June 19, 2006

Music I

I wrote this over the weekend, having retreated back home in an attempt to come to terms with a very transitory and tumultuous period in my life. Without wishing to get too graphic, I thought maybe if I looked at the changes my own life has undergone in the past few of months (and in light of the impending graduation, years) from my old room at the top of the stairs, thought about the future from my old bed, it might place my current situation in the context of something greater. What that was/is, I still don’t know, but I have found some relief (or rather, distraction) in writing what you see below. It originally started as a brief ‘overview’ of art rock (hence why you’ll see me refer to it as thus) intended to be under a couple of thousand words. As time wore on, that rapidly transpired to be a lie, as I found I couldn’t stop myself. I also began with pretensions of impartiality and thought, naively, I could talk about my favourite type of music without getting too wrapped up in my own involvement with it. I failed on that one, too (almost immediately) so you’ll find matted into the weave of this behemoth some of my own history. Perhaps that was inevitable concerning how the endeavour was born. I also feel a compulsion and a guilt at having kept this music to myself for so long (although it is by no means unpopular), when I have derived so much enjoyment from it. It would please me to think that ‘somebody’ had read this and felt a similar urge to spread this music and understand its intention. With that in mind, I ask you to persist when my language ties itself in knots and my sentimentality overwhelms my ability to stab out a cogent sentence on the keyboard.

‘Art rock’ is a relatively nebulous label to apply to certain musicians – it spans a great many different artists and musical approaches. Art rock is not something that can usually be easily defined in such a way that, for example, progressive rock can. Progressive rock has a multitude of bastions and famous faces; some of them represented here, but only for the purposes of illustrating how art rock, in what I would consider its most undiluted and fundamentally impressive era (’75–’85), evolved out of proto–prog and the larger progressive rock movement. If you want to be especially pedantic, all of the artists I am about to include in this little overview can be considered, at the very least, as somehow having some involvement with the colossal and multi–decade spanning behemoth that IS progressive rock. Having said that, the category of 'art rock' as it applies here exists in only in so far as the definition I am giving it by name–checking certain artists and albums. While progressive rock is characterized by long instrumental passages, multiple time signature changes and movements, the use of particular instruments (Mellotron, Hammond et al, the dreaded flute) and the like, art rock (as it is represented here) is characterized instead by an ideology, an approach, a commitment to something other than the album as a genre piece in its most conventional sense. Each artist (with the notable exception of one) has a distinctly individual approach to how they produced (and in some cases continue to produce) their music, but they are united in their attitude as to how the music should be treated by the listener. More often than not, it is with grave seriousness (of the work involved – not necessarily that the work itself is serious, but that they make demands to be understood and connected with). These are albums that make demands of the listener. These are albums with a message – sometimes a ludicrously contrite statement on 'human nature', sometimes worthless and too vague to be considered anything other than an accident, but in a very select few cases the few musicians involved become something greater than the sum of their parts and their efforts resonate with a universal significance to anybody who listens to them. Moreover, much of these albums are characterized by a very specific period of time in the artists' lives, and half of the intrigue and interest that stems from listening to them is to question the circumstances that led to the production of such works. It is important that when you listen to them you make an effort to understand them.

Much of my acquaintance with this music comes from half–remembered memories of my father wearing out his cassette tapes in his Golf GTI, 'Grendel' blaring out of wound–down windows as he raced me to the Co–op on a sick day to pick up some chicken soup (with no seatbelt on in the front seat). Essentially, fear and excitement. 'Grendel' isn't a particularly pleasant track to listen to in any case, but I remember feeling a combination of both mortal fear and profound dread at the 'voice' coming out of the speakers. Of course, while all this sounds a little too much like an associative response to a traumatic childhood episode, such events are discernibly remembered because of the music and not of the events that surrounded them (if it is possible to separate them out). Little did I know it at the time, but I was becoming indoctrinated in the ways of 'art rock'. My father's music collection spans some of the worst dirge ever to have crawled out of the depths of the minds of men, but also some simply sublime highlights that even as an eight year old I could appreciate (albeit with some degree of caution and to nowhere near their fullest extent). He also possessed some scratchy and snowbound videotapes (bootlegs) of some of these artists in live performance that I used to sneak on while he was out. These were, more often than not, overly theatrical and I barely understood their meaning or the lyrical content being sung about, but I was fascinated by their dramatics and power. I used to fish out the album sleeves and stare at them for hours, each of them a clue, a visual scratchpad, a means of coming to terms with the anomalous noise and magnetic stagecraft I was being exposed to. Viewing these events retrospectively, through the lens of memory, I realise that I have inevitably blown many of these events out of proportion from what 'actually' occurred, that my father in fact did not play these albums anywhere near as much as his (at the time) recently discovered 'Faith No More' albums and the suchlike. I'd like to remember that these albums were constantly on the turntable (“Stop jumping around! I'm taping!”) but instead they were relative rarities – and half of them he didn’t even own. I inevitably gravitated towards them, and as soon as I was sneaking the tapes into the VCR every day, my love of this genre was cemented.

Art rock's roots can be traced in the so–called 'proto–prog' movement, the likes of whom were producing their music in the mid to late 1960s. The ‘60s saw the birth of the concept album as a viable and workable format within which to present music (used most famously in this period, and in a slightly more insubstantial capacity, by the Beatles), and none were more committed to realising this vision than the Moody Blues. Leaving accusations of psychedelia behind (along with their conspicuously bombastic and shamefully 'profound' lyrics), their '67 album 'Days of Future Passed' is a collection of songs with a single aim, orchestral accompaniment (which was added after) and connected in its concept (forming the building blocks of what a concept album would come to comprise) and it flows remarkably well for what is essentially one of the first forays into unproven territory. It's still rather underdeveloped as a concept (if musically accomplished). Thankfully, their approach hardened with age, and their 1970 effort 'A Question of Balance' is a much more refined and sober affair, including some rather tasteful synthesiser use (as was the growing trend of the time), especially on the track 'Melancholy Man'. A personal favourite, it is perhaps the finest marrying of lyrical content with some of the more adventurous studio recording techniques of the time. As a treat, my father used to play that in the car park of Sainsbury's while my mother would be struggling across the rain lashed tarmac, the wipers humming left and right. As a result, the lyrics are permanently ingrained in my mind, burnt into the neurons somewhere safe and sound. Somewhat similar is the approach of 'Procol Harum', another group that made extensive use of orchestration on their albums (and, impressively, in live concerts). While their oeuvre is decidedly patchy, an awkward mish–mash of blues inspired rock riffs and delicate classically inspired mood pieces, their efforts reached their apogee in the most spectacular fashion on the album 'A Salty Dog'. Specifically, the first track. The soaring vocals of Brooker, stretched to breaking point, describe the trials and tribulations of a group of sea–faring gents buckling the swash with a passion, a sensitivity and dignity that screams a yearning for the adventure and sense of brotherhood experienced by all involved. It is also a track drenched in pathos, the closure of the song a mute, elegant reminder of the experience as related by an old hand. It also reminds me of Whitby, somewhere I have spent a lot of time throughout the course of my life, memories of the seagulls squawking and waking up to the sound of waves indelibly infused with images of fisherman returning with the day’s catch. While Procol may be more famous for 'A Whiter Shade of Pale', their hit single, this track remains their highlight. Live performances of 'A Salty Dog' are plentiful, but Brooker's voice was only up to the piece with the required intensity and attack on a select few nights, these performances being genuinely spellbinding. If you can, track down his Hollywood Bowl performance, thankfully recorded for radio (so you don't have the indignity of having the experience ruined with the muddy recording techniques bootleggers of the time employed).

However, both of these acts are located squarely in what would become the symphonic scale of progressive rock. Symphonic progressive rock is a uniquely English creation, many of the bands that utilised the hallmarks of the genre in their production are suffused with a sense of whimsy, the likes of which you can find imbued in a nursery rhyme or a folk tale. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in the band Genesis. Stop right there with your brace wearing slapheaded, heavily processed drum backbeat daydreams of wailing to monochrome music videos and jackets flung idly over shoulders. That is resolutely not the Genesis I am describing to you, and certainly not the one that produced the albums bearing their name between 1970 and 1975. This is the Genesis of who is to become a pivotal figure in art rock, Peter Gabriel. Without Peter, Genesis, in their more progressive iteration, would have had nowhere near the amount of exposure or intrigue surrounding them that they enjoyed. It was PG who put them famously on the cover of Melody Maker, his increasingly and by–turns nonsensical and inspired plays for attention gathering a healthy press interest in their work. Said cover featured Peter clad in a fox–head mask in one of his wife’s red dresses, and as an introduction it tells you much of what you need to know about this part of his career. PG became steadily more theatrical as time wore on, and his tenure with the band was ultimately severed by his commitment to such pantomime. Any examination of performance footage of Genesis from this period is like looking into a Brothers Grimm fairytale, a bizarre mixture of fanciful innocence and a distinctly dark adulthood coloured with nightmare. They contain that same mixture of childish optimism and the barely contained appreciation of the more frightening connotations of what inevitably transpires. Listening to them is like hearing in a conversation something with a darkly sexual connotation that nobody else involved seems to have appreciated. While most of the lyrical content of their earlier albums are amateurish efforts, the result of a more democratic approach to song writing (particularly 'The Knife', from Trespass, an awkward inverse protest–song about violent ascensions to power), once Peter had wrestled control of the creative direction there was no limit to his imagination, in particular its most darkest recesses. 'The Musical Box', from their '71 album 'Nursery Cryme', has this juxtaposition in perfect ratio. For the most part, it is an unremarkable Victorian fairytale about a child who is killed with a croquet mallet (wait! Come back!) by his mischievous female playmate and who, begging for another chance, returns back down from the relevant authorities in the body of an old man. Suddenly in its last passage the song becomes an unflinchingly disturbing voyage of sexual frustration as the old man is the child with an adult's desires, an awkward combination in the stooped and crooked frame he resides in. Here's a live performance (staged for the purposes of filming, incidentally, with a favourable crowd of well wishers and family) from '73 at Shepperton studios, on youtube; here and note Peter's occupation of the old man in his entirety. It is grimly hilarious in all the right ways – this must surely be the only appropriate arena for pelvic thrusting.

Precisely what made Peter become so theatrical is a relative mystery – his apparent shyness as a child and bouts of insecurity during his Charterhouse private school years (which were apparently fiercely devoid of humanity) seemed to provide a potent mixture for stage–bound displays of extroversion. He made extensive use of face paint and most of the designs he employed early on in their live shows were chosen for their striking appearance rather than any significance – although this later changed in his solo career. Costumes and masks featured prominently, and in the song sets where Peter would be required to change his appearance in line with his role switching, he would be changing back and forth with impunity. His acting is caricatured but also captivating precisely due to the other–worldly menace he seems to command by being so completely distinct from anything that had happened before (and arguably, since). Peter could also captivate an audience with his meandering and usually improvised stories between songs that more often than not had sexual overtones to them (in common with most of his Genesis work). Peter's imprint can be felt on any Genesis track that contains a fanciful premise – Britannia bemoaning the diminishing traces of what was classically considered 'English' on 'Dancing with the Moonlit Knight', for example, or an account of a real–life gang fight that occurred in Epping forest over control territory on ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’ – which is laced with the kind of fantastical paroxysm typical of Gabriel’s Genesis. There's some footage of ‘Moonlit Knight’ live, here; complete with Britannia costume. Evidently, he made it himself. Perhaps the best example of Peter's expanding influence in the band's early history is the track in which the lyrical content was his sole responsibility - 'Supper's Ready', from the '73 effort 'Foxtrot'. A side long 20 minute epic, it concerns the epic struggle between good and evil inspired by an event involving Peter's then-wife-to-be, in which she was inhabited by something ‘not of this realm’. Apparently. Regardless of how ridiculous that sounds, and how ludicrous the premise is in regards to filling 20 minutes of progressive noodling, it works. Somehow, it works. The whole playing of Supper's Ready was an event in itself, a show closer and an expedition throughout most of the instrumental techniques that contributed to the Genesis sound - particularly the excellent guitar work of Steve Hackett, playing his guitar in a very melodic and supporting role, almost like a backing vocal track, ready to emerge into the forefront of the band's sound when required. Of course, there's Phil on drums, and he's good and more than up to the task, but there are better rock drummers (who I will highlight in a minute) - a full performance, including opening story, from (again) the Shepperton show. Yes, that is a crown of thorns. And yes, that is the needlessly gimmicky 9/8 time signature that makes that whole section sound like an exercise in showing off rather than anything as frightening as an appearance from the manifestation of purest evil. BUT! It's not meant to be taken with the ultimate seriousness – it's a showstopper, a journey. You're not meant to feel like you've achieved anything out of the experience other than akin to that of riding a rollercoaster – it's exhilarating, a wonderful ride, but don't try to draw anything ultimately significant from it. Feelings of that nature were reserved for their best album, and the one in which the whole concept was Peter's from start to finish.

For the recording of 1975's 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway', the band split into two groups – Peter isolated himself and worked on the album's creative direction, the rest of the band practicing to hammer out some catchy new melodies that would ultimately be included in the new project. Peter returned with the story of Rael, a Hispanic New York street punk, whose apparent death and subsequent series of trials measure him as a human being and more importantly restore his faith in humanity. It is with this restoration that Rael's mortality is restored, as is all that of humanity. It's something of a 'Pilgrim's progress', where the measure of one man at the fringe of society is used as the watermark for the rest of humanity at large. Rael is imprisoned, sexually tormented, frustrated, disfigured and ultimately forced to make a decision as to whether to save his drowning brother or go after his surgically removed penis flying away in the claws of a giant raven. Yes, you read that correctly. On the basis of that description of events, it seems no more expressive than that of Peter's other material, but instead we are treated to a double album's worth of story telling, masterfully matched to some of the best music that era of Genesis have ever produced. Rael's saving of his brother from the rapids is a spectacular catharsis from an album whose lyrics are some of the most imaginative and creative in their description you could ever hope to hear. They capture in the most acute fashion Rael's disconnection from society a large, the problems of conformity versus obedience, a young man's sexual frustration and insecurity (including the hilarious story of purchasing a sexual manual for his first time, mastering his motions and getting the time down to a mere 38 seconds, leaving his partner distinctly nonplussed), and the eventual resolution of his issues through trust and absolution of the self and its desires. A fairly lengthy story and a double album's worth of lyrics necessitated the repetition of certain musical themes for the first time in Genesis' history, and while alienating some of their previous fans, the approach was indicative of an ongoing piece and contributed to a sense of continuity about the proceedings. The stage show, of which video footage is unbelievably rare (most available to the public are silent super 8 rolls and an obscure section from a German news show – who were completely unaware of who they were filming). This is a tragic shame as the live show was the culmination of all the theatrics that Peter had refined in the group up to that point. Appearing in, again, face paint (as Rael) and leather jacket, Peter inhabited his character, at one with his creation. His whole attitude changed – Peter had the first punk on stage (although not the first punk in prog, as we'll see in a second), and relished the part, screaming out lyrics (such as on 'Back in NYC') and running around like a madman (by all accounts). Rael's transformation into a slipper man in the last third of the show was illustrated with the most off the wall costume change yet witnessed – a huge flesh coloured eyesore, with all kinds of deformed appendages hanging off of it, resulting from his romantic dalliance with the Lamia of the pool. Thankfully, footage of the Slipper man survives, so you can see exactly what the hell Peter was up to; hilariously, the costume was so elaborate that he couldn't even sing properly with it on! That was probably the point at which it went too far. In fact, Peter realised this and was already making his way off a rapidly sinking ship. Peter, as we shall see later, is a remarkably astute observer of the musical trends of his time and has the capacity to reinvent himself in an almost infinite variety of ways in order to escape obscurity. With punk, as a musical movement and societal trend making its way rapidly onto the musical scene of the late 1970s, Peter wanted to get out and reinvent his whole musical persona in line with these exciting new developments (particularly as Genesis had just started to become seriously successful), that ultimately almost killed prog off, which had become bloated on its own sense of grandeur and significance. The point at which capes are employed is the point at which you simply have to walk away for the sake of your own sanity. He was also reportedly deeply unhappy with the way the band could not understand that the difficult birth of his daughter meant that he couldn’t spend as much time in studio with them – their lack of understanding left him feeling alienated and angry. So out goes Peter, Phil leaves his drummer's seat and takes over and runs the band into the dangerous waters of mainstream pop. Nice one Phil, but without Peter, their efforts lacked most of the intrigue and theatricality that attracted so many of their fans to the band in the first place. The remaining members always claimed that Peter had taken the focus too far away from the music (which is probably true) but to respond with the production of bland and soulless musical travesties ultimately negates their point.


Music II

Alongside Genesis and contributing just as much to the art rock movement were label mates at Charisma, Van Der Graaf Generator (that's right, no extra 'f'). VDGG hold the distinction of having one of the more obscure sounds of the bands featured here, straddling the boundaries of jazz and prog. Featuring sax, keyboards, organ and drums (the simply amazing drumming of Guy Evans, a supremely talented and underrated human rhythm machine capable of making any track thunder along), alongside electric guitar and other wind instruments, their sound is an arresting and also, to the uninitiated, a difficult one. Formed around the unique vocal talents of Peter Hammill, VDGG blazed a trail through the late 60s and early 70s in their original iteration, VDGG I, which produced four albums, the most important of which (and beloved of fans) is the histrionic 'Pawn Hearts', their last album before they separated for the first time, from 1971. While Hammill's lyrics have traditionally been about the notions of time and memory, the interaction of the two, what constitutes a human being and romance (as well as forays into sci–fi), they joined together in 'Pawn Hearts' to create an album with a stark message and an even more striking sound. The band's playing on this album is quite simply phenomenal – from the opener Lemmings (concerning the lack of direction, anomie, an entire generation of youngsters apparently felt at the start of the ‘70s as the post–war dream broke down), the sensitive and delicate 'Man Erg' (concerning the supposed multiplicity of character that exists within all of us – killers, angels and refugees – and the struggle that ensues between all three) and the side long monster 'A Plague of Lighthouse keepers', the track that defined that era of VDGG and for most, their whole career. I don't share that sentiment but I appreciate its importance – the 20 minute ride through the stormy seas and salt showered walls of the lighthouse, an allegory for loneliness and the possibility of mutual understanding and taking your place in the greater scheme of humanity (of which Hammill apparently thinks exists and pushes for in almost every album). Like Lamb Lies, there's a resolution at the end (as most of these albums have happy endings). The interesting thing about Plague is that it cannot be listened to in pieces – (nor should the whole album, to be honest) and should be taken as a whole as the manipulation of your emotions throughout is expertly judged to command despair in one moment and hope in another. It is a fascinating journey, Hammill's lyrics here a little too lucid to be considered profound, but ultimately striking a chord with its listener. Perhaps what lends the album its power is not the combination of words and music but the voice of Hammill and music. He emotes his lyrics in one of the most individualistic manners you'll have ever heard. People react to Hammill in one of two ways – either 'wow, that's interesting' or 'turn off that horrible noise of a cat going through a vacuum cleaner backwards'. My reaction was ‘is that Fish?’, the sense of which you’ll recognize later on. If you liked David Gilmour's voice over Roger Waters', for example, skip VDGG. VDGG is the kind of music to which you have to understand the artist's intention to get the most out of. His voice is not overly melodic – he screams, he shouts, he whispers, he pleads, he cries, he croons. His voice bends around his emotions in the purest way possible but also in one of the most awkward sounding ways for those not familiar with his style. He's distinctly uncompromising with his vocals, which is refreshing but also difficult to bear after extended listening to his overwrought wailing. From a falsetto to a guttural scream, he does it all with impressive conviction. ‘Pawn Hearts’ marked the death of the first iteration of VDGG, but Hammill continued on solo. If you’d like to see an ultra–rare performance of Plague, semi–live in the studio there’s part one here, part two and part three here and I warn you, it may initially horrify you, but persist if you can. If you find you simply cannot deal with his voice, you’re by no means alone, so don’t feel disheartened. Many people who adore the other artists featured here intensely dislike Hammill!

Hammill's solo albums are unquestionably art rock. They are the purest examples of art rock as he kept his compositions to the bare minimum amount of time he could get away with yet also experimented with the medium and new studio techniques, to contribute to the message he attempted to convey with each one. Both of Hammill's early solo albums (not counting 'Fool's Mate') 'Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night' (you simply cannot ask for that at a record shop) and 'Silent Corner of the Empty Stage' (again, he's not making it easy to purchase) are essential acquisitions, both of them demonstrating his versatility as a song writer, but for overall quality 'Silent Corner' is infinitely better. The collection of tracks, from the opener 'Modern' (about the collapse of great civilisations as they are inevitably torn apart by bringing people so close together, dehumanising and alienating. 'I don't want to live underwater' he screams, shades of Atlantis), to 'The Lie' (about Hammill's dalliance with religion in his youth, and all its darkest aspects contained in the divine (sexual?) ecstasy of Bernini's Saint Teresa. I can only recount Lacan's comment on said statue to justify such an opinion. I won't repeat it here, but it pretty much surmises the song) are remarkably dramatic and exciting to listen to. Hammill's thunderous voice, with notes held for what seems like an eternity and a solemn amount of presence on his grand piano, which church organ blaring out at appropriate moments, contributes a real sense of reverence and also fear, precisely the sort of emotions evoked in the pews. While some of the other tracks, ‘Rubicon’, for example (concerning the crossing of the sexual river from which you cannot return when revealing your feelings to a companion – you’ll never be ‘just friends’ again) are only notable for their subject matter, the simply terrible lyrics destroy any seriousness with which you can take it. Really, a poor showing, and as a guitar ballad it fails on the grounds of having a poor melody that never seems to go anywhere or take off to the heights of aural delight we know Hammill is capable of and which surround this track on the album. On the other hand, the album closer, 'A Louse is Not a Home' is utterly unbelievable. As close to anything by VDGG (as members play on the track) as you're going to hear from this phase of Hammill's career, he evokes the image of the person (there's no mind or body distinction here, something Hammill doesn't touch until VDGG reformed) as a home, and the various attacks on the sanctity thereof. Home, for Hammill, is not just the body you reside in, but the system of beliefs you envelop yourself in to provide you with a sense of security and a means of escaping the unanswerable and disconcerting questions you face every day. A person is constituted not just of their physicality, but the attitudes they possess, like the accoutrements that decorate your walls. Locating exactly where you lie and the beliefs end inside the house is difficult when it is infected by the louse – fears prompted by the type of questions you barred the door and closed the curtains to avoid. Delousing is difficult when ‘He’ is watching, which is Hammill’s dark side, located in his subconscious (peeking through eye holes in portraits – he has the same appearance as Hammill, tapping his telephone – listening to his conversations – and ravaging his library i.e. looking through the same eyes that read his books). He’ll never escape it, as the divine Hammill is the same person as the devil (something ‘Man–Erg’ stated), eviction is impossible. It is breakneck stuff, much akin to Chameleon's closer 'In the Black Room', and ends with one of the most chilling final notes that Hammill has produced – he doesn't know precisely what he is (as does anyone) or how he can escape the doubt. 'I' he can only languidly intone as the track closes, he's got no closer to what he wanted to discover than when he started, to evict the louse. Hammill's final solo album before the return of VDGG was 'In Camera', another tour de force but less beloved than his other albums because he adopted a more synthesised sound (in 1974!) than on his previous albums. This means the album has less of a natural sound but the almost painfully jagged synths on the album contribute to the air of futility about some of the questions he is pondering – a despairing cry for understanding. While the album's opener, an acoustic ballad, is sweet enough, it is no way indicative of the quality that is to come. When the synths begin and Hammill begins going over his childhood memories in an attempt to see how they constitute his present self, and his aching cries to return to the years of naive hope and endless imagination (instead of having his options diminished the older and older he gets), we are in distinctly desolate territory for the soul. Religion gets another mauling in 'The Faint Heart and the Sermon', about being swayed and preachers preying on people's sense of uncertainty about what awaits them after death, is very similar to 'The Lie' in presentation but differs slightly in message. It is still, none the less, enjoyable to listen to if only because it represents a rallying against that which had obviously contributed to a lot of anguish in Hammill's life, feeling betrayed and being sold false hope. In 'The Comet, the Course, the Tail' Hammill attempts to accord some sort of human origin to the notion of fate and the possibility of undetermined action. He doesn't really get anywhere (as is common with the entirety of his output – Hammill isn't a philosopher, he doesn't solve problems, he doesn't trouble shoot. He just describes in some style the confusions and issues that face anybody interested in existentialism. When he does offer a solution, it is usually hopelessly optimistic and grounded in nothing other than the hope that something good will come of humanity – otherwise, what's the point? He contradicts himself as he has no grounds for such hope (and he addresses this later in his career with VDGG) yet mauls other institutions for providing it en masse, but none the less, most of his offers are of the Arthur C Clarke variety – that something big is going to happen to humanity through their command of technology). The last track, 'Magog' is disappointing as it operates on the principle of 'tension and release'. That is, generate so much frustration by submerging any semblance of a melody beneath a difficult and laborious chord structure and then have it rise to surface with cymbal crashes and organ pounding. When the release occurs it is pleasing and genuinely uplifting, but also it happens in too short a supply to make the track anything other than a chore to listen to. Magog concerns the ancient evil, its temptation and any morbid curiosity with it. You'd better not get close, because it is a genuinely nasty thing for people, there's no benefit in revering it, he warns. 'The ones who give me service' he screams, 'I grant my scorn'. What follows is no less than 5 minutes of tape loops and processed sound effects designed to echo the sounds and feelings of descending into hell. Cue back masked vocal tracks stretched out and slowed down, organ played backwards and all sorts of other hilarity. You simply cannot take this seriously. I suspect it was designed for listening to while in an 'altered state' with the lights off. I wouldn't venture that, if I was you, on the grounds that to do so is a waste of your valuable life time (and it might give you a heart attack). Listen to something else and save yourself the embarrassment of what Hammill has affectionately referred to as 'musique concrete'.

In the period just before VDGG reformed, Hammill produced a punk album. That's right, one of the most obscure and distinctly individualistic figures in art rock (and loosely prog rock) invented punk, which turned on prog (which was ripe for the culling anyway). Becoming a character, as Gabriel did with Rael, Hammill inhabited the shoes and mirror shades of Rikki Nadir for his album 'Nadir's Big Chance'. What follows is an album dedicated to the notion of screaming at the top of your lungs while playing the only three chords you know in front of other young people like yourself. A rebellious teenage spirit on vinyl. It's not bad, a curiosity, and a piece of music history if you want to acknowledge it (as John Lydon does selectively), but not particularly outstanding in the context of Hammill's wider output. The tracks are interesting enough, but clearly Hammill was saving his best lyrical content for VDGG's new album, 'Godbluff'. I have to confess that Godbluff is my favourite VDGG album, if only because I purchased it on the cusp of adulthood and its lyrics and musical content I simply cannot separate out from a very formative period in my life. Which sounds like the kind of self–obsessed navel gazing reserved for someplace other than here but I feel in the interests of any pretensions to fairness I can attempt to institute upon this overview I should highlight it. The album features Hammill selectively destroying his voice across four tracks of breathtaking unity in soul and message. While the tracks are seemingly unconnected on the face of it, the album features an overall tone and musical approach that gives it a very distinct feel. From the opener, 'The Undercover Man' (Cue delayed flute), about the notion of adopting a likeable everyday public persona to cope with the stress and uncertainty of communication, and despair of being unable to separate the character out from the real person, 'Scorched Earth', about the rejection of anything of 'apparent value' or that 'value' could be inherent in anything available to us as designated by people, not letting things that ultimately mean nothing to our advancement as a population get in the way of a man who "entered the course of a dream, claiming nothing but the life he's known – this, at least, has been his own." 'Arrow' concerns the plea for mercy at the chapel door of fate, the body literally impaled upon the straight flight of a course from which one cannot deviate (and features a horrifyingly ethereal vocal performance), and the album closer 'The Sleepwalkers' concerns the mind/body problem – or rather, on the face of it, it does. It is not literally the notion of conscious experience as that distinct from one of an actual reality, but instead the notion that one's life can be lived according to false principles and it is this daydreaming, this sleepwalking, that constitutes a disconnection from reality. Very Heraclitean. It's also a track of ultimate despair because by the time one realises this, or wakes up, there isn't enough time to realise what is important in life, and for Hammill that is the relentless pursuit of knowledge. 'If I only had time' he begs 'but soon my time is ended', we all die before we can fulfill this. It's an impossible dream (somewhat ironically), as no one can possess this true (or ultimate) knowledge, it is beyond us as people, but to strive anyway seems to be the order of the day. "How could we lose what we've never owned?" he argues. There’s some performance footage here from 1975, and I warn you, we explore in some depth a vein on Hammill’s neck. Just look at the concentration!

VDGG's next album was 'Still Life', from 1976. Concerning the persistence of life despite everything telling us to the contrary (i.e. why do we continue to exist with no apparent reason for it?), the cover is a relief of a shot of static electricity from a real life Van Der Graaff generator, in acrylic. A moment of continuous flux in album form, a neat allegory for what Hammill tries to achieve with this release. For the most part, the album lacks the brow–furrowing consternation of 'Godbluff' but instead retains a sober look at events, submitting to much less dramatics and also somewhat more naive in its approach to the subject matter it shares with the prior album. The best track is unquestionably the title track, which looks at a marriage ceremony, and is the best excuse for not getting married you could ever hope to employ. It argues that the only reason people get married is to somehow imprint themselves upon an eternity that is ultimately meaningless for them out of hearing their names joined in matrimony. That what you are actually getting wedded to is some sense of everlasting life which is entirely false and constitutes bad faith in its worst possible sense. The realisation of such a fact causes such anguish, such nausea, that one seeks hope in marriage, as the sum of humanity's achievements is exactly zero and to institute some meaning on proceedings in the shape of a joining of people is the closest we can apparently get. 'Still Life' takes on its second meaning here, as the 'Still Life' is static, non—moving, pointless without movement and too entrenched in this bad faith to free itself and achieve something more than that which it has at the moment, whatever that is. Another highlight is 'La Rossa', a painful cry of sexual frustration that places the protagonist (irrevocably Hammill in some capacity, again) in a relationship in which he cannot declare his true feelings for he has built up a wall of sophistry and quack philosophy around himself with which to define his independence from affairs of the heart – but he still inevitably wants to end up making love to her. It is this overcoming of the facade which he has built, working up to confession, and his eventual release from her in the shape of sexual expression, only to find himself released not by her but by himself, as it was his actions that placed him in his sexual prison, not his attraction to her, which is now a perfectly healthy thing to have. 'My Room' concerns Hammill again yearning for a lady, but instead the hope that one day a woman to whom he is attracted will eventually recognise his attraction and reciprocate his affections. It's unrequited love of the worst kind because he derives some satisfaction from never actually getting close enough for his love to be denied ("marooned in an ecstasy of waiting") but also by that same token he will never have the girl he craves so passionately. It is this fantasy (the track is subtitled 'Waiting for Wonderland', considering Hammill's partner of the time was named 'Alice') that sustains him yet is ultimately doing him no good. He finds solace in blaming her – he feels he has made it clear how he feels, and yet she refuses to acknowledge his feeling. Again, not a healthy situation, 'Still Life', and life is not healthy if it is going nowhere, is it? The final track is a fan favourite but I dislike it intensely. 'Childlike faith in Childhood's End' is Arthur C Clarke in song form (in fact the title takes inspiration from his novel), that something awaits us beyond the bilge water of an existence we 'enjoy' at the moment, familiar territory that has been covered before with much more intensity, passion and a complete lack of science fiction inspired lunacy. It does, however, contain some quite fanciful musical passages and the sections that demonstrate a desire to play your part in what is for Hammill an evidently ongoing process (as he questions why we 'see through the eyes of creation' i.e. why do we define our lives in relation to how we started instead of where we are going, another religious stab) and that "...In the death of mere Humans Life shall start!". Childlike faith in the end of childhood – i.e. we progress onto our adulthood as humans. With leaps like that it's a wonder Hammill was never on an Olympic long jumping team, but if he derives some satisfaction from it, so be it. You don’t need reasons when you have faith of a childlike nature.

‘76 saw the release of 'World Record', a pun so bad it is hard to imagine how the band could have ever knowingly released it with that title. It is also one of their weakest efforts, coming at the end of the whirlwind 18 months that saw the production of most of the material for these last three albums. The only highlights are 'Masks', which treads territory familiar to those who heard 'The Undercover Man', but from a much more malevolent standpoint in that a man eventually loses his identity by milking the sympathies of those around him with falsified anguish, that he plays the character so often and with such gusto that his own problems, the one which is the most acute (that he cannot relate to people outside of his creation) he cannot resolve because he has no–one to show his true face to, so it disappears. 'Wondering', the closer, is a wonderfully swirling organ piece about that joyous moment when fulfilment arrives, when one's purpose in life becomes revelatory and clear, and then the question that inevitably arrives – was it all true? It is this fantastical wondering, this envelopment in such satisfaction, that is so enjoyable. The song whirls around one of apparently the most difficult and complex chord structures of a song ever recorded, although the whole thing sounds completely organic and natural on record. Clearly struggling but still capable of flashes of genius, the band tore at the seams and both the sax antics of David Jackson and the utterly inspirational organ work of Hugh Banton departed. Hammill proceeds to break up with his long term girlfriend and produces a document of the emotions he experienced in this difficult time – the album 'Over', recorded with electric violinist Stuart Gordon (they were relatively new back then, and supposedly cool), is a supremely painful affair to trudge through. The lyrics are raw and honest, the recriminations fly thick and fast, as Hammill goes through cycles of blaming himself, her, himself, her, everyone, his friend (who she ran off with), everything, and finally reaches a resolution. Another happy ending? Well, of a fashion, he moves on but doesn't forget. The album begins with 'Crying Wolf', Hammill pointing the finger at himself for being a charlatan in a relationship, provoking his own heartache, which was not genuine, to gain emotional territory, when really he was just a sheep in wolf's clothing, scared of losing her and ultimately does by pushing her too far. 'Autumn' is not a track to play when visiting your parents as I am now. It is the only track on the album not explicitly related to his dead relationship and concerns the leaving of children from home to start their lives away from their parents. The 'Autumn' of the title refers to the season or time of year in which British students normally leave home for University, and also the autumn years of the lives of the parents, the final third of their lives, starting in their mid 50s, and also speculatively the falling of leaves from the tree. It describes, in some depth, the emotional black hole that is felt when your offspring leave for pastures new, and ends with the circular nature of the whole process – the pain is compounded in the knowledge that their own sons and daughters will experience this anguish. Throughout the rest of the album, Hammill questions himself as either being too wrapped up in himself, her being too wrapped in herself, the whole world being to fault (so why shouldn't he be like that too?)... As I said, the whole subject matter of the album only resonates within you if you have had feelings at least similar to that which is echoed here. If you do, the lyrics take on an unprecedented power and attack, once described by Fish (who we'll come to later) as "a real album to slit your wrists to". It is grim stuff. The last track concerns some sort of a resolution 'Lost and Found' in that he loses his girl but finds himself once again, capable for another start. Unsure whether it will work out, but capable. The album's sound is a sparse affair, the violin overwhelmingly present and also sounds somewhat fitting for the bloodletting we bear witness to, it's wailing and screeching ratcheting up the anguish factor tenfold. It also peculiarly matches Hammill's voice, and it is no surprise it found a home on VDG's (the generator was dropped to illustrate the departure of two members) next album. This is an album to listen to sparingly, because not only will it depress you to the point of throwing open the curtains and diving out of the window, but also because it is such a desolate affair you will rarely put it on for enjoyment of only the music. But experience it you must, if only to recognise certain parts of yourself in the simplistic but heartfelt lyrics.

VDG, now lacking sax and organ, took upon a bass player who'd been kicking around with the band in their earlier incarnation (Nic Potter) and violinist Gordon stayed on. What was produced was a distinctly fresh sounding VDG, different in style AND substance but still an enjoyable listen. Divided into two sections, their album 'The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome' was a side of quiet piano driven tracks and a side of white–knuckle screechers. The Quiet Zone is absolutely superb – 'The Siren Song', again familiar Hammill territory of forbidden attraction (this time for his own sake, fearing he disappears under the weight of her allure), has some fantastically delicate and nuanced playing. 'The Last Frame' is about the stolen moment hoarded by a person who took a photograph of his one–time lover in a compromising position, and sits in the dark room obsessing over it, his last piece of her, something to call his own. Fish later turned this on its head with 'Incubus', putting a much more malevolent spin on it, but this song is a much more innocent affair – it is simply a man yearning for a period of time in which he was happy with his partner, the photograph as infused with his memories as it is with the image of her in the bath. It's somewhat perverse from the standpoint that once the woman has left he has no right to still hoard images of her in a compromising position (or indeed, any position), and it is unhealthy for him to do so in the context of future relationships, but it ends with the sober note that he 'only has a negative' of her – his lasting impression is not one of joyousness, but instead of bitter regret, and from that comes possible resolution. The Pleasure Dome, by contrast, is a mixed bag. It arrives in some style with the absolutely phenomenal 'Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (Running)' about a man trying to score some drugs in the middle of the night. Not a particularly profound lyric, but it absolutely belts along, the fastest track VDG in any of their forms have produced. It definitely reflects the more stripped down sound that the new VDG were experimenting with, perhaps with a view towards playing live, and conjures the panic of a drug starved supply run down the back alleys, "getting to the bottom before I can get to the top" (high) with all the immediacy required of it. 'Chemical World' skirts the same issue, only the more widespread use of drugs in various different arenas, from the boardroom to the farm, and examining exactly why it is wrong in the face of a transient existence, an ultimately futile cartwheel on this plane. What's wrong with it, it's just a bit of fun, we hear, ultimately to have it blow up in your face. Think of the future, no matter how distant it seems, seems to be the moral of the story – dependency is never a good thing, and you'll never shake the future, you'll always have the comedown, you'll always have the weakness that follows the strength. "It doesn't last…" is the parting shot, in deference for something, anything, that possibly could.


Music III

That takes us to the late ‘70s. But one group I have failed to mention so far are frequently cited as the single most viable candidate for molding the template that all other progressive rock bands 'should' be cut out of, but are in fact what I consider to be art rock in approach and execution, particularly, late in their career. I am of course referring to Pink Floyd, who grew out of the psychedelia of the late 60s with their original front man, Syd Barrett. Syd is revered by some as some sort of a lost musical prophet snatched from us too early by the ravages of substance abuse. Syd was a pioneer with a keen eye for musical experimentation, and had a unique sensibility for creating moods within the pieces he commandeered, but ultimately nothing remarkable outside of being one of the first to take such experimentation and marry it with an accessible and unique live sound. His lyrics, somewhat child like in their composition and reflective of a dream–like state of consciousness, like some soft focus romp through a field in the middle of a baking hot summer, are intriguing but ultimately vacuous. Syd's work when compared to that of Roger's later lyrical masterpieces is like that of a street mime compared with an actor – they're a spectacle to behold, but ultimately paper thin and lack the depth and emotional insight that Roger's carry. Should you be looking to learn something about yourself, you'll find nothing in Syd's lyrics to help you, only another man's fantasies. Some people like that. I don't. Syd was a reputedly handsome man, and retains to this day a cult of personality that surrounds him. Syd suffered a mental breakdown largely due to his drug intake and as a result crashed out of Pink Floyd labelled 'schizophrenic' by his band mates (a professional opinion on this, however, is not particularly forthcoming). People still apparently chase Syd down, now going by the name given to him at birth, Roger, and badger him, pester him, some even stealing things from his home. These are the people who revere the man supposedly as a genius but like the clarity of thought to recognise that he is no longer who he was in his 'heyday' and their relentless haranguing of him can only exacerbate his condition. In any case, when Syd was about to leave, Gilmour stepped in to provide assistance and the core of Pink Floyd, as it existed for the majority of its most productive era, was now crystallised. Roger Waters, bassist and creative genius, Dave Gilmour, a supremely talented lead guitarist with a uniquely melodic voice with Rick Wright on keyboards and Nick Mason on drums. The band was sharply divided into what Roger called 'the musicians and the architects'. Roger and Nick were the architects, interested in concept, design and a creative vision for the band, Dave and Rick occupying the supposedly higher ground within the band as those actually responsible for producing something people would willingly listen to. The power struggle was one that would ultimately tear the band apart later on in their career, but for the precious few albums in which they operated as a unit, they produced some of the most enduring and well respected works in progressive rock, if not the best. In fact, it was such internal conflict that prompted Roger to pen the group's best work, 'The Wall'. Roger's lyrics had become increasingly personal as his tenure with the band evolved – they also became much more powerful and profound. While many cite 'Dark Side of the Moon' as the band's best effort (and in terms of instrumentation, it undoubtedly is), as a concept it is decidedly half baked. An attempt to condense everything that is important to humanity in a continuous piece, it suffers from nebulous lyrics and glib one–liners about the apparently sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in every day. The utterly drab and mundane lyrics serve to highlight the futility of lives spent chasing an all manner of worthless causes, and the depressing circularity of the album (indicated by the continuous heartbeat that fades out in time to how it fades in) leaves one feeling mentally exhausted by the apparent inability we have, as a collective, to break this inevitable cycle, a Nietzschean endless repetition, where possibility is defined as the consideration of contingencies that we could never know to materialize with certainty (being located in the future), but yet is contained (as it has to be) in our (only) reality as it exists now. The uncertainty rises out of the fact that to consider possibility is not to ponder a series of alternate realities or dimensions that spring forth from our point in time, but to consider the probability of a number of courses of action that seem most likely based on our limited understanding of the variables that comprise our own. In this sense, there is only one reality and possibility is a human construct, there being only a limited number of eventual states of affairs that will, eventually, repeat. Such worriment arises not from the lyrics, however, but mostly due to the instrumentation, the subtle use of sound effects and positional audio, which create a compelling and frighteningly desolate soundscape to inhabit. It's an enjoyable but ultimately hollow listen, pleasing to the ear but ultimately lacking in anything other than to question the nonsense we expose ourselves to everyday. If you need something like Dark Side to provide you with that, you're in trouble my friend. It should serve as a catalyst, a tantalising glimpse of the heights Floyd would reach while occupying the almost tailor made mode of presentation of the concept album. Roger now wrote in exclusively conceptual terms, producing pieces with an overriding creative direction. Each album from Dark Side onwards is a statement to be taken in its entirety, listened to in its entirety, and appreciated as a piece of expression over and above the mere act of slipping on your headphones and shutting your eyes. Roger has maintained that his goal is not to tell people 'the way it is' but make them question 'why it is', or rather, 'why they think it is'. For Roger, the message is what is most important. For David, it is solely about making something people can nod their heads to. It was this marrying of musical appreciation and creative endeavour that made the Floyd's later efforts compelling. Roger turned his spotlight on the music industry, 'the biz' with 'Wish You Were Here', a fiercely critical account of how Syd's loss was the music industry's gain, about how the crowd numbers meant more than their creative vision, about how ticket sales and merchandising were a higher priority than concept and ingenuity. Money versus vision. As the band got more and more successful, Roger felt further and further alienated from both the music he was producing in Floyd and people in general, leading to the pessimistic nightmare of humanity in 'Animals', a clear precursor to the paranoia and isolation evoked from 'The Wall' (which I'll come to a second). Floyd were innovating in this period, their use of synthesisers on both 'Animals' and 'Wish' – especially on 'Welcome to the Machine', contributing to yet another starkly mechanical and cold soundscape, evoking the detachment and production line like efficiency of 'the biz' as a financial endeavour – should the mood be called.

It is with 'The Wall', though, that Roger reached his creative peak (this was also the period in which 'Pros and Cons…' was written, incidentally). Presenting the band with his two concepts, who chose 'The Wall', Roger had created the story of Pink, a rock star whose success and succession of traumatic experiences throughout his life had contributed to a feeling of isolation, alienation and of fascistic hatred – obviously somewhat autobiographical for Waters, who at the zenith of Floyd's popularity, while on the Animals tour, had spat in the face of an errant fan who had evidently arrived to be part of the experience of 'going to a show' rather than to come and appreciate the music that was to be played for them. Some of Roger's stage rants, recorded for posterity on bootlegs, from this period are grimly hilarious – he is obviously exasperated with the size of the crowds arriving to listen to them, some setting off fireworks in the colossal arenas they were occupying, others whooping, whistling and hollering throughout the quieter numbers. Throughout the album we follow Pink through his childhood at the hands of an absent father (who died in WW2, something which would come to obsess Waters but also lead to his best material) an overbearing and domineering mother, a school whose sole purpose was to grind out faceless, productive members of the economy, staffed with sadistic and ultimately very frightened weak men who preyed on children – to his dalliance with the opposite sex in fleeting and transitive sexual encounters, ultimately 'settling down' with a wife whose lack of attention due to the music and sheer neurosis at being ignored commit her to a number of affairs – to which Pink discovers when he hears a man answer the phone while calling from abroad before a show (again, this apparently happened to Roger). Pink retaliates with the ensnaring of a groupie but struck with her apparent lack of intelligence and the futility of revenge (and the worthlessness of what he has amassed for himself in his hotel room), goes semi–comatose before unleashing a room trashing rage. Such desperation makes him yearn for his absent wife, as somebody who can prop up his ailing and rapidly deteriorating mental state (even if it means treating her in a decidedly ungentlemanly fashion). Desperation soon turns to resolve in the shape of severing any and all forms of human contact, a protest towards all the rough treatment he has received at the hands of those supposedly closest to him (although he feels no recrimination for his own actions), and attempts to block himself off from the rest of society by finishing construction of 'the wall', saying goodbye to the world, each brick donated by the experiences that constitute his withdrawal.

With the wall in place, Pink reflects on his condition, he's adrift, unreachable and completely alone. In erecting his mental barrier towards other people, he can't reach out just as they cannot reach in. Such isolation leads Pink to generate an unfavourable opinion of others, for them to be used and to be abused, and he generates a fascistic following to the tune of his music, harassing minorities and commanding a mindless following swayed by his charismatic stage presence. Drunk on power, he nearly goes overboard in commanding his army of fans to commit terrible deeds against the people by whom his 'injustices' were perpetrated, only to stop and recognise at the very last second that this person, this jackbooted leather clad dictator, is not him, is not what his music should be about and that he needs to examine whether the course of action leading up to this isolation were everybody else's fault or also somewhat of his own doing. What follows is the trial, his own internal trial, in which Pink attempts to determine whether or not he himself was 'guilty all this time' – of hurting others, of hurting himself. All the characters who made an impression on his life return to parade in front of him, to give their twisted and embittered opinions of him. Again, this is all Pink's construction, and the judgment he receives at the hands of himself is the harshest he could receive – the wall is to be torn down, Pink is to be exposed before his peers, and the healing can begin, because it is apparently only in the exposure to others that we can work together to overcome our problems. Pink's problem, it turns out, was his propensity to let himself be browbeaten, taken aback into himself by a series of admittedly unfortunate events that were beyond his control in so far as his capacity to deal with them was severely retarded. What he learns, instead, is to seek to understand and communicate rather than block out and ignore. The wall as a piece of music is far from perfection – this is an album whose production was not only blighted with internal difficulty but there is quite obviously not enough quality music to span the entire double album. While the album feels like a conceptual piece as far as the repetition of certain themes and the use of identical instrumentation provides it with a sense of continuity, tracks such as ‘Nobody Home’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ highlight the compositional skills the Floyd were capable of, if not producing on every track. ‘The Wall’, however, can be forgiven on the grounds of musical competence precisely because it achieved something no other Floyd album has either before or since – it was one truly holistic endeavour, a combination of album, stage show and film. The story of Pink, as a stage show, was one of the most ambitious and infamous spectacles attempted in rock history – Roger Waters enlisted the services of a multitude of experienced set designers and visual artists to construct the visual aspect of the music. The simply jaw–dropping addition of Gerald Scarfe’s work, now so iconic in discussion of ‘The Wall’, lends the album an immediately recognisable face. Scarfe’s work of perversely deformed and disproportioned freaks representing the cast of characters is both ultimately comedic but also unhinged in its depiction – there could not have been a better series of images to accompany the album, each of their most undesirable characteristics grossly magnified, reflecting the warping of Pink’s perception as he sees in them only the bad. I have some caricatures I drew of my teachers at school that were obvious attempts at replicating the Scarfe style. I loved ‘The Wall’ as I breached my teens, something that in retrospect is entirely unsurprising, and I still haven’t grown out of it (as if I should!). I used to rant to my classmates all the time about ‘The Wall’, my best friend at the time Tom was much more interested in Mike Oldfield, the silly fool.

The show itself, as is now infamous, included the building of the wall, constructed out of huge white bricks, which would reach completion at the end of ‘Goodbye Cruel World’. The band, as a unit, would be playing behind it to demonstrate the acute disconnection Roger/Pink felt from his audience, although there were certain visual distractions throughout to keep the audience amused (Gilmour appearing on top of the wall for the ‘Comfortably Numb’ solo, Roger appearing as the fascist Pink to scream and rant at the audience in hackneyed German accent before ‘In The Flesh’, huge inflatable puppets based on Scarfe’s designs, animations by Scarfe projected on the wall etc.). The climax of the show would result in the wall’s downfall, the entirety of its bricks tumbling towards the stage. From here, the band would emerge, and finish the album with ‘Outside the Wall’. The whole show was like nothing before – nobody had attempted to represent their lyrics and music on such a scale like the Floyd did. All this theatricality came at a price, though – the feeling of disconnection intensified to such a point that not only were the band not talking to their audience outside of playing with their representation of themselves (and it was doubtful whether or not the vast majority of their audience were listening), they were not talking to each other. Pink Floyd as even a barely functioning recording unit imploded at this point. While Roger escaped to tackle production of a wall centric movie with director Alan Parker (an effort that ranks as more of an assault on the senses with a cavalcade of arresting images rather than an attempt at teasing out the nuances in Pink’s narrative), Wright’s drug addiction wrote him off as a creative talent, and Mason’s drumming suddenly became completely inadequate for what Roger wanted to achieve, Mason being unable to tackle polyrhythmic sections that Roger wanted to make extensive use of. Wright was kicked out, Mason paid as a session musician, and Roger took entire creative control of Floyd (even though he had it in all but name anyway). This was Roger’s ship now, and the crew were a group of talented musicians not strictly limited to the members of the Floyd of old. Gilmour simply put up and shut up, although he was getting increasingly fed up with Roger’s behaviour. This should have spelled disaster for the group, but not before Roger unleashed an album that ranks among the Floyd’s best, and contains some of their most captivating work, if not entirely a product of what many consider to be the definitive Pink Floyd line up.

‘The Final Cut’ concerns Roger’s lament for the death of the post–war dream. Written on the turn of decade leading into the 1980s, this is Roger rallying against (at that point possibly) Thatcher’s Britain, a Britain which betrayed the optimistic hopes and dreams of a benevolent post–war society. It is ultimately a very depressing and hopeless album primarily because it affords no sympathy towards the state of affairs we enjoy now, whose inevitable conclusion is self–destruction in the shape of nuclear apocalypse. The death of Roger’s father, at Anzio in WW2, is the main creative driving force for the album. It is his sacrifice for a better world, a world which never materialised due to the machinations of power–hoarding ‘powers that be’, that Roger finds so difficult to reconcile – that his father’s death could have been for nought. It is obvious that Roger feels his father was stolen from him by authorities capable of sending him to his death, and that his demise could quite easily have been avoided if we lived in a world where co–operation supersedes the threat of hammering the big red button. Across ‘The Final Cut’, we are treated to the now familiar staple of sound effects, a cavalcade of positional trickery (this being one of the first albums to adopt holophonic technology) and voice acting to provide us with a seamless aural world in which to explore. It IS a concept album, each track being intimately related to the last in so far as they all concern, in some way, the post war dream being betrayed in some capacity. Roger had obviously been studying war poetry as he evokes Rupert Brooks’ work in one of his most touching lyrics, ‘The Gunner’s Dream’, about the dying words of an English airman floating to Earth, to meet his death, in “the corner of some foreign field”. Relayed to the veteran from whose perspective we are reminiscing, it is a simplistic dream in so far as it simply wishes for a world in which people can live comfortably without fear of reprisal – which is neatly juxtaposed with the idle militaristic ambition of ‘One of the Few’, and the jaunty ‘Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert’. What Roger perceives is a disconnection between the attitudes and ideals of the average soldier, which his father was, and the authorities commanding these young men to their deaths. For Roger, the men on the ground simply want a better world, the men in the bunkers instead thinking only of strategic advantage and war as tactical conquest instead of having some reason or cause. People remain ignorant to this by being bombarded with war as entertainment and an international competitive soap opera played out on the world stage (something his later album ‘Amused to Death’ was based around), along with various other supposedly more pressing short term concerns, like a nice house and car, that unmissable new TV show or keeping your senses appropriately dulled, all knowingly perpetrated by a power hoarding minority. We are encouraged to think of the foreigner as ‘the enemy’, the market forces dictating trade in so far as generating the impression that our ability to compete with them rests upon the effort of the workers, a neat ploy to increase productivity at the expense of having any believability, a systematic illusion. All of this runs concurrent to the story of a veteran struggling to deal with the traumatic experiences he suffered at the hands of war, the inhumanity he bore witness to, and his own feelings of betrayal – he is unable to reintegrate himself into society now having had the experience he possesses and the memories he cannot bury. The album ends with the aforementioned nuclear apocalypse (which he would later employ again, or rather the illusion thereof, on ‘Radio Kaos’), and with one his very finest lyrics – “Finally I understand the feelings of the few. Ashes and diamonds, Foe and friend, We were all equal in the end.”

The album was never toured with, although a video EP exists. With the miracle of modern technology, you can stream this with QuickTime from www.pinkfloyd.co.uk – it was directed by Roger’s brother–in–law, and is obviously low budget and amateurish, but it is nice to have some images aside from the album cover to help illustrate what Roger was trying to achieve – plus you notice a few parallels with 'The Wall' movie. ‘The Final Cut’ is art rock – it is decidedly unprogressive, a complete contrast to ‘Dark Side’. Instrumentally, it contains the work of the late, great Michael Kamen on piano, a remarkable talent who Roger was later to incorporate into his solo band, and the talented and dynamic drummer Andy Newmark, whose difference in style is immediately noticeable on the tracks he plays rather than Floyd member Mason. Gilmour’s guitar work, despite his lack of enthusiasm for the album (apparently his father was enraged by Roger’s berating of ‘Maggie’), is sparingly used but when it is, he pulls out some of the finest displays of musicianship in the whole of Floyd’s back catalogue. His solo in ‘Fletcher Memorial Home’ is expertly judged, possessing a unique correspondence with the tone of the track, something Gilmour seems to be able to achieve without even breaking a sweat, even if he cannot create such tones in the first instance. BUT! Pink Floyd disintegrated. While their last work may be one of their greatest, it was not produced by the same Pink Floyd of ‘Dark Side’, or even ‘The Wall’. Pink Floyd as a band had ceased to exist. Roger wanted to exfiltrate and begin working on ‘Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking’, the project he wrote at the same time as ‘The Wall’, and Gilmour had a solo album (his second at that point) working its way through the studio. Suffice to say, Gilmour’s solo album ‘About Face’ is shockingly bad, containing none of the lyrical genius or musical direction that gave his solos such power and significance. His playing on it is so–so, but it’s difficult to appreciate any of his talent when it is being put to waste. Roger wanted to dissolve the Pink Floyd brand and deny anybody the right to use it – as far as he was concerned, the Floyd was dead. Gilmour (perhaps as a result of his solo tour following ‘About Face’ performing nowhere near as well as expected) instead attempted to resurrect the name. But I’ll go into that later.


Music IV

When Peter Gabriel left Genesis, he did so with the excuse of leaving to spend time with his family and tend his garden, not wishing to be “anchored to the footlights”. In reality, he was back in the studio within three months of finishing the Lamb Lies tour, laying down some demos (which recently surfaced, having been found in the burned out warehouse of a record company that ceased trading 30 years ago, on dusty tape under a lead sheet!). As a solo artist, Gabriel is a completely different animal to that of his Genesis days. Each of his albums is self–titled, the intention being to provide a ‘magazine’ style program of releases, in which the musical style changes along with Gabriel’s image and direction. The first album (‘Peter Gabriel I, known as ‘car’ due to the Storm Thorgeson/Hipgnosis designed cover) was intended to be a piano–driven Randy Newman take off, just Peter and his piano, a deliberate contrast to the theatricality and bombast of his Genesis days. This was Peter’s attempt to reinvent himself as the Hindenburg of prog started to crash and burn, as a pared down performer of heartfelt compositions. The introduction of producer Bob Ezrin, no stranger to the production of densely layered and highly symphonic albums (he did produce ‘The Wall’, after all) completely changed all that. Peter was encouraged to deepen his sound a little more, and as a result several session musicians joined the ranks – including long–time collaborators and members of his touring band – world famous bassist Tony Levin, drummer Jerry Marrotta and Mr. Synergy himself, Larry Fast on synthesizers. On guitar, none other than the legendary Robert Fripp, of King Crimson fame. Fripp’s inimitable brand of ‘Frippertronics’ (a relatively unique variety of sounds he could force out of his instrument) lend the album a canonical charm, but also a more familiar sound for those accustomed with progressive rock in general. With these elements in place, Peter’s more simplistic compositions were developed into more fully realized pieces, still much more basic than anything Genesis ever attempted, but had much more instrumentation than Peter originally envisioned. Out of this approach, the first track, ‘Moribund the Burgermeister’ was developed. This is one of the last evident traces of the Genesis writing style that garnered him so much press attention in the early 70s – a fanciful piece involving multiple characters, some comedic voice acting and touch of menace. It has always remained something of a mystery as to what Moribund is about precisely, but it is set in medieval Germany, concerns the master of the burg Moribund’s incredulity at being unable to handle a plague, a disease that is causing hallucinations for his village folk, sealing off the castle grounds to contain the spread. He has absolutely no idea, nor do any of his advisors, as to the nature of what is affecting his populace. It is this confusion and ascription of the plague’s cause to numerous supernatural factors, including attempts to deal with it in a variety of increasingly desperate spiritual means, that characterize the panic of having something you know little about, causing lots of damage to everything around you and what you hold dear, and trying to neutralize the threat with very little idea as to how. It is fearful ignorance, and ends with Moribund himself becoming affected by the plague, hallucinating, somehow invoking his mother in his chants of ‘I will find out’, perhaps indicating the roots of his control freakery, driven wild by seeing his neatly ordered plot of responsibility decimated. What the plague actually IS remains a mystery, although a likely candidate is the poisoning of the wheat crop (which should raise the eyebrows of any LSD users). The instrumentation on Moribund is heavily synthesized, and sounds the closest to anything Genesis did, being the most symphonic track present, although it completely lacks any of the meandering that characterized a typical PG–era Genesis track. The track that follows, ‘Solsbury Hill’, is perhaps PG’s most famous track apart from his ’86 output (and if you’ve seen ANY romantic comedy in the last 3 years it will invariably be on the soundtrack). Concerning his departure from Genesis, the track is a neat little acoustically charged ditty that revolves around an upbeat melody, the most conventional song PG has ever penned, although the lyrics are deliberate opaque as to avoid offence – concerning inspiration to move on rather than displeasure that made his position untenable. It did well in the charts upon release, finding favour with the British public. PG I contains two more tracks of note – the first, Humdrum, is perhaps my favourite song of his. About the birth of his daughter, it has the seemingly miraculous life changing event of witnessing the emergence of something as wonderful as a new born child juxtaposed against the banality of everyday existence. The opening couple of verses are supposed to illustrate the same sort of sentiment ‘Not Now John’ got close to – that of submerging yourself in middle–of–the–road ordinariness, one day to the next, never seeing anything in the context of something greater. The revelation arrives as the track takes off – a wonderful wave of synthesizers rises out of the polka rhythm and we’re riding high, suddenly everything seems bathed in a new light, a new significance. PG’s voice drops an octave and booms out his epiphany. The track ends with a pet name for his little miracle – “My little liebe schoen" – a touching sentiment.

The last track is ‘Here Comes the Flood’, a live staple that has remained in his set for the entirety of his solo career (as has Solsbury Hill). Concerning the breaking down of physical boundaries, the instrumentality of humanity joined in a single wave, joining in a brotherhood. Obviously not literally a tidal wave, it explores the notion of tearing down boundaries, real or otherwise, overcoming fear with trust, something that PG explores extensively in his ensuing albums. The instrumentation of this track PG was apparently most unhappy with, as he thought Ezrin’s inclusion of an orchestra (not to mention Fripp’s noodling at the start of the track) detracted from the simple power and charm of piano and voice – it felt a little disingenuous. There’s an absolutely amazing performance of this track from Kate Bush’s 1979 Christmas special available here; – played here exactly as it should have sounded on the album. It’s a remarkably powerful track, precisely because of the raw honesty with which it is performed. PG toured this album in a variety of small concert halls across America – some of the venues were so tiny the performances were given a uniquely personal quality. PG appeared in a grey tracksuit and trainers – not a trace of the outfits that characterized his stage persona of old. Here he was, behind a piano, with his tour group, entertaining in a much more restrained manner, playing no Genesis tracks (apart from the encore where PG would run on in his Rael leather jacket and jump and scream about for 5 minutes) and boosting his set with a few old rockers. The two tours of 1977 (one of which Fripp came along on under a pseudonym) have largely the same set list but also a couple of tracks that never ended up on vinyl – both of which (‘Why don’t we?’ and ‘A Song Without Words’) are much in line with his piano-and-voice persona. These were abandoned when he moved in his next direction for PG II (known as ‘Scratch’), which was a much more harder sounding affair, PG trying out some latent punk aggression. Fripp stayed on and so did the majority of his session (and now live group) musicians. Fripp produced – and he made a real pig’s ear of it. In order to capture some sort of excitement and electricity about the performance, Fripp wanted to use the first take of every vocal recording attempt. The results are scrappy and unrefined. The opener, ‘On The Air’, about the short wave radio loving ‘Mozo’ (a character who appeared on PG I albeit briefly and also appears later on a few other albums, although not name-checked specifically) who resides in a dump but lives a fantasy life over the bands at night, chatting away with his community of misfits, finding the acceptance he is refused on the street. It’s a lively rocker, much faster than anything on PG I. This album is largely ignored by PG nowadays as he doesn’t consider it his finest – there are however some real highlights here, the scrappy production taking the shine off most of the diamonds in the rough (something the recent re-mastering rectified to a certain extent); some of the best tracks of his career, in fact. Each track could have been so much more – ‘D.I.Y,’ is completely toothless without an electric arrangement, any attack it might have once possessed softened with an acoustic set (and seeing as how DIY was meant to be the single, such a choice makes you wonder whether it was meant to replicate the success of ‘Solsbury Hill’). ‘Mother of Violence’, a lullaby composed by Peter and his wife, set to lyrics examining the relationship between distrust and physically lashing out, is a chilling affair but only found its voice live – Peter would wail like a kid with a grazed knee over the song’s final passage, curled up in a ball, which doesn’t sound particularly impressive on paper, but in performance it is immediately enthralling (especially as it is one of the quieter numbers on the tour). On the vinyl, though, it is too static, and the protest rock of ‘Perspective’ and ‘Animal Magic’ are too hackneyed and clichéd to be seen as anything other than a failed experiment in trying to capture the punk zeitgeist. The highlights are the more instrumental affairs – ‘White Shadow’ (which I again suspect is about his daughter’s birth) is an electronic nightmare (Larry Fast finally taking a more decisive role in proceedings) and ‘Indigo’ is Peter’s ‘Old Man River’, a reverent and expectant ballad about a man on his deathbed, weighing up the pros and cons of his life and what he might expect when he makes the journey over the Indigo, the dark river. Never performed live (although ‘A Song Without Words’ was ‘Indigo’ in a prototype stage). The closer, ‘Home Sweet Home’, used to be a favourite of mine but now I can’t imagine why – it seems a little overwrought and PG’s vocal is a little too loose (probably a symptom of the ‘one take’ rule). The live show is completely different. One of PG’s most lively and physical shows, now sporting a shaved head to fit in with his punk persona, he and his band arrived on stage in fluorescent vests and protective gloves, and screamed through a set that combined the best of his current album and the highlights of PG I. PG roughened up his voice on this tour, screamed a lot his louder numbers, and ran around like a man posssessed. While not part of the main set, here’s a video of PG performing ‘Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ as an encore from a 1978 German TV broadcast (Rockpalast, if that sounds familiar to you) and note the energy the man has. While certainly not the best rendition of the track available, it is simply amazing to see him inhabit the character of Rael to such an extent.

PG II was not very successful, perhaps as a result of its awkward mixture of punk sensibilities and the quieter more developed numbers typical of PG – the harder edge was not sitting right with the more reticent compositions. PG’s response was to marry his instrumentalism with something other than raw aggression. Instead, he developed a more rhythmic approach, composing tracks not around the piano and chord structures, but drum patterns (Peter having played the drums in his youth). The result was ‘the’ Peter Gabriel sound – Peter’s compositions from this point onwards bear the hallmark of this different approach. PG III (‘melt’) is, again, a different approach and a different Peter. From raw aggression we move to insular paranoia – this is an album of insecurity and astringency. The opener, ‘Intruder’, (utilizing the gated reverb drum technique long before Phil Collins used it on ‘In the Air Tonight’ – although ironically it IS Phil playing the drums on this track!) about a pervert breaking into the homes of women and revealing his presence to bask in their fear, sets the tone for an album whose subject matter is much more frightening than his other two productions. The nonchalance of the whistle at the end as the track closes out is an especially nice touch. Peter’s voice is also refreshingly dynamic here, from bellows, whispers to screams – something he would play with more on PG IV. There isn’t one bad track here, from the tactile use of marimbas to illustrate a fragile equilibrium of mental stability on ‘No Self Control’ (with some delightful backing by Kate Bush) to the clueless defence of ‘I Don’t Remember’ (which is expertly segued into from the instrumental preceding it, ‘Start’), which steams ahead at a panicked, rushed pace, each line an attack. Perhaps the best track is ‘Family Snapshot’, based on the diary of Arthur Bremner, a neglected child whose fascination with fame and adulation led him to take a potshot at a governor, timed to coincide with the evening news, in order to generate maximum coverage. Mixed with some images of Dallas, the track is a wonderfully expressive piece, once the shot is fired it becomes simply piano and voice, PG inhabits the world of a quiet and ignored child, pleading for some attention from his family. It is a little bit unsubtle in how it illustrates that childhood episodes can shape our adulthood (“Where’s my toy gun?” – something PG later apologized for as being too simplistic), but it remains stirring. PG charted well again with ‘Games Without Frontiers’, a song about how international leaders supposedly behave in a childish manner, evoking images of ‘It’s a Knockout’ like lunacy, but the success of the track is largely dependent on the hypnotic Kate Bush backing vocal and the largely electronic arrangement. Another highlight is the largely instrumental ‘Lead a Normal Life’, about the visitation of a relative (possibly) in a mental institution. We’re in the realm of ‘One Flew Over…’ here, as there’s a somewhat sinister calm to the whole affair, which gives way to the depths of insanity lying just beneath the bleached floor and starched sheet order. The last track, ‘Biko’, is PG’s protest song about the death of African civil rights leader Stephen Biko. A good lyric, and a good arrangement (including bagpipes!), make this song favourable, but it is what PG manages with his voice that sets this track apart. As with the following album, he became obsessed with using his voice as a more expressive instrument. ‘Biko’ features Peter’s now infamous wailing, a call to unite, an impassioned plea for justice. PG closes on a cautiously optimistic note, compared to the unhinged lunacy of ‘Intruder’ – but the tone is overwhelmingly one of menace.

The album was a success and the live show featured almost all of the tracks from it. There is also a German language version of this album that is well worth seeking out as evidently PG doesn’t speak German, but even if you can’t understand him you will get great enjoyment out of how he chooses to wrap his vocals around words from another language. If you CAN speak German (and the language on the album is relatively simplistic), it makes for some fantastic listening. Thankfully my fragile competence with the language allows me to understand about 80% of what he means (although I know the lyrics in English like the back of my hand anyway). Live, PG was this time dressed in black tracksuits, and the tour was named the ‘China 1984 tour’ (despite taking place in late 1980!) – so called because of the rush musicians engaged in to be the first to tour China in the early 80s. Peter thought he’d beat them all by doing it four years early in England. PG was again shaven headed, but added subtle black eye shadow, to make him appear pallid and lacking sleep – the perfect image for an introspective paranoiac. Playing with the band as support were a group called Random Hold, whose guitarist (David Rhodes) Peter was interested in poaching – so he invited them along. The wily bugger soon had David in the studio. The opening of the show, always ‘Intruder’, involved Peter coming through the back of the auditorium, tapping people on the shoulder and squeezing through to the stage, intruding his way through unexpectedly. Sometimes he would get caught in a net of fans and it would take him an extended period to reach the stage – ‘Intruder’ is a four minute track but there are some versions stretching to ten minutes as he struggled to breach the stage (and feature some very creative drumming by Jerry Marrotta). Footage of this tour is unbelievably scarce (I myself having only acquired it recently) and of staggeringly poor quality. But to see the show in motion is worth a thousand words. Peter doesn’t really make use of lighting trickery or special effects on tour (in contrast to nowadays), instead preferring to use his physicality as a spectacle, throwing himself around with abandon. It’s worth it just to ask yourself the question of how he sings when he surely must be struggling for breath. Plus this show marked the debut of ‘Milgram’s 37’ as a live track, something which I’ll explore later on when it appeared on vinyl in ’86. Suffice to say, Peter would occasionally perform the track, getting the audience to sing for him with no explanation as to what the song entailed, or provide long and detailed explanations (sometimes in the language of the country in which he was performing) about the nature of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment prior to his performance. On this tour, it is a joy to hear. Post tour, Peter retreated to his studio in Ashcombe house (‘Shabby Road’) to record some new material – an album which would become his defining moment as a solo artist.

Pairing up with Hammill collaborator David Lord to produce, PG IV (‘Security’ in the US as the record company pressured him for a title – he put a sticker on the cover with the words ‘security’, a joke at the expense of the execs as the sticker was nothing more than for their comfort!) is a concept album. In instrumentation, in lyrics, in approach. When I say instrumentation, I do not mean that the album somehow has continuous pieces that flow as one, but that the entire choice of which instruments to use and their marrying with electronic equipment is central to the kind of issues the tracks discuss. PG IV is largely about the contrast between the ideas of trust, communication and influence, coupled with their attachment to nature, enduring culture and ritual, and are explored in every one of the songs, the antagonism generated by the meeting of the two providing much of the album's power and insight. For example, the ‘Family and the Fishing Net’ explores the 'hidden' rituals performed within marriage ceremonies – a throwback to ancient rites, but retained, juxtaposed against modern convention. The theme is repeated in ‘San Jacinto’, where the titular mountain towers over the valley of golf courses, swimming pools and Frank Sinatras below, the mountain itself a symbol of the recession of Native American culture (it is the mountain the boy of the story has to get back down after being bitten by a snake in order to become a brave) being submerged in the mainstream Americana below. One of the over–arching themes of the album is that of the overtaking of the somewhat more naturalistic aspects of humanity (as Gabriel saw them) by other, more artificial and ironically man–made ideals – the album's first track is the most obvious juxtaposition of the two, detailing Jung's trip to Africa, ‘great white thinker’ who by being confronted with the impassioned dances of locals to hynoptic drumming, Jung unavoidably confronted his own nature, his own constitution as a man at its most base level – a look into his own soul – which profoundly disturbed him (and informed much of his writing on alchemy and the notion of a collective subconcious). The song's build–up and climax describe this encounter. I could go on but to do so would be overstating the case and may ruin some of the enjoyment a listener may get from seeing the connections in other songs! Yes, that is me on wikipedia. Peter made extensive use of some of the most cutting edge sampling technology, expensive pieces of equipment like the Fairlight CMI, and utilised some of the more recently developed studio techniques of the early 80s. In contrast to this, he based his songs around various third world drum patterns he had stolen (shamelessly!) from the radio or from documentaries he found. At the very heart of all the tracks is a drum beat of naturalistic intensity, driving the action, and at the surface all the modern day trickery and conventions associated with Western music–making at the time. It is this marrying of the two, the juxtaposition, that reflects the album’s overall concept. It is a fantastic achievement, PG actually achieving something genuinely groundbreaking by embracing such technology.

Again, there’s a German version of this album that is essential listening for any German speaking fan, and the live show of late ’82 and early ’83 (called ‘Playtime 1988’ – don’t ask) returned somewhat to the theatricality of Genesis. Peter clad himself in face paint once more (the iconic ‘Monkey Man’ getup) and a white jumpsuit (sometimes black) and produced yet more unbridled physicality while on stage. Interestingly, the rambling stories that accompanied his Genesis days returned – probably as a result of his involvement in setting up WOMAD, which led to a Genesis reunion (a one off). Before his album’s release, Peter premiered his album at a world music festival he had been putting together. The event was a failure (yet continues today!), and left him in a colossal amount of debt, so much so that threats on his life were made. He needed some easy money and recognised that many Genesis fans still hadn’t let go of the possiblity of him returning to his old bandmates, now enjoying great success of their own. Remaining friends, the old line up (apart from Steve Hackett) reconvened at Milton Keynes bowl for a one–off blast through the classics. All the old costumes reappeared, as did the stories and on stage antics. For one night, Gabriel–era Genesis lived again – even Hackett turned up at the last minute to play on the final track. It was probably this experience that led to Peter reclaiming many of his stage antics that he had long since abandoned for his solo tour – he even performed a stage dive during the climax of ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’, dropping back into the audience, arms outstretched, sumbitting himself to them (as the song is about (AGAIN!) trust and sacrifice) and emerging minutes later minus clothing and looking dishevelled – but exhilarated – becoming a part of the alchemy. This is my favourite period of Peter’s career, as this is just before his long hiatus from public performance, features his core band (who by now exhibit a tight and professional live sound) and also features a wide variety of material spanning his first four albums. There’s a live album of this tour from a number of shows in middle America, showcasing a fearlessness and passion that he would possess in only limited capacity afterwards. The ‘Humdrum’ (rarely performed on that tour) of this album is perhaps the best version available, Peter’s breathy “here we go…” before the track commences, a preparation for something spectacular. He really put everything into this extensive tour and while his vocals inevitably began to collapse by the end, his passion never dimmed and by all accounts, every show was memorable. Footage of this tour is only available illegally (as with all of PG’s tours prior to 1987) and all of relatively poor quality. The handicam video from the Liverpool Empire is fascinating, however. Peter commands the stage, prowling it with intensity, and you get a unique crowd’s–eye–view of his stage drop from ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’.


Music V

Peter dropped off the radar in 1984 and 1985, releasing a soundtrack album for Alan Parker’s ‘Birdy’ (composed of fragments from his first four albums and scant new material – an excellent listen if you would prefer a selection of moods minus vocals) but never emerging to play live. He slipped a couple of tracks onto movie soundtracks, both of which demonstrate something of a lack of creative direction and are of a curiously low quality. Evidently he was working towards something and was saving his best material for himself. The following period constitutes his break into the mainstream – Peter goes pop. This is largely considered to be the period in which he ‘sold out’. If we’re being generous, we might argue that his change in direction is consistent with his other changes in direction prior to this one, that since his musical direction changes with each release, the commercial PG is just another PG like the paranoid or the punk. If we’re being suspiscious, we might think that each of PG’s changes constitutes an attempt to pre–empt a musical trend, a David Bowie like chameleon who puts his ear to the ground of the music industry and intercepts the latest popular new movements, treating them with the kind of indifference and contempt to be used and then tossed aside when the next on occurs (throughout the 70s Bowie never claimed to be anything other than an entertainer though, existing for people’s amusement). However, it was always PG’s intention to reinvent himself with every album, his experience in Genesis making him unwilling to slave himself to one musical style or one type of performance for too long. Whatever your take on his behavior, it worked. ‘So’, his fifth solo effort, is a much more commercial affair, a nice handsome Peter Saville monochrome photo adorning the cover (the first time Peter hadn’t deformed his face in some capacity). The opener, ‘Red Rain’, is the early highlight – highly symphonic, there’s some fantastic keyboard work on this and the lyrics (about a dream PG had, showered in red rain, about the bottling up of guilt and lack of expression in his life, probably informed by his love of Jung) marry with a powerful vocal performance. What follows is Peter’s most commercial selection of tracks – ‘Sledgehammer’, a number one around the world with a revolutionary stop-motion music video (although you must SURELY have already seen this). Its success is due to its stax inspired brass section, and the almost subliminally sexually suggestive lyrics. Ask anybody who has heard Sledgehammer once or twice what it is about and they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you – but it is subtlely sexual. Nietzsche said that a good book should be a like an axe in a frozen lake – so a good fu… must be like a sledgehammer! Childish, I know. But it is unfathomable how somebody as obscure as Peter could just have a breakaway hit with relatively little promotion and a fairly unreamarkable stax riff without somehow having his track strike a perversely sexual chord! Peter’s voice is in good shape here, as evidenced on the depression–era despair and warm bath theory inspired ‘Don’t Give Up’, a duet with Kate Bush that also charted well… the lyrics have nowhere near the insight or power of his early works on most of these tracks, preferring almost cliched songwriting sensibilities… ‘In Your Eyes’, the love song (and the only one of his career up to that point) is relaxing to listen to if only for its marrying of a worldbeat to 80s pop but its lyrics are almost painful to cope with, they’re that bad. ‘Mercy Steet’, the Anne Sexton inspired mood piece fails on the grounds of wearing its influences too brazenly on its sleeve – Peter’s attempt to write in her style of prose and round off his album with some additional emotional depth contrasts in much the same way tracks like ‘White Shadow’ did with the punk pieces on PG II – they simply do not fit with his new direction, and he has to make a decision to jettison one aspect or the other for the album to feel like a cogent affair. ‘Milgram’s 37’ finally arrives here, and if you’ve ever studied psychology the name ‘Milgram’ should be infamous – his famous electroshock experiments in the mid 70s stunned the scientific community (and the world) into a horrified silence at the lengths to which ordinary citizens are willing to go to when commanded by figures of supposed authority – like administering fatal electric shocks. The vast majority of people involved in his tests obeyed despite knowing their victim (who was in reality a series of pre–recorded yelps) was in pain, they the teacher, he the student (as it was rigged). Even after his screams ceased and he became eerily silent, they still persisted in delivering the shocks. Peter’s treatment of the affair is a thumping, slow backbeat to the chants of ‘We do what we’re told’, the instrumentation being the most interesting thing about the track rather than any profound statement he had to make about what occurred, generating a mindless, hypnotic horror. Hammill, of course, weighed in with his criticism of the track as being ‘Kafka–like’, which makes you wonder which Kafka he was reading. The closer, ‘This is the Picture’, a collaboration with performance artist Laurie Anderson, is toe–stubbingly painful. It is symptomatic of the time, and as much as I like Laurie Anderson, I don’t like this as I cannot forgive Peter the grievous error of putting something so shamelessly and self–consciously ‘artsy’ on the end of an album of commercial pop – just as he wastes Milgram’s by sneaking it onto the album’s second half. It just doesn’t work, it lacks direction, and has no place with the rest of his work. As a collection of images set to music it is barely interesting, and as a performance piece in concert it is, frankly, boring.

The tour that followed, the ‘This Way Up’ tour, finds Peter with Manu Katche, Levin and Rhodes but also a much more synthesised and pop sound – many of his classic tracks were speeded up, up–tempo, and suffered from Katche’s urge to hit every single item on his drum kit in quick succession whenever a fill was required. Technically impressive, but ultimately makes some of the more rhythmic sections of his older tracks feel depressingly manhandled for the sake of providing a spectacle. Here’s some footage from his involvement with Amnesty International’s ‘Conspiracy of Hope’ benefit concert series; and as you can see, this is a much more restrained PG. Gone are the theatrics of PG IV and the monkeyman, we’re back to square one. Hammill’s output, by contrast, is much more obscure throughout the 80s. Hammill’s solo career relaunched after VDG imploded in late 1979, and he set out to record alone once again. Of his 80s music, two albums remain highlights. The first is ‘The Future Now’, a collection of shorter compositions with a sound somewhat akin to what PG was attempting around PG II, only quite a bit softer and a bit more electronic. It’s an album of unrelated tracks, each relatively catchy and a good introduction to Hammill’s other solo work. Accessible yet also comprehensive in the variety of sounds Hammill is capable of producing, you’re much more likely to like the album as a whole rather than some of his more patchy later efforts. In fact, almost all of Hammill’s albums as he set out into this new phase of his solo career are disappointingly patchy affairs, lacking the kind of overall quality that ‘In Camera’ or ‘Silent Corner’ possessed. There may only be one or two genuinely interesting tracks among lists of ten or eleven, and with Hammill releasing an album roughly every year and a half, he’s a prolific writer, and it is exhausting to have to sift through the masses of misses to find a hit. The ONLY album in which he recalled his earlier brilliance of the 70s in the 80s is ‘A Black Box’. Words cannot describe the immensity of this endeavour. Every instrument is performed by Hammill (even the drumming, at which he is insultingly crap), the album was produced by him, multi–tracked by him, the vocals added in his bathroom in the middle of an especially cold winter when the boiler broke. This may not sound like much but when you listen to the variety of sounds he produces, the plethora of moods and emotions recreated by just the one man, it is genuinely impressive. While Hammill’s voice has evidently suffered from years of self–abuse (undoubtedly the Godbluff tour must have taken it out of him – ‘Arrow’ must surely be harmful!), he still retains his range, just without the power. He doesn’t really need it in any case, as he is perfectly capable of using his lyrics in this instance to conjure up the images he requires. ‘A Black Box’ is a much more mature effort than, say, ‘Pawn Hearts’. The first half (side one on the vinyl) is a collection of moods, from the indignation of being given false hope by disingenuous governments selling promises of paradise (a sort of semi–sequel to the track ‘The Future Now’) in the guitar–driven ‘Golden Promises’, to the post–apocalyptic stroll through an atomised London borough in ‘Fogwalking’ (complete with processed horns to lend that otherworldly menace), to the acoustic–strum of ‘The Spirit’ (about locating the mind in a scientific cross–section of the body – a theme he comes back to on side two). Side two, by contrast, is dedicated to a twenty minute epic. Twenty minutes! Try not to slap your forehead in disgust because we’re not in for another rollercoaster of emotion like Plague (even though this is his first extended composition since Pawn Hearts). The ‘80s Hammill is nowhere near as overly dramatic as his ‘70s counterpart. ‘Flight’ is a much more impressive lyric than Plague, concerning how it is that we can make sense of how we command our bodies, what a conscious mind is constituted of, how it is that our senses are translated into thoughts that enable us to understand the world around ourselves, why such a thing occurs, just what is the black box recorder within us that allows this to happen – the esoteric! He encases all this within the metaphor of taking aircraft out for a flight, stalling under the pressure of such concerns, trying to ‘eject’ when nothing really seems to be nothing (careful…), questioning the ‘course’ of his flight (his fate, the notion of time passing, how he is encased within his aircraft and that all action he partakes in is the contingency of many many more factors laid down far in advance – that the spiral twist of DNA echoes the spiral twist of his aircraft), the uselessness of ‘knowledge’ if it cannot help you to ‘fly’ (i.e. it doesn’t inform your capability to live in a differing capacity to that which you experience currently) and ultimately accepting to just ‘get on with it’. Inspirational stuff, Peter.

Peter formed the ‘K band’, becoming ‘k’ (so who’s been reading Kafka, eh?) apparently representing the ‘constant unknown’ (yeah, right) and Guy Evans joined him back on drums, John Ellis on guitar (sometime collaborator of Peter Gabriel) and Nic Potter back on bass. Peter describes them as a ‘beat group’ but largely they’re a completely unsuitable sound for the album he just produced. Each track that goes through the filter of their assembled instruments sounds invariably the same, and their live efforts are an exercise in much enthusiasm (Peter dressed bizarrely in what looks like scrubs) but little accomplishment. That said, the ‘Modern’ of this period is very powerful, and commendable are their attempts at ‘Flight’ in a live arena. The sound is not terrible, just overwhelmingly homogenous and difficult to listen to for extended periods without losing concentration. As for the rest of the ‘80s output, it is either poppy electronica (‘In a Foreign Town’) completely experimental (‘Loops and Reels’) or lukewarm ballads. Hammill reached his solo creative peak with ‘A Black Box’ – it is the only one of his solo efforts that actually is pleasurable to listen to from start to finish. All of his other efforts are consistent only in their inconsistency. But Hammill had a double in the ‘80s doing all his hard work for him (of a fashion). A great fan of both Peter Gabriel and Peter Hammill, Derek William Dick was inspired by his heroes to have a bash at singing and lyric writing. Taking much of Hammill’s overwrought singing style and emotional sensibility, and Gabriel’s flare for the dramatic, Derek baptised himself in the spotlight as ‘Fish’. Fish is not Derek Dick, and exists instead as a creation of him. Derek PLAYS Fish – DD having had something of a fairly relaxed middle class upbringing and a life of comfortable formality, by contrast Fish is both DD’s pessimism and romantic, poetic side, with little room in between. As a character, he is a heavy drinking, heavy smoking, heavy (insert random substance to abuse here) taker, a wreck and a mess. Fish slotted straight into the shite prog–rock outfit ‘SilMarillion’ (named after a Tolkein novel, the fools) with his bassist friend as the ‘80s commenced – about 5 years too late for the prog rock this band normally coughed up. Fish systematically decapitated the band, became its leader, and threw out anybody that disagreed with him and who wasn’t capable of taking them to the top (including the bassist with whom he joined!). Fiercely ambitious as soon as his feet were under the table, Fish kept Whitby lad and Hendrix inspired guitarist Steven Rothery on the team, scouted a new keyboard player in the shape of the talented and young Dublin born Mark Kelly, a diminuitive bassist named Pete Trewavas, and let the only other original member remaining, Mick Pointer, stay on playing drums (but not for long!). To reflect the changes, they dropped the ‘Sil’ from the front of the name to become just ‘Marillion’. As this unit they gathered a cult following across the bars and clubs of the UK, Fish becoming more and more competent as a live performer as time went on, experimenting with the face paint that had made Peter Gabriel so unique in the ‘70s, and giving each of his self–penned lyrics a mime act to accompany it. Fish’s singing is a relatively competent rip–off of Peter Hammill’s (early in his career). Fish is capable of an ear–splitting falsetto but also possess a degree of power on the lower notes – he can’t hold them or play with his voice to the extent that Hammill can, but he has a crystal clear range at this stage, he can go high or low with confidence.

Fish’s lyrics are brilliantly overwrought. You can spot a multitude of influences amongst them (and sometimes he shamelessly steals lyrics he likes from both Hammill and Gabriel’s works), but for the most part they are original in their ‘bleeding heart’ sentiment. They are much more simplistic than either Hammill or Gabriel – they do not concern lofty existentialist angst like Hammill or the psychological SHM of Gabriel – instead Fish deals with anxiety over the stagnation and decomposition of relationships, the ravages of self–abuse and the difficulty in making sense of his overly ‘sensitive’ lifestyle. His lyrics on their first album are among his most overly dramatic but also colourful. The album, released in 1983, ‘Script for a Jester’s Tear’ (cough), is a brilliant slice of what Genesis, with Peter Gabriel, probably would have sounded like if they emerged in the early 80s instead of the early 70s – i.e. distinctly inexperienced but musically adept. Fish relishes his part as wounded poet, his description of the break–up of a relationship in which he played the fool and recited the script of a relationship he thought should occur as opposed to what he wanted, to inevitably lose his beloved, asking for her love once more when he knows all hope is lost, in the title track, is gloriously overplayed. Likewise, the drugged paranoia of ‘He Knows You Know’, the guilt of hiding a dirty little dependency from relatives and those holding the ‘moral high ground’ is another track laced with purple prose and sentimentality, but it works purely on the strength that, as a character, it is concievable that Fish could have experienced and written about such events in such a way. It feels personal and confessional (Fish would go on to describe certain venues as ‘confession boxes’), a window into the mind of an admittedly non–existent but deeply troubled soul. The character of Fish is a fabulous creation, and in inhabiting him DD found a vehicle to emulate his heroes, to the point where he abandoned DD and BECAME Fish as he could afford to behave and act like him in greater measure as time went on, and he played him with increasing frequency. By the time ‘Script’ had been extensively toured with, DD dissolved into Fish. Back to the album, ‘The Web’ is a nightmare from a claustrophobic bed sit lamenting another failed relationship, keeping a piece of her in a photograph (much like Hammill’s ‘Last Frame’ and later ‘Incubus’), destroying plastic pot plants with rage, and ultimately overcoming the heartache with a resolution that “changes have to be made” – and an oblique reference to the ‘flaming shroud’ (and if you’ve read your Greek mythology, you’ll know what that means). ‘Garden Party’ was a live favourite, a angry slap in the face for hopelessly upper–class campus dwelling debs gathered around on the lawn, punting down the cam, devouring aperitifs and living hoplessly insular and vacuous existences. The album highlight is ‘Forgotten Sons’, concerning young men returning in coffins from not so foreign shores – Northern Ireland. The palpable tension of patrolling hostile streets, the ever present unseen threat, the complete inability to relax for just a second should it prove fatal… This is not a pleasant place to be, even in song. Somewhat in common with ‘The Final Cut’ (and possibly inspired by it) is the manipulation of the lord’s prayer into a critically intoned stream of bile about the hypocrisy of ministers coveting their own children but ordering others off to die… And it is in this death that the soldier is “for a second famous but labeled posthumous”.

Marillion have a very strong visual aspect to their music. Their album covers, designed jointly between Fish and an artist called Mark Wilkinson, attempt to provide something of a collage of the characters name checked throughout the album they adorn – on Script, the jester is featured prominently. Marillion are the best example of the ‘morose jester’ school of prog – the embittered harlequin is not their invention, but they best popularized the image. Fish adopted the jester as a symbol for both himself and to provide the group with a central image to be associated with them (plus, of course, there’s merchandising to think about!). On the Script cover we have the jester composing the love song he never got around to finishing for his beloved (which when played is apparently the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’!), in the dingy bed sit of The Web, with the rather underhand idea of having posters for their singles adorning the rear wall. There’s a variety of other images that will be explained in further albums and their covers, Punchinello of Punch and Judy fame on a TV in the back of the picture, the chameleon stalking a chair. This is most likely because the album cover was designed towards the end of the album’s completion and Fish probably already had in mind a few of the ideas that were to appear on their next release. In concert, Fish’s dramatics were awe inspiring. This shows the band performing live favourite, Market Square Heroes towards the end of their Hammersmith Odeon sell-out show, their first single that never appeared on the album (about turning red and leading the other members of your working class community, sold out as the factory closes, to a glorious revolution, but letting them be crushed underfoot to achieve your ultimate end. A bit like Genesis’ ‘The Knife’, to be honest, and probably not an accident either), with Fish minus face paint. Try not to squirm at the extended section of keyboard-led noodling – they cut this out as soon as they matured as a band. If you’d like to see him with face paint, and not hammering drums, there’s a clip of ‘He Knows You Know’ from the ‘Oxford Rock Road Show’ of ’83 here (audio should be in sync with the video). The interesting thing about Fish is that he could command an audience with a completely different style to that of either Gabriel or Hammill – he was a wide boy, a laughing, drinking raconteur, who would tell jokes and be everybody’s best mate. On the live footage from the Hammersmith Odeon show, you can see him exchanging drinks with the crowd (although he is much more restrained on this recording than he is in some of the illegally recorded concerts in circulation). This is in stark contrast to the darkly introspective lyrics he would be running through between such displays of nonchalance – almost as if Fish the live entertainer was a distinct personality from the Fish the singer. In the aforementioned show, he would be exchanging drinks and then suddenly, in the middle of ‘The Web’, tearing apart a pot plant and spitting on its remains with a look of utter hatred etched into his face paint. Such contrast contributes to a fear of the man – he’s a towering 6 foot odd giant, broad and looming over his audience, and to see him creasing his face up while he describes a lost love, its no wonder I was frightened but also captivated by his presence when I sneaked the VHS into the player. During ‘Forgotten Sons’, where the soldier’s life is snuffed out as he questions a stranger in the darkness, Fish would hold out a lighter (marked in its insignificance) in his right hand, everybody’s eyes glued to him, as he let the flame die as the climax of the song was reached. Such a simple image has the audience in a trance. The last track of the Hammersmith gig is a full performance of the 20 minute B–side ‘Grendel’, based (or rather, stolen from) John Gardner’s book which is in turn based on the classic Beowulf. If you’re familiar with Beowulf (and you should be) you’ll know that Grendel is the monster who is slain by the titular hero after he regularly ransacks the village surrounding Hrothgar’s hall in the night, clambering up from beneath the stagnant mere to satiate his bloodlust. Gardner’s book (which I highly recommend) pulls a Lovecraft by making Grendel a sympathetic figure, whose banishment to the fringes of existence as a grotesque freak of nature, by the village, leads to his revilement as a strange and unwanted presence. Over time, Grendel is increasingly blamed for the ills of the village, the in fighting between the factions blamed on him, a pariah, for all the atrocities are laid at his door. Gendel gets understandably enraged by this and goes to teach the human scum a lesson they’ll never forget by slaying their young and tearing apart their homes. It is from this angle on the story that Fish’s lyrics take their cue (in fact, he steals quite a large proportion of the more interesting language written by Gardner), and by the end of the song he has adopted Grendel as a character to enact, screeching out his discomfort and disgust with humanity. It is, quite frankly, outrageous, the worst excesses of ghouls and goblins style prog and has much of its sound stolen from Genesis’ Supper’s Ready, particularly the final section where Fish inhabits Grendel, the music changing to exactly the same riff as the Apocalypse in 9/8 section from the aforementioned track. It is probably in recognition of this that they stopped performing it live by 1984 and the release of their next album. Still, as a showcase for Fish’s voice it is quite interesting, and as a live showing it is relatively unique (especially when Fish pulls a young man up on stage and claws away at his terrified face), but ultimately it is a case of taking the whole thing just a little too seriously.

If the Fish of ‘Script’ was an angry monster, the Fish of ‘Fugazi’ is a raging demon. Fugazi widens the net much more comprehensively than merely the breakdown of relationships, features a much more rhythmic sound (in contrast to the melodic meandering of Script) and the band are a tighter and more focused unit as Mick Pointer has been kicked out of the band for messing up his timing one too many times playing live and making them look unprofessional. In comes Ian Moseley and the band suddenly have a sonorousness they lacked beforehand, much more distinct from the sound that garnered them accusations of being a Genesis tribute act. They move away from prog and towards art rock. The track listing also has much more variety than Script does, the opener ‘Assassing’ inspired by Islamic rhythms (and about attempting to belittle and ruin people’s hopes and dreams with language, particularly apt as Fish was more often than not the man who would attempt to destroy the character of anybody who he felt shouldn’t have been in the band, the song being a tacit admission of wrong doing), the obvious single ‘Punch and Judy’ the closest the band have ever gotten (in the Fish era) to straight rock and roll (concerning the stagnation of an ongoing relationship that started out so sweet and turned sour when both partners grow resentful of one another as their lives slow down and the optimism of youth is replaced with blaming one another for the rut they find themselves in. It’s suggested that Punch, as well as abusing his wife physically, slips her an overdose so he can escape, neither of them having the courage to divorce the other. Grim!), the others treading more familiar territory for the group but none the less still sounding much more individualistic than anything on Script due to the inclusion of Moseley. The album has some particularly dark corners – ‘Emerald Lies’ the story of a man whose deranged and oversensitive jealous streak leads to him interrogating his girlfriend about every single member of the opposite sex she speaks to, imagining each and every conversation an exercise in barely concealed infidelity. He ransacks her diary, reads all her letters, searching but never finding evidence of adultery – to which he isn’t remotely surprised because he is convinced she has covered her tracks anyway. “Innocence! What a surprise!” he screams, oblivious to the futility of his conduct. He confronts her in the kitchen, and under the fluorescent strip lights she finally breaks under his inquisition (Torquemada is name checked, history buffs) and leaves him alone to ponder his mistakes, for he really loved her, but let himself be overcome with paranoia, always thinking that his behaviour was somehow acceptable – “I trust you trust in me to mistrust you.” ‘She Chameleon’, the worst lyric Fish has ever written, has one of his apparently many female admirers cross–sectioned. Women who, attracted to his fame and profession, contort themselves to appear attractive to him (and hence make him feel as though they are people to trust), only to use him for their own sexual satisfaction, effectively ‘raping’ him, and running off before he’s even had a chance to wake up. Which is outrageous, and there are plenty of other self effacing ‘woman–as–lizard’ lyrics within rock music in all its varieties, and they are uniformly shit and completely unfair. ‘Incubus’ is a much better return to form – like I previously mentioned when referring to both ‘The Web’ and Hammill’s ‘The Last Frame’, ‘Incubus’ is an unabashed pervert hoarding photographs of his ex–girlfriend, an aspiring actress who he, by hook or by crook, managed to persuade to model for him (or appear naked on film in some capacity). He becomes obsessed with this ‘image’ he has of her long after she has left him to his obscurity, long after she moves onwards and upwards to fame and fortune. He feels betrayed and wants revenge. So he turns up to one of her performances, his mere attendance enough to throw her completely out of character, a shock to her senses. He stands by the stage as she struggles to stammer out her line, glancing anxiously towards the understudy to rescue her from the awkward silence, his a face from the past, emerging from out of the woodwork to haunt her, to perhaps expose her in public, “waiting for the prompt”.

The title track was apparently inspired by a tube ride in which Fish just “couldn’t take it any more”. This is the centerpiece of the album, a rollercoaster through images of urban decay, sickening opulence, knuckle dragging ignorance, blind hatred and the threat that it all might blow up in our faces. It begins with Fish back in his bed sit, drinking away, deliberately upsetting himself so he can write it all out, get out his frustrations. Scuttling down to the tube, through the neon underpasses, he catches glimpses of business folk, dressed to impress, reading their chosen liberal publications, immersed in their conscience soothing bubbles, oblivious to his presence and the wider world (that they fail to impact upon in any positive way) surrounding them. Wearing his walkman, he’s immune to their conversations, a minor annoyance to be brushed aside as a risqué bit player in another day of financial transaction. From here we get a slideshow of illegal immigrants scared stiff of deportation, foreign prostitutes exploited in the underground sex trade, neo–nazis spray painting slogans and inviting race riots (“Brixton chess”), and the homeless sleeping beneath their newspaper shelters, “begging the boatman’s coin”, forgotten as inevitably as any old soldier whose name will be printed, and become tomorrow’s chip papers (“the grease stained roll call”), the papers under which they sleep. All the while a stately old hat, suit and tie scans his chosen newspaper for the deaths of his old boys, his only consideration being how he’ll be remembered, watched by his son whose diet of TV and other stupefying entertainment distracts him from the real issues that threaten his very existence – mutually assured destruction, death on a possibly massive scale, utterly ignorant, very ‘Not Now John’. The song, and album, ends with Fish pleading for there to be some person, some group, anybody, who can appear to lead us away from this nightmare, to take us and make us look at ourselves. It goes without saying that it is a thoroughly depressing song, and while singing it live Fish would often intone “This is no place for children” and other such gravely serious warning. My brother, who was five when he was whisked to Sheffield arena when Marillion played there by my father, seems to think Fish looked right at him when they performed that section of the song in 1988. That is probably a lie, but I felt like it needed to be mentioned. For a tenuous claim to fame, that performance is featured on the live album ‘The Thieving Magpie’, and you can hear someone that sounds disconcertingly like my father scream “MORE!” as the track fades out, which is what he ALWAYS does at concerts, regardless of how well the musicians have performed.


Music VI

Marillion’s biggest selling and most well–known album is the 1985 concept release, ‘Misplaced Childhood’, perhaps garnering so much success as it contained two top ten singles, ‘Kayleigh and ‘Lavender which are both nowhere near the heights that Marillion are capable of but accessible four minute pop pieces with romanticized lyrics and bouncy melodies (Lavender’s is particularly nice, and a great tune to attempt to learn how to play the piano with!). As you can see, Fish drops the face paint here, no longer ‘requiring it’ to perform, his last two albums with Marillion much more ‘personal’ affairs inspired more directly by Fish’s real–life experiences as opposed to the flights of dark fantasy that characterized Fugazi. After breaking up with his latest in a string of long–term girlfriends(the Kayleigh of the song) Fish locked himself in his house for a night and took some particularly strong acid. As you do. What followed was Fish penning the entirety of Misplaced in one night, experiencing a variety of hallucinations in the shape of the spirit of his childhood, an innocence lost and regained. We go over Fish’s regret at losing his love (Kayleigh), a collection of images, a stream of consciousness (supposedly intended to be in the style of Kerouac) that take us through a childish yearning for meeting the love of your life (Lavender), a series of bitter experiences that leave Fish with a nasty taste of romantic love (Bitter Suite). Bitter Suite is perhaps the best section of the album, if only because it recalls as one of its movements the film ‘Brief Encounter’, the chance meeting of a man and woman, committed in their own separate relationships but recognize in each other the love of their lives, and are unable to break their commitments. Their parting scene could bring a tear to a glass eye – if you’ve ever gotten dangerously close to loving and inevitably lost, or never told anybody how you feel about them only to watch them slip away from you, this film will tear you apart from the inside. View at your own risk. Following the Bitter Suite, we have a trip downtown on a Saturday night to watch the frightening spectacle of pheromone drenched wide boys pulling the opposite sex for drunken romantic interludes, the very opposite of the ‘Brief Encounter’, each one a vacuous declaration of unbridled physicality, each one a consummation with no validity, Fish questioning how it is that they have it so easy and he has it so hard just for wanting something more. So he burns his bridges, denies himself any sympathy, and tries to move on without dealing with his suppressed emotion. He eventually explodes after being probed one too many times by an interviewer, unable to keep it in any more, and in his despair for his lost love, the disingenuous nature of writing love songs for passing strangers, turns to drink and sleeping pills – a dangerous combination. Fish crashes out on the floor, and almost loses his life, is taken right to the threshold of his lifeline. There, he meets his childhood, he detects that which has been missing from his life, so far in the deepest recesses of his mind, his optimism, his innocence, his faith in humanity – which was chased away by all the horrors of the world his sensitive young eyes were exposed to. Fish realizes the child was within him always, only buried, and he wasn’t listening to him, much as any of us who lose their faith in others deny them the possibility of sympathy. Fish reconciles with this faith, this innocence, and lets it lead him towards others, and to rally them towards making the world a better place for all. Go Fish, as with the final track, he gives us an inspirational anthem to the effect of ‘never give up’ because no matter what horrendous treatment you receive you will always retain the child within your heart, they can’t take that away from you, you’ll always have the capacity to do something good with yourself. So Misplaced is a feel good piece, musically acceptable but lacks any of the darkness outside of the moody introspection that Fugazi and Script had in plentiful and much more professional supply. It seems too light and palatable, there’s no threat or attack in the lyrics and you know inevitably that you are being led towards a happy ending. That detracts from any possibility of feeling genuinely intrigued by the lyrical content apart from listening to one man’s despair – plus this album has the most stolen lyrics from Hammill songs of all the albums Fish wrote lyrics for. I honestly don’t mind the use of a particular expression more than once, but once you recognize that there is an inherent laziness and lack of creativity involved in stealing the insight of another man, you can’t afford Fish any quarter. Cue sell out tour and countrywide adulation.

Their follow up is their best album, it IS art rock. Prog has been well and truly left behind by the time ‘Clutching At Straws’ arrives – it makes all the other efforts sound amateurish and trying too hard to be something they aren’t. By this point, Fish has dropped any of the vestiges of Hammill emulation or aspirations of becoming Gabriel. It is interesting to note that only one of the shows was performed with face paint – a relapse, perhaps? The title refers to desperation in holding on to what is important as your world is softened with alcohol (it actually comes from the phrase ‘a drowning man will catch a straw’) and the trappings of fame – and of course a straw (in whatever its form) is what you snort cocaine with. Fish by this point was struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, having gained masses of weight, and was looking more and more unhealthy, living his life to the worst excesses his combined fame and newfound riches could allow. The album is semi–autobiographical, about a writer, ‘Torch’ whose battle with alcohol and for inspiration sets the tone for the majority of the tracks. We join Torch in his hotel room as the album commences, the prostitutes stalking the hotel lobby below, the ruffling of the bed sheets the closest he got to sleep. The frustration of being unable to write without his crutches! So he lazes around his hotel room, and reminisces about his old haunts, his memories of being a young man going to the local bars, the circularity of the lives of occupants traced in the warm wet circles left on the bar if just for a second, to be wiped away and replaced with yet more the following night. The night closes in and completely alone, Torch needs somebody to talk to, to communicate with. In spite of this, he decides to take the alternative route to his comfort zone and reaches for his short straw. He’s not a healthy man, by any means, and is spiraling out of control. He convinces himself it’s just a passing phase and he can snap out of it at any point, but inevitably he doesn’t. His condition is exacerbated when he is located in Europe (at some point in the narrative) and witnesses a resurgence of neo–nazi activity, which he simply cannot cope with and catches a plane, runs away, preferring the escapism to the realism. He returns home and proceeds to spend his nights ‘Incommunicado’ – drunk and out of his mind, free from any responsibility the daylight hours might impose upon him. This lifestyle threatens his existence, however, and upon doctor’s advice is told to mend his ways or else he won’t reach 30. Torch’s response? “It’s a romantic way to go”, so he burns a little brighter. While doodling and attempting to write in a pub, Torch is accosted by strangers, who relate their life stories to him, of which they have made a mess. Possessing no real answers, his only response is the one to which he has always indulged – buy them a drink, yell cheers, and knock it back – and yet the issues he has been made aware of (the closing of Clydeside ship building facilities in the 80s is mentioned specifically – apparently it has now been gentrificated in much the same way as London’s docklands have – damn you Thatcher!) still resonate within him. Torch’s next stop is a holiday inn in middle America. He rings his partner, only to find she is all alone, as is he, and he feels completely responsible for abandoning his loved ones and running off in search of a dream, some romantic notion that inspiration might arrive in whatever its form, when he ‘should’ be back taking care of them. Torch is in real trouble now, he struggles to deal with this responsibility, he can’t play the wild rover forever, but he wonders why he shouldn’t.

“We live out lives in private shells
Ignore our senses and fool ourselves
to thinking that out there there's someone else cares
someone to answer all our prayers, our prayers…”

…and

“But everything is still the same
passing the time passing the blame
we carry on in the same old way
we'll find out we left it too late one day
to say what we meant to say”

There’s a futility in trying, but at least it is better than simply wasting away his existence with various dependencies. He resolves to continue to write, continue to drink, but to continue to contribute (only in moderation). He pushed the boundaries of excess but in doing so found, much like in Misplaced, that it is in his writing that he finds solace, he finds peace, and that other people may find it too, in his work. The album ends with Torch’s realization that within all of us is a piece of ourselves like him, and that to give himself some sort of significance for indulging that aspect of his personality too much is to somehow afford too much significance to himself, as opposed to everyone else within whom the capacity for such action exists. It’s not a happy ending by any means; we go right back to the start again, Torch struggling to carve out a lyric, but at least he’s not killing himself – but he’ll still struggle. But that’s better than nothing! There’s a B side from this period, ‘Tux On’, that should have been on the album, about a rock performer who razored in the end more than just lines of coke, but it would have been difficult to reconcile with Torch’s narrative and probably would have depressed the listener no end – that said, it is one of the highlights of Marillion’s backlog and should really be featured much more prominently in their discography, itself a cautionary tale of the circularity of rock stars burning themselves out – the Tux being the single symbol that accompanies the performer through every stage of his career – the first night playing the local hall, the meeting with the record company, the touring of the stadiums, the parties and the excess, and finally the funeral – only for the symbol to be spied in a magazine by another would–be performer, associated with success and a dream lifestyle, and the cycle begins again.

By this point in their career, Marillion’s patience, as a group, was wearing thin with Fish’s behaviour. Going just too far with his drug and alcohol intake (ending up pictured on the front of a Sunday rag taking cocaine), coupled with his rapidly deteriorating voice (a combination of a grueling touring schedule and his complete inability to comprehend ever stopping his dependencies for the sake of his vocals) and surly nature as ‘head of the band’ led to his estrangement from the rest of the group. Fish wanted the group to embrace his growing interest in Scottish nationalism, the politicization of his lyrics and a musical direction that could have taken them into dangerously unpopular territory. Blaming the whole affair on the management (who saturated certain areas with touring and promoted the band in apparently ‘all the wrong ways’ and who pressured them into delivering their next work in much shorter time than before with no break in between activities), Fish tried to manoeuvre himself into a position where he could make demands to have their manager, John Arnison, fired. Overestimating his own importance and standing within the group, the charismatic front man who gave the band a face and a place in the charts of the early 80s was instead now a dangerously unhealthy and rapidly deteriorating old rocker, and regardless of how fantastic Marillion now sounded having reached their creative peak with ‘Clutching’, was too much of a liability. Fish gave the band an ultimatum – me or the management. They sided with the manager and he left. For many, Fish IS Marillion, his concepts and ideas giving the music significance and importance far beyond the musicianship of Rothery et al. The prospect of him leaving the unit that had produced four amazing albums was heartbreaking for all the dedicated fans who were anxious to see what the band would produce next based on the fantastic form they had been enjoying. Fish still remains adamant that it was the management’s resistance to the long term prospect of him being a guaranteed money maker that led to his exclusion, the band working for the management and not the other way around (as it should have been). Prior to Fish’s final meeting with the band, the manager had actually secretly convened with them at his home prior to the presentation of the ultimatum, leading Fish to believe that the band was unduly swayed by some tactile persuasion. In any case, Fish left and Marillion sought a new singer. They got Steven Hogarth (H for short) formerly of Europeans, who from the start was quite plainly not as creative lyrically as Fish but possessed a much more melodic singing voice. It was like replacing an ailing Roger Waters with a David Gilmour on vocals – what you lost in direction you gained in vocal expertise and musical ability.

Many fans lost interest, myself included, and will always wonder what their next album could have been like – Fish took the concept he originally presented Marillion with in a prototype form and released his first solo effort, which charted well but was an awkward mix of styles – the opener being an early highlight, certain tracks going nowhere (‘The Voyeur’) others highlighting Fish’s inability to deal with political concepts with any sensitivity (‘State of Mind’). It is not a complete disaster, but Fish’s voice is clearly past its best and the ensuing legal wrangle with EMI led to his follow up album, ‘Internal Exile’ being an even patchier affair, released a number of years later after his legal difficulties resolved themselves. The Fishless Marillion are a completely different animal without him – their compositions an aural delight but also depressingly faceless, Hogarth’s voice a treat to listen to if you want to put something on in the background that you don’t have to think too much about, but lacking any of the dramatics that Fish could employ in his best years. It just became so gray, so featureless and completely uninteresting. Both Fish and Marillion became less than the sum of their parts, sadly, which is NOT something which happened when Roger Waters left Pink Floyd. Taking the ‘Pros and Cons’ concept and teaming up with the immortal Eric Clapton, Roger incorporated his loyal band of session musicians into his next project (such as Michael Kamen and Andy Newmark). Gerald Scarfe was back for the visual design, and plans for the stage show were drafted up with those who had been present for ‘The Wall’. The album itself is an absolutely brilliant concept, one of the best (if not THE best) of all the albums featured in this overview, and brilliantly executed.

‘Pros and Cons’ is about a man’s dream one night (or sequence of dreams) in which he undergoes a life–changing set of experiences. This is an ultimately sexually frustrated man – falling asleep as ‘Shane’ winds down on his TV beside his wife – his first dream is that of he and his spouse are driving across the open countryside of Germany, a couple of hitch hikers slumped in the back seat. Catching the eye of his attractive female, foreign and young passenger, our protagonist wonders whether to indulge in this fantasy or not, to try and coax her out of the car and into the woods to prop up his ailing virility. With a selection of contrived excuses he gets her out of the car and she (impressed with his ‘Green Lamborghini’, their sensible family saloon having become a sports car, to reflect the growing confidence our protagonist has in his sexual prowess) agrees to go for a spin in the country. Upon laying down beside her he has an attack of fear at what is now plainly about to occur, no longer just his fantasy (within a fantasy!) and he recoils, his feelings of guilt manifesting themselves as a gang of Arabs (who his irrational fear thereof turns them into inhuman beasts) ransack his home and threaten to rape his wife. He rages at them, a self imposed punishment for ever considering cheating, a nightmare as he is unable to stop them in any capacity apart from to try and wake himself up and take command of his dream – it proves to be a lucid experience because he soothes himself with thoughts of taking his illicit girlfriend to a hotel far away, overlooking the Rhine (surrounded by our protagonist’s completely skewed and stereotypical depiction of German people). His lust returns with a vengeance, and in reaching out for his fantasy, awakens his wife. She is most certainly not pleased by his advances, rejects him, and he himself awakens, staring into the dark, angry at such a rejection. He rages against the perceived female empowerment that makes her capable of just brushing him aside, rationalizing that she should accommodate him as we are all creatures of a sexual desire (“I am only a rat in a maze, like you, and only the dead go free”) that we struggle to take control of and that she should recognize that within herself and offer her body to him, so he can “plunder her sweet grave”. He finds hypocrisy in her action, knowing her to be similar to himself, and the contradiction of values in her behaviour an absurd double standard. He rages “Don’t point your finger at me!” to ultimately no avail. (Here’s the music video; don’t adjust your set – Roger IS a frightening looking man) So he dreams of a naïve solution to his marital difficulties in going and living abroad in his wife’s native land – wishing to please her. The venture starts off well enough but soon heads for disaster as the isolation and separation of roles within the home lead to them pursuing separate lives barely connected to one another, our protagonist seeing himself as pathetic and unfulfilled in the context of looking after the kids – and what is the point of him being lord of his own manor if he has no one to show off to? His wife, unable to cope with having no–one to talk to but a resentful old man who no longer cares about bending over backwards for her, or even halfway, finds comfort and solace in an old acquaintance. Providing her with the security and sanctity of a life away from our hero, she starts an affair and the whole house, an allegory for the state of their relationship, this venture into the unknown, starts to crumble, the crops fail to provide a harvest, the kids get sick, and the whole place falls apart. He responds by telling her to leave, take the kids with her, and he’ll get on with his life without her, itching to get “back on the road again”, thinking he can outdo her. Raging against his wife’s abandonment of him, he laments to a truck driver about her dismissal of him, who backslaps our hero with gusto at the notion of women being so alien and distinct from men as for his best efforts, any of their masculine efforts, to result in anything other than success.

In contemplating this, the protagonist’s thoughts turn irrevocably towards his wife with her new man, a thought he cannot stand (because somehow, in some way, he still wants her) and which physically sickens him. The trucker kicks him out when it looks like he might spill his guts in a more literal sense and he finds himself in the gutter, the pros and cons of hitch hiking being the possibility of freedom outside of his relationship but also that there exists a capacity for everything to go drastically wrong – and it does. He hits rock bottom, picks himself back up only to have a succession of unpleasant experiences centering around his attempts to wrangle some ‘action’ at the cost of responsibility, which fail miserably when he ends up being used more than he does of them – it is only when he reaches a truck stop and a waitress treats him with completely unwarranted kindness that his faith in people is restored and he stops using people in much the same way he feels he himself has been used (unreleased music video here. In her, he sees a piece of himself, a piece in everyone, a spark of humanity that dampened with each unfortunate experience. It’s ultimately unexplainable and an emotion that arose out of his dream and not of anything other than a chance encounter with an imagined saviour (his conscience, really), so the moment passes and the answer to his problems which seemed so clear passes silently and without incident in the middle of the night, his attempts to rationalize the feeling that was so understandable and powerful coming to nothing. Frightened and wanting to rediscover that sense of security, he reaches out to his wife, and is reassured by her presence – it is this reassurance that affirms his belief that he loves her. The album ends on a curiously ambiguous note – it is obvious he loves her, but he doesn’t know exactly why, and even when he did, it was too much of a vague feeling for him to qualify as a thought outside of feeling acutely connected to the rest of humanity. It seems his love for her is a more individualized expression of the connection he feels with every other person; that this informs his humanity in some capacity. It is possible that their love keeps him in contact with such a feeling, the ability for the couple to share and provide each other with some sense of security. But enough about the concept – how does it sound? As expected of the panic stricken bouts of terrified paralysis that accompanies the sudden lurching of dream into nightmare, Roger has some vocal gymnastics to limber up for. Still possessing the entirety of his range at this point, he produces a quiet, tight vocal for the more subdued passages and rages in a way that only a man with the face of a horse can. This is a taxing vocal – there’s barely room to breathe as Roger shouts and screams his way through every emotion he possesses. It’s wonderfully expressive but also a demanding listen – one second he may be whispering sweet nothings to his wife (or lover!), the next screaming about her rejection of him. You have to give it your full attention if you want to make sense of any of it, the lurching back and forth indicative of the bubbling subconscious throwing a succession of uncomfortable images in front of his closed eyes. Musically, it is tough to continuously lurch throughout a wide spectrum of emotions, but identical melodies twisted into different shapes give the album some structure. The main guitar riff is instantly recognizable as it cameos in various songs, Clapton’s guitar work simply a revelation. It is soulful, mournful, sorrowful and powerful in equal measure. He captures the bluesy nature of the album perfectly, the lover’s lament. Kamen’s piano and orchestration is nowhere near as busy as it was on ‘The Final Cut’ (thankfully, as it would have sounded out of place here), his piano work sparingly used but always very tasteful. Newmark’s drumming is unremarkable but gives the piece some traction in its faster sections. Roger also makes extensive use of female backing vocals, which are at first jarring as Roger’s voice isn’t one you traditionally associate with being backed by their dulcet tones, but by the end you are thankful there is at least somebody on the album capable of disconnecting their brain from their mouths long enough to sing some words without giving them some emotional significance. They also neatly complement the top of Roger’s range, harmonizing at least in part with his more impassioned screams on ‘Every Stranger’s Eyes’.

The live show was, by all accounts, as spectacular as ‘The Wall’. A huge set was erected to depict the bedroom of the newly christened ‘Reg Or’, the protagonist becoming a caricatured dog, looking eerily like Roger (and his name backwards). Films were displayed on three giant projection screens running in tandem providing us with some idea of what Reg was experiencing. These films are next to impossible to find in bootleg circles, and not really essential viewing as your imagination feels like a much more powerful and apt tool when conjuring up the images throughout a dream. The show consisted of the first half classic Floyd tracks (including the first and only full performance of Final Cut track ‘The Gunner’s Dream’ – although I am aware that Roger was ‘performing’ it again on his 2006 Dark Side tour, only for it to be dropped from the set list), the second half Pros and Cons followed by the encore of Brain Damage and Eclipse. It is fascinating to hear how Clapton, who joined the tour group for its first leg in ’84, handles the Floyd section of the show. He keeps relatively faithful to the Gilmour sound but also deviates in his own individual fashion – slowing some sections down, speeding others up, playing sparingly in some but with abundance in others, giving a much more bluesy sound. For the Pros and Cons section, Roger didn’t hold back for the sake of his voice – he really went for it. Every night he was wailing like a banshee, every night an emotional bobsleigh run. His voice, somewhat remarkably, survives right into late ’85. It didn’t recover – he must have done so much damage to it that a lot of the power and attack it once had disappeared in the years between ’85 and his next release, in ’87. A lot of people have wondered just exactly what happened to Roger’s voice in those years, the most likely candidate being overworking it while on tour, but the Roger of the late 80s looks slightly different around the bridge of his nose and jaw line… hmm. Regardless, Roger went to live in L.A. in the mid 80s (what’s L.A. famous for, again?) and while there he listened to a lot of free rock radio on the station KMET. Tuning into Jim Ladd, who was about to be fired as the station was re–branding itself as a ‘New Wave’ outlet, Roger was inspired to write his next album.

‘Radio Kaos’, as a concept, was birthed in both Roger’s love of KMET with his disgust at its demise and a newspaper report he glanced about striking Welsh coal miners dropping a concrete block through the windscreen of a taxi carrying a scab (somebody who had broken the picket line) to the mine. This set his mind racing – how to connect the two? It has to be said that the concept of Radio Kaos makes absolutely no practical sense – the notion of a young Welsh lad being able to hear radio waves in his head after being hit by a car and becoming wheelchair bound is just nonsensical. As a plot device, it is difficult to understand how Roger could have expected anyone to take it seriously… but you have to. Not only that, but Billy (the child) is able to use a cordless phone to hack his way into government satellites, computers the world over; you name it, anything he can communicate with. He’s a strange combination of David Lightman and real life phone phreaker Kevin Mitnick, but even Mitnick couldn’t achieve what Billy apparently can. So, leaving aside the leaps in logic we have to make to understand the proceedings, what do we get? It’s the story of Billy and Benny, brothers, living in their Welsh mining village. They go out one night and rob an electronics store in their frustration at having nothing to call their own (and no hope of acquiring it), and Benny hefts a breeze block over a motorway footbridge with the perilous intention of throwing it down in protest onto the traffic below. He doesn’t though, because he realises they don’t deserve it (and that he will not be turned upon his own). That same night, another block is thrown and Benny is collared by the boys in blue, passing a stolen cordless phone from the shop raid to Billy. Benny is wrongly imprisoned, the real culprit never comes forward (obviously not as compassionate as Benny was) and Molly, Benny’s wife, is distraught. Billy is lost without his twin brother. Molly cannot cope with taking care of Billy and ships him off to L.A. (sounding familiar?) where he lives for a period with his uncle Dave, whose work on the Manhattan project still plagues him with guilt, and he educates Billy in the potential horrors of militaristic might and the lengths ‘the powers that be’ are willing to go to for military dominance. Wanting to recall Benny’s habit of calling foreign radio stations and talking with their DJs, Billy learns to use the phone to communicate with Jim (voiced by Jim Ladd himself), the DJ of Radio Kaos, a local rock radio station, much like KMET. Billy talks with Jim extensively, relates his plight to him, finds some outlet for his frustration as he feels out of place on sunset strip and unable to relate to the parade of bronzed torsos and paparazzi. He pines for home, the sound of male voice choirs and the comforts of living amongst your own. He rejects the commercialism of the sun bleached sidewalks and yearns for the simplicity and honesty of his tiny village – convinced that it is distraction from what is important in life, perpetrated by ‘the powers that be’, that contributes to the alienation he feels in L.A. This is now familiar Roger territory. Now able to command any computer he can contact having developed his phone skill to the appropriate level, Billy resolves to shock the world into action. It is only when you understand the threat of what you have disappearing do you recognize its importance – “After a near miss on the plane you swear you'll never fly again” – Billy convinces the world and its relevant military bases that the opposing nations have launched warheads, and that they have four minutes to prepare for apocalypse. They try to react but he has disabled their weapons systems. Everybody prepares for the worst in their own way – people come together out of a shared sense of grief and dread. This is it! When the bombs are meant to hit, Billy cuts the power – but wait, we’re still alive. In this fleeting dark age, the candles are lit and people convene around each other, so thankful that they got the opportunity to do something more with their lives. Things are going to change, and the tide is allegedly turning.


Music VII

It’s not a bad story, although nowhere near what he achieved with ‘Pros and Cons’. ‘Radio Kaos’ can be seen as a protest against the same set of people, places and attitudes Roger found so distasteful in ‘The Final Cut’, except worked into a narrative and given names. It is nothing new, really. What intrigues is the way the album is produced. This is Roger’s most commercial release. Did he sell out? Well, yes. The album is designed and produced in the style of much late 80s pop – this is almost exclusively synthesizer territory, which in itself is not a terrible thing, but couple it with tinny drum machines and sequencers and you have a recipe for a sterile record. It is not entirely devoid of character or soul – there’s a small amount of atmospheric guitar by Andy Fairweather–Lowe, and some tracks layer over woodwinds, but the whole thing feels robotic. The melodies are overwhelmingly catchy throughout, universally up tempo, but there comes a time when you want to stop tapping your feet and feel a different set of moods. It does have some slower sections, but these are normally only 30 second refrains. The last track is much slower than the rest, thankfully, but it’s over so soon that you can’t appreciate any impact of the message Roger is trying to convey. While the album sounds nothing like Roger has ever done before, with Floyd or otherwise, it is worth a listen but it will not appeal to the extent that Pros and Cons will, as Radio Kaos does not contain the same degree of subtlety that Pros and Cons has. Roger has largely disowned this recording these days, preferring not to acknowledge its tracks in his live shows, meaning the only live performances of the whole of Radio Kaos are from the tour that accompanied the album. On tour, the tracks sound infinitely better, being played by human beings instead of machines, with some flair. While Roger’s voice is on its death bed, he still has the odd night where he seems to have a return to his early 80s form (the L.A. show is particularly good), other nights he can barely croak out the quieter sections of the tracks he is meant to perform. Helping him out is Paul Carrack, who sang the chorus of ‘The Powers That Be’ included on the album and tagged along for the live show. Carrack also handles ‘Money’ and the majority of other Floyd tracks Rog cannot handle vocally if he is having a bad night. The whole show was even more ambitious than the Pros and Cons, in which it was presented as a live radio broadcast, complete with Jim Ladd introducing each new song, taking genuine phone calls, interludes from sponsors (all fake, of course) and yet more projections. The phone calls are particularly interesting in that several phone booths were placed within the auditorium in which people could ring the fictional radio station and at the halfway point in the show people were asked to submit questions to Roger, who surprisingly answered in an honest and straightforward manner, being very gracious and also taking time to explain certain aspects of the album, what he thought of world affairs, suggestions for courses of action in various international trouble spots – to which he regularly admitted ignorance – and generally anything that was asked of him. The climax of the show was, of course, the nuclear strike that never happens, often stunning the audience into absolute silence. It also featured several tracks concerning the Radio Kaos concept that never made it onto vinyl – there are at least three that are curiously absent and further explain the plotline – such as the attendance of Benny’s trial, and a ballad Molly sings about her missing husband. This is also the period in which Roger adopted his most infamous fashion statement – rolled up sleeves, designer suits and a pair of Ray Ban aviator glasses permanently affixed to his face. Just what he was trying to achieve with this is unknown, although you have to wonder why he would want to hide his face to such an extent (even though, historically, he’s not a very handsome man. Nowadays he looks like Richard Gere! How did that happen?) – this look continued well into the 1990s.

Roger had a bitter legal wrangle over the Pink Floyd name, his reasoning being that any Pink Floyd without him (as he essentially WAS Pink Floyd in artistic direction) would not be Pink Floyd, and that the name should never be used again. Roger did NOT want to keep the name for himself as widely reported in the press, possibly a retaliation to his criticism of lazy tabloid journalism with a campaign of misinformation. Possibly! When Gilmour’s disappointing solo album sales and tour seemed to suggest he could not operate alone, he attempted to get the band back together. This anemic Floyd, lacking its principle driving force, struggled to acquire the rights to the name. Roger wanted to sever ties with Floyd’s management who were attempting to get him to create another album under the Floyd banner with Gilmour and co. He wanted no part of that and sought to have the management fired, but Gilmour would not agree to it. Roger, in desperation, ‘left’ the band in confidence that they would never record again. Instead, Gilmour much later on reconvened the remaining members and tried to continue. Roger took exception, and a number of courthouse clashes ensued. A settlement was reached – Gilmour’s Floyd got the name (releasing their debut before the trial had even finished!) and Roger got sole custody of ‘The Wall’ and all its associated imagery. Gilmour’s Floyd sound like the Floyd of old – but, crucially, lack direction and at least one decent lyric – his complete inability to produce something of merit or of consistent artistic vision stopping the album from becoming anything special. Apparently ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ is really a glorified Gilmour solo album with the bare minimum of input from Mason and none from Wright, who was later drafted back in to give the band some appearance of legitimacy.

Roger’s activity in the ‘90s is much more subdued than that of his ‘80s escapades. He staged a charity concert of ‘The Wall’ in Berlin in ‘90 itself, enlisting the help of a multitude of current chart toppers to perform some of its more diverse numbers in front of the real wall itself. Roger was in surprisingly fine voice on the night, virtually indistinguishable from his Floyd days – this is a particularly good segment (and also one of the album’s highlights) as is this, too. The concert was a massive success and significantly increased Waters’ public profile (well, that and his court case), if not the definitive version – Van ‘the man’ Morrison’s mauling of ‘Comfortably Numb’ is just unbearable to listen to. Waters’ next release was in ’92, ‘Amused to Death’, featuring a shot of a monkey transfixed by a television on the cover. Taking much inspiration from Neil Postman’s book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death – Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business’, it concerns a night spent watching TV, the album being book–ended by the painful testimony of real life WWI veteran Alf Razzell, who is still haunted by the memories of his long deceased friends – all the while we are bombarded with war as entertainment (shock and awe), conquest as distraction and encouraged to fear and dislike the Other, dehumanize them and legitimate the vicarious thrill of seeing them crushed, atomized under an errant ‘smart’ bomb (in ‘The Bravery of Being Out of Range’). We are encouraged to place our faith and trust in god, an idea manipulated by those with a vested interest in persuading us to stomach atrocity after atrocity, to buy, beg, borrow and steal that which god demands of us as good, faithful followers (‘What God Wants’). Yet television also has the power to stir and shock, occasionally a starkly frightening signal filters through the noise and when we bear witness to something so horrific (Roger specifically mentions the massacre at Tiananmen Square in ‘Watching TV’) we cannot help but feel the unique connection to the victims whose names and faces we now know in morbid detail, hear the testimonies of those who cradled the dying in their arms, world famous in their sacrifice for trying to achieve something better for their fellow man. It’s not all bad, but television can manipulate as well as illuminate – it’s a dangerous tool, warns Roger. No sooner have we felt the shock of something like Tiananmen we are anaesthetized by more distractions to take our minds off it, more ‘pressing concerns’ helping us to forget. We are encouraged to think of history as irrelevant, memory as unimportant to present action, time as rigidly linear and that significant events in our past have no bearing on our future. It becomes just another image on the nightly news, just another far off land that needs ‘sorting out’, to be forgotten about by the time the credits roll by. The album ends on the sobering note that there could be intelligent life visiting this planet in the far distant future, only to find the sum of humanity’s achievements measured in the shadows gathered around the glow of the TV screen, each of us too captivated to impact upon our world in any meaningful way. They struggle to find a reason as to how we simply remained static as a species, concluding that we must have ‘amused ourselves to death’. Remarkably, the whole album was written before the first gulf war, and famously only had one verse amended to reflect it, and yet seems to neatly foreshadow many of the issues it raised.

Musically, the album is relatively hit and miss. Jeff Beck produces some frankly inspired playing, Waters managing again somehow to expertly judge which guitarist to involve in his project. Beck is able to produce some wondrous solos, stretching notes out for achingly long periods, some notes penetrating the soundscape like a comet across a clear night sky (steady on, Rich). Recorded in Q–sound, every effect is crisp and the bass perfectly judged, making extensive use of positional gimmickry. This is one for those who own expensive sound systems! Roger’s voice by this point has become a hoarse whisper in its quieter sections, dripping with sarcasm and contempt, yet he is still capable of getting right into his top range, his nasal neurotic bleats coming out with relatively little difficulty. It’s just his quieter, softer approach that has suffered. The album’s sound is much more akin to traditional rock and roll than that of ‘Radio Kaos’ and even ‘Pros and Cons’, the single (‘What God Wants’) available here; is an example of a straightforward rocker based on a simple, repeating riff with Beck’s noodling over the top. It is a concept album, but the intrigue comes more from the ferocious lyrics and use of sound effects than that of anything revelatory in the song structures – it sounds distinctly ordinary; ‘Watching TV’ features a duet with Don Henley of Eagles fame, and is just sadly as dull as ditch water, both of their voices lacking enough of a harmony to make their pairing understandable, much of the subtlety of Water’s delivery lost in an attempt to match Henley’s crooning. A wasted opportunity! The most interesting parts of the album are the atmospherics present between each track, consisting of scene–setting pulses of instrumentation and sound effects – the way the mood is subtly shifted is a frankly phenomenal achievement, there’s a real sense of detachment and unease about the proceedings, the inane chatter of the TV in the background, flipping through channels idly, a constant stream of white noise in the corner.

This album was never toured with and Waters hasn’t produced a full (rock) album since – having worked on his opera concerning the French revolution that was only recently completed and released, after over 10 years in the pipeline, and emerging here and there for the odd one–off performance. He toured extensively in 2002, reunited with the Floyd at Live8 (an experience Gilmour likened to ‘sleeping with my ex–wife’) and is right now touring again (in fact, I will be in attendance of his show at the ‘Hyde Park Calling’ festival at the end of this month – unfortunately I have to sit through everyone else first as he is topping the bill, including the insipid ‘Texas’). Roger has entered that peculiar set of performers who can be referred as the grand old men of rock – at 63, he’s still bouncing around, grimacing in time to the music. So is Hammill, although he enjoys nowhere near the level of notoriety that Waters does. VDGG, in their original first generation line up, last year reformed for a tour and produced a new album, recalling their original brilliance effortlessly. The album, ‘Present’, is much more akin to the ‘Still Life’ era than, say, ‘Pawn Hearts’, but the announcement of their reformation was a wonderful surprise. The band, last year, were due to play their first full show as a group again after 28 years. For somebody such as myself who had spent the last few years listening to their music without even the slightest hope of ever seeing the band that blazed a trail through the 70s, it was a revelation. As soon as the announcement was made, tickets for their opening show were purchased (which at that point was still seemingly a one–off), the concert selling out within a couple of days. I made the journey down to London to the Royal Festival Hall, and waited in nervous anticipation for the band to make their entrance. The concert flew by… It was unbelievable. Hammill’s voice was in top form, the while group sounding as fresh as they did back then. It has been said that the true VDGG are the live VDGG and in concert they very often deviate and improvise large sections of the riffs connecting the various larger structures of the songs together – sometimes this goes wrong, but usually you get a moment where each instrument, splitting off in its own direction, reconvenes, and captures a musical moment that could only have occurred by taking the whole thing to breaking point and then back again. It very often sounds as though the wheels are just about to fall off the wagon, but when they find their rhythm, it’s a very special moment. I couldn’t take the smile off my face even for a second, which crept up there as soon as the delayed flute intro of ‘The Undercover Man’ marked the opening of the show – their standing ovation, following the last track, ‘Wondering’, was completely deserved. To be honest, I would have done it anyway considering the amount of enjoyment those four men have provided me with over the past few years in listening to their records. Hammill paced around the stage, a look of intense concentration of his face, throwing his meager frame into every note, Jackson singing along with Hammill from behind his sax, Evans was a huge great big ox of a man bent double over his drum kit, and Banton was as stately as ever, well off to the left of the stage, exuding professionalism… They lacked a bassist, so Banton was fulfilling that role with pedals, his feet flying around underneath the organ. I couldn’t close my eyes to sleep that night! It was a dream come true, really. So much so, I watched them play live again on the mini–tour that followed that performance, at the Manchester Bridgewater hall a couple of months later. In this performance, they played ‘Still Life’ (it conspicuous in its absence from the RFH show). The 7 odd minutes it comprised are permanently burned into memory – every second. When the track wound down to the resignation of acceptance at the end, it was just Hammill and Banton playing, so eerily quiet. I was much closer to the stage this time, and I felt a little embarrassed to be intruding on what seemed like such a private moment, but unable to avert my gaze. I dare not move an inch, I was transfixed, as was everybody else in the hall. The performance wasn’t as technically adept as the RFH gig, and some of the improvisations felt too loose and cacophonous (and they didn’t play ‘Wondering’), but an opportunity to see ‘Still Life’, live, was more than enough. Standing ovation mark two.

Hammill still tours solo (and there are rumours that VDGG are still alive), and has been hammering out albums with alarming regularity for the last 37 years – he is an industrious chap. I’ve already mentioned that they do not recapture or recall in any way the sense of adventure or experimentation his ‘70s and early ‘80s efforts do… despite the odd return to form (‘Sharply Unclear’, the opening track from his 30th album, ‘Roaring Forties’, sounds just like an ‘In Camera’ track, and his last effort, ‘Incoherence’ concerning the problems of sense and reference is a 45 minute extravaganza that hints a return to the ‘70s experimentation that continues to define his career). From the looks of Gabriel in the late ‘80s, he might have been on the same track – his experimental work married to awkward convention on uneven albums, forever reaching for the quality amidst the crap. In fact, Gabriel was actively suppressing his more textual work, which none the less surfaced as B–sides and demos. His B side ‘Curtains’ is indicative of such work, as is the unreleased ‘This is the Road’ (which was glimpsed in sound–checks and eventually made available to the public as a free download many years after its original conception). Both tracks utilise a much more personal writing style – which was to characterize his next solo album. First satiating his desires for exploring the world beat that began with PG IV with a moody collection of tracks to act as a backdrop for Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, Gabriel produced an album about issues he had previously only skirted around – love. Or rather, his experience of it. ‘Us’, released in ’92, sees PG reinvent himself as a graying sentimentalist healing himself through musical introspection. It is, quite frankly, maudlin and tedious. With persisted listening, it does reveal itself over time and your appreciation of it (some of it is very understated) will increase, however there are few highlights. This is Peter’s worst era, as at least ‘So’ had some gallant attempt at experimentation. It is largely ignored here. Peter churns out another sex–related stax single in the shape of ‘Steam’ (something hot and wet…), which is obviously intended to replicate ‘Sledgehammer’s success so obviously it is grossly insulting – and the other obvious ‘single’ (‘Kiss That Frog’) defies words it is so badly misjudged. There is a quieter alternate version of ‘Steam’ that is far more enjoyable to listen to floating around that shows how he should have released it. The other should never have been made! This is also Peter’s most ‘world music’ influenced album – there’s a wide assortment of instrumentation. When this works, the effect is a feeling of passionate exoticism, like on the album opener ‘Come Talk to Me’ (about the problem of communicating with his daughter after the divorce from his first wife, with oblique lyrics that suggest an acrimonious split, wishing he could just be with her in person and speak). When it doesn’t, it sounds like it tries too hard to be quixotic – a valiant attempt to incorporate a traditionally underappreciated approach in Western music – and fails. Plus! It has the simply abhorrent Sinead O’Connor all over it, singing backing vocals. For the tour, Gabriel decided he wanted to make a drama of himself and his music with a theatrical stage show. The treatment of the music on this tour just about makes up for the disappointing record, as some of the images he showcased on the ‘Secret World’ tour of ‘94 complement the impenetrable lyrics with far more clarity than the instrumentation. The stage is divided into two areas, a square and a circle, representing the male and the female, and there is a narrow causeway between them, representing their inextricable link and the channel of communication in a relationship. For example, a goateed and nimble PG emerges from a phone box at the start of the show, struggling from the square stage to the circle, the cord of the phone making his progress difficult, almost impossible, he yearns for contact and yet his medium of communication drags him back in ‘Come Talk to Me’, tour backing vocalist Paula Cole located in the circle extending her hand to him only for him to be snatched away. It’s a powerful image and exactly what was missing from the record. The whole show is seamlessly constructed out of potent images – ‘Digging in the Dirt’ is performed with PG crawling in muck to slowly reveal a huge plaster cast of himself, excavating his positive aspects out of all his nastiest characteristics, his most abominable conduct.

If the Secret World tour was a success, Peter didn’t choose to follow it up immediately. In fact, for the rest of the 90s, he immersed himself in the studio, writing a mammoth number of tracks in various stages of production, and contributing some to movie soundtracks. He went completely off the radar, appearing in public to perform only occasionally, most famously at the VH1 awards to showcase a new song in ’96 with the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, called ‘Signal to Noise’. This Peter is now fully snow–capped, a doughy and mellow looking human being whose track would not be released for another 5 years. His last release, ‘Up’ of 2002 (abiding by the two letter naming convention he has employed since ‘So’), is a dry and reserved affair. Peter once said that we have a tendency to look at our lives as if driving a car, we see what is in front of us (our future), what is behind us (our past), but not what is above or below us. We see ourselves only in the course of our life times, daring not to ponder what lies for us on another plane of existence, should one exist. As an album, it leaves one profoundly woeful, but also with a strange sense of peace – dealing precisely with the question of what lies beyond when the heart beat slows and the palms dry out. Considering the album was nigh–on ten years in the making, it is a densely layered production that reveals all its nuances with repeated listens. It is impossible to appreciate everything this masterpiece has to offer in one play through. I’ve listened to it obsessively since its release and I still notice new things! The opener, ‘Darkness’, feels like something from PG III, sharing much of the fragile tight–rope walking between relaxation and paranoia, Peter’s fears emerging in his most insular moments, the only peace he gets when he chooses to confront them and try to understand them, exposing them, expressed in the helpless form of a child curled in a ball. It is a semi–sequel to both ‘No Self Control’ and ‘Digging in the Dirt’, with Peter galvanizing himself with the mantra “I own my fear, so it doesn’t own me”, the painful but necessary process of confrontation with his inner demons described in the parting lyric “I cry until I laugh”. ‘Growing Up’, a single and as such also one of the more upbeat tracks on the album, concerns the relatively un–commercial notion of one man’s entire lifespan, and death, from being “folded in your fleshy purse” at birth, developing our mental faculties with increasing complexity (“one dot, that's on or off, defines what is and what is not – two dot, a pair of eyes, a voice, a touch, complete surprise”), mapping the world as we explore and learn, making our settlements (“three dot, a trinity, a way to map the universe – four dot, is what will make a square, a bed to build on, it's all there”). Eventually we are faced with death and nothing in our experience informs what will occur apart from the rationale that since we are in constant transition from birth, we must transform into something in death as we have never remained static. When death comes and we are freed from our bodies (Gabriel obviously believing the soul endures death), we look upon our overzealous protection of our previous mode of existence as nonsensical, particularly when existence is always transition, even from life to death. Even so, it is a struggle to come to terms with, particularly when “it all seems so absurd to be flying like a bird, when I do not feel I've really landed here” – life is transitive, and our protagonist wishes he had made more of his time in a physical body. It bombed as a financial endeavour, as only his most loyal fans purchased it on release (as I might have done…) and it had been ten years since he had been in the public eye in any way that could have informed the music buying public. The notion of existence as transitive continues on ‘Sky Blue’, life as an odyssey, looking for some definition, never stopping long enough to let out a cry, an expression of what it all could mean. ‘No Way Out’ is another song about death, about the incisive dread one feels when a loved one nearly fades away (in what sounds like possibly a heart attack), not wishing them to leave you alone, begging them to stay with you on this plane, holding on (quite literally) for dear life! This is the very definition of gloom, something the album is saturated in, entwined with the kind of hopefulness we kindle as the spark looks dangerously close to being snuffed out even when everything tells us otherwise. Perhaps the most famous track from this album, ‘I Grieve’ was featured on the ‘City of Angels’ film soundtrack. Guess what it’s about? If you said death – well done, you are correct. It shares common ground with the previous tracks but only in so far as it concerns what happens to those left behind after the coffin disappears behind the curtain and the hearses glide out of sight… How to reconcile the emptiness their life might have once filled in your own. The only way to fill it is to grieve, a natural, understandable process that eventually results in the vacuum being filled with other people, places and faces. You don’t forget, but you place the deceased in a greater context – it is not about them leaving you, but moving on to something else, something you will too eventually. This belief is questioned at the end of the song, but only in so far as whether it is valid notion to carry – and it is judged to be so, as it provides relief, its use as a practical tool for overcoming the paralysis of heartbreak far outweighing its use of informing us as to what happens when we die, because we can’t effect changes upon that.


Music VIII

The next track is an obvious attempt at a single and conspicuous in that it doesn’t deal directly with the themes examined in other songs; ‘The Barry Williams Show’ in its utter banality and lack of significance contrasts the insightful and introspective songs that surround it. This was perhaps deliberate as the show described is an insipid Jerry Springer alike chat show, where people’s distress and pain is exploited, milked for ratings, dressed in the sheep’s clothing of ‘therapy’ and is ultimately a hollow excuse for voyeuristic sadism. As a result the show develops a cult of personality around its host and has the side effect of running people ‘down’, instead of ‘up’. Instead of an ascension into more spiritually soothing matters we are encouraged to “come on down” to the hellish fires of cheating girlfriends, abusive husbands and underage sex (“'My S/M lover hurt me' 'my girl became a man' 'I love my daughter's rapist’ 'my life's gone down the pan'”). The show eventually implodes (or rather, the host is replaced) when an even more unscrupulous would–be star hatches a plot to replace him, using a more emotional style to raise the viewing figures. The host is left alone as he is irrelevant and obsolete to the whole proceedings, and anticipating his slide back into obscurity, his world is turned on its head. He’s left to his own personal hell of eventual anonymity, retribution for all his misdeeds, but not before he defiantly and remorselessly films his last show, basking in his fame while it lasts. This sorry tale is contrasted with the search for there being something more to life than things like the BW show, something better – ‘More Than This’ is a voyage of discovery for a man who wakes up one morning with a compulsion to find some meaning in his life, eventually coming to the conclusion that people “like words together we can make some sense”, that the truth is contained somewhere within us, buried in our soul, common to all. In communing and communicating, we know somehow that there must be more, even if we cannot quantify it, as we see it in others as well as ourselves – looks like he’s been at the Jung again. It’s a simple lyric, reflecting a simple hope, and is infinitely better when the complicated electronic wall of sound that chokes the life out of the lyrics is replaced with the strumming of an acoustic guitar – the Elbow remix is exquisite at this. If you can find it, replace your album version with it and enjoy the song, in sequence, as it was meant to be heard. ‘Signal to Noise’, the penultimate track, concerns the gallant notion of replacing the meaningless array of radio waves that pollute the air, destroying our children’s innocence and alienating populations (and submerging anything beautiful or hopeful) with genuine honesty. We are amusing ourselves to death, again, and we’re in Roger country. It also features, as did the VH1 awards performance, the simply spine–tingling vocal talent of Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. This man’s voice simply cannot be described (although not for want of trying), it defies words – find out here; link – The vocal on the studio track is actually from that live performance, as he sadly died before the album’s completion. There’s not much to be said apart from that it is a rallying call for something more important, the dissolving of the façade sharing some sentiment with ‘Here Comes the Flood’ from PG I, and it is a sentiment echoed amongst the vast majority of the concept albums featured in this overview. Overview? Over 30,00 words now… I don’t know how I can justify maintaining such a label in light of that fact. This whole thing was only meant to be a distraction!

The last track is by far the most interesting on the album. Like Hammill’s ‘Flight’, in ‘The Drop’ we’re on a plane. This is just piano and voice and the recording presented here is apparently the first take, intended as a demo. We move down the fuselage to look out of the open door, watching what seems to be bombs dropped from the belly of the plane – you’d be forgiven for thinking parachutes but instead we have the city lights far below, “like the nerves of the brain”, getting extinguished one by one as they meet the earth. The point is that such indiscriminate murder, the casual devastation of lives, equates to the seemingly random and indiscriminate way our existences can just peter out without fanfare. A heart attack, a terminal disease, going under the wheels of a bus – it is all perfectly possible, seemingly without reason, us watching from on high (as we’re in a more spiritual place while contemplating life and death) as a higher power (that doesn’t seem sentient) reaches for the off switch without a care in the world. We wonder where the bombs fall to because we have no idea how and where and why we could die ourselves outside of knowing generally where the most dangerous areas are (taking steps to avoid the behaviours that maximize the potential for premature extinction), such casual ‘wondering’ the closest we will ever get. It is, like ‘More Than This’, a very simple lyric and coming at the end of the album carries a very decisive tone, a finality. It feels like a muted recognition of the frailty of our own mortality – we’ve come first circle as we no longer worry about the immediate and circular nature of frightening ourselves and each other (in ‘Darkness’) but instead we greet death with trepidation but not confidence, curiousity without dread. I warn you not to listen to the album while feeling mournful for your youth or uneasy about getting older, just as you shouldn’t listen to ‘Clutching At Straws’ while drinking! Having said that, it is a deeply moving album if only for the fact that it makes you confront, head on, your own attitude towards the pendulum swing. Peter’s lyrics are expertly crafted here, as no longer do we feel we have to wade through needlessly flowery and obtuse metaphors designed to obscure raw emotion (as in ‘Us’) or feel insulted with another set of sex similies, instead carrying a simple power considering the biggest uncertainty we’ll ever face in our lifetimes – what happens after I die – but not (for Peter) in our entire existence.

Up, in the context of Peter’s life and his advancing years, seems like it could be his final album especially when considering the finality of the subject matter. It could have been the full stop at the end of a career – instead it proved to be a question mark, as the sorrowful and mournful old man is just another reinvention of his persona. Peter toured extensively with this show, taking many of the techniques he pioneered in the Secret World tour to make his concerts memorable, such as a stage in the centre of the audience, a variety of vehicles to make use of (a huge zorb ball to bounce around in, a bicycle to ride and later on the tour a Segway), attaching himself upside down to a raised platform to walk in circles over the audience and turning a television camera on them, the feed projected on a giant screen on stage (during the BW show). Incidentally, this tour also features his daughter on backing vocals, the performances of ‘Come Talk To Me’ from this tour being particularly powerful as father and daughter sing their respective roles in the song. While Peter is quite obviously advanced in years (being almost completely bald), his energy has not diminished and his obvious enthusiasm for performing is palpable. His voice, while deepening and becoming steadily more raspy (a change that occurred most obviously between PG IV and So, perhaps as a result of the vocal gymnastics he had to run through every night on the Playtime 88 tour) is just as powerful as it was on PG I and even his Genesis work, Peter being a man who obviously takes care of his voice! Peter has been quiet for the last few years but rumour has it he is preparing to undertake an acoustic tour, something which seems to be yet another reinvention of his style of performance! The man never stops. Let’s hope he continues.

When I first got interested in this music, as a youngster, I was impressed the theatricality dedicated to providing a unique condition on the music. That the music itself was complicated (to play), attenuated in its seriousness and occasionally po–faced was immediately forgiven on the grounds that all what the vast majority of the performers featured here do is simply perform. They don’t claim to provide you with answers (as Fish got dangerously close to doing on his first solo effort) but instead their prancing around and vocal cart–wheeling serve to make you question yourself and your own standpoint on life. They only ask that you listen to their music and take it seriously, make an effort to listen to the lyrics and give them the due attention you would give any other discussion of the issues they concern in any other medium. Many of them are dedicated to making a spectacle of themselves and yet it doesn’t feel overly self–absorbed (well, Waters might be one exception) and desperate. In truth, I admire them for having the courage to go on stage and wear their hearts on their sleeves despite whatever face paint, costume or stage design they bound around with. They are united in their intention to provide entertainment with a message, form married with content. They are a world away from the cynicism and formulaic safety of manufactured pop. The issues they discuss, in whatever hackneyed way they choose, are timeless and their exploration in each of their individual ways the performers treat them is pleasurable to be a part of, to empathise with and to understand. Each work is a microcosm to immerse your self within and in the case of the concept albums, a journey to go on with the band.

So that’s it. In reality I have only really discussed a handful of artists, all of whom started recording over ten years ago. I should mention some of the more recent acts that have caught my eye (like this chap whose release ‘Cerulean Blue’, a concept album, is hugely impressive) but I felt it important to talk about the albums and artists I listen to the most and who have had the greatest impact upon me as both a lover of ‘art rock’ (a label that looks increasingly lackadaisical!) and a person. I know that I will continue to listen to these albums until either my ears cease functioning or it is detrimental to do so, and that provides me with a certain sense of comfort, perhaps what I have been lacking these past weeks. Good luck with your listening, and to all the people I barely knew, have nice lives. Consider this my parting shot!


July 2019

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