Peter Hammill, La Salumeria della Musica, Milano, May 13 2012
I have had plans for a Peter Hammill section in my website for many years now, but it is still to be built… Fortunately, his sofasound site and a couple of great sites are updated on a rather frequent basis.
Few artists in popular music have proved so tenacious, clever, ambitious in the right way, uncompromising and unwilling to sacrifice music and texts to trade and trends.
I first heard of PH in a review on Joy Division, and later found out he was one of the very few “progressive rock” musician respected (admired) by punk bands. I bought my first record during a trip to the UK around 1987: Sitting Targets, from the early 80s. Strange title and cover art, great texts and music.
Soon were to follow A Black Box, Nadir’s Big Chance, the brand new (and underrated) In A Foreign Town, and then PH7. And later, all the rest of his huge output, including his work with Van Der Graaf Generator and with the K Group.
One thing I was really not prepared for was the live experience. The Paris show in 1989 at l’Européen (aka le Théâtre en rond) where PH played some songs solo, some in duo with incredible guitarist John ‘Fury’ Ellis was a trip to unknown areas. Peter inhabits songs with a rare intensity and strong physical presence – I would only think of Jacques Brel or Ian Curtis to be in the same zone, or possibly Iggy Pop. But all in their very personal ways.
So, ever since, I have been doing my best to attend concerts in Paris, in London and occasionally other places like Germany or … Italy!
I arrived in Milan on the eve of the concert, and the next morning had a quick but very pleasant breakfast… before visiting the Titian exhibition. Around 2pm, I met with some other ‘fans’. Monique, Andy, Adrian, Jan, Willy, and myself walked in the Duomo area and had a light bite.
Later, time to walk to the venue, La Salumeria della Musica. There is a piano and an acoustic guitar on stage – most often this is the case with PH solo gigs, sometimes the piano being replaced by another type of keyboard.
The thin man arrives, sits at the piano, and opens with My Room. Right from the start, the power of Peter’s voice, with its incredible range, makes the audience enter into the music. The second number is from the new album: That wasn’t what I said. The song delivery is intense, the shock remains. The text relates to the impossibility to get correctly understood, to communicate, as a word can have a different meaning for different persons ; it also relates to the insane dictatorship of media, made worse by internet and social media. Communication issues have long been present in PH songs, even more in the years 2000’s.
Next comes Autumn, a song about aging, having the kids leaving the house. A difficult situation that many parents experience. Superb interpretation again! Then comes the more recent Meanwhile my mother, a touching song about some trips that older people make alone, for instance when victims of diseases such as Alzheimer.
The last 2 songs at the piano are Your time starts now and the very old Vision.
Then Peter moves to the very front of the stage and picks up the guitar to sing Last Frame. The following song is The Birds, which is superbly interpreted. I like very much the poetic images developed in the lyrics. Stumbled is a much darker song, a very powerful one and Peter’s command of the song is fantastic. Afterwards and an excellent rendition of Modern close the guitar part of the gig.
Peter goes back to the piano. Most of us can only see his head. He plays This Side of the working Glass, with a deep sorrow feeling ; the song comes from the album Over, one of his most personal records.
Then he plays 3 very recent songs, Bravest Face, one of the best songs of his latest opus, a very fine version of The Mercy, and an extraordinary A Run Of Luck, again from the new album – in my opinion, its most moving song, the one that closes the CD.
As Peter puts it: “Tonight’s theme is very old and very new songs”. And he moves to Still Life, a masterpiece about mortality/immortality.
The great PH is back for an encore, House With No Door, another old song, played with exceptional insight.
PH then kindly had a signing of books, albums, photos…
Time to leave, have a good night / sleep tight, make some great dreams and next morning have a again a nice breakfast with Monique and Andy, among others!