Tales from the Night Ride

Written and researched by Jonathan Dann

It's now a well-known fact that Genesis recorded their first BBC radio session for the programme Night Ride in February 1970, with three of the songs from it being released officially most recently on BBC Broadcasts in 2023.  But the full story of how the band got the opportunity to record the session and how the recording of it survived has not been told until now.  In this exclusive feature, former BBC producer Alec Reid talks about how he came to meet Genesis and give them the opportunity to record their music so that it would be heard by a large audience for the first time.

Genesis in September 1969By way of introduction to the story, it's worth mentioning why sessions - the recording of musical numbers in BBC Studios for broadcast as part of programmes - were a staple part of the output of Radio One and Radio Two at the time.  The need for sessions to be recorded for BBC programmes was down to something called needletime, which was the number of hours of music on commercial records that the BBC and other broadcasters were allowed to play per day.  The amount of time was allocated by the rights company Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL), who had an agreement with the Musicians Union over the number of hours available.  When Radio One began broadcasting on 30th September 1967, only the breakfast programme hosted by Tony Blackburn had 100 per cent needletime.  All other programmes on the network had to make use of a mixture of music from records and session recordings to fill their airtime and it was not until the late 1980s that needletime was finally abandoned.

A small number of BBC producers, engineers and presenters would use the combination of the limited needletime and the BBC's recording operations to create programmes which were based on session recordings of the newest bands, some of whom had yet to release their first record.  When Genesis recorded their debut session for Night Ride, few people had heard of them and there was of course no internet or social media through which they might be discovered.  The band had played their first gigs by that point but the attendance at some of them was sparse; indeed at one show during this period they had an audience of just one person, prompting Peter Gabriel after the first two songs to ask if there were any requests! But by recording the session, the band could reach a sizeable audience who would have the opportunity to hear what they actually sounded like. In this respect the importance for a band like Genesis recording a session for a BBC programme cannot be overstated. At the time, each session was designed as an event - something unique to one night's programme.

There were generally two ways a band could get to record a session for a BBC programme.  The first of these was for them to submit an application for an audition; if successful then they would be invited to come along to a BBC Studio on a chosen date where they would have around 45 minutes to record three songs purely for the purpose of the audition.  Without any indication of the identity of the artist, the recordings would then be played to a panel of producers who would assess the quality of the performance as well as the potential suitability of the material for inclusion in a BBC Radio programme.  The other route was for a programme producer to find an act which they thought suitable for broadcast and book them to record a session.  This would then be treated as a trial broadcast in lieu of an audition so that it would be heard on air but would still be subject to the assessment of the Production Panel.  In both cases, the panel would share their thoughts on the artist and give a 'yes' or 'no' depending on what they thought.  If the panel approved of what they heard and gave them a pass then the artist would be added to the register of performers available for use in BBC programmes.

The reports the Panel made show that they were often candid in their comments about what they heard.  Some bands were given an enthusiastic pass (Deep Purple for instance were a "polished and talented group" and "most pleasing and exciting to listen to") whilst others received average comments (Van Der Graaf Generator were deemed to be "Musical - in tune - and Deadly Dull").  Sometimes artists then at the start of their career who would later go on to worldwide success found themselves on the receiving end of some less than enthusiastic feedback.  Elton John for example was memorably described as playing his own material which was "sung in an extremely dull fashion, without any feeling and precious little musical ability" whilst another producer declared, "I think he writes dreary songs and he sounds like a one key singer".  And if a band was playing music that was more experimental or outside the norm then the response could be quite damning.  In this respect Principal Edward's Magic Theatre (being managed at the time by Jeremy Ensor, who had previously been one half of the rhythm section of The Spoken Word alongside Peter Gabriel and featuring vocalist Viv McAuliffe, who later sang on God If I Saw Her Now) were particularly unfortunate.  Comments from the Panel in relation to their debut session for Night Ride in July 1968 ranged from "Undeniably competent - but I hate it", to "The pseudo-Eastern influence I find offensive" and one producer asking, "Could it not be useful to the Birmingham Pakistani programme?"

Seeking an audition

In the summer of 1967 Peter Gabriel had met Tony Hill Smith for the first time at the home of some mutual friends.  Their connection came via Peter's girlfriend (and later first wife) Jill Moore, whom Tony had met together with her sister Sally whilst on holiday in Singapore two years earlier.  Tony recalls his initial impression of Peter: "Very quiet while we others rattled on sociably, when he eventually opened up a bit, out came the most delicious, well-constructed, highly imaginative stories. I'd never come across a boy my age with such talent for stirring others' imaginations, not just by the story's content, but in the voice(s) and the manner of a raconteur, housed in the appearance of a human hardly daring to say Hello."  Peter stayed in touch with Tony, who had moved away from his early ambition to become an officer in the Royal Navy and instead found himself working at the BBC, starting out as a clerk in the Gramophone Library (the Corporation's collection of commercial music recordings for use in programmes) on the first step of a career that it was anticipated would lead to him becoming a radio producer.

Following the release of From Genesis To Revelation in March 1969, Peter Gabriel had sought to gain some interest from agents and promoters with a view to the band playing their first gigs.  Getting the band an appearance on a BBC Radio programme was another avenue he explored although with Genesis yet to make contact with a Producer who thought that they had something and was willing to book them to record a session for a programme, they would have to follow the route of submitting an application to see if they could be granted an audition.  To that end Peter phoned the BBC on 17th April 1969 and was put through to the Light Entertainment Booking department who agreed to send him the necessary application form the following day.  Peter faced a few challenges in completing the form, not the least of which was the fact that at that point the band were officially without a name so he had little choice but to put 'Nameless' down as the "full name of Orchestra or Group", adding that they were to be known as 'From Genesis To Revelation'.  Stating that the band had existed at that point for a year and a half, Peter then had to give the details of the last three engagements the band had played.  This was problematic as the band had played no gigs at this point so he wrote that he would be able to provide "details of future engagements later on in May".  Lastly, when asked what kind of music the group features he wrote: "Hopefully our own - playing only our own compositions" before adding in brackets, "If you have time to listen, the LP covers most of our 'pop' style".  Signing the form on 28th April and sending it back to the BBC, Peter waited to hear the outcome of the application.

When the form was received by the Light Entertainment Booking department, they were quick to spot an inconsistency in the information Peter had supplied - namely that the band had been together for 18 months but had yet to play a single live gig.  Placing a star against the two relevent entries on the form, a member of BBC staff added a handwritten note starting "This is not consistent" and ticked the box next to 'audition not warranted'.  As a result, Peter duly received a letter from the BBC advising that this lack of professional experience as a live act meant that the application for an audition for the band had been unsuccessful and added that only groups with considerable professional experience could be considered.   The letter went on to suggest that when the band had played the dates they were looking to arrange in the summer, Peter could contact them again when the situation could be reviewed.  This was helpful advice but the rejection meant that as far as Genesis were concerned - for the time being at least - the doors to the BBC Studios were remaining firmly closed.

The man at the Beeb

Former BBC Producer Alec ReidAlec Reid, who would become the man to ultimately open those doors for the band had started working at the BBC at the age of 18 as a trainee clerk, a position that paid the sum of £6 a week.  He reflects on the early days of his career at the BBC: "I had the ambition to become a Studio Manager or sound engineer which involved mixing and balancing the sound for programmes and doing sound effects.  The normal career progression would have had me doing that by the time I was 26 or 27 and in fact I became a studio manager when I was 19, which then started to give me other ambitions.  The next step from there was to become a producer.  By the time I was 21 or 22 alongside being a full-time studio manager, I was doing a small amount of broadcasting - I did art criticism of all things for a programme called Roundabout on the old Light Programme.  I did three minute reviews of films, theatre and so on; I was the original person who knew nothing about art but that was the only topic they weren't covered or contracted for.  So I would pick out the most off-beam exhibitions I could find about subjects like American naive painting and so on; subjects about which no-one else knew anything about either!  A combination of ingesting the programme notes that came with the exhibition and forming a view of it meant that you could bluff your way through three minutes quite easily." 

In late 1968, Alec had met Tony Hill Smith.  Neither of them can recall the exact circumstances of their first meeting but what is certain is that the two of them got talking and the conversation turned to the subject of song-writing.  Alec remembers: "Tony mentioned that he'd written a lot of songs and I said that if you like we can go into a studio and put them down on tape.  I think he was off to the studio almost before the sentence was finished!  He said what he really wanted to do was vocal arranging.  He had lots of ideas for vocal arrangements for songs but he needed some other singers."  For the recording of the demos, Tony enlisted his Gram Library colleague John Mulcahy-Morgan who sang and also played drums for a semi-pro rock band called Free Expression.  The group's vocalist was John's friend Geoff Ramseyer, who was also invited to take part in the session.  At the time Alec was the chairman of the BBC's Ariel Theatre Group and had heard Gabrielle Field (then working as a secretary in the BBC World Service) sing in one of their productions, so was able to suggest her as a backing vocalist for the recording.  Gabrielle in turn brought along her best friend Kathy Manuell and the five of them went into a BBC studio in December 1968 to record demo versions of two of Tony's songs.  The results sounded promising and as a result Tony suggested that they should form a group, which would be called Design.  A few weeks later in February 1969 Barry Johnston, who had been signed as a songwriter to the Beatles company Apple Publishing, joined the band and Design began developing their repertoire.      

Around the same time Alec got what was known as an attachment, an arrangement whereby he could go and work in another area of the BBC for fixed period of time.  His new role was as a Network Director in Television Presentation, then based in Television Centre in West London.  Alec found himself working on the BBC2 arts programme Late Night Line-Up and was also responsible for getting the pictures of the first moonwalk sent round Europe. "I literally sat in the International Control Room and didn't leave the seat for 24 hours", he remembers.  "Everybody else was so fascinated nobody thought to relieve me and I wouldn't have gone anyway; it was a big thing then."

In the meantime during the summer of 1969 the members of Genesis were unsure of where the future of the band lay now that their association with Jonathan King was coming to an end.  Ant remembers: "Basically what happened during this time was as soon we did A levels in the middle of June, we went to David Thomas' parents place in South Warnborough, Hampshire and did a week or so there.  That's where we'd also spent quite a lot of time the year before prior to doing From Genesis To Revelation.  But we spent a really depressing week or two there at the end of which I wrote Silver Song and John Silver then left to go to University.  So he was basically out of it from the start of that summer and from then on it was just a succession of no drummers to start with and then endless auditions of drummers."

After the time spent at South Warnborough, the band moved on to stay at Ant's family home in Send whilst his parents were on holiday.  It was at this time that Peter decided to contact Tony Hill Smith and ask him to come down to hear the band and offer some advice on what they should do next.  Tony remembers: "One day, Peter phoned saying that his group were wondering if it was worth carrying on, so could I possibly come down to their place and see if I had any ideas.  It soon became clear that they were at a watershed in their musical lives: go for it, or quit and do other activities."  On hearing the band play, Tony was impressed and was keen to give them some much-needed encouragement, which was a big help.  Ant recalls: "Tony was a bit of a character, always going around in a cravat like the actor David Niven, but a great chap, hugely positive.  We'd be thinking 'Are we going to go on, are we going to stop?', hoping a miracle would happen and this chap was always really encouraging to us." It seemed that the best way to get some interest from agents and record companies in what the band were doing would be a demo tape of new material that could be sent to interested parties and in that respect Tony knew just the man who could help.  As Alec recalls, "Tony got in touch and said that there was this other group who want to do a demo tape called Genesis..."     

Meeting Genesis

Alec was able to borrow some recording equipment from the BBC and together with Tony went down to Send.  He remembers: "The first time I met Genesis was doing a demo in the house of one of the parents of them using some adapted PA equipment.  It was a simple set-up where you'd just set the mikes up and put it straight down onto tape."  Alec believes the resulting recording may have been in mono and was done purely for the band: "I don't think I ever had it, I did the tape for them - I just went and did the recording for a bit of fun", he says.  The tape is believed to have included an early version of Stagnation, which had been developed from the long-form group composition The Movement - Ant remembers that it included some parts that were very influenced by the Family song The Weavers Answer and that Tony Banks got a bit of a shock when he head them.  Also included was a group version of Ant's song Stranger, which the other band members called 'Strangler' as Ant struggled to make the high notes in the middle section of the song!  Sadly this is one of the band's early demos that is now understood to be missing.

A few weeks later, Alec met up with the band again when they arranged to record a further demo of four of their new songs in August 1969 at Regent Sound Studios on Tottenham Court Road in London.  Two of the songs from this session (Going Out To Get You and an early version of Dusk, then called Family) were recorded and mixed by the band's friend Brian Roberts whilst Alec recorded and mixed the other two tracks which were demo versions of White Mountain and Pacidy.  Joining the members of Genesis for the recording were the band's new drummer John Mayhew together with Tony Hill Smith and Barry Johnston from Design, who added backing vocals and tambourine to the tracks.

In contrast to the recording at Send, Regent Sound had two 4-track machines so overdubs could be made to the songs and the final mix of the tracks would be in stereo.  Having the opportunity to work with recording technology which was not in use at the BBC at that time was an interesting proposition as Alec remembers: "It was the first time I'd ever worked with multi-track.  There was another engineer there as well and I think I did two tracks and the other guy did two tracks because it was an all-night session.  I'm not sure that I was desperately happy with the sound we came up with on it - the sound was alright but the balance was a bit odd because working with 4-track you would be essentially laying down blocks of 2 and then 2 so you effectively got one layer of stereo sound and then another layer put on top of it.  Any decisions you made then were fixed.  But it was an interesting session and I went along for the fun of it.  No doubt they were taking it desperately seriously!"  The versions of Going Out To Get You and Dusk from this session were released on Archive 1967 - 75 in 1998.

Joining the Night Ride

Around the same time as the session at Regent Sound, Alec was given the opportunity to apply for a new attachment in a department within BBC Radio: "I had applied for an attachment to what was then called Sound Archive Production Unit, whose brief was to make programmes based around archive material.  That included the programme Night Ride and it was specifically a Night Ride attachment that I was going for.  I was turned down at that time but asked to apply the following year; I applied during the time I was with Television Presentation and was accepted and went straight from the attachment there into the Night Ride thing.  I had a one week overlap with another producer and then off I went.  I did two nights a week - Monday night with Colin Nichol and Wednesday night with Jon Curle." 

Transmitted between the hours of 12 midnight and 2 a.m. seven days a week, Night Ride had first been broadcast on the launch day of Radio One and Radio Two in September 1967.  Billed in the Radio Times as featuring "swinging sounds on and off the record", it brought the days broadcasting to a generally relaxed conclusion.  As Alec explains, the two editions of the show he was producing had their own identity:  "The style of music required for each was quite different - Jon effectively took over the slot that had been run by John Peel and it was in no sense an imitation of John Peel's thing but it had a brief where you could be a lot more open with the choice of music.  It was the sort of programme where I could put in a folk song followed by a movement from a Beethoven quartet followed by a track from Genesis or a blues artist.  Really I think reflecting the way I think people use their record collection.  It was a policy that did pay off; I saw the listening figures go up quite noticeably in the seven months I was there and the more 'way out' we got, the more the figures went up, probably because we had a largely student audience which was what I imagine Genesis wanted to play to in their early days where they felt they could be appreciated."

Whilst parts of the Night Ride programmes consisted of recordings held in the BBC Sound Archive of non-needletime world music material which cost little in copyright payments, another part of the brief for the programmes was to record live sessions.  In this respect, Alec had little hesitation in booking Design as one of the first groups to be featured on the show during his tenure.  Recording a session on 4th October 1969 at the BBC Studios in Maida Vale which featured Tony Hill Smith's original songs and vocal arrangements, Design's session was broadcast on Night Ride on 29th October.  They would go on to be booked to appear on a further five BBC Radio programmes before the end of the year.  Radio Times entry with Flaming Youth[1]

By an interesting co-incidence, another band that Alec thought would be suitable to record a session for Night Ride was none other than Phil Collins' pre-Genesis group Flaming Youth.  On 23rd December 1969 between 2 pm and 12 midnight they recorded session versions of all the songs from their Ark 2 album, which were included in the edition of Night Ride broadcast on 21st January 1970.  Listening at home in Hounslow to the programme that night, Phil's father Greville took exception to the use of the word 'bastards' in the lyrics of Mars - Bringer of War and promptly went into battle.  An article that subsequently appeared in The People newspaper (under the headline 'Flaming Phil's record makes dad boil over') related how Mr Collins senior "went flaming mad" and quoted Phil as saying, "He was so angry he said that I must leave the group.  He also went on about my hair and told me to get it cut or get out".  Phil chose the latter option and went to stay with a friend for a while afterwards whilst his father reflected on what had happened: "Looking back, I didn't half give Phil a pasting.  I'm a bit ashamed of myself really.  But I was ruddy narked, I can tell you".

Recording the session

Domestic issues in the Collins household aside, with Genesis having gained some all-important experience of playing live by the time the Flaming Youth session was heard on the programme, Alec arranged for them to be booked to record a session for Night Ride to be recorded the following month.  In the early afternoon of Sunday 22nd February 1970, the band members and their road crew (consisting then of their friends Richard Macphail and David Rootes) arrived at the BBC Maida Vale Studios on Delaware Road in London, with recording set to officially start at 2 pm in Studio 4.  At the studio to meet them were Alec along with BBC studio engineer Nick Gomm and Alec's girlfriend (and later wife) Ella Ward.

At the time Studio 4 at Maida Vale was still only equipped for mono recording to 1/4" tape so after recording the initial version of each song, any overdubs that needed to be made to the recordings had to be done to a second tape using the first recording as a backing track.  Alec remembers that the session with Genesis involved a new approach to recording, which was uncommon at the time: "For me at the time it was a relatively new way of recording, just because of the amount that was trusted to overdubs as it were whereas most of the music sessions that were done at the BBC at that time were along the lines of bashing out ten numbers in three hours straight to mono.  Although stereo was coming in, it was a mono session we did with Genesis.  So to spend nine hours doing four, five, six numbers seemed incredibly slow.  It was because of the nature of what they were doing, which was much more multi-layered from a smaller number of players which is now so routine now as to not be worth mentioning but there was a lot less of that around then, certainly in BBC sessions in 69/70.  Now a band will come in and do four numbers over 9 hours using 24-track and it will be like doing a session for an album.  But that was relatively new to be doing that."

As far as the selection of songs to be recorded for the session was concerned, Alec confirms that he left this up to the band: "I tended to give most of the bands a fairly free hand in terms of the choice of material.  It was the sort of programme where they didn't have to be confined to three and a half minutes; if they had a twelve minute number I would have found a space for it.  I'd build the programme around the material that I had rather than trying to get them to do something else.  They presumably brought the material that they most wanted to put down at the time." 

One of the songs chosen to be recorded for the session was Tony Banks' song Shepherd, which is notable for the fact that it features his only lead vocal on a released Genesis recording.  Alongside Peter Gabriel's vocals, Tony's voice was however not the only one to be heard on the song as the band wanted an additional high voice for some parts in the backing vocals.  Alec recalls how this was achieved: "There are various things I can remember about the session - one in particular was where they wanted a high voice and my then-girlfriend and now wife Ella was in the studio.  So I asked her if she could sing high and she said yes, so she went in and sang the high harmonies on the session. She came out most bemused because coming out of the loudspeaker was this great big incisive sound particularly on Peter Gabriel's voice and so on and she went in and they were virtually inaudible.  There were these tiny little voices coming out!  Whether that was all the level they could give or microphone technique I didn't need to ask them, so I didn't!  In fairness it probably was microphone technique that got a particular sound out doing it that way.  Certainly Tony Smith when he was singing could make as much volume as he required for a given sound so I assume they could have done as well."  The performance of Shepherd is also notable for Mike Rutherford's cello part, which can be heard at the end of the song. 

Alec's other memory of the Genesis session is that the recording took quite a long time, as reflected in the officially stated finishing time of 11 pm, which made for a total of 9 hours in the studio.  Although Tony Banks would recall in retrospect that in general the recording of the BBC studio sessions the band did were a bit rushed from their perspective and that they would have preferred to have been able to spend longer on the recording, there was only a fixed amount of studio time available.  Alec remembers: "It seemed like a long slow grind to get anything at all out although for broadcast I was happy with it in the end.  I do remember saying to one of them 'Look, you'll have to learn to work a bit faster' and them looking quite puzzled!  I wasn't aware of the band having any particular worries about anything that they hadn't articulated at the time". 

Of the other songs included in the session, Looking for Someone, Dusk and Stagnation would later be recorded for their album Trespass, with the latter featuring an additional section at the end of the song which had been dropped by the time the band committed the song to tape at Trident Studios.  Pacidy and Let Us Now Make Love however are notable for being tracks that Genesis never recorded in the studio for commercial release.  An earlier version of Pacidy had been one of the demos the band had recorded during the session at Regent Sound in August 1969 but the BBC version of Let Us Now Make Love would ultimately be the only time that the band would record the track. As Tony Banks remembers, this was not because the band didn't rate the song: "It was a very nice song, it sounded good live.  For some reason we didn't record it for Trespass - I think we'd seen it as a possible single and so we left it behind.  It wasn't left off because we didn't think it was good; the idea was that we would do it as a single."  Ultimately this idea went no further but interestingly Let Us Now Make Love was the subject of appreciation from another artist.

Around the same time Genesis recorded the Night Ride session, they had appeared on the bill at a large student event staged at Queen Mary College in London's East End. Although the band had originally only been booked to play in a smaller upstairs venue, Marcus Bicknell (who was handling concert bookings for the band at the time through the auspices of the Rondo Agency) persuaded the promoter to let Genesis play a second set in the main hall. In contrast to some of the gigs the band played to student audiences during this period, the audience sat down and listened to the band play and gave them a good reception. Hearing Genesis play that evening was singer/song-writer Nick Drake, who had attended the event with Marcus.  Nick had appeared as the opening act for Genesis at some of the bands live shows but on this occasion he was there purely as a spectator.  Let Us Now Make Love in particular had clearly made an impression on Nick as when talking to the band after they had played their set at Queen Mary College, he asked who had written the song. When Ant told Nick it was his composition, he gave a single word assessment of the quality of it based on the impact it had had on him: "Dangerous!"   

By coincidence, Nick Drake would be another musician that Alec booked to record a session for Night Ride.  He had been made aware of Nick's music through musician Iain Cameron who recommended that Alec listen to Nick's debut album Five Leaves Left.  Alec enjoyed what he heard and booked Nick to record a session for the programme, asking Iain to act as accompanist.  During the evening of 23rd March 1970 between 7 and 11 pm the pair of them recorded versions of a total of eight of Nick's songs, which were then included in the edition of the Night Ride that was broadcast on 13th April. 

The Panel have their say

With the Genesis session recording successfully completed, as it was the band's first BBC radio performance it was treated as a trial broadcast in lieu of an audition which meant that the Production panel would be called upon to give their verdict on the material and the band's performance based on three of the songs.  As the producer who had booked them for the session, Alec was required to submit his own comments about Genesis and he was pleased to give a positive view on them, writing: "I rate this band very highly.  They are unusual enough to carry a "progressive" label yet melodic enough for general use - although many of their numbers may be too long for this.  Their instrumental playing was excellent and there was no need of retakes.  Easily of broadcast quality."  On 17th March 1970 the panel heard Shepherd, Stagnation and Looking For Someone and agreed with Alec's assessment, giving the band an enthusiastic pass.  One producer made reference to the "intriguing tone colours" and "nice use of vocal dynamics" that they had heard whilst another mentioned the "close vocal harmonies, well supported by a competent instrumental sound". 

Two days later a contract for the band's performance was issued, with the session being scheduled for inclusion in the edition of Night Ride that was to be broadcast on 1st April.  On 23rd March the pass from the Panel was confirmed by senior producer Jimmy Grant and two days later the BBC wrote to Peter Gabriel, advising that the Production Panel had given the songs they had heard a favourable response and that consequently Genesis had now been added to the list of artists available for broadcasting.

Jon Curle & the billing for the programmeThe session is broadcast

A week later the edition of Night Ride hit the airwaves, with the transmission beginning simultaneously on both Radio One and Radio Two following the News at five minutes and 15 seconds after midnight on 1st April 1970.  As it was broadcast on a Wednesday the show was presented by BBC staff announcer Jon Curle, who was profiled in an article in the Radio Times entitled "Curle up and relax" in March the following year.  In part it read: 

Now, Jon Curle has the whole of Wednesday's Night Ride (12.5 Radio 1 & 2) to himself and says it's most definitely the highlight of his week, even though it often means leaving Broadcasting House at 2.30 in the morning only to be back again by nine next day. "I sleep in a little cell across the road."

He started off as an actor ("repertory, a few television plays, nothing startling") and has been a staff announcer with the BBC for about 12 years. He's in his middle forties, an immaculate dresser with an easy, sophisticated style; musically his tastes range through Beethoven, Mozart and the Mothers of Invention to Simon and Garfunkel and Peggy Lee. He's a film fanatic - though cineaste is how he'd prefer to put it - and spends most of his off-duty hours at the pictures or weeding the garden at his Blackheath home.

The programme began with the track Magnetic Mama by The Electric Meatball from the soundtrack of the film Last Summer, which was followed by Shepherd as the first of the tracks from the Genesis session [2].  The music included in the show reflected the eclectic and diverse nature of the programme, this perhaps being most clearly demonstrated by the inclusion of the Lancashire-born actor and comedian George Formby's song Why Don't Women Like Me?, which appeared in the running order immediately before Stagnation.  Of this choice of track Alec observes, "I'm not sure who would be the most or least flattered by the comparison!".  Other tracks played included The Wizard by Black Sabbath (from their debut album, which incidentally had been recorded at Regent Sound), the Main Theme by Pink Floyd from the film "More" and a recording of the last movement of a Mendelssohn Violin concerto.  There was also an interview about York University Radio Station as well as the poems 'Past and Present' by Thomas Hood and 'At a Solemn Music' by John Milton, which were read 'live' on the programme by Jon Curle.

Another 'live' element to the programme was provided by the band members, who had been asked along to the studio in Broadcasting House to each chat briefly on air with Jon Curle during the programme in order to introduce a track from the session.  As Ant recalls, this was something that he couldn't face doing: "I can clearly remember flunking one bit where each of us had to do a piece when it went out.  Each of us had to go and be interviewed and introduce a track.  Things weren't going well for me in the group at the time and I just couldn't deal with it.  I just panicked and thought "I can't do this!"  It's funny now when I think about it as radio interviews worry me a little but never a lot.  The others had to go up in turn and I remember I just flunked it.  Each guy went up and was interviewed and I just disappeared.  They just introduced each track in a very simple way."

Sunken Gold

Ant also has a memory of there being a connection between the band's Night Ride session and the Scottish poet and author George MacBeth (who was working at the time as a producer at the BBC) involving the subject of sunken treasure.  He recalled that it was related in some way to the end of the version of Stagnation from the session, most notably with the lyrics "join with me, upon the quest for gold" which were left off the song when it was recorded for Trespass but beyond that he couldn't recall more of the details.  This is something that Alec is able to shed some light on: "I was asked by George MacBeth on behalf of Michael Mason (a producer working in the BBC's Radio Drama department) if I knew of a band with a musical style that would work with an idea for a project called 'Sunken Gold'.  I'd remembered the lyrics on one of the songs on the session which related to that so copied off just that little bit onto tape and gave it to George.  I had a meeting with Michael Mason and Michael was very excited by it because he was looking for a big, multi-layered sound.  The whole idea of the feature was that it would move through several layers of consciousness diving deep into the sea to find the gold.  I don't think he'd thought it through hugely beyond that because he was one of these easily articulate men who could throw out ideas but was strictly speaking a writer himself although he did like to paint in sound.  As I remember it, virtually the whole band turned up in this tiny office to talk with Michael and George and myself and I think they were quite happy with the idea of doing something like that."

The band's involvement with the proposed project did not however progress very far beyond this initial meeting as Alec recalls: "Obviously it was different, it would be long and give them plenty of exposure but in between them saying 'fine, we'll do that' and talking about doing some work on it, I think Tony Stratton-Smith - either by a phone call or a letter - said, 'No, I'm not having you doing things for the BBC for £100, I've got bigger plans for you' and pulled the rug on it.  In the end Sunken Gold did happen over a decade later as Michael Mason managed to sell the idea to something called the Features Workshop, the committee of which I was on at that point in the Drama department."  Broadcast on Radio 4 on 2nd December 1985, Sunken Gold or The Night Journey Under The Sea was billed as 'a musical fantasia for radio' with the music composed by Michael Bright and the lyrics written by Michael Mason.

Following the broadcast of the session and their brief involvement with the embryonic stage of Sunken Gold, Alec and the band went their separate ways.  He remembers: "That was effectively the end of my indirect or direct dealings with Genesis.  A copy of Trespass duly arrived; I must say that I wasn't terribly impressed with the sound on that and I think subsequent ones have been rather better."  As Alec rightly points out, giving Genesis their first BBC broadcast "was just one of the things that I happened to do at the time which also included bands such as Lindisfarne and many others.  I'm delighted that they are as successful as they have been, it shows that I chose a few right and I enjoy their music when I hear it but I can't say that I've followed their career or indeed that they've followed mine."

Saving the session

Officially there was no remit for the BBC to retain the recording of the Genesis session and technically it was part of the agreement with the Musicians Union which allowed sessions to take place that the tapes of them would be erased once some time had elapsed after the broadcast.  Whilst the original masters were subsequently wiped, Alec had the foresight to make and keep a copy of the recording: "I had made a 1/4" tape copy at 7½ ips; the masters have gone.  There was so much stuff I recorded over that seven months I was producing Night Ride that with hindsight I wouldn't have let any of it go.  I've got bits and bobs of all sorts of things I've done but in their case it was a copy off the master."  Alec also believes that he made a second copy for the band to have, which was of help to them when Tony Stratton-Smith showed an interest in the band: "As I understood it, this was one of the tapes that they took which enabled them to get their contract with Charisma".  Exactly what happened to the band's copy of the session is unknown but thanks to Alec retaining his own copy of it, the session was saved. 

One question surrounding the session is the version of Dusk that the band recorded for it, which has never been heard since the original 1970 broadcast.  I asked Alec if this track may by some chance still exist and he kindly agreed to check his original 1/4" tape copy of the session but found that it was not included.  "It's conceivable that at the time I only copied reel one," he says, "not realising that something was on a reel two at that point in which case it would be missing".  There is also a chance that someone may have recorded the whole programme from the radio at the time as Alec recalls: "People did use to tape those Night Ride programmes - I've got a couple of tapes, not of Genesis, that a writer named Bob Sinfield gave me.  I did a documentary with him about Groupies for Radio 4 ('He Wasn't Even A Roadie!', broadcast on Radio 4 on 15th June 1985) which was a tape that could have got banned!  He said that he always used to listen to those Night Ride programmes that I'd produced and gave me a couple of cassettes of them, so people did record them."  To date however, no off-air recording of the programme with Genesis is known to exist.

So how did Alec's recording of the Night Ride session find its way back into the BBC Archive?  The answer lies in events that took place a few years later.  From 17th November 1978, Radio One had begun broadcasting The Friday Rock Show on Fridays between 10pm and midnight.  Presented by Tommy Vance ('TV on the Radio' as he would introduce himself), the programmes were produced by Tony Wilson and in the first year or so would feature repeats of classic sessions from the archives.  One such repeat, which was heard in the edition of The Friday Rock Show broadcast on 22nd June 1979, was of the sessions Genesis recorded on 10th May 1971 and 25th September 1972 for the Sounds of the 70s programme.  It was at this time that Tony Wilson started sorting out the surviving Radio One session tapes, cataloguing and collecting together all the ones he could find some years before a proper archive of Radio One material was established in the late 1980s.  Checking through the details of sessions recorded by name bands, he spotted that Genesis had recorded the session for Night Ride back in 1970 and contacted Alec (who by then was working as a producer in the BBC's Radio Drama department) to see if he had a copy of it.  Alec duly loaned his tape so that it could be duplicated and added to the collection of existing sessions before the original reel was returned to him. 

The Night Ride session became a largely forgotten part of the band's history until 1989 when it received its first repeat broadcast in 19 years as one of the items in an archive slot on the The Saturday Rock Show, hosted by Alan Freeman and produced by Tony Wilson, who began selecting choice session and concert recordings for repeat broadcast on the programme.  Using a copy of the original BBC paperwork to detail the titles of the songs recorded for the session when copying Alec's tape, Tony Wilson had misread the title of Pacidy (which had been wrongly spelt at the time as 'Passidy') as being called 'Kassidy', an erroneous title which Alan Freeman announced on air on the two occasions the session was given a repeat broadcast on the programme.  By co-incidence, I was later able to confirm the correct title for the song so that the box for the tape held in the Radio One Archive was amended to the correct spelling.

Beyond the Night Ride

In May 1994, four of the tracks from the Night Ride session (along with an extract from the version of The Musical Box which the band recorded for their second BBC session in May 1971) were included on an edition of radio show called BBC Classic Tracks (Show #94-19), which was distributed on CD to subscribing broadcasters by BBC Radio International.  Introduced by Nicky Horne, it was designed to be transmitted as five short programmes broadcast over the period of a week. 

BBC Classic Tracks cue sheet BBC Classic Tracks cue sheet 2

Cue sheets from the edition of the radio show BBC Classic Tracks, which included parts of the Night Ride session.  Images courtesy of David Dunnington.


In 1998, the long-awaited four CD collection Genesis: Archive 1967 - 75 (Virgin CD BOX 6) was released with three of the tracks from the Night Ride session (Shepherd, Pacidy and Let Us Now Make Love) being released officially for the first time.  Shepherd also appeared on a 12-track promo-only sampler CD (Virgin GBOX98), issued by Virgin Records to promote the release of the set.  The same three tracks were included on the Extra Tracks CD and DVD included as part of the box set release 1970 - 1975 (Virgin CDBOX 14) and are also included on the 2023 BBC Broadcasts release, a five disc set which features a selection of the BBC sessions and concerts by the band from across the years.

After his time spent producing Night Ride, Alec Reid went on to become an award-winning radio drama director and creator of radio documentaries and features, one of which required him to spend a week with the French Foreign Legion.  During that time, he also wrote and directed two musicals for radio, "Misrule", starring Max Wall, and "Gilgamesh", with Ian Holm; the latter was the BBC's entry for the Prix Futura award in Berlin.

After leaving the BBC in 1994, Alec was commissioned to write and produce a double CD tribute to Princess Diana. Within days of its release in America it had sold over 100,000 copies. As a result, he won the prestigious international Audio award for best creative work. Since then, Alec has produced hundreds of audiobooks, adapted TV and movie soundtracks for audio release, and was even commissioned to write two new 'Thomas the Tank Engine' stories! He also wrote book and lyrics for 'Muscles the Musical', which was premiered at The Landor theatre in London. Alec's publications have included two anthologies based on Radio 4's 'With Great Pleasure', poems in 'The Sunday Times' newspaper and numerous magazine articles. In 2021 he published 'For Her Bones', his first fiction book.


1. Design would go on to release five albums and thirteen singles as well as appearing on more than fifty TV programmes before splitting up in 1976.  Tony Hill Smith left the band in November 1970 prior to the release of their debut album (the eponymously titled Design, on which all bar one song was written by him).  Bringing things full circle, he asked Alec to relay the news of his departure to the other members of the group.  More information about Design can be found on their official site

2. The Genesis session tracks were broadcast between other items on the show in the following order: Shepherd, Let Us Now Make Love, Stagnation, Looking For Someone, Dusk and Pacidy.  Alec's copy of the session has the tracks in the order Shepherd, Pacidy, Let Us Now Make Love, Stagnation and Looking For Someone.  The latter may reflect the order in which they were recorded although this is not confirmed.


This feature is based on a previously unpublished interview conducted with former BBC producer Alec Reid in London on 4th May 1995

Grateful thanks to Alec for taking the time to recall in some detail one small part of his extensive career as a writer, producer and broadcaster. 

Other quotes are from interviews conducted at different times with Anthony Phillips, Tony Banks and Tony Hill Smith.

Copyright © 2023 Jonathan Dann. 

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