An Interview with Genesis Biographer Robin Platts

Genesis fans have had many books to pick and choose from over the past few years from Alan Hewitt's Genesis Revisited; to the band's official book, Chapter & Verse; and of course the latest biography by author Robin Platts, Behind The Lines 1967-2007, to name but a few... But are they all worth getting or are the basically covering the same information?

World of Genesis' Dave Negrin sat down with Robin Platts in December 2007 to talk about the writing and research for his new Genesis book, whether he thinks the definitive Genesis biography has been written, and how
Behind The Lines differs from his original biography on the band, Inside & Out.

  Most of the interviews were great, but for this book, probably Richard MacPhail, who was very generous with his time and is just full of great stories and memories and insights about the early years....

And Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett were both great, especially Steve’s sense of humor, which hopefully translates onto the page, such as when he describes himself circa 1970 as looking like Charles Manson!

WOG: If someone said to you, I have your last book or I have another Genesis biography, why should I purchase this one? What would your comment be?

WORLD OF GENESIS: Aside from the Genesis reunion tour happening, what were some of the reasons you decided to write and update your prior work for the Behind The Lines book now? 

ROBIN PLATTS: I had written the previous book, Inside and Out, about seven or eight years ago. With hindsight, although I had a fair amount of positive feedback from it, I wasn't really that happy with it. I felt there was a lot of room for improvement.

When I heard the reunion was happening, it occurred to me that I might be able to talk my publisher into doing an updated version, but it ended up essentially being a completely new book.
  RP: Well, I've followed Genesis since 1979, and I have a great deal of enthusiasm for the subject, the band and the music. I think that comes across in the book. I've tracked down some people who I don’t think have been interviewed in other books, such as Dave Hutchins, who engineered The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Adrian Selby, the production designer circa ‘72/’73, and a few others, as well as people like Mick Barnard.

If anyone’s got my first book, I’d just say: "This one is much better. And it’s been completely re-written, with lots of new material added." I think, after lots and lots of work, I got it to the point where I’m very happy with it.
WOG: How long did it take you to complete work on the project? How much time was spent revising the history you have already covered versus just updating your prior efforts?

RP: It was done fairly quickly, over about six months. I had planned to just update the earlier book, so I set a deadline to finish it, but as I started revising it, it became more and more extensive, and I ended up rewriting everything from start to finish. Then I decided to start doing new interviews, then found myself just trying to dig up as much info as I could, peering at old issues of Melody Maker in the basement of the library, etc. So it was about six months of intense work.

...And although I realize I’m competing in a way with Chapter & Verse and whole lot of other Genesis product, I hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, because I’m very proud of it.

It’s also got some great illustrations. I’m really happy that I was able to dig up a lot of old ads from ‘70s-era Melody Makers, and other sources – original ads for singles and LPs, Mike pitching for bass strings and Shergold guitars, the band’s drum roadie pitching for Premier Drums, etc... And I really like the ad for Steve’s Please Don’t Touch album, with the headline “There’s a thin line between madness and genius – which side of it is Steve Hackett on?”

WOG: Was it challenging to take the parts of the history of Genesis that are well-documented and make it 'fresh' for Behind The Lines?

WOG: Has the band or their management provided you with any feedback on this or your prior Genesis biography? If so, what were their comments?

RP: I haven't heard anything from them but I certainly hope they like it if they happen to read it.

WOG: How did you go about conducting your research for this book? How much of the research was driven by the Internet as opposed to other means like old clippings, magazine interviews, or other sources? Would you say that fan sites made the research process easier today than when your book several years ago?

RP: Certainly, the Internet was very helpful. It probably should have made it easier, but I think I made it harder for myself by doing so much research. I read pretty much every article/interview I could get my hands on, some online, some in old Melody Makers and NMEs, etc.

I did end up including a fair amount of quotes from old interviews, as well, espe
cially where it was someone I hadn't been able to interview myself. But I like using archival quotes anyway, as they often provide a different perspective.

And going through all those old articles did provide some insight. For instance:  I was always struck by the fact that, within just a few weeks of Steve Hackett’s departure in 1977, the band started working on another album without him. I used to think, “I guess his departure couldn't have mattered much to them.” But in going back and reading all the interviews they did during the Wind & Wuthering tour, it’s clear that they had always planned to go straight back to work on the next studio album right after mixing Seconds Out. It wasn't that Steve’s departure did
n't matter; it was just that they had a schedule to stick to.
  RP: I tried to make it fresh for myself, to find out things that I was curious about, and to talk to people and dig up facts that hadn’t necessarily been covered elsewhere. And when you work on something like this, you get drawn right into that world. So as I was sort of rediscovering it all again and finding out new things, it felt fresh to me, and hopefully it comes across that way in the book.

WOG: Your last Genesis book was actually one of the first to really recognize the interim guitarist between Ant Phillips and Steve Hackett. How did that interview come about?

RP: I had contacted David Stopps of Friar’s about doing an interview. And he didn’t want to; I think he felt he’d said everything he had to say about Genesis at that point. But he did put me in touch with Mick Barnard, after tracking him down through a friend of an ex-wife’s uncle or something like that!

It was great to talk to Mick and be able to fill in that part of the story, which hadn’t been done before. Mick was only with the group for two or three months, but he played quite a few gigs with them, and I think he probably gets unfairly overlooked in most versions of the Genesis story.

WOG: In your opinion, has the definitive book on Genesis been written? If not, what would make a biography definitive in your eyes?

RP: I don’t know if there could ever be one book that would be the definitive book for all Genesis fans. I though maybe Chapter and Verse might be but, as good as it is, I got the feeling that it was a bit short on some of the trainspotter-type details that I would have like to have seen. So I don’t think you’ll ever please all the fans with one book. The one thing that I’d really like to see would be some sort of recording sessions book, like the one Mark Lewisohn did on The Beatles.
And that's one thing that really struck me – how hard they worked in the ‘70s, with very few breaks, just a relentless cycle of rehearse-record-tour from 1970 to 1978. Even after …And Then There Were Three… they were originally only supposed to get a couple of months off before starting a new album early in 1979, but of course their plans changed so Phil could have some time to deal with personal issues.

WOG: Did you know that the band was about to release their official biography, Chapter and Verse, at roughly the same time as the release of Behind The Lines? If not, was that a disappointment after the work you put into this book? How about the new reissue and update of Alan Hewitt's biography on Genesis, Genesis Revisited? Did that have the same impact?

"I really just tried to write the sort of book that I’d like to read, as somebody who’s been a fan for going on 30 years. I tried to pack in a lot of interesting things, and I think that even people who have read a lot of other Genesis books will find out some new things in mine."

RP: I didn't know about Chapter and Verse until I had already started my book. It was a bit of a disappointment, I suppose, because I was really pleased with my new book and then I thought, “Is anyone going to buy my book now that there's an official book from the band?” But, in a way, I didn't care – I just wanted to do the best book I could, and I am very pleased with the way it turned out. I've looked at Chapter and Verse, and it looks great, but I think the books are different enough that you could read Chapter & Verse and then still find a lot of different and interesting stuff in my book... And mine’s cheaper (laughs)!

A big difference between this book and my previous one is that I took out a lot of the live date chronology details that were in my first book. Alan Hewitt seems to have the definitive lists in his book, so I took all that stuff out of mine and I think the new book flows much better as a result. It also gave me room to put a lot of new material in.

But whether or not that’s possible would depend on the availability of tapes, session logs, etc. and I have no idea how well all that stuff is archived. But I think the die-hard fans just have to resign themselves to buying a few different books to get the whole story. And hopefully one of them will be mine…

Special thanks to Robin Platts for granting this interview. This interview is © 2008 David Negrin and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. For more on Robin Platts' Behind The Lines 1967-2007 Genesis biography click here.

I really just tried to write the sort of book that I’d like to read, as somebody who’s been a fan for going on 30 years. I tried to pack in a lot of interesting things, and I think that even people who have read a lot of other Genesis books will find out some new things in mine.

WOG: Who would you liked to have interviewed for this book, but was unable to get? Who have you talked to that was the best interview, in your opinion?

RP: Well, Phil, Mike and Tony, definitely, and Peter. Guys, if any of you are reading this, keep me in mind in case I ever do a third book! Just before I started working on my new book, I was assigned to do a feature on them for Goldmine Magazine and we had the okay for an interview with Phil, Mike and Tony, so I thought I’d just mention the new book to them then and see if they'd like to answer some questions for it. But, alas, for some reason, that interview kept getting postponed and then never ended up happening.


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