Prog Blog: Genesis trib act The Musical Box recreate 70s shows faithfully.. but bow to modern tech in some ways
By Martin Haggarty
Genesis tribute act The Musical Box are a unique phenomenon amongst such outfits: they’re officially licensed by the band who inspired them to use the original props, costumes and backdrop slides to recreate classic 1970s tours.
Formed in Canada in 1993, they play to large audiences, many of whom will not have been old enough to see the original shows. Even Genesis members go and watch them – and sometimes even take part.
So what makes talented musicians devote their lives to being someone else? Is it like being in a real band, or is it a day job with the perks of travel?
I caught up with singer Denis Gagne aka “Peter Gabriel” on the band’s current European tour as he prepared for another stint as Rael.
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Musical Box are about to tour Europe over the next three months with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway show. Your tours are big theatrical productions. How many people does it take to put on the show?
Denis: We have eight technicians, so that’s thirteen people on the road, and we use local crews wherever we go to assist us.
You recreate the show using the original props, costumes and slides – does that go as far as original instruments, or do you utilise modern tech, like samplers?
Denis: We use period instruments, but some modern equipment is necessary for reliability reasons. For example, we bought a digital mellotron because the original was unreliable even back in the seventies, never mind forty years later, and we need to avoid breakdowns to keep the show as perfect as possible.
To many Genesis fans, being in your band seems like their dream job. Did you all come to the project as fanatics?
Denis: Sebastien Lamothe (bassist and musical director) is the only founding member left. I came along in 1995, so we’re the longest serving guys in the band. We are huge Genesis fans, as are the others in the band. I was always a big Genesis fan, and Peter Gabriel has been a massive influence on my life. You couldn’t do what we do and treat it as a job. You have to be obsessive about it to do it right.
Phil Collins and Steve Hackett have appeared onstage with you in the past. That must be a huge compliment.
Denis: They were a great help, as were the other guys in that Genesis lineup. They have offered us so much. Tony Banks hasn’t been to a show, but he, along with the others at the Farm (Genesis’ recording studio) was great, offering assistance and advice where possible. Phil invited himself along to our show and onstage. We wouldn’t have dared ask him, but he called and said we were playing near him, and asked if he play on a number. Steve has also played with us. He’s hoping to come along to our show in a couple of weeks in Zurich, and maybe he’ll join us onstage again then. These are fantastic moments for us.
Do you actually regard yourselves as a rock band, or as a piece of musical theatre ?
Denis: That’s a good question. I suppose we are a bit of both. It’s more than a band in many ways, because we have to emulate this great show, this big production, as it was all those years ago, but in that way it is like musical theatre too, yes.
Does it feel like a huge responsibility on your shoulders: being the keepers of a musical museum that means so much to so many people?
Denis: I try not to worry about that too much. It is a big responsibility – we have to deliver every night. In many ways there is more pressure on us than there was on the band. People would forgive Genesis if they made a mistake, whereas we are analysed and we cannot disappoint. You have to be good at every show or it’s, “Did you see what they did?”
Your shows are meticulous, down to the very words spoken by Peter between songs. Does it frustrate you as the singer that you have to stick to set lines every night like an actor?
Denis: Sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating, but because we have so many recordings from the time, we know all the different things he said in different places. If someone in the audience shouts out, I can throw back something that Peter has said when people used to do it with him. Some of his banter. And it can also be very comforting, because I don’t have to keep things going myself. If we have a breakdown of equipment, I know I can tell one of his stories, just as he did, rather than have to think up my own ways of keeping things going. I never have to improvise, so in some ways it’s easier for me.
Do you do your own music outwith The Musical Box?
Denis: I don’t do any music outside this. Others in the band do, but for me, this is what I do.
How long do you think you can keep going?
Denis: When this Lamb tour ends we’ll put together another tour with a different album. I can’t see me doing another Lamb tour in the future. I think this will be my last Lamb. We’ve talked about stopping; but there’s still a big demand for what we do, so who knows?
The Musical Box are currently touring Europe.