Saturday, 30 October 2021

Ghost songs for Halloween

A couple of spooky ghost songs for you. 

In my ramblings on seeing Genesis Live (Turn It On Again, 28 October) I mentioned how fond I've become of Home By The Sea. The song dates from the band's transitional era moving from prog towards  more conventional pop/rock. It doesn't sound spooky - it's catchy with a singalong chorus and an addictive keyboard hook. But the song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to feel something isn't quite right:

Then out of the dark was suddenly heard
Welcome to the home by the sea
Comin' out the woodwork through the open door
Pushing from above and below
Shadows but no substance in the shape of men
Round and down and sideways, they go
Adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair
Then as one they sign and they moan
Help us, someone, let us out of here
Living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time, we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the home by the sea
Aha. So the burglar isn't the first to find the house is haunted...and he gets an invitation he can't refuse:
Sit down, sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you
Let us relive our lives in what we tell you
Sit down, sit down, sit down
'Cause you won't get away
No, with us you will stay
For the rest of your days

Clever but spooky. You can hear the song on youtube at:   

On the album and in the live show it's followed by Second Home By The Sea, an extended prog style instrumental, eventually returning to the original theme in a combined eleven minute single piece.

Home By The Sea reminds me of another clever ghost song, by Roy Harper and Dave Gilmour. Gilmour gave the music for Hope to both Roy and Pete Townshend hoping one would come up with lyrics he liked for use on one of his solo albums. Both had a go, Gilmour didn't take them up and both released versions of the song. I can see why he didn't as neither has a Gilmour feel (as the riff doesn't, to be honest). Townshend's is called White City Fighting, which really doesn't sound very Gilmour at all, though he did play on the track. 

Like Home By The Sea Harper's Hope also doesn't sound spooky with a vigorous guitar run from Jimmy Page driving through much of the song apart from a quieter middle section. It's a take on the feeling we all have of looking in the mirror and thinking we've seen a ghost, or at least a person we don't recognise anymore. Except in this song the first person is the ghost looking out of the mirror, not the one looking in:

But when the winds blow
From this direction
You may sense me there
In your reflection...

When I caught you there
In tomorrow's mirror
I thought felt you
Jump out of my skin
Throwing oil into
My blazing memories
Filling empty footsteps
I was standing in
I wanted to live forever
The same as you will too
I wanted to live forever
And everybody knew

I love that lyric "I thought I felt you jump out of my skin" and the following lines, very graphic and imaginative. So where does Roy take it now the ghost is in your skin? Well, as is often the case with Roy's songs it eventually turns to making out under the duvet or in the long grass:

She moves her body
And her whispers weave
And the world spins
And tells me that I'll never want to leave

Although on the face of it the burglar's fate in Home By The Sea is spookier, the thought of the ghost in the mirror joining you for three in a bed is pretty spooky too. But Harper's lyrics are poetic and therefore there are layers of meaning (and obscurity) the hint being "when I caught you there in tomorrow's mirror". So Roy is a ghost from the past looking at someone in the future. The song ends in a kindly way, on a positive note:

As I think of you
From this dark century
It must always be
With generosity
That we both may share
The hope in hearing
That we're not just
Spirits disappearing

Roy is implying that we humans want to leave an impression on the future, to be known to have lived and made the world a better place, living on in our DNA strands and culture we have passed on. And, in that way, forever tied to the planet, not just "spirits disappearing" into some imaginary afterlife (Harper being deeply irreligious). In other words, living forever. So the song is even more complex than it appears at first sight - a very thoughtful kind of "spooky".

You can also hear Roy, Dave and Jimmy's song on youtube, at: 

Enjoy Halloween!

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Turn It On Again

My previous post waxed lyrical about the Liverpool waterfront, which we visited for a Genesis gig. Enough of the architecture, I hear you say, how was the show?

We'd been told to bring evidence of covid double vaccination or a negative test, even though this was not officially required in England. It is for nightclubs and large events in Wales, but the NHS app does not work if you are registered with a Welsh GP. You can still get the QR code via the NHS website: it comes marked "valid in England"! I'd had some technology issues getting Mrs H's but it turned out you could take your vaccination card. It also turned out that, despite there being a very long queue to get in the arena, we didn't see anyone asked to show their covid pass. They were checking handbags. Mrs H was not impressed but I observed I'd rather sit next to someone with covid than someone with a bomb*. I suspect the queue was also to limit the numbers gathering on the concourse inside. As the weather was kind it was much nicer to look out over the river Mersey in the fresh air than to be in a crush indoors.

Nevertheless, being among the perhaps 3% of people wearing a mask we still felt a bit apprehensive. Even though they were the fancy FFP3 type specially bought for the occasion rather than the standard medical mask or piece of everyday fabric. I decided feeling a pillock was acceptable and found the mask ok to wear once I got used to it.

We were on the very back row - so no-one breathing on us from behind - but not far from the stage at the side. All OK so far, but given the publicity about how frail Phil Collins has become - and he looked it as he slowly hobbled on stage with a stick towards his chair at centre stage - what would the performance be like?

Somehow I'd never seen Genesis before. I'm not sure why, being a huge fan of prog rock in it's halcyon days of the late 60s and early 70s. My first ever gig, along with the buddy I was sitting by, was Pink Floyd in 1969 and The Nice, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Yes and  others all followed over the next few years before and while I was at university. Maybe Genesis didn't play Manchester during term time or Liverpool in the vacs? Of course you can find all sorts of retrospective information on the internet and Genesis did play Manchester Free Trade Hall early in my autumn term of 1972, supporting Lindisfarne, curiously in hindsight**. I can only assume money or time priorities precluded it. Managing money probably, especially in the long first term. No student loans of course - I got the same amount of grant cheque for each of the three terms so some caution was needed to get through to Christmas***. Though I wasn't one of those students who went out and bought the whole book list at the start of the year, but waited to see which books colleagues actually found useful before shelling out, leaving more available for booze and gigs. But I missed out on Gabriel era Genesis.

Although we only spoke about it later, both Mrs H and I had some concerns in the first couple of songs. From the big screens, which always tend to take your attention, we couldn't help noticing that Collins didn't just look very old but seemed to be gurning or in some discomfort as he turned his head to one side while trying to hit notes, as you can see in this rather poor photo:

But it often takes singers a couple of songs to warm up and, as Collins got into his stride, I began to think that he probably always tilted his head and pulled faces as he sang. Which indeed youtube videos over the years confirm, though if you go far enough back the beard conceals some of the grimacing. And what I thought was a rather forced vocal is actually how he has always sung, when you listen back to the records, notwithstanding him winning Grammy awards two years running for best male pop vocal performance in the 1980s.

These things are always more obvious when you see a live performance. When I finally got to see Jethro Tull in the 1990s (another super band I somehow missed in the 70s) my first thought was that Ian Anderson couldn't actually sing anymore, as his voice went up and down as if on a staircase rather than smoothly. But when I listened back to the records he'd always sung that way, it had just become slightly more accentuated and noticeable with age (and the recordings would have been "good" takes).

By the fourth song, Mama, a favourite of both me and Mrs H (and their biggest UK hit single, we were both surprised to find) Collins was at full throttle. As the set progressed he was able to project far more personality from his chair than one might have expected possible. His band mates Banks and Rutherford are fine musicians and played well, Banks looking somewhat distant and edgy, Rutherford looking relaxed and smiley. Probably entirely in normal character, as old photos confirm. Here is Rutherford on screen: 

Daryl Stuermer on guitars - he has played with Genesis since 1977 - and Collins's 20 year old son Nic on drums were superb. Collins had the reinforcement of two backing singers but much of his vocals appeared to be rendered solo.

As for the set the mix of songs across the Genesis eras worked well, but then it was very similar to the set they played when they last toured 14 years ago. Mrs H declared the "prog doodlings" to be brief enough to be tolerable, while I thought they perhaps could have been quite a bit more extensive. 

We would both have preferred to hear Abacab and some of Trick of the Tail but never mind. In exchange I'm now very fond of some tracks I wasn't familiar with before, my collection of Genesis albums having a lot of holes in it. The catchy Home By The Sea is now a favourite and I found the rendition of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a song I'd never previously cared for, to be much more fun than I expected with the audience joining in the chorus.

With the perspective of time there was more similarity between the early Genesis material and other prog bands. The quirky Gabriel era I Know What I Like (In Your wardrobe) - the band's first chat hit - is both delphic and very Syd Barretish, starting

It's one o clock and time for lunch/Hum de dum de dum

and ending

Me, I'm just a lawnmower/You can tell me by the way I walk

But it does have a catchy chorus and I'm strangely fascinated by the almost tuneless flute bit at the end.

There are other echoes of Pink Floyd to be heard and the guitar solo from Firth of Fifth develops a very King Crimson feel and Frippian guitar sound. But then those bands were all drinking from the same well and the influence would equally be in the other direction.

The upbeat songs like Invisible Touch were barnstormers and the audience had a great time bellowing out the words. Indeed, the chorus of the wonderful No Son of Mine was belted out so strongly by the audience I felt sure that a remarkably high proportion of scousers must have fallen out with their fathers.

Despite it including Turn It On Again I didn't buy Duke: I think I found the album cover showing a headless character called Albert looking out of a window very off putting. But then I would have been heavily into the new wave at the time. So I wasn't as familiar with the other tracks from it they played and I'd never seen much point in the song Duchess, but on this occasion it came over well. 

There were some other interesting things to come out of my Genesis catch up immersion course. In the innumerable lists of Genesis albums ranked to be found online, the hard prog websites pretty much universally subscribe to the "Gabriel good, Collins bad" philosophy. I always thought Gabriel fans finding Collins overly commercial was a bit odd. The moves Genesis made towards world domination after Gabriel left in 1975 were pretty gradual. Follow You Follow Me was the first big hit in 1978 and the next was Turn It On Again in 1980, both staples of the then fairly new independent local FM radio stations like Radio City in Liverpool rather than mainstream pop. In the meantime Gabriel, having taken a couple of years out of the music business, had already had quite a big hit with Solsbury Hill in 1977 followed by the very poppy Games Without Frontiers in 1978. By 1986 Genesis had gone mainstream with Invisible Touch  but so had Gabriel with Sledgehammer and its MTV friendly video that won numerous awards. Sledgehammer is a song I've never cared for; if I want that kind of sound I'll listen to Robert Palmer, thank you very much.

So it seems to me that Gabriel and Collins were moving in much the same direction and at similar speeds, though Genesis undoubtedly eventually went poppier after Collins started having his huge solo successes and that influence bled over into Genesis. Indeed, Genesis is an example of one of very few bands who successfully made the move from Prog/underground to mainstream pop. The only more conspicuous example I can think of, but with a much faster transition, was Marc Bolan aka T Rex.

The other thing that came out of it for me was how much I enjoyed listening to the Gabriel era Genesis material again. I dug out my vinyl copy of Trespass, which I'm fairly sure I hadn't listened to since before 1975, thinking I won't remember this at all. But from the first bar, as Gabriel croons the title of the opening song Looking For Someone", I thought "I remember how this goes". And also the last track, The Knife. I must have listened to it a lot, but not for a long time.

And I realised what a sophisticated drummer Collins was when I listened to that early material. Having been given a toy drum kit aged five, followed by a makeshift kit made by his uncle, as a teenager he learned the "drum rudiments" from a specialist in the jazz big band style. Collins later said "Rudiments I found very, very helpful – much more helpful than anything else because they're used all the time. In any kind of funk or jazz drumming, the rudiments are always there". Wikipedia devotes four paragraphs to the awards Collins has won for his drumming and the many drummers who have been influenced by him, including Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters. Nic's good but not as subtle. Mind, Collins reckons he already couldn't play like he did in the 1970s by the time he was in his mid 30s.

Collins is also very musical. He entered a talent contest at Butlins aged five, but stopped the orchestra half way through the song to tell them they were in the wrong key.

So yes, a big tick for Genesis. And we didn't catch covid, though the band did - within fve days of their two Liverpool gigs they had to postpone the rest of the UK leg of the tour due to positive tests "within the band". All I got was an Afterglow.

P.S. A quiz question. Who are the only artists to have sold over 100 million albums both as a solo artist and a member of a band? Answer below.

* A boss of mine used to joke that, as the probability of there being two bombs on a plane was so vanishingly small, he would obviously be safer if he took his own bomb with him. This was of course a joke aimed at folk who didn't understand how probabilities work.  And he was a Fellow of the Royal Society.

** They were touring Foxtrot. All those tour dates, together with links to memorabilia such as tickets and sources of bootleg audio are available on the 'Genesis - The Movement' fans' website at   

*** I'm not expecting any sympathy, having got an education that money couldn't buy (i.e. it was free). But money seemed to be a lot tighter than living on a modern day student loan, though I did counsel my sons at the time that that didn't actually have to spend every last penny of it...

Other sources:

Phil Collins, Wikipedia

Genesis and Peter Gabriel discographies, Wikipedia

The quiz question answer: Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Phil Collins

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

From revelation to Genesis at Liverpool's waterfront

Back in August I railed against UNESCO for retracting the world heritage status of the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City. The other week I was back in that area of Liverpool for the first time in over 15 years. The area around the pier head, the Three Graces and the Albert Dock was outstanding then. But there has been lots of change. As the Liverpool Echo said a few days ago in an article covering all the major new buildings of that period "if you haven’t been in the city for a few years, it’s likely the view may not be exactly as you left it."

Although I've read about various proposals and actual developments, together with all the hyperventilation over UNESCO's decision, I hadn't realised just how much development had taken place in that time. I was, however, aware that some of the new buildings, sandwiched between the Three Graces and the Albert Dock on an area known as Mann Island, were conspicuously modern in appearance. This area was previously occupied by rundown warehouses and dock buildings and Liverpool city council had tried nearly 20 years ago to build a "fourth grace" on the site. A competition yielded three proposals, all of which were criticised for their appearance and contrast to the city's skyline. Work on the chosen option was cancelled in 2004. Subsequently the three mixed-use Mann Island buildings were completed by 2011 and the adjacent Museum of Liverpool by 2012.

To the north of the pier head there has been a lot of construction. Some of the buildings are tall enough that I had seen them from well outside the city centre. West Tower, completed in 2008, is Liverpool's tallest building. Indeed at 134m tall it is the tallest building in the UK outside of London and Manchester. It overtook the  Radio City Tower, built in 1969 and in it's time seen as both controversial and an eyesore. The Radio City Tower is still known to us as St John's Beacon as it was originally named after the adjacent St John's market, not the Liverpool centre forward of the era in which it was built. Its futuristic design had an observation deck and restuarant with spectacular views. That restaurant and a successor had closed by 1983 leaving the tower empty and derelict. The tapering concrete column with the non-functioning revolving top section understandably became seen as an embarassing white elephant by Liverpudlians. But in the late 90s it was refurbished by Radio City as studios and office space. By 2020 it had been grade II listed by Historic England who decsribed it as "embodying the technological bravura and spirit of the space age". Which just goes to show how opinions can change.

But, unlike West Tower, the Radio City Tower is not immediately adjacent to the what was previously the tallest building near the waterfront, the Liver building. More recently the Lexington, completed in 2021, has also surpassed  the height of the Liver Building. These skyscapers (for that is what they are) are in between the historic waterfront area and the site of Everton's new stadium, the development which seemed to be the final straw for UNESCO.

We were in Liverpool to see Genesis play a gig at the Liverpool Arena, re-arranged from 2020 due to covid. The Arena was built on the site of the former King's Dock which had been the location proposed for Everton's new stadium in the 1990s. That project fell through in 2003 - my recollection is that Everton could not come up with a measly £30m to secure the site. The two branch docks which formed King's Dock and connected Wapping Dock and Queen's Dock were filled in, just as is now being done at Bramley-Moore. According to Wikipedia the Arena project, completed in 2008 utilising the space of what were the two docks and adjoining vacant land, became "an exemplary case of brownfield land development".

A few years later, the reception for the controversial Mann Island buildings was mixed. The Daily Post, shortly before its demise, lamented the loss of several key views of the Pier Head (then) world heritage site. The buildings were nominated for the Carbuncle Cup, an architecture "prize" given annually by the magazine Building Design to the "ugliest building in the United Kingom completed in the last 12 months". It didn't win, though three years earlier the new Liverpool Ferry Terminal had been given the dubious accolade. Looking like a "stick of rock" or, to me, a rather angular version of the Lord's cricket ground media centre, the terminal sits, of necessity, at the Pier Head and so full centre of the view of the historic waterfront from the river.

Anyway, enough of what others have said. What did we think after driving into the city from the north, past the new skyscrapers, parking up by Albert Dock and walking along the waterfront King's Parade towards the Pier Head on a beautiful early autumn afternoon? Here's a picture I took as we reached the end of the Albert Dock buildings to see the interrupted view of the Three Graces:

On the far left you can see one of the new towers, then the ferry terminal towering over the 19th century brick Piermaster's House and obscuring most of one of the twin Liver Building towers. Then West Tower peeping through between the two towers of the Liver Building and then the dome of the Port of Liverpool building, partly obscured by one of the two black angular Mann Island buildings. The second angular Mann Island building to the right hides most of the more regular third building. 

We thought this eclectic jumble of preserved old and new modern was - absolutely fantastic and inspirational. Had we walked further in that direction the full view of the Three Graces would have opened up. Sometimes, as all good gardeners know, it's better for a view to open up in stages, rather than all at once.

But instead we turned right and went into the Albert Dock complex. The whole area around Albert Dock buzzes with far more eateries, as well as museums, than on our last visit. Here's another photo,with a clear view of the new buildings on the left and theThree Graces on the right between buildings of the Albert Dock:

And here's what was Liverpool's tallest building before St John's Beacon and the new towers came along*, the Anglican Cathedral, peeping through the Albert Dock buildings looking east:

We thought we knew the area well but we ran out of superlatives. It was a revelation. As were Genesis that evening.

So that's a big thumbs up from me and Mrs H and one in the eye for UNESCO.

As I said before: UNESCO can do one. Liverpool should have no regrets about moving forward. I know the city council has a desevedly dodgy reputation but, as someone who now counts as a tourist, I can only say "great job".

* Pedants might point out that the Anglican Cathedral wasn't completed until 1978. But as it was started in 1904 the structure had stood on St James's Mount, a bit more than a mile from the Pier Head, glowering over the city from long before the upstart Beacon was built. I've never heard it referred to by it's proper name (Liverpool Cathedral). It's called the Anglican to distinguish it from the other one, the Roman Catholic cathedral universally known as Paddy's Wigwam because of it's shape and which I have also never heard referred to by its proper name, the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Scousers, eh?


Liverpool's iconic changing skyline captured in images down the years. Liverpool Echo, 20 October 2021.

Mann Island Buildings, Wikipedia

List of tallest buildings and structures in Liverpool, Wikipedia

Ferry Terminal's carbuncle award. BBC 4 Sept 2009,