Rocker Ray's life begins after Genesis

'IT was like being asked to be director of the Royal Bank of Scotland," Ray Wilson replies frankly when asked how it felt to be invited to front legendary rock group Genesis.

"It was too corporate and I never felt comfortable because of the class difference. But when something like that comes along, it's hard to say no. I'm often asked if I regret working with them. And I do."

The 38-year-old Edinburgh singer can speak candidly for the first time after learning that Genesis have no intention of asking him back. The group has recently announced summer performances with Phil Collins, the man he replaced.

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Looking every inch the rocker, Ray turns up in jeans and a black t-shirt with his trademark floppy fringe and a golden cross dangling from one ear. Music is his life and he has been singing since he was 14, never having had a "proper" job, he says.

Now living in Leith and happily married to Tyla, the sister of a bandmate from Guaranteed Pure, his first professional band, he admits that over the years there's been lots of carousing - though never any drugs - lots of girls and lots of drink.

But not during his two years with Genesis, it transpires. "There was no such thing as drink and drugs with Genesis," he chuckles, "It was Pimm's fruit cup and salmon."

The Dumfries-born singer spent around two years from 1996 as the singer with Genesis, recording an album - on which he wrote three songs - that reached number two, and touring with the band before he was unceremoniously dumped, with no explanation. Ray puts it down to the album's failure to make an impact in America, where their tour was scrapped. They went ahead with the European tour, after which the manager told him he'd done a good job, and they did a few pre-booked festivals in Germany. Then he went home and didn't hear from them for 14 months.

"'Calling All Stations' sold one or two million copies, not too shabby, but it didn't work in America at all. The America thing was a real disaster. They cancelled tour dates and decided to quit while they were ahead. When the German gigs finished there was still a plan to continue and I was contracted for another album. It wasn't until 14 months after the last show that the decision was made not to continue."

Manager Tony Smith called Ray at home in Edinburgh in 1999 to say the band wasn't going to carry on and that was all he knew officially until he called him again last November to say they were going on the road with Phil Collins.

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"I was disappointed at the way it was dealt with," he says. "I was contracted for a second album, but I never seriously considered suing. I didn't want having sued Genesis on my CV."

Ray is perhaps best known to a generation of late-20s/30-somethings as the face of Stiltskin, which has now reformed, with Ray as singer and the original band replaced by three new members, all from Dunfermline.

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The band sprang to fame with their number one hit in 1994 Inside, which was used in a Levi's ad. They will release a new album She, as well as a live version, next week, before embarking on a UK tour, including a visit to Edinburgh's Exchange on May 25. The rest of the original band are now busy with their own careers. Guitarist Peter Lawlor is very successful in advertising in London; Drummer Ross McFarlane is with The Proclaimers and James Finnigan went on to play bass with Hue & Cry and is now teaching music.

Stiltskin's new album promises a return to Ray's rock roots and it is clear the singer is much happier away from the controlled environment of working with one of the world's biggest groups, with whom, away from the music, he had little in common.

Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, along with original singer Peter Gabriel, all went to public school at Charterhouse and the picture Ray paints is of a horse riding, polo-playing set, far removed from his working class upbringing.

"Mike has a stables the size of Tesco and has knocked his teeth out a few times playing polo. When you work with the upper classes you never get to know anything. They weren't hard to relate to as people but you were unlikely to ever get to the bottom of something."

Ray says the other band members - Banks and Rutherford - never told him the reason they no longer wanted to work with him, but that was their style.

"I never heard them put anyone else down. I'm working class - when you think something you say it, but not in that world.

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"I was most friendly with Tony Banks. He has an image as a bit stuck up but he's the most grounded individual, who has been married more than 30 years. He was the only person when we finished who bothered to come and see me - when his daughter was thinking of studying in Edinburgh..

"When Phil left, one of his assistants told me he wasn't happy that they had continued, but he'd never say that in interviews."

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When Genesis did a greatest hits album in 2000 they invited past members to come and sing on it - but not Ray. "They did a remake of Carpet Crawlers with Phil and Peter singing. I was asked by the management if I would sing on the song also and I thought 'how cool to sing with Peter and Phil'. But I never heard from them again about that issue."

More recently Ray asked if he could do support for them, but they politely declined and this summer, fronted by Phil Collins, Genesis are set to play venues such as Old Trafford and open Live Earth, the massive climate awareness concert.

"Phil's back in it, so that's why. It's not a let down. I didn't expect anything else.

"The only thing I really felt let down about was the way they treated the end.

"It wasn't very nice to be on the receiving end. It was like death by silence. It took time for me to smell the coffee."

He feels Phil Collins' return to the band has always been on the cards.

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"Genesis and Phil have the same manager so it went through the back door. I can't prove that, but that's my feeling."

Ray is convinced that joining Genesis wasn't the right decision for him because he took it with his head not his heart. But he picked up some things from his time with the band, which he has been able to apply to his solo music and his work with Stiltskin.

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"I learned their style of creativity. They have a way of creating songs - they jam together and edit little bits and create songs from those little bits. That's the way I write now."

Throughout his career Ray has remained in Edinburgh, where he moved aged 18, and now owns a home in Leith, with a studio in the basement.

He is lavish in his praise for Tyla. They married five years ago, right - he can't remember when exactly. The endearingly absent-minded singer says he got together with Tyla, from Nottingham, in spring 2000, a decade after he first met her. "She's like half of me or maybe more than that. It's an interesting combination of characters.

"She went to art college and is an excellent painter and has a lot of energy. She wakes up in the morning and is straight on the phone. I take three hours before the engine starts and anyone is allowed to talk to me."

He works from home, with Tyla as his assistant. He has been touring in mainland Europe since the autumn with Stiltskin, who are still big in countries like Poland, Austria and Germany, where they have had sell-out shows.

Tyla and Ray travel separately from the band, taking turns driving in a Sprinter van with an office in the front and the gear in the back. "I hate the whole airport vibe. I'd rather drive and take two days getting there."

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Stiltskin will be appearing at the Exchange on Grove Street on May 25 and Ray promises to play a range of material in a generously long show. "I normally play two-and-a-half hours. It comes from the Genesis days. When I worked with them that was the show and when I stopped with them people still expected it. I like doing a good long show," he says.

There is something warm and very grounded about Ray, who openly admits to having no hobbies apart from making music.

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He is looking forward to continuing to tour with the Stiltskin guys, who he "loves to bits" and his time with Genesis is in the past.

He hasn't heard from them in ages, and, as he points out, singing with them was only a small fraction of his 20-year musical career. So it is highly ironic that just as he is about to leave, Ray's mobile sounds.

"You'll not believe this," he laughs. "It was Genesis. One of their people wants a ticket for the show in Milton Keynes."

• Tickets are available for Stiltskin at The Exchange from Ripping Records on South Bridge or from