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Genesis of success launched in London

Phil Collins was out front with the British progressive rock band Genesis for the first time in concert at the old London Arena on March 26, 1976. Fans still recall the "once-in-a-lifetime" night almost 40 years later Phil Collins was out front with the British progressive rock band Genesis for the first time in concert at the old London Arena on March 26, 1976. Fans still recall the "once-in-a-lifetime" night almost 40 years later Jim Fisk, Special to Postmedia News

In the beginning, there was Peter Gabriel.

And then, when Gabriel departed, and Genesis needed to find another lead singer, there was Phil Collins, previously the British progressive rock band’s drummer.

The first Genesis concert with Collins as the lead singer was at the old London Arena on March 26, 1976.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of that great date in London rock history, let us see what Collins remembered of the switch.

"When Peter left Genesis, I really didn’t not want to play the drums," Collins told Postmedia News in 2010 when he was about to retire after a stellar post-Genesis career as a solo hitmaker.

"But I got the short straw and I ended up being a singer . . . although it was not something I wanted to do at all at the time. I spent most of my time looking over my shoulder at (drummer on the 1976 tour) Bill Bruford."

There were 2,200 fans at the old Bathurst Street arena for Collins’s debut gig as frontman.

"The band members seemed very nervous. I don’t think they expected the crowd to be that large and animated," one of those fans, Brad Ashton-Haiste, recalled this week. "After a few numbers they all had massive smiles. Perhaps they thought, ‘It will work with Phil out front.’ "

Free Press reviewer Noel Gallagher was allowed only a few hundred words and six paragraphs to cover the big event.

Most of the March 26 setlist was from A Trick of the Tail, the first Genesis album without Gabriel.

For Gallagher, two of the concert’s highlights were from that album. Dance of the Volcano "shows off the combination of (Steve) Hackett’s lead guitar with (Tony) Banks on keyboards." Another concert hit from the album, Robbery, Assault And Battery "depends on the vocal ability of lead singer Collins, the member who must come through if Genesis is to survive Gabriel’s departure," he wrote.

Another London fan, Jim Fisk, took photographs of the concert, sharing his images for use with this column. Collins impressed Fisk on the song Gallagher mentioned.

"My buds were concerned Phil couldn’t cut it. He cut it good," Fisk recalled in a piece on the show he shared with The Free Press. "Robbery, Assault and Battery and Phil is dressed the part. ‘A flower?’ he says as the huge green and yellow tulip (?) explodes into view. I’m snapping pictures and I’d swear Phil and Mike (Rutherford) are posing for me."

The tulip-like image was apparently part of the concert’s light, film and slide show.

"(It) attempted to be surrealistic and succeeded only in being ridiculous," Gallagher wrote.

Recently, a British rock magazine approached Fisk for details on the show. His images and reminiscences brought £150 the first time. This time, he is being sent another £50 from Britain. Fisk’s generous sharing of the witness to history with The Free Press and this column is appreciated.

"Mike’s double-necking is masterful. But the Phil and Bill percussion duel is incredible. Speed, technical excellence, and musical, too," Fisk recalled.

"Tony is perched on the edge of the small stage. Quiet, just doing his job and doing it well. Steve, all in white, soars to heights unreachable by mortal man.

"In the small hall, the sound seems to wrap around us. Bass pedals grab my guts and shake like there’s no tomorrow."

Genesis had rehearsed for the tour at a U.S. venue in late March before hitting the road, starting with the London Arena date. As London fan Daryl Mann has noted, when the date here was booked, Genesis did not have a lead singer.

Collins turned out to the man who could be a frontman.

He went on to sell 100 million albums as a solo star plus 100 million or more with Genesis. Collins has also won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and eight Grammys.

As it turned out, Collins and Genesis would rock long after the London Arena was gone. The old barn was demolished in 1977, ending more than 50 years of big-time entertainment at Bathurst and Ridout streets.

That famous Genesis concert helped ensure that the arena had some history around for its final flourishes.

As Fisk put it: "When the house lights came up — damn them! — we knew we’d witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime event."

© lfpress, by James Reaney

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