|PETER HAMMILL IN CAMERA||
01. Ferret And The Featherbird (3:43)|
02. (No More) The Sub-mariner (5:47)
03. Tapeworm (4:20)
04. Again (3:44)
05. Faint-Heart And The Sermon (6:42)
06. The Comet, The Course, The Tail (6:00)
07. Gog/ Magog (In Bromine Chambers) (17:21)
Total playing time: 47:34
All songs by Peter Hammill
Guy Evans: Drums on 3, 7
Chris Judge Smith: Percussion, Backing Vocals on 8
Paul Whitehead: Percussion on 8
otherwise all Peter Hammill (Guitar, Bass Guitar, Piano, Harmonium, ARP 2600 Synthesizer, Mellotron, Vocals)
Produced & engineered by Peter Hammill
Overdub/Mix engineering & ARP programming by David Hentschel
Recorded at Sofa Sound, Worth, Sussex, Dec'73 - Apr'74 (4-track analogue)
Overdubbed & mixed at Trident Studios, London W1, Apr'74
Cover design by Frank Sansom/Peter Hammill
Photo: Mike van der Vord (front), Gordian Troeller (inner)
1973. A time of flux, as always, as not before. Two post-VdGG Mk I albums had been recorded, 'Chameleon' & 'The Silent Corner'; both contained elements of band playing & the first truly solo-recording efforts. Tours had been done, both solo & band. Time to mark out another blueprint...time to get serious about solo recording.
By this time Sofa Sound, as a home recording unit, was fully established in a spare room at the cottage in Worth. This was, at least in part, the 'Camera' to which the title refers. The recording machine remained 4-track, but I think I might have had something more of a mixing/recording desk by this time, & possibly some better microphones & outboard stuff. It was all still pretty primitive, though.
Anyway, even at the outset it looked as though this was going to have to be a project which I'd get on with by myself...and that this would be a certain blueprint for the future. At this point it seemed inconceivable that there would be any future VdGG activity & so...this was going to be my career. You can tell just how on the case I was about that from the subsequent song notes....
I was accustomed to solo recording by this stage & unabashed by any potential restraints. It seemed to me that the form should & could encompass everything from simple guitar tunes to pure noise. Obviously I still stand by that!
'Home' recording at the time did not allow for the luxury of limitless time or options. No click track, either, so sometimes the bar lengths got pretty abstract. I had already decided that a number of things, including, for the most part, lead vocals, were going to be overdubbed at the Trident stage of proceedings. Very, very open.
Additionally, I went into the sessions with only two songs in a finished state: 'Ferret & Featherbrid' (written in 1969) & 'Tapeworm' (1971). The rest came to me along with the recording; another blueprint for future methodology.
When I did get to Trident there was a certain amount of incredulity about what I was attempting & a stream of engineers came in to check out the lunatic with a (domestic) 4-track overdubbing onto 24-track using the then state-of the-art ARP synth. At the time synths were monophonic, so every harmony line had to be played in, rather than being a mere shift of patch. The synths & vocals were all done Very Fast...but I suppose I knew what I was doing. I'd have a great deal more trepidation about attempting the same kind of thing today...a certain audacity was involved. & today, of course, everyone brings in work they'ce done 'at home' to be buffed & polished ready for release.
There are lots of mistakes, imprecisions, almost-but-not-quites on these recordings. This was, I suppose, always inevitable in view of what I was attempting. I'd put it down as one of those which are learning-curve rather than finished product, at least in a sonic sense. I mean this neither as excuse nor admission. I think I've always been fairly clear about learning in public?Anyway, I've no problem with the brutal bits...just that the beautiful ones could be a bit sweeter. You can't have everything. But check out that COMPRESSION on the guitars & bass! Not very correct but damn good fun....
Guy's drums were overdubbed at Trident, though I can't remember in which room. Possibly not the main studio area, but somewhere mre off-beat. He had a hell of a job, anyway, in view of my somewhat liquid approach to timing...at the time. David Hentschel also did fantastic work programming the ARP. It was always something of an unstable beast; but it fully satisfied my somewhat imprecise aural desires.
Nearly all of the vocals were done in a small overdub room in the Trident mix suite. No time for preciousness there. This was all in the land of slap it down & print it.
The cover? Some thought it was a tad Gary Glitter at the time; certainly it doesn't seem to have much to do with what's inside, apart from actually showing my mug for once in a while. I did wear the cloak, though, usually while scurrying through Gatwick Airport at three in the morning after having been dropped off at Victoria after a Northern show. In any case, I think my feeling of the time was simply 'look, here I am, this is this....'. The inner shots (not visible in any form on the - ludicrously simplistic Virgin CD release) were taken by Gordian - at the Aerosol Grey Machine sessions!
In any case, all of this is somewhat by the by. The most important thing, personally, about these recordings is that shortly after I'd started the Sofa Sound end of things my brother got knocked off his bicycle in Brighton & was in a coma for the rest of the recording & mixing. Nothing to be done but to get on with what had to be done. To the best of my memory I regarded it as my responsibility - my effort to make him well - to do the best work I could....in the room, in secret, in private. It's for this reason that, alone in all the work, this album came with a dedication, to my brother.
So, the songs:
'Ferret & Featherbird' was, if I recall correctly, something of a late entrant to the lists. I felt that something approaching a 'sweet' song was needed to balance the other stuff. It had, of course, originally been recorded for 'Aerosol Grey Machine'. Wish I knew where my old lap steel disappeared to....
'No More (the sub-Mariner)' & 'Faint-Heart' are united both in their subject matter (to a certain extent...reflections on past self/faith/identity &c.) & in their full-on use of synth overdubs. I must have known that something like these versions would emerge from an intensive spate of overdubbing in Trident, but I was definitely pushing the envelope a bit here.
'Tapeworm' is evidently the most conventional song here & wouldn't have seemed out of place being done (in a 'Rock & Role' style, perhaps) by one of the groups on the preceding two albums.
'Again' & 'The Comet' have been live staples of mine for years since these recordings. I suppose that means they have a self-evident strength as pure songs. Here, both were approached somewhat architecturally. 'The Comet', in particular, was conceived as something of a guitar quartet (all self-played of course): bass, acoustic, electric, 12-string.
'Gog' was the high point in the recording of my Harmonium & was one of the tunes with which it graced me. Many of the others appeared, eventually, on 'Usher'.
It was also, of course, taken into the live VdGG pantheon of toons. Maybe in the course of making this I broke free of whatever chains I still had left about not-really-being-a-musician? This is wild, swirling, edge-of-control stuff. I still love it.
& then 'Magog'. I stuck Paul & Judge in the bathroom & fed them prepared & not-so-prepared tracks. Two passes of tape, I think...and then a lot of work. It didn't seem that odd to me to stick concrete stuff like this together with, say, 'Ferret'. The rules are the same: tension & release. Use of accident, captured on tape. The 'sproing' (for want of a better term) sound which occurs at the end (and is the release of tension) was, for instance, a once & once only effect of hitting on the button of the bass compressor. As if you needed to know that. Such accidents are strewn all over these recordings & contribute, I think, both to their charm & to their other-worldly menace.
They don't make 'em like this any more. Actually, they didn't at the time. Then, you were a serious concrete artist, or a sensitive singer-songwriter, or an all-out rocker, or a Progmeister, or whatever. Weren't you? As now...aren't you? Get in your cage or box!
I begged, I beg, to differ.
Fair to say that some kind of future for me started here. Future, interrupted.
In the mixing room I got a call offering me a couple of (solo) supporting shows to Genesis in Canada. I'd been well away from all that band, big stage stuff for awhile by now.
You'll know what happened next....
(P) © 1974 Charisma Records Ltd.