Peter Hammill
Saturday 25th January 2003
Tivoli, Utrecht, The Netherlands

By Derk van Mourik


Often my enjoyment of a concert is proportional to my familiarity with the performing artist's material. Knowing the songs helps me to better connect with the artist, and it gives me a feeling of being involved in the performance. This is one of the reasons why I rarely like support acts, because very often they or their music is unknown to me, and I have difficulty getting into the performance.

Tonight I went to see Peter Hammill.
I knew none of the songs he performed.
It was one of the best gigs I have ever seen.

This goes to show that to every rule there are exceptions, and that the stronger the exception, the stronger the reverse of the rule is true.

Hammill should need no introduction, as he is one of the most important artists in the field. Apart from being vocalist/composer for Van Der Graaf Generator during that band's existence from the late sixties until the late seventies, he has been an accomplished solo musician for more than thirty years.

The keyword of his music is passion. His voice is what brings the passion out in his music the most, with its power and evocativeness. Sometimes raw, other times gentle, but always distinctive.

Tonight was an all out acoustic affair, but to say that this was a placid sunday afternoon performance couldn't be further from the truth. For passion not only makes Hammill's records, but also his gigs. Through his voice, yes, but also through his mannerisms, and the sheer energy of both his and violinist Stuart Gordon's performances. It was just Hammill on vocals and acoustic guitar (of which he used two intermittently), and Gordon on violin, but with the two of them, they managed to produce a richness in sound that would be hard to match by many a full electric band.

Hammill's acoustic guitar playing was mostly rhythmic and often relentless. Gordon matched stride, and while at one point he had frayed the string on his bow to the point where he had to replace it because of his frenzied playing, it should be counted as a surprise that all of the strings on Hammill's guitars survived the gig. Whether he would have had to replace them for the next gig anyway I do not know!

The violin also served as solo instrument, in addition to the vocals, which I consider to be an instrument with its own distinctive sound in any case. Not knowing the original songs at the time, it is impossible for me to compare them to what was played live, but I presume that the violin primarily replaced the solo instrument (electric guitar in many cases, I suppose) that was used on the original version of a song, while at other times served to strengthen the rhythm provided by the acoustic guitar. The result was very compelling and convincing.

Many of the songs were introduced by Hammill, and he larded these introductions with a lot of humour, giving testimony to his British heritage. At one point Hammill apologized for using sheet music during some of the songs, giving as his reason that some of the parts of those songs were rather complex to play, and then followed that by remarking that he could not actually read the sheet music without his glasses anyway! "An aging artist problem", he called it. "Too old to rock & roll, too old to die".

Well, old or not, Mr Hammill is good to rock & roll for a very long time yet, as far as I'm concerned!


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2003 DPRP