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Peter Hammill - Profile

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 23 / 11 / 2007

Peter Hammill - Profile


Anthony Strutt examines four of former Van Der Graaf Generator front man Peter Hammill's solo albums, Sitting Targets’, ‘Love Songs’, ‘Skin’ and ‘And Close as This', which, as part of an extensive reissue programme of all his catalogue, have just been remastered and re-released

Peter Hammill was the front man and a founding member of 70’s progressive rock group Van Der Graaf Generator, which was an early influence on the young John Lydon and Public Image Limited. Even before Van Der Graaf Generator who formed in 1967 finally broke up in 1978, Hammill, whose main instruments are the piano and guitar, began a solo career. An extensive reissue of his many solo albums, beginning with records he originally released in the 1970’s, started in 2006. Four of his early and mid 80’s albums, ‘Sitting Targets’, ‘Love Songs’, ‘Skin’ and ‘And Close as This’ , all of which have been remastered and feature notes from Hammill, have come out in the last few months. ‘Sitting Targets’ (1981) More band-orientated than the other three recent reissues, ‘Sitting Targets’ begins with ‘Breakthrough’, which has bass that recalls that of Jean-Jacques Burnel in the Stranglers, big drums and moody vocals from Hammill. It is sung with big attitude, and has a great sense of rhythm. ‘My Experience’, which also came out as a 7 inch single, recalls David Bowie and has a more commercial sound. ‘Ophelia’ features some pleasantly strummed acoustic guitar, has smooth backing and a soft, strong vocal from Hammill which is sung in a commanding way. ‘Empress's Clothes’ again recalls Bowie in its lyrics and delivery and has a post punk manner. ‘Glue’ meanwhile, which sounds like the soundtrack to a film, has a moody and eerie new wave sound, while ‘Hesitation’ features brass and is very much a rock number in it's delivery. ‘Sitting Targets,’ the title track, has edgy electric guitar and chunky bass and drums, and, featuring further hints of brass,has another robust vocal performance from Hammill. ‘Stranger Still,’ is piano based, and, recalling that other 80’s band Immaculate Fools, becomes more layered as it progresses. ‘Sign’ features strong acoustic guitar and massive drums and has an introduction that is reminiscent of the Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ ‘What I Did’ is very experimental, recalling with its funky beats the Bowie and Lennon track, ‘Fame’, from 1975. ‘Central Hotel’ closes the CD, and is even more experimental still, adding some very bizarre brass over the top. ’The Love Songs’ (1984). ‘The Love Songs’ is a compilation album, featuring songs from Hammill that stretch from the early 70’s to the early 80’s, and all of which had been released on other records. ‘Just Good Friends’ is a moody number, a song about an old flame delivered with a big sound. ‘My Favourite’ is acoustic guitar based, and, recalling Nick Drake, more delicate. ‘Been Alone So Long’ is another acoustic guitar number, but this time with a jazz pop sound. 'Ophelia', which appeared on 'Sitting Target', recalls late 60's and early 70's Bowie, while on the super-smooth 'Again' Hammill has an air of Scott Walker in his vocals. 'If I Could' is slow and, featuring some deep bass, sounds like a theatrical or music hall number. 'Vision' is keyboard based, delivered in a moody fashion, and has the added assistance of a sad violin. 'Don't Tell Me' is another sad and sorrowful tale, and with the piano as its main instrument and featuring lots of added brass, is absolutely heartbreaking. 'The Birds' is a big piano-based piece with jazzy elements. It ends with 'This Side of the Looking Glass', which involves an orchestra, and, very sad and lonely in tone, is sung beautifully by Hammill in a style that Scott Walker would be proud of. 'Skin' (1985) 'Skin' opens with the title track which has an introduction that sounds like the Cure's 'A Forest', while Hammill's vocals are reminiscent of a screeching Bowie. 'After the Show' has a smooth, clean-sounding production that recalls Japan, and has some pleasant-on-the-ear brass which fits in perfectly with the rest of the song. 'Painting by Numbers' fits somewhere between Prefab Sprout, wacky Talking heads and 80's Bowie, while 'Shell' has a very theatrical sound. Strongly narrative in tone, it backed by soft electric guitar and chunky bass. 'All Said and Done' is loud and has lush instrumentation, while 'A Perfect Date' sounds like an experimental Bowie or Iggy Pop. The vocal on 'Four Pails' is a spoken word number. Hammill sounds like an actor telling a story, and, as it progresses, it develops an element of the Who's 'Tommy'. 'Low Lover' is the longest track here. Once more narrative in tone, it starts off sounding like something which the 90's band Jack would have done with its lavish, atmospherical tones, but then around the seven minutes it develops an Iggy like groove before it gets slower and finally mellows out. The last track is 'You Hit Me me Where I Live', which, somewhat cheesy in its overtones, has a wacky, loud and very commercial sound. 'And Close as This' (1986). 'And Close as This' features eight tracks, of which two are piano-based pieces while the remaining six are played on keyboards. 'Too Many of My Yesterdays', the first piano piece opens the collection and has a sorrowful vocal that recalls David Bowie 'Faith' sounds like a hymn, while 'Empire of Delight', which features soft lyrics penned by Hammill had its tune written by Keith Emerson. 'Silver' is a strong narrative number and is performed in an eerie manner with a loud theatrical vocal. Both 'Beside The One That You Love' and 'Other Old Cliches' feature soft vocals. The former is the other piano-based piece. 'Confidence'is very dramatic in sound and is another strong narrative number, while 'Sleep', which ends the album, is both slow and dreamy.

Picture Gallery:-
Peter Hammill - Profile

Peter Hammill - Profile

Peter Hammill - Profile

Peter Hammill - Profile

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