“Through a Glass - Darkly” The story of Peter Gabriel II. Narrated by Alan Hewitt. Photos and memorabilia courtesy of Mic Smith and Ted Sayers.
By the autumn of 1977, Peter’s rehabilitation in the world of music had been successfully completed. His first album had achieved notable success and he even had a chart hit on his hands with the Solsbury Hill single. An extensive tour of both Europe and America had consolidated that success whilst re-establishing Peter’s credentials for live excellence.
The drive was now on to follow up on that success and ensure that it was no mere flash in the pan. As usual with Peter, however things were not to be as straightforward with the follow-up album which he began work on during the course of the latter part of 1977. After such a successful album and indeed, after achieving the very thing that had always eluded him whilst in Genesis: a hit single, you would have thought that Peter, having found the magical formula would have continued in like vein. Fans of longstanding however, will quickly acknowledge that Peter’s perverse streak usually wins through - who else can keep us patiently waiting almost ten years for an album more than once?!
Having used US producer, Bob Ezrin to good effect on PG1, Peter opted to persuade his long time hero and musical maverick Robert Fripp who had played somewhat reluctantly on Peter’s first effort , to produce his next album. This was not to prove to be a match made in heaven though. Unlike Ezrin, Fripp decided to allow Peter the creative freedom he needed to fulfil his potential. Fripp at the time referred to Peter as a “pussyfooter” which is indeed an apt description of Peter’s musical makeup.
The resulting album, is indicative of the results of allowing Peter his freedom when a tighter rein may have resulted in a much more satisfying finished product. Peter himself was not happy with the finished production on several tracks. Atlantic Records in the USA were not happy with the album either, having, quite rightly hoped for an album cast in the mould of its predecessor. Peter himself declared that the album was an improvement on its predecessor even though once again the album bore not title, another thing that rankled the record company. Peter however, had good reasons for doing this as he explained… “it was a bit like marketing soap powders; new added ingredients … So I thought it would be much more interesting for me just to keep exactly the same title, the same typeface, the same position, so the only way of telling the difference from the outside was by the difference in the picture, so it looks a bit like a songwriter’s magazine that comes out once a year…”
No one could criticise the variety on the album. Indigo, for instance drew its inspiration from Paul Robeson’s song; ’Old Man River’. He was also beginning to explore further the ideas behind the human psyche. Mother Of Violence has an almost childlike melody overlaid by the increasing sense of foreboding in the lyric while D I Y could almost be viewed as his declaration of independence from record company restraint as well as a clarion call for people not to be intimidated by society. The album has an almost exclusively dark cast to it. There is precious little sign of the humour that made his first album a joy to listen to. Nonetheless, upon its release in June 1978, the album reached number ten in the UK charts. In an attempt to give the record company some sort of sop, Peter even re-mixed D I Y and reissued it as a single a second time in September accompanied by the previously unreleased children’s song; ’Me And My Teddy Bear’ but to no avail. The album did receive decent reviews in the music press as this extract from Steve Clarke’s review in the NME demonstrates… “Gabriel’s work is now consistently stimulating, challenging and unpredictable and yet highly accessible…. Without exception, the songs are refined with a painstaking attention to detail and thrive on distinguished performances from all concerned. Enough said…”
The new album was obviously destined for a tour to promote it and this began in England for a couple of shows before hitting mainland Europe and the USA. Once again, “Expect the Unexpected” was certainly the order of the day. With the New Wave firmly in control of the music scene here in the UK, Peter’s decision to appear not only at the Knebworth Park Festival but also the Battersea Park festival was a brave one. Always determined to push the envelope, Peter’s set during the course of this year’s tour certainly contained a few surprises not to say shocks as he took a wry swipe at the very people who were now the very height of musical “fashion” in the UK with a punk parody of the classic Whiter Shade Of Pale clad in a navvie’s flourescent jacket and his hair savagely cropped; he looked the very antithesis of his creations with Genesis. The joke was not always appreciated by either the audience or the critics, however as this extract from Phil Sutcliffe’s review of the Knebworth gig shows…
“The next development was astonishing. He sang Whiter Shade Of Pale as a grotesque Sex Pistols parody. Gung-gung-gung etc. Contorted Cockney vocals. He strutted and primped and bowed in self-glorification until he actually got a few cans thrown at him. It was atrocious, almost frightening. I couldn’t understand it except its strength. A joke? Too rotten and vicious for me…”
Certainly the set contained surprises aplenty. Apart from the above parody, Peter also performed the Soul classic; ‘Heard It Thru The Grapevine’ in a respectful nod to one of his own musical influences. The new album was given a healthy exposure (pardon the pun) and there was still room for classics from his first album and another nod to his old band mates in Genesis with a rip-roaring version of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It was also during this tour that Peter began to experiment with other language versions of his songs and the opening song was variously rendered as ‘Ich Und Mein Teddy Bear’ or ‘Moi Et Mon Teddy Bear’ depending on which territory he was in at the time. He also continued the trend of road-testing material which was as yet unrecorded with varying degrees of success or failure. Thankfully for fans, one of Peter’s performances was captured by TV cameras in Germany and the footage amply demonstrates just how far Peter had moved away from his persona with Genesis.
The year ended with a series of shows at London’s Hammersmith Odeon although
for the last gig, Peter was “at home to Mr Cock-Up”. A double booking
of the venue by promoter Harvey Goldsmith, led to the most unlikely Christmas
party of the year. Combining the talents of Tom Robinson and Peter, along with
a host of other “special guests” the gig, billed as “Rob and
Gab Christmas ‘78” even featured a special set and rounded off another
busy year in fine style.