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Back to front 2014 live
The Musical Box live 2014


Genesis fans had to wait for a long time for a comprehensive biography of their favourite band. Now that the future of the band is uncertain and Archive #2 has perhaps been released as the band’s final chapter, the time is ripe for such a book. But what should it look like? Every single band member is worth a separate biography. Nobody could buy a complete biography of the band because the wealth of information would make it too long and too expensive. A shorter approach may lack content to be really good. Alan Hewitt’s book is an attempt at a compromise. It does not claim to be complete, but it wants to explain the most important events, briefly introduce each member of the band and present a comparatively complete discography. One could almost describe it as a fast introduction to the world of Genesis, but then there are chapters with far too many details.

After numerous thank-yous to helpers and an introduction about his project and the development of the book there is a brief history of the band and its members outlined in brief notes. The first mistakes occur here already – Gabriel’s first single was Solsbury Hill, not Moribund The Burgermeister and We Can’t Dance was released on November 21, not November 11, 1991. These are minor details, but they should have been got right. The timeline is a good idea, but where does one draw the line and say “this is important”, “that can be left out”? That is the weak point of the timeline. In the following chapters Hewitt tells the history of the band. The events from the late 70s onwards are presented in a very condensed form so that one notices he is a fan of the early Genesis. Hewitt fluently tells the story of the band and it is fun to read it even though a real fan knows all this already. Unfortunately, more mistakes make their appearance. We Can’t Dance was at #1 in the German charts for 24 weeks, not for a mere 16 weeks. Again, it’s a minor detail, but it’s the little things that make the difference between a “neutral” account and a “fan bible”. The ensuing discography provides a musical and statistical overview.


Alan HewittThe next chapters can never be complete, not least because every fan will have a different definition for it. Hewitt lists some “collectable recordings” before the turns to memorabilia in the following chapter. While the “collectable recordings” are about rare originals of official releases, the memorabilia chapter is occupied with tour programmes, books, fanzines, videos – and also bootlegs. Don’t worry, completeness has not even been attempted, but then the selection is somewhat meagre. It looks like a random excerpt from Hewitt’s own collection. Some firm criteria such as “complete shows only” or “radio / soundboard recordings only” would have been better. Once again we are facing the problem of the compromise. It is a good thing, though, that solo material is included. Of course that’s another area that can never be complete. A service for the fan is the listing of various established fanclubs with the mailing addresses and internet links.

Then there is the solo department. Separate chapters are devoted to each band member (except for Ray Wilson) and an account of their solo careers. Each chapter is followed by the obligatory discography of official releases. More mistakes appear, ranging from forgivable (Only You And I Know instead of Only You Know And I Know) to embarrassing. Dance Into The Light is Phil’s sixth solo album, not his fifth (even if you only count the studio recordings). A well-known fan like Alan Hewitt should pay more attention to such matters. Still, every biography has a special flavour that fits the individual characters. That certainly is a talent of Hewitt’s. There is not a single boring page in the book.


An appendix of some 70 pages lists all the quotes of the book. More interesting, though, is the (certainly incomplete) listing of tour dates that goes quite some way in the direction of flawless research. Even the solo tours are listed. A great feat – one can even look up postponed and cancelled dates.


CoverA compromise is a difficult thing. On the one hand this book is very entertaining, which is a good thing with books of this kind. On the other hand we always feel that there is something missing or that there is more to come. There is a striking imbalance between the accounts of Gabriel-era Genesis and Collins-era Genesis. It is not surprising either that the chapter about Anthony Phillips’ solo career is the longest (15 pages) of the solo chapters if you consider that Alan Hewitt is a big fan of Phillip’s music. He ought to be able to explain whether the length of the chapters corresponds to the importance of the artist for the band, though.

Opening The Musical Box is nevertheless very worthwhile reading. Works like these cannot be expected from free-lance journalists. It would be presumptuous to demand such a comprehensive book about every single member of the band. But, to be honest – that would be great! We’d all be happy, except for Alan Hewitt who would then probably be a nervous wreck. See for yourselves. It’s written in the book!

by Christian Gerhardts, February 2001

photo  by Helmut Janisch
translated by Martin Klinkhardt


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