> Peter Hammill

Robert Calvert

looks like Morrison - but it's Hammill Peter Hammill

> He was a good man.
And like a lot of good men he was troubled. BUT he made a lot of good work out of his troubles. <

Peter Hammill knew Robert Calvert for a long time. His former band Van der Graaf Generator often played together with Hawkwind throughout most of the 70's.

Before the interview with Peter Hammill on Robert Calvert , here's a little introduction to Hammill himself and his connection to Calvert:

Peter Hammill  is one of the most original, productive / prolific singer/songwriters that came out of the british music scene of the late 60's. And 'productive' in his case means: (at least) one new record per year, a musical career that's heading for it's 4th decade, and a back-catalogue of more than 50 albums.
Hammill is also the prototype of the uncompromising do-your-own-thing artist - in the most positive sense of this outworn phrase. Unlike Calvert, he was / is not after the great public appearance. Going down the pop-star-marketing-treadmill? NEVER!
Hammill's an artist who remains in touch with his own voice...
"Being in touch with yourself is just one voice you hear in your head when you wake at two in the morning. It doesn't matter where you are then." (Uncut Magazine, Jan. 03)
...following his own -twisted- musical paths. And that way took him into quite diverse territories. He's certainly an artist who honed the 'classic' songwriting to perfection. But his records also comprise numerous sonic experiments - and also an opera project.

Peter Hammill - early/mid 70sHe's often referred to as a "cult" artist - which certainly is not what he's after. He want's his music to speak - not a public image.
"I would always reject greater visibility. Paradoxically, of course, I am a public artist. My name is ont eh CD. What I want is for the CD to go out there, but for me to stay invisible. (...) In a way, I'm blessed with never having had any hits, so I don't have to think, 'Is this going to be the one that surpasses...' - I have to keep awake instead." (Uncut Magazine, Jan. 03)

And "awake" he remains. His latest record 'Incoherence" has been released just a few months ago.
But despite his low public profile, Hammill is recognized and name-checked frequently by other musicians, like Bowie, Peter Gabriel and especially John Lydon (aka. J. Rotten), as a great influence.
And when it comes to intense, passionate singing in the greater fields of rock/pop music, you'll hardly find a vocalist in Hammill's league.

This was also acknowledged by Robert Calvert, who had a great respect for Hammill's work. To his surprise an interviewer once compared his style as a vocalist with Peter Hammill's'. Calvert, quite surprised and somewhat bemused, said, he'd never heard of that - but would certainly feel honoured if he'd come at least near to Hammill's class.
He was aware of Hammill's work from very early on and especially admired his work as a vocalist.

"He told me once that it was actually 'Killers", one of my earliest songs, that brought him into music.".

Van der Graaf - live on Belgian  TV

Calvert and Hammill started their musical work around the same time - and their ways crossed soon after when both their bands, Van der Graaf Generator and Hawkwind, became sought-after acts of the british underground and later on were - for a while - also signed to the same label, Charisma Rec.
Inicidentally, Hammill and Calvert also broke from their/these bands at the same year, to concentrate on their solo-careers. Van der Graaf - whose principal songwriter Hammill was throughout their career - split up in 1978 - the same time that Calvert finally left Hawkwind.

The Van der Graaf / Hawkwind Connection

"The thing I remember, the images that are most vivid are the goggles and the megaphone - and the flying scarf.
The Hawkwind of the mid-seventies shows were very theatrical, but they weren't slick. And I don't think they were after putting up a slick show - or after perfection. To me it was more a theatre in an Agit-Prop way. VDGG played with Hawkwind numerous times throughout the 70s - from the early days on, when Calvert wasn't a member - or only a loose one up until the mid/late 70's when he became the band's lead-singer & frontman.

There was an obvious difference between the early days - when Hawkwind played in front of those liquid lightshows with the occasional dancer - but the band itself remained in the dark compared to those mid-70s shows when Calvert became the frontman, employing all these theatrical elements."

Q: What did you think of these theatrics they -and especially Calvert - introduced to their live shows. It's hard to say these days from the few available good slides how it actually came across. Was it maybe a bit childish?

"No, really, I did like them. As I said, they weren't slick - more improvised.
But Calvert's style was never my speed.

Van der Graaf and Hawkwind were obviously very different bands in style - where Hawkwind had this one riff that went on and on and on - eventually evolving into a kind of soundscape, VDGG had one riff, and another and another - this complex musical structure (and we didn't had a "Stacia" either....) .

But in terms of the noise, the rawness and energy level during their live performances they weren't that far away.
The anarchic element and the sonic quality and rawness of punk was there, both in the performances and sounds of HW and VDGG."

Talking about both Hawkwind and VDGG being among the most important - thought not recognized at the time - precursors of Punk. This becomes more and more evident and acknowledged by other musicians - like for instance John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten - Sex Pistols vocalist) who said that especially Hammill's solo album "Nadir's Big Chance" was the first Punk record and a big influence for him - and Peter Hammill chips in:
"Yes, I met him a few times. He's much into my and VDGG's music - he has our albums, the lot of it..."

In the light of these belated credits, that he / VDGG and Hawkwind- never really received in the open, I asked PH if he doesn't feel somewhat frustrated at times to be continuously labelled 'progressive' - which, unfortunately is quite often used and / or understood as a synonym for "plain old boring pompous music" these days...
"No, because despite of us pioneering these sonic structures, it is also true - there was too much golden cape and not enough Rock'n'Roll. Cause Rock music is mostly an attitude, not a set of chords."
Nevertheless, he still regards himself as a rock-musician, especially when he plays his more quiet songs.

Q: Did he recognize any 'symptoms' of Calvert's mental problems during those gigs / tours?
"No - I knew about those problems, with him being a manic depressive, but I didn't saw any of them. Maybe that's because a band works as a kind of aggressive protection for each of the group's members.
In a way it functions like a family - or an Ersatz - family, with all the functions and problems inherited. So, usually the problems of the individual are kept inside the band - which becomes a unit around these individual problems - cushioning them(but maybe also let them boil until they explode - was my thought at this point) so, not much of them get through to the outside."

Two other connections between Hammill and Calvert: they are both known for writing / having written some of the most 'intelligent' / ambitious / poetical lyrics that have been set to rock music. And it is / was of great importance to them, not to become a full-life-time member of the music-biz in order to pursue their manifold interests and remain in touch with other subjects outside this music-and-music-only world.
Subjects and themes that eventually turn up again in their lyrics...

(the "problem" of) Writing intelligent lyrics for rock music...

PH - in the 80's Q: Is it a problem for you to know that the quality of your lyrics - especially in the area of rock music - and even more during live performances - is often not appreciated?

"No, it's not a problem. It's the soul of the work that counts, finally. No one follows the lyrics in a live performance - which is also a good thing in a way - they rather become part of the overall spirit. Words don't work in their usual linear mode, as they do when you read them.
There is no literary element in a live show - that's a fact. And if you write 'intelligent' / ambitious lyrics you'd write them anyway - if the audience is aware of if or not."

PH - live 2001Being a musician in the music world

"I've made the decision very early on that I didn't want to become a part of the music world. That I don't want to get completely absorbed by it.
(see above)

The good friends of mine, those that I see regularly - most of them aren't musicians and when we meet we never talk about music, recording, business etc.

If I'd be a part of this world all the time, with no connections to anything and anyone else I wouldn't have anything to write songs about."

Asked if he, like Calvert, whose interests and talents were equally manifold and who also never wanted to immerse totally in the music world, would consider to write prose / poetry for its own sake - not necessarily as song-lyrics:

"No, music is much more direct. You write a song. You know when it is finished. You record it - and know how it works. You know how it can change on stage. But with, for instance, a short story - you can work on this endlessly - even on the punctuation.
So, it's music for me and I will stick to it."

>the text you've read above was memorized from notes I've made during my talk with PH in 1997 - so, any strange grammar, misspellings etc. are to blame on the page's author.<

Why do we look to artists to tell us about things when, by definition, they're screwed up? (P.H. - Uncut Magazine, Jan. 03)

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