From Genesis To Andalucia
An Interview with Chris Stewart
To Genesis fans,
Chris Stewart is probably best known for being the original drummer for
Genesis, appearing on their debut single from the self-titled album From Genesis To Revelation.
What they may not know is that Stewart is an accomplished writer whose
first book, Driving Over Lemons, a semi-autobiographical look at
his experiences as a farmer in Spain, was an international best seller.
The book was followed up by another critically acclaimed work, Parrot
In The Pepper Tree, which shared comparable success.
On August 5, 2005, World of Genesis' own, Dave Negrin sat down to talk to
Stewart about his interesting life, his career as a writer, about his
future projects, and about the early days of the band that would be later
be known as Genesis.
of Genesis: What inspired you to take your first experiences in
Andalucia and document them in your first book, Driving
Chris Stewart: Well, I guess I was bullied into it by my
publishers; thatís how it happened!
WOG: Was your
experiences as a sheep shearer what inspired you to pursue farming?
CS: It was a few years later. I didnít have anything to do with
farming until I was about 21. It was a lost
girlfriendÖ a broken heart that sent me towardsÖ. I was
going to go work on a kibbutz in
Israel, because it seemed
like a good place at the time for mending broken hearts.
(laughs) Youíre right! No, that was very, very tedious! It was lovely,
but Iíd say that 90 percent of it was sheer misery and hell, and five
percent of it was really wonderful, and five percent of it was just sort
of tolerable, but it was all tedious. The same damn thing every
day, but in a different place with different people... and different sheep
I wouldnít want to do it again, but Iíve done it now and itís sort
of made me what I am really. Whatever it is that I happen to beÖ
What were your earliest recollections of Genesis? How did you come to be
CS: Well, youíre talking a long way back, but I can remember quite a bit
about it, actually.
I happened to be in a house which had Peter
Gabriel, Tony Banks, and Ant Phillips in it. Peter, he
was a drummer at the time, and rather good. He had a big old red drum kit.
He taught me how to drum.
had a sort of house entertainment event, which everybody would be put
through their paces for every year. Anybody who could do anything would be
put on the stage and have to do it in front of everybody else. It was
truly appalling (laughs)!
I didnít really dream that I would be a writer, but some friends of mine
came out to stay with us who were publishers, and they liked our stories
the place, and they said, ďWhy donít you write a book about it?Ē I said, ďWell, I donít know how to write a
book!Ē They said, ďWell, youíve written guide books for us before,
so why donít you give it a go?Ē
Thatís basically how it all started. They then set up a publishing house
specifically to publish my book, and thatís
So, would you consider Driving Over
Lemons your first real foray into writing or did your experience
working on travel guides make writing that first novel an easier task that
you thought it would be?
CS: Well, yes. I worked for the Rough Guide. I wrote The
Rough Guide to China, The Rough
Guide to Turkey, (The Rough
, and others, but that
sort of writing is like writing bus time tables, really.
So, I got all set
up to work on a kibbutz in
and I thought,
ďWell, Iíd better learn a little bit about agriculture.Ē I just sort of fell into it, really,
and got a job in
and started working
with sheep and sheep shearing. Iíve been doing that off and on ever
Iíve made my living most of my life out of sheep shearing and
farming. Iím a terrible farmer, but I happen to love it!
WOG: In your books, you mention joining a circus, working on a
yacht, and a number of other interesting and unusual jobs. Looking back,
have any of these unique experiences really, sort of, shaped you as an
CS: HmmmÖ Thatís a great question! If
I have a great answer to it, I donít know (laughs)! All of them have in
Iím 54 (years old), and Iíve really just given up sheep shearing now.
I shear my own sheep still, and I shear sheep in the village, but I
donít make a living out of it. They work too bloody hard! I mean, itís
a really, really tough way to make a living, but I loved it when I was
Anyway, they got this band together to play a few Otis Redding
numbersÖ I even remember what is was, Percy Sledge ďWhen a Man Loves a
WomanĒ was one of them, I think. Peter decided that it was much more fun
to sing and play flute than to play the drums Ė which I am sure it
he needed both hands free to do that so, he said to me, ďHow would you
like to do the drumming?Ē I was thrilled. Playing the drums was one of
the most exciting things I had ever done. It just really got to me.
So, we got this band together. I canít remember who else was in it. Ant,
Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel, me and there was somebody else as well, but not
Mike Rutherford, because he was in another house. So, that was how it
started. From there, I think, we probably played at some
school entertainments and things like that and developed the repertoire a
bitÖ but thatís how it started.
Did the group do any original songs yet or was it all cover tunes?
Itís not really creative writing. You might, if youíre lucky and a bit
crafty, be able
to squeeze something
creative in, but itís terribly frowned upon rather. So, yes, I guess you
would say that it was my first attempt at creative writing. I guess I hit
lucky straight away (laughs)!
WOG: Then, I suppose, as someone who said
that they didnít know how to write a book, you were pretty surprised
when the book became an international best seller (laughs)?
CS: SurprisedÖ and rather pleased!
Was the success of Driving Over
Lemons the motivation to do the second book or was the second book, Parrot
Pepper Tree, an extension of a labor of love?
really. It was an extension of a labor of love. Once I
started, I found that I loved it! I
absolutely loved writing!
It was a wonderful way to make a living. You get to see all sorts of
wonderful places and meet extraordinary people. Itís a very boyish sort
of life. Youíre constantly competing and racing with the rest of the
gang. Itís something I will never forget.
It has shaped me an awful lot,
that. As has farming, I guess, particularly, with my love of the
countryside which is something that means an awful lot to me.
The other things, like working with the circus, they are all sort of
slightly off-beat and rather adventurous things, and things that have
given me a lot to think about. Really, I have been very privileged to live
a very easy and varied life.
I donít think you can even live a life like that
nowadays. Itís a very different world that Iíve brought my daughter
into from the one that I was born in.
How often do you do the walking tours of Andalucia? If someone was
interested in doing a walking tour of
with you as their
guide, how would they arrange that?
CS: As far as I can remember, it was all soul and rhythm and blues stuff,
which was what Peter liked. As always, Peter was the guiding instrument
behind it. Ant wrote a lot of stuff. Maybe we did some of his? It was
never a very serious band. It was four or five school boys messing around,
but that was one of the various threads that brought it all together.
WOG: What was it like when you got the opportunity to record those early
songs for Decca Records as From Genesis to Revelation?
Pretty damn exciting! You know, 15 and 16 year old school boys back in the
age of rock, and youíre suddenly whisked up to
to spend the day in the recording studio. Pretty
exciting, Iíll tell you!
WOG: I know you did the first couple of recordings with the group, but at
what point were you dismissed from Genesis?
I find it one of the most satisfying things Iíve ever
done. Of course, because it happened to been attended by a certain amount
of success, it makes it even more fun.
Iím never going to stop. Iíve got the bit between my teeth, and I just
write and write (laughs)! Iím in the final stages of the third book at
the moment, and after that, who knows what may happen?
Is the third book also
about your sort of semi-autobiographical experiences? Or, can
you share the basic premise of the next book?
itís very similar. Itís sort of the third book of the trilogy, really.
Weíre still here, and this is where we live. Have you read the book by
Genesis circa 1968 with Stewart
I left before they ever went on the road.
played on ďThe Silent SunĒ and ďThatís MeĒ which was on the
other side of [the first single]. I
think that was about it. There might have been a couple of other
ones that I played on, but my memory doesnít serve me well with
It was pretty shortly after that Peter turned up with a check for 300
pounds for me saying, ďWell, if you want this check for 300 poundsÖĒ
and in those days 300 pounds was about $500 Ė it was an awful lot of money. He
said, ďIf you want this check, you have to sign this document.Ē This
document signed away all my future rights to anything that might be earned
from Genesis. So, of course I signed up and went off to fool around with
Stewart On Writing:
"Iím never going
to stop. Iíve got
the bit between
my teeth, and I
CS: I do a couple of tours a year with an outfit called Andalucian
Adventures. Their website is: www.Andalucian-Adventures.co.uk.
I set that up in the Alpujarras
about seven or eight
years ago, and Iíve been walking with them ever since. I do it for about
a week, twice a
year. Sometimes four times a year, but currently two weeks a year as
things are a bit hectic.
would be great! Weíve had Americans and people from all over the world.
People love it! Itís going to be a bit grim this year, because we
havenít had any rain for about 18 months, so if it doesnít rain this autumn, itís
going to be a rather bleak.
On His Departure from Genesis:
'If you want this check, you have to sign this document.' This
document signed away
all my future rights to anything that might
from Genesis. So, of course I signed
up and went off to fool around with
WOG: Yes, I actually just finished the first one.
CS: Ah, right. They bought it for the
States, and I think it sold about 50,000 copies there, which seemed like
an awful lot of books to me, but apparently it wasnít enough to get them
to buy the second one. So, they didnít buy The
Parrot in the Pepper Tree.
So, itís the third in the trilogy. It still talks about where we live in the Alpujarras and the
things that happen in our family as we grow up and become more a part of
the landscape that we live inÖ but it also goes into the business of
immigration quite a lot.
We live just across the water from
North Africa, where hundreds of North Africans die in the
straights every year as they are trafficked across really awful
circumstances. Itís a subject I feel quite strongly about. I have a number of Moroccan friends, so that
is another, more serious, subject that I explore in this book.
Is there a set release date for the new book?
CS: I hope itís going to come out next May, but itís
me putting my head
down and doing some serious work on it, which itís sort damn hot here at
the moment that I have been unable to do that.
WOG: In your first book, you talk
about playing Flamenco guitar and working as a
sheep shearer at the age of twenty. Was that your first job after quitting
Genesis and how did you get into that profession?
You mentioned playing some guitar in your book. Do you still play any
instruments? Or, do you ever pull out the old drum kit?
CS: After I left Genesis, as you can imagine (laughs), I felt a bit
saddened by the loss of what appeared to me to be a pretty wild
opportunity. I mean, in those days, everybody wanted to be a rock starÖ
I guess they still do. It looked like I very narrowly missed it, so I took
drumming very seriously for a number of years. I practiced 10 hours per
day, and I really got somewhere. I turned into a terribly good drummer at
the end of it all. I played for various little bands, and then I played
for the circus, nothing serious.
Then, when I discovered agriculture, somehow the drums didnít seem so
relevant anymore. So, it just seemed silly sitting in a barn banging away
on the drums all by yourself in the countryside, so I took up guitar
instead, and Iíve played it ever since. Iíve never played it
seriously, just for my own pleasure, really, to the annoyance of my family
WOG: You recorded the audio versions of your first two books. Was
that your first time in a recording studio since your Genesis days?
(laughs out loud) Yeah! I never thought about that. Yes, of course it was! The first one
was to record ďThe Silent SunĒ with Genesis, and I must have been all
of 16 (years old) then, which would have made it 1967. The next time was
1999 or 2000 to read the audio version of the book Driving
Over Lemons, which was lots of fun. I really enjoyed doing that.
WOG: It seems fairly unusual that the actual author reads their own
work for the audio version of a book. I thought that was a great idea
since it was an autobiographical piece.
CS: That was sort of my decision. They said, ďWeíre going to
get an actor to read the book.Ē I said, ďWhat do you mean, get an
actor to read the book?! Why canít I read it?Ē My editor looked at me
and she said, ďDonít be so stupid! You canít possibly read the book!
You need trained actors to do this.Ē So, I thought ďok,Ē but then
someone said, ďNo, if the author wants to read it, thatís much better.
Letís get the author to read it.Ē
From your recollections, were the rest of the guys good students at
CS: No! (laughs) They were all fairly crap students, actually (laughs)!
Not quite as crap as I was (still laughing), but they were pretty bad.
Peter was sort of clever, but his heart wasnít in it, I donít think.
He was a bit of a genius, but not in an academic sense. He was no fool.
Ant Phillips was a complete dunce (laughs)! He had to leave, as most of
them did, I think. Mike Rutherford was similar. Tony Banks was bright. I
think he was sort of fairly studious and academic. Thatís everyone.
CS: Ah, me? (laughs) I was no good at all! I was very poor at academia. I
left Charterhouse with very poor results, and I went to what was known as
the college of knowledge to try and brush up, and I only got worse after
I got accepted to university on the strength of my art portfolio, I was
going to do fine arts, but in those days it was traditional to take a gap
year between school and university. Well, Iím 54 now, and Iím still in
that gap year; I never made it.
WOG: Did Genesisí success years later surprise you? Or, back then did
you think they had what it would take to be successful in the music
CS: I guess it did surprise me, yes, with the amazing success they had. By
the time they got really big, I was quite a long time out of it. I mean,
they only just given up, havenít they? So, itís only been a couple of
years since they finally finished. So, theyíve been at it for an awful
So, I was surprised. I never felt jealous about it or even disappointed, really, because
things were happening to me already, and I was pleased with that course of
events. It would have been a bit fun, I guess, but Iím pleased that
things turned out the way they did.
CS: No, it wasnít. I left Genesis, when I was still in school. In
fact, that was part of the reason I left. I was still at school, and they
were allowed to leave.
Their parents said that they figured that it was quite a promising career,
and it was rightly worth leaving. My parents said, ďNo! You sit your
exams out! That doesnít look like a very promising career at all!Ē
That, apart from the fact that I was also a rotten drummer, were two of
the reasons that I was given the boot from Genesis... and very justifiably, too. I think it was probably the best decision they ever made.
So, I left school after that, and I went to work on a building site.
Thatís what I did immediately after leaving school.
So, they got me into the recording studio and it appears that I was
alright. It took us two and a half days to do it. Itís quite sort of
grueling, but not really. Itís sitting there in front of a microphone
reading a book! Itís not totally grueling (laughs)!
They wonít even let you have a pint of beer at lunch time,
because the recording equipment is so sensitive that it will pick up the
slightest smack of a lip.
(laughs) ÖBut it canít be as tedious as the sheep shearing though!
Can you tell me about the Genesis reunion dinner in London in 1998
around the release of the
first Genesis Archive box set?
Were you surprised that they reached out to you to participate in that
Yeah, I was sort of surprised and absolutely delighted! I had a wonderful evening in
London; I really enjoyed
that. I wasnít really expecting to, because I thought it would be a sort
of boys only affair, which I thought was a bit odd. It was a rather nice
restaurant in London, and some things I didnít know, but it was a really
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