28 May 2008

My Day with Genesis

For those of you who don't know, I work as a "consultant" for the band Genesis, basically as the "webmaster" for their website. My official title, for what it's worth, is "Genesis-Web Content Editor," but webmaster seems to cover the real work of it.

Genesis are releasing a DVD of their tour from last year, called "When in Rome 2007." Because there's a lot of publicity surrounding this release, Maria, who works for the company that runs the Genesis website, thought it would be great if we could head to London, to help cover the DVD release for the website. As you can imagine, she got no argument from me about this.

So, we made travel arrangements to head over to London, Maria a day earlier than I, to cover the DVD premiere, and my plan was to arrive on Wednesday, 21 May with Sue, as she was able to get off of work to have a little mini-vacation with me.

The really exciting part of this for me, as a Genesis fan, is that we had proposed to their management that we would do a tour of "The Farm," Genesis's studio, and actually do an online chat with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, 2/3rds of the core of Genesis since 1978. And, to our great pleasure, they actually agreed to this! So, I was going to get to go out to The Farm, where Genesis recorded such albums as Abacab, Genesis, Invisible Touch, and We Can't Dance, and hang out, tour the facilities, and meet Mike and Tony! Great stuff!

I'll do a blog later on about the rest of the trip, but this is all about the visit to The Farm. It was a great day, no two ways about it. I'll start at the beginning, and go from there. If you're not interested in hearing me blab about this, then this is *not* the blog for you.

I met up with Maria and Charlotte (the videographer) at about 11:45am at Waterloo Station in London on Thursday, 22 May. We were meeting to take the train out to the Farm, and do the various and sundry activities for today. I had my laptop with me (and some items to be signed!), Maria and Charlotte had the camera, laptops, and from Maria, snacks for the ride!

Our train leaves at 12:15, and we are at Witley by about 1:10. A very nice train ride through the English countryside. As it was my first trip EVER to the UK, it was great to see a bit of land outside of London. We were picked up at the train station, after a very brief wait by Dale Newman, who has been working with the band (starting out as MR's tech during the US Lamb tour) since 1975.

Dale's a *really* friendly, genuinely nice guy (as everyone I met out at The Farm was), originally from Indiana, but has been living in the UK for years now. We talked a bit of baseball, US politics, and of course, the band and music in general. We arrived at the Farm after maybe a 10 minute drive (my timing may be a bit wonky, as I wasn't really paying attention too much to time). There, we met Geoff Callingham, another long time Genesis "guy," and a truly great person to meet.

After chatting for a bit, making introductions and talking some tech set up for the day, Dale gives us the tour of the facilities (before the videotaped tour with Nick Davis). We see the main control room, the recording room, the stone room (for Phil's drums), and the back "old" control room, where Dale does some recording of his own material. Later on, I went back with Dale and he played me one of his newer songs, which I enjoyed, there was some nice sounding keys in the chorus of the song that I particularly liked.

After leaving the old control room, Dale took us to the equipment shed, where he told a great story about a Stonehenge mockup and it's role at the end of the first Mike & the Mechanics tour (think "Stonehenge" from Spinal Tap, and you'll get the jist of the story). There were a lot of flight cases around, along with some old keyboards, some familiar stools, and lots of guitar strings and other tech equipment. Great stuff... There was also a field right by the equipment shed, filled with sheep/lamb. When sheep bleat, it almost sounds "fake," as they sound too much like someone imitating a sheep... Kind of funny, to my mind...

Once back in, Dale made up some of his world famous sausages, which were quite good! Charlotte went out to grab some exterior shots of the studio, and Maria and I continued to get some tech stuff done. At this poing, I logged onto the Genesis site, and posted a thread in the Forum, and in response to a comment in that thread about soundboard tapes from early Genesis tours, Geoff suggested taking a photo of the tapes/hard drive boxes in the other room.

While we got some things done, Nick Davis showed up, probably before 2:30pm? We all talked for a bit after introductions, and we planned out how to do this video tour. Nick went outside to start it with Charlotte, and then, once inside, I got picked up on the tour to help out by asking some basic questions about the studio as we went along. I felt a little stilted, as when filming, you really do feel the camera eye on you, and there is a responsibility to be "interesting!" I think it turned out well though. Having done the tour with Dale previously helped out, as I knew some things to ask about, and while I'm not a professional musician, I'm familiar enough with how studios work that I could ask some decent questions.

After the tour, I checked in with Maria to see about the chat situation. We were concenred about some issues with the room, but there were tech folks at Ultrastar HQ who were working on workarounds, and we (meaning the tech folks!) got the issues resolved.

Because Charlotte had worked with Tony Banks' daughter either during or after college (I wasn't sure of the exact timeline), Emily stopped by, and we all had a brief chat. While waiting for the main event with Mike and Tony (they were expected around 5:45pm or so), Maria and I showed Nick and Geoff the Members DVD in the TV in the control room. Nick in particular really enjoyed it, and was gracious enough to say so in the Members Forum on the website.

This was one of those moments, watching the DVD on a monitor at The Farm, with Nick Davis sitting right next to me, bopping his head to Turn It On Again, and Home by the Sea, where I let myself think, "I'm at the FARM! This is NUTS!"

After some tea from Geoff, and working out the last of the tech/chat issues, Mike and Tony arrive, in separate cars, but within about a minute or two of each other. I believe Mike came in first, then Tony. We had some brief intros, again, and began the set up in earnest... I *believe* I posted in the chat room that "Mike and Tony are here," but some things are a bit of a blur...

We actually changed some of the set up on the fly. Our initial plan was to have Mike and Tony in the same room. I would be transcribing for Tony, and Maria for Mike. That way, we could pull a question, and if it was for both of them, Tony could answer, then Mike, or vice versa. Also, we thought we could get some good banter between them for the camera, and the chat. However, when we sat down, Mike was concerned that he and Tony would be talking over each other, or at the same time, so that it would be hard to concentrate on the actual questions.

So, Maria quickly set up in the other room with Mike (at the couches in the control room) whereas I stayed with Tony in the main "lounge" of the Farm. I chatted with Tony a bit, explaining how the "backend" of this chat would work, so that he would know what was going on. Nick was at another computer in the same room, doing some pre-chat, chat... Tony seemed interested and engaged in the chat process, and asked if he'd need to read himself. I said that I'd read the questions to him, but if he wanted to read himself, he could also. He got his reading glasses, so he could see the screen (on my laptop) a bit better. I did also ask Tony if there was anything that he *didn't* really want to talk about, and I believe his response was, "You can ask anything, don't worry about it." He also said that he knew that he could talk a lot, but would try to keep it shorter than usual...

I also have to share that I did bring some CD sleeves to get signed, and just by chance, they were sitting by the side of my laptop, with "A Curious Feeling" on the top. He pointed it out, and said something along the lines of "A man with taste," when I said it was mine... That was a fun little moment.

Since Maria was in the other room, I wasn't sure if we had an "intro" or not to the chat, so I decided to just jump into it. The good thing with Mike being in the other room with Maria, was that we were able to get a lot more questions asked, as we were really almost doing two chats at once. The negative to that was that we lost the interaction of Mike and Tony, and we couldn't film the *whole* chat, as Charlotte was going between the two rooms with the camera. I think Tony and I got filmed a bit more, as our room had better lighting.

I think I did a good job getting the spirit of Tony's answers. It was really impossible to get all of his words into every answer with my transcribing, but we joked about that too. Nick however thought that I really did a decent job, as he was sitting in the same room, and could hear Tony's answers, and read my transcription.

I have to be honest, I have *no clue* what Mike was saying to Maria, as I really couldn't take the time to read his responses as they came up in chat. Since being there, I've had time to read over the transcript, and it was great to see that Mike appeared to have a good time with the chat on his end also.

It *felt* like we did the chat for about an hour, although you can correct me if I have the specific time off. From reading some other comments, I can see that I/we may have pulled some questions from the same users. I can say at least on my part, I was trying to pull questions, and honestly, I barely paid attention to who posted the question. It's a little stressful, as you can imagine... But Tony was *really* easy to talk to.

I think Tony enjoyed doing the chat, and at the end, before he left, I mentioned that if he wanted to do anything else for the site, we'd be happy to facilitate it. "I know, I know" was his response, in a friendly way, like he knows he would like to do more, but just hasn't gotten around to it... I think that's hopeful for the future, for more chats, etc. I did manage to get Mike and Tony to sign some items, and the banter between the two of them at that point was really fun, just two old friends hanging out...

So, then they departed for whatever was next for them, probably relaxing... I took a deep breath, and just let it soak in, what had just happened.

We did some final filming for the tour, and wrapped up... Maria, Charlotte and I got on the 8:20pm train out of Whitley, back to Waterloo!

This is perhaps a very "dry" retelling of the events from last week, but I wanted to give a sense of how this type of event actually works. I had a blast, and it was pretty surreal. I have to say, Tony and Mike are friendly, and I was happy to work closely with Tony on the chat. It's *really* great that we were able to share some good news about the board tapes, and also about the *possibility* of the ACF reissue. Tony was a "good interview," and I enjoyed it immensely...

I also think that getting face time with Nick, Dale, and Geoff will help with getting some more content on the site. Obviously, Nick has his own area of the Forum, but I talked with Geoff and Dale about some other ideas for long time Genesis employee participation.

Emotionally, it was FANTASTIC! I realize I am INCREDIBLY lucky to have had this opportunity, and I really do feel like I was representing "fans" in my trip there. Sure, I was the guy in the chair, but really, part of my job is to put a "human" face to the fans, the website, and our fun group in general who live here on the site. So, that was part of the great fun of our London trip. More to come about the rest of the trip later on...