Jonathan King liked the tape these four serious young men presented him so much that he got them a record deal with Decca and produced their first two singles “The Silent Sun” and “A Winter’s Tale”, and their debut album “From Genesis To Revelation” – whence, of course, came their name. The group at that time was Peter Gabriel, Anthony Phillips, Tony Banks, Michael Rutherford and drummer John Silver. Recorded in just one day (!) “Revelations” was already ambitious, somewhat Biblically retelling human evolution as a suite of 16 songs. Yet smothered as it was in insipid string arrangements, the band never really considered it their own, and, after selling just 650 copies, they moved on from King and from Decca.
Rather reserved in person, from the earliest days Peter Gabriel always transformed into a fearless performer in front of an audience, a performer who once famously broke his ankle leaping into an audience! During these years, however, Gabriel began to push his showmanship to its limits, deploying a now-notorious variety of masks and costumes: the red dress and fox’s head featured on the cover of “Foxtrot”; the flower headdress and unplaceable red triangular mask worn during “Supper’s Ready”; the blue batwings of “The Watcher of The Skies”.
Perhaps these ploys were born of necessity: Genesis songs featured increasingly long instrumental passages, during which Gabriel had to do something! Whatever, his performance became the focal point of the band’s shows. And his costumes were only part of an ever-more elaborately created live set which featured gauze screens, spectacular lighting and explosions. It was also a show which reputedly put them and Charisma in the hole for upwards of 60,000 by 1973! Still, it paid off.
For this first classic Genesis line-up, the years 1974-5 were the years of both their greatest triumph and their most dramatic loss. Gabriel’s pre-eminence in the press – not something he himself had wanted, but an inevitable consequence of his outlandish performances – was beginning to be too much for a group which had always considered itself a democracy.
Two further things happened which widened the gap between him and the rest of the group: he was offered an opportunity to work with “Exorcist” director William Friedkin as scriptwriter, and needed to spend time with his wife Jill following the problematic birth of their first child. However, in November he re-joined the group in the studio where they’d been writing the music for what was to become the line-up’s masterpiece and Gabriel’s swansong: “The Lamb Lies down On Broadway”.
It was the ultimate concept album: a double LP-long surrealist tale of a Puerto Rican youth – Rael – dragged into a netherworld beneath Manhattan to experience a series of bizarre adventures and some kind of inscrutable mystical epiphany. The group went on to perform the entire album to over 100 audiences worldwide (including the LA Shrine gig preserved on the Archive), many of whom, thanks to record company release cycles, had never even heard the album, and were perhaps expecting to hear their favourites. Despite this, it is a tour which has legitimately gone down in rock music history.
Despite the artistic and commercial succes of “The Lamb”, it was just a few weeks into the tour when Gabriel confided in their manager Tony Smith that he was going to leave. The reasons were many, but chief among them were the widening gap between him and the rest of the group, and his own restless desire to do his own solo work. He stayed with the group until their last performance at Besanon in France, in the May of 1975 (the last date was actually meant to be in Toulouse, but it was cancelled – a sign that for all this tour’s “classic” status, not all audiences at the time necessarily got it). At the time he left, Gabriel didn’t even know whether he wanted to continue making music. He did of course, and his solo career since has been one of the most celebrated in pop. Meanwhile, the music press and – more importantly – the group’s fans, turned their eyes towards the group: what on Earth would they do without their unique frontman, their voice. They had a lot to prove. And prove it they did, but for now, that’s another story…