Ceremony Concerts Presents
Prog legend and Van der Graaf Generator lynchpin, PETER HAMMILL has just released his new solo LP, From the Trees, and he’s out on tour in the spring, calling at Manchester’s magnificent new concert hall, The Stoller Hall on Wednesday 25 April. Here’s Peter’s introduction to the new record…
Anagnorisis – recognition, revelation: re-evaluation.
I began working on the pieces which make up this collection back in 2016. From an early stage I had the idea that I wanted to write songs in a conventional vein. (Perhaps I’d been drawn towards this as a result of the styles of the two most recent releases – VdGG’s complex and dense “Do not Disturb” and the radical short story/novel/screenplay landscape of my solo “All that Might have Been”.) I determined that before diving into recording the material I’d have all the tunes completed to the extent that I could perform them solo with just piano or guitar backing – old school. Indeed, very much against the current grain, I’ve already performed half of these songs on stage ahead of their release in recorded form.
Having spent unaccustomed months in song preparation, I was intent on avoiding the piling on of too much overdub superstructure onto the results. In most cases the original piano or guitar part is still there, though the modern world of audio being what it is it’s rarely there in isolation or left in its original form. Other textures and colours drift in and out of focus without, I hope, ever becoming a dominant presence. Lots of supportive guitar parts; no percussion at all; synth and string washes. And many extra voices behind the main one – in backing, harmony, choral modes; often (as so often) presenting an alternative viewpoint to the one given by the central narrator.
The characters who pace their fretful way through these songs are, in general, facing up to or edging in towards twilight. What’s coming to them there, though, are moments of realisation rather than resignation.
An actor – possibly playing Lear – belatedly finds that his audience is not, perhaps, as adoring as he’d assumed.
Another, while taking his bow, realises that his Muse has, of a sudden, abandoned him: his reliance must now be on himself alone.
Elsewhere the protective cloaks of innate charm and longstanding reputation are seen by the protagonists as providing somewhat inadequate armour as time moves along.
Other muses come and go, including ones whose very existence might, in retrospect, have always been spectral. Now, out at the borderlines of memory, they shimmer and disappear. Even the future lying ahead assumes the quality of a mirage.
And as the limbs grow heavy, the way down from the peak proves every bit as much of a challenge as the ascent.
None of these are songs of soft comfort; but in the third act of life it’s time to look with a clear eye at where one has (or, indeed, has not) been, at where one’s going.
The birds have been charmed, have flown from the trees. Time, now, to find the wood in the forest, the door in the woods.