|PETER HAMMILL THE FUTURE NOW||
01. Pushing Thirty (4:19)
02. The Second Hand (3:25)
03. Trappings (3:29)
04. The Mousetrap (Caught In) (4:03)
05. Energy Vampires (2:56)
06. If I Could (4:34)
07. The Future Now (4:07)
08. Still In The Dark (3:35)
09. Mediaevil (3:05)
10. A Motorbike In Afrika (3:10)
11. The Cut (4:20)
12. Palinurus (Castaway) (3:44)
Total playing time: 44:55
Graham Smith: Violin (5,6)
David Jackson: Saxophone (1,2)
otherwise all Peter Hammill (Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards)
Produced & engineered by Peter Hammill
Mix engineering by Pat Moran
Recorded at Sofa Sound, Surrey 18/03- 26/04/78 (8-track analogue)
Mixed at Rockfield, Monmouth 27/04-3/05/78
Cover design by Barney Bubbles
Photo: Brian Griffin
In the first days of January 1978, with the Van der Graaf train rapidly approaching Crisis Junction if not derailment, I moved out of London to a rented house in Byfleet with the specific intention of recording "The Future Now". After the small matter of rehearsing for and recording "Vital", followed by a solo US tour in February, I was finally able to begin work on this in mid-March. I had just under two months available to complete the album, since the next (and, as it happened, last) VdG tour was already booked in to start on the 12th May.
For these recordings I had made the jump to 8-track analogue, using an ITAM machine which was basically a "stacked" Revox. It was noisy & chunky but pretty reliable. I'd also got something more of a mixing desk than I'd had previously - possible an Alice 8-channel job, but my memory is hazy on this point. Very minimal stuff, in any case. My Gors & Kallman baby grand piano & my harmonium returned to live with me from storage and I had my guitars and amps as well as the (unreliable to say the least) monophonic analogue synth which had been custom-made by a friend of Charles Dickie's. In addition I had a primitive but delightfully idiosyncratic Roland beat box, a slow-speed Revox and various fx boxes. That was the sum of the available equipment.
Evidently going into the recordings I and my planet were in a tremendous state of flux. VdG were hanging on by our fingernails and "Vital" really was essential to our future survival. Charisma were unwilling or unable to see us recording another studio album as a band and a lot depended on what emerged from this live recording. I, on the other hand, was still signed as a solo artist, although my own future career with Charisma was not a gold-plated certainty at this time....
In the light of this it's perhaps surprising that I went into this project with little prepared. To the best of my recollection only five or six of the songs were written before I started; I trusted to fate and hard work to guide me through discovering the rest. My confidence was evidently not at its lowest at this stage, evidently.
Van der Graaf was still going and - we hoped at the time - might yet survive; but there was a different approach to this solo recording than to any others I'd done while the band had been in existence. "Fool's Mate" and "Nadir" had both been made up of "light", or at least short, songs; "Over" was evidently a personal and emotional statement. With "The Future Now" I began to map out an alternative, solo, way of working which, while "serious", did not bow to or, indeed, make any reference to, the work and style of the group.
I was partly enthused by the events of '77 in music and had come to the conclusion that while it would be palpably absurd for me to attempt to work in or present myself as belonging to either Punk or New Wave then at least the opportunity appeared to be there to stretch the boundaries of the pop song, both in its musical and lyrical content and composition. It's for this reason that a number of the songs contained here move towards "social" topics - I felt that the time was right for non-dogmatic takes on things such as these.... I'd also learned enough about recording, I suppose, to finally essay the "something different will emerge if I just record by myself" ethos to its logical conclusion. Hence the fashioning of raw, concrete noise - previously "held apart" as in, for instance, "Magog" - into the basis of what could be construed, at a pinch, as "normal" songs.
The physical constraints of recording were somewhat severe. The central heating system in the house sent clicks down the mains so I had to turn it off for the duration of recording and wrapped myself in many layers of clothing, with only my freezing hands out in the cold, in order to get through things. For most of the time I saw no-one but Cracky Jones, the ex-VdGG roadie, who lived down the road, and the denizens of local pubs, where I'd go to write lyrics in lunchtime breaks. I worked continuously; this was the only way the thing was going to get done.
As for the songs....
"Pushing Thirty" seems a long way away now, of course. The sentiment still holds, though. I honestly didn't know that I'd still be doing this at fifty-plus; but "having fun" remains an important ingredient of the whole thing. "The Second Hand" came out of bass improvisation over the aforementioned beat-box; more time stuff. "Trappings"...you can fill in whatever superstar takes your fancy here. The constraints of 8-track recording meant that the B. Vox had to go on very early indeed; this was helpful in terms of leaving the song comparatively bare. My guitar playing, or at least my confidence in it, had evidently benefited from the responsibilities which fell on my shoulders in VdG.
"The Mousetrap" was one of the songs which I had when I started. That unstable synth is to the fore in the arrangement. Echoes of the synth overdubbing in Trident in the "In Camera" era, I feel. This became something of a live staple at the time; evidently I was talking about a singer as much as an actor....
"Energy Vampires" was a term coined by Graham Smith, so it's appropriate that he should play on it. Not for the last time the inspiration came from the specific repeats of the Revox; a succession of whacky multi-track edits (the joy of the razor-blade!) reduced what had been a long initial improvisation to this song form. A general word about this one. Yes, I & we have encountered Energy Vampires over the years; they're attracted by the energy source that's around any endeavour such as music...sport's another area where mind & matter are similarly directed. Most people ("fans" or whatever) are NOT EVs, though! In general I've found that meeting people takes place on an understood, if difficult and sometimes nervous, basis.
"If I could" was written around the same time as the "Quiet Zone" material. I remain happy about this sparse arrangement and particularly with the BVs. I've played this song many, many times and still seem to find a resonance with it.
"The Future Now" itself still sounds, to me, like nothing else and this kind of sound, without musicianly showing-off and with unlikely contrasts, was, I believe, the kind of thing I'd been looking to head towards from the outset of my one-man recordings.
"Still in the Dark" features a very early instance of e-bow guitar being used in an orchestral manner together with synths. in this sense it's a blueprint for much of my most recent work. In retrospect I think I've underplayed this song; it's content seems more relevant than ever these days.
The next three songs, "Mediaevil", "A Motor-bike in Afrika" and "The Cut" are the truly experimental triad here. All came from sheer messing about with tapes and sounds, the songs themselves having to be "found" out of the assembled noise. This is a natural part of the process of songwriting, but normally one works with more logical material. After making these three I became truly liberated in my approach to songwriting and production - "anything goes", anything can be a constituent part of a song, has been my watchword since. I also continue to enjoy working with sound and recording rather as though it's all clay, as here. Each decision, each edit, each overdub is an ineradicable part and one doesn't fully see where one's going until the thing is finally done. Nor, when one is finally there, does one necessarily remember exactly what route was taken or where the original impetus came from. In the days when I worked with analogue tape some measure of remembrance was retained as the editing tape bounced past the heads; in digital world even these past moments of decision become invisible. However, these principles of working towards, rather than on, songs date from this era and I continue to apply them to this day.
"Palinurus" wraps it up. A rare appearance of harmonica, which was my first instrument (sic); I never got that far with it. I continue to search for that white note and, indeed, to be aware of the sentiments of the final line....
Closing notes: the cover photographs must have been taken on the 17th May. I'd shaved half of my beard off in Liverpool after the show at Eric's club. Everyone knew I was going to do it except for Graham Smith, for some reason. He thought I'd genuinely and finally cracked when he met me in the lobby of the hotel the next day. I did one show half-bearded, in Bangor and then took the train to London. Having looked pretty ridiculous and/or alien at various times of my life I can honestly say I've never had such strange reactions. The rest of the beard went a couple of days later....
(P) © 1978 Charisma Records Ltd.