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Two suspected poachers (foreground) captured at Steve Wicket's country estate, 1969.

1998, the Year that 'Rock and Bowl' died: The legacy of Genesix

Forty years ago four university students set forth on a path that would lead to the creation of an experimental brand of Rock and Bowl known as 'Progressive Block'. After a decade of critical acclaim they sought their financial dues and became Rock and Bowl's first international phenomenon. Many hits later they were credited with killing the genre.

"Horses for Courses"

Like a lot of Rock and Bowl hopefuls in the late 1960s, Genesix started out as a student outfit plying its trade in the cricket strongholds of Oxford and Cambridge.

They enjoyed moderate success but soon realised they were never likely to be serious rivals to the established pop orientated Rock and Bowl groups of the day such as the Bowling Stones and the Mersey Green Tops.

This proved to be the catalyst needed for the band to redirect its energies towards greater experimentation and a distinctly more intellectual path.

"We couldn't outplay the Bowling Stones in those days", remembers guitarist Steve Wicket, "but we could certainly out think them.

"Their lead guitarist Pete Purple was a known vegetable enthusiast but he really struggled when I tried to have a simple discussion with him about plant taxonomy. He just said: 'I've got thousands of plants - if they tax me I'm ruined'".

Wicket believes: "He had no grasp of botanical classifications. That's why I changed the subject to biological rankings".

"When I told him I was worried about the rumoured return of phylum ordering he displayed a staggering ignorance of what was the biggest nomenclature controversy of the day. All he could say was: 'Inland Revenue can order me to file my plant tax returns as much as they like - I'll file 'em when I'm ready'".

Critical Acclaim

By the 1970s Genesix had immersed themselves within their vast intellectual reservoir. In doing so they had become the most elaborate, complex and innovative of all the British Progressive Blockers.

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Backstage prior to the legendary Rochdale Umpires Social Club performance, 1974.

Lengthy, conceptual performance was their forte. Audiences loved it but the new approach sometimes caused friction with their more traditional Rock and Bowl peers.

In 1974, at the Rochdale Umpires Social Club, they were on stage for eleven and a half hours, yet only managed to play four songs: Allan Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Nursery End Cryme, Firth Of David Frith, and A Hat-Trick Of The Tail.

"That's the last time they get to open one of my shows", a furious Fred Titmus Zeplin claimed at the time.

The band had established a huge following of mostly scorers and gentlemen cricketers by the end of the decade; but all was not well.

International Success

The soaring cost of domestic help and the silver service strike of 1979 had hit Britain's landed gentry hard.

Fearful that they may be forced to survive on bank interest and trust funds, Genesix decided the time had come to cash in on what was becoming an increasingly lucrative industry for young musicians with accountancy doctorates.

The band set its sights on the massive American market and entered the US charts for the first time with the title track off the 1980 album Duke Cricket Balls.

This would prove to be a mere prelude to a sustained period of commercial success that exceeded the bands wildest expectations.

Genesix would spend most of the 1980s on top of the charts and much of the 1990s involved in a series of farewell and reunion tours.

Street Etiquette

In 1998 - perhaps because there was nothing left to repackage - they released what would become their final hit: Pass Keith Dutchie On The Left Hand Side.

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In doing so they were responsible for delivering what many observers regard to be the fatal blow to Rock and Bowl.

Long time Genesix front-man Les Trilby says the song is about common courtesy. "A right handed batsman such as Keith Dutch is off-side orientated", he points out.

"Slips are on his right hand side, he hears the wicket keeper through his right ear, the captain packs his fielders on the off-side, he has extra thumb protection in his right-hand glove, and more often than not he will be facing right hand 'over the wicket' bowlers".

"For this reason", argues Trilby, "if you are walking down the street and you come across a right handed cricketer walking towards you, the polite thing to do would be to make sure you pass him on his right, which happens to your left hand side.

"Failure to do so would at the very least cause slight disorientation and possibly even startle him. I knew I was stirring up a hornet's nest but I felt strongly enough to write a song about it".

Eminent etymologist Professor Irvin Snape has a somewhat different view.

"Keith Dutchie is Jamaican slang for 'Peter Suchie'", he says, "and this is the name of an Italian allegory that is known in English as 'Cemetery Pudding'. This of course is a Romany euphemism for being 'far sighted', which is an old Roundhead phrase used to congratulate fascists".

For this reason Snape believes: "The song was little more than a National Front call to action. No wonder the fans deserted them".

Apolitical Backlash

Snape's argument seems unfair and overly simplistic. Genesix were neither political activists nor theoreticians. Dark as it may have been at times, their music was rooted in fantasy. It was also eclectic and at times incoherent.

Right wing politics may have been a recurring conceptual album theme: Third Man Reich (1976), The Ladies Not For A Turning Wicket (1981), and Laissez Play-Faire (1982).

But the other end of the political spectrum received an even greater amount of attention: Leg Before Sickle (1973), The Complete Manifesto Of Vic Marks And Derek Pringle (1987), and Das Kapil Dev (1988).

None of these efforts paid homage to any school of thought, attracted followers of any particular persuasion, or turned existing fans off the sound. They were merely component parts within a constantly changing and frequently confusing conceptual framework.

It is farfetched to suggest that Genesix fans rejected 'Dutchie' because they suddenly developed a collective social conscience.

They simply disliked the song because it epitomised all that was wrong with mock reggae. It was contrived, excruciatingly repetitive, MTV friendly, and all too formulaic for an experimentally curious fan base.

For Genesix supporters - many of whom still carried the scars from the artistic betrayals of the 1980s - this was artistic mutiny.

All Things Must Pass

The record was well received by pedestrian associations but success came at a high cost. Genesix fans considered it to be an embarrassment too far and they were not alone in their revulsion.

photo of Wontfield's comeback tour
Still Wontfield 1997. Wontfield's comeback tour did better than many expected.

Followers of Rock and Bowl everywhere were resigned to accepting that the genre was dead.

From hereon in it would be confined within a shell of reunion concerts, dust covered discographies, and memories.

Mike Wontfield, a former Genesix contemporary, is best known these days for his 1997 hit Tubular Ian Bells.

He believes 'Dutchie' was "the final gasp of a musical form that survived longer than most expected, and possibly should have".

But Wontfield feels criticism of Genesix is unfair. "In their heyday they were a substantial musical force", he argues, "and all but the most grudge riddled aficionado of Rock and Bowl should acknowledge their place in the pantheon of the greats".

And in an unguarded moment, most will also list hastening the death of Rock and Bowl as one of their greatest achievements.