over thirty years, Peter Hammill has been writing and performing intense and thought provoking music. From his progressive beginnings with the group Van Der Graaf Generator, up until the present day his output now stretches to fifty or so albums. Naturally, I can't provide thoughts on all, in fact, I haven't got all of them so I will restrict to a few chosen ones.
- Fool's Mate (1971) Peter's first solo album contained a large number of short songs, presumably those that he could not present as VdGG fare. It's a real mixed bag with both light and dark on view. My favourite is Vision. This is made more so by the fact that I can play a passable rendition on the piano. Pity that I don't have the voice to go with it.
- Nadir's Big Change (1975) A pretty surprising album given that the preceding five albums, three VdGG and two solo, leant heavily to the progressive. The album, a product of Hammill's alter ego of a perpetual seventeen year old, begins almost Ramones style with a 1, 2, 3, 4 count in before the wonderful punk title track. Yes, punk, fully two years before it caught on in the UK. There are a couple of other punkish tracks interspersed with some rather nice guitar and piano tracks. It finishes with a rye swipe at the men in suits of the music business.
- Over (1976) Written during and after the breakup of a relationship, this album is absolutely stocked full of pain and resentment. With tracks like Through the Looking Glass and On Tuesday's (She Used To Do Yoga) that chronicle the loss through to the ultimate depths in Betrayed, which is about the darkest song I've ever heard.
- PH7 (1979) With the exception of the excellent Porton Down, about the government research facility of the same name, there is nothing special to this album. I mention it merely because I refer to the song Careering here and this is the album whence it came.
- And Close As This (1986) Described as a single pass of hands across a keyboard, this album is almost all comprised of Hammill playing either a real piano or a digital piano. As a consequence the songs have a very intimate feel even though in a number of songs, Hammill's technique struggles to keep up with his brain.
- The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1991) This is an opera with music by Hammill and Libretto by Chris Judge Smith. It's not a traditional opera nor is it a rock opera, a sort of mix of the two. Based, naturally, on the Edgar Allen Poe short story, it tells the story of Roderic Usher's strange relationship with his ancestral home. It's very much a acquired taste with some very 1980's computer percussion. Still the singers, Hammill, Andy Bell of Erasure, Lene Lovich, Sarah Jane Morris and Herbert Gronmeyer all come across very professionally and bring Judge's words to life. I understand that Hammill has updated the opera and re-released it. Having heard a couple of parts of the new version, I shan't be buying it as it has now lost its edge.
- Room Temperature Live (1992) Recorded with Nic Potter and Stuart Gordon (violin) from a variety of dates, mostly in North America, this double live album has a similar feel to VdGG's Vital. Hammill has always prided himself on the intensity of his live shows. This is a hang over from the VdGG days where it was said that from any three shows, one would be awful, one would be standard fare while another would the chaotic maelstrom that they were after. The live arrangement of songs differs so much from the recorded works that they can almost be considered as new.
- The Noise (1993) Not well liked among most of the Hammill fans, I feel it's one of his better efforts. He has help from David Jackson, Nic Potter, ex-stranglers guitarist John Ellis and Manny Elias who played in Tears For Fears. This gives very much a group feel to the sound and the album as a whole. The songs are no less demanding than other albums, but they have a simpler structure. The group then toured and produced another live album recorded at a show in London.
- Everyone You Hold (1997) This album is quite typical of his more recent works with a large number of very sedate and occasionally pedestrian songs punctured by the odd special moment. Bubble is a fine song and has a returning Hugh Banton playing organ while Phosphorescence is, for me, probably the best thing he's done during the 1990s. I fully intend to use it as the music when I eventually get round to producing a play called Lifelines.
- None of the Above (2000) Hammill's last but one album suffers from the same problems as all his recent ones . Lots of voices and keyboard instruments struggling to rise above almost perfect production. I listened to this in the car after buying it and was so upset by the final track, Astart, that I have never listened to the CD since (and probably never will.)
- What Now? (2001) His 2001 offering continues the unfortunate trend of recent albums, that is overproduction and calmness. The opener, Here Come The Talkies is an almost exact copy of the structure of his 1998 album track Unrehearsed. That said, Fed to the Wolves is as nasty (in a good way) a track as I've heard in both sound, and subject matter.
Well, a bit of a solemn ending, but thankfully, my music tastes do not revolve around Peter Hammill (Al Jolson is playing at the moment) so it's not too bad.
As I said at the top of the page there are dozens of other Hammill Albums that cover all the thirty years that I have not listed here. Info on these can be found on the (small) number of Hammill related sites including Peter's own. Some are listed here.