Has Peter Gabriel ever commented at length on the Victoriana aesthetics of early Genesis?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by ajsmith, Feb 3, 2021.

  1. ajsmith

    ajsmith Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Glasgow
    I'm far from the biggest fan of Genesis, but I've long been fascinated by the very unique 'creepy Victoriana' aesthetic they had going on in the lyrics and artwork of their early 70s albums. It's a really distinct vibe that's different from most prog bands, who tended to go the more conventional Tolkien fantasy or sci fi routes in their conceptual themes. It's an aesthetic that would become more widely popular decades later in the 90s and 00s with artists like The Smashing Pumpkins Marilyn Manson Neutral Milk Hotel etc trying to tap into this well, although it always felt a bit more affected by then as a kind of one spray on 'me so old timey creepy and arty' shtick. But Genesis really seemed to stand alone in using this imagery in the early 70s. I was just wondering if Gabriel (or any of the other members) have ever commented at length at what they were going for with this kinda stuff, or where it came from:


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  2. Blank Frank

    Blank Frank King of Carrot Flowers

    With the artwork I'd be asking Paul Whitehead and Tony Stratton-Smith, as Charisma, apparently, allowed Whitehead artistic control over what he did.

    That vibe changed quite a lot for the Foxtrot cover.
     
  3. Blank Frank

    Blank Frank King of Carrot Flowers

    Even then Whitehead's artwork was never the same on any 2 of the albums he did for Charisma in those days: the 4 Genesis albums don't really look like each other and the 2 VDGG albums are different again and not like each other.

    I seem to recall reading somewhere, sometime, that Nursery Crime's cover was inspired by Musical Box and that Foxtrot's was inspired by Supper's Ready, which is what we all thought at the time - I say "we", my little coterie of Durham City teenage prog rock fans were certainly of that opinion, when we weren't slagging off ELP, who none of us liked much.
     
  4. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product

    It would be interesting to know.
    Merely speculation, but I reckon it comes from being pretty well educated grammar school lads, and Gabriel's artsy leanings.
     
  5. ajsmith

    ajsmith Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Glasgow
    There's an interesting article about Whitehead's work on the Nursery Cryme cover here: Nursery Cryme by Genesis: the story behind the artwork | Louder

    However, it does make it clear that the Victorian vibe was already very strong in the lyrics and inspired the artwork.
     
  6. MikeF63

    MikeF63 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Derbyshire, UK
    Phil Collins went to Grammar School - the Charterhouse boys would be looking down on such oiks
     
  7. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Flaneur

    Location:
    Perth Australia
    I'd say their subject matter was largely a result of the fact that they were from upper class families and in a very conservative upper class school. They would probably have had heavy exposure to English literature of earlier centuries, and received heavy doses of English history. It must have seemed an exciting world compared with their school existence. Ditto for the mythology references in songs like "Fountain of Salmacis". This would have been the kind of stuff they learned about in history and literature classes.

    I would hazard a guess that their lessons included a lot about kings and queens and castles and armies, and probably not so much about the lives of the common people in those times. It was not until somewhat later that they started to become aware of things like issues of social justice, but when they did they did so with a vengeance, and this applied particularly to Gabriel.
     
  8. sound chaser

    sound chaser Forum Resident

    Location:
    North East UK.
    I was one (still am, in fact), and I liked ELP, so did one of my teachers!, (even saw him at a 'Refugee' gig in Bede College).
     
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  9. Hi Lizard

    Hi Lizard So I took a journey. Threw my world into the sea

    Location:
    Frankfort Kentucky
    Victorian allegory's that can invoke a sense of a dark, medieval type of foreboding. Brilliant! The Peter years will always be my favorite.
     
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  10. sound chaser

    sound chaser Forum Resident

    Location:
    North East UK.
    Absolutely. "The Knife" live evokes the same vibe for me, musically.

    "Harold The Barrel, cut off his toes and served them all for tea" :) kind of reminds me, my late mother had several kitchen tiles containing 'dark' stories and paintings, (I got used to them over the years, if no-one else did!).

    If I had been of a mind I should have shown her the "Nursery Cryme" cover, I feel sure she would have 'got it'.
     
  11. Godbluff

    Godbluff Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    When Gabriel wrote the lyrics to Musical Box he imagined the story taking place in a big Victorian house called Coxhill, which was on land owned by his grandfather where he used to play when he was a kid. The house in question is the one on the rear cover, so that explains the Victorian period setting for the song, which Paul Whitehead carried into the artwork.
     
  12. Lovecraft

    Lovecraft Forum Resident

    Location:
    Isle of Bute, UK
    NC was my first album of theirs and vies with SEBTP for top spot. This atmosphere of Victorian menace is absolutely one of the things I most took to. There is definitely something nasty in the nursery....
     
  13. wildstar

    wildstar Forum Resident

    Location:
    ontario, canada
    :confused:

    Trespass
    Nursery Cryme
    Foxtrot
    ....and....????
     
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  14. Crimson Witch

    Crimson Witch painting the universal plastically perceptible

    Location:
    North America
    Trick of the Tail to a certain extent I imagine

    * and Selling England too

    **Edit
    I see now the post was in reference to Whitehead and not the Victorian aesthetic in general. Hipgnosis are responsible for the artwork on TotT, and Betty Swanwick for Selling England by the Pound
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2021
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  15. wildstar

    wildstar Forum Resident

    Location:
    ontario, canada
    True. There was a pretty big class divide between the working class Phil and Steve and the upper-middle class Peter, Tony and Mike. Run of the mill grammar school VS prestigious fee-paying boarding school. Essentially private school (which for some weird reason is confusingly referred to as "public school" - I guess its "public" for anyone who could afford it!)
     
  16. Blank Frank

    Blank Frank King of Carrot Flowers

    OK, strictly 3 and a bit, 'cos he did the lettering on Genesis Live...
     
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  17. Blank Frank

    Blank Frank King of Carrot Flowers

    It's an historical oddity: Public school (United Kingdom) - Wikipedia

    Does cause confusion when talking to non-UK-ians.
     
  18. wildstar

    wildstar Forum Resident

    Location:
    ontario, canada
    The cover for "Selling England" was done by Betty Swanwick.
    The cover for Trick was done by Hipgnosis.

    The group all felt that Foxtrot was a weak cover which was what prompted them to make a change of artist for future album cover art.
     
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  19. Bassist

    Bassist Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Great topic. Ironically deployed Victoriana was briefly a big part of the Swinging Sixties scene and carried on well into the early 70s at least in terms of style influences. I can remember that kind of tat being a thing into the early 70s. There is also the likelihood that all the members would have been very familiar with books like Hilaire Belloc's "Cautionary Tales For Children". I can also remember being given mainstream paperback compendiums of Victorian ghost stories and such like in the early 70s when I was 10 /11 / 12. Commonplace stuff. Quite grisly at times if memory serves. The Victorian's obsession with death and horror had a very long reach!
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2021
  20. Crimson Witch

    Crimson Witch painting the universal plastically perceptible

    Location:
    North America
    I know. I edited just ahead of your post.
    I was just referring to the Victorian style
     
  21. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Flaneur

    Location:
    Perth Australia
    I think the Foxtrot cover is great - but nothing wrong with having a change of artist. They wouldn't want to get stale in that regard. There are some bands whose covers are all different, yet somehow all manage to look the same. This seems to be a particular feature of metal bands.
     
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  22. Bassist

    Bassist Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Also worth remembering how much weird Victoriana was included in the early Monty Python Terry Gilliam animations, a show which was both massive and still somewhat underground (tucked away late at night on BBC2) in this early 70s era. Just like Prog.

    If anyone still has a copy of the first Python annual from 1971 there was a lot of the same imagery included there. Victoriana with a Dada-ist twist.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2021
  23. wildstar

    wildstar Forum Resident

    Location:
    ontario, canada
    They were a VERY "English" band lyrically which doesn't always translate well to a non-UK audience. The Jam and Blur are two examples of bands who were massively huge in the UK and little more than cult acts in the US.

    The Kinks and Genesis are a couple of examples of such bands that were able to gain a foothold outside the UK as far as huge success was concerned (but mostly due to their least lyrically UK-centric material - ie early Kinks riff rockers and post 70s Genesis).

    Genesis took their overt "Englishness" as far as it could go with the SEBTP album, which Gabriel said was a big part of why they hopped across the ocean for the subject matter of their followup album TLLDOB. Of course they didn't drop the English themes entirely, but they certainly dialed them back significantly.
     
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  24. Holy Diver

    Holy Diver Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    I just don't see it. ;)
     
  25. wildstar

    wildstar Forum Resident

    Location:
    ontario, canada
    Hmmm...that could be significant as an influence on Genesis as they were massive Python fans who said when they were rehearsing relentlessly for 12 hours a day while living together at their borrowed cottage, they would always make sure to take a break to watch Monty Python's TV show when it aired.

    Of course Monty Python wouldn't have been their main inspiration in that direction (their education can't be underestimated as their main influence in the band's "victorian lyrical direction") but it certainly could have been a further inspiration for their moves in that direction. The lyrics to 'Harold The Barrel' certainly could be seen as Python-esque.
     
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