Thursday, 28th January 2010
Spirit Of 66, Verviers, Belgium
Article and photos by Dave Baird
By Peter's own admission, European gigs aren't the most common occurrence, Belgian dates especially so, and a European tour, well it has been quite some time.
It's also the case that many of Hammill's recent forays have been with his long-term on-stage collaborator, Stuart Gordon.
So to see Peter, naked on the stage (as it were) was an event not to be missed.
Add to this that I had arranged to interview the great man face-to-face and then factor in that his music has been a major part of my life for the last thirty years,
and attendance becomes mandatory, the anticipation tremendous.
Of course Van Der Graaf Generator played a gig in Belgium just before the release of Trisector,
but a solo Hammill show is a totally different beast indeed - where as one could compare a VDGG show to a five-course meal,
Hammill alone is more of an Italian anti-pasta affair, seemingly light, but rich and deeply flavored, ultimately more filling than you had anticipated.
With such high expectations there comes a small fear - will he play my favourite songs?
Well I suppose there's always that at any gig, but there are perhaps a handful of Hammill songs that I could convincingly make a case for actually changing me as a person,
guiding some of the choices I've made in life.
Such is the impact the artist can have. Thankfully, close behind this top-tier is a vast catalogue of songs spanning more than forty years,
so it's likely a good percentage will hit the mark, and I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed.
The first thing to note is that Spirit of 66 was really quite full, if not sold-out, a total contrast to the last time I wen there when The Tangent,
Ritual and Beardfish combined hardly drew a crowd of 100.
I saw a wide range of ages too from penners to teenagers and it's great to see that new generations are picking up on his music.
The audience were not only highly appreciative with thunderous applause between each and every track,
but they were perhaps the most polite group of people you can imagine,
the mutual respect between them and Hammill was palpable and the silence during the performance was amazing - not since the early days of Tori Amos,
before she was discovered by screaming teenagers, have I seen such a respect, incredible.
I also had the pleasure to talk to a few, the chap sitting next to me, Tony Froyen, was clearly quite an admirer of Peter's work.
Pleasant man, but he seemed a wee bit too obsessed I thought, but in a nice way I...
Peter played three mini-sets, piano - acoustic guitar - piano.
I will freely admit to preferring his piano driven work, I think the instrument suits his songwriting and underpins his voice so much better.
That being said, live his guitar work comes across better due to the raw nature in which he performs his songs.
Great renditions of Don't Tell Me from Enter K, Just Good Friends from Patience, Shell from Skin,
but perhaps the highlight of the first piano driven set for me was The Mercy from his lost recent studio release Thin Air. Peter's an accomplished pianist,
and whereas he'll never be performing Mozart concertos on stage he holds his own very well and injects a great passion into his playing which is only surpassed by his voice.
And what a voice that is - there's nothing else like it in any genre, never mind prog alone.
I think you either love it or hate it, but when it's the latter then you tend to become quite entranced by it and dig deep - there aren't too many casual Hammill fans in my opinion.
Peter then strolled over to the guitar stool and continued to visit his albums of the 80's with Comfortable from Patience and
Central Hotel from Sitting Targets, this second song being particularly interesting as the studio version is multi-tracked,
heavily distorted production, so to hear a stripped-down acoustic rendition was very nice.
Some older songs with Fools Mate's The Birds, Been Alone So Long from Nadir's Big Chance (Peter's *punk* album) and a real favorite,
Modern from The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage.
Back to this century with Our Eyes Give it Shape from Singularity.
It's interesting to note that when Peter used the guitar he injects a lot more punctuation into the songs that he does with piano,
he mostly has a real staccato, angry style of playing which brings a certain urgency to the songs.
Back to the piano then for the closing set with the marvelous Unrehearsed from This -
quite amusing here as he seemed to play some bad notes on the piano just before the line "…from these deliberate mistakes…",
it's only now in writing this that I think it was indeed a deliberate mistake as opposed to a cock-up… A song I don't know too well,
Tenderness from Everyone You Hold, then Friday Afternoon and White Dot from Singularity
and finishing up with the super Stranger Still also from Sitting Targets.
During this final track Peter managed to accidentally touch the patch key on his keyboard switching it from piano to strings,
he briefly paused, considered the situation, switched it back and carried on as though nothing had happened, I guess that's what years of experience does for you,
as cool as a cucumber!
Peter then came back and treated us to Time To Burn from In A Foreign Town, another one of the albums I personally know less.
Peter departed to rapturous applause, unfortunately not coming back, but it was the thick-end of ninety minutes and at a high intensity so I can understand,
he's not a young man any more and hey, quality not quantity, right?
In a way a bit of n unusual setlist, with the 1980's a little over-represented, not to say there were any bad ones there,
no all great stuff, but I would have loved something from In Camera, Ph7 or a Black Box.
What was interesting for myself was that quite a few of the songs I don't know well, they're on albums I have but didn't thoroughly explore yet,
Singularity being the prime example.
Having heard these songs live they speak to me so much more than I'm now motivated to get the CD out and give it a spin to see what I've been missing.
Also fair to say that the songs I know well are also portrayed in a new light when played live.
Hammill doesn't regurgitate his songs, every performance is a fresh take with new potential meanings each night.
That all probably sounds a bit pretentious, but I'd challenge you to defy me if you saw him performing.
To sum up, it was a great night, and of course a deep honor to meet and interview Peter before the show.
Peter performs with the vigor of a man half his age and his shows are an experience not to be missed.
Here's hoping we don't have to wait ten years for his next visit to Belgium.
Don’t Tell Me
Just Good Friends
Our Eyes Give It Shape
Been Alone So Long
Time to Burn
Peter Hammill Official Website
DPRP's Review of Peter Hammill's "Thin Air"
Interview: DPRP's Dave Baird with Peter Hammill
Spirit Of 66