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Peter Hammill

Peter Hammill: New Van der Graaf album in Spring

D.Antonopoulos talked with P.Hammill for Van der Graaf Generators' new album, his shws in Greece (13, 14/11) and many other things.
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Peter Hammill is certainly in thel list of important names in music in the last forty years. Next to David Bowie, Brian Eno and a few more.

His concerts in our country in a few days is a gift and I know very well that everyone will be there again. As always happens. Peter Hammill never appears to flatter the audience or the mirror, but he gives his soul in the hands of the muse, and so we get together at a concert, more like a ritual I guess. I had the feeling that you will ultimately talk in the new year, but his appearances in Greece, were certainly the best opportunity to chat! Below you will read everything Peter told us (the Van Der Graaf Generator will return with a new album in 2011) at my radio show (Rockzone / Kanaliena.gr - every Saturday at 8 and a couple of hours as always). Absolutely top, and deeply human person...

H:  It's Peter. Finally here to have the interview.
A: Finally! It's wonderful to speak to you, really you know.
H: Excellent!

A: So, how do you feel coming back to Greece as a solo artist after several years?
H: I'm very pleased to be coming back. As you say it's been several years and over the last couple of years I've again rediscovered a kind of ethousiasm for playing solo again and I guess I'm looking forward to it very much indeed.

A: Any memories, Peter, you want to share from the live concert with the
Van der Graaf Generator in Greece?
H: Ah, yes, it was very very exciting. Very nice to be up in Lycabetus and of course it was in the passage of a number of shows that we were doing and very very exciting and of course very pleased to finally expose the Van der graaf in Greece.

A: Speaking of Van der Graaf Generator, is there a new VdG album on the way, Peter?
H: There is indeed. We 've actually finished the mixing of it only a couple of weeks ago and we expect it would be out probably around about March or April of next year.

A: Wonderful news. We didn't have the chance to discuss on your most recent album titled "Thin air", which is outstanding of course fantastic.
H: Thank you.

A: Would you like to say something about it Peter?
H: I think it's quite of an interesting record. Obviously I try to make each record to be different from the one before and obviously there is, at the moment well VdG is still a kind of a some times on-some times off activity. They try making selling records in slightly different light. So, I think a number of different approaches again, as usual, on this, and of course it is very much a solo record and I am the only person appearing on it, but I was pretty happy with the result of this one. Obviously one always tries to do the best, but I think it's a particularly strong record.

A: Peter, excellent work is done in both sofasound and PeterHammil.com, two amazing sites. How does PH really feel in the internet era?
H: Comfortably and uncomfortably at the same time. I mean, obviously, there is sofasound.com and there is PeterHammil.com which is a companion site, I don't actually run it myself but it's official. But I don't have myspace page, I don't have a facebook page, I don't go on twitter or any of those things, but on the other hand, obviously, the internet is very very
useful both in terms of my being able to communicate directly on the sofasound site but also, I think in terms of people being able to communicate with each other. So that, forget you're where if anything happens in Hammil world or VdG world it won't take more than a couple of clicks before anyone who's interested will find out about it.

A: It's out there! Peter, isn't amazing that many people confuse the image, the character, if you prefer, of an artist with a normal everyday person? I estimate that a personal life, everyday life, if you wish, is a part that should remain behind the scene and publicity. Do you agree?
H: Oh, yes that's true, obviously. But on the other hand the person who's the public figure genuinely or normally appears in public, as now I'm speaking as Peter Hammil a public figure when I appear on stage I appear as a public figure and of course the private person isn't normally there. I'm lucky in a way because I've been able to have more of a private life because of not being a very successful public figure. It's not that I don't have generally for the people it's very very hard for them to have a private life and that makes it, for me, more difficult to write about more normal private things. All of these things have their positives and negatives.

A: Let's talk about success in my personal opinion Peter Hammil is one of the two or three most important artists of the last forty years. How do you really feel today looking back in time?
H: I feel very fortunate really, because, obviously it's a privilege, it's great deal of luck because I have been writing and performing for forty years and I'm very very lucky to have done that. Obviously that has a lot part to do with having fans and a certain amount of audience. It is, though, part having to do with not having that major major success because it is in modern terms, if you're very successful you're inmediately limited to doing a record every two or three years or something like that and then touring for a couple of years and being on something of a tribunal. Now, obviously, I had the opportunity to do a number of different things and even at the moment if I say that there is a continuing solo carier or a continuing VdG carier, it's strange and a litle bit outside the normal run of intertainment or pop music or rock music, or whatever you want to call it, but there are things which I tend to do something new which is a luck and a privilage so this is fundamentally how I feel. As far as success or as being important in terms of my own relationship to writing material or performing material, those I can't really think about those considerations. These are questions of trying to do the best that I can do in terms of stuff that I'm working on at the moment.

Peter HammillA: You have recorded a series of top sessions of John Peal. Would you like to say a few words for him today?
H: In fact he was one of the very first people who ever gave us any attention at all. This is way back in 1967, I think, when we first met him. He championed almost anybody who was as sight of things, I mean, he was a man who did remarkably for someone who is on that side, he's a DJ, journalist and retained his enthousiasm absolutely to the end and particularly for more abstract things. The whole british music owes him a great dept, to be honest.

A: Do you enjoy even today the music of John Coltrane, Jimmy Hendrix, really?
H: They still get
a part of my interior musical landscape. I had to say that more and more as the years go by and as we listen to probably less and less music, partly cause I'm working on my  music, it seems that in this modern world there are less and less opportunity to have even forty minutes free of having to do lots and lots of things, in which to stop and listen to music as it should be. But Coltrane and Hendrix, and I have to say as well a number of classical composers, over the last few years probably Mozart and Bach came to be as important to me as Coltrane and Hendrix.

A: Peter do you ever sence that many journalists act like energy vampires in the music industry field, you know. Do you agree?
H: Not really. I think that actually just as it is a complicated world for musicians these days, it's also a complicated world for journalists. It used to be that only journalists expressed their opinions about music or about artists and so and only the journalists who had access to magazines. These days everybody has got an opinion and dushes off an opinion, some times not entirely thought through, because some times when people are faced by the internet their brains are  not necessarily connected to what they think exactly. I think it's complicated for journalists. They've always had a simbiotic relationship, journalists need artists and have opinions on artists, the artists need journalists, because otherwise no-one has an opinion on you, or doesn't express an opinion, then nobody hears of you and you become invisible. So, it's as it always has been, as I am sure it will continue to be, it's always a very complicated business.

Peter HammillA: Let's talk about the song I really adore into “finding and preserving enemies” , “the comet that proves the tail” which is “the only way we know that we are alive” you sing, is this eventually the tragedy of human nature in a way?
H: Possibly. It's obviously a song I wrote many years ago. It's still a wonder that I come back to it and to the days when I wrote them in a way my reactions to them seem now like a 60year old man and very different to the one when I first wrote them. In a way they become more visual and emotional rather than analytical in that way. As I say I do still occasionally play the song “the comet that proves the tail”. I think the important thing for me in the song is having done it overall these years in the end is the final line the “I am my own direction” for I am however it is the story that is written is the story of who I am. So that for me is the real drive and motive of that song.

A: And finally what should we expect to hear from you in Athens?
H: Well, I honestly don't tell you. Obviously I'll be playing piano, the guitar,  at least a couple of songs from “Thin Air” because they're new songs, some older songs. Which list ideally I honestly don't know. The extent of what I don't know is that at the moment in the course of the last solo shows I've done I have a choice of something like 70 songs I'm choosing and I chose 15 or 16 each night. So, in a way it will be completely random. But I'll have a particular course of action for how long it is since I have been in Greece and not exactly what I played last time but I'll try to have an interesting and challenging mix of old and new things and I've said I very much look forward to it.

A: Thank you very much, Peter.
H: Excellent! I'm very glad we managed to do this.

A: Can't wait to see you here.
H: See you then!

Peter Hammill talks to Dimitris Antonopoulos

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