Every legendary band has a confidant that exists in the background filling in the gaps and rolls required to keep them going. On a fairly mild January morning, I travelled to the Watford Gap services, or as I knew it for a long time, the Blue Boar services to meet one Richard Macphail. After releasing his book in the last quarter of 2017 detailing various parts of his time with Genesis, Richard agreed for a meet up and chat. We have a quick chat before the dictaphone is turned on, which includes the book launch and the German Genesis fan club release of The Anon single. After about 10 minutes, we get a bit formal and decide to start the interview.
RM – Richard Macphail
TEJ – The Evil Jam
TEJ: What made you decide to write the book now, rather than earlier in your career or in the band’s career?
RM: Well, basically I retired at the end of 2015 from my energy work, prior to that I really wouldn’t have had the time. Of course having never done anything like this before I had no idea what kind of commitment it was going to be, in terms of how much time it was going to take, how many people it would involve, and how much it was all going to cost. But that’s fine because if I had known all of that I might not have embarked on it at all. It’s a good job I did. Plus the other reason is that I wanted to get it done while I could still remember all – or some of it…
RM: I thought I better do it quick. I decided very early on that I was not going to sit in front of a computer and attempt to write it myself. Because I am not a writer and I respect writers. It is something that people take years or decades acquiring the skills . The other thing is that I am hopeless at a blank piece of paper, which is translated to a blank screen. I don’t think I mentioned this in the book, but when I was at school we were forced to write home to our parents every Sunday.
TEJ: Oh I didn’t know that.
RM: Well, on a Sunday afternoon, when the last thing you wanted to be doing was sitting in an f***ing classroom we would be sitting there and I sat there with a blank sheet of paper and I had absolutely nothing to say. You had to fill both sides of it, I think it has always given me a bit of a phobia as far as a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen is concerned.
TEJ: Maybe it was some misguided thing at Charterhouse?
RM: Oh, it was before then at Aldro and I was about 9 or 10.
TEJ: Maybe it was to boost morale or to give the parents feedback much in the way of a review of sorts so that they would pay for the next term?
RM: I think there is probably more to it but I mean they used to write the scores of whatever games we played against whatever local schools as if the parents wanted to hear that.
TEJ: But that logic makes sense with regards to the approach to writing the book.
RM: So, what happened is that Gail Colson (Charisma Records) has a brother called Glen (Colson) and he used to be the plugger for Charisma. He used to go to the BBC and say this is Lindisfarnes latest single…
TEJ: Play it…
RM: Yep, he was quite a character. He and I were having a phone conversation, funnily enough about hearing aids, and he said “Oh I hear you’re thinking of writing a book” and I said “yes” and I explained that there is a journalist you have probably heard of called Daryl Easlea.
TEJ: Oh yes he did a great book on Peter Gabriel!
RM: Exactly! Because of that I met and got to know him. We got on very well and he’s a lovely guy. In fact at the launch of my book he introduced me and he called everybody to order.
TEJ: That was nice.
RM: Very nice. He was the person I first approached, due to him being a Prog Rock journalist and having done his book on Peter he knew all the ins and outs. I thought he would be the perfect person and he said, “Yeah it’s a great idea I would love to do it.” This was in the October of 2016, he said “The trouble is I haven’t got any time until next April”. I said, “Well, all right. I’ll wait. It’s fine, it will be no big deal.” He then called me and said, “Let’s get together and have lunch” and then later he said “I’m going to have to pull out of this, because I now can’t do anything until August and I’m just going to mess you around.”
TEJ: That was professional of him, rather than him stringing you along
RM: He’s a straight arrow, he’s a lovely guy. I am saying this to Glen Colson and he said “oh you should talk to Charlie” so I said who’s Charlie? He said “Chris Charlesworth” and I said why is he called Charlie. Because Melody Maker had Chris Charlesworth and Chris Welch, Chris Welch was the one who was really the Genesis fan. Because he loved good drummers, so if a band had a good drummer he was onto them and therefore Chris Charlesworth became Charlie.
RM: Chris Charlesworth for a while back then was Melody Maker’s man in America, he lived in New York and Glen went to New York and slept on Chris’s sofas for six months. They must have known each other pretty well. Fortunately from Chris’s point of view he’d be away a lot because he’d be going out on the road with all the various British bands who were touring America.
RM: Anyway, they have stayed friends and Chris went on to become the commissioning editor for Omnibus books. So they do a lot of music books and in fact they published Daryl Easlea’s book about Peter, so Chris Charlesworth had commissioned that book. He had just retired like me and he lives two miles from the cottage (the cottage Genesis spent the winter of 69/70 in).
TEJ: Oh wow!
RM: Which is bizarre! Full circle! He lives in a little village in Surrey called Gomshall. Glen acted as the broker and he got back to me he said “give him a call – he’s interested”. So I went down to see him and we talked it through and he said yes. He worked out a rate and he charged me whatever it was. I said all along “I am not going to treat you as a ghost-writer, I want you on the front cover”. In some people’s eyes it’s a bit of a benefit because at this point I didn’t know that I was going to be able to put ‘Foreword by Peter Gabriel’ on the front cover.
TEJ: No of course not.
RM: All through the summer of 2016, about once a week, I would go down to Chris’s house and I’d have a cup of coffee and burble out what would become the next chapter. He would record it and he didn’t have anything fancy like that (point’s to the Zoom dictaphone on the table). He used his iPhone, which is what everyone uses for everything these days. It was fine and he would then transcribe it, usually the same day whilst it was all-fresh and then fashion it into a chapter. That way we produced 18 chapters. Towards the end of the project I started contacting the guys (except for Peter) and I went around and interviewed them all, obviously the Steve Hackett interview ended up in the book which was Chris’s idea. As he rightly pointed out Steve said a lot of interesting stuff, a lot of which did not pertain to the period covered in the book and so it was a good idea to put it in there as an appendix.
TEJ: It’s a different perspective as well.
RM: Yeah it just adds a dimension to the thing, the first interview I did was Tony Banks. We both felt uncomfortable he said, “It feels really weird doing this with you.”
TEJ: Yes, I imagine because he has known you for so long.
RM: Not in that role before, out of all of them he is the one Maggie and I see the most, Tony and Margaret. They were all very cooperative, Phil I did on the phone from Miami.
TEJ: Much cheaper than flying there.
RM: Well I wouldn’t have minded, they were really open and friendly and I got some nice quotes from them all. Again it’s nice to have different voices coming in every now and again, especially from them.
TEJ: It certainly adds an extra dimension, rather than it just being your memories as they can add their recollections or gratitude you know the kind of thing if it wasn’t for Richard or I remember a time when Richard got us out of the shit. It carries a lot more value coming from them rather than just the memories of one person.
RM: I was very careful not to be the one blowing my trumpet, because all the nice things they say about me and my contribution all comes from them, I wanted it that way. There are a few discrepancies you know, the story that I tell about being in van at the back of the Marquee when Ant announced that he was leaving; Tony remembers the meeting. But he remembers it as being in the flat in Earls Court that he was staying in.
TEJ: Whilst another version of the Ant leaving story is: You [Richard] drove into the middle of a cricket ground because the band were playing in a cricket pavilion, and that you had that conversation with them in the van.
RM: Oh I don’t remember that!
RM: I remember it as being at the back of the Marquee, there was a mews where you drove in and this was before the days of yellow lines were you could just leave the van there. You could unload into the back of the Marquee and the gear was all still on the stage. Peter said “We need to announce that he’s leaving and we need to have a meeting.”I was astonished when the four of us sat down the mood was – well that’s it then, we can’t go on without Ant and I was going WOAH hang on a minute.
We take a coffee break.
TEJ: That was a pivotal moment, but made easier with the method you and Chris used in the book.
RM: So I recorded all of those and Chris transcribed them, and I printed them out I went through with a yellow highlighter and chose the bits, again I went back to Chris and we discussed them and that’s how it all came together.
TEJ: I think people underestimate the importance of an editor or editing as a process
RM: Yeah, it turned out that was the first draft; I then printed it out and gave it to my wife. She’s not an editor but she’s an avid reader and never a day goes past when she’s not reading. She likes great literature, I read thrillers, I must have a very strong narrative to keep me interested.
RM: But she reads all of these Booker prize nominated books that I don’t think I would manage to get past the first 50 pages. She read it and she said basically “I think it is great, and we can make it better”. So we sat and read a chapter at a time and I sat at the computer and we just hashed it through and as she said, we made it better. Then a friend of mine Miranda (Davies), she’s mentioned in the book and she’s my age, all of her life she’s been a writer, publisher, editor, proofreader, the whole bit. I had a talk with her before I embarked on the project and she was very encouraging about the idea of doing the book and she offered to edit it for me. She’s very much of the editing school of ‘if in doubt leave it out!’
RM: So I got a lot of yellow highlighted stuff back, saying get rid of this. My approach was yes she’s right absolutely or no she’s not, I’m leaving that in and if I wasn’t sure I discussed it with Maggie and we sorted it out.
TEJ: The book is very interesting, in places it’s exceptionally candid and in other places there is the hint that contentious stuff never made it out and that’s the reason of editing. But the book flows so well, the reader becomes comfortable almost like they are having a conversation with a good friend.
RM: It’s one of the nicest things that many people have said is that it’s almost a page turner, so many people have said it’s a cracking good read. I wrote this for the fans, because I knew there was a market; Genesis, between them, have sold over 400 million albums.
RM: So there’s going to be a small proportion of those people who will want to read this, I haven’t quite reached the full potential yet!
TEJ: It’s not yet reached market saturation.
RM: I’ve sold over 1,400 books since the end of November.
TEJ: That’s a good turnaround.
RM: I’m very pleased with how it’s going, I always said if I can get my money back then I’ll be happy. I will not tell you what it cost me but it was quite a lot of money. But I’ve got it back already so anything now is just a bonus and it’s fun. I get to come to the Blue Boar (Watford Gap services) and sit with you, talking about it!
RM: What else would I do on a Monday morning!
TEJ: Well there’s a list of alternatives!
RM: But you were talking about contentious, we didn’t take anything out that was considered contentious or libellous. But that’s not me, there was never going to be a warts and all story; because there isn’t anything!
RM: I have been pretty candid about their personalities and stuff, I mean they are a powerful bunch of guys and of course there were struggles and the cottage was not a bed of roses by any means.
TEJ: It was almost a crucible.
RM: Well as Mike says (inside and on the back of the book) “we would have killed each other”…
TEJ: Pretty much a crucible.
RM: It was, and that’s where they became a band which they weren’t before. It was unbelievably fortunate that the place got burgled, my mother wouldn’t agree with that god bless her; but she’s no longer with us. It was miraculous and meant to be obviously and it was amazing for me to be able to make that contribution.
TEJ: In all fairness, I am a deep Genesis and solo fan. I am not the only one. There are many others with more experience or depth than I on the subject. I am well read on the subject and I believe others are too. But this book for me filled in some of the blanks of those early days.
RM: There have been many books.
TEJ: As I read through it, it occurred to me that oh I did not know that.
TEJ: Then I kept discovering more that I didn’t know! This page rounds out this story. There was also a lot more flesh and details added to stories that have been told already.
TEJ: An example would be when Peter and the band, along with yourself were arrested at gunpoint by the police in St Gallen, Switzerland. The way you provided more details sounds comedic, it probably wasn’t at the time.
RM: It wasn’t no! But it is funny!
TEJ: The way you have written it, it’s on the verge of a Monty Python sketch.
RM: Absolutely! Totally! It’s not funny when you have a circle of nervous guys all pointing guns at you, anyway it’s a good story.
TEJ: For you though the pressure must have been a bit more than the others, what with different currencies and documents, maybe even passports in your briefcase.
RM: Fortunately there was no Peruvian marching powder on that occasion.
RM: Bayeté had some dope in his case only a very small amount but they weren’t looking for that. They were looking for weapons and things.
TEJ: The suspicion that you might be Baader Meinhof (Red Army Faction).
RM: Well I think they realised straight away that we weren’t German, we were not who they were looking for.
TEJ: For me reading the book, it feels like the reader is being given a wider window into a story or sometimes new windows are opening with regard to the history of the band, and your personal history.
RM: Well one of the things I said to Chris when we got started, in fact it was a potential publisher that asked me this…. well it was Judy Dyble who was the first singer in Fairport Convention and she knew the pre Crimson band Giles, Giles and Fripp.
RM: They had advertised for a singer and they ended up with Robert Fripp, she was part of that crowd. Anyway, she published a book called An Accidental Musician and I went to the launch and she had a publisher, so I approached him and we had a meeting. Funny enough this must have been about April or May of the year of the Brexit vote (2016). We had a meeting and one of the questions he said to me was “How much of this is you, how much of this is Genesis”. Because I didn’t know the answer to this question, I had wondered how much of it is a biography. Clearly I am hanging it on Genesis connection, you can see what the biggest word is on the cover.
TEJ: But lets not be cynical about this, you are in most respects the reason the band had the career in the end, rather than Tony Banks falling back into a career in Physics or Mike Rutherford perhaps becoming a chartered accountant maybe and any other career that their parents had in mind for them.
RM: The interesting twist in that is that Peter would have become a film director and it’s mind blowing to think of the kind of films he might of produced.
RM: He probably would have been successful.
TEJ: Maybe along the lines of Stanley Kubrick.
RM: Something like that, I don’t know if you have ever heard of him. But the film director that he admired the most at the time and whom we subsequently met was Alejandro Jodorowsky and he made this film called El Topo (“The Mole” – a 1970 Mexican Acid Western film), which Peter dragged me and Jill to see it was like a sort of Western on LSD, full of these insane characters; anyway we digress.
RM: I said to Chris (Charlesworth) how much of this is me and how much is Genesis, and he said without skipping a beat “It’s one-third you and two-thirds Genesis”. When I started to ramble off expanding the one third me bit, he would kind of drag me back and say “What were the band doing at this time” kind of thing. We came to a good balance.
TEJ: For him he’s the one steering the ship, you’re the one powering it.
RM: Well they’re all my words, except the back cover and I really liked what he wrote there; he was the one who called me the glue.
TEJ: I think he’s spot on there, such as a drummer knows what he is doing as a guitarist knows what he is also doing. What they do not know is who is going to pick it up or fix it when it starts to unravel or go wrong, when you have a father figure almost who instills that confidence of “we’ll be alright Richard’s here”. Then you can go back to concentrating on being the drummer or guitarist.
RM: That was the idea, that is what the management is supposed to do, to keep the thing safe and secure, so they can do as you say – what they do. I didn’t put this in the book but around the Nursery Cryme era. Phil came back to my flat in Hackney and I think he stayed the night rather than go all the way back to Hounslow, as the band was rehearsing in the south-east of London. We were sitting around enjoying the evening. Phil was talking about the writing process, because we didn’t know at that point that each one of them was talented or capable of sustaining a career on their own, and you had five of them in one band; and that’s very unusual.
RM: They would all be battling away; you know Peter and Tony, Tony and Steve, all battling for space and what about my solo; blah, blah and all that kind of stuff. Phil would be sitting there and he’d go “Well what do I do?” and Tony would turn to him and say, “You just drum”.
RM: And that’s what he did, just drummed the best f***ing drumming you could ever imagine. When I used to mix the sound back in those days I just used to listen to Phil. Because more or less , and there’s nothing wrong with this, they would play the same thing every night, Phil always did something different.
TEJ: To use a football analogy, it is often said that the drummer and bassist are the goalkeeper and defender of every band.
RM: It’s the bedrock. It completely is. This might be a digression but I was thinking the other day that I never really liked The Doors. I mean Jim Morrison was an interesting character and he had an ‘Okay’ voice and I really liked Light My Fire. But they didn’t have a bass player.
TEJ: Yeah you’re right.
RM: The keyboard player (Ray Manzarek) did it all on a Fender Rhodes, with his left hand and it’s just not the same you need people like Mick Fleetwood and John McVie to go BOOM! They’re a fantastic example the two of them, just a complete bedrock for the other guys to do all the flowery stuff.
TEJ: In all fairness you would have been around in the period when Tony Banks was doing the same as Ray (Manzarek) from The Doors.
RM: Yes and in that Mike and Ant were both playing guitars, but yes and that’s why it wasn’t that long before Mike got bass pedals and the double neck. Because if you take a song like The Cinema Show, right in the middle of it Mike switches to Bass from the guitar in a second; you couldn’t possibly put one guitar down and pick up another. There was a thing on Facebook the other day someone had dug out a photograph, of the first double neck, which was two guitars gaffer taped together.
TEJ: I have seen that, it’s very rudimentary and the image is quite amusing, as it’s not quite finessed yet.
RM: It’s that classic thing of necessity being the mother of invention because the music demanded it. But no you’re right if you take a song like Stagnation. There’s no bass in it until at least halfway through. It’s a classic early Genesis song – it starts with the jangly guitar thing that Mike and Ant would have developed the night before just playing together, playing in the true sense of the word “oh let’s de-tune this and see what this sounds like, oh that sounds nice how does that work” and then you got this tuning with an open thing and you start doing your chord shapes on it, and woah! Suddenly you’ve got The Musical Box, which was called F Sharp when it started because Mike tuned his guitar to F sharp.