“From Walking Through The Fire To A Conspiracy Of Hope” - The Peter Gabriel Story Part Four: By Alan Hewitt. Photographs: Guido Truffer. Memorabilia: TWR Archive
After the completion of the extensive 1982/83 tour, Peter was to spend a fair amount of his time pursuing a project which he had initially thought of in the mid Seventies - the creation of an adventure theme park - “Real World” - an idea that he is still struggling with even now.
After he high profile years of 1982/83, Peter submerged himself into his work and ideas for what would become his fifth and most successful album ever in 1986. A lot of hard work and involvement in other projects was to happen before that, however.
In 1984, during what must have been an extremely trying period for Peter in which he and his wife Jill had a trial separation, Peter mad two visits to Brazil and Senegal which was to expose him to more of the rhythmic influences which were so evident on his last album. He began preparing the rhythm tracks for the as yet untitled fifth LP early in 1984 but made slow progress. The main reason for the delay came through his involvement in the soundtrack for the Gremlins film, for which he contributed the track Out, Out and for the film Against All Odds to which he contributed Walk Through The Fire - an old piece of music left over from his third album, re-recorded and with added lyrics.
Later in the year he provided the soundtrack for the Alan Parker film Birdy. This soundtrack used both music from existing Gabriel songs as well as others specially written for the film which tells the tale of the culture shock of a Vietnam War veteran’s return home from the war. So that his fans wouldn’t feel ripped off by the use of previously released music, Gabriel put the equivalent of a Government “Health Warning” on the sleeve. The album sold far fewer copies than his previous albums but sales of 150,000 copies worldwide made a respectable total for a soundtrack.
As usual, Peter’s slowly, slowly work ethic meant that the album was
a very long time in the making. One
Deadline - 31st July 1985 - passed and so did another on 14th December. Producer, Daniel Lanois was so frustrated that he resorted to what was supposed to be a playful ruse to get some work out of Peter: he locked him in a back room of the studio and said he wouldn’t be released until some lyrics had been completed!
Finally, the finishing touches to So were in place in January 1986 and on 8th February the executives arrived to hear the album. On Tuesday 11th the pressing plants rolled into action. On 24th April 1986, the first single Sledgehammer was released. It was a departure for Gabriel; upbeat, up mood and rude. If the single was a surprise then the video which accompanied it was even more so. Produced by Stephen Johnson, it involved a technique called pixilation which is the method of shooting movement frame by frame to give the illusion of human animation. First used on the Talking Heads video for Road To Nowhere, it was used to even greater effect on Sledgehammer. The final cost of the video which took over three weeks to make was £120,000, but it was money well spent as the single went into the UK charts at number four and number one in the US in July, where it ironically dislodged Genesis; Invisible Touch single from the top slot.
The album topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, going straight to number one on its release in the UK on 19th May. By the summer of 1987 it had sold over five million copies world-wide, going double platinum in the US with sales of two million and double platinum in the UK with sales of 600,000.
The album was a re-affirmation of what Gabriel fans had known for years. Here was an artist who was able to lay bare the very soul of a subject. As usual the music press had mixed feelings about the album, divided between openly hostile and enthusiastic. “Brilliant” said The Guardian, “Universal message that hope springs eternal” ran The Times. “The music which Peter Gabriel makes is terrifically uninteresting. It says nothing, being merely an ordering of sounds mostly artificial” said John McKenna of Eire’s Hot Press.
Peter interrupted his European promotional schedule for the album to take part in the “Conspiracy Of Hope” tour of the US in support of the human rights organisation Amnesty International along with other artists including The Police, U2 and Bryan Adams among others. The shows were a huge success and Amnesty gained over 100,000 new members in the US as well.
Peter was not the headliner at these shows, but there is no doubt that he stole the show. The final concert at the Giants Stadium was filmed and broadcast on TV and Peter’s performance was stunning. His set drew on a mixture of old favourites and new material from So, including: Red Rain/Games Without Frontiers/In Your Eyes/Shock The Monkey/Sledgehammer and Biko. Peter’s band for the tour was made up of stalwarts from previous tours - Tony Levin and David Rhodes - and for the first time a veteran of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band: David Sancious.
The tour proper began in November but not before Gabriel put in a special appearance outside the United Nations Building in New York on 16th September, where he was joined by Shankar, Little Stephen and Youssou N’Dour the latter whose haunting vocals featured so heavily on the album. The set comprised: Red Rain/Sledgehammer/In Your Eyes/No More Apartheid and Biko.
The tour proper began on 7th November 1986 in Rochester NY before wending its way across the world in an eleven month on-off tour. The shows were a mixture of old and new material and the set usually included the following: Floating Dogs/San Jacinto/Red Rain/Shock The Monkey/Family Snapshot/No Self Control/Mercy Street/This Is The Picture/The Family & The Fishing Net/Don’t Give Up/Big Time/Lay Your Hands On Me/Sledgehammer/Here Comes The Flood/In Your Eyes/Biko. At a couple of the early shows That Voice Again was also played and during the European leg of the tour, Intruder was sometimes played instead of The Family & The Fishing Net.
For a stage show, Gabriel had abandoned the make up of the previous tour, but retained the hexagonal blocks for leaping off. Together with lighting engineer Jonathan Smeeton, he devised the Praying Mantis mobile lighting gantries which were used to such good effect during Mercy Street and No Self Control.
Peter’s involvement with human rights causes and world peace issues continued with his participation in the Hurricane Irene concerts in Tokyo on 20th and 21st December which were a celebration of the end of 1986 which had been nominated as the International Year Of Peace. The concerts were staged at the Jingu Stadium and featured as well as Gabriel, appearances by Little Stephen, Youssou N’Dour, Hiward Jones, Lou Reed, Jackson Brown and Nona Nendryx (who ironically had supported Peter on his first solo tour in 1977). For each of the two shows Peter performed a different set hindered on the first night by technical problems. The show was supposed to begin with Red Rain but as Peter was soon to realise… “we have not that guitar” and so he went into a solo rendition of Here Comes The Flood. Other than that, the sets for both nights ran as follows: (20th December): Here Comes The Flood/Red Rain/Shock The Monkey/San Jacinto/Sledgehammer/Biko/In Your Eyes. (21st December): Red Rain/Shock The Monkey/No Self Control/Sledgehammer/In Your Eyes/Biko. The shows were filmed and a compilation from both was released under the title “Hurricane Irene” in 1987.
The success of the first single was no fluke as was soon proven upon the release of the second single in March 1987. Big Time which was a radically different somg for Gabriel accompanied by a quirky tune and amusing lyrics. Once again the video was directed by Stephen Johnson, who quite literally translated the lyrics, using Gabriel appearing in a loud evening jacket and tie, his big head superimposed on to a small body.
After a break during the early part of 1987the tour continued beginning in Europe inJune. The tour finally reached the UK at the end of June and coincided with Genesis’ shows there which left many fans (myself included) with a division of loyalties. Perhaps the most memorable of the UK shows was the gig at Earls Court on 28th June when Kate Bush appeared on stage with Peter to sing Don’t Give Up, which had been released asa single in October 1986.
Openr air festival gigs followed and then back to the USA for mor estadium shows to satisfy the increased demand to see Peter. The final leg of the tour took place in Europe with visits to many places that Peter had never visited before or not for quite some time.
Overall, the tour was a resound success and the album placed Peter firmly in the spotlight and with a further two singles culled from the album - Red Rain in June 1987 and the live version of Biko which had been re-written for the Richard Attenborough film of Biko’s life: Cry Freedom, it remained to be seen which way Peter’s career would go. But more of that next time.