Peter Hammill

Peter Hammill

:"For the journalist and writer, see Pete Hamill."Infobox musical artist
Name = Peter Hammill

Img_capt =
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Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = Peter Joseph Andrew Hammill
Alias =
Born = Birth date and age|1948|11|5|mf=y
Ealing, London, England
Died =
Origin = Manchester, England
Instrument = Vocals, guitar, keyboards
Genre = Art rock, progressive rock, avant garde, improvisation, rock music, opera and more
Occupation = Singer, songwriter, record producer
Years_active = 1968 - present
Label = Charisma, S-Type, Virgin, Naive, Foundry, Enigma, Fie!
Associated_acts = Van der Graaf Generator
URL = [ Sofasound]
Current_members =
Past_members =
Notable_instruments =

Peter Joseph Andrew Hammill (born 5 November, 1948, in Ealing, west London, England) is a singer-songwriter, and a founding member of progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. Most noted for his vocal abilities, his main instruments are guitar and piano. He also acts as a record producer for his own recordings, and occasionally for other artists.


Early career

Hammill's solo career has coexisted with VdGG's activities. The band was offered a contract by Mercury Records in 1968, that only Hammill signed. When VdGG broke up in 1969 he wanted to record his first solo-album. In the summer of 1969 Hammill had a residency at The Lyceum and played weekly solo-concerts there [Christopulos, J., and Smart, P.: "Van der Graaf Generator - The Book", page 37. Phil and Jim publishers, 2005.] . Eventually the intended solo-album was released under the VdGG-banner as their first album ("The Aerosol Grey Machine") [Christopulos, J., and Smart, P.: "Van der Graaf Generator - The Book", page 32-44 and page 58. Phil and Jim publishers, 2005.] . Hammill's first real solo-album was "Fool's Mate" (1971), containing songs from the early (1967/68) VdGG-days.

During VdGG and the first years after

When VdGG broke up again in August 1972, Hammill resumed his solo-career. Songs that were intended for Van der Graaf Generator, now ended up on his solo-albums, notably "Black Room" (on "Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night") and "A Louse Is Not A Home" (on "The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage"). This to some extent makes it difficult to separate Hammill's solo work during the 1970s from his work with the band (for the majority of both his solo-songs and the band's songs he is credited as the sole songwriter, and some of his solo albums feature all the members of Van der Graaf Generator). In general, however, solo Hammill is concerned with more personal matters, while the band's songs deal with broader themes.

"Nadir's Big Chance" (1975) was a great change from the preceding "In Camera". Whilst "In Camera" is characterised by extremely intense and complex songs and even has some musique concrete on it, "Nadir's Big Chance" is notable for its anticipation of punk rock. In a 1977 radio interview, John Lydon of the Sex Pistols played two tracks from the album and expressed his admiration for Hammill in glowing terms: "Peter Hammill's great. A true original. I've just liked him for years. If you listen to him, his solo albums, I'm damn sure Bowie copied a lot out of that geezer. The credit he deserves, just has not been given to him. I love all his stuff" [ [ Fodderstompf Archives - John Lydon: Capital Radio, Tommy Vance Show, July 16th 1977] ] .

"Over" (1977) contains very personal songs about the break-up of a long-term relationship.

Hammill's first solo-album after the 1978 break-up of Van der Graaf was "The Future Now". With the next albums, "pH7" and "A Black Box", the sound got more compact, more new wave. On those albums, Hammill played the drums himself. What followed was the K-group. In later years Hammill would sometimes refer to the band as a "beat group" [Album notes for "The Margin +", expanded reissue of cd "The Margin" (2001). Fie!] . The K-group consisted of Hammill himself on guitars and piano, with John Ellis on lead guitar, Nic Potter on bass, and Guy Evans on drums and percussion. They recorded the albums "Enter K" and "Patience".


Live-concerts by Peter Hammill are characterised by a degree of impredictability, in terms of the songs played, the arrangements and the players involved. Hammill generally does not undertake live-tours to promote albums. Whenever he plays with a certain line-up, almost always there will also be concerts interspersed with different line-ups, so the word 'tour' is not always very applicable.

From September 1981 until September 1985 Hammill played with the K-group, playing a raw, energetic, new wave sort of rock. A live-recording of a number of these concerts was released as "The Margin".

From February until October 1990 he played with Nic Potter on bass and Stuart Gordon on violin. A live-recording of these shows was released as "Room Temperature". From April 1993 until August 1996 he played with Nic Potter on bass, Stuart Gordon on violin and Manny Elias on drums. A live-recording of these shows was released as "There Goes The Daylight". This album is the only live-album by Peter Hammill that is not a compilation of various live-recordings, but instead is a registration of one single performance. From October 1994 until August 1996 Hammill played with David Jackson on flutes and saxophones, Stuart Gordon on violin and Manny Elias on drums (this line-up is sometimes informally referred to as the Peter Hammill Quartet [ [ SofaSound newsletter by Peter Hammill, March 1995] ] ).

From January 1998 until November 2006 Hammill played with just Stuart Gordon on violin. Of these shows the live-recording "Veracious" was released.

From 1969 on, Hammill has never stopped performing solo-concerts, with just guitar and keyboards.

Label Fie!

Hammill's early records, like the VdGG albums, were released on Charisma Records. He parted company with them after "pH7" (1979), and then released albums on a number of small labels. "A Black Box" came out on S-Type, a label run by Hammill and his manager Gail Colson. "Enter K" and "Patience" appeared on Naive, "Skin" and "The Margin" on Foundry and "In A Foreign Town", "Out of Water" and "Room Temperature" on Enigma Records. In 1992 he formed his own label, Fie!, on which all his albums since "Fireships" have been released. The label's logo is the Greek letter phi (Φ), a pun on PH-I. Ever since the 1970s he has also had his own home recording studio, appropriately called Sofa Sound (his website was later named after the studio).

Later years

Hammill survived a heart attack in December 2003 [ [ The Independent, 27 June 2004] ] [ [ SofaSound newsletter by Peter Hammill, December 2003] ] , less than 48 hours [ [ SofaSound newsletter by Peter Hammill, March 2004] ] after having finished the recording of "Incoherence". He was awarded the Italian Tenco Prize for songwriting at the end of 2004 [ [ SofaSound newsletter by Peter Hammill, March 2005] ] .

In 2005, Hammill announced the reformation of Van der Graaf Generator. In 2004 they had recorded a new album, "Present", which was released in April 2005, and from May until November 2005 played a series of well received concerts.

Between 2005 and 2007 Hammill has overseen the remastering of almost all of his pre-Fie! releases, and has also started similar work on his more recent catalogue. The last of the Charisma remasters was released in September 2007.

Hammill's solo-career did not end because of the VdGG-reunion. He released his new album "Singularity" in December 2006. It was the first solo-album he completed after his heart attack, and for a large part it deals with matters of life and (sudden) death.

In 2007 several gigs by Van der Graaf Generator as a trio (minus David Jackson) have taken place in Britain and the rest of Europe, and their new album "Trisector" was released in March 2008.

In June 2008 Hammill has done a number of solo performances on the US East Coast, including the prog-rock festival Nearfest. These were his first live-shows in the USA since 1999. As of mid-July 2008 he has announced, via his website, further dates in San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver and the Midwest, for late September and October 2008. More dates might be scheduled.


Musically, Hammill's work ranges from short simple riff-based songs to highly complex lengthy pieces. Mainly because of his refusal to make anything resembling middle-of-the-road music, and the general absence of any smooth or glamorous sounds in his music, there is much debate amongst his admirers whether Hammill is to be considered a part of the so-called progressive rock scene. In many interviews however Hammill himself has stated that he does not want to be put in the progressive rock music label, or any music label at all.

His output is prolific. Many different styles of music appear in his work, among them artful complexity (for instance "Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night"), avant garde electronic experiments ("Loops and Reels", "Unsung"), opera ("The Fall of the House of Usher"), solo keyboard accompaniment ("And Close As This"), solo guitar accompaniment ("Clutch"), improvisation ("Spur of the Moment"), film music ("Sonix"), band recordings ("Enter K"), and slow, melancholic balladry ("None of the Above").


Hammill's voice is a very distinctive element of his music. He sings in an emotional, often even dramatic way. As a former Jesuit chorister, his delivery is usually (a notable exception is the track "Polaroid") middle class English (rather than Americanised), and ranges in tone from peacefully celestial to screaming rants (which are nevertheless highly controlled). Singing in registers from baritone to high falsetto, he growls, croons, shrieks and shouts in ways that have drawn comparison with the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix [] [Album notes for "Sometimes God Smiles - The Young Person's Guide To Discipline", compilation cd (1998). Discipline Global Mobile.] [] .


Hammill's lyrics are another distinctive feature of his work. He has visited a number of recurring themes including love and human relationships, ageing and death, human follies, self-awareness and introspection, politics, and religion. He expresses these themes with a verbal dexterity that is rare in rock. His lyrics often include scientific, literary or historical references. For example, the Norse names mentioned in the song "Viking" on "Fool's Mate" (which, by the way, was written by Judge Smith and Peter Hammill together) are characters in the Icelandic Eiríks saga rauða (judging by the spelling of the names, Hammill's source seems to have been Magnus Magnusson's 1965 translation).

The science fiction themes of Van der Graaf Generator's lyrics are mostly absent in his later work, but there still are many science-references, especially to physics (for instance in the song "Patient"). In 1974 Hammill published a book, "Killers, Angels, Refugees" (Charisma Books, London), a collection of lyrics, poems and short stories. This was later reissued by Hammill himself (Sofa Sound, Bath) and was followed by a sequel "Mirrors, Dreams, Miracles" (1982).

Personal life

Peter Hammill moved with his family to Derby when he was 12 [ [ The Independent, 27 June 2004] ] . He attended Beaumont College, Old Windsor, and Manchester University, where he studied Liberal Studies in Science [Christopulos, J., and Smart, P.: "Van der Graaf Generator - The Book", page 5. Phil and Jim publishers, 2005.] .

He has been married since 1978 (his wife's name is Hilary, who is credited with taking the picture for the cover of "In A Foreign Town"), and they have three children. Holly and Beatrice Hammill sing soprano vox on one track of "Everyone You Hold" and on two tracks of "None of the Above".


Van der Graaf Generator

For albums released by Van der Graaf Generator, see Van der Graaf Generator discography.

Studio albums

*"Fool's Mate" (July 1971)
*"Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night" (May 1973)
*"The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage" (Feb 1974)
*"In Camera" (July 1974)
*"Nadir's Big Chance" (Feb 1975)
*"Over" (April 1977)
*"The Future Now" (Sept 1978)
*"pH7" (Sept 1979)
*"A Black Box" (Aug 1980)
*"Sitting Targets" (June 1981)
*"Enter K" (Oct 1982)
*"Loops and Reels" (June 1983)
*"Patience" (Aug 1983)
*"Skin" (March 1986)
*"And Close As This" (Nov 1986)
*"In a Foreign Town" (Nov 1988)
*"Out of Water" (Feb 1990)
*"The Fall of the House of Usher" (Nov 1991, "deconstructed and rebuilt" released in Nov 1999)
*"Fireships" (March 1992)
*"The Noise" (March 1993)
*"Roaring Forties" (Sept 1994)
*"X My Heart" (March 1996)
*"Everyone You Hold" (June 1997)
*"This" (Oct 1998)
*"None of the Above" (April 2000)
*"What, Now?" (June 2001)
*"Clutch" (Oct 2002)
*"Incoherence" (March 2004)
*"Singularity" (Dec 2006)

Live albums

*"The Margin" (Feb 1985)
*"Room Temperature" (Nov 1990)
*"There Goes The Daylight" (Nov 1993)
*"Typical" (April 1999)
*"The Margin +" (May 2002)
*"Veracious" (Feb 2006)


*"Vision" (1978)
*"The Love Songs" (Aug 1984, compilation of re-recorded back catalogue)
*"The Essential Collection" (1986, "Enter K" and "Patience" collected)
*"A Fix On The Mix" (compilation EP) (Nov 1992)
*"The Storm (Before The Calm)" (July 1993) (more aggressive Virgin-era material)
*"The Calm (After The Storm)" (July 1993) (Virgin-era ballads)
*"Offensichtlich Goldfisch" (July 1993, compilation of songs re-recorded in German)
*"The Peel Sessions" (Nov 1995, BBC radio sessions 1974-1988)
*"After The Show" (Jan 1996)
*"Past Go (Collected)" (Nov 1997)
*"The Thin Man Sings Ballads" (May 2002)

Collaborations and miscellaneous

*"Spur of the Moment" (Feb 1988, with Guy Evans)
*"Sonix" (Nov 1996, a collection of instrumentals)
*"The Union Chapel Concert" (March 1997, live, with Guy Evans and others)
*"The Appointed Hour" (Nov 1999, with Roger Eno)
*"Unsung" (Oct 2001) (Peter Hammill/Sonix, a collection of instrumentals)

Guest appearances

*Colin Scot, "Colin Scot" (1971) - Hammill provided backing vocals on several tracks
*Le Orme, "Felona e Sorona" (1973) - Hammill wrote English language lyrics for the Charisma Records UK release of the Italian album with the same name
*Robert Fripp, "Exposure" (1979) - Hammill sang lead vocals on three tracks
*Peter Gabriel, IV (1982) - Hammill sang backing vocals on 'The Family and the Fishing Net', 'Shock the Monkey' and 'Lay Your Hands on me'
*Miguel Bosé, "Bandido" (1984) - Hammill wrote two lyrics: 'South of the Sahara' and 'Domine Mundi'
*Alice, "Il sole nella pioggia" (1989) - Hammill co-wrote and sang the track 'Now and Forever'
*Peter Gabriel, Us (1992) - Hammill sang backing vocals on the track 'Digging In The Dirt'
*Ayuo, "Songs from a Eurasian Journey" (1997) - Hammill sang lead vocals on several tracks
*Saro Cosentino, "Ones And Zeros" (1997) - Hammill sang on two co-written songs, 'Phosphorescence' and 'From Far Away'.
*David Cross, "Exiles" (1997) - Hammill sang lead vocals on two tracks
*Premiata Forneria Marconi, "PFM Live in Japan 2002" (2002) - Hammill wrote and sang one studio track, 'Sea Of Memory'
*Judge Smith, "Curly's Airships" (2000) - Hammill performs the part of Lord Thomson

Work as producer

*"Avalanche" (1980 double LP), abridged as "Etceteraville" (1980 LP); re-released as "The View From Here" (2001 double CD), for Random Hold (David Rhodes, David Ferguson, Bill MacCormick, Peter Phipps)
*"Fractal Bridge" (1996 CD) for David Jackson


Further references

* PH-VdGG Study Group, Fiaccavento L., Olivotto M. (2005) "Van der Graaf Generator - Dark Figures Running - Lyrics 1968-1978" (Published by PH-VdGG Study Group [] )

*Mike Barnes, "Life Sentences". Wire, March 2007. pp. 34-41.

External links

* [ Sofa Sound (official site)]
* [ Couch Noise (unofficial site)]
* []
* [ Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator fan site]
* [ A Peter Hammill page in a very complete prog rock database]
* [ A Wiki about the work of Peter Hammill]
* [ Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page]

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