Peter Gabriel, UB40 and Genesis – Feb-April 1980
Endless renewal is the perpetual motor of rock and roll. Always has been, always will. Musical genres come and go, bands change direction, reinvent themselves for better or worse. Stasis is the enemy because to stand still means, inevitably, to become increasingly irrelevant.
Not all change is good though. Sometimes a band can appear at the peak of its powers, forging new sounds and exploring fresh territory – ready to conquer the world – and yet, with hindsight, it is possible to hear the death knell sounding amid the clamour.
Then there are those bands which seemingly appear from nowhere and immediately establish a template for their sound which defines who they are. They may have long, successful careers, go off in different directions, but somehow never escape the sparkle and clarity of that initial flourish.
These tickets from the Spring of 1980 highlight the shifting fortunes of bands and how, over the years, what seemed so important and significant at a particular moment in time can fade into obscurity, and what was incidental and inconspicuous back then can continue to shine brightly.
The months of February to April that year were book-ended by two of the biggies at the time – Peter Gabriel and Genesis – two branches of the same root-stock that were taking off in different directions while hauling the legacy of their shared pasts along with them.
In between, there was a band at the far opposite end of the spectrum, UB40, just starting out, about to release its first single and still playing mainly support gigs with the likes of the Pretenders, The Beat and The Selecter.
The funny thing about the Gabriel/Genesis productions, which were undoubtedly rock and roll marquee events in all their pomp and glory, is that I can remember absolutely nothing about them; the UB40 concert though I can still see quite vividly as if at the end of a long tube, bright and tiny, frozen in a speck of amber.
Likewise, I have no idea how I came to be traipsing about the north of England, from Sheffield to Newcastle, following the Genesis herd. I don’t know how I got to those gigs at all.
On the other hand, I remember quite clearly the school trip to London and sneaking out of the hotel with a friend to find The Venue where, somewhat surprisingly, given we must have looked like a couple of underage oiks, we gained entry to the club on a Friday night to listen to UB40.
At the time, The Venue operated like a real night club with tables and waitress service. I think we managed to make one glass of whisky last the whole evening because that was all we could afford.
UB40 were one of those bands which came along at the right time with their identity and sound fully formed. They were loosely aligned with the 2-Tone ska revival – pork pie hats and skinny ties – which was popular at the time (although I was never cool enough to be part of that scene), and their blend of roots reggae and street-wise social commentary (everybody knew what a UB40 was) made them the perfect band for that era.
The UB40 that played on stage that night would be instantly recognisable to anybody familiar with them in later years, albeit perhaps a bit rougher – as can be heard in the live recording of that gig which was released many years later. I sometimes wonder if this was recorded on the night we went and that maybe I can be heard cheering in the background, trapped inside this little sound capsule.
Within months, the band had moved onto bigger things. Their first single, Food For Thought, which was released about the same time, reached the UK Top 10, apparently the first to do so without the backing of a major record company. Their debut album, Signing Off, released later that year, reached as high as No. 2 in the UK.
I seem to remember we had to leave before the end of the gig to return to the hotel so we could get back in without being missed.
A month later, having snacked on the side dishes of Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel, I was enjoying the main course of a full-blown Genesis concert. This coincided with the release of the Duke album when the band took a decidedly more mainstream turn, although in truth it had started with the earlier And then there were three.
Raised on the likes of A Trick of the Tail and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, this gig represented both the peak and the end of my interest in the band. The tediously commercialised program for that tour, complete with selected hagiography and a detailed list of the band’s equipment (hey, rock ‘n’ roll), demonstrates how skewed the group’s identity had become by then.
And so, at the height of its popularity (Duke was the first Genesis album to reach No. 1 in the UK), the band was already moribund in my eyes. Not that it mattered. There were always new bands ready to step into the light.