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Tony Banks Vaults

In Conversation with Brian Cummins

On challenges, friendships and unintended multitasking

In 2005 Liverpool born Brian Cummins founded the Genesis-tribute band Carpet Crawlers. He is band leader, singer and drummer of the group. On 2nd December 2016 before the show at the Jovel in Münster, Germany he not only talked to us in-depth about this project and the current Invisible Touch Tour but also about his other engagements such as The Security Project.

GNC: Let’s start with the beginnings. How did you get into music in general and specifically into Genesis music?

Brian Cummins: I started as a musician when I was ten. I picked up a guitar, I was a guitarist first. Coming from Liverpool it started with The Beatles obviously. But I always loved Genesis. Never dreamt about playing it until later years, but I’ve always been a guitarist and singer since I was singing live in pubs and clubs when I was twelve in England. Mid-nineties I was a session guitarist, played with different bands. I’ve always wanted to do the In The Cage medley live and Supper’s Ready. I always air-drummed since I was a child watching the Mama Tour video. As any Genesis fan you do these air-drums. I would like to stretch myself. That’s why I formed my band, put the guitar down and get out of my comfort zone and learned the flute and the drums because I never played drums. So I learned the drums and the flute for the Carpet Crawlers. It started for fun really. It’s kind of once you get into it, you go to the next level and go to the next level and go to the next level. And twelve years later it’s kind of pretty big. It’s a pretty big thing now.


Why was it Genesis you did with Carpet Crawlers? You founded the Carpet Crawlers, a tribute band, and why should it be Genesis and not another band like The Beatles or something else?

Well, because basically while it’s great music it’s too easy. I wanted to challenge myself. I’ve always tried to stretch, you know. I wanted to play guitar, can you play faster and faster and faster. And then can you play more melodic, a lot of different styles. And it kind of reached a point with the guitar where I was happy. With Genesis there are so many facets to it. It’s the stamina to play the music. Then it’s the showmanship, there’s the production, which is the lighting and the costumes. And you never run out of goals to aim for if you dig deep enough. No tribute band will ever be as good as Genesis. But you can always try and get closer and closer. And every year we try and get 5 % closer. We never will get 100 % because they are Genesis for a reason.


What other projects have you worked with or done so far, i. e. band projects?

When I was younger I was in a heavy metal band, a prog metal band called Valle Crucis, who are now coming out under the name Leafblade and they did an album with Danny Cavanagh from Anathema. Anathema were actually young fans of ours when they started off. But more recently I was very lucky enough to sing with the Mick Pointer, the Mick Pointer Band doing Script For A Jester’s Tear 25th anniversary. And we toured that for 5-6 years and released a live album a couple of years ago, initially we released a live DVD. And also I did a Peter Gabriel one man show which toured in 2013, which then went under the name Be Gabriel. It was nice and simple and it was kind of recreating Peter’s music live from scratch with no backing tapes. Just live, using loop pedals and acoustic. It again comes back to fact that I want to challenge myself. Ok, I’m going to do San Jacinto with one man. And I even did Signal To Noise and Sky Blue with the Blind Boys of Alabama (sings) “oh-oh-oh”. I did with my voice myself and looped it. That was a pretty ambitious show. And then finally, more recently I was asked to sing for The Security Project, which is Jerry Marotta, Peter’s drummer and Trey Gunn from King Crimson. And I’ve been touring with them for three years across the world. We did Europe, we did America. And just to sing Peter’s music with these musicians... I’ve been extremely lucky as a prog fan to be associated with a lot of my heroes and long may continue.


So how did you get involved with The Security Project?

It was actually when I did my first Be Gabriel show. I was at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer in Holland. Just got off stage, did my first show, I got an email from a guy called Scott Weinberger,...

... who’s with Brand X now?

He’s in Brand X now, yes. Scott put The Security Project together. It was his project. He got the musicians together. They searched the world to find a Peter Gabriel singer and found me and asked if I would like to audition and I was like “Ah, yes!”. And then various things happened, Scott ended up not working with The Security Project anymore and focused on getting the Brand X thing together. He’s now in Brand X and touring. They had an amazingly successful tour in America and they’re back out again in January. So again, I’m kind of linked to Brand X. I’m actually possibly working with them in the future as a support act, opening for them. It’s just crazy. Again, from forming the Carpet Crawlers it has opened so many doors to working with Mick Pointer, working with Jerry Marotta, meeting Mike Kidson. It’s all names as a Genesis fan we’ve grown up with. And now they’re my friends. Pinch me! (laughs)


Are you able to give some details about a possible collaboration with Brand X? You said as a support act?

Nothing is confirmed. Obviously Scott is my friend through The Security Project. I may be doing some solo shows. Doing the Gabriel show in America. The suggestion was there’s a festival next year in America we may be doing together with other bands. [This is the “Genesis Fan Festival” in Duluth, MN on 24th and 25th June, 2017] And then the general chat was that maybe if I’m over there anyway I could open. But then it depends whether they need it. If Brand X needs me I’m there. But I’ve obviously been chatting with Scott a lot because he’s my friend I’ve been very excited for him being in Brand X. There’s nothing definite but we have spoken about it.


Back to the Carpet Crawlers. You’ve done Gabriel shows, you’re now doing Collins shows. Your style of singing, do you simply sing your own style or do you try to copy the way Gabriel sings or Collins sings?

Naturally, my voice, as you can probably hear, my speaking voice is very close to Peter. With the Phil stuff I have to work a bit harder to change my voice slightly. So, yes, I always do. However, same with when I’m singing with Mick Pointer, I change my voice to sound like Fish. And then for instance, did you see me in the Selling England show? Gabriel’s voice is totally different to singing The Security Project. (sings) “Saw the man at JFK.” If Gabriel sung it on Selling England it’s a lot more nasal and thin. His voice developed over the years. So depending on which era Peter you’re singing the voice does change. I always enjoyed playing with that. Because of the stress of this tour my voice is very tired. I’ve been doing a lot of talking, a lot of organizing. As a singer you should really take it easy and not really speak to anybody during the day. I’m kind of doing a lot of jobs on this tour. My voice is tired but the Genesis fans that come and see our shows have such a great time. The spectacle of our show, that I think a couple of mistakes with the voice or a couple of dropped notes, I don’t think anyone really goes away complaining after a three our show.


And the more we appreciated you take your time and your voice to talk to us!

Oh god, yes, an absolute pleasure.


Playing Peter in Genesis, how does it feel to be on stage and wear the Slipperman costume or other costumes? Is it embarrassing?

No, Peter when he did that was a 22 year old handsome thin young guy. And I’m 44 and I’m…

… only handsome.

(laughs) Yes, I’m 44 and built like a security guy. But I don’t care. We’ve had some comments with people saying Brian comes as a bit overweight and bla, bla, bla. But I’m trying to get you guys a great night. I’m there to make you guys go “oh wow, remember when I saw that ’75” or in some cases “I never got to see him, so wow I’ve seen photos of the Lamia” but when you see the Lamia swell around and spin it’s like “wow, what a sight”. We just do everything we can to try and get the Genesis fans simply a great time. I’ve all wigs, makeup, gone on stage with no top on for In The Cage, Cuckoo Cocoon. I’m not a physically fit great guy, but I feel like I’m in the company of friends, when you have an audience of Genesis fans. I’m just a Genesis fan, too. So I don’t care because I’m in the room with my friends.


Which songs do you like most to perform with the Carpet Crawlers apart from your personal favorite songs?

On this tour I get goosebumps of The Brazilian. The Brazilian has always killed me. I think it’s one of Tony Bank’s most amazing pieces, often overlooked. As far as I know I think we’re the only Genesis tribute band in the world to play The Brazilian. I haven’t heard any other bands play it. Because it’s quite a big task. You need four drum kits, you need the two live drum kits and two electric kits to do it. I love The Brazilian, I love the double drum stuff. But then Afterglow just kills me. Afterglow, I’m almost crying every night. There are moments like Afterglow, there’s moments like the drop-down in Domino. “We held each other near…” (sings) The jaw tightens and you’re almost crying because of the beauty of the music. On the other hand with the Gabriel material, The Battle Of Epping Forest, playing the different characters, the different voices. I loved Get ‘Em Out By Friday, we did it on the Selling England Tour and that was great to perform. Supper’s Ready is a tour de force. The Lamb, weirdly I love The Waiting Room even though I didn’t have much to do with it. The Waiting Room live was stunning and different every night. Again, that is the reward for the work that we put in. The initial question you asked me why did you do it, it’s because some nights we walk on stage – and we never think we’re Genesis, please don’t understand that – but some nights you stand there with goosebumps, feel the power of the music and we look out and see some of the fans are crying. You think, God, how good must it have felt to actually have been them, to have been Genesis. Jesus, this is a special connection. And really we don’t think we are them. But with the connection we make with the audience – and we normally get a great audience, not matter how many turn up – we worked very hard to make it a nice warm feeling. And together, between us and you guys, there are some very special moments on stage, always!


Back to the current tour, how did you approach this project and why did you choose the Invisible Touch Tour?

A lot of bands do just the Gabriel era. We do it as well as anybody. It’s definitely up my street vocally and obviously we’re English. So we think, we sing it with the right accent and stuff like that. So many other bands do it but as an English fan you can hear the difference between an Italian or French-Canadian accent. I just think that the Phil fans deserve to hear the material as well. Songs like The Brazilian, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight and there’s a couple of surprise songs in the show tonight as well. It’s very difficult pulling the Phil shows off because the production level is off the scale. So now I understand why a lot of bands don’t want to touch it because it you do it you have to do the double drums, you have to do the light show. Again I’m coming back to the initial question I love the challenge. It’s like, ok, we’ve done The Lamb for two years, before that we’ve done Selling England. And a lot of the fans were saying ok, you’re going to do Trick Of The Tail. And I like to surprise people so I thought for three years we’ve done the early stuff. Let’s give the other fans something, let’s flip it. And I don’t know many bands in the world that could go from doing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway one year to the Invisible Touch Tour and both almost with the same production. When we did The Lamb we had the slides, we had the Slipperman, we had the Lamia, we had the dummy. The light show we have on this tour, which I actually own. We haven’t rented it. I’ve invested and bought myself. So we’re bringing along a huge lighting. People who see the photos and footage of our show they go wow, the light show looks great, that venue must have great lighting. It’s not. Some venues do have great lighting as well, but the majority of the show is actually what we bring to every club.


What special challenges did you face during the preparations for this tour?

It’s harder than you think. People think the Phil stuff is easier. It’s bloody difficult to play and the hard thing really was the lighting. My light guy Alec Morris worked for months preparing this tour. Again, I have invested in lighting which was good enough to look like Wembley but then also small enough to fit with us on the bus. We can’t bring two trucks. We’re not at that stage yet. So I had to design and work on a show that could look like Wembley and fit in a trailer. And it does. We have a very sophisticated system on stage for the sound and the lights and it’s all very portable and looks enormous. And also a big task was getting the electric drums. I use a Simmons kit like Phil and Ged has triggers like Chester. Getting all that was pretty difficult. It’s been a great challenge and totally worth all the work.


When did you start with the first preparations of this project?

January, this year. We had a new guitarist coming and then we had to get another keyboard player. Our keyboard player Andrew Keegan is very busy with his family and his work life and we totally respect that. He’s still in the band but he was finally difficult to find time around his family and work. So we got Raymond Pitt who used to work with a band called Face Value. We dragged him out of retirement. We spent January, February and March with Andrew and then had to start again with Ray. Then the whole of May and some of June I was in America with The Security Project. And then I came back in June we rehearsed but then July, August some of the band have holidays with their family. So very quickly as soon as May happened we were running out of time because one guy went on holiday and when he came back another guy went on holiday. So it took a lot of rehearsing and we really go deep. A lot of bands do approximations. To a casual fan that sounds right, but we really go into deep details. We try to get every chord on the keyboard, every guitar sound, all the drum samples. And every time we thought we were ok, we found more and we went another 5 % deeper. It’s been very much an ongoing thing.


And you get help from the Genesis family, from Mike Kidson?

Mike is a great friend. I initially contacted Mike to ask him about what drums we use, the electric drums. Because he was drum tech on the Invisible Touch Tour. He answered it very quickly and then came down to see me.  He became a really, really close friend. And to be honest with you, he just said “you’ve done everything, I can’t believe what you’ve done with the Carpet Crawlers with like two guys, what they used to do with a 120 crew and millions of pounds behind them.” He said, “you’ve pulled it off.” He was so enthusiastic and complementary about what we’ve achieved. He was meant to come on tour but unfortunately family issues, illness, meant he couldn’t come. But he’s very much a part of, well, he’s not part of the crew as such because Mike’s happily retired now. But he will be coming on more shows next year and he’s in contact with me daily. Saying “I wish I was there with you” because we really are close. I can’t believe how close I got with Mike. Such a lovely guy. And oh my the stories, which I couldn’t repeat, everything you mention he’s got a great story about it with some amazing musician.


We’ll be doing an interview with him as well. I was supposed to interview him today as well. He told me he isn’t coming but he offered to do a Q & A via email. So we will have that as well.

He’s a great guy, yes!


Speaking about help from Genesis, where did your bassist and guitarist Chris Watts (first from left on the photo) get this “timeless” jacket from he’s wearing on tour? It’s right similar to the jacket Mike wore.

I’ve got a tailor in Liverpool, my hometown, he made them. Again, Daniel wears the same jacket as Daryl. We even got a badge company to reproduce the same Kansai Chief or something [it’s in fact Kansai Officer – see Steppin’ Out cover]. Daniel has the same badges on his jacket. We couldn’t find the right material for Tony’s jacket. But Ray’s jacket is very similar. And of course I wear a white shirt and Miami Vice pants. Again, we’ve got a great guy, Robbie Davis, he’s a good friend. He has put a lot time into making them. It’s just nice, you go like you just said “wow, it’s the Rutherford jacket”. He (Chris) doesn’t look like Michael Rutherford, but if you blink your eyes a hundred feet away it looks like Wembley. Small touches but hopefully the fans appreciate the length we go to try and give them more goosebumps.


From all the positive things let’s go to the negative side of this tour. What happened that some dates had to be canceled?

I won’t go too personal because I don’t like that personal touch. But basically, we were introduced to a German promoter, who promised us a deal. He asked me for my costings for the tour which I always try to keep as low as possible. As long as I pay my band and my crew, I’m happy. I don’t really make a lot of money out of the Carpet Crawlers. I get a great enjoyment out of it. As long as all they get paid, I’m happy. So I put in a budget which he promised me, he agreed to cover it for each show. And then the whole of this year I spent thousands of Pounds on lights which I was never going to get back. That wasn’t for him to cover it up. That was my expense. But I knew on this tour the bus will be covered, the band will be covered, the crew will be covered. I think he underestimated the work needed to reach the Genesis fans. There was just not enough promotion. And there was very little information we got. The information flow was very poor. So we weren’t getting a lot of updates until it was too late. And then we found out two weeks before the tour that there were no presales, very poor presales. It’s not science. If you advertise a show and it’s good, people will come. If there is twenty presales or eighteen presales it means there has been no promotion. It’s not rocket science. He just hadn’t done it and to be honest with you, I’m really struggling on this tour because I’m so exhausted. Stress, because a week ago the whole tour was canceled. And I hate letting anyone down. I was so upset. I would’ve let the fans down, the bus company, the venues. And I’ve done everything I could. Everything I said I would do, I did. I said I would bring a huge show with the costumes, and I did that. It cost me a lot money. He just let us down, he let himself down and he let the fans and a lot of other people down. I will always be sorry for that. It has been very difficult on this tour. I’ve been struggling with my voice which doesn’t normally happen, because I’m exhausted. I’m absolutely exhausted. It’s not nice having it. I’m on stage and I do have it on my shoulders. I try and forget it. When I’m in the moment I have a great time with the fans. But I’m not going on stage full of energy like I normally do. I just feel like I’ve let so many people down. It’s really hard to swallow. All I can say to our friends in Germany I’m so, so sorry! I would never ever tell anyone what to do, but a lot of people said I was going to come. But the presales of tickets don’t show that. And there might have been two hundred people a night coming and paying at the door, which would be great because actually we get a slightly better ticket price if people pay at the door. But when there is nothing… We were going to go up to Flensburg which is so far to travel and the bus is so expensive if we go that far. And if twenty people turn up, it’s suicide. It’s impossible to make these shows work. So yes, it was very hard. And I don’t mind admitting that I’m really struggling on this tour. We go on the bus in England to come to Europe and then all of a sudden I was violently ill. I never get sick. I can eat anything, I don’t have a weak stomach. I was just throwing up and I think it was stress. In the same way I can’t wait for this tour to be over purely because I don’t feel like I’m at 100 %. And I make sure next year’s tour is going to be fantastic. These shows are fantastic. The band is sounding amazing. I’m struggling to have energy, you know. So it’s been very tiring.


So for next year do you have plans to come back in a proper scale?

Next year we’re coming back with the same show. It’s too big. It’s too big a show to just kind of play once. It’s the same with The Lamb. We did The Lamb and it was like we have to do that again. So we’re coming back. We do the whole of the Wembley show including the Cage medley and the Turn It On Again medley. And we have some bonus tracks. On this tour we have had four or five bonus songs. Next year depending on where we play we will change the bonus songs. We always do the drum duet. You don’t see a lot of bands doing that. I’m very proud of the show we have. It’s a hell of lot of work but more importantly passion and respect to the band that we love. We all have so much respect for Genesis. We treat it very carefully. It’s sacred to us. We really do take a lot of care in doing it the right way.

We’re very much looking forward to this, wishing you all the best. Thanks a lot for taking your time and your voice to speak to us.

Thank you! It was My pleasure. The German Genesis fans – the Carpet Crawlers don’t really have fans –, if you come and see a Carpet Crawlers show you’re a Genesis fan. If you come and see a Security Project show you’re a Peter Gabriel fan and if you come and see The Mick Pointer Band you’re a Marillion fan. I don’t have fans, I have friends. I hope to see a lot more of our friends on next year’s tour.

Interview, transcription and photos: Ulrich Klemt

Carpet Crawlers Website