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Back to front 2014 live

There are Genesis cover bands, and there is The Musical Box. When the Canadian band appeared for the first time in their own country in 1993 nobody suspected the grand success the band would enjoy in years to come. There were several personnel changes. Musicians and people close to the band came and went, some even returned. One thing, though, remained unchanged through all these years: The Musical Box keep growing better. Soon enough first reports about this exceptional group reached Europe and the rest of the world and left the efforts of Italian, English and German coverbands look like clumsy amateur attempts to do something similar. To do them justice, though, it has to be said that one cannot really compare bands like ReGenesis or Seconds Out with The Musical Box. The Canadians had another intention right from the start. Said Sébastien Lamothe in an interview: “… the best way to do this project was a combination of an original reconstruction of the stage show and the intensity of the studio versions of their songs. We tried to have the best of both worlds.” And they succeeded! At the Selling England By The Pound event organized in Welkers by the “it” fanclub in 1996 everybody who had not seen the band live could get an impression of The Musical Box’s terrific performance, albeit only on video. At that time they had begun working on the Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot eras and were performing songs from Genesis’ early years, the proper stage show included. The only thing that was missing was a production of the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway show. That came in autumn 2000. A series of fascinating shows proved that they were up for that challenge, too.

      

The Musical Box… is imminent! This was originally an advertising slogan for the Selling… album, but it also became a motto for talks about shows in Europe in 2001. England was to host the first shows the band played outside of North America. Dates were officially confirmed in February 2002. The Selling England By The Pound show was to be presented in Bristol, Wolverhampton, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham and London. The Musical Box had to organize everything themselves. Peter Gabriel and Hit & Run did not mind them touring, but they did not support it with a single penny. Hit & Run hinted that they might lend financial support for further shows in other European countries – if the UK gigs were a success.
Genesis’ ability to enchant their audience even in their early years was something very special. That The Musical Box take up this challenge and want to revive this magic, is even more fascinating. The flyers that were printed especially for the UK tour read “The exact replica of the 1973 show: lights, sets, costumes, effects and the original slides”. Hardly anybody doubted that these were empty promises. Expectations before their first concert in Bristol on May 26 were gigantic. The show was a journey back into the early history of Genesis, a perfect illusion! When one entered the Colston Hall facing the stage it just looked great. The white “sails” in the background towered over the stage on which the instruments were set up in the familiar order.

It was half past eight (the official start of the concert), but there were no signs that the show would begin anytime soon. That was because the band were waiting for an elderly grey-haired gentleman with a peculiar long goatee – Peter Gabriel. Yes indeed! Only after the maestro, who was accompanied by his wife Meabh and other V.I.P., had taken his seat the house lights went out.


Denis Champoux (acoustic and electric guitars), Guillaume Courteau (drums, percussion and vocals), Sébastien Lamothe (bass, bass pedals, 12-string guitar, vocals) and Francois Richard (keyboards, 12-string guitar and vocals) entered the stage and took their places. Then Denis Gagné (vocals, flute, percussion) took the stage. He wore the familiar colourful cloak and the “bat wings”. It was obvious which would be the opening song: Watcher Of The Skies. When the mellotron began everybody must have noticed that something very special was happening. The audience felt the music in their stomachs as if they had been taken back to 1973. The musical version and the optical impressions were so good that one thought it was the original Genesis on the stage playing their music. This feeling was most impressive and would last for the whole concert. During the song Denis presented the full cloak the way we know it from photos and even copied Gabriel hectic movements along the stage border with the tambourine in front of his face. When it ended, there were storms of applause. The audience were ecstatic. The Musical Box had won over the crowd in Colston Hall with their first number!

When people in the almost filled hall had calmed down Denis appeared in the spotlight wearing the well-known Britannia outfit. He introduced himself as “the pomp and pride of the British Empire” in the story he told. “Can you tell me where my country lies?” rang clearly through the hall. Dancing With The Moonlit Knight was another perfect performance. It was as if all the photos one had seen from that time had been turned into a single continous film one could watch before one’s own eyes. The slides that were projected onto the sails from the rear, the light show, to cut it short: Everything (the musical performance) was perfect. The audience honored it with massive applause.

     

The second story Denis told this the evening introduced the next song. Its main protagonist as Romeo who gets high on a mushroom, is attracted by Juliet’s “lovely” singing and takes her to the cinema. The band did an excellent job both for the quiet and the fast parts of the song. It may have been something new to some people in the audience that only Guillaume, Francois and Sébastien (= Phil, Tony and Mike back then) remained on stage to present the terrific instrumental part of the song. There were no weaknesses, and they band did not even leave out the “show effect” of a disco ball lit by two spots.


When the applause died down one could hear the roar of a lawnmower. Denis chewed on a straw and began to ‘mow the lawn’ along the stage front. When he had finishes he took out the straw and looked at his watch. “It’s one o’clock and time for lunch…” A very good version of I Know What I Like that was true to the original was what could be heard now. It prompted some people in the audience to sing along. The sails were used as a projection screen for a number of slides that showed bits of the Selling England By The Pound cover and other images. Denis repeated his lawnmower routine and brought the song to a close. People were astounded at the perfection of the show.

After the applause Denis told the story of how they jumped on human bodies to produce water. All the fans who knew Gabriel’s original knew that the next song was Firth Of Fifth. This story was only told in Bristol and Wolverhampton. From Newcastle onwards Denis told the story of the discovery of the fountains of five rivers (the fifth of which could not be seen but only heard) instead. According to Serge Morissette, The Musical Box’ artistic director who was in charge of the lightshow on this tour and who is a very important person for the band, this song was already told in 1973, but not at every show. The atmosphere of this song was most impressive, it was played full of emotion and power by the band and M. Champoux’ rendition of the famous guitar solo – Genesis themselves could not have played it better. No audio or video recording can bring across what it means to experience this song live. It’s a highlight of every show.

The next story opened with an invitation:  “We'd like to take you to a peaceful english game of croquet.” When those fans who knew the story of Henry and Cynthia realized that they were about to hear The Musical Box, they broke out into spontaneous and loud exclamations of delight that Denis accepted with a polite “thank you”. There were small digressions from the normal story which the singer introduced at a whim, just like Peter Gabriel back then.


M Gagné’s performances deserves a special praise. He does not only play but celebrate the role of young Gabriel. All his gestures (during all the songs), his mimics, movements, witty replies to calls from the audience were such exact copies of Peter’s that the maestro must have been proud of his lookalike’s feat. There certainly was some space for his own character in Denis’ performance, but he probably did not want that. What will Peter Gabriel have thought sitting in the audience watching the whole spectacle?

Back to the music. As expected, The Musical Box was played perfectly with all the power required. The finale was spectacular (both in the 70s and today) because Denis’ brought it across with everything required, the old man’s mask and the faked orgasm. Wow! That’s what most people in the audience thought. For the first time this night there were standing ovations and applause that lasted for minutes.

After that there was a quiet piece to calm everybody’s nerves. Denis Champoux played Horizons with much passion and true to the original sound and speed. In Bristol there were some insecurities, but it grew more rounded and harmonious on the succeeding nights.

A rhytmic stomping sound accompanied by flute-like keyboard sound invited the audience to clap along, but they would soon lose the joy of concrete solid rhythms. The band now played a number that even Genesis themselves do not count among their best and which was only played on the Selling England tour. The Battle Of Epping Forest is probably not a favourite with most fans because it is buried unter lots of hard-to-remember lyrics, but played live the song developed some special, un-thought-of attractions. It was a matter of hearing it more often so that the fascinating qualities come out. Then there was also Denis’ theatrical orgy of costumes. True to the original performance the quick changes of costumes the numerous characters of this song were impressively introduced to the audience. The band’s performance really helped the audience to understand this song better and to link well-known images to the song.


The evening's last story was about "old Michael" and introduced Supper's Ready. Denis told a version that was very similar to the one on Archive 1. While, on Archive 1, Peter whistled the melody of the English hymn Jerusalem (by William Blake), Denis and Guillaume sang the actual lyrics "And did those feet in ancient time. Walk upon England's mountain green?" It is hard to point out something that was very much better than the rest, but we have to say that the performance of Supper's Ready was simply perfect. The costumes (crown of thorns, flower mask etc), the slides and the special effects combined to the perfect illusion. The band took us on a roller-coaster ride full of deep emotion and stunning impressions that left deep marks in our memories. Everybody had the "goose-bump feeling" during the Apocalypse In 9/8 and the finale of this masterpiece, As Sure As Eggs is Eggs - The Musical Box at their very best! During Apocalypse a special effect was used to project rising flames onto the sails on the left and right-hand sides of the stage. This great effect only became possible because the band had discovered the special projector needed in a Canadian theatre; this kind of device is not built anymore today. Another great special effect were two flashes of lightning triggered by small explosions immediately after Denis had sung "And it's...". That very second he threw off the wide dark cloak he was wearing (he had put it on for the Apocalypse part that climaxed in stroboscope flashes) and jumped to the very front of the stage. After the bang that blinded and stunned everybody in the audience (except for those who knew what would happen) Denis, now clad in a bright white outfit, sang the rest of the song "... there's an angel standing in the sun..." - he sure looked like one! Of course, nothing was left out from the final sequence, in which Gagné lifted up and lowered a fluorescent tube emitting UV light. Supper's Ready is not just some song, and the breathtaking performance underlined this truth. Naturally, the enthusiasm in the audience knew no limits anymore after that. The fans jumped up, and the band received long standing ovations after this fantastic feat. A perfect end for the regular set - but this was not to be the end.

The band politely said good-bye and left the stage. Euphoric cheers could be heard, the audience showed their appreciation in applause and loud whistling. They did not have to wait long for an encore. Soon the band returned to the stage, with Denis as the last. As can be heard on old bootlegs, members of the audience called out for "Hogweed" or "The Knife". Denis took a moment, calmly went to the mike and dryly announced "The Knife". The band began to play directly, and so the rhythmic opening of the song was accompanied by many clapping hands. The volume had been raised somewhat and the musicians offered a very energetic, dramatic version of the song that featured strobe lightning and resembled the version on the Live album. The audience were knocked out of their seats, as it were, by the sheer power of the performance. The Knife is a great encore that was played only at very rare occasions as a bonus. This performance was a fitting finale to a gigantic show.

What else is to be said about the Bristol show? Well, Mr Gabriel and his entourage left the Hall rather quickly. Peter did not have time for briefly meeting the band, but he called the next day and talked with Denis Gagné on the phone. He appears to have enjoyed the show...

The stage and the other equipment had to be disassembled and packed for transport, because the next day there was to be a show in Wolverhampton. Seven shows in as many days meant a lot or work for everybody involved.

The set that was played did not change during those seven shows. Neither were the visual effects or the performance changed. Well, there was one exception, but we'll come to that. Let us therefore mention one or two particular events and anecdotes of the other shows. In Wolverhampton (Civic Hall, May 27), the band had to play in a venue in which only about 40 percent of the tickets had been sold. This was probably the worst-selling show of the tour, but the band were excellent nevertheless. Denis slipped during The Battle of Epping Forest and had almost landed on his back. On May 28 The Musical Box played City Hall Newcastle. The atmosphere was fantastic and everybody joined in for I Know What I Like at the tops of their voices. The local organizers in Sheffield (May 29) had made it a condition that another musician/band had to open for The Musical Box, so Denis Champoux took up that task. He played a selection of songs on acoustic guitar (Mood For A Day by Yes/Steve Howe was one of them). During the Sheffield show the biggest blunder of the tour happened. Denis Gagné forgot to do that part of the performance of The Battle Of Epping Forest in which he turns the priest's collar around and where a tie becomes visible. When that part of the song was sung, Denis briefly left stage to put off the collar and then reappeared to sing on. Accordingly, one verse of the song was not sung by Denis, but by Guillaume, who, of course, had noticed his front man's blunder. Unfortunately, the drummer's spontaneous effort was hardly audible since his microphone was tuned for backing vocals. In the Sheffield audience was Steve Hackett's brother John who had seen Genesis live on several occasions in 1973. He enjoyed the show so much that he decided to see The Musical Box a second time (in London). Manchester's legendary Apollo Theatre was the venue for the show on May 30. The band were welcomed enthusiastically and the atmosphere during the show was overwhelming. From the first song on the band received standing ovations. This was truly the most enthusiastic audience of the whole tour. The best sound quality was to be had the next day, May 31, in Nottingham. There were hardly any echoes in the rathern modern Royal Centre, and the sound was clear even on the balconies. The mike-stand, however appeared to have a static charge; every time Denis touched it, there were audible discharges of electricity.

Then the big day came: June 1st. It was to be a day The Musical Box would not forget again. Since the tour had started there had been rumours that something very special was to happen at the last show in the Royal Albert Hall, London. A "special guest" was mentioned, but nobody know anything more precise, and those who knew kept their silence. The Royal Albert Hall is a special venue, hardly comparable with any other venue. Everything is very posh and there are separate boxes. All in all, it was a suitable venue for the last performance of this Canadian band. Most tickets had been sold, and probably this audience was the largest. The acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall are terrible, by the way; too many echoes. This, however, did not impair the atmosphere. Fans from all over the world had come to be part of this show. For the second time, there was an opening act, consisting of Denis Champoux, later joined by the violinist Ben Buckton (from the London Symphony Orchestra). As in Sheffield, Denis played songs on his acoustic guitar. After that, both musicians played duets. After a brief break, the main act began.


The show was among the best. The musical performance of the band was excellent, and they played brilliantly and almost flawlessly. For the first and only time of the tour, however, the flame-projector did not work properly, illuminating only a small part of the sails. Supper's Ready was celebrated frenetically by the audience, as were the other songs. In the audience was Mike Rutherford who had brought his family and several friends. He could be seen high up in one of the VIP boxes. His reactions to the show are as yet unknown. Some members of the audience obviously thought that The Knife would be the final encore and left after the lights came on again. They should have waited, because the lights went out again and the band re-entered the stage. Denis, in his black outfit again, thanked for the applause, and mentioned that the band had a suprise, namely a special guest: "Monsieur, mein Herr, Mister Steve Hackett." Cheers erupted, Steve came on stage and the applause would not end. When the fans calmed down, Hackett had taken his place between Denis Champoux and Sébastien Lamothe and had plugged in his electric guitar, this evening's second encore began. We witnessed a unique version of Firth Of Fifth. The song was played sans piano intro and some bars were left out in the end. What was more important, however, was the cult and the fans were visibly moved. Steve played "his" solo and the audience went wild. These moments certainly meant a lot to the members of The Musical Box. The maestro, too, visibly enjoyed being on stage. Frenetic applause and cheers ensued after the song. After standing ovations that lasted for minutes one musician after the other left the stage lights. The hall lights came on, and The Musical Box's England tour was history.

You never know what will happen, but nobody can take away what you have experienced. It lives on in your memories. The tour was something special and it meant a lot to most people who saw it. It also showed the incredibly potential Genesis had in the Seventies, the more so if you consider how young the band members were back then. The Musical Box have succeeded in bringing the fascination of that time back to life today. We can finally comprehend what the audience of a Selling England show in 1973/74 experienced, even though The Musical Box suffered less from technical problems than Genesis did then. We have gained a better understanding of the show and we can link particular photos from that era to particular songs. For everything, accept our thanks, The Musical Box!

by Bernd Zindler
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

photos by Peter Schütz

The Musical Box


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