The green, orange and red beaded butterfly curtain is my passageway to another land.
As I hear the beads collide against one another, I feel the energy change around me. The laws of science no longer apply and the power of logic is defeated by magic and art.
I’ve just stepped inside a medieval land dominated by knights, dragons, elves, wolves, wizards and royalty.
Radiant hues of sap green, yellow ochre, phthalo blue and alizarin crimson adorn the mystical landscape. The brilliant scenery is a painting in my mind’s eye that comes to life to right before me.
As I absorb the lush beauty around me, I suddenly hear a voice cry out:
“Can you tell me where my country lies?”
I quickly turn my head and see Peter Gabriel singing a cappella to me dressed in shiny plate mail wearing a galea.
Gabriel’s question is the opening line to Genesis’ 1973 prog classic “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.”
“Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” is considered an anthem of the 1970s British prog rock sound and a beloved tune from Genesis’ 1973 album, “Selling England by the Pound.”
The song has left an indelible impression on me since first hearing it in February 2012.
At the time, I was watching VH1 Classic’s “Metal Evolution” documentary, which featured an episode called “Progressive Metal.”
The episode paid homage to prog rock legends King Crimson, Yes and Genesis. These iconic proggers influenced some of metal’s leading artists ranging from Rush to Iron Maiden to Mastodon.
While watching the episode, I became fascinated with the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis – varying time signatures, classical music influences, flute solos, guitar tapping, theatrical costumes, literary and mythological references and esoteric British culture.
The episode also featured snippets of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” concert footage woven together with prog artist interviews.
The footage showed Genesis performing the fan favorite in October 1973 at Shepperton Studios in Shepperton, Surrey in the U.K.
It also highlighted Steve Hackett, legendary Genesis guitarist, using his iconic guitar tapping technique during the song.
“In ’71, the first album I did with Genesis, Nursery Cryme, I would try to play a line out of Toccata and Fugue, and the only way I could do it would be all on one string if you wanted to make that stretch. That’s when I came up with tapping,” Hackett said in the “Metal Evolution” episode.
“I found that when you could do that and you could play phenomenally fast on one string and then skip from one string to the other and it would look like you weren’t really moving. It was this economy of energy – minimum movement, maximum distribution.”
The energy continues throughout the eight-minute track, which features gorgeous Mellotron solos from Tony Banks, pounding drums from Phil Collins and medieval-inspired guitar chords from Mike Rutherford and Hackett.
“‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’ starts with Gabriel singing a cappella and runs through to a very floaty, drifty, pastoral exit from the song which we used to call ‘Disney,’ the idea of a still, tranquil lake with each player slightly disturbing the surface,” Hackett said in “Genesis: Chapter and Verse.”
“True fusion. I always liked the term ‘fusion,’ although nobody uses that term anymore. I felt that it was more apropos than ‘art rock’ as we were described in America at the time or ‘theatrical rock’ or the ubiquitous ‘prog rock’ that we’re stuck with now. I felt that fusion did actually describe the idea of how disparate styles combined in one.”
“Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” heavily references “Britannia,” a Greek and Roman term for the geographical region of Great Britain and the name given to the female personification of the island.
The term also represents British imperial power and unity, which Genesis references throughout the song:
“Follow on! With a twist of the world we go./Follow on! Till the gold is cold./Dancing out with the moonlit knight/Knights of the Green Shield stamp and shout.”
According to Musical Brick, Genesis wrote about the everyday effects of the British economy on the English, including large corporations and the oil crisis. The group was known for satirizing British culture throughout its prog era classics from 1971-1976.
I have to thank Genesis for educating me about 1970s British culture through “Supper’s Ready,” “The Battle of Epping Forest,” “The Musical Box” and others.
Genesis’ British cultural references came alive again when Sting teased the intro of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” before segueing into “Message in a Bottle” during the Rock Paper Scissors tour with Gabriel on June 21 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Fans enthusiastically cheered as they heard Sting sing:
“Can you tell me where my country lies?” said the unifaun to his true love’s eyes./“It lies with me!” cried the Queen of Maybe for her merchandise, he traded in his prize./“Paper late!” cried a voice in the crowd./“Old man dies!” The note he left was signed ‘Old Father Thames’/– it seems he’s drowned;/selling England by the pound.
I managed to sneak a peek of some fan-shot YouTube footage that day when I saw Stereogum’s June 22 Facebook post.
Hearing the fans’ charged response instantly transferred me to the mystical world behind my butterfly curtain.
Instead, this time I saw Sting wearing plate mail and a galea strumming a Fender bass. The Nationwide Arena fans joined me in my imaginary world for 90 seconds as I watch Sting in awe.
Like me, those fans would never expect to hear that song live today. It’s one of the prog classics every hardcore Genesis fan hopes to hear Peter Gabriel resurrect.
Hopefully, I’ll get to hear Sting tease the “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” intro when I see the Rock Paper Scissors tour on June 30 at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.
If not, then at least I can resurrect that song each time I step through the butterfly curtain.
2 thoughts on “‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ — Genesis Prog Classic Transports Fans to Mythical World”
Great article, L! Thanks for educating me on this type of music!