E Minor for a solo titled “Cans and Brahms”; Bruford supplies a snaky sixteen-bar rhythmic workout, (at thirty-five seconds it almost seems like a cheeky comment on the royalties he’d received from the song), with “Five Percent for Nothing”;  Howe unveils his classical/Spanish acoustic guitar concert piece “Mood for a Day”, Squire performs a ground breaking bass-guitar composition, “The Fish”; and Anderson pieces together a multi-tracked  acoustic and vocal collage called “We Have Heaven”, (which repeats at the end of the record as stray, uncredited audio, much in the same way Sgt Pepper’s and Abbey Road close.)  Fragile was Yes’ breakthrough moment.  In Britain it went to number seven in December 1971 and it entered the Top five in America in 1972.

Completing the package and forging a relationship that would last the better part of the rest of the 1970s, artist Roger Dean was tapped to provide the cover illustration for Fragile.  Dean would go onto illustrate Yes’ subsequent records – Close to the Edge, Yessongs, which proudly displayed the artists work in double tri-fold, multi-panelled splendour; Tales from Topographic Oceans; and Yesterdays as well as quite a few Yes member solo records.  Dean also designed Yes’ iconic logo and, with brother Martyn, Yes’ live stage sets.


Mountains come out of the sky, Will Romano, Backbeat Books, 2010


Last updated:  2016-05-19

Emerson Lake and Palmer

Many fans of progressive rock claim YES were the soul of the genre.  If this is so then Emerson Lake and Palmer were certainly the power, the glory, the spectacle – the so-called first supergroup of prog rock.

As soon as the news hit that Keith Emerson, the keyboardist for Nice; Greg Lake, the bassist/vocalist of King Crimson; and Carl Palmer, the drummer for the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster, had joined forces as ELP, the press had dubbed the band a supergroup – before they’d played a single note.  The band was “supersize” in everything.  ELP were super fast and boasted super-human virtuosity, superegos, and super pedigree.  Perhaps sensing the weight and responsibility of such a mantle being handed to them, Emerson Lake and Palmer performed as though they had something to prove to themselves and the world.

The band’s shows were some of the most bombastic in prog rock history, full of pyrotechnics physical prowess and stage production.  Whether it was Palmer’s blazing, Buddy Rich – inspired drum solos; live cannons being fired onstage; Emerson’s humongous modular synthesizer unit, (a literal wall of sound equipment, augmented by stacks of Leslie cabinets, used to generate ungodly noises), or a rotaing spinning piano.  ELP never let up – or disappointed.

It was Emerson’s work with Nice that fostered the kind of musical climate that allowed ELP to not only survive but thrive.  After attempting to hold down a nine-to-five job, Emerson, a native of Todmodom, Lancashire, England, who’d marvelled at his dad’s musical abilities, gave up the notion of having a normal job, (and life), and followed his heart in becoming a musician.  By the mid-1960s, he had already begun gigging in London.  That’s when Andrew Loog Oldham, the founder of Immediate Records and onetime Rolling Stones manager, became aware of Jackson’s band.  The Nice, then a four-piece, (including Emerson Jackson, drummer Brian Davison, and guitarist Davy O’List), were signed to Immediate and released two songs: “Rondo,” an interpretation of dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, a fusion of jazz and classical world music from 1959’s Time Out, containing references to Leo Janaaek’s Sinfonietta, (later to reappear in “Knife Edge” by ELP) and, possibly Bach’s famous Toccata and Fuge, (which was also played by Jackson and Emerson in the T-Bones); and “America,” the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheilm song from the original musical West Side Story, which was recorded and performed as a protest to the Vietnam War.  Emerson controversially, even burned the American flag onstage at the infamous performance at the Royal Albert Hall in the late 1960s.

The band’s debut, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, followed and was released in 1967, prog rock’s pivotal year.  Though the Nice may have been under the radar, compared to other groundbreaking acts of the day, (including the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, and Procol Harum), that only meant the band required more time to perfect its approach.  But all the ingredients for future progressive rock successes were present in Emerlist: space-age tinkling of the Hammond organ, (“The Flower King of Flies”), Beach Boys influenced vocals sonic experimentation, (e.g. in “Tantalizing Maggie” for which Emerson plucks piano wires; and “Cry of Eugene” which features O’List’s ghostly feedback, approximating the sound of Mellotron strings).

The Nice became known for moving from one genre to another – classical, jazz, and rock with impunity.  The Nice continued to evolve, but there was one drag: Guitarist O’List wasn’t added that much.  In fact the case can be made that he was detracting from the band’s progress.  Ultimately, O’List was asked to leave.  The Nice became an organ trio as much by circumstance as by design, forging ahead much the same way Roger Waters and Floyd did without Syd Barrett.  Simply put, O’List was a deeply troubled young man, and Emerson’s motives for developing the band weren’t sinister.

Some speculation that O’List was angered and even depressed that Emerson was stealing the spotlight.  After all, Emerson was using and abusing his Hammond – rocking it, tipping it over, causing a distorted, metallic wash by disrupting the organ’s reverb chamber, and even stabbing knives – a gift from Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, then a Nice roadie – into the organ to sustain notes as he violated his instrument.  He was a showstopper.

By 1969 the Nice had released an album called, simply, Nice, (titled Everything as Nice as Mother in the U.S.), featuring a live version of “Rondo (69)” a reworked “Azrel Revisted”, a cover of Tim Hardin’s “How Can We Hang On to a Dream”, and an extended version of Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me”.  Within a year, the symphonic Five Bridges appeared featuring the band with the Sinfonia of London on the title track suite – a commissioned piece that marked the Nice’s first major all original epic, ruminating on the five, (now seven), bridges spanning the Tyne in Newcastle, England.  Though no one knew it at the time “Five Bridges Suite” was the bands swan song.  Emerson was beginning to get stir-crazy with the Nice.  He felt he needed new vistas for musical inspiration – things the Nice didn’t seem to be providing him.

Enter King Crimson’s Greg Lake.  Coincidently, King Crimson’s Greg Lake were playing at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West and were supporting the Chambers Brothers, and on the same bill was the Nice with Keith Emerson, and where happening to be staying in the same hotel.  Meeting up at the bar they spoke about their bands imminent break-up and began discussing forming a new band.  Liking the sound of a three-piece band they decided to look for a drummer.  Lake had contacted Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which had just recently broken up, but it didn’t happen, the dream band, a Nice-Crimson-Experience amalgam, didn’t materialize, and instead Robert Stigwood, who had managed Cream and the Bee Gees, called Emerson and Lake, asking if drummer Carl Palmer, of Atomic Rooster and formerly of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, could come down for an audition.

It seems Palmer was primed to work with Emerson, given his experience playing organist Vincent Crane, with whom he’d worked in the Crazy World of Arthur Brown ant Atomic Rooster.

Though ELP had performed live previously, it was the band’s appearance at the Isle of White’s Festiva, dubbed the “British Woodstock”, held before six hundred thousand spectators in late August 1970, that stands as the supergroup’s official unveiling.  It was obvious from the Isle of Wight, (and from ELP’s self-titled debut, which was soon to follow), that this band was not fooling about.  The press were stunned, and fans fans eagerly awaited the band’s first release, which is now a classic of the genre.


Mountains come out of the sky, Will Romano, Backbeat Books, 2010,_Lake_%26_Palmer

Last updated:  2016-05-19

Pink Floyd

George Roger Waters was born in Surrey U.K., but raised in Cambridge by his mother as his father, (Eric Fletcher Waters died in World War II when Roger was just an infant).  Waters left Cambridge in 1962 to pursue a degree in architecture at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic where he met drummer Nick Mason and both joined the band Sigma 6 of which future Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright was already a member.  Guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett, (a childhood friend of Waters), joined the group that would eventually become Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd – a moniker that Barrett had concocted by fusing the names of blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.  Pink Floyd supplied the back-drop to London’s hip underground psychedelic circuit in the latter half of the 1960s.  In 1966 Pink Floyd secured a deal with EMI for five thousand pounds, to the dismay to some in the underground scene who thought the band had “sold out”.  Pink Floyds ground breaking debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn was recorded in 1967 at the Abbey Road studios.  The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was a top ten hit in the British charts, however, even at its release the band were showing signs of busting loose of the constraints of the underground music scene and showing signs of becoming their own band.

“Arnold Lane” and “See Emily Play” were both top twenty hits and top ten hits respectively in the U.K.  However, Pink Floyd were soon to become known as an album-orientated band.  Pink Floyd were straight off the bat, a band that could deliver a catchy hit single had another urgent desire to experiment with the full spectrum of sounds.

Barrett was not political or philosophical, however, he was perceived by many as some sort of leader of an underground movement, but as the leader he was subject to the same kind of vices as everyone else in that scene.  This involved an overindulgence of hallucinogens, which may or may not have been the cause of his mood swings and stubbornness regarding Pink Floyd’s creative direction resulting in the front man walking off stage on the Top of the Pops television program.

Eventually Barrett took time off from Pink Floyd by travelling to Spain, but when he returned he had become more damaged than when he left and eventually he withdrew from the world.  There’s speculation that Barrett was simply ingesting too many drugs to be effective as a performer.  The band decided to phase him out but to continue working with him as a songwriter.

A friend of Barrett, Guitarist David Gilmour was at the ready and joined Pink Floyd as the band’s fifth member for a while, however, this setup was awkward and uncomfortable.  Barrett was not pleased with Gilmour’s presence and Gilmour left the band for a short while.  However, it soon became apparent how valuable and necessary Gilmour was.  Barrett had gone off the deep-end, and Gilmour was the perfect replacement.  In time, Gilmour would evolve and combine the best instincts and aspects of blues-oriented guitarists of the day.  If Barrett was the spacey conceptualist, the Gilmour was the better technician, much more tied to the traditional blues-rock.  Barrett would make one last appearance with Pink Floyd, on the band’s 1968 album “A Saucerful of Secrets”, which contains only one Barrett penned track, “Jugband Blues”.

After Barrett faded away, Pink Floyd began searching for a new course.  The release of “More Ummagumma” and “Atom Heart Mother”, Pink Floyd were no longer chasing psychedelic dreams in an attempt to hang onto Barrett’s music and memory, although they are not Pink Floyd’s best efforts at least they show their determination to redefine itself.

By early 1971, Pink Floyd were quite bored and fed-up with their live sets and constant requests from audiences to play some of their older numbers.  Pink Floyd were disenchanted by their earlier imperfect releases of “Ummagumma” and “Atom “Heart Mother”, however, seemingly out of nowhere came the breakthrough album “Meddle”, you can hear that Barrett is still engrained in the songs “Echoes” and “One of These Days”, but on the whole the album is a lot more simpler and much more powerful Pink Floyd.  Gilmour’s “A Pillow of Winds” and “Fearless” a song about conquering impossible odds which features a football crowd singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.  Meddle helped establish Pink Floyd’s massive appeal, by reaching number three in the U.K. in November 1971 and number seventy in the United States and clearly set the stage for succeeding records.

“The Dark Side of the Moon”, (a title inspired by Barrett, as a description of the predicament and location in which Pink Floyd had left him).  “The Dark Side of the Moon” is an examination of the twentieth-century British Psyche, the everyday stress applied to that psyche, as a decent into madness and an examination of the temporal nature of time and space, sanity versus insanity and the movement toward materialism not spirituality – in modern society.  It’s also a combination of polar opposites, the eternal sun, (representing birth and the boundless potential of youth), and the symbolism of its lunar companion, (representing ageing, dementia and ultimately death).

“The Dark Side of the Moon” took over six months to record and once it was finished even the band knew there was something special about it.  The album changed Pink Floyd forever, staying on the Billboard Chart for fourteen years in the United States and six years in the U.K. and has sold over forty millions copies worldwide. 

Prior to recording “The Dark Side of the Moon” Pink Floyd had embarked on an experimental project called “Household Objects” from which the band restrained themselves from using commercial instruments and instead tinkered around with household devices.  But after weeks of fruitless labour Pink Floyd abandoned the idea when Waters had another brainstorm for a new concept album.  The new album eventually titled “Wish you Were Here”, was as much homage to Barrett as a reflection on the record business, the rock ‘n roll lifestyle, and the general physical and mental exhaustion Pink Floyd had been experiencing.

In an eerie coincidence, while the band were mixing the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, Barrett ambled into studio at Abbey Road, (he hadn’t been invited and at first none of the band members recognised him as he was a rather stout man with a shaved head and eyebrows).

Although Pink Floyd still owed a tremendous amount of debt to Barrett, the band increasingly became a vehicle for Waters’ repressed anger, misanthropy and childhood scars.  This was never more apparent than on the next three albums.  “Animals” written nearly entirely by Waters, probably inspired George Orwell’s Animal Farm, divides the human race into three categories: pigs, being the privileged and ruling classes, dogs, being the rebels, mavericks and hunters and finally the sheep, being the everyday people trying to get through their lives.  By personifying animals, it forces us to see human behaviour and typical human personality traits more objectively.  At its most complex, “Animals” is a descent into the human, typically British psyche.

In many ways, “Animals” was the start of the super-sized Pink Floyd live concerts and from here on in fans of Pink Floyd would come to expect the mind blowing lengths to which the band would go to entertain the crowds in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Waters became increasingly irritated due to the constant touring and promotion of the album “Animals” and then by the audiences themselves.  Roger waters famously spat on a rowdy fan in Montreal.  Waters once again reflected on his life and gleaned a new subject for a concept album.  “The Wall” centred on an ageing, emotionally numb and detached rock star named Floyd who’s fallen prey to his fears, perhaps much like Waters building a barrier between himself and the outside world.  The album journeys through Pink’s haunted psyche, experiencing the trauma and lurid details of his birth, cruel headmasters, the death of Pink’s father, a smothering mother, the icy effects of the cold war, an adulteress wife and the acknowledgment of the pain that Pink has caused to the people around him.  “The Wall went to number one in the United States and number three in the U.K.

 In 1983 Pink Floyd released “The Final Cut”, a semi-symphonic final studio album, once again Waters wrote all the music that explored the same thematic territory as “Wish You Were Here”, “Animals” and “The Wall”.  However, in this instalment Waters takes a cynical aim at the military, organised religion and the very communal fabric of England.  Pink Floyd didn’t tour “The Final Cut” and in 1985 Waters announced he was leaving the band.


Mountains come out of the sky, Will Romano, Backbeat Books, 2010

Last updated:  2016-05-19


The band was born in the 1960s, broke apart in the 1970s and grew to maturity in the 1980s, before finally disbanding in the 1990s, with a small comeback in the 2000s.

The history of Genesis can be traced from their album ‘Genesis to Revelation’ which came out in 1969, (and then, later re-released under the name ‘Genesis – in the beginning’ in 1974).

However, the real story of Genesis goes further back to their school days in the early ‘60s.  In these days the popular music was Kathy Kirby, soul and junk and eventually The Stones and The Beatles.

Our story starts in 1963 when a young fresh-faced Peter Gabriel arrived at Charterhouse School.  Whilst studying at Charterhouse he met another new pupil, Tony Banks.  This friendship was consolidated by their mutual interest of Otis Reading and James Brown.  Gabriel’s interests were far from academic and didn’t live up to the expectations of Charterhouse. 

Anthony Philips came to Charterhouse in 1965 and was more outgoing than Gabriel or Banks and soon formed the group known as The Anon, along with three friends, Rob Tyrell on drums, Riverz Job on bass and Richard MacPhail on vocals with their influences heavily based around The Stones and The Beatles.


The band soon became a five piece when Mike Rutherford on rhythm guitar, although, after a short while, MacPhail left The Anon, leaving Rutherford to replace him on lead vocals.  However, The Anon were not the only group at Charterhouse at the time.  This group was called The Garden Wall, led by Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks.  On stage Peter Gabriel was transformed into quite a different person.  Not content with just strumming guitars, he wanted to get people’s attention.  The Garden wall intended to do things a little more theatrically than The Anon.

Sometimes Peter Gabriel would wear a kaftan and a top hat and on one occasion he showered his audience with rose petals, (pre-dating The Smiths).  Riverz’s friendship with the members of The Garden Wall would allow him to occasionally defect over to The Garden Wall to play bass.  Finally, in 1966, The Anon disbanded and merged with The Garden Wall.  The core of the new band would be made up of, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Anthony Philips and Peter Gabriel.

This new line-up improvised a recording studio and wrote a few songs to make a demo’ tape featuring the songs, That’s me, Listen on five, Don’t wash your back, Try a little sadness and She’s so Beautiful.  The band members were still lacking in confidence and instead of confronting a music producer, the band simply left their demo’ tape in a producers’ car.

The very same summer the band, now calling themselves Genesis recorded their first album at the Regent Sound Studio in London.  The band could not afford expensive electric instruments at the time so they decided to record using only cheap acoustic instruments.  The result was the album ‘From Genesis to Revelation.  They released two songs from this album, The Silent Sun, released on 22nd February, 1968 and A Winter’s Tale, released on 10th May, 1969. 

Genesis were finally signed up to a five year recording contract, although this was quickly reduced to only a one year recording contract upon the behest of their parents who were not happy about the prospect of their sons being led away from the safe world of a life in business.  However, this disproval did not blunt Genesis’ enthusiasm.

Genesis continued to write and perform original music.  Throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s Genesis continued to rehearse and perform, improving their musicianship, and occasionally playing to small ardencies.  In 1970, Genesis finally played at Ronnie Scotts’ club, bringing them to attention of Tony Stratton-Smith, who at the time was in charge of the Charisma Record label and quickly signed them.  At the time Genesis was to be paid just £10.00 per week.

The first album Genesis recorded was Trespass.  Even so this album was not a commercial success it generated a little more interest than their previous album.  It did, however, capture a small group of fans and was the start of a cult status.  Even so, the band were disappointed and for a while it seemed their situation was hopeless.  This was exaggerated by Anthony Philip’s decision to leave Genesis and if that wasn’t bad enough they were soon to be left without a drummer when John Mayhew, who had been working with Genesis for the previous year also left forcing the band to advertise for a new drummer.  A small add in ‘Melody Maker’ said ‘Tony Stratton-Smith requires drummer sensitive to acoustic music and acoustic 12-string guitarist’

Out fifteen thousand hopefuls only one possessed the right blend of power and style that Genesis were looking for.  His name was Phil Collins.  At the time Collins was playing for a band called Flaming Youth, but the band was going nowhere so Collins decided the time was right to get out.  Another add was placed in Melody Maker, this time it was not placed by Genesis but for an out of work guitarist looking for a job.  The add said ‘Guitarist/writer seeks receptive musicians determined to strive beyond existing-stagnant musical forms.’  Peter Gabriel decided to answer this add and audition the man who would become a significant part in the re-shaping of Genesis.  His name was Steve Hackett.

Genesis soon released their third album Nursery Cryme.  Once again this album was not well received in the UK but it was a surprise hit in Italy becoming a top five hit.  With Genesis’ fourth album, Foxtrot finally gave them their very first No. 1 album.  It’s not surprising the country in question was Italy.  But it wasn’t until the release of the single ‘I know what I like (In my wardrobe)’, taken from the album Selling England By the Pound that finally made an impression on the UK charts.  Now Genesis had finally crossed over from being an obscure cult band into being a commercial success.

Unfortunately in the middle of this newfound success, Genesis were being driven apart by internal divisions.  Part of the problem was Peter Gabriel’s domination of the band, particularly his outrages stage shows causing resentment within the band.  Their album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway reflects this division.  Gabriel insisted on writing every track on the album, in the end, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford had to help out due to Gabriel’s inability to complete the album in time.  In 1974 Genesis took The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway on a 102 date tour.  In August 1974 Gabriel announced his decision to leave Genesis.

Genesis without Gabriel was considered inconceivable and with Gabriel gone, the collapse of Genesis was widely rumoured and when Phil Collins began playing with Brand X while Steve Hackett released the solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte, it seemed that the rumours were correct.  However, Genesis were not dead yet, even though they were more of a shell of a band since they had lost their lead singer.  Genesis began auditioning for a lead singer, auditions came and went and one after the other each singer was rejected.  The search for a replacement seemed hopeless.  It was only when Phil Collins decided to sing the track ‘Squonk’ that the band realised they had their replacement in their midst all along.

 The one thing Collins was determined not to do was to imitate Gabriel’s live performances.  Inevitably he thought Genesis needed to undergo a radical musical transformation.  Genesis’ first post Gabriel album was Trick Of The Tail and demonstrated that Genesis still contained much of that oddly distorted surrealist feel but still it was an echo of previous times gone by.  Genesis were now set out on a new musical direction and would encompass a wider audience.

Trick Of The Tail sold more copies in America than any of their previous albums had.  Shortly after their next album The Wind and Wuthering, they set off on a mammoth tour which included three major stadium gigs in Brazil and headlining at Madison Square Gardens in New York.  Their success was not all overseas though, when Genesis returned to the UK they played three dates at London’s Earls Court.  It seemed that global success had finally arrived.  Unfortunately, Steve Hackett, who had been a major force in shaping Genesis’ new found sound decided the time had come to quit the band.  Hackett believed there was too much competition within the band.  Every member wanted to write their own material and believed he was never given the chance to exploit his own ideas with Genesis.  So the only way he believed he could do this was to go off and do them on his own. 

The next album was appropriately titled And Then There Were Three.  Some of their hard-core fans believed this album to be a great disappointment.  The music had become simpler and more conventional.  Some feared that this was nothing more than a downward step on a steep artistic decline that had set in after Gabriel had left.  But these fears were without foundation.  In fact And Then There Were Three proved to be a defining milestone for them, with the single Follow You Follow Me giving them their first UK top ten hit.

By this time their tours were becoming huge, even in comparison to some of today’s biggest rock bands.  They played over 100 concerts over a period of 8 – 10 months.  Taking with them massive stage sets including computer programmed mirrors that could revolve and reflect lights and speakers and backing musicians and soundmen and convoys of lorries to transport them all.  And then, in 1979, Genesis decided that the pressures of success had taken the edge of plain day-to-day living and packed their equipment away and took a well-deserved rest.


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