> 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
Hammill on Robert Calvert ,
here's a little introduction to Hammill himself and his connection
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
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.
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.
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.
me once that it was actually 'Killers", one of my earliest songs,
that brought him into music.".
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
Inicidentally, Hammill and Calvert also broke from their/these bands
at the same year, to concentrate on their solo-careers. Van
- whose principal songwriter Hammill was throughout their career -
split up in 1978 - the same time that Calvert finally left Hawkwind.
Van der Graaf / Hawkwind Connection
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
Calvert became the frontman, employing all these theatrical
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?
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"
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."
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
"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...
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."
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...
"problem" of) Writing intelligent
lyrics for rock music...
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?
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
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."
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.
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,
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:
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."
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.<
do we look to artists to tell us about things when, by definition,
they're screwed up? (P.H.
- Uncut Magazine, Jan. 03)