Robert Ellis has photographed many bands over the years and has hot footed around with some of them around the planet. Robert recently took the time out to give us a chat about his work with Genesis and his recent Lamb Lies Down on Broadway book. We found each other in cyberspace, through the medium of Skype, one wintry and early spring day. We had purchased a copy of Robert’s book a couple of weeks earlier and enjoyed marvelling at the detail. The book felt a little different and we were eager to learn more about Robert’s experience.
Robert Ellis: RE
The Evil Jam: TEJ
TEJ Hello Robert,
RE Hello! It is me!
TEJ How are you this morning?
RE I am in Germany at the moment; looking out at snow falling. Maybe there’s a foot of snow out there.
TEJ England’s only got frost; it’s not quite the romantic Dickensian theme of snowfall.
RE Yeah we never seem to get it, we think it will be a great idea except when it comes.
After a bit more chit-chat we get back on track. On the webcam I showed Robert my copy of his recent Lamb Lies Down on Broadway book and the limited edition Six Of The Best Supplement. Logically we started from the beginning and wondered how did Robert even get involved with Genesis?
RE It began because I liked the music. The PR took me along because I was a photographer for New Musical Express; they took me to shoot this band, and I didn’t like them! That was in the beginning. When I was listening to the songs I could see there was something in it but I was being really buzzed by the PR. What happened was I met a few fans down at the front who were, of course, mad fans. I was listening to these ‘fanatic’ guys and they were absolutely over the moon with Genesis, as fans are. They would say, “Oh you’ve got to listen to this” or “you’ve got to listen to that…” and as things happen you end up back at somebody’s flat somewhere and they play the music to you. You’re getting feedback directly from the fans who are into the band, and not simply the PR talking to you.
TEJ I can see how the feedback from the fans meant more to you than the hype from the PR, when would this have been?
RE ’71, the end of Trespass beginning of Nursery Cryme. The first record that got me was The Musical Box. Up until that time the kids were raving about The Knife and I was going, “I don’t like that song.” I just couldn’t get past it. But when The Musical Box came on I was spellbound by the sound of that song, then when the next album came along we had Suppers Ready. I was going “Whoa! What’s this about?”
TEJ An interesting journey going from not connecting with The Knife to connecting with The Musical Box to then discovering the whole feast that is Suppers Ready.
RE Yes it was a whole feast; a whole complete work that was a multifaceted, multi-mood, 23 to 24 minute song.
TEJ That was one of the shorter versions.
RE It was one of those “feasts” as you put it, and that was what got me into band. Then, there were things like Watcher of the Skies and then Firth of Fifth. Peter’s chat became more and more involved between songs. When I saw them on the Lindisfarne tour in France and sat in the Paris Olympia theatre watching this “support band”. Genesis and Peter was in full flight English to a French audience. It was very funny. They sat there in respectful silence whilst he was ranting on about the fantasies in his mind.
TEJ The importance of Cynthia’s croquet mallet with young Henry whilst this French audience were probably saying ‘Pardon?’
RE It was funny what Peter was saying and doing, but to a French audience it was something they didn’t understand!
TEJ I imagine the audience were looking at each other wondering when the music was going to start.
RE Yeah and of course the band were busy tuning up their instruments and getting ready.
TEJ Moving onwards, what changed from then towards the Lamb sessions?
RE By the end of Selling England By the Pound the band were pretty pissed off with the amount of attention Peter was getting from the media, and also Peter’s intense interest in portraying the music was in the band’s eyes getting in the way, even though it was really important and I thought integral to the whole presentation of Genesis from the beginning. I do think they got to the point where the band felt that they needed to rein Peter in – Peter was not in place to be reined in at all. So, when they got to the end of the Selling England tour they were really not in a good place as a band. When they came together not very long afterwards to begin work on what was to be The Lamb that was the decision to do something really grand: a double album. It would give the whole band a chance to really expand their vision and music into something that would be a masterwork.
TEJ The extravagance of all extravagances,becoming a showcase for everybody?
RE Yes, that was the intention; to make a canvas so big that there would be room for all of them; because they didn’t want Peter to dominate the next album. They started working on it and the ideas were kicking around, coming to a conclusion as to where they were going with it. None of them were terribly happy with that decision. Even Peter wasn’t terribly happy with it and he got his way, but he wasn’t happy because he could feel it was going to cause him a problem. The very reason they were doing a double album was so that he didn’t get his way.
TEJ An unfortunate position to be put in, what happened after?
RE They set to work on the album and it became increasingly hard to work together with all the things going on in Peter’s private life. Also, among the band members themselves with their (sorry to say) egos’ in full flight it was a really, truly, hard album to put together sadly. The ideas that were coming out from the band, particularly at the Grange [Headley] was absolutely amazing. There were board tapes from the Grange that you will have heard and so you know how much effort went into the album and how much was dumped, ditched and not used.
TEJ Yes, some ideas weren’t continued.
RE They just put it aside. They went back to a lot of stuff that they had accumulated over the years rather than the new ideas that they were developing at that time for the album. It had a lot to do with the relationship between the group of four and Peter breaking down. It became harder and harder for them to connect. It ended up being a fragmented album of original ideas put together in the best way they could make it. By the time I got to meet them when they were putting the album together in Basing Street they had more or less mapped out the entire album from start to finish. They spent most of their time in Basing Street linking these different bits of the album together to make it flow from start to finish across the four sides [of vinyl]. In the end they ran out of time; as they did when they were doing the music at the Grange; and when they were recording it in Wales. They had to give up the album to the label [Charisma] before they had finished.
TEJ So technically it’s an unfinished masterpiece?
RE I think it’s an unfinished masterpiece. They would have liked to spend more time on it… especially the thought the last side could have been better. You hear it the idea between the lines that they were rushed. They are really proud of their album, really supportive of it, but they feel individually that it should have been better. You won’t get them to admit it but you feel it.
TEJ It took me a long time to enjoy and understand the album fully; it ranges from a frantic pace to claustrophobic with a whimsical journey through a sci-fi epic at times. If you understand what’s happening to Rael being sucked into an exact reinterpretation of New York City or the schizophrenic side of Rael with the alter ego brother John. I suppose the only person who really understands The Lamb is Peter.
RE He says it doesn’t mean any of those things, he says it is merely a stream of consciousness, a representation of where he, they, and the world were in a snapshot of time. That’s how he portrays it and he is very vague about exactly what he means. He is picking ideas out of his knowledge bank and the world that surrounds him from his experiences. The way I see it is it contains lots of little elements of Peter’s world.
TEJ I suppose it’s a bit like a dysfunctional camera that you take 10 photos with and only two come out; it’s those two that are the most striking with the other 8 being rather boring and plain.
The Lamb Tour
TEJ Moving on to the Lamb Tour. The tour was meant to start in the UK but was rescheduled to Spring 1975 due to Steve Hackett’s hand injury. In the end the tour started in America, were you sent to cover it over there at all?
RE No, because they [NME] had their American correspondents do it. They didn’t feel the need to send somebody out from the UK to do it. It wasn’t that important at that time anyway. By the time the album came out in the UK they were already on tour in America. Nobody in England knew what the album was until after they [Genesis] had left the country and I think by that time there was this thing of lets wait and see what the Americans say about it and take it from there. The PR didn’t want to focus on the UK until closer to the UK dates; they wanted to concentrate on Europe. As luck would have it I was also the photographer for many of the European publications. Although I wasn’t sent out to America because, as I said, they had their correspondents out there. I was sent out to the first few dates in the European leg.
TEJ Obviously, you say the album was meant to be letting the group all take a slice of action that had caused some animosity between them. How had that progressed whilst they were on tour?
RE By that time it was clear to me that Peter felt he needed more space and the opportunity to do his own thing. He also felt that he was restricting the band by being too dominant: he thought that the band could have a greater input into the music and I think he needed to put some space between him and the other four. That was all part of it. There was no animosity between them – there were disagreements and arguments but there is between everybody. They were a very strong team of people as their relationships have proved over the years, regardless of what the fans think about the relationships between them, the actual personal relationships between them have never been that bad and whatever the outcome it was good for all.
TEJ That’s quite likely why the American tour was completed and they moved onto the European tour that you joined. How was that for you?
RE I joined early February when they were beginning to break the album. They had come off the American tour, which had been pretty indifferent in terms of record sales and audience reaction. I think it achieved a certain level of acceptance from the American audiences towards the end of their American stint. If you compare the bootlegs from the first dates to the boots’ from the last dates what a difference those dates made to the bands interpretation of the music. They certainly had improved enormously by the time they did the extra dates in Chicago: they were hugely better than when they first played there.
TEJ I suppose it gave them time on the road to learn how to perform the album and of course Steve’s injured hand was getting better. It must have been bemusing for the audience to turn up expecting parts of Selling England and Foxtrot only for them to endure a whole performance of the Lamb with very few encores.
RE Indeed! What they should have done is stop when Steve injured his hand, reschedule the tour, rehearse, and get themselves together as a band. They were so frightened that Peter was going to leave they rushed it. When Steve injured his hand they thought it was the end. It wasn’t the end – Peter wanted to support this. He always had a strong feeling for this album so he wanted to do it. However, the band I think were very worried that this wouldn’t happen, so was the management, so was the record company. By the time they got to Europe the reaction of the European fans to the release of the album was building and the album sales were improving. The reaction to shows by the European fans was absolutely out of this world. They just went crazy! They [the fans] knew the album by then, because by this time it had been out for a couple of months unlike the American’s who didn’t know it until towards the end of the American tour. They should have left America until later.
RE Anyway, they did the American dates as a warmup for the European dates hoping that when they got to Europe, which was their centrepiece (particularly Italy), that the album would have reached the mass of their fans. Indeed, that was the case; it was well received by everybody; they were hugely in demand; ticket sales went through the roof; they were adding dates right, left, and centre. The band was sitting there going, “Hey we’ve got a hit on our hands.” Except by that time there was no promotion going on, no interviews going on, no recording going on, no filming going on, nothing – because by that time they knew this was ending any day soon.
TEJ I suppose the last thing they wanted was an interviewer asking them about the next album or the next tour.
RE They were much too frightened about anything getting out to the press of the decision that had been made privately. They were so mum about it that most of the road crew didn’t know that Peter was leaving. That’s how secret it was.
TEJ Do you think, hypothetically, had they announced Peter leaving they might have booked more dates and sold more tickets?
RE I was pretty sceptical and critical about their decision and the how they handled it. Of course, I do accept that’s how they wanted it. I felt like you do now, what you’re indicating here, that they could have handled this better had they wanted to. I think all through the tour in Europe the olive branch was extended and the opportunity was being discussed of them continuing to work together. Right until the end of the tour in France they didn’t want to accept that Peter’s decision was final and they made every effort to encourage Peter to stay with the band. Peter, by his own efforts, did not want to shut the door on the band other than to say this is what I want to do. It was like saying, “I wanna have my solo career but I don’t want to leave Genesis…” Genesis was saying, “You cannot have a solo career, you have to be a part of the band.”
TEJ Basically, chose between one or the other.
RE That’s basically the way they treated Steve when Steve did Voyage of the Acolyte. It was like, “We don’t like this, this is not Genesis.” And how Steve’s problems started, because Steve felt he needed that outlet of creativity that he wasn’t getting in Genesis and the band objected to it psychologically, not openly, between them.
TEJ Ironic considering both Phil and Mike are on Voyage of the Acolyte.
RE Yeah, but it was still a solo album and they were very unhappy about solo efforts.
Robert Joins the Lamb Tour
TEJ Unfortunately it is known that there isn’t a full length performance on film or a documentary about the Lamb Tour. However, this is where the book steps in and makes up for this historical blunder. The first date of the tour covered in the book is Paris on the 3rd March 1975; there is a poster outside the venue for holiday on ice.
RE The venue was a multi-purpose venue much like Wembley Empire Pool.
TEJ It’s listed as the Palais Des Sports was that the first time you saw the Lamb live?
RE I think it was.
TEJ Just over the page it looks like you have captured the stage being set up as I can see a ladder. Over the page you have managed to shoot a really enthusiastic audience.
RE All the audiences were pretty enthusiastic. There was a lot of pressure on venues from kids who didn’t have tickets. It wasn’t just there were enthusiastic fans inside, there were also enthusiastic fans outside that added to the atmosphere, which made that sense of occasion more grand than it appeared from the inside. I think it dissipated towards the end when that enthusiasm started to wane and when the promotion was not getting through to the fan base; to the audience; to the public at large. There’s nothing in the papers, nothing in the magazines nothing being written about this or done about this. I think it killed itself because there was nothing going on around this tour except the gigs themselves.
TEJ It is natural for an album/tour to run out of steam after a while.
RE Not after six months though. They should have toured this album for two years.
TEJ That said the Lamb tour wasn’t the smoothest or problem free of all the tours. When the tour reaches Portugal, particular Cascais, it was documented that the gigs didn’t go off well due to political unrest.
RE It did go off well; the political unrest was the backdrop to it. It is hard for people who were not there to understand that the tension was perceived rather than real and the tension was there, because they were in the middle of a social and Cultural Revolution. The band represented the new, what freedom the people wanted. They wanted to congregate, because they were banned from congregating in large numbers, and the kind of music they wanted to listen was being censored by the fascist regime. Genesis would not have been able to enter the country a year or two earlier.
TEJ So inadvertently, Genesis happened to be the catalyst for change?
RE Yes, they were very much at the vanguard of that change, and that sense of freedom the audience perceived was what drove the excitement of those shows. That’s why the army and the police were there in such numbers; they were dead scared that this was going to erupt into some kind of emotional outpouring of nationalist feelings that might upset the apple cart. Really, the excitement was very positive; the sense that everybody was enjoying themselves was of far greater importance to the occasion than the sense of demonstration against the past regime, or for the current change that was taking place in the carnation revolution.
TEJ Thank you for sharing your memories of Cascais and for shedding light on what happened at the time. So where were we? The Lamb tour started in America in November 1974 and then it came to Europe in February of 1975.
RE By February of 1975 they did Scandinavia and they had to ship all of the stuff over from America, they trekked around Europe before they came to the UK where the tour was supposed to end, which was the delayed tour from when Steve injured his hand and they had to reschedule the dates. The UK dates were tacked onto the end of the European tour. There had been such a successful reaction to the tour in Europe that they were adding dates all the time so they had to go back to Europe after the UK tour to do a bunch of more dates because of the success of their previous concerts. Instead of the tour ending in the UK it ended in May of 1975 after they had completed as many of those dates as they could do.
TEJ Didn’t they try to tour Italy and that sort of fell apart?
RE They went from Portugal straight to Italy they said to me it wouldn’t be wise for me to come with them because they didn’t know whether they were going to be able to play or not let alone what else was going to go on.
RE They had a few dates set up in Italy but they were very wary and worried about their reception in Italy and it turned out correctly. They were really on tenterhooks and I was dying to go because I knew it was going to be really interesting and there was going to be all kinds of stuff going down. Just what I wanted, but no they wouldn’t have it and it was just too dangerous for me. As it is, they just about got through the first date in Milan before being frogmarched off to the border and being told never to come back again.
TEJ How did that come about?
RE It was just like the political situation in Portugal but ten times worse and in Italy the concept of free concerts and that one shouldn’t have to pay for music was in full flight at the time and it was that ethic that was ruling the confrontation between the authorities (as in the security), and the police, and the fans. They were hardly fans more like agitators. The genuine Italian fans are the best in the world as they would see it and in many respects because they latched onto Genesis from the beginning.
TEJ So they got escorted to the Italian border. I don’t think they were the only band that went through that experience at the time.
RE That’s true they weren’t.
TEJ Genesis didn’t return to Italy for some time.
RE Well, it was already difficult for Genesis to arrange those two or three dates any way they had to give all kinds of assurances and promise that everything would be fine, much as they did to get into Portugal. And they thought if we can get through Portugal with no problems then we can get through Italy. As you know it didn’t work out that way.
TEJ That may explain why in some gig listings that there is a 10-day lay off in France.
RE The itinerary is not correct; they’re not accurate. The published itineraries for that tour are wrong and I hope somebody somewhere has got the gumption to sort that out and put it right. I think it was difficult for them: they were constantly changing it and so I don’t suppose anybody has got a definitive list. I mean they have got the dates and the gigs but it’s not likely that the gigs that they went to coincide with the dates because they were changed because they had tickets for a particular date but the concert took part another date. The itinerary is pretty good when they get to the UK it’s only the added dates that were the problem.
TEJ Looking at the book you captured a lot of the UK dates. Were there any gigs that stood out for you?
RE Oh! Wembley was the finest date on the whole tour. I think there were two nights at Wembley and they played their best there, in my opinion. It was the finest example of that show that they did anywhere in my experience of the 12 shows on the tour I saw. Wembley was the one that stood out above all the others for the sheer quality of their playing, not because of the occasion; because Portugal stands out for that; but they played magnificently.
TEJ Wembley Empire Pool or as we now know it, Arena, is a large venue. Did the show suit a large arena rather than the smaller theatres like Colston Hall in Bristol or The Hippodrome in Birmingham?
RE I went to Liverpool because the Empire Theatre is a very big theatre with a large stage where they could get everything on it just as they had done in the main halls in Europe, and that show really needed to be on big stage. If they had stuck it out and wanted to take this Lamb show back to America it would’ve been just something else. Because by that time they had whole new ideas about how they were going to do the presentation. Well the crew did, the band of course couldn’t wait for it to end so that they could go their separate ways, but the crew didn’t know the band were finishing. So, there were all these models coming in and plans being laid out on tables showing what the wonderful setup was going to be for America.
TEJ Obviously it never came to fruition.
RE No one was going to admit that it wasn’t going to happen not until the very end and even after the tour it took them from May until August to announce that Peter was leaving. They were forced to admit it rather than fake some preparation for an American tour that wasn’t going to happen.
TEJ I suppose you cannot keep hype inflated forever.
RE I wished they had stayed together to do that next American leg that would have been really something. But looking at the plans for it was just going to be great.
TEJ To move forward we should talk a bit about the notorious sideshow presented across three projection screens that used specially sequenced slides to accompany each song, or part of a song, to give the audience a view inside Peter’s head. The book is the only way you can see the slide show in detail, especially if you weren’t at the shows back then.
RE Well, the other way now is to watch the DVD of the 5.1 Surround Sound version of the album in the green box set.
TEJ Of course and it is highlight of the box set, is that where the idea for creating a book stemmed from?
RE In that box set is a representation of the entire slide show from start to finish, with a few black and white pictures along the bottom at various points. That was the catalyst; it is where the whole [book] project began. Back in the 2000 Serge Morrisette [from The Musical Box Genesis tribute band] approached me with a project to do a rearrangement of the slides for the band, and I said as long as it’s just for the band and you’re not going to use the slides or pictures for anything else. So, he was very grateful, and he was very happy when we worked together on that. He came back to me a bit later in 2006/2007 to tell me he was now working for Genesis on the re-release of this slide show in the forthcoming box set. Actually, it was started much earlier than that in 2003, but it got put back. Eventually in 2006/2007 they got it together and the box set finally came out.
TEJ Finally, it was released on DVD. How did the book progress from there?
RE The slide show on the DVD ended being exactly what Tony Smith wanted it to be in the beginning, but in the meantime Serge and I worked on a whole different concept of that bit of the album that didn’t see the light of day. That is another piece of history that is still sitting there. However, when that didn’t happen in 2008/9 we shelved the project. We had to shelve nine months of solid work and abandon it, and I didn’t like that at all because I felt we missed the opportunity to represent the show in a real way, which was where the book came in. Over the next few years there wasn’t an opportunity to do much with it in the sense of: when am I going to put it out? What’s the relevance of it in the current state of affairs where the band is so far apart musically? It was really only the 40th Anniversary of the Lamb that would be the impetus to actually do the book and to put it out. When I was well into the book project Eagle Rock came along with their BBC documentary and the book was like a stimulus for it. They said we would do the advertising for your book in our DVD, if we can use some of your pictures for our BBC documentary. I went, “Yeah we can discuss that as a possibility.”
TEJ The documentary obviously steered away from that direction.
RE The discussion went on as you can imagine, then Tony Smith piled into the discussion between Eagle Rock and me. Tony Smith absolutely clamped down on it; he said, “Nope don’t want it.” That really put the kibosh on it. The director was taken aback to put it mildly, and a lot of discussion went on pleading and arguing between the three of us: Eagle Rock, Tony Smith, and me about this whole idea. The whole thing got meshed into a kind of Mexican stand-off with everybody pointing a gun at everybody else.
TEJ That’s unfortunate that it played out that way because it could have been a fantastic celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and it could have been good promotion for all parties.
RE Which would have included a 40th Edition deluxe version of the album redone with new packaging.
TEJ Similar to the layout of the recent Peter Gabriel Back to Front deluxe edition and the deluxe Steve Hackett Live at the Royal Albert Hall Blu-Ray?
RE Indeed. I couldn’t understand why Genesis wouldn’t even consider the idea. I decided to go ahead with the project without any cooperation from the band. Whilst I regretted having to do that it was never my intention to need the band to be involved with this.
TEJ That would have been interesting had they taken that on board.
RE I approached Peter independently; we had long conversations about this personally, one to one, but in the end he kowtowed to Tony Smith’s line. That was a great shame, because I think if Peter had stood up for himself and said “No I want to do this…” I don’t think Tony smith would have stood in his way, but that’s just my feeling.
TEJ Whilst that is unfortunate I feel looking at the book today it stands up as a perfect historical document of the Lamb and the tour that followed, not only from the slide show sequence, but also the additional memories of the encores that were played at the end of the shows you attended. I would hope that your recent experiences have not put you off considering another book on Genesis.
RE It most certainly has put me off, big time. Whilst I would love to do more projects on Genesis, because there is a lot more to be done, but it would need to be done with the bands help and cooperation. Without that support I wouldn’t want to go there again. If that brick wall wasn’t there, or at least understandable where one could climb over it, then I would happily go ahead and consider another Genesis project. In the climate of what I faced during the Lamb project I do not want to face that again.
TEJ Have you heard about the new Genesis application that Armando Gallo has released showcasing his photo archive? Does this kind of thing appeal to you, especially considering the size of your photo archive?
RE It appeals to me, but I do think that the contractual and the business of it are still in its infancy. The way it is brought to market and the way in which these things are presented to the public, and the way in which it is sold is still a complete rip off – as far as the artists are concerned – and until that changes I think it would be ludicrous to give away the rights of these people who created this art to corporations who would return peanuts to the people who created the art. If you take for example, Spotify. As far as the musicians are concerned there is a ground swell of opinion that musicians should not be allowing this kind of exploitation, because it is destroying their livelihoods. It is not until the business climate changes that I will allow it to happen. So, yes I am interested in it, but not in the current business climate.
TEJ Of course another business model for such applications is to release a basic form first as a teaser, then dangle additional content for a small fee. The profit comes in from further additions to the content that you could charge for.
RE Whilst I support that, the problem I have is that the business side of it isn’t ready yet. When the business side of it makes sense I would gladly get involved, whether it’s on my own or in collaboration. With others I can see lots of possibilities within archives and within the knowledge of people who have been involved with this band over the years who have largely been ignored, even in the documentary. I can make no sense of that BBC/Eagle Rock documentary at all in terms of the real history that they were trying to represent.
TEJ Personally they could have involved people like Richard MacPhail a lot more.
RE Of course! The point is where was Barbara Charone? Where was Chris Welch? Where was Hugh Fielder? Where were you and a few other guys who have a long experience of this band? Why wasn’t Armando in this thing?
TEJ Mike Rutherford had said that the original idea for the documentary was about the Lamb in time for its anniversary, which we discussed.
RE The reason I had such long conversations with the band and Tony Smith along with Eagle Rock was to understand what was going on, what was happening, and my place in it. That was what I was struggling with, because the messages were so mixed from these different quarters. The stimulus for the project was the Lamb from start to finish. If they had made a conscious effort to acknowledge the importance of the Lamb on RKIVE and the DVD [documentary] then I would have been a lot happier about it. I would have been more nervous about putting out my own book if I felt I was crossing their path. But, because they were not doing this and Peter told me himself categorically that this documentary was nothing to do with the Lamb. So I am going, “Ok Peter, you tell me what you like, it doesn’t change my position…” and it was that which made me decide to go ahead with the book on my own.
TEJ Before we started chatting I was listening to a Lamb tour bootleg from Liverpool 19th April gig. The song that got my attention was a slightly demonic version of The Evil Jam/The Waiting Room where Peter sings a line that sounds like, “Look out now…” but processed through a repeating tape delay and he started to scream over it, making it sound rather demonic.
RE Yes it always was demonic. That particular Evil Jam thing was always an adventure for the band themselves. That was the bit of the show that they most liked to play together especially. When they were up there playing it they would look forward to that part of the show.
TEJ I suppose it’s the only part of the show where they could let themselves go and jam a bit owing to the rest of the set being rigid.
RE They would ad-lib & jam that section. Every time I hear that track on either a bootleg or live recording it is always completely different from one show to the next.
TEJ Mind you there was still a structure at the end of the song where you would hear this whistle to signify that playtime was over. Much like being at school when the dinner ladies would blow their whistle to signify the end of break time.
RE It was the highlight of the show in some respect due to the sheer drama of it.
TEJ I feel the book captures this exceptionally well from a photographic viewpoint.
RE There was also the app concept. Can you imagine this book with these pages in it recreated as an app that you could click on and all sorts of things would come up, with the running video of the songs with the pictures running through it? Oh, what a fantastic view that would be of the show if they were to do that.
TEJ It would be great. For now though that isn’t happening?
RE I don’t really want to promote something that isn’t there, whatever might be in the future. That said I’ll never allow my images to be incorporated for something that I am not intimately involved in. My images will never be licensed again to anybody else simply because I’d be giving it away for next to nothing unless I am involved in it personally. I see no marketing value allowing somebody else to create an asset that I am contributing to for next to nothing. In the old days the money that we got for licensing images to such projects was substantial and it was a sustainable business. These days the market is so bad that the money on offer for any such licensing is pennies.
TEJ I think that’s down to greed. A live album with no live photos would be pretty boring. The photographs make up half of the package and they represent a snapshot of the band live during the tour – or the recording of the live album. To denigrate photography to such an extent that it’s deemed a cheap commodity is very sad.
RE It is the case we are in at the moment. I am having big fights with Sony Music and with Epic. And now that there are only really three [major record labels] left on the globe at the moment, they all have the same kind of contracts to their suppliers, which are so onerous. That is why they are barred access to my archive. A lot of other photographers have done the same thing: those that still own their material. The problem is that many photographers have given up at least part of their archive to the likes of Getty and Corbis and other agencies, which have nice cosy deals with Sony and Universal that allows them to use archive material for next to nothing. I wouldn’t want to do that because there is no money in it.
TEJ With that in mind, what prompted you to offer a supplement of photos from Six Of The Best?
RE Because it was the only occasion when all five of them were back together playing Genesis music.
TEJ It is a very nice addition to the book. Yet again the standard of photography is very high.
RE Of course, I mean I wanted it to be a freebie as an offer to those people who put up their money three months before the book was released.
TEJ It is a very generous item, which offers the buyer of the book a rare glimpse at such pictures including Tony Banks playing a 12-string guitar, something he hadn’t done for years.
RE If you had seen some of the early stuff from around the time of Nursery Cryme early on when he was playing a 12 string, and he often did for Musical Box and Supper’s Ready, he would sit there during those sequences and play that guitar on stage but many people wouldn’t actually see him playing it because the keyboards were in the way. So, although he would have been there playing a guitar most of the audience wouldn’t have seen it.
TEJ Looking at this supplement in detail it is a really nice collection of photographs perhaps something that could have been used for the basis of another project.
RE If you saw what I have you would be amazed, and frankly, you’re not wrong. It’s just I have a lot more projects in mind to do and I was so put off by the way the band behaved and the way the management behaved that I am really, really unwilling to feel like I am trying to exploit the band. This is not an exploitive venture; I limited this to 500 copies because I didn’t want them to feel that I was exploiting them. I wanted them to feel that this was a labour of love not a commercial exploitation. If I didn’t do it then it wouldn’t have been done, they were never going to do this project themselves. It would have been great to have their support and or their active involvement but it was not the purpose of why I did this.
TEJ Was it a case of stubbornness and finality to do this project?
RE I did this project because it needed doing, because it was one of those things just sitting there in my archive thinking, when are you going to share me with others and get around to me. Plus, the response from the band to Serge and my demos’ intended for the Lamb box set were very enthusiastic. From the reports back we got that they loved it, yet it still didn’t come to fruition. The fact that they were not prepared to stand behind the project and put money along with the time into it that it would have required to have cleaned it up and have it treated digitally in the way in which the film should have been treated. They simply didn’t want to spend the money on it.
TEJ It is a shame that it was another door closing on such a project. I feel the band for a period of time liked to believe that the Lamb album didn’t happen due to the negativity and range of emotions surrounding it.
RE Yes I think they would have preferred to bury the album completely and to forget all about it, if it wasn’t for the fact that they know it was one of the greatest piece of work that they ever put together. Yes it had its flaws. Yes it wasn’t this and it wasn’t that. But, it was this and it was that… is the glass half full or is it half empty? From most people’s point of view, it is more than half full. Like you said earlier the mixture is so diverse across the four sides it really is very hard to digest the whole entity of it. If you try to pick up the whole cake then you cannot eat it.
TEJ Going back a bit, when the tour concluded and the news broke in the press of Peter’s decision what did you believe was the future of the group?
RE I had no doubts at all that they would continue. It was clear that they were going to continue, they just needed to find a new singer and their singer was staring at them in the face. From day one Peter said use Phil, he was clear about it from the beginning that Phil should do the singing but he couldn’t tell the band what to do because they wouldn’t listen to him anyway. If you could talk to Phil he would tell you that he really didn’t want to push himself forward because really he wanted to play the drums. Trick of the Tail was an experiment that demonstrated that they could write music together that would be a hit, and that was the record that got them out of debt. It was a successful record and put them back on their feet, and it made them realise what they could do… that they could make a living at it. Trick of the Tail was the first time in their lives that they stood on their own two feet.
TEJ Let’s quickly talk a bit more about the tour and the album. When you put the book together you started by placing photos of you at Island studios in Basing Street and at Peter’s new home in Bath before you started your tour journey in Paris in March 1975.
RE When I visited Peter at his new home in Bath it was a key moment, because this is when I learned the background to the production of the album and what was going on between the members of the band at that time. There was an undercurrent of something at Basing Street, but they were so keen to get the production done and to get the job finished. When I got to Peter’s house a couple of weeks later he was much more relaxed and reflective about the recording process and where they were at.
TEJ This would be the interview in New Musical Express published on the 2nd November 1974 conducted by Neil Spencer.
RE Yes and Neil Spencer went on to be the assistant editor of the magazine.
TEJ Your relationship with the band must have been rather comfortable by 1974 to enable you access to Lamb sessions.
RE It was at a sensitive point in their lives. If we can go back a stage… I wanted to go to Wales [Glassplant] to the recording sessions. I wanted to go down to the Grange when they were writing the album, but I couldn’t get past their own inhibitions about how they were going to do this record. It was all too myopic to them. The fact that Tony Smith had to go to outside photographers who didn’t know Genesis or anything about them and drag these guys down for the day rather than take me speaks volumes for the insecurity that the band were in that they didn’t want me to see.
TEJ Was your access denied because you knew them too well, or that it might have been too intrusive at that time? I wonder because the only piece that appeared in the press was on the 1st of June 1974 with Steve Clarke and David Ellis (another photographer – no relation). They were with NME and they tried to conduct an interview with Peter and Phil but they didn’t seem to get much cooperation from either. David and Steve went down to Headley Grange to interview the band but they didn’t get far. Peter and Phil were rather evasive, and Steve Clarke had to pad out the interview.
RE I know Steve very well and he was pretty disappointed, but that was just how it worked out on the day and they didn’t get on. The thing is they were not really receptive to the idea of a journalist and a photographer being there and it was just not easy for them. Then they took down Richard Haines who was transported there by Tony Smith. I don’t know how he got to know the band. Tony Smith took him down there by driving very fast. By the time he got to the place he was so scared due to Tony’s driving. The band let him do photographs because he wasn’t there to interview them. The band was much more at ease with him than they were with David and Steve earlier, because Richard’s visit was about a month after David and Steve’s. I think it was much better for the guys; they were willing to be more cooperative. Richard did some really nice pictures there with them sitting around having tea and sitting in the rooms just larking about classic stuff.
TEJ Somehow you were able to break the veneer of protection from them by the time the band ended up at Island Studios/Basing Street putting the finishing touches to the Lamb.
RE Who knows, but it came from them not me. I had been pressing them, so maybe it was a bit of both with me pressing them for access and them thinking about how they were going to do this album, and what would happen next, and who they were going to get involved. It was kind of nice that I did get the opportunity to go there and spend some time with them over a couple of days. It was very valuable to me to re-establish that lost connection since Selling England by the Pound. It was great too, as the whole reason they sat down to do a double album, a concept album, was because it was do or die.
Putting together the Project
TEJ Starting the book must have been very hard especially with the confines of jus 180 pages, you have a large collection of photographs from this period. Is there a reason why you didn’t include more photographs in the book?
RE It was immensely hard. It took me a long time to decide on the structure of the book, because I had so many conflicting views and ways I could’ve done this. I had a lot of discussions with journalists, with researchers, and people who could’ve been involved take the book in a different direction. When I learned that Jon Kirkman wanted to do his book about the Lamb, I instinctively knew what kind of book that was going to be. All of that just went out the window from my perspective and I went back to plan A, which was to focus on my own experiences and my own little memories rather than trying to encompass different points of view and angles into it. There was all of the early stuff from Richard Haines that he had shot down in Headley Grange; all of which are wonderful pictures; and I wanted to start there in the Grange. Then the situation was that Jon Kirkman was determined to do his book on the Lamb and he contacted me to ask whether I was prepared to give him pictures for his project and I said no because I am doing my own.
TEJ I think books written about a band or group fall into three categories, 1) Is the biography either written by them or written about them, 2) is a photo book where the photos tell the story with a few pieces of text and number 3) is a book that is compiled and therefore collated from many sources and images to give a broad spectrum in the subject matters history. They all have intrinsic value but it’s just a different way of telling the story.
RE Precisely and that’s exactly what I was going through – these different ways of looking at the project that I wanted to do. Plan A was to always do a book, which is why I took the pictures in the first place. It wasn’t as though I had a mass of material that I didn’t know what to do with; this was always intended to be a body of work that had to be published in some good way. I knew they were not going to film it [the tour] or record it, so if I could have got them to agree to let me have a cine-camera in there I would have filmed it and they absolutely wouldn’t let me do that. So, I was forced into a second option of being an automaton with a camera sitting there going click, click, click, every few seconds. This of course was well before the days of digital cameras where I would’ve just stuck it on video and done it anyway.
TEJ There are always going to be those people who want more
RE I think it was difficult to keep it down to the amount I used; to keep it a cohesive thing. I could have put a lot more pictures in the book, but then every picture would have been much smaller. It wouldn’t have had the feel and look I wanted to give it and I had to leave out a lot of pictures because there wasn’t the space to put them in. If I had made the book any bigger then it would have lost the focus I wanted to give to the actual show and not on the band at the time. Don’t forget, I did all of this deliberately with a specific aim in mind. It wasn’t meant to be anything more than a realisation of what the concept was when I first took the pictures. I wanted to take us right back to 40 years ago and tell it like it was exactly without any flim flam, or extra about how it was received by the world at large, or the reaction of the fans, because all of that is another book and I would be happy to see it.
TEJ I assume that you took many photos of things like the road crew setting up the stage and the instruments, but I suspect that has a limited appeal hence why they were not used. That said if we go beyond the Paris and Portugal sections of the book, to the start of the show. Your book encapsulates the audiences view during the performance of each song.
RE But, before you get to that I make a great effort to set the scene so that you could see the stage set up and the kind of venues that they were playing and the kind of environment that they were in as a band at the time. But, I didn’t want to focus on it, even though I could have made that section a lot bigger than it was. I didn’t want to because it would have taken away from the whole show itself. An example is the cover. It is a complete telling of the show from the front cover to the back – from the opening of the show to the end. The cover pictures are in song order chronologically from the top left hand corner running all the way down the page to the end and when you turn it over to the back of the book it continues from where it left off to: the last song IT at the bottom of the page.
TEJ Wow, intricate!
RE I haven’t made a big fuss about that, but that is what the book is about. That’s why the cover looks like it does and why I did it that way.
TEJ You’ve not told many people about the hidden concept of the cover?
RE This is the first time I have mentioned it!
TEJ One of those hidden messages.
RE Well, it’s not designed to be trumpeted; it was designed for the fans. Don’t forget I didn’t make this for a publisher. In fact when I showed this book to a few publishers the first thing they said was it hasn’t got the band on the cover.
TEJ Such a myopic view especially when it’s clear you have the band on the cover in many instances.
RE Ah but not the way they wanted it.
TEJ They probably would have wanted a group photo from page 32 or page 33 on the front instead.
RE But that would have taken away the purpose for why this book was put together and I think giving it a very distinctive look is very unique. Nobody’s going to do that again.
TEJ It’s a great concept, and definitely puts across that focus you were talking about.
RE I am waiting for a nerd to tell me that one of those photos is chronologically out-of-place. I went to enormous lengths to ensure that they are in the right order and as you’re asking I will tell you something else. When you come to the section on the show itself that opens with the Lamb Lies Down… each of the those double pages portrays a point in the song. So the pictures are carefully chosen to fit with that particular bit of the song on each of those double pages. It would be a challenge for anybody to look at those and to decide what bit of the song those pictures on the double pages relate to. I know exactly what part of the song those pictures relate to with regard to the songs with lyrics. Even in the instrumental sections those pictures are in the right order. That is how nerdy the project got and it took me a very long time to organise. So you can imagine if I had made the book 800 pages long it would have had every bit of every song but I think that would have been overkill to an extreme.
TEJ I suppose you would have ended up with the encyclopaedia Britannica if you had gone that far.
RE That might have been a bit too much for people to take.
TEJ Well, there is always a market but that might have been a narrow market.
RE I didn’t want it to get to the point where it cost more than it does currently to buy.
TEJ Well it’s a photo book so the images tell the story and take precedence over the text. It is an interesting format I am not as used to, because normally books are text with accompanying images.
RE Mainly in this market books take the journalistic view with accompanying pictures and you get mainly that vision of Rock-N-Roll. You don’t tend to get the kind of book that I am doing.
TEJ And by acting like a window into that world is the next best thing to a time machine.
RE It is, and the other thing about is with mainly photographs and very little text that it is very accessible to people who do not speak the language. If you’re talking to people in South America or Japan they love books like this, because it’s not difficult to for them to understand the book from cover to cover just as we would struggle if it was in Japanese.
TEJ Suppose it also removes the need to get the book reprinted in various languages because the pictures tell the story, you have the band in France right near the Eiffel Tower or in Portugal near a Penn castle.
RE Most fans of Genesis would understand English, to a degree, because they listen to the albums and they understand the words and so they would get it.
TEJ It’s great you’ve been able to offer this to people in time for the anniversary and have fought to wave the Genesis flag.
RE I guess there aren’t many people out there who were in my position that could have done what I have done. I mean Armando Gallo was there from the beginning. Lets not forget Armando is really the guy who set the bar as far as the Genesis images to their fans.
TEJ I think his very first Genesis gig was the 24th January 1971 at The Lyceum theatre in London on the Six-Bob Tour.
RE Which is pretty much the same time that I began to get involved in them. I greatly admire him and his tenacity and sheer dedication to this band as I do with all of you. Without the enthusiasm and contributions from us you can imagine how the band would have driven us mad. What a dull world it would be around Genesis!
TEJ Thank god they were not a manufactured boy band. Thankfully, we are now able to collate all this material about the band, or the music, or the tours to the extent it’s now very easily shared.
RE Distributable anyway… people can share the information among themselves these days far more than they ever could before with all the fan clubs and the other newsletter type things that people did, because that was all very restrictive and compartmentalized. These days it’s all broken down into its elements and redistributed in different ways across multiple different formats. It creates a whole platform of interest in the band or any band, but particularly Genesis, because they didn’t have that going for them in the beginning.
TEJ It’s great because people from across the world can access The Genesis Archive website and suddenly read an interview with the band from 1972 and they learn something new.
RE Making people’s interest grow. There is always something new to learn. My contribution to this is to finally put my album of photos out there in the public domain. It is not about trying to do the band down or make their lives difficult, regardless of what management might think.
TEJ Since you completed the Lamb book I notice you have been working on a similar book about AC/DC, how is that coming along?
RE Yeah I have been working on the AC/DC book. It’s about to be released… today! [This would have been February 28th 2015]
TEJ I take it there is the same level of interest in this book as the Lamb book.
RE Oh yes! I’m heading out to the printers after our chat to collect the books.
TEJ How have the sales of the Lamb book been?
RE We are close to selling out, we had a limited edition run of 500 and they’re nearly all gone.
TEJ When these remaining copies run out have you considered a further reprint or run?
RE Yes, I would do it differently with a new edition, maybe the deluxe edition… adding this and adding that with some help from the band. And even extra material such as the outtakes/demos from the recording sessions at Headley Grange. I think it would be really nice to hear some of it in progress because I have heard it, so I know it exists. But that’s pie in the sky and never likely to happen. Never say never!
TEJ What I found interesting in your Lamb book were the overhead photographs of the group either during the sound checks or live show did you climb up the rigging back then?
RE Oh yes I did, I liked to climb the rigging. This is also in the AC/DC book. AC/DC actually built a seat for me during one of their tours in the lighting rig directly above Phil Rudd’s head. I was sat up there for the whole show and of course I couldn’t get down and I was right up there amongst all the lights. Now how about that as a place to take pictures from!
TEJ Clearly, climbing the rigging to get that photo was your thing, hence AC/DC going as far as to put a seat up there for you.
RE It would never get agreed to these days, health and safety would prevent it.
TEJ Well, that is quite likely, nevertheless back then I think you found a niche for that overhead photo angle.
TEJ What other projects are you working on at this time?
RE The AC/DC book as mentioned, Rod Stewart and The Faces, and a book about The Who – specifically the Moon years. It’s about time I realised this asset of mine.
TEJ Your photo archive is large and you were able to cover many artists and bands in your time. Will you create many more photo books from your archive?
RE Yeah, because the photo-book idea is quite the place to be and there is quite a market growing for this at the moment. This is because the processes of printing books has improved so much in the last five years; let alone twenty years.
TEJ Yes and technology has caught up, things are created and sent digitally to the extent that the printed image in the book is the exact image you saw on the screen.
RE Precisely! It sounds simple, but it’s quite not as simple as that, but you can get an idea. It’s a bit like now where people can take a picture with a digital camera and then upload it to a news desk or magazine within 30 seconds.
By this time we had to wrap up our talk, and we left Robert to signing and shipping his AC/DC book.
We want to thank Robert for his time and help putting together this extensive interview. We will also be posting a short review of Robert’s book up shortly. Click here to purchase any of Robert’s work.
To keep in contact and up to date with Robert Ellis click the links below.
Resources and Other Links
- Richard Haines Photos (Headley Grange 1974)
- Steve Clark and David Ellis 1974 Feature
- Sum of the Parts
- Green Box Set
- Forthcoming Jon Kirkman Book
- The Genesis Archive