Genesis at Reading Festival 1971

Reading Festival Line Up 1973

On June 26, 1971, Genesis appeared at Reading Festival for the first time.

Peter Gabriel had broken his ankle

On their first appearance at Reading Festival, Genesis were low on the bill. Other artists that performed at the festival were Lindisfarne, Terry Reid, Renaissance and Sha Na Na. There were the usual problems that a festival and its visitors have to deal with: Rain, mud and an unscheduled police squad. For Genesis, the gig at Reading followed the incident at the Friars Club, where Peter Gabriel had broken his ankle.

On June 19th, Genesis had played at Friars in Aylesbury and during the encore of “The Knife”, Peter Gabriel had jumped into the crowd. Unfortunately, the audience parted when they saw him coming and he hit the floor, breaking his ankle. Following the incident, he played at least one show in a wheelchair at the art college in Lincoln. Tour manager, roadie, sound engineer and friend of the band Richard Macphail remembers Gabriel cavorting in the wheelchair on the stage, which was a traditional theatre stage that sloped forward towards the audience. He thought that Peter was going to fall off the stage and break his neck. Luckily, he did not and the band could play Reading Festival at June 26, 1971.

Reading Festival

The 11th National Jazz and Blues festival took place in Reading for the first time that year. Before, the event had taken place in Richmond, Windsor, Sunbury and Plumpton, but each time, the locals had complained, so the festival had to move on. The festival usually takes place in August, so admittedly it is a bit unclear to the author why the festival took place on 25, 26, and 27 June 1971. The ticket names the location as “Thames-side Arena, Richfield Avenue” and the festival is titled “Reading Festival of folk and progressive music”. The ticket for Saturday, June 26, cost £1.50.

Over the next few years, the festival would become one of the leading British rock festivals. Not only the greatest bands of the age played there, but it was also the birthplace for future superstars. Organizer Harold Pendleton was allowed to stage the festival in Reading, because the local council wanted to celebrate the town’s 1000th anniversary and really believed it to be a jazz and blues festival, which it had originally been in the 1960s.

Genesis performed on Saturday

In 1971, Genesis was not the only act of Charisma Records that played at Reading Festival. The already mentioned Lindisfarne were there as well as Van der Graaf Generator, and Bell & Arc and Audience. Other notable acts from this year were Arthur Brown, Rory Gallagher, Wishbone Ash, Medicine Head, Osibisa, Ian Matthews and Ralph McTell.

Due to their low billing, Genesis played midafternoon on the second day of the festival. Their performance was highlighted as one of the best of the event, and consequentially, they were invited back for the next two festivals.

During the summer of 1971, Genesis started to appear at outdoor rock festivals. Steve Hackett remembers that it used to rain for the first five years they played at festivals in England or Europe, always resulting in a mud bath. At Reading Festival, the power was fluctuating and the band could not get the organ in tune (and that meant that the Mellotron would be even worse to tune). They also tuned their twelve-string guitars in the dressing rooms and by the time they got on stage, they were already out of tune. Tuning a twelve-string guitar in front of an audience was almost impossible.

Not a festival band

Tony Banks thinks that Genesis were never a good festival group. It was difficult to build a dramatic atmosphere in daylight and most of the audiences did not really understand the long song with lots of chord changes. Also, the sound was mostly rubbish. Nevertheless, they builded a live following and got a reputation of being a good live band for festivals, but the best times were when they could play after dark at the end of a day with their own fans in the audience. However, at their first appearance at Reading, they already got some fans waving their Genesis flag during the gig.

Photo: Reading Festival Line Up 1973. Reading-festivaalin vuoden 1973 esiintyjälista Source: Wikimedia Commons, National Jazz, Blues and Rock Festival. / CC-BY-SA-2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0).

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Genesis first gig abroad in Belgium

Genesis played their first gig abroad in La Ferme, Woluwe St. Lambert, Belgium on March 7, 1971. This is the story of their first gig overseas.

“Trespass” had charted in Belgium

In early 1971, the band had not yet been very successful in the UK. But things looked different on the continent: Trespass* had reached number one in Belgium. So the band with their new members Phil Collins on drums and Steve Hackett on guitar went to Belgium to play their first gig overseas.

The band could not afford cabins on the ferry

They crossed the channel on the night ferry and arrived the next morning. They had not slept, as they could not afford bunks and had therefore sat overnight on the boat with Phil throwing up. Getting through the day with beer and sandwiches, they drove straight to the gig and played.

The setlist

The setlist included a mixture of songs from Trespass, live favourites and two new songs. As usual during that time, they started with acoustic material and then built up to the heavier numbers. Luckily for us, a recording of the gig exists so we can listen to almost the whole gig (some bits are missing). It also includes the only available recording of the famous song “The Light”, which features embryonic elements of later songs, notably “Lilywhite Lilith”.

Starting with acoustic numbers, the first song was their newest one. “Happy The Man” (introduced by Peter as a song about a “man who eats his fingernails, probably”) is based on a Mike Rutherford riff and includes a Lindisfarne-like sing-along chorus. It was another attempt by the band to produce a hit single. The song was played a bit slower on that gig and has a very laidback attitude. “Stagnation” from Trespass follows (according to Gabriel a song about people “with bad breath”) and Phil’s drumming adds a swing to it that the studio version misses.

The Light

Several minutes and attempts to introduce the band follow, then they play the rare track “The Light”. The bass intro later became the verse of “Lilywhite Lilith” on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway* with Hackett’s guitar parts also being reused. “The Light” then turns into a prog rock song with a long jam between Banks and Hackett until the nice harmony vocals go back into a part that is familiar from the later “Lilywhite Lilith”. In comparison to other songs of the time, “The Light” seems very unusual for Genesis.

A mixture of songs from Trespass, live favourites and new songs

It is getting a bit quieter when “Twilight Alehouse” begins, a live standard at the time in which Tony dominates on the dramatic organ passage in the end. Peter then introduces the other new song “The Musical Box” in English and French and the version is slightly different to the album version. There is some extra music before the “And the clock” part, which is sung twice. Tony’s solo is longer and Steve’s shorter as he had only been in the band for two months. Even the iconic ending of this classic Gabriel-era tune is sung a bit different by Peter.

The Trespass-classic “The Knife” is introduced in French and the whole band rushes into the song. Tony’s organ leads them, Mike’s bass is the driving force, Steve still seems to have some trouble with the guitar solos, but is shining at the end. Peter’s flute part from the middle is unfortunately missing from the recording. The audience seems to have loved it; they applaud enthusiastically. The live classic “Going Out To Get You” is the encore, described by Peter as “A very old number about passion”. Again, Tony leads the band and Steve seems to be non-existent on the track. It even sounds as if he is not playing with the rest of the band on this last song.

It is interesting to listen back to the recording as it not only consists unreleased songs, but also songs that were still being created lyrically and musically. And of course it features the only known recorded version of the rare track “The Light”.

An important gig in Genesis history

The show was a success and a very important gig in Genesis history. At the end of this trip, they too the ferry back home, completely exhausted with Phil limping home, almost collapsing.

Photo: FOH PA mixing desk and associated gear for Genesis at a concert in the Liverpool Empire, 1970s, precise year unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Rodhullandemu / CC-BY-SA-2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0).

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Live at the Roundhouse 1970

On 11 March 1970, Genesis played one of their biggest gigs of their early career at the Atomic Sunrise Festival at the Roundhouse Club in London. The event featured artists like David Bowie and Hawkwind and was sponsored by Yoko Ono. A few weeks later Genesis signed to the Charisma label.

Genesis in early 1970

At the beginning of 1970, Genesis were writing and rehearsing new music for their second album. Their debut album* had failed to chart and they had quit their contract with producer Jonathan King and the Decca label. The new songs were more adventurous and experimental and far from the pop tunes of their first album. The band consisted of Peter Gabriel (vocals), Tony Banks (keyboards), Ant Phillips (lead guitar), Mike Rutherford (guitar and bass) and John Mayhew (drums).

Genesis opened for David Bowie at the Roundhouse

The band and its members were still very young at the time and far from being famous. So the infamous hippie-festival at the Roundhouse was their biggest gig then. Especially as they were booked to open for David Bowie.

Both Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel were huge fans of David Bowie. Space Oddity* had been released the year before and Bowie was a rock star already. In these days, Bowie and his band appeared on stage in a very theatrical way. Gabriel was impressed and a little later, he used costumes and masks onstage himself. His outfits and theatrical performances leaped Genesis on another level in terms of popularity. Tony Banks on the other hand was a bit disappointed that Bowie and his band put so much focus on the visuals instead of the music. Unbeknownst to them, this gig might have been the beginning of a conflict within Genesis. The conflict grew when Peter Gabriel himself started to dress up and the other band members felt that the stage show distracted from the music more and more.

Yoko Ono sponsored the “Atomic Sunrise Festival” at the Roundhouse

At the festival, the band played songs that would appear on their second album Trespass* later that year. Video snippets exist that show the band performing “Looking For Someone” and “The Knife”. Apparently, “Twilight Alehouse” was also played. Ant Phillips jokingly admits that this footage is the only visual proof that he ever performed with the band.

Althought the gig was a big one for the band, they were not too happy. Peter Gabriel remembers that there were more people onstage than in front of the stage. Ant Phillips was frightened and nervous. His stage fright was one of the reasons he left the group later that year.

Still, Tony Banks and Ant Phillips were both impressed by the professionality behind the scenes. Every gig of the festival was recorded on 8 track equipment and parts of it were filmed. As Yoko Ono sponsored the gig, there might be a chance that the complete film footage still exists in the Apple archive.

A couple of weeks after the gig, Genesis would sign their new contract with Charisma and later in the year release their second album Trespass. Ant Phillips left the same year and a new drummer took over in summer of 1970…but that’s another story.

Title photo: Genesis mixing desk 2 – Revox A77 and associated gear for Genesis at a concert in the Liverpool Empire, 1970s, precise year unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Rodhullandemu / CC-BY-SA-2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0).

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