Book Reviews

Published on April 3rd, 2015 | by Mike Ainscoe

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‘A Selection Of Shows – Genesis (& solo) – A Live Guide 1976-2014’

Alan Hewitt (Wymer Publishing)

It’s been done with Led Zeppelin. U2 too. The Gabriel era Genesis have also had the same treatment. What we’re talking about is having recordings of their live performances analysed. Not just the official live recordings but the whole gamut which has been recorded via soundboards, FM/radio broadcasts or the old reliable ‘microphone in the audience’ recordings. Emerging on limited runs of extortionately priced vinyl pressings of dubious quality, the bootleg market opened up with the advent of cassettes and latterly CDs. This is to such an extent that internet file sharing has made live recordings of literally every band, playing every venue everywhere around the world, available at the click of a button. No more of the scouring around under the counters at independent record shops or trawling the record fairs for your illicit goodies. How times change.

Clinton Heylin’s fascinating ‘Great White Wonders’ from 1994 is a wonderful read for anyone interested in the history of the rock bootleg, and like most followers of rock bands, Genesis fans are always up for a bit of nostalgia. I’m one of them and know enough to know that’s a shared vision in the Genesis fan community. Genesis were, of course, highly respected in their early days for their ground breaking approach to progressive rock, and evolved into a band with much broader chart friendly rock/pop palette. Long term fans may have felt quite short changed by more recent events in the world of Genesis. There was the  highly controversial ‘Sum Of The Parts/Together & Apart’ documentary, which by now even the band themselves have admitted to its bias, plus another bout of repackaging the same old material in the form of the appallingly named ‘R-Kive’ 3CD set. It all seems to be a case of the old adage of sell it and they will come without any careful consideration of what the fans might actually want. Surely what Genesis fans don’t want yet is yet more of the same, or a poorly curated product which lacks the quality and specialist input which gives a guaranteed seal of approval.  ‘A Selection Of Shows’ is more a case of sell it with some integrity, and they will come. In terms of targeting the type of ‘product’ that the dedicated fans want, Alan Hewitt has hit the nail on the head.

Picking up where Paul Russell left off with his ‘Play Me My Song’ analysis of the live recordings from the Gabriel era (meaning the 6 years from 1969-1975), Alan Hewitt has taken on the comparatively unenviable task of looking at the 31 years of Genesis live performances from 1976-2007. Granted, they may not have gigged as intensively during that period as they did in their early days – for a start, the 1998-2006 period saw no performances at all as the band went on ice – although with the band’s popularity as it was by the mid 70’s, you can be sure that most gigs were recorded in some form or other, and that any attempt to provide a complete list of live dates would be much easier.

However, Alan has also taken on the challenge for bringing the story right up to date by also including the live outings of the solo careers of Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Ray Wilson. Quite some task, bearing in mind that we’re talking a total of almost 5000 gigs in the  combined set. Maybe a gig or two too far? Who knows?

The Genesis section of the book looks at a dozen tours of the post-Gabriel incarnation of the band, with recordings of up to 6 shows per tour getting analysed through the author’s ear. Clearly the challenge is in maintaining interest when you’re taking on the task of describing essentially the same show, so perhaps it was a wise move not to do the obvious of trying to include commentary on every show (where available) from a tour. Some may grumble over the absence of a complete gig guide, but then as the title makes clear, this is a selection of shows providing an overview of the live recordings of Genesis in concert. As we’re talking the cream of the crop of Genesis & related live performances in terms of quality and the actual performance, the feel is universally positive. You’re not going to read about any gigs when someone has an off night or the sound breaks down, although the famous ‘booing’ concert in Leiden in 1981 is included as a bit of a curio. There may be those who will be picky over the shows which have made the final cut as there will always be the ones attended for personal reasons maybe, which just has that ‘feel’ which encapsulates the atmosphere of a gig without being particularly stunning quality.  There are the occasional references to the actual bootlegs from which the recordings are referenced, although perhaps not as much as expected, as the bootleg world had provided the source evidence for this book.

To add to the text, there’s an impressive abundance of visual material from ticket stubs to a collection of bootleg sleeves, ticket stubs, cuttings, passes and live photos and images, many of which will be making their first appearance. The large format publication obviously helps in offering the space to be able to offer such a comprehensive visual accompaniment.

The section which covers the solo careers of the Genesis players, which covers a further forty plus chapters, filling the second half of the book, simply provides a monumental task and as such contains more of a lighter touch to fit in every tour by the five players. Individual tours are covered by less recordings and give a general flavour as to how the guys sounded when they left their safety net of the group to follow their solo roads.

Bearing this in mind, ‘A Selection Of Shows’ could easily be seen as essentially two or possibly even three books in one. There may have been a case for concentrating exclusively on the post-Gabriel Genesis period in more detail and looking at the solo careers in a separate volume.  It would certainly have allowed for a much broader view of the Genesis live analysis, and maybe even allowed for some more detailed exploration of the evolving setlists and stage presentation of the Genesis live show (although as an audio guide, this may not have been relevant).

What’s not in question is the fact that there’s no doubt that this was a book waiting to be written and what it will do first and foremost for many fans is have the scuttling off to that box in the loft to re-evaluate those recordings of yore.

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About the Author

Mike's mellowed in his old age, discovering the delights of traditional folk and acoustic music and the constant stream of new music coming through his passion as a gig-goer, music photographer and writer. With favourite artists and favourite songs which change daily, even hourly, he adds another spoke to the Sonic Bandwagon wheel of fortune.



One Response to ‘A Selection Of Shows – Genesis (& solo) – A Live Guide 1976-2014’

  1. Alan Hewitt says:

    Hi Mike

    Thank you for being so kind to my mistakes! it is refreshing to read a critique that is as constructive as it was informative.

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