Peter Gabriel 1 is 40
Accompany music : Here Comes The Flood
After a couple of weeks, we return back to February 1977. In the next month, the previously mentioned prime minister James Callaghan is having run-ins with traditional industry. In March, he threatens car manufacturer, British Leyland with withdrawing state aid unless it puts an end to strikes. 2 weeks later 40,000 toolmakers are threatened with dismissal as they strike at the Longbridge plant. A week later the final Rover R6 is manufactured and Callaghan is facing a vote of no Confidence.
As a 9 year old, I had quickly come to terms that we were a family of pedestrians. Everyday travel was done on buses. Our holidays mainly to Scarborough and Filey were done by train. Getting in one of the few cars own by relatives was a strange luxury. In fact, our immediate family would have to wait for my brother to reach his late teens before he would learn to drive and get a car.
I was never interested in cars and even to his day, never learned to drive. The closest I got was sitting in a stationary car with an instructor in a car park. I spent the whole time being confused by the 3 pedals as Ridge Racer, Pitstop, Pole Position, Hard Drivin’ and the other arcade machines only had an accelerator and brake. I never got Car magazines and really don’t like Top Gear. Subsequently I am useless at recognising cars (expect for the matchbox ones I had as a 9 year old). I do love my friends enthusiasm about their vehicles, but I get lost in conversations when it comes to technical elements. But I can hold my own about aesthetics and colour. For example….. Me “Wow, thats a very aerodynamic, red car over there”, Friend “Yes Billy, thats a Ferrari 458 with a 4499cc V8 engine and a dual clutch 7 speed Getag gearbox”…. Me “……err., yes”
So with my extensive knowledge, I can tell you that there is a blue car on this weeks album cover. Its actually a Lancia Flavia, owned by Hignosis designer Storm Thorgersen. Its been hosed down giving the impression of rain across the bonnet and windscreen. Inside sits a figure looking a little forlorn, thoughtful and tired. Peter Gabriel has been out of his old band Genesis for about a year. The previous flamboyant performer has none of his fancy mad costumes instead is paired back with jacket and white t-shirt, as he is photographed by Peter Christopherson. Even the title lacks the complex surrealism of Genesis titles opting for Peter Gabriel. Little did we know that the next three albums would be called the same. So in the following years this album got known as Peter Gabriel 1 or Car.
Genesis is one of my favourite bands. Specifically the golden period of Peter Gabriel being in the band from their inception in 1967 to The Lamb Lies Down in 1975. I won’t go into too much detail about the early development of the band as my favourite album of theirs ‘Foxtrot’ will appear in week 40. But lets join the story in 1974, and the release of the epic ‘Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’. The Lamb is a concept album based on the everyday tale of Rael, a young punk in NYC who goes searching for his missing brother and ends up on a spiritual quest. He accidentally finds himself in an alternative universe. Throughout the story he faces moral dilemmas (about sex & relationships), faces increasingly surreal challenges such as the Cage and meets varied creatures such the Lamia and the Slipperman. During which he catches a disease, is cured by having his ‘windscreen wiper’ removed, only to find that a bird fly’s off with it. Its surreal, mad, very british version of america, dark, sentimental, funny and I love it. The whole crazy idea was Gabriels and he struggled to convince the rest of the band of its merit. He produced the lyrics for the album and the rest of the band created the majority of the music during sessions where Gabriel struggles to be part of due to family issues. The divisions in the band became clearer as the album developed, during the release and subsequent tour. This focused mainly on the theatrical with Gabriel wearing increasingly surreal costumes culminating in the bulbous Slipperman. Reviews concentrated on the lead singer and not on the band as a whole and their stunning musicianship which caused further resentment. During the USA leg of the tour, Gabriel announces he will leave at the end, to spend more time with his family as he is disillusioned with the music industry. His leaving is seen with relief in some quarters of the band, who are happy to continue without him.
So Gabriel returned to the studio in July 1976 to record his first solo album with the producer Bob Erzin, famous for working with Alice Cooper. A band was assembled which included King Crimsons guitarist Robert Fripp and bassist extraordinare Tony Levin to record an album, which from everything about the cover and his look, seemed to suggest that Gabriel was breaking from his past and looking for a new way.
Strangely, the first track on ‘Car’ is firmly in the past. ‘Moribund the Burgermeister‘ could be from ‘Lamb Lies Down.”. Garbled vocals, changing musical styles and pace, Surreal imagery and non-sensicle lyrics all are pure proggy Genesis. But this has a harder darker edge especially in the choruses. I love this track, so much I put this on over 10 times at a party where the free jukebox had this on as a b-side to the next track.
If the first track was pure Genesis, the second would show that Gabriel could write sublime, radio friendly hits. From the jangly guitars, the journey like tempo and heartfelt lyrics about leaving Genesis. The chorus is so upbeat and glorious. I was at a So gig in the 80’s at Birmingham NEC, a reviewer said that the crowd Boom Boom Boomed their heart out. And we did to Solsbury Hill. Its is a stunningly upbeat and happy song.
The albums producer Bob Ezrin was a long time contributor to Alice Cooper, and that sort of comes across in Modern Love. It is a very Springsteen American rock, has a very sound and stop start with big statement lyrics. Could easily be written by Mr Cooper and the performance wouldn’t be that dissimilar if Alice has done it himself (or even Springsteen). The only real prog different is the opening off kilter chords which are distinctly Fripp like.
Its a far cry from Excuse me, which is very British. Kicking off with a barber shop quartet (always reminds me of Mr Bean) and then gives way to a quirky, music hall like song with what seems to be a harpsichord, banjo, and Tuba (played by Tony Levin). Its a sweet, innocent and a little disturbing song. Probably too novelty for its own good. The opening whispered vocals and echoed keyboards of Humdrum are so atmospheric, again the track changes with castanets leading to tango sections and flute solos. All 3 elements are interplayed. Before giving way to a beautiful classical section with Gabriel vocals lifting the song till the end. Beautiful track.
Twinkly keyboards abound in Slowburn, along with power chords, rock riff and spiralling solos. The breakdowns head to quiet classical elements but these are quickly interrupted by rock choruses and harmonised backing vocals. Its almost heading into Meatloaf territory at these points. The final long played out solo is excellent as the song breakdowns to its disjointed finish.
Bar room piano, heralds the start of ‘Waiting for the Big One‘. Slide guitar, purposeful bass and drums pull alongside creating the smokey atmosphere. Gabriels verses of blues singing alongside piano is so atmospheric and lifted at the end of verses by improvising guitar. I like the final blues finish, building in intensity to the choral finish.
Triumphant orchestral classical fanfares , run into an almost Rocky soundtrack. Down the Dolce Vita, plays between these two elements with Gabriels vocal performance shows a deep intensity. There are some great bits where all elements come together but for me his vocals are lost a little, a bit echo’y and buried behind the pummelling guitar and orchestral pieces.
One of the things that is levelled at this album is that it is a little over-produced by Erzin. To my ears he was excellent at his elements, the rocked up bits. When it is combined with Gabriels delicate approach it sometimes overpowers it. You can see it slightly in the last track, Here Comes The Flood. Don’t get me wrong this is still amazing, Gabriels heartfelt verses alone with piano and acoustic guitar are sublime. The choruses where the intensity builds are brilliant, as Gabriel goes for it emotionally pouring his heart out. The very good power ballad instrustmentation adds to the volume but Gabriels vocals lose some intensity below the power chords. The Fripp solo in this track is beautiful as well. This song developed over the years. The recording of this on Fripp’s album ‘Exposure’ is different with Gabriel given space to express himself. After this Gabriel, would play this live with just piano, here is him playing it a few years later on the Kate Bush Show and heres him, playing it much later in the last decade (on Guitar Centre sessions). Worth comparing, all four versions (including the studio version at the top). All versions are sublime and each have their merits.
And as this last track shows, Gabriel didn’t stop evolving. Peter Gabriel 2 (or Scratch) was produced by Robert Fripp and presented a far way more stripped back, bleak atmospheric album with great tracks such as DIY, Mother of Violence and Indigo. Peter Gabriel 3 (or Melt) is a stunning album, that not only is ambitious, experimental but obviously political. Featuring songs such as Biko, games without Frontiers and (one of my Favourites) Family Snapshot, delivered by an varied array of musicians. Kate Bush is on vocals, Phil Collins for the first time playing his famous gaited drumming style, Paul Weller and Robert Fripp on Guitar and Levin on bass. Peter Gabriel 4 (or Security) was one of the first to be done on digital tape and use a Fairlight Sampling machine allowing a range of world-beat music. The single Shock the Monkey, is filled with effects and a startling stop/start beat symbolising this album. And that is the end of Peter Gabriel….as an album title.
In 1986, So comes out and Gabriel is less experimental and has created a set of sublime songs moving between pop, art rock and world music. Big singles Sledgehammer, Big Time, Red Rain and Don’t Give up are all hits… but there are gems throughout the album including In Your Eyes and the stunning Mercy Street. The use of world music alongside the electronic sampling add to the supreme songwriting. As I said above, I saw Gabriel on the So tour in 1987 at Birmingham NEC. Was lucky to get down the front and actually supported Peters leg during his crowd surf in Lay Your Hands On Me. It was a stunning gig for a number of reasons, the support was from Youssou N’Dour was the first time I had experienced World music and loved it, the musicians on stage (Levin, Rhodes, Katche) were amazing bringing the tracks alive, the stageshow was simple but stunning (the crane lights of Mercy Street) and of course Gabriel was the amazing performer we expected. I wouldn’t see him again until 2016 on the 30th anniversary tour, different world music support, same band, same stagecraft and same sublime Gabriel. Many albums followed So, but Gabriel did not lose his tendency for moving forward, experimenting and bringing people together (such as for Real World Music). Gabriel in my eyes, is an icon of music and one of my heroes. I particularly love his Genesis work but his solo career is excellent and it started with this great debut album even with him sitting in that errrr…. blue car.
The creative element for this is a collaged piece. I had hoped to make a piece shaped like a blue car…. sorry a Lancia Flavia. But considering I am as useless at drawing cars as recognising them, that was given up for a simpler method. I have in the last year, taken to collaging letters for peoples birthdays. In some cases an initial with pictures relating to one of their favourite interests stuck on (this has ranged from books to Cthulthu monsters). In other cases I have symbolised significant birthdays, not by using the numbers but by using the equivalent roman numeral. I have done a few this year using the letter L, one of art deco pictures and another deconstructing Hokasia’s Great Wave of Kanagawa. The letters themselves a bought wooden letters about £2 a go. Pictures are printed onto normal printer paper and a decopatch glue is used to stick and varnish. For the Peter Gabriel Cover, I opted for a single 1 wooden piece and printed pictures of Peter Gabriel from 1977. These are cut out and then stuck onto the wooden 1, creating a striking piece.
- You may need more pictures than you think. Remember you are layering images.
- Try to get pictures of varying sizes (to fit all nooks and crannies). Big images you may think will cover a lot of space, But these may overlap, take over or need to be broken down
- Sort the pictures beforehand, with the ones you like to be stuck on last, therefore more prominent and not buried under less good images.
- It is sometimes tempting to layer pictures in the same direction. I find a more randomised approached works better.
- Finally go for it and have fun. Sometimes you will find yourself stuck, not wanting to cover over images. Trust in the paper and glue – you can always stick more over the top later.
Billy (aged 9 at time of album release)