Genesis have been my favourite band since I was a teenager, but when I set out on March 25th 2022 from my home in North London to see Genesis live at the 02 in North Greenwich, my biggest concern was that it was going to be a late night! I probably wouldn’t be home again until midnight, way after my usual bedtime of 9’ish.
I am 64 now and our cat Sushi wakes me between 4 and 5 each morning, so my days have a different shape. Up early and to bed early.
As I took my seat at the 02 and the lights went down, I was a little shocked to see how frail Phil Collins was now. Not the lively joker he had been, but now a frail old man using a walking stick to get his seat and his son Nic playing the drums.
Genesis have been going for 53 years, the whole of my adult life, and even though they hadn’t created any new music for thirty years, their songs felt fresh and alive, the lighting was amazing and the video backdrops enthralling. They had always put on a brilliant show, a real experience as well as the songs, the stories set to music, songs for people who think. Their songs usually carry a meaning, even if I didn’t know what the meaning was, but there was some meaning.
I knew pretty much every word of every song they played and I sang along, hoping the band was so loud that no-one could hear me.
The old magic was still there, and I was surprised that I began to feel deeply moved. I had taken them and their songs deep into my heart. I felt a deep gratitude for them and the pleasure their music had bought me for decades. After the restrictions of the pandemic, it was also the first time I had been a group of people that large for a shared experience. It didn’t just feel like a trip down memory lane, but something coming back to life within me, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of the last two years.
They played for 2.5 hours, and I literally loved it every second. I loved their long songs – one over twenty minutes, as much as I love their short songs too.
And I loved the way Genesis had evolved from an obscure cult following prog rock band in the 1970’s to being the funny video producing, stadium filling bands in the 1990’s, but without seeming to sell out on the integrity of their music. They always seemed to love what they were doing together. The songs were always the heroes, rather than big egos, and most of their songs were great. And given their success, and the potential for excess, they were all still alive!
The journey home wasn’t too arduous, and I got home just after midnight and made myself my hot milk and sat on the sofa.
I found myself sobbing.
I still don’t even really know why. Something deep had been moved in me.
The next morning, I was still very emotional and perplexed by my own feelings and a little anxious about people seeing me crying when I went out to write as I do every morning in my local café.
And then a thought began to form in my mind.
They were playing three nights at the 02, it was the end of their world tour of 50 dates. I had seen the second night, and they were playing again that Saturday night. It suddenly dawned on me there was a good chance that this might be their last ever live concert.
Given that possibility, I wanted to go back, if could.
I checked and the 02-website said they were sold out. I could my mum’s voice in my head, “Don’t be silly, why would you want to go back and see the same concert again? And you don’t even have a ticket. What a stupid idea. It makes no sense.” But my heart said I wanted to be there and see them again.
I spent the day trying to talk myself out of this crazy idea, and looked for signs not to go.
I tossed a coin, but it said go. I put the 12,000 odd songs on my iPhone on shuffle and said to myself unless a Genesis song came up in the first ten, then it was a sign I shouldn’t go. The second song up was a Genesis song. And of course, I’d had one late night, so two late nights in a row? That would wipe me out, surely. And there was a very good chance I wouldn’t be able to get a ticket anyway, and if I bought one from a tout, then I might get ripped off. The logic stacked up, but my heart persisted.
So the cut-off point of 6-30pm arrived and I surrendered and decided that I would head off to the 02 again. I felt like some force was pulling me back to there. So I decided to let go of all my angst and struggle and simply it be easy, an adventure, and the worst outcome would be to come home again without having seen them, and it wouldn’t be a late night!
When I got to the box office back at the 02 there was a big queue, I assume to pick up pre-ordered tickets, and my heart sank. I had no idea if there were any for sale. Then I noticed that the “Guest Ticket” booth at the box office had no queue, so I went over.
“Do you have any tickets for sale for tonight?”
“I don’t know,” the nice lady said.
Cheekily I asked, “Do you happen to have a guest ticket that I could buy?”
“No, I don’t”
“Let me have a word with my colleague” and the nice lady said and disappeared for a couple of moments
She reappeared with two tickets. “These have been returned, and the people whose tickets they are said we could make them available for a charity donation. I work for Mike Rutherford and will make sure the money gets to the hospice that he supports.”
“Wonderful, but I only need one ticket.”
So she asked for £50, and I gave her £50, and she gave me a ticket!
Just as I walked away, thanking her profusely, I asked, “Is it a good seat?” She looked at the ticket and said, “Oh, yes, very good.”
So I made my way through security and found my seat was nine rows from the stage, so much closer than the night before. It was probably a £300 ticket and I just felt so grateful to have got in and to get an even better seat, and for only £50.
As soon as the band came on stage, Phil Collins announced, “This is our last ever live concert!”
I cried again.
I felt honoured and privileged to be at the last live show of maybe my favourite ever band. It was a glorious evening. I sang my heart out for another 2.5 hours.
Many of Genesis songs are about endings and loss, like Los Endos and Afterglow. I was particularly moved when they played Fading Lights for the last time, with the lines:
“Like the story that we wish was never ending
We know some time we must reach the final page
Still we carry on just pretending
That there’ll always be one more day to go.”
What an honour.
I caught the train home with a full heart. I got back even later than the night before, and was knackered but so glad I went. And yes, Sushi, our cat, woke me at 4-15, so I only got about three hours sleep.
As well as showing me clearly my love of Genesis songs and their live performance, over the following days, a few other thoughts dawned on me.
When we put our gifts out into the world, we have no idea of the impact and meaning our gifts will have on people. And maybe its not our business to know. Genesis had no idea how much they and their songs would mean to me and to millions of others. Maybe our job is to simply and generously share our gifts and let them land how and where they will.
On the second night, something happened for me, maybe an inter-generational healing. My mum was born in 1930, grew up poor, one of eight children in a two-bedroom house in Staines, and bombs dropped around her as the war started in 1939, as there was a munitions factory at the bottom of their garden. A ticket for one concert to her was an extravagance she almost never allowed herself. And to go see the same show two nights in a row would have seemed like madness to her. Her life was very much guided by a duty and self-sacrifice rather than a sense of joy. She died two years ago, and part of my grieving has been to let go of some of the beliefs that I inherited from her, that I felt I had to follow too. I live in a different time, in a very different world, and my hearts desires are important, and I am freer to pursue them than she probably ever felt. As Mike Rutherford and B A Robertson wrote in the song The Living Years, “Every generation, blames the one before, and all of their frustrations come knocking on your door.”
I don’t have to be in self-sacrifice like my mum was. I don’t have to feel guilty that I have freedoms and pleasures she never had. I am blessed now that I have the inner and outer resources to be able to follow things that make me and others happy. I am developing an expanded, more encouraging, supportive and loving parent within me.
Much of my life I think I anticipated that following my heart’s desire would lead to some kind of upset, suffering or disappointment, or I would feel guilty and be accused of just being utterly selfish. That night I came home with a look of satisfied desire. The adventure of following my heart’s desire had ended in happiness and a deep gratitude.
Finally, I have so often been afraid to share my deepest feelings, even with my closest friends, so I hide them away. I don’t want people to see me crying. I think I have been afraid of how moved I get by what I find beautiful and how deeply I can feel, how big my feelings can be. I guess I’ve feared shame and humiliation, and being seen as weak or naïve, or too emotional and unmasculine. I have shared this experience with a number of my friends, often crying as I did, and I have survived! And now I am sharing with you.
Genesis: I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the pleasure you have bought me, and your songs will continue to bring me. I deeply appreciate you.
I wonder how many more heart opening adventures I can still have in my remaining time here on planet earth.