In the mid-Seventies, when Genesis were reaching the heights of their theatrical pomp, singer Peter Gabriel’s outfits often threatened to steal the show. “I was always afraid that these guys would start arguing about any of the visual costumes bits that I was trying to do,” says the man famous for performing dressed as a flower, angel, begowned woman, or some combination of all three. “So I would smuggle it in as late as possible when they were so preoccupied with getting everything else sorted that I could get away with whatever s--- was in my head.”
“These guys” are keyboard player Tony Banks and guitarist Mike Rutherford, his Charterhouse schoolmates with whom he formed the band in 1967; Phil Collins, the grammar school pupil and drama student from west London who joined on drums in 1970; and Steve Hackett, the guitarist who followed Collins into the line-up five months later, having placed an advertisement in Melody Maker seeking “musicians who are determined to strive beyond existing stagnant forms”.
Hackett found what he was looking for: Genesis would come to define, or even catalyse, the progressive rock era. Later, after Collins replaced Gabriel as frontman in 1975, they became one of the biggest stadium acts in the world. To date the band have sold 130 million albums. Factor in the members’ solo projects – notably, of course, Collins’s – and you’re looking at global album sales of 300 million.
And yet for all the musical adventurism that characterised early-period Genesis – the 23-minute epic Supper’s Ready and conceptual double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) being the obvious and famous markers – the band still weren’t prepared for Gabriel coming onstage dressed as a transvestite canine.
Collins remembers a particular show in Dublin. Genesis were playing a boxing arena and, in the middle of the set, he spotted Gabriel re-entering from the wings. He was wearing a frock and a fox’s head. The drummer can laugh about it now, and he laughed about it then. The singer’s outrageous clobber generated extra front-page coverage in the music press. And it added “a nought on the end of our earnings… But the costumes at that point were not intrusive,” says Collins. “They just seemed to be part of what Genesis were and I was all for it. In a way, I wore my overalls and [Peter] wore his dress. It was just stuff to go to work in.”
Top 10 Songs of Genesis - Peter Gabriel Era
- 1...Supper's Ready
- 2...The Cinema Show
- 3...Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
- 4...The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
- 5...Firth Of Fifth
- 6...The Musical Box
- 7...The Knife
- 8...The Carpet Crawlers
- 9...The Fountain of Salmacis
- Watcher Of The Skies