Interview with Richard Macphail – My Book Of Genesis

We continue to discuss the change in the band’s attitudes and stage presence.

TEJ: It was alright for Tony he could just sit down at the keys and with his head down, where as the others were sat down, perhaps Steve staring at the fretboard; but there comes a point when they grew in confidence with Steve and others standing up.

RM: Well, I’ll tell you what happened with that, I don’t think I actually mentioned this. I remember Mike telling me, it was the first time they saw themselves on film

TEJ: Oh right, tell us more

RM: Somebody filmed the band of course. These days we all would have done it on our iPhones.

Laughter

RM: They looked at it and said, “Oh my god we’re all sitting down except for Peter, that’s ridiculous” So Mike and Steve started standing up to attention. If you’re playing that music, if you’re learning the guitar and concentrating on your chops, you’re sitting down; when you get good enough after 10,000 hours; you can do it standing up.

Genesis, Supper’s Ready! Note: Steve is sat down and Mike is stood up!

TEJ: Of course technology started to move forwards; they didn’t need as many effects as they were able to get by, with less because it did more.

RM: In a funny kind of way it has swung both ways, because originally there were no effects; you just plugged in your guitar. Then there were two, there was a wah pedal and a fuzz box; and that was it. Now of course they have all got these things the size of a double bed, you know covered in pedals.

TEJ: With a technician for that…

Laughter

RM: Exactly, the double bed tech! It’s limitless. Funnily enough I think it’s Tom Scholz from Boston has a lot to do with this. Because he was at MIT, he had a band and they had a huge hit, but he started working on these effects pedals; and went on to make a fortune out of manufacturing them and marketing them.

TEJ: There’s a huge marketplace for them.

RM: Yeah, and the whole business of sustain, sustain was only possible when you stood exactly the right distance with the thing cranked up so loud, that the guitar fed back and that’s what Hendrix used and mastered. These days you can get a pedal and do it in your living room, you don’t need the volume and the feedback, the pedal does it for you.

TEJ: It’s when you look at people like Hendrix at Woodstock, you ask yourself in wonderment what is he getting out of that guitar with just that one pedal, and then you see people with the double bed of effects, and they struggle to get much out of it that’s different.

RM: Well, that’s the point all the technology is wonderful, when all the sampling and the synth’s came along it doesn’t matter that all of the technology is there, or not there it’s what you do with it; the wheat will sort itself out from the chaff. One of the guys I like that’s a little more current is James Morrison, he’s really nice and he’s gone back to basics, it’s just guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, basically and I like that. It’s like the 80’s with the whole synth pop stuff, a lot of it was really awful and it was like why are they doing that, because they can, because the tech’s there.

TEJ: The problem is, and I believe it’s getting worse in modern music is that once a sound is invented, everyone figures it out or borrows it and then the effect becomes saturated and diluted; therefore you grow tired of it much quicker.

RM: But that’s the thing, Tony Banks had his Hammond Organ, Ant left and I can’t remember who came up with the idea to get an electric piano, and we literally on that side of the stage right, where Ant and Mike were, we left Ant’s amp where it was and we got a long lead; plugged it into the piano and plugged it into that amp and Tony would play the guitar solo’s, on the electric piano.

TEJ: WOW!

RM: Then he’d be playing the chords, with his left hand on the organ. My successor Adrian Selby dragged Tony off, between Foxtrot and Selling England, to Denmark Street and brought him a synthesizer, it was called an ARP Pro soloist and it was just monophonic, there was no polyphonic back then; and Tony learnt because it had a Portmanteau. You could do that swoopy thing and Tony learnt to play that, that’s what The Cinema Show is for instance.

TEJ: He used it again on The Trick tour as well; you can see him on the In Concert footage during I know what I like, but certainly during The Cinema Show

RM: He had the Mellotron as well, he had the four keyboards, and I think the ARP went on top of the Mellotron. Because the Organ had the keyboard on top of it, facing the stage.

TEJ: Fascinating stuff.

At this point in time we were becoming pressed for time at this point in the interview owing to the car parking rules at the motorway services. Looking through my remaining questions concerning the book I move the line of questioning forwards in time. A real pity though because I feel we were tapping into some great detail about history.              

TEJ: Richard, you didn’t mention in the book how you came to work with Peter, on a song on the Us album.

RM: Oh I didn’t tell that story.

TEJ: No and if you’re able to I’d love to hear it!

RM: I’ll tell it to you now. Peter and I were sitting in my living room in our Notting Hill flat (Richard and Maggie’s) that we have sold since and moved to Shepherds Bush. Peter and I were sitting around and there had been a Liberal Democrat MP for a Cornish constituency, I can’t remember his name, but he died in a very bizarre car accident. Where there was a digger on a truck.

TEJ: I think I remember this.

RM: The thing came unhinged and swung out, and he had the misfortune of being in a car coming the other way and he was killed; Peter and I were just saying (as this had just happened) how sad we were about it, and I started crying about just the idea of it. Because Peter and I had done EST (Erhard Seminars Training) together, this was our relationship. Because you can say on the face of it “why am I crying?”. What we learned at EST is that one thing triggers something deeper; he said “You’ve got in touch with some deep regret” and he asked “Do you know what that is?” And I said that because of the techniques you learn, you just let it come up. What came up was that I never did more with my singing, so basically out of that came the invitation to sing on Digging In The Dirt.

TEJ: Which is a fantastic song.

RM: Which I did with Peter Hammill and Ayub Ogada; but the three of us stood around the mic, doing the backing vocals.

The single Digging In The Dirt – Richard along with others sings backing vocals.

RM: It’s a good song. Oddly enough it’s all about the same thing, Digging in the dirt; it’s all about him and his issues are always about sex, which is why The Lamb is about sex. I do tell the story of him trying to explain to his mother, who was the cause of it all, his screw-ups about sex digging into his unconscious, which we may or may not want to go with him there.

Laughter

TEJ: Then not long after that you worked with Steve Hackett on one or two things that ended up on the original Genesis Revisited.

RM: Well the other thing I didn’t say, but you have just reminded me. I’m not certain on the chronology but it was prior to Steve’s album. Peter gave me a day in the studio at Real World studios and I recorded a demo with Maggie playing piano. We did three songs – Breaking Up is Hard To Do, the second version by Neil Sedaka the slow one, because the first one was like a sixties pop song.

TEJ: Yes it’s faster.

RM: In the 70’s he did a slow one. We also did My Girl and Still by the Commodores, when Lionel Richie was still with them. On My Girl Peter played on it using the Sledgehammer Brass [samples]. I mean it hasn’t really seen the light of day, although I occasionally play one or two tracks on my radio show. Basically, Peter gave me a day in the studio and we produced that demo, I think it must have been afterwards that he came and said, “Do you want to sing on Digging in the Dirt?” I actually sing a little bit on The Blood Of Eden with Sinead, but that got lost on the cutting room floor. But Steve heard that tape (3 song demo) and he invited me to sing on the backing vocals of Your Own Special Way.

This is the promo single for ‘Your Own Special Way’ which features on Genesis Revisited – 1996.

TEJ: Would you consider continuing or expanding the book?

RM: I have no plans, I would like to think that there is a lot of miles in this book; I have done a deal with Wymer (publishing) for the European rights, so they’re approaching people that they have worked with on their other books, in Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Poland.

TEJ: Is that to increase the distribution of this version?

RM: No, no it’s for translation and republishing in those territories, if that happened hopefully there will be promotional tours for that.

TEJ: Hopefully that all works out well for you. One more question before time runs out. You mention that the meaning behind Solsbury Hill is of Peter Gabriel leaving Genesis, in particular the ‘Machinery’. In effect is this book your Solsbury Hill? You left Genesis when you could have stayed on, having perhaps a huge career in their touring or management side?

RM: I could have stayed and had something like that.

TEJ: To me this book is your Solsbury Hill.

RM: Ok, that’s a nice parallel, I like that!

TEJ: In a way you write about the machinery of being in the group in a variety of roles, but you tried to leave a few times before being drawn back in. With something within you in 1979 informing you decision to finally leave, allowing you to forge your own path in Energy Conservation.

RM: It always astonishes me that there are lots of people my age, which I worked with then that, are still doing it. Often with very long hair but none on top and all of that; the idea that I could be doing that is like oh for god’s sake, forget it no way. Because I have had such a wonderfully rich life in so many ways, I really do have no regrets except one, which is that I didn’t have a camera in 1969. Because there are no pictures of the cottage, of us actually being in the cottage. The way in which cameras are so ubiquitous now, it’s everywhere and all the time and that’s the only regret I have.

TEJ: Thank you for your time today Richard.

RM: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

There we leave Richard, he made his way back home.

To buy yourself a copy of Richard’s book please click on this link My Book Of Genesis Official Site

For more information on The Anon and the CD featuring members of Genesis and Richard Macphail CLICK HERE

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