Perhaps one of the most dramatic progressive rock performers was this multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter who brought acting stagecraft to his lead vocals, initially with Genesis, the super group that would propel him into the limelight.
AllMusic has described Peter Gabriel as “one of rock’s most ambitious, innovative musicians, as well as one of its most political“.
His talent goes well beyond being a lead singer. His early compositions used complex chord progressions and unorthodox rhythms. With Tony Banks on keyboards, Mike Rutherford on guitar and bass and Gabriel out in front, Genesis’ early music took on a classical baroque prog rock style. Gabriel played flute during some of these early performances.
More than a “pretty face”, Gabriel’s enthusiasm has taken him far beyond being an entertainer.
Gabriel has been a champion of WORLD MUSIC for much of his career. He co-founded the WOMAD festival in 1982 and has continued to focus on producing and promoting World Music through his Real World Records label.
He combined modern technology with his creativity of music and became involved in marketing of the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument).
He pioneered digital distribution methods for music, co-founding OD2, one of the first online music download services.
He was a major contributor to numerous humanitarian efforts; he received the Man of Peace award from the Nobel Peace Prize laureates in 2006, and Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008.
He co-founded the Witness human rights organization in 1992.
He co-developed The Elders, a collective to influence and work for peace, justice and human rights worldwide; this was launched by Nelson Mandela in 2007.
He has won many awards, too numerous to mention here, but a few include six Grammy Awards, thirteen MTV Video Music Awards, the Pioneer Award at the BT Digital Music Awards.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of South Australia in recognition of his achievements in music.
2003 / Red Rain /
In Your Eyes
Peter Brian Gabriel was born on 13 February 1950 in Chobham, Surrey, UK. His father, Ralph Parton Gabriel (1912–2012), was an electrical engineer and his mother, Edith Irene Gabriel (née Allen), was from a musical family.
Gabriel attended Cable House, a private primary school in Woking, Surrey, followed by St Andrews Preparatory School for Boys in Horsell, Surrey. During his time, his teachers noticed his singing talent, but he opted for piano lessons from his mother and developed an interest in drumming. At age 10, he purchased a floor tom-tom.
In 1965, Gabriel formed a band called Garden Wall with school friends Tony Banks on piano and Chris Stewart on drums. Banks had started at the Charterhouse public school at the same time as Gabriel; the two were uninterested in school activities but bonded over music and started to write songs. At a final concert before they split, Gabriel, dressed in a kaftan and beads, showered the audience with petals he had picked from neighbouring gardens. This would be the theatrical side of Gabriel starting to emerge.
In 1967, after Garden Wall had disbanded, Gabriel, Banks, and Stewart were invited by fellow pupils Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford to work on a demo tape of songs. Gabriel and Banks contributed “She is Beautiful“, the first song they wrote together. The tape was sent to former Charterhouse pupil, turned musician, Jonathan King, who was immediately enthusiastic largely due to Gabriel’s vocals.
Under King’s direction, the group, aged between 15 and 17, signed a one-year recording contract with Decca Records. King suggested a band name of Gabriel’s Angels, but it was unpopular with the other members. They settled on King’s other suggestion, Genesis.
Recordings with Genesis
1968 / Silent Sun – “The Silent Sun“, the premiere single by Genesis, was written by Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel when the band’s producer, Jonathan King, first discovered them. But before King decided to invest a lot of money in and produce an entire album, he wanted a single. Knowing that King was a fan of the Bee Gees, Banks and Gabriel cleverly wrote the song specifically to capture his attention. The song was released as a single on 2 February 1968.
The Silent Sun was included on Genesis’ first studio album, From Genesis to Revelation (released March 1969), with Gabriel playing flute.
This album was a flop. The group disbanded and Gabriel went back to his studies at Charterhouse but in September 1969, Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford, and Phillips arrived at the big decision to drop their school plans and make Genesis a full-time working band.
1970 / Their second album, Trespass…
Again, not a commercial success but this album saw Gabriel expanding his musical arsenal with the accordion, tambourine, and bass drum, while incorporating his soul music influences.
Genesis recruited guitarist Steve Hackett after Gabriel spotted his advert in the Melody Maker. So now, Genesis consisted of 5 very gifted progressive rock musicians: Tony Banks (keyboards), Mike Rutherford (bass & guitar), Phil Collins (drums), Steve Hackett (guitar), and Peter Gabriel.
1971 / Their next album, Nursery Cryme features Gabriel playing the oboe.
The album received a mixed response from critics and was not initially a commercial success; a sleeper, it failed to enter the UK chart until later in 1974, when it reached its peak at No. 39.
The album’s opener, “The Musical Box“, was their first song in which Gabriel incorporated a story and characters into the lyrics.
During a gig in Dublin in September 1972, he disappeared from the set during the instrumental section of “The Musical Box” and reappeared in his wife’s red dress and a fox’s head, mimicking the album’s cover. Until he came out in this garb, he had kept this idea as a surprise as he felt the band would have voted against it.
Despite some initial doubts from his bandmates, the incident received front-page coverage in Melody Maker, giving them national exposure which allowed the group to double their performance fee.
1972 / The band’s 4th Album, Foxtrot
The shows featuring “Foxtrot” (1972) marked a key development in Gabriel’s stage performance. He had started to recite stories to introduce numbers as a way to cover the silence between songs, while the band tuned their instruments, or while technical faults were being fixed.
1973 / Selling England by the Pound
The fifth studio album, released in October 1973 on Charisma Records.
The album was recorded in August 1973 following the tour supporting the previous album, Foxtrot (1972). It centred around English themes and literary references.
By this time, a typical Genesis show would have Gabriel wearing many different costumes, according to each song being performed.
He would wear fluorescent make-up, a cape, and bat wings for “Watcher of the Skies“, a helmet, chest plate, and a shield for “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight“, various costumes for “Supper’s Ready“, and an old man mask for “The Musical Box“.
But when you look back at other shows of that time, there were guys like Alice Cooper with his snakes, and singer/actor Meatloaf, so it seemed like Gabriel was doing some great things.
1973 / Dancing With The Moonlit Knight /
1974 / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was Gabriel’s final album with Genesis.
He devised its story of the spiritual journey of Rael, a Puerto Rican youth living in New York City, and the bizarre incidents and characters he meets on the way.
Music critics often focused their reviews on Gabriel’s theatrics and took the band’s musical performance as secondary which irritated the rest of the band.
1973 / Genesis Live / Paris Batacian / 37 min
1. The Musical Box 2. Supper’s Ready 3. The Return of the Giant Hogweed 4. The Knife 5. Interview:
During a stop in Cleveland, Ohio, early into the album’s tour, Gabriel informed the band of his intention to leave at its conclusion. Then on 15 August, he wrote and issued a piece for the press entitled “Out, Angels Out“, about his departure, his disillusion with the business, and his desire to spend time with his family. The news stunned fans and left commentators wondering if the band could survive without him.
Watching some of the videos of 1973, I get the impression that there were two almost disperate performances on stage; the theatrics of Peter Gabriel and the creative improvisations of Genesis, as inspired mainly by Rutherford. You see this in the Supper’s Ready video.
Gabriel’s exit from Genesis resulted in drummer Phil Collins reluctantly taking over on lead vocals after 400 singers were fruitlessly auditioned.
1975–1985: Solo debut and Peter Gabriel albums
Gabriel described his break from Genesis as a “learning period”, during which he took piano and music lessons. By the end of 1965 he had recorded several demos; the fruits of a period of writing around 20 songs with his friend Martin Hall.
He started using a sound sampling synthesizer, the Fairlight CMI.
First Solo Album
Gabriel recorded his solo debut, “Peter Gabriel” in 1976 and 1977 in Toronto and London, with producer Bob Ezrin.
Gabriel and Ezrin assembled session musicians: guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson, bass player Tony Levin (later of King Crimson), drummer Allan Schwartzberg, percussionist Jimmy Maelen, guitarist Steve Hunter, keyboardist Jozef Chirowski and Larry Fast on synthesizers and programming.
Gabriel recalls that he was not used to working at the pace set by Ezrin: “Although it was mainly recorded in a snowy couple of weeks in Toronto I remember the sessions as fast, exciting and hot. Many of the backing tracks were put down live, working to the limitations of the 16-track tape machine.“
Peter Gabriel (a.k.a. Peter Gabriel 1: Car) was released in February 1977 and reached No. 7 in the UK and No. 38 in the US. Its lead single, “Solsbury Hill“, is an autobiographical song about a spiritual experience on top of Solsbury Hill in Somerset. “It’s about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get …” said Gabriel. “It’s about letting go.“
Indeed, he was letting go, but with considerable trepidation. Gabriel wondered how he was going to make it without backing of the strong musicianship of his former bandmates. He also wondered about whether or not Genesis would survive.
Ironically, as it turned out, Genesis with Collins taking lead vocalist spot produced what some critics regard as their best album after Gabriel’s departure.
1978-2013 Montage / Salsbury Hill /
This montage of live performances of Solsbury Hill includes footage from Rockpalast (1978), Live in Athens (1987), Secret World Live (1993), Growing Up Live (2003), New Blood Live (2011) and Back To Front (2013).
Note that Gabriel did not title his first four albums. All were labelled “Peter Gabriel“, using the same typeface, with designs by Hipgnosis. “The idea is to do it like a magazine, which will only come out once a year,” he remarked in 1978. “So it’s the same title, the same lettering in the same place; only the photo is different.” Each album has, however, been given a nickname by fans, usually relating to the album cover.
In the summer of 1979, Peter Vogel, inventor of a sound sampling synthesizer, went to Gabriel’s home where his third solo studio album was being recorded, to show him the Fairlight CMI.
Gabriel, was instantly enthralled with the Fairlight, and he used strange sounds such as breaking glass bottles and bricks on the album. One of those present for the demonstration, Stephen Paine, recalled in 1996: “The idea of recording a sound into solid-state memory and having real-time pitch control over it appeared incredibly exciting. Until that time everything that captured sound had been tape-based. The Fairlight CMI was like a much more reliable and versatile digital Mellotron. Gabriel was completely thrilled, and instantly put the machine to use during the week that Peter Vogel stayed at his house.“
|Gabriel would become interested in selling the CMI in the United Kingdom, and he and Paine formed Syco Systems to distribute the product in the country at a price of £12,000. The first person to purchase the CMI in Britain was Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Other well-known figures from the British music industry followed, including Boz Burrell, Kate Bush, Geoff Downes, Trevor Horn, Alan Parsons, Rick Wright and Thomas Dolby. |
The Fairlight CMI was a commercial success in the United States as well, used by American acts such as Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, Todd Rundgren and Joni Mitchell. However, musicians came to realize that the CMI could not match the expressiveness and level of control offered by acoustic instruments, and that sampling was better applied as imaginative sound than pure reproduction.
Gabriel recorded the third Peter Gabriel album (a.k.a. Peter Gabriel 3: Melt) in England in 1979. He had developed an interest in African music and drum machines and he later hailed the record as his big breakthrough.
The album has been credited as the first to use gated reverb on the drums, creating a distinct sound. While recording drums on “Intruder“, one of the tracks featuring Phil Collins, Gabriel had Collins play various rhythms without using cymbals for several minutes which he used to develop the song further.
The album saw Peter change his writing style; now the rhythm came before the melody and the songs were built up on top of the rhythmic sequences. The album also contains Peter’s first overtly political song in the shape of totemic closer Biko. It also features great performances from Kate Bush, Paul Weller, Phil Collins and David Rhodes.
Games With Frontiers / A top 5 single in the UK /
Games Without Frontiers is taken from Peter’s third self titled solo album. Recorded both at his home studio at Ashcombe House, near Bath, and at London’s Townhouse Studios, the album was produced by Steve Lillywhite.
Gabriel produced versions of the third and fourth Peter Gabriel albums with German lyrics. The third consisted of the studio recordings, overdubbed with new vocals. The fourth was remixed, with several tracks extended or altered.
After finishing the soundtrack to Birdy, Gabriel shifted his musical focus from rhythm and texture, as heard on Peter Gabriel four and Birdy, towards more straightforward pop songs.
1986 / So – Fifth Studio Album
For this album Gabriel drew on various musical influences, fusing pop, soul, and art rock with elements of traditional World Music, particularly African and Brazilian styles. It was Gabriel’s first non-eponymous album, the title representing an “anti-title” that resulted from label pressure to properly market his music.
Five Top Selling Singles were released from this album
- “Sledgehammer” Released: 21 April 1986
- “In Your Eyes” Released: 2 September 1986
- “Don’t Give Up” Released: 27 October 1986
- “Big Time” Released: 23 March 1987
- “Red Rain” Released: 6 July 1987
SledgeHammer / An MTV production /
Sledgehammer was the first single from the multi-platinum selling album So, the first of Peter’s studio albums to have a proper title and a watershed release in his career. Its marriage of the artistic and the commercial made for an indisputable success, with the album quickly sitting atop the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Don’t Give Up / Featuring Kate Bush /
Big Time / An “MTV” Video /
The fourth single to be taken from Peter’s watershed album.
1989 / Passion album
Passion (re-released as Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ) is an album released in 1989. It was Gabriel’s first album to be released on his Real World Records label. It was his second soundtrack and eighth album overall. It was originally composed as the soundtrack album for the film The Last Temptation of Christ, but Gabriel spent several months after the film’s release further developing the music, finally releasing it as a full-fledged album instead of a movie soundtrack.
It is seen as a landmark in the popularization of world music, and won a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album in 1990.
The Passion Album was remastered with most of Gabriel’s catalogue in 2002.
1990 / Peter Gabriel and Sinead O’Connor / Don’t Give Up
An example of “World Music” –
The performance of ‘In Your Eyes‘ is taken from Peter Gabriel’s ‘Secret World Live‘ concert
1997 / In Your Eyes / Live in Athens /
2000 / OVO album
OVO (also released as OVO: The Millennium Show) is a soundtrack album and Gabriel’s his eleventh album overall. It was released on 12 June 2000 by Real World Records as the soundtrack to the Millennium Dome Show, a multimedia performance show directed by Gabriel and Mark Fisher that ran at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London between 1 January and 31 December 2000.
OVO / 50 min.
2008 / Big Blue Ball album
Big Blue Ball is an album by multiple artists which “grew from 3 recording weeks” at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in the summers of 1991, 1992, and 1995. It is Gabriel’s fourteenth album project overall.
In production for more than 18 years, “Big Blue Ball” is a project featuring several artists from all around the world working together. Gabriel said that although the initial recording was finished by 1995, “the tapes were left in a mess and it’s taken this long to sort out.” Producer Stephen Hague was finally called in to sort out the project.
Guests on the album include Wendy Melvoin of Wendy & Lisa, Sinéad O’Connor, Karl Wallinger (of World Party), Natacha Atlas, and Papa Wemba. Gabriel takes the lead vocals on several tracks on the album. A mix of western, African, and Asian musicians are also included.
Big Blue Ball was launched in the United States in June, 24th, 2008.
~~~ Peter Gabriel BINGE Section ~~~
Just for you, if you want to kick back and enjoy a complete show (without having to buy tickets and get there 😉
1973 / Genesis Live /
1994 Peter Gabriel Secret World Live Full Concert / 1 hr 42 min
Genesis / Supper’s Ready LIVE / 23 min.
Secret World / LIVE Concert / 2 hrs 19 min