...is the title of the new set of recordings, out on May
15th...though you can order it from Sofa Sound now
You may recall that at the time of recording "This" I was
feeling a certain sense of synchronicity about the numbers
surrounding the release and therefore set about making a
sort of continuing statement of intent. This time there were
no such pressures (if, indeed, they were such last time) and
I was simply intent on making the best possible record I
could, on its own terms and with its own subjects.
Mindful of the fact that I had set myself some sort of
agenda with "This" I deliberately set about things at the
early stages (now well over a year ago) with the broadest
possible of intentions. Once the project was actually
underway (there is an intangible moment when this occurs) I
had a handful of completed songs, in the writing at least,
and a whole raft of - sometimes conflicting - ideas and
fragments. Rather than going full tilt into arranging and
recording a select few of these towards final releasable
form I continued to experiment in what may have appeared a
haphazard fashion - improvising over improvisations, working
on pure sonics and, indeed, continuing to write more
The songs which now finally comprise the album emerged from
several of these methods of working and if they have a unity
then it is one which they themselves have imposed. They are
a diverse bunch in style and content, although I have,
perhaps, "rounded them up" to an extent by my final approach
in terms of arrangements.
Few others are involved in the music. Manny Elias plays
drums on one piece only, while Stuart Gordon appears on
three. Two of these are string arrangements (rather than
"wild" playing) of quite different character one from the
other. I have once again used my daughters, Holly and
Beatrice, on two songs, to go into those upper register
realms of backing/choral vox which are beyond my range.
Apart from these contributions all voices and instruments
are my own.
Guitars play a large part in the equation. My interest in
using the instrument (if one can call the wide range of
sounds one can get from electric guitar(s) + amp + FX "an"
instrument) in an orchestral fashion, which was evident on
the re-recorded version of "Usher", has continued. E-bow,
backwards and fuzz playing has proliferated here, for the
most part in a colour-wash (rather than axe-hero) fashion.
With the addition of keyboard pads and several pianos I
would say (but who am I to say, as always so close to it at
this stage?) that the sound world bears some resemblance to
that of "Everyone You Hold". More on individual arrangements
later, in the analysis of individual songs...
The lyrics are for the most part stories, third-person tales
- even if, at times, I'm singing the external characters in
first-person mode. I still can't tell you, of course, why a
certain clutch of songs should come along together like this
with if not exactly similar subject matter then certainly a
broad similarity in areas of concern and styles of writing.
In this instance I've ended up with a number of tales of
people in earthy and/or earthly circumstances.
Eight songs are involved and no one is quite like another in
style or content...though all, I suppose, give some evidence
of my previously established styles. There is, though, a
certain journey involved as one moves from one to the
"Touch & Go" opens the album and is perhaps the most
conventional love/lost love song on it. It is, I suppose,
bang in the centre of my piano-writing style and I have, in
fact, had the tune for a considerable time without being
able to find the key to a satisfactory set of lyrics. These
now reside in the territory of inability to communicate
and/or prevent what one can clearly see coming. There's some
sense of the fleetingness of things here as well.
In "Naming the Rose" an arrangement for keyboards, four
violas and a restrained choir moves at a stately pace
through a narrative which deals with a bittersweet love
story of devotion. It's not the most likely subject for a
song but makes sense to me in both specific and universal
"How Far I Fell" brings us to that familiar character, the
old man who should have known better. That's not so out of
the ordinary, but the musical setting is somewhat abnormal.
The song is delivered in first person but in character. This
chap is really talking to himself: he's prepared to admit
his mistakes in private, while trying to retain something of
a brave face to the world.
Guitars abound here and an interesting footnote is that
they're nearly all Van der Graaf ones. The venerable
Meurglys III happened to be chosen for the bulk of the
electric parts. When I came to record the acoustic I had the
feeling that I wanted a high-strung version. (This is a way
of stringing guitar which gives a semi-12 string sound,
while retaining openness and not clogging up the spectrum.)
As it happens, the one acoustic which I've had set up in
this way is the Yamaha which was my instrument with the band
as far back as "The Least we can do...". So I used that. Not
being sentimental, or anything, you understand!
There are some wild curves in this song in the middle
sections where riffs and vocals come into swirling
collision. Things come back to the voice - and the man -
alone by the end.
"Somebody Bad Enough" has a chirpy outer face but is,
frankly, a pretty creepy song. Again, I sing in character:
this one's a stalker of some kind or another. Behind the
sweet delivery and the tight harmonies there's more than a
hint of menace.
"Tango for One" is not a true tango...how could it be in a
solo dance? There are a couple of stylistic nods made in the
direction of Buenos Aires, but this is fundamentally a
fairly classic PH piano number, with very sensitive playing
from Stuart giving colour to proceedings. It's a song
addressed to someone (we all know them, don't we) for whom
the world revolves exclusively around themselves. Before you
ask (as Gail, my manager, did) I didn't have anyone
absolutely specific in mind; certainly, though, a couple of
different experiences and personalities started me off on
the the way to this piece. This was a difficult song to get
right in the recording and I had several different attempts
before settling on this final version. I suspect it'll be
invigorating to perform live....
"Like Veronica" is another song with an element of chill
about it. This is the only song with full kit and the only
one which remotely approximates to a band sound, albeit a
fractured and virtual one in which guitars predominate.
Again, a certain sweetness of delivery eventually leads into
brutal circumstances. I think I ought to leave you to find
out the whole story as it unfolds on disc....
"In a Bottle" is by turns languorous and highly aggressive
(although not, as I've intimated, in a fully band-like
sense). A hedonist finds himself staring in the mirror by
guttering candlelight. Nothing goes unpaid for, nothing
comes cheap and there are no simple remedies. A crowd of
conflicting voices, memories, experiences gather round.
Viewed as a search for the Holy Grail this particular life
has ultimately been futile....
And finally, "Astart". You will have gathered, or you will
discover, that most of these songs, earthly as they are, are
on the dark side. This closing piece, if not exactly
resounding with optimism, redresses the balance to a certain
extent. As if to prove that lightning can still strike
unexpectedly, this song came to me almost in its entirety
one day in the course of my fifteen-minute drive from home
into the studio.
This song doesn't hold out the possibility of changing one's
past or even one's present; but it does propose that one
should embrace both and go forward in expectation....
All songs were mixed as they were completed in tracking
terms, rather than making the mixing process a final,
separate one. (I last took this approach on "Out of Water".)
This meant that I had a clear idea of where things were
heading overall, especially in view of the diversity of
potential material; and that work from initial sketches
through to finished master was seamless. It also, meant, of
necessity, that some things had to be remixed at a later
stage in order to fit in with "subsequent" work, but this
was no real problem in view of the hard
disc/digital/computer controlled desk and mix environment in
which the recordings were made.
The cover is, of course, by Paul Ridout and is a
particularly fine piece of work. The cover itself is a
photograph, while the booklet within is one of his most
dense pieces of layering work yet.
No word as yet on when the next live shows will be;
over-running on recording left it a bit late for bookings
early in the year. Later, where- and whenever....
Judge Smith's "Curly's Airships" project on which I appear
in a cameo role is now mixed and should be out in some form
or another later in the year.
I make an appearance on another of Ayuo Takahashi's
recordings, "Earth Guitar", due out at the end of May. I am
a choir this time!
Apparently there's going to be a classical koto &
shakuhachi version of "Dropping the Torch" on another
Japanese CD soon, but I know not a lot about this at
Writing of mystery external appearances, it seems that I may
have forgotten - some time ago - to mention a contribution I
made to a Michel Polnareff ('60's French popster) tribute
CD, on XIII bis records. I sang and recorded "Jour apres
Jour". A slight effort, but good fun and certainly a
challenge worth taking up to sing in French! Nick Cave &
Pulp also feature on this release.
Finally, the Sofa Sound website is now fully operational at
www.sofasound.com. We are now able to take credit card
orders online there. The site is still far from complete and
I anticipate that it will be heavily updated in the next
couple of months.
The "alternative" site, www.peterhammill.com is still under
consideration and construction, but we hope to get something
there sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile we remain committed to the newsletters in paper
form, although postcard announcements (to non-subscribers)
are now likely to tail off somewhat. Over the next months
it's possible that stuff like t-shirts may well appear on
our lists again; these will initially be announced on the
website, so it's recommended that you check in there every
so often. (Tour news, obviously, will be there as
Till the next time...with ever more music!