The 1st pop/rock/jazz concert of 2010 was Peter Hammill at La Maroquinerie in Paris. Peter is not a person to arrive late – something I really appreciate – but due to our congested public transport system I was the one who was a couple minutes late and missed the 1st song, Easy to Slip Away.
I was not happy with it but quickly focused on the songs the thin man delivered with passion, anger, humour, and all the range of human feelings.
As usual with solo gigs, PH opened playing on the keyboard, performing brilliant versions of Other Old Clichés, Shell and Gone Ahead. This song is one of my favourite from his album Incoherence, the follower of Clutch, 2 masterpieces from the 2000s.
The Mercy closed the keyboard part, and Peter moved to the guitar to play Comfortable, a remarkable I Will Find You and a fabulous Driven.
No-one ever knows the road they’re on.
I’m driven by my younger self into a corner.
I remember dreaming the open road.
I liked to think I had control
but my hands on the wheel
were guided by some outside force
as my future revealed.
I slalomed through life’s obstacles
more on instinct than feel.
I picked myself up as a hitcher
and it’s really quite a deal
to see this lifelong journey
through his eyes.
Just as we got going we’ve arrived.
We’re driven by our older selves
into what we become and all our careful planning
turns out strictly rule of thumb.
We’re driven by ourselves
but dream we’re free, on the open road.
Free, on the open road.
Then onto Stumbled, Central Hotel and a fantastic rendition of Patient.
raging at the illness
when the rage may be its cause,
Waiting for the doctor to come.
There isn’t any doctor,
there isn’t any cure
Back to the keyboard to play an outstanding version of His Best Girl, a deeply moving Meanwhile My Mother, Undone, Faculty X, an excellent A Better Time and Traintime.
Peter was back for an encore, one of his early song, Vision.
Take my tongue, take my torment,
take my hand and don’t let go.
Let me live in your life,
for you make it all seem to matter.
Let me die in your arms,
so the vision may never shatter.
The seasons roll on;
my love stays strong.
Just a few days later, I crossed the Channel to attend another PH concert, in London‘s Cadogan Hall.
This time I was early enough to sit in the front row of this beautiful venue. Hammill’s audience know they do not need worry about attending concerts occurring close together, as set lists vary each night and Peter’s rendition of the songs too. And in this specific case, a Steinway grand piano was replacing the keyboard from Paris.
Peter sat at the piano and opened the evening with Don’t Tell Me, followed by Shell and a very good version of Nothing Comes. First major shock of the evening, a tremendous rendition of The Mercy!
It was time for the series of songs that Peter had decided to play on the guitar. While tuning up, PH made some appropriate comments about the British government and the Iraq invasion, and went on to change the gender of the protagonist of Comfortable, she becoming a he.
The next 2 songs were outstanding versions of Shingle and Driven. Shingle is one of the saddest love songs Peter wrote (apart from the Over period), from the superb 1975 Nadir’s Big Chance album.
You can see in the last light that’s graced as dawn
that there’s nothing in my heart but pain
as I stand, facing sea, knowing that you’re gone…
all the elements rage to explain
that I should really be on my way
but there is something
which ensures I must stay.
Beneath the roar of the seething surf,
beneath the caterwaul of scattered call wind
thoughts and gestures unspoken, unheard
and now the dance of rapture begins
as the waves rush along across the beach –
like you, like your love
forever out of reach.
Look at the sky, but it’s empty now;
look at the sea, it holds nothing but despair.
I raise my eyes, but my head stays bowed…
I look to my side, but you’re not there.
And I can’t get you out of my mind,
no, no, no, no, I just can’t get you from my mind.
A change of tuning, and here is The Habit of the Broken Heart, a 2nd tuning change and Peter delivers a shattering version of (on Tuesdays she used to do) Yoga, with some chords played “upwards”, from the high string to the low string. Time for a 3rd tuning, and to perform astounding versions of Stumbled and Patient.
Then PH goes back to the piano for the last part of the show, starting with a moving tragic Friday Afternoon, Peter playing dissonant chords and making use of silence in between. The next songs remain at the same level of excellence – I often think of Peter Hammill as some sort of a cousin to Jacques Brel, Ian Curtis, or Iggy Pop in terms of intensity on stage, all having their own musical world but sharing the gift of themselves – Undone and A Way Out, one of his most personal songs. And in my humble opinion, the absolute climax of the evening.
But to be honest, both Faculty X and Stranger Still which were closing the concert would have been enough to make the audience happy and the trip to London worth it. After a roaring end to Stranger Still the whole audience was standing up and cheering the thin man.
Peter said a few words about optimism/pessimism that were close to “I keep believing that dark(er) helps go through” before playing the encore, A Better Time.
Thank you Sir!
PS: you can also read Tommy Udo’s blog post on the concert.