Cit­i­zens Of Hope And Glory

There are ob­ses­sives for ev­ery Ge­n­e­sis al­bum, but Sell­ing Eng­land By The Pound, re­leased in 1973, res­onates deeply across the spec­trum of the group’s ad­mir­ers. To the point where Steve Hackett, who has be­come the de facto cu­ra­tor of Ge­n­e­sis’ cat­a­logue liv

Prog - - Intro - Words: Daryl Easlea

In 1973, Bri­tain was at a cross­roads. The Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment seemed to be los­ing con­trol of the var­i­ous in­dus­trial dis­putes that raged in a union-dom­i­nated work­place; in­fla­tion was spi­ralling due to the in­creas­ing global eco­nomic cri­sis. Value Added Tax (VAT) had been in­tro­duced at the start of April 1973, and the cost of liv­ing seemed to be one of the premium top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion; credit cards were be­com­ing ever more pop­u­lar and na­tional debt was spi­ralling. The United King­dom was also en­gaged in a de­bate about whether they should re­main in the ‘Com­mon Mar­ket’ – the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity – which it had joined on New Year’s Day 1973. There was a feel­ing that the very na­ture of Bri­tish­ness was be­ing eroded. In short, it seemed as if we were all go­ing to hell in a hand­cart. Sound fa­mil­iar?

With all of this be­ing played out across the me­dia, for Ge­n­e­sis writ­ing about be­head­ings dur­ing cro­quet games at once seemed per­haps too friv­o­lous, too es­capist. Tak­ing its ti­tle from a slo­gan in the Labour Party’s man­i­festo, Sell­ing Eng­land By The

Pound, the band’s fifth stu­dio al­bum is in­fused with a whimsy, a Bri­tain at sun­set, as­sess­ing how to move for­ward in shift­ing times. The word ‘pound’ in its ti­tle was key; aside from the ob­vi­ous pun be­tween cur­rency and weight, the pound ster­ling had been one of the hottest po­lit­i­cal top­ics in re­cent his­tory. In the pre­ced­ing decade it had been de­val­ued, dec­i­malised and floated. Harold Wil­son’s phrase, “the pound in your pocket,” said in 1967 when the pound was de­val­ued by 14% to for­eign mar­kets (but still worth the same in the UK) had stuck in pop­u­lar con­scious­ness, and with a col­lec­tive fo­cus on thrift and econ­omy, set against the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the al­bum’s ti­tle had a snappy, con­tem­po­rary feel. “Sell­ing Eng­land was very English,” Steve Hackett says. “It wasn’t bucket and spade English… it was this other sense.”

The story of Sell­ing Eng­land By The Pound be­gins with a paucity of ma­te­rial and de­lay. It’s strange now to think that three months seemed an eter­nity then: but Ge­n­e­sis were blocked. Com­ing off the tri­umphant Fox­trot tour, a pro­posed gig at Wem­b­ley Em­pire Pool in May 1973 had to be nixed be­cause tick­ets couldn’t be printed in time. As the band didn’t have a huge stock of ma­te­rial pre­pared, the stop-gap in-con­cert al­bum Ge­n­e­sis Live was re­leased that July to cap­i­talise on their bur­geon­ing suc­cess. Sold at a bud­get price, it be­came the group’s first UK Top 10 al­bum.

What was to be­come Sell­ing Eng­land By The Pound was re­hearsed in a friend’s home near Chess­ing­ton Zoo, Sur­rey, across early sum­mer 1973.

“We were lit­er­ally in the liv­ing room of a fam­ily house,” Steve Hackett says. “In­evitably, after a few days or so, the neigh­bours started to com­plain. It was so typ­i­cally Ge­n­e­sis. The idea that we didn’t want to work in a re­hearsal room, we wanted to work some­where that’s friendly and had win­dows, con­trary to rock’n’roll think­ing. It adds to the quirk­i­ness of it, I think that’s

why that al­bum has a smile.” This smile was re­in­forced fur­ther by the group’s move to one of their usual – and, again, im­prob­a­ble – haunts, the Una Billings School Of Dance in Lon­don’s Shep­herd’s Bush to con­tinue re­hears­ing. Phil Collins’ mother, who ran the Bar­bara Speke Stage School in Ac­ton, knew Billings, which is how the band ended up there.

“Una Billings was weird enough in it­self,” Hackett says. “You’d be down­stairs with the gob-stop­per ma­chine and the girls danc­ing up­stairs do­ing their first bal­let steps, all go­ing clip­petty clump, clip­petty clump, you’d have this rhythm go­ing on.

It’s com­pletely mad,” Hackett laughs. Collins wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy,

Not Dead Yet: “Where pre­vi­ously we could smell freshly cut grass, we’re now high on the odour of bal­let pumps.” Even though the group were gain­ing traction, they were in debt, and strug­gling. “When you’re a young band, much of liv­ing is at sub­sis­tence level,” says Hackett. “We hope our con­tract is go­ing to be re­newed; we hope there’ll be gigs, we hope peo­ple will like it. It was a very slow process.” How­ever, they now had the seeds of ma­te­rial that would be­come some of the most-loved in their ca­reer.

Sell­ing Eng­land… was recorded in three weeks in Au­gust at Bas­ing Street Stu­dios in West Lon­don. The band asked John Burns to pro­duce, who had worked as en­gi­neer on Fox­trot. Burns was of a sim­i­lar age to them, and had al­ready had con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

“John was great for a young band,” Hackett con­tin­ues. “He was very hands-on. His re­as­sur­ance was key. He was also a gui­tarist and un­der­stood how gui­tars were sup­posed to sound. When I was do­ing Fox­trot I was us­ing a small amp; this time I was us­ing the full rig and giv­ing it some welly. He was very good at cap­tur­ing that – it’s a very thick sound.”

Although os­ten­si­bly an eight-track al­bum, it hinges on five sig­nif­i­cant pieces, and none more so than its opener. Danc­ing With The Moon­lit Knight was orig­i­nally called Dis­ney, and Peter Gabriel wrote the open­ing sec­tion’s melody, while the rest of the band con­trib­uted to its later sec­tions. But the sub­ject mat­ter was the most overt in re­flect­ing this com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of a trou­bled Bri­tain, with Gabriel singing a folk madri­gal as Bri­tan­nia, pos­ing the sim­ple but ef­fec­tive ques­tion at the al­bum’s very out­set: ‘Can you tell me where my coun­try lies?’ Fa­ther Thames has drowned, but the pop­u­la­tion is too pre­oc­cu­pied to no­tice, as they di­gest their Wimpy burg­ers, spend­ing pounds to gain pounds. The Arthurian le­gend is in­voked, and the fi­nal cry of call­ing the ‘Knights of the Green Shield’ to

‘stamp and shout’ is a pun on the long de­funct Green Shield stamp-and-spend re­ward sys­tem. This call for an up­ris­ing to re­assert Bri­tain’s place in the world de­liv­ered for­lornly by Bri­tan­nia is one of Gabriel’s most poignant (and pun-filled) lyrics.

Mu­si­cally, it be­gins gen­tly be­fore head­ing off into bat­tle, show­cas­ing the road-rested con­fi­dence of the play­ers. “It went from Scot­tish plain­song to some­thing El­gar­ian, to some­thing fu­tur­is­tic, touch­ing on fu­sion and other forms that still haven’t been named,” Hackett af­firms. “We weren’t call­ing it pro­gres­sive at the time… we were ex­per­i­ment­ing and let­ting it all hang out.”

An­other rea­son for the al­bum’s en­dur­ing al­lure is that Sell­ing Eng­land… had a snappy num­ber that could act as an ac­ces­si­ble call­ing card to the al­bum’s knot­tier core: I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe). Ge­n­e­sis al­ways knew a good pop tune when they heard it. And I Know What I Like… is a fan­tas­tic pop song. Still un­sure that he could com­pete with the Char­ter­house core of the band, Steve Hackett de­cided to bring in riffs for the al­bum rather than whole songs, as was Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks’ way. “I thought that was the best way to go. I used to play it through a Leslie cab­i­net and Phil would join in. It was a Fox­trot re­ject, but a linch­pin for Sell­ing Eng­land….” Soon the other mem­bers joined in. Gabriel came up with a melody line and a lyric in­spired by what was to be­come the al­bum’s cover paint­ing,

The Dream, by Betty Swanwick.

With its words wit­tily ref­er­enc­ing the Gar­den Wall, Banks and Gabriel’s Char­ter­house band, I Know What I Like… is the tale of ex­ter­nal pres­sure on Ja­cob, a young man (al­legedly Ge­n­e­sis’ roadie Ja­cob Fin­ster) to con­form. With Banks’ ir­re­sistible cho­rus, Rutherford’s elec­tric si­tar and Gabriel’s to-die-for syn­the­siser riff to close, it all scut­tles along with tre­men­dous panache and hu­mour; in fact, it makes a case for the minis­cule sub-genre, glam-prog. Praised by Sounds for con­jur­ing up “amaz­ing vis­ual pos­si­bil­i­ties with its child­like qual­ity of far away im­ages”, it was taken from the al­bum as a sin­gle, it reached the UK Top 40 in 1974. For many out­side the cognoscenti, this was their first in­vi­ta­tion to visit the idio­syn­cratic cot­tage in­dus­try of Ge­n­e­sis.

After the lev­ity comes the grav­ity. One of Banks’ great­est and lofti­est cre­ations, Firth Of Fifth was stitched to­gether from three sep­a­rate pieces of mu­sic left over from Fox­trot, be­com­ing one of the group’s most-loved songs. After Banks’ grand pi­ano in­tro­duc­tion, the power of the band’s ar­rival still sur­prises. It fea­tures Hackett’s sin­gle best guitar solo with the group. Although we re­turn to the world of fan­tasy, the sug­ges­tions of the sands of time be­ing eroded by the river of con­stant change echoes the uncer­tainty of …Moon­lit Knight.

“There was a melody which had orig­i­nated on pi­ano, and seemed to only gain when it was played with other in­stru­ments,” Hackett says. “I re­mem­ber when we were at Una Billings it sound­ing like a record. I was able to im­pro­vise and come back to it – it just seemed to play it­self. Be­cause the song was about the river and the sea, I had this idea of a seag­ull float­ing above the sur­face, glid­ing, hold­ing the note, let­ting it be­come the melody, wait for it, the ten­sion and the re­lease of some­thing that looks like a flight, duck­ing and weav­ing.”

An­other rea­son for Sell­ing…’s ap­peal is that when Ge­n­e­sis fi­nally hit the big time in the 80s, it was the al­bum that newer fans could visit that sounded most like the group they knew, none more so than on More Fool Me, a cu­rio that pointed towards the fu­ture, with Phil Collins tak­ing his se­cond lead vo­cal for Ge­n­e­sis. The two-minute love song closed the first side, and was put on at the sug­ges­tion of pro­ducer Burns, who thought it pro­vided con­trast to the high drama else­where.

The most prob­lem­atic track on the al­bum fol­lows, but in a way it gives it its great­est charm, as it sits alone and fre­quently unloved in the group’s cat­a­logue. The Bat­tle Of Ep­ping For­est was sim­ply one long show­case for Gabriel’s voice and char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, a sort of mod­ern Gil­bert And Sul­li­van op­eretta. And as for sub­ject mat­ter, gang­land war­fare on the fringes of North East Lon­don was an­other res­o­lute de­par­ture from the group’s usual pas­toral me­an­der­ings. This rich and vivid story – al­legedly rooted in truth – seemed meat and drink to Gabriel, who con­structed an­other mu­si­cal com­edy in the style of Get ’Em Out By Fri­day. De­cep­tively long at 11 min­utes, it is akin to a Monty Python sketch set to mu­sic, com­plete with myr­iad voices, gen­er­ous dou­bleen­ten­dres, camp aca­demic stereo­types (‘Harold De­mure, from Art Lit­er­a­ture’, in­deed) and lit­tle room for the in­stru­men­ta­tion to breathe.

Tony Banks, for one, was never a fan. He told Ar­mando Gallo in the late

“In the early days there was a lot of com­edy. Which may have been why John Len­non said that he liked us, the fact that we seemed so pre­pared to make com­plete

ar­se­holes of our­selves!” – Steve Hackett

70s, “Although the vo­cals are very nice, they com­pletely ruin the song be­cause there’s too much hap­pen­ing

– a com­plete bat­tle be­tween the vo­cals and the mu­sic all the way through.”

It also deals obliquely again with the search for a lost Eng­land, cor­rupt rev­erends, an­tique shops, judg­ments based on what a per­son owns as op­posed to who they are, and in­creas­ing com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion, and a dig at the death of the hip­pie dream, with a new ‘pin-up guru’ ev­ery week, turn­ing al­ter­na­tive life­styles into sim­ply an­other com­mod­ity, ‘Love, Peace & Truth In­cor­po­rated.’ It be­came a sta­ple of the Ge­n­e­sis live set for the end of 1973 and into 1974, giv­ing Gabriel the op­por­tu­nity to don stock­ing masks and act out some vi­o­lence. “Ep­ping For­est died a death in Amer­ica,” Hackett adds, rue­fully. “Mainly be­cause they’d never heard of Ep­ping For­est or vic­ars talk­ing like that; it’s very Bri­tish, isn’t it? An elab­o­rate joke but it’s got its mo­ments, too. I think there’s as­pects of the Carry On se­ries, per­haps – it’s full of Sid James meet­ing Ken­neth Con­nor; it’s Eal­ing as much as prog rock.”

After The Or­deal acts as light re­lief. It is amaz­ing that such a pretty four-minute in­stru­men­tal was to prove one of the hot pota­toes of the al­bum. When the al­bum was be­ing se­quenced and edited, Banks and Rutherford did not want it. Hackett did. “I had to threaten to get After The Or­deal on the al­bum, as was so of­ten the case in Ge­n­e­sis,” he ex­plains. In fact, to the point where he was go­ing to leave if his idea wasn’t ac­cepted.

“If they weren’t go­ing to in­clude all of my ideas on it, if it was go­ing to be ex­pur­gated, I was off. I don’t think any­one was ex­pect­ing me to be quite so forth­right at that point. I nailed my colours to the mast.”

The 11-minute long The Cin­ema Show was orig­i­nally in­tended to run as a side­long piece flow­ing in from …Moon­lit Knight. “If we had done that, it would have been an­other Sup­per’s Ready and it might not have sur­vived as well.” Hackett says. “Phil was adamant, and that was what put the ki­bosh on it.”

After a se­ries of sweet verses from Gabriel, with lyrics largely writ­ten by Banks and Rutherford, at six min­utes, the track abruptly shifts gear from its dreamy acous­tic mid-tempo as the band move into a slow-build­ing and soon-to-be free-wheel­ing jazz rock in­stru­men­tal lead­ing to a cli­matic close; recorded with just Banks, Collins and Rutherford, it was later to pro­vide the en­cour­age­ment needed for the group to con­tinue as a trio after Hackett left the group in 1977.

The theme of the state of the UK comes into fo­cus again with Aisle Of Plenty, a short reprise of the orig­i­nal melody of …Moon­lit Knight. The short verse of­fers a se­ries of puns about con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous UK su­per­mar­kets and con­cludes with Gabriel watch­ing ‘the deadly night­shade grow’. Was Eng­land go­ing to be left un­der a car­pet of the al­lur­ing yet poi­sonous plant while ev­ery­one is busy buy­ing stuff? He and Collins call out a se­ries of prices of con­sumer goods on of­fer. This minute and a half drifts by and links the al­bum back to where it be­gan, the cash-strapped UK econ­omy of ’73. This lyri­cal re­al­ism demon­strated that Ge­n­e­sis were aware of the state of the na­tion and their sur­round­ings.

Sell­ing Eng­land By The Pound was re­leased in Oc­to­ber 1973. Strik­ingly com­plex yet of­ten de­cep­tively sim­ple, it her­alded a dif­fer­ent Ge­n­e­sis. The artefact it­self looked dif­fer­ent. It moved away from the band’s now-trade­mark gate­fold sleeve and Paul White­head il­lus­tra­tions. Its sin­gle sleeve with lyric sheet of­fered some­thing more di­rect. Gabriel had per­suaded Betty Swanwick to add a lawnmower to her paint­ing, The Dream, which had in­spired I Know What I Like… and for it to be used as the cover. It man­aged to pull off the per­ilous feat of re­tain­ing the English whimsy of the pre­vi­ous re­leases, while look­ing more in keep­ing with a mod­ern jazz al­bum.

It was also well-re­ceived. Bar­bara Charone wrote in NME: “Ge­n­e­sis stand head and shoul­ders above all those so-called pro­gres­sive groups.” Ge­n­e­sis were pro­gres­sive as they were re­flect­ing on the state of the na­tion, be it the bully-boy gang war­fare on the fringes of Lon­don, or the threat to na­tional iden­tity. Gabriel’s es­capist vi­sion, mar­ried with the in­creas­ingly im­pres­sive mu­si­cian­ship of the group was pro­vid­ing a suit­able an­ti­dote to the in­creas­ingly grim eco­nomic land­scape in the UK. By the end of 1973, Sell­ing Eng­land By The Pound was Top 10 in an al­bum chart pop­u­lated by Slade, David Cas­sidy, Sta­tus Quo and Peters and Lee.

The con­certs that sup­ported Sell­ing Eng­land By The Pound saw Gabriel’s cos­tumes and props get­ting ever more oth­er­worldly and elab­o­rate. There was now even a lawnmower brought on stage to as­sist in the nar­ra­tive of

I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe). The band them­selves seemed to be­come ever more in­vis­i­ble; of­ten look­ing like they were con­duct­ing an in­tense seated sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ment: “We were like the pit orches­tra, Pete was the show,” Hackett re­calls. “I used

to look up from time to time with a big smile on my face.”

The Sell­ing Eng­land By The Pound UK tour saw the band com­fort­ably fill­ing 2,000-seater venues. An­other rea­son for the en­dur­ing al­lure of the al­bum is its ac­com­pa­ny­ing pro­mo­tional film, live at Shep­per­ton Stu­dios.

The group’s foothold in Amer­ica was get­ting stronger, too. After their short tour in De­cem­ber 1972, Ge­n­e­sis had re­turned in March 1973 be­fore be­gin­ning a ma­jor North Amer­i­can tour in Novem­ber of that year. Ge­n­e­sis were treated with be­muse­ment by sec­tions of the rock au­di­ence, but the press sensed there was some­thing afoot. They seemed to be of­fer­ing a vi­sion of ex­actly what Bri­tish peo­ple should be: deeply ec­cen­tric, quirky. They were, if you will, sell­ing this ex­ag­ger­ated ver­sion of Eng­land back to the US by the dol­lar.

From De­cem­ber 17, 1973, Ge­n­e­sis played six shows across three nights at the Roxy Club on Los An­ge­les’ Sun­set Boule­vard. It went well: “It was one of the best wel­comes we have ever had,” Gabriel said. “It was our first time on the West Coast and we found we had a sort of un­der­ground mys­tique.”

“I re­mem­ber Phil say­ing to me very early on: to en­joy the work you do when you are play­ing live was re­ally so very im­por­tant,” Hackett says. “Peo­ple aren’t go­ing to worry about the odd gaff – what they want to know is that you’re in the mo­ment, you’re do­ing it, you’re be­ing authen­tic. At the time we were do­ing Sell­ing Eng­land we were play­ing the best of the two pre­vi­ous al­bums as well, I thought I was play­ing guitar in the best band in the world.” This was pay­ing off – they were voted ‘Top Stage Band’ by read­ers of NME’s an­nual poll, plac­ing them ahead of all the other bands they strug­gled for billing with sev­eral years pre­vi­ously, ahead of scene lead­ers such as The Who and Yes.

The band toured the US again in May 1974. The tour had been en­livened by the news that John Len­non ‘loved’ Sell­ing Eng­land…; Hackett re­called Gabriel danc­ing around the dress­ing room in re­sponse to the ex-Bea­tle’s com­ments on New York ra­dio sta­tion WNEW. “In the early days there was a lot of com­edy,” Hackett con­cludes. “Which may have been why Len­non said that he liked us, the fact that we seemed so pre­pared to make com­plete ar­se­holes of our­selves!”

Sell­ing Eng­land en­dures be­cause it is the great­est and most com­mer­cial dis­til­la­tion of the ’70-’75 group. In a way, it is the di­rect pre­de­ces­sor to

A Trick Of The Tail, with the fol­low­ing The Lamb Lies Down On A Broad­way as a unique, in­su­lar, glo­ri­ous curve­ball. Sell­ing Eng­land… was key in so many ways: it gave them a taste of a hit sin­gle; demon­strated that Collins could han­dle lead vo­cals with élan and the seeds of both Hackett and Gabriel’s de­par­ture lay within (on their own they could make records full of Ep­ping Forests and After The Ordeals). Most im­por­tantly, with their trio play­ing at the end of The Cin­ema Show, that Banks, Rutherford and Collins could play well with each other.

“Sell­ing Eng­land is the al­bum I’m proud­est of in Ge­n­e­sis both as a player and for its unique quirk­i­ness,” Steve Hackett con­cludes. “I think it was very heart­felt.”

Steve Hackett’s Ge­n­e­sis Re­vis­ited and Spec­tral Morn­ings tour starts in April. See www.hack­

“It’s the al­bum I’m proud­est of in Ge­n­e­sis both as a player and for its unique quirk­i­ness.”

– Steve Hackett









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