About a week and a half ago, I completed the manuscript for Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion. It includes eight chapters, a timeline, an introduction, a conclusion, a list of selected reading and media, and a list of selected listening. The book will be published by Rowman & Littlefield by September of 2016 in print and e-book form and will be available at Amazon and elsewhere.
The book cover will incorporate the following image:
I’m interested in proposing a paper for the 2016 Performance Studies Network conference at Bath Spa University. However, would the subject matter of my forthcoming listener’s guide to the music of thirty-year Bath area resident Peter Gabriel actually count? His “diverse, interdisciplinary developments,” “global perspective,” and so on certainly do seem to fit the themes of the conference, even though all of the confirmed activities are so far restricted to contemporary art music and world music. How could I afford to go, though?
For Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion, I think I made the correct decision to do Chapters 1-2 up to early Genesis (childhood/1967-71 and 1972-75), Chapter 3 covering Peter Gabriel 1 and 2 (1976-78), and one on each of the main studio albums after that. I’m nearing completion of Chapter 4 on PG3/Melt (1979-80), and it will be around 22 pages, which is similar to the lengths of Chapters 1, 2, and, 3. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t have enough material, but I think that PG3/Melt is his best album. In Chapters 5 (1981-4/IV/Security), 6 (1985-89/So), 7 (1990-99/Us), and 8 (2000-09/Up), I’ll also have his live album, four film/media scores, occasional movie songs, and entrepreneurial/humanitarian activities to cover a bit. Chapter 9 (2010-15/Scratch/NewBlood) will then also get into the covers/retrospective/double-Rock-Hall-induction, etc. stuff. It’s shaping up nicely!
Around the same time, Gabriel made an orchestra-accompanied cover version of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” for an obscure film of war-related footage and news headlines and clips from war movies combined with new versions of Beatles’ songs, called All This and World War II. The film and soundtrack double-album also include recordings by the Bee Gees, Leo Sayer, Tina Turner, Elton John, Frankie Valli, Rod Stewart, the London Symphony Orchestra, and numerous others, as released in November of 1976. Gabriel’s version of that Beatles’ song was thus his first solo release, and it is fairly charming, although he occasionally sounds rather like Kermit the Frog. He later worked on a number of film scores and film songs from 1984 to 2008 and then revisited the idea of orchestra-accompanied cover versions much more extensively on his 2010 album Scratch My Back. In a related project, the 2013 response-album And I’ll Scratch Yours includes other artists’ stylistically-distinctive cover versions of some of Gabriel’s songs.
The last nine albums I added to my iTunes library are: Peter Gabriel’s OVO (Millennium Show), Long Walk Home (the soundtrack from Rabbit-Proof Fence), Scratch My Back, and New Blood; Tori Amos’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin, Midwinter Graces, and Night of Hunters; and Kate Bush’s Director’s Cut and 50 Words for Snow. Number of songs: 127, range of duration: 0:59-13:32, average duration: 5:00, number of songs without guitars, drums, or synthesizers (i.e., with orchestra, piano, and/or choir): 61 (48%). Three minutes, three chords, three verses, three choruses …… not so much. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
Peter Gabriel’s New Blood (2011) is a fascinating album, comprising orchestral arrangements (by John Metcalfe) of some of Gabriel’s best album tracks from 1977 to 2002: such as, “The Rhythm of the Heat,” “San Jacinto,” “The Intruder,” “Wallflower,” “Digging in the Dirt,” and “Darkness.” Disc 1 has vocal versions, and the Special Edition’s Disc 2 mostly has instrumental versions that don’t include approximations of the vocals. Those renditions are thus “karaoke” songs (the “empty orchestra” being literally orchestra, in this case), presumably for people–like me–who know most of these songs really well.
There are NO versions of such more obvious Gabriel hits as “Games without Frontiers,” “Biko,” “Shock the Monkey,” “Sledgehammer,” “Big Time,” “Steam,” or “Come Talk to Me,” but it does include four songs from the 1986 hit album So: “Red Rain,” “In Your Eyes, “Mercy Street,” and “Don’t Give Up”–the vocal version featuring Norwegian musician Ane Brun providing a guest vocal quite unlike Kate Bush’s original. It also has two songs from the 2000 soundtrack OVO – The Millennium Show (“Downside Up,” featuring his daughter Melanie Gabriel, and “The Nest That Sailed the Sky”), plus (after a five-minute ambient noise track) a “bonus track” of “Solsbury Hill.”
The Special Edition disc also has “Blood of Eden” (in a vocal version) and there were two additional digital-download-only songs. I think “Here Comes the Flood” would also have worked pretty well, but I suppose there are already quite a few alternate versions of that song.