Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Glasgow Ordeal I - The Genesis Convention

I attended my fourth Genesis convention this weekend. Genesis conventions aren't like Doctor Who conventions, much. You might get the occasional early drummer, or solo project musician hanging around to sign albums or draw the raffle, and there'll be a token pretence of video programming and a quiz, but they're really more like indoor music festivals, with no real passion being evoked or displayed until the tribute bands take to the stage in the evening.

Despite a ticket that boasted "doors at noon" or something, I showed up late afternoon on Saturday, to the Renfrew Ferry, a floating nightclub on the Clyde that hosts gigs, and sells beer. And chips. I had ample time to say hello to a couple of friends and also make evil eyes at people who have annoyed me in the past by behaving like arseholes at gigs, or abusing the English language on their execrable vanity websites.

I'd gone early to make sure I didn't miss Doug Melbourne and Tony Patterson who used to hold the keyboard and vocals spots in the UK's first Genesis tribute, Regenesis, who I first saw in 1994. Their current party piece is to perform a half hour of Peter Gabriel solo material and they did so very well, announcing a CD they'd just realeased of slightly more plugged in versions, which I picked up after emptying my turn ups of small change.

Then I read Christopher Brookmyre's "A Tale Etched In Blood and Hard Black Pencil", for about an hour, until the first band proper of the evening, G2 came on. I've only ever seen them at conventions, this being the third time, and they've been consistently good, focussing on sounding like late-seventies Genesis, which featured Phil Collins singing songs Peter Gabriel had originally performed. The choice of material, delivery, and techincal presentation were all excellent, and my mood survived the realisation that there was quite a low turn out (the venue was emptier than when Genesis tribute bands had played individually) leaving a large Golden Circle in front of the stage, where the organisers and their mates could do their thing.

"Their thing" entails intense periods of connection with the performers, alternating with wandering off to get more beer, talking loudly about how much you love the music you're interrupting, and standing with your arms around the person next to you. When memorable stanzas are sung from the stage, you turn to the person next to you and hold you arms out, palms upwards while mouthing the words as if to ritually endorse their eternal veracity.

G2 were tremendous. I actually found myself musing that if this were the only band I saw this weekend, I'd be quite satisfied. Which was just as well really.

Next up were Face Value, whose niche is the post-1978 three-man Genesis' repertoire. They have the most technically demanding job on the Genesis trinute circuit, as the music is dependent on electronics, and they rely on sequenced parts, having only one guitar player. Their front man does a Stars In Their Eyes-perfect Phil Collins, and on a good night, I've heard they're very slick. Unfortunately, I've never seen them on a good night. The first time, in 2002, they were plagued with terrible sound. Oh, and with not having rehearsed enough. "Tonight Tonight Tonight" made the Tay Bridge disaster look like leaves on the line, the first time I saw them. The second time, they attempted to deliver "No Son Of Mine" despite their drummer's click track being inaudible to him, so that the snares were just as deadly as to the song as any are to wild game. I had to take my leave of the room as "Land of Confusion" threatened to live up to its name, and returned as "Throwing It All Away" did exactly what it said on the tin, thanks to a sequenced bass part that didn't.

Third time lucky, I thought. They were bound to have it nailed by now. So it was a pity that they were taking an excruciating time to set up, and a final revised estimate of their time on stage was given as 10:30. I would have to leave at 11:00 for my last train back from Glasgow to Edinburgh, but I hung around just to hear their first half hour, or at least extract some gratuitous pleasure from any recurrence of their convention curse.

At 10:40, the "American Beauty" soundtrack that Genesis have been using this year as walk-on music started up, and I began to hope that they'd kick off with this years opening medley, which I was sure they could do justice to. Sure enough, the drummer counted in at the right tempo for "Behind the Lines" to cue the trademark wall of sound, at which point there was an undignified "phut" and all the power to the stage blew. I quietly doubled up in laughter. No one else seemed to. They hadn't let me down - a third convention appearance and a third technical disaster. After watching cable-wallahs scurry for five minutes, as the band drifted off stage, I made my excuses and left.

Arriving later, the following day, having enjoyed Doug and Tony's CD, and electing to be the one person present not wearing a Genesis T-shirt, I was in time to watch some of the real Genesis's recent concerts on video. This gave me the opportunity to earwig on two punters making friends nearby. The telling exchange was "What album did you lose interest at?". I love this. Younger bands fans ask each other how early they discovered the music, but with Genesis, the sign of respect is how early you judged their output to have declined beyond worth. They went on to concur that the tribute bands were giving the real thing a run for their money. Later events that day would, I feel, contradict this.

I'd been looking forward to seeing The Carpet Crawlers open the evening, and was quite happy to expect to miss much of the headliners In The Cage, because I'd never seen the former, and unfortunately had seen the latter. To describe In The Cage as patchy would be generous. It's an acceptable description of mobile phone coverage in the Outer Hebrides, but not of the heat shield on a reententering space shuttle. Or indeed of a band who've been going for eight years now and really ought to be much better. Worse, G2 had bagged the headline slot.

On they came, with the first of many songs that G2 had played 24 hours before, and furthermore played far better. After a false start, the opening chords of "Watcher of the Skies" rasped out from the genuine antique Mellotron (Why? WHY?), and singer Trevor ambled on in a shabby Peter Gabriel costume and half-arsed greasepaint, before singing with a voice he hadn't warmed up, which inflections that indicate he can listen and sing, but not necessarily at the same time. Everything about In The Cage is rough about the edges. The individual musicians know their parts most of the time, but not all, with their neophyte Mike Rutherford being the worst offender. Their instruments bolt from their control too often, as guitar parts die off where they should sing, and the pantechnicon-filling vintage keyboard rig reedily struggles to be heard when newer sample racks and a week or so's programming would nail it. The mix is arbitrary, with emphasis placed on counterpoints and harmonies, overpowering root notes and melodies. They limped through a set which blatently repeated over half of G2's from Saturday. It was like seeing a tribute band's own tribute band, a ropey analogue second-generation copy.

And the singer was wearing odd socks.

I must admit, that despite being smug to the point of insult about the quality of my life improving now I'm off the sauce, seeing In The Cage is one of those experiences that was far far better when full of cider. They are in every sense a pub band, embodying the "That's nearly there. It'll do - they'll all be pissed" approach to quality. Has no one had the courage to tell them to prepare more?

Announcements from the stage about the arrival time of G2 were optimistic, and as I realised I wasn't even going to see their opening number, so I blew away home. I was glad I'd gone to support the event, but I really wished I could have seen G2 again.

If I was still a boozer, and had been staying overnight in Glasgow, it would have been a great weekend. As someone who's now definitely there for just the music, and who likes an early night with a cup of cocoa and a good book, it was a bit of a trial.

1 comment:

Greg McElhatton said...

Wow. As someone who wasn't aware that such events existed, much less what they would be like, this write-up is really fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing this with the amount of detail; it's like glimpsing into a world I'd never heard of, and seeing similarities and differences all colliding in an intriguing manner.