“Take me any way the wind blows. You’ll never know just what you want to do. Or where you wanna go, I think it’s time / that you found what the world is waiting for. I think it’s time to get real.” I hope you’ll forgive me for starting this way, but having read the press release that accompanied this set of albums, it just seemed a suitable thought. From a highly regarded band of the “indie” era, to believe that this was “what the world is waiting for“, seemed ultimately fitting, I’m sure Ian Brown wouldn’t be annoyed and maybe even agree with this sentiment? But why is it that these releases are “…what the world has been waiting for“? A very good question to ask. Gene were among a host of very good bands to emerge from a space in the 90s where those who filled a remit were given the branding, “Britpop” (although this was a term their lead singer never liked and as a phrase is becoming regarded in a less and less positive light). So let’s agree on “alternative”. But names aside, why centre on them? Well, I think it would have to come out of the huge fanbase that the band swiftly attracted world-wide, during the time they were active. So releasing this career-defining collection, 25 years after their debut album was released, some might say was a good time to do so?
Going from the very start, this band, only found themselves from a learning process, which involved two earlier incarnations; The Go Hole and Sp!n (note the clever re-interpretation of the i). The latter incarnation recorded the band’s only album with legendary producer Stephen Street, although these early bands undoubtedly fitted the shoe-gazing remit, psychedelic stars in their eyes. Following on from here, it was after a series of unfortunate events – a near-fatal road accident and the resignation from the band of one of its founding members (vocalist Lee Clark). Although altered, the idea behind the band remained true and vocalist Martin Rossiter was approached in a Watford nightclub. This “Welsh soothsayer” would prove exactly what Sp!n required, appearing on their last demos before they found themselves taking on the name Gene. With this new moniker adopted, they began writing and performing, and it was during this process that they attracted the attention of NME journalists Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson, who were so impressed that they formed independent label Costermonger, created for the sole purpose of promoting the band. This saw them release their debut double A-side single ‘For The Dead/Childs Body‘ in May ’94 and although only attaining a lower chart placing, this proved that the idea was possible and from here, as they say, the rest is history.
Gene took inspiration for their music from the 80s, 70s, and 60s, albeit casting this in their own image. This inspiration was borne out of the music of The Smiths (the pairing of Morrissey and Marr‘s eloquent vocal and six-string swordsmanship), The Jam (another ritual battle between Weller, Foxton & Buckler, stirring up the perfect soup) and where I am sure is an oversight in the accompanying PR, The Small Faces (rather than The Faces). The vocal harmonies, guitar brilliance, and rhythm of Marriott, Lane, Jones, and Winston, would find anyone not left wanting when looking for inspiration. Whichever way you choose to believe this story went down, Gene certainly wrote their place into the music that came out of the 90s with an unashamed passion that saw them go top 10 in the UK and achieving a number 1 Indie Chart placing. 1995’s Olympian (this time released on 180g White Vinyl) begins this journey into fans’ hearts as ‘Haunted By You‘, a song full of very real emotion kicks in. This could be Morrisey and Marr all over again, as it was with Martin Rossiter’s articulate lyrics and Steve Mason‘s passionate guitar, that seemed every bit the perfect pairing, proving that sometimes a second bite of the cherry is possible. In the first number ‘Haunted By You‘, can be found the words “…for you, you’ve had your time, your chance has gone, you’re not so strong, your words they cannot harm me now…“, it’s these lines that could almost be from the pen of Stephen Patrick Morrissey and the guitar, an extremely adept piece of musicianship that simply drips from the frets. The album continues in such a way that it becomes evident that, before this is even partway in, the band was onto a winner. Vision and emotion put into every number, so that when you reach ‘To The City‘ you have embarked on a journey with a band that you will be starting a long relationship with. The production of this number adds majesty to a tune that breathes all the emotion of a young life, but that said, so does any of this early material. I’ve never really listened to these songs with such a concentrated view of their meanings and the sound produced, just as I did when I first listened to The Smiths, or Teardrop Explodes, when I first bought The Smiths or Kilimanjaro and yet I find myself in my 13-year-old shoes again. This is the power that music has!
I guess what comes next is their second album. Although some might have called this a filler, it collected together all of the B-sides, along with some radio performances and a few live numbers from earlier on in their career. To See The Lights was a release I would describe as candy for those fans who had either missed or treasured earlier singles too much to let them out of the sleeve and gathered these together in one place. Here Demon Music Group releases this in the form of a double 180g pressing on Gold vinyl. Albeit released as it was, the album showed just how good a band Gene were and on its release reached number 11 in the UK. As well as featuring the version the band performed of The Beatles‘ ‘Don’t Let Me Down‘, it also included their live performance of Aretha Franklin‘s ‘I Say A Little Prayer‘ and looking at this menu, I don’t think that anyone would disagree, this was an extremely relevant release.
After 2 years since releasing their debut album, 1997 saw Drawn To The Deep End. This was the first album for major label Polydor and attained the same No.8 chart placing as its predecessor. With this release, the album has been produced as a double 180g on maroon vinyl. When the album was originally released, it was given a 4-star review by Q, while during the month of release the band performed with a full orchestra, to a sell-out audience at The Royal Albert Hall. So with their boat having come in, this band was now recording an album, taking all the experience learned during the writing, recording, and touring of their debut. DTTDE was a massive gear change from this first release, songwriting – both lyrically and musically was more confident. The second track on the album ‘Fighting Fit‘ had preceded the album’s release in ’96 and displayed this urgency in Rossiter’s songwriting, “…I can’t take it. Too much time’s been wasted. So come and get my plateful. I am fighting fit and able…” and the sound production although not dissimilar to that original method, was like having everything thrown at it short of the kitchen sink. This escalation in funding from being with a major label was audible and I feel that the band had repaid this, in their songwriting and performance. The independent band had grown into a BAND, not only playing to a packed Albert Hall but having broadcast on Radio 1 and subsequently playing in Hong Kong in commemoration of the UK ceding the island back to China at the end of their 99-year lease. This album was known to possess a fuller rock attitude and certainly the further you proceed into the album’s passages, does this become most evident. I think ‘Voice Of The Father‘ complete with its Catherine Wheel influences, makes this notion clearer. Both these bands have emerged from the alternative music scene, that perhaps this was just a natural progression? Completing the album with ‘Sub Rosa‘ it seems this attitude was not just an accident, and as Martin sings “…A covert operation. In the bedrooms of the world. A lowly dedication. To the lonely of the world…“, it’s very clear that it wasn’t.
Like clockwork, 2 years after the release of DTTDE, came Revelations in 1999 and within this set, the album is pressed onto 180g Green vinyl. The album was recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios, the whole recording process taking less than a month to complete and given hindsight, the band has commented that they could’ve been given more time. You know you’ve made it when you can record your album at residential studios, the calibre of which the likes of Robert Plant, Oasis, Rush, Nigel Kennedy, and Queen, to name a few, had done before you! This was a considerable distance from the “Welsh soothsayer” who handed out his card in a Watford nightclub before auditioning for the band he was to front and in less than 5 years! Setting out their stall, this album is introduced by, ‘As Good As It Gets‘ and the musicians who wrote Olympian seem a long way off. Be it writing, production, timing, or just some magic the band had found along the way, these songs exuded the passion of an experienced band and the humour in the first number is clear. The song starts, “Be careful in life and you’ll see. The greedy live off you and me…“. Was this a songwriter who had now seen exactly what it was to be a musician? With the number finishing, tongue in cheek and with one finger to the world, “But at least we’re not old. Can your heart take the cold?” Rossiter was yet to reach 30 and it’s apparent that the arrogance of youth was still a burning fire in his soul. Where the band had explored the alternative side of rock on their last album, this was still at hand on this new release and getting socio-political in ‘Love Won’t Work‘, it begins, “Now we’ve entered New Britannia. Lord don’t tell me. Love won’t work…“, a song which continues to look at the vagaries in life, the differences between rich and poor, and how society tends to reward those who don’t deserve it. While the Labour party were still in government in the UK (a fact of some dissension to Rossiter, a fact that was barely hidden), in Wales it was noted that the first meetings of the new National Assembly for Wales took place, something I should imagine for a proud Welshman would be quite important. The song continues, “…In bars from Perth to Hampstead, we crowd. And canonise the stupid. Still proud, the pavements full, the praise is loud…”, before the protagonist of the song seems to have given up, or at least changed their view, “…Love won’t work. We’ve lost the urge. Love won’t work. Now I come first.” From the opening line and it seems that nothing has changed in this picture painted of society, except the chords! Rossiter is searching for some kind of utopia as we progress further through the album “…Now the cynical few. Rise above me and you. From street to seashore. Do we get what we’re due? Can I take my cue? From those still adored?…“, lines taken from ‘The British Disease‘ seem to continue from where we were at in ‘Love Don’t Work‘, but with “…No promise broken, will be forgiven…” seems the cynical mind is very much awake. Starting this time with a gorgeous piano commencing the number, this continues in solid fashion. Rock music, although nothing too eager, just a driving pace that keeps the song on course. Thankfully it’s not all political though and a good night out can be had in ‘Fill Her Up‘, as a question is then asked about a person’s relationship in ‘Something in the Water‘. Lyrical meaning fills this album’s content, but when it comes to musically, it is an album which is very strong and certainly comes from a band who has grown in stature since their early days, bearing in mind this has been just 5 years. Revelations although a strong album didn’t achieve the same success as its predecessors and by the end of it, the band had parted company with Polydor. Although it should be said that this wasn’t any reflection of the band, having made a successful appearance at that year’s Reading Festival and completed a comprehensive tour of Britain. And so with 3 albums in their catalogue, the band embarked on the next phase of their career.
Short of any backing from a record label, the band spent a good portion of 2000 touring the world, playing a sell-out US tour. Evidence of this was provided by a show performed at Troubadour in Los Angeles, which saw a record-breaking webcast, an album of the show was released just 2 months later and is available here as part of the CD collection. Rising for the Sunset was first released in 1999, and brings together the 15 very well recorded songs that were made available from this performance, although no vinyl this time I’m afraid.
To complete this set, Demon offers the band’s final album Libertine. Originally released on the band’s label Sub Rosa and present here as a double 180g pressing on pink vinyl. 11 tracks were originally provided and here they are spread over the two 12″ discs, although the CD set features a 22 track bonus disc, which features versions, demos, and unreleased studio recordings. Now if that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, let’s take a listen to the album, starting with the eerie ‘Does He Have A Name‘, in which the protagonist is immersed in the breakdown of a relationship. As Rossiter wistfully sets the scene, the listener finds themselves as a voyeur might, observing the proceedings. By this stage in their career, the band is writing music that is so full of life, that this palette could be a classical orchestra performing their score, a definite departure for an indie band. Although as I say this ‘A Simple Request‘ shows just how eloquent as musicians they are; it could be Mark Lanegan as he is performing today, so in this case ahead of the curve. I see this album as a very personal record, certainly for the songwriter and musically is leagues ahead of previous work. These songs are gorgeous tapestries, that use the full palette, rather than just the primary colours, and are very absorbing, in which Blues, Soul and Classical rubs solders with Rock, Reggae and Pop. Sadly this album didn’t achieve anything like the success the band had become used to and Gene were to split, amicably in 2004, but not before having first performed at the Morrissey curated Royal Festival Hall – Meltdown festival. And so for a band, who it is said were influenced by The Smiths, this seems to have brought us full-circle. Gene did reform briefly in 2008, for their former manager’s birthday party, performing unrehearsed, several Gene songs. Matt James and Steve Mason formed Palace Fires with Ed Bannard & Mike Buchanan, and although their Facebook page is active, I understand this band has been dissolved. Matt does have a YouTube channel, where he addresses fans past and present, although again I fear this was recorded some time ago. Kevin Miles has been teaching and playing in a blues covers band. Martin Rossiter has since performed as a solo artist, although is now retired from music. His final farewell show was due to be held in June, at Shepherds Bush Empire, in London, although considering the current world health crisis, I’m sure the SOLD OUT show will be rescheduled. As Martin has said, “I’m not pretending this is a Gene show, just being transparent about the songs I’d like to celebrate one final time, that’s all. (Everyone involved in the writing of the songs will get PRS cheques)“.
If you’re a vinyl addict like myself, I can certainly say that this Deluxe Edition vinyl box set, comprising the 5 albums, over 8 discs is superb. These come in the form of beautifully presented pressings, complete with booklet comprising written notes by the group, and a piece that has been written for this by Keith Cameron. If you’re more concerned about the music – and who could blame you? – then this also comes as a 9 CD set, which includes these additional rarities, B-sides and demos, that will keep you amused for hours! Both of these formats are presented in a deluxe box-set, complete with the original album artwork. Any which way, Demon has produced a superb set of recordings that, although Gene might have left the building, will keep their music with us for many years to come. Along with these formats, Demon is due to release Yours For The Taking – The Best Of, a double LP, featuring 22 tracks, which is slightly fuller than the band’s previous 2 collections. This comes as a double LP available on Blue 180gm vinyl, whereas these previous releases have only been on CD. So the summer of 2020 may have been a write-off for many of us, but with the intervention of Gene and Demon Music Group, something might be salvaged still.