Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Clandestine Classic XXVIII - Harold The Barrel

Seventies Genesis. Easy, ladies.The twenty-eighth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

It's time for a confession. Regular readers will know of my predilection for The Smiths, The Wedding Present, Gene, The Jam, Radiohead... you probably figure that I have a thing for The Who, Kinks and Small Faces as well. Those of you who've explored the menu bar at the top of this page will probably realise I'm interested in bands like The Blue Aeroplanes too. But the confession... the embarrassing moment of musical truth... I own a lot of Genesis CDs too.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, come back! It's alright, I promise. I'm not talking about the Collins-vocalled commercial highpoint of the Eighties or, worse still, the post-Collins era. What interests me, and has done since my late teens (sadly that's quite a long time now) is the Gabriel-fronted Genesis of the early Seventies. In particular, I love the album Nursery Cryme, from which today's clandestine classic is drawn. I love it (particularly the digitally remastered, pin-sharp release) not only for the earnest and technically gifted playing that Messrs Hackett, Rutherford, Banks and Collins bring to proceedings but also for the detailed, lyrically complex stories the songs tell.

For this reason, I so nearly chose The Musical Box for today's classic. The lyrics are based on a fairy story written by Peter Gabriel, about two Victorian children in a country house. The girl, Cynthia, kills the boy, Henry, by removing his head with a croquet mallet (very Shining-esque - the book, not the film). She later discovers Henry's musical box. When she opens it, Henry returns as a spirit, and starts ageing very quickly. This causes him to experience a lifetime's sexual desires in a few moments, and he tries to persuade Cynthia to, well, you know... However, his nurse arrives and throws the musical box at him, destroying them both. This song is the inspiration for the album's excellent cover art, which shows Cynthia holding a croquet mallet, with a few heads lying on the ground.

But The Musical Box is over ten minutes long. It's challenging and rewarding to listen to but, for the non-fan or newcomer, it's mostly challenging. Not ideal material for a clandestine classic then, and not likely to win many converts to the early-Genesis cause...

So instead I chose Harold The Barrel, a jaunty three minute tale of a Bognor restaurant owner who kills himself by jumping from a high window ledge. I know - upbeat! But even at barely three minutes long, and with a bleak subject, Gabriel's lyrics are intricate, detailed, wordy. In short, they tell a full, rich story... that just happens to be set to music. I particularly like the line "last seen in a mouse-brown overcoat" - what a great description, and typical of the wordsmithery at play through the song. Musically, the band's technical proficiency is evident if understated (particularly in the first half of the track, which fairly rattles along). Half-way through, the whole song takes a ninety-degree turn into a pastoral melody for Harold's introspection... before barrelling (sorry, I couldn't resist) along some more.

You can find today's classic on the aforementioned, remastered Nursery Cryme. On the off-chance that you might just want to give today's offering a listen, of course there's YouTube. Enjoy. Then go and buy the album.


  1. Peter Gabriel really is mad. I like.

    1. Indeed, anyone who takes to the stage with half a Flymo on his head, as Peter used to back then, clearly has something, ahem, unusual going on upstairs. This is the most accessible track on Nursery Cryme, but really it's an album for a certain mood or mindset, and rewards repeated listening. I recommend.