This was especially for the band itself. Genesis had blossomed into a bankable chart act since Gabriels exit in 1975: They had released two straight No. 1 LPs in their native UK, including the previous year’s Abacab. Meanwhile, Gabriel celebrated his solo freedom on “Solsbury Hill” and then continued to find a perfect middle ground between art-rock and synth-pop on his recently released fourth album.
A financial disaster brought the two parties back together, for one night only, at a concert dubbed Six of the Best. Staged on Oct. 2, 1982 at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes, England, the show attempted to collect Gabriel’s debt following the inaugural WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival earlier that year.
Gabriel helped establish the event as a cultural melting pot: among others, the music line-up included the post-punk band Echo and the Bunnymen, the Indian sitar player Imrat Khan, Irish folk music the Chieftains and the Drummers of Burundi. Several possible factors—reportedly including one railway strike — had made WOMAD more of an artistic success than a commercial one, leaving a troubling balance sheet.
“Ambition took precedence over reality,” Gabriel said The Guardian in 2012. “We went in there with evangelical fervor, and we thought everyone else would be as excited as we were. It became a nightmare experience when we realized we couldn’t get the tickets to cover our costs. The debt was way beyond what I could handle, but people saw me as the only fat cat worth hugging, so I got a lot of nasty phone calls and a death threat.”
When Gabriel was unable to dig himself out of that hole, management came up with a clever idea: a Genesis reunion show that doubles as a WOMAD benefit. A win-win, for sure. However, there were some major roadblocks — including the fact that Genesis was already out on the road.
“When the idea of helping him with a fundraising reunion show came up, there was no second thought,” bassist-guitarist Mike Rutherford wrote in his 2015 memoir, The years of life. “We immediately decided to make it happen, [but] given that we were in the middle of one - Date yourself UK tour, this was a logistical nightmare.”
They managed to squeeze in two or three last-minute rehearsals – the exact number appears to be unclear – at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, where Genesis played Sept. 28, 29 and 30. Somehow they scraped together a set and packed the National Bowl with 47,000 rabid fans (a singing drummer Phil Collins cites in his 2016 book, Not dead yet).
Due to a general lack of preparation, everyone involved held their breath. Plus, Gabriel acknowledged his bandmates’ “generous” gesture, but wasn’t exactly thrilled to go back. “After trying for seven years to get away from the image of being ex-Genesis, there’s obviously a certain amount of backsliding,” he shared. NME prior to the concert. “I don’t think they would choose at this point to work with me… [but] I’m very grateful and I’m going to enjoy myself.”
Gabriel displayed this mix of excitement and trepidation with a tongue-in-cheek visual stunt: After an introduction from Jonathan King, who produced the band’s underwhelming debut albumGabriel was raised on stage in a coffin, symbolically nodding to this resurrection from the dead. (“Typically Pete, and typically dark and humorous,” Collins wrote, “but I’m not sure about the audience [got] that.”)
But as bootlegs from the show can attest, the fans — by now drenched by hours of intense rain — at least understood the gravity of the moment when Genesis launched into their last-ever performance of 1974’s “Back in NYC” given the unique lineup (Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks, touring guitarist Daryl Steurmer and touring drummer Chester Thompson), this rendition is both excitingly unique and slightly disorienting: With Collins’ intense tom-tom flourishes, Steurmer’s fluid leads and Gabriel’s aggressive goat-roaring vocals, it lives in some other reality — part ’70s, part ’80s.
Listen to a Bootleg of Genesis’ 1982 Reunion With Peter Gabriel
After part of the epic “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” which transitioned smoothly into the fan-favorite ballad “The Carpet Crawlers,” the band was interrupted by fans singing “Happy Birthday” to Rutherford, who turned 32 that day. Acknowledging the moment, Gabriel turned his attention to the strange circumstances that brought them together.
“Some of you may be wondering what we’re doing here,” he said. “Actually, this is a spin-off from a previous event called WOMAD. … The end result of this was that it was a great event and it lost a bunch of money. But I’m very fortunate to have a group of people [to] support these ideals. … And in return for your money, we will try to give you what we think you would like from this combination.”
Those who braved the rain witnessed the Genesis story with almost every song. The set list inevitably drew from the band’s Gabriel era, and many of these selections were never played again – including a full version of the 23-minute epic “Supper’s Ready” and Lamb is down on Broadway deep cuts “Fly on a Windshield” and “Broadway Melody of 1974.” They also took the opportunity to experiment, playing a fresh version of Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” (ironic, given the song’s importance) and Genesis’ 1980 single “Turn It on Again”, the latter with Gabriel banging around on other drums .
“Pete suddenly decided he wanted to play with Chester on Phil’s suit,” Rutherford wrote The years of life. “Like everyone else, what Pete hadn’t realized was that ‘Turn It On Again’ was in 13/8 time, which made it like a merry-go-round: He’d think he’d reached the end, and suddenly we’d be off again. He spent the whole song trying to figure it out, but I’d much rather someone put some passion in and mess up than get everything pitch-perfect. Plus, as a band, we enjoyed those moments when someone is fucked.”
The set’s most important moment came in the encore, when the former guitarist Steve Hackett, who left Genesis in 1977, joined as a surprise guest for two classic songs, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” and “The Knife.” He had learned of the reunion while on holiday in Brazil after his father called him with the news: “The following day I brought it back to the UK and flew in to join the guys for the show,” he wrote in his autobiography from 2020, A Genesis in my bed. “Since they had already practiced their stuff, I could only participate in the encores, but I was excited to be involved with the team again.”
Everyone seemed to feel the same—maybe except Banks. According to the book, he found it a “strange” experience Without limits: Peter Gabriel’s life and music: “I was wearing a tracksuit that had ‘kamikaze’ written on it, emphasizing my attitude.”
Gabriel never reunited with Genesis again, at least not on stage. He recorded new vocals for it 1999 version of “The Carpet Crawlers,” and participated in several interview projects – including the BBC’s All in the Same Room 2014 documentary Genesis: Together and Apart. He and Rutherford too appeared during a solo Hackett show in 1983, with a charmingly unrehearsed version of “I Know What I Like”.
Looking back, Rutherford’s biggest regret about Six of the Best—which echoes the sentiments of so many fans—is that they didn’t document the night for posterity. “It wasn’t until later that I realized how good it would have been to have a record of it for the fans,” he said, “and also how special it all had been for me personally.”
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