Interview with Richard Macphail – My Book Of Genesis

It was enjoyable discussing with Richard and finding out some of the origins to the early Genesis songs, such as The Musical Box. After a brief interruption we ploughed on.

TEJ: It’s gems like that, which sort of carry the history along, because people like to unravel things with the mindset of how was this put together; how was it constructed.

RM: Yeah

TEJ: I don’t believe it’s always healthy because you can go too far, that you take the fun out of it.

RM: Yeah and you demystify the thing.

TEJ: It’s a bit like magic, which I feel, is a good example; sometimes you go along to be amused. But if you found out how they did it, it somehow loses something.

RM: No you don’t, you’re absolutely right and that was the other balance that we had to strike in the book; because if I am doing the book for the fans there’s got to be lots of that stuff behind the scenes and a bit of the demystification. But on the other hand if I want the book to appeal to non-genesis fans which it has done and does, which is greatly satisfying to me then you can’t put too much of that in, because they’ll be going “oh for god’s sake” you know, too much information. There’s a balance to be struck and I hope we did it.

TEJ: The balance is just right I think, in comparison to my first thirty years,  in your first thirty had you doing so much travel you must have earned enough air miles to guarantee free flights for life.

RM: If only! All I got was Green Shield f***ing stamps…

Laughter

TEJ: Which you can’t redeem anymore!

A Green Shield stamp.

RM: They weren’t worth redeeming even then

Laughter

TEJ: Well you must have been close to a million and that luxury dining set!

Laughter

TEJ: So you’re talking about the book being two-thirds Genesis and one-third you, that one-third of you exists in your adventures. An example would be when you’re in America at the age of 22 involved with a woman and you help her move home, this includes you towing her Lincoln Continental…

RM: US Route 1 West, a hell of an adventure

TEJ: That must have been an adventure, not like the boring stuff of Richard unwrapped this cable or plugged in this Mic. Because your reading through and you think S*** he really took that axle off the Lincoln and towed it with that U-Haul van.

Laughter

RM: Once I got used to it, it was all right; but I’d be driving along and I’d think who’s that f***ing Lincoln right on our tail?

(We’re at Watford Gap services [Blue Boar] reliving this story)

Laughter

TEJ: What made it more amusing, almost comical is the fact you didn’t stop there; you went on to explain how it was a nightmare to reverse and how you took great advantage of the huge car parks to try and drive it in. So the personal aspect like that was very interesting as was the recollection of you squatting, is a fascinating insight into that world.

RM: And the time

TEJ: Because you cannot do that now, it has been and gone

RM: In those days it wasn’t against the law, as long as you didn’t cause any trouble

TEJ: If you have any ounce of interest in Sociology, then it’s great to read that you lived like this and could go off, working with Genesis and then return to find the house still there and the Gas, Electricity still connected and eggs in the fridge; that just wouldn’t happen today

RM: NO!

Laughter

TEJ: Within three months your house would have disappeared, and you would have been going where’s my eggs?

RM: Yeah

TEJ: There is also the bit that covers you personally is very interesting; with the story of you hitch hiking around Canada that has an amusing twist. It’s just brilliant and a bit of social justice when you get your Camera back.

RM: And I did get it back, we were in the car for hours and hours over three days, so I got to know him a bit.

TEJ: A little bit of justice there.

TEJ: I suppose life was a bit more carefree then, which could explain why you don’t possess a wall of gold album awards, a raft of ephemera, or setlist’s etc that myself and other fans would be drooling over.

RM: I threw it all away.

Laughter

RM: I was invited to a convention in Germany a few years ago, and they had these glass cases like you find in a museum; full of all this stuff you know?

TEJ: Yep.

RM: Much of which I think I threw away!

Laughter

TEJ: Quite likely.

Richard among Christian Gerhardts and Bernd Zindler, The Genesis Early Years convention – 2005, German It Fanclub. Photo Credit: Helmut Janisch – 2005.

Laughter

RM: I was thinking oh shit, I should’ve kept that.

TEJ: It’s the same concept with Dinky toys [die cast toys for children]. If everyone had kept there’s in pristine condition, rather than play with them and had not…

RM: …thrown the box away…

TEJ: But now the pristine ones with the pristine boxes are huge collectors items, the ones that have never been played with. How many children never played with theirs? I mean seriously. Realistically, it’s because concert posters were disposable and binned after a show and other stuff that they are now valuable collectables.

We take another break for Coffee

TEJ: The book fills in many holes and gaps, for example you leave Genesis in April of 1973 and then return in 1974 to cover for Les.

RM: Les Adey. Steve told me he had just recently died, he and Jo ran into him and they said he looked really terribly unwell.

TEJ: Oh that’s a shame.

RM: Well he got busted (in 1974) and so they needed someone who didn’t know lights but who knew the music.

TEJ: Someone who could pick it up fast.

RM: I have to say the lights were bloody good, I don’t mind admitting to you.

TEJ: Well Showco went onto much bigger things (the formation of Varilite)

RM: Well the guy who’s also dead and has been for a long time, Alan Owen who became their main lighting guy, he was a spot operator on that tour (Selling England By The Pound – 1974 USA leg); and he told me years later he was really inspired by what I did. He kind of built on that and that was a nice thing.

TEJ: What a platitude, this is the guy that went onto to innovate the Varilite (first moving and changeable concert light), and yet he had those great things to say about you in 1974.

RM: It was nice, they developed the varilites and the main guy in Showco was sitting in a hotel in Los Angles one night with Tony Smith and he said do you wanna buy in? He approached the band and said “We should do this” and they did.

TEJ: You strike me as one of those guys who perhaps had ideas about how the show or lighting could improve even to the point of saying come on guys we could do this etc

RM: It’s true, when we started to get lighting together I realised to get a good set of lights together, how much stuff you needed; just truck full’s of it and of course it is always the thing that has to go up first and come down last all those riggers and stuff. That wasn’t my era but I did go back for that tour.

RM: Then I was back in my squat contemplating my navel and I went off and had that big adventure in America and the rest of it. When I came back the band were in Wales doing The Lamb [Lies Down On Broadway] and it was a car crash.

TEJ: At Glaspant in Wales, it’s been converted into a few holiday homes; thus you can stay in one of these holiday cottages that was the former studio space. I think I have seen a photo or two of you down there during those sessions, I believe it’s one of those moments in history that is shrouded in some mystery for perhaps good reasons

RM: It was not a good time

TEJ: When I interviewed Robert Ellis he told me he could not get near the band at the time, I think with his relationship with the band at the time he might have figured out what was going on.

RM: Yeah, they were keeping everybody out for exactly that reason; the thing is there is some amazing stuff on The Lamb.

TEJ: Yes there is!

RM: But it’s flawed, there’s endless discussions on about “what are the best albums”…

TEJ: It gets nauseating after a while.

RM: Absolutely.

Laughter

RM: But I recently said that if someone put a gun to my head, I would say Selling England (By The Pound), was their best album. But a lot of people consider Trick Of The Tail to be their best album. It’s interesting that the Lamb never comes up as a contender. Don’t get me wrong – I adore it

TEJ: I have to like all era’s as part of my role at The Genesis Archive. But for me the Lamb is like a long dream very enjoyable, when I listen to it I like to shut everything out and become immersed. In a way much like you would listening to Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, you turn off your phone and lock the door, then you become immersed in the tale and for me the Lamb is just the same. Whereas Selling England is for me almost Victorian, you know this is how we used to be; almost as though Genesis are time travellers etc

RM: You’re absolutely right and they’re time travelling musically as well, because of the things that they are pulling in are just from all over the place.

TEJ: For me in the mid-nineties when I first heard Selling England, I lived in Harlow…

(Richard smiles as he remembers Harlow being mentioned in the song Get Em Out By Friday, on Foxtrot the album before).

TEJ: And The Battle Of Epping Forest was the thing that chimed with me living so near to it. Then my journey into Genesis continued with a throwaway comment in a History lesson. The History teacher remarked how he was a Genesis fan and that they had named checked Harlow. He told me it was in Get Em Out By Friday, so the next weekend at a flea market I picked up a vinyl copy of Genesis Live with it on there. Of course everyone sees you on the back and believes it is an obituary in an urban myth that’s as daft as the Paul McCartney is dead and it’s an imposter in The Beatles.

Laughter

RM: Richard Macphail is dead!

The rear cover of the 1973 Live album, Genesis Live has a dedication to Richard because he left the group as a friend and engineer. Some people assume this is a posthumous mention of Richard, it’s not.

Laughter

TEJ: As I stuck on Get Em Out By Friday I could hear “Here we are in Harlow New Town” and I thought brilliant

RM: Mind you, he wasn’t being very nice about Harlow

TEJ: No he had great concerns about people being shrunk in height

Laughter

TEJ: Strange though how there is a film that’s recently come out [Downsizing], that’s just coming out now which I believe has borrowed heavily from the song with regard to the premise of this new film.

RM: I think it’s about reducing the carbon footprint, I’ve seen the trailer for it is called Downsizing.

TEJ: And I thought that’s a little close to the bone of the idea Peter came up with.

RM: Peter thought of that 40 years ago.

Laughter

We break again for coffee

Genesis ticket – The Apollo, Glasgow 1976

TEJ: Whilst you escaped the mess and mire of the Lamb, you returned to tour manage The Trick Of The Tail tour 1976 in Europe. You can be seen on the In Concert film at Stafford walking down the stairs.

RM: That bit was actually filmed at The Apollo in Glasgow.

TEJ: Oh yes, I had read that the filming was split between the two.

RM: Yeah there’s no sound on us walking down the stairs, Bill Bruford said “Oh look I’m in the movies I’m c***ing in my pants” which I think Tony Banks didn’t like. Anyway, I joined that tour, they asked me, because they were very nervous about how it was going to go down. I think they wanted a bit of comfort and ditto with Peter. Which is why I went back and worked for him for two years and thank goodness I did. It wasn’t a clean break as it were until basically ’79, after I had done the Leonard Cohen tour I had decided that it was time for me and the music business to part company for ever.

TEJ: That goes back to the one-third you again; people can assume if Genesis is like the Bayeux tapestry then at various points you’re woven into it.

Laughter

TEJ: But then suddenly there is an extreme left or right turn and you’re working with Leonard Cohen, whom you speak of quite fondly.

RM: He was an adorable man. It was wonderful everyone going “oh it’s Leonard Cohen, music to slit your wrists too” well, I understand that comment, but he wasn’t like that at all. He had this ridiculous bunch of musicians with him, a jazz rock band from Austin Texas and a violinist who spoke no English (Raffi Hakopian) and my Russian’s not very good; so that was very unusual.

TEJ: What surprised me was the German review on the Genesis-News.com website, those guys are very in depth, but even they were stumped to learn you had worked on a Brand X tour. I consider myself a Brand X fan, I grab all kinds of interviews and memorabilia but even I was surprised to learn you were the tour manager.

RM: Their first US tour “Where’s Phil”, Woody who you know as Kenwood Dennard, had no idea what he was getting into. Because he thought it was a musical kind of thing. They were an amazing band as you know, after the first show he went straight out and had a T-shirt made saying “ Where’s Phil?” He was able to see the funny side of it.

TEJ: It must have been hard considering he is deaf?

RM: That is why him and me got into trouble, over me and my alarm thing because he was deaf; he would take out his hearing aids. This casio thing I brought it was state of the art at the time and it would somehow go straight into the middle of his head (the sound). However the way the sound was generated, it drove him nuts and he would wake up and he would start leaping around the room trying to find it.

Laughter

Brand X – 1977 on the start of their USA tour

TEJ: That’s what a tour manager is there for, making sure the band and the crew are awake on time and on the bus.

RM: That’s why I was worried me about getting arrested (St Gallen – Peter Gabriel tour 1977), because ultimately I didn’t want to have it on my record that we missed a gig, and we didn’t.

TEJ: It’s all-important, the history and it should be documented before anything unfortunate happens.

RM: Exactly.

TEJ: What it must have been to be alive back then in the ‘70’s

RM: Well as you pointed out about the age we all were, because we’re all born in the same year except for Phil – he’s a year younger

TEJ: He’s the junior

RM: Yes, unfortunately, he’s the one whose health is not so good at the moment.

TEJ: It’s always the drummers

RM: Yeah!

RM: But someone I used to work with, I hadn’t seen him for years, he got wind of the book and he read it; he sent me a very complimentary email and he said “It made me go back and listen to Nursery Cryme in particular, and it made me realise that this music was written by 21 year olds”. It’s astonishing.

TEJ: The subject is astonishing in the music and the songs, thinking about very mature subjects at the time.

RM: The other thing that I had not fully realised then that Ant pointed out to me, because I interviewed him as well; that Tony Banks was a piano player and they were kind of getting themselves together in ’69. The idea of doing gigs and stuff, whoops we can’t take a piano with us, what are we gonna do? We’ll get him a Hammond organ, can’t afford a B3 so they got a second-hand C3 which was alright. Tony being Tony you see played with it and he discovered there’s a whole range of tones, which nobody ever used. You know, most people like John Mayall or Jimmy Smith model, which was how people used the Hammond organ. But like so many of these instruments had a huge range of stuff that are called percussion tones, and because it was more percussive like a piano that’s what Tony gravitated towards; and he produced some really unusual sounds with it. Like the organ solo on Stagnation.

TEJ: I think you have to be of a particular mind or personality to want to explore

RM: Yeah

TEJ: Without being so self-conscious, without wondering if this sounds crap or worrying about what the other guys think; to keep going wringing everything out of an instrument

RM: Well that’s a good point, they were exactly that; it’s classic with Peter. He’s an insanely shy person and then he goes on stage and does that, Tony Banks is the same. They were a crazy mixture of tremendously shy and lacking in confidence, and the supreme arrogance and self-conscious musically that they didn’t give it a second thought; what they were creating.

TEJ: That takes something more than machismo I think.

RM: I don’t know what it takes.

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