Living with…Peter Gabriel (and friends)…for a week
Me and Peter down by the schoolyard
In the beginning, Peter was part of Genesis, and that’s how I found him. That slightly odd extravagant frontman dressing up in costumes and singing silly tunes. And then he went, and then there were three…
Peter and I really became mates down in the schoolyard, because he was the cooler kid, starting to explore weirder sounds, starting to point out to us that there was music outside the shoolyard. Well before Paul Simon came and showed us Africa. I always associate him with my Sony record player of many years standing that took me through the 80’s as his various albums (all of the same name just to confuse) spent many hours spinning. Peter Gabriel 2 (The scratching one) was probably the favourite – the angriness and rawness that you wouldn’t have got with Genesis, the quirkiness of A Wonderful Day in a One-Way World and the gentle start of that experimenting.
And then he went and had a hit, a big one, to challenge me who believed credibility lay in absence from the charts. Peter Gabriel 3 (the Melty one) brought Games Without Frontiers which made itself very comfortable in the Top Ten even if the politics passed me by at the time. The start of African influences both musical and life came with Biko. I love that intro, the South African anti-apartheid chant and the slow insistent drum.
By Peter Gabriel 4 world music had truly moved in to Peter’s world – Africa, South America, Apache. He wanted to lead me out from the safety of the schoolyard – Queen, Phil Collins and Iron Maiden – in to a world where music was unpredictable, it didn’t follow the usual rules. The Rhythm of The Heat, San Jacinto. Me and Peter still hung around the schoolyard but he was encouraging me to look beyond the fence.
He went away for a few years, and so did I – I discovered indie – and his albums faded to the back of the pile.
When he came back in ’86 he was no longer mine. He threw himself open to the world – Sledgehammer is sheer brilliance, but this was for the whole world to enjoy. He was Mr MTV now, cool and knowing. He sang with Kate Bush and that was cool as well. But we’d now parted, we’d grown up and gone our separate ways.
And I’ll Scratch Yours
With my love of the cover version, I couldn’t forgo a chance to return to Peter Gabriel when I heard of his cover versions project And I’ll Scratch Yours. He’d already covered a group of artists a few years earlier with Scratch My Back and then to complete the project asked them to return the favour.
The album breathes new life in to some favourites, and rediscovers others that have been tucked away. Bon Iver’s Come Talk To Me gives it a refreshing folk overhaul; Paul Simon’s Biko takes you back to an era of proper protest singers and brings the lyrics, which I often overlooked, to simple life. Elbow’s rendition of Mercy Street is an Elbow song – I’m sorry, I don’t care what you say it is their song it’s just that it was written 25 years too early. But my favourite, if only for showing the beauty of re-covering a song totally is Randy Newman’s Big Time. One of Peter Gabriel’s more tongue-in-cheek moments Randy Newman gives it that full fun Big Time Feel complete with a final twist.
I decided to play this alongside the Peter Gabriel originals to remind me, and I was glad to rediscover my days in the schoolyard courtesy of these covers.
Ta, Peter and friends.
It would be sooo easy just to choose Sledgehammer as the video this week. After all, it is the most viewed video on MTV of all time – but instead I’m going back to the world of “hiding out in tree tops and shouting out rude names”.
Games without Frontiers