“Angel Ascending” - Peter Gabriel’s musical collaborations examined by Ted Sayers.
Phil Collins is generally acknowledged as a musical workaholic, having co-written, produced, or played or even all three fir just about everyone. Although Peter Gabriel’s collaborations come nowhere near Collins’ for sheer volume, they are highly varied and , as in Gabriel’s solo career; his output is more quality than quantity.
Peter’s first work was as a flautist on Cat Stevens’ 1970 album: Mona Bone Jackon. The young Mr Gabriel was so nervous that they actually recorded his breathing between takes on the track to which he contributed: Kathmandu.
Peter then co-wrote and produced a novelty single for the comedian Charlie Drake. This single is now a collector’s item entirely down to Peter’s involvement with it. The single was called: You’ll Never Know and was released on Charisma Records to a non-existent response! Incidentally, Peter’s writing partner on the Charlie Drake single was Martin Hall who was to work with Peter when he left Genesis - co-writing Excuse Me for Peter’s first solo album in 1977.
Friendship tends to play a part in Peter’s choice of working partners. He has co-written tracks with Tom Robinson. The first and possibly best known saw the light of day on the Tom Robinson band’s second album: TRB2. The song was Bully For You which had a minor success as a single. Contrary to popular belief, Peter does not actually play on the song although he did perform it during his 19080 tour; the “1984 Tour Of China”. When Robinson disbanded TRB, Peter continued the writing partnership for two songs on Robinson’s album: North By Northwest. The songs were: Merrily Upon High and Atmospherics (Listen To The Radio). Peter did actually play on the former. Atmospherics was subsequently re-issued as part of Robinson’s Hope & Glory album and it was quite successful.
One of Peter’s strangest collaborations was in 1980 with the then ex-lead singer of Sham 69 - who have since reformed. At first it was thought that Jimmy Pursey - for that is his name - wanted Peter to produce an album for him but this turned into a single called: Animals Have More Fun. The single was co-written by Pursey and produced by Peter, as was the single’s B side: Sus. It is not thought that Peter took any part in the performance of either song.
From the strangest collaboration to possibly the most obvious one: Robert Fripp, who was the leader and founder member of King Crimson, possibly THE band to influence the formative Genesis. Fripp himself no stranger to working with a variety of musicians, co-wrote the track Exposure on Peter’s second solo album in 1978, also playing guitar on both of Peter’s first two solo albums. The favour was returned for Fripp’s Exposure album which included Fripp’s version of that song and a reworking of Peter’s track: Here Comes The Flood which was actually closer in sound to what Peter actually wanted for the first album being far more atmospheric and eerie.
Since leaving Genesis, Peter has worked with Phil Collins on several projects both live and in the studio. Phil provided the trademark drum sound (the now famous and much copied “gated reverb”) to Peter’s third album and Peter returned the favour by singing backing vocals on the track: Take Me Home along with Sting and Helen Terry which was a 1985 hit single from the No Jacket Required album.
Peter’s commercial success with So in 1986 brought him to the attention of many musicians and his services were then in great demand. Another odd pairing was with Joni Mitchell for her 1988 album: Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm on which he duetted with her on the track which was released as a single from the album: My Secret Place.
Around the same time, Robbie Robertson (ex of The Band) was putting together his first solo album with producer Daniel Lanois. Robertson needed a ghostly voice for one track and Lanois recommended Peter. In the end, Gabriel contributed to two tracks: Fallen Angel (on which he sang backing vocals) and Broken Arrow for which he played keyboards and drum programming. The former was also released as a single.
Changes in South Africa inspired Peter to team up with Nona Hendryx for a song called Winds Of Change. Nona’s involvement with Peter goes back to his first solo tour in 1977 for which he was the support act. Since Peter’s So album and tour, he has become a big fan of the work of Senegalese singer; Youssou N’Dour. Youssou sings the haunting vocals on In Your Eyes and he was the support act for Peter throughout the 1986/87 world tour. They also teamed up for the Human Rights Now tour in 1988 with Tracy Chapman, Sting and Bruce Springsteen. Peter co-wrote and duetted with Youssou on the single Shakin’ The Tree from Youssou’s album: The Lion.
For the moment, any further collaborations are out of the question due to Peter’s heavy schedule of recording for his own forthcoming album for which he has again enlisted the production talents of Daniel Lanois and he is firmly ensconced in the Real World studio in Bath. As yet there is no title or release date for the new LP, but on past experience it will be well worth the wait.