Peter Hammill’s‏ Art Glue

Doomed to vanish in the flickering light,
disappearing to a darker night,
doomed to vanish in a living death, living anti-matter,

“Whether or not I’m my own best critic I still go for instinct in terms of what is good or not”.

Peter Joseph Andrew Hammill (born 5 November 1948) is an English singer-songwriter, and a founding member of the progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. Most noted for his vocal abilities, his main instruments are guitar and piano. He also acts as a record producer for his own recordings, and occasionally for other artists.

Musically, Hammill’s work ranges from short simple riff-based songs to highly complex lengthy pieces. Mainly because of the diversity of his compositions, his refusal to make anything resembling middle-of-the-road music, and the general absence of any smooth or glamorous sounds in his music, there is much debate amongst his admirers whether Hammill is to be considered a part of the so-called progressive rock scene. In many interviews however Hammill himself has stated that he does not want to be put in the progressive rock music label, or any music label at all.

Hammill’s voice is a very distinctive element of his music. He sings in an emotional, often even dramatic way. As a former Jesuit chorister, his delivery is usually Received Pronunciation British English — notable exceptions are his Afrikaner accent on “A Motor-bike in Afrika” and his Cockney accent on “Polaroid” — and ranges in tone from peacefully celestial to screaming rants (which are nevertheless highly controlled). Singing in registers from baritone to high falsetto, he growls, croons, shrieks and shouts in ways that have drawn comparison with the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix

Hammill’s output is prolific. Many different styles of music appear in his work, among them artful complexity for instance “Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night”):

Avant garde electronic experiments (“Loops and Reels, Unsung)

Opera (The Fall of the House of Usher)

Solo keyboard accompaniment (And Close As This), Solo guitar accompaniment (Clutch), Improvisation (Spur of the Moment)

Film music (Sonix)

Band recordings (Enter K), Slow, melancholic balladry (None of the Above).

Live concerts by Peter Hammill are characterised by a degree of unpredictability, in terms of the songs played, the arrangements and the players involved. Hammill generally does not undertake live-tours to promote albums. Whenever he plays with a certain predominant line-up, almost always there will also be concerts interspersed with different permutations of musicians, so the word ‘tour’ is not always very applicable.

“Perhaps, though, on the farewell tour (not yet!) I’ll play the whole damn catalogue, in order. A week-long residency at each venue, I suspect. Don’t hold your breath. (PS “Siren Song”, “Last Frame”, “Habit”, the “encores” on Typical?? And I’m sure others crop up, or will do so, from time to time.)”

VdGG leftovers: “So far as I know there isn’t any live VdGG material of suitable quality. I do hear of things from time to time so don’t make that an absolute. In any case we were so (wonderfully, if I may say so) erratic that any representation would only be a half-truth at best”.

“I don’t really think about the origins of songs when considering what to play live. An absence of VdGG stuff is *not* for the final reason; it’s simply a case of choosing songs with which I can interact and of which I can continue to make something new. In many cases the VdGG songs were already defined in that era. I can’t imagine, for instance, a solo version of “Pioneers”.

Left the earth in 1983,
fingers groping for the galaxies,
reddened eyes stared up into the void,
1000 stars to be exploited
Somebody help me I’m falling, somebody help me, I’m falling
Into sky, into earth, into sky, into earth …
It is so dark around, no life, no hope, no sound
no chance of seeing home again …
The universe is on fire, exploding without flame.
We are the lost ones; we are the pioneers;
we are the lost ones
We are the ones they are going to build a statue for
ten centuries ago or were going to fifteen forward …
One Last brief whisper in our loved ones’ ears
to reassure them and to pierce the fear
standing at controls then still unknown
we told the world we were about to go
Somebody help me I’m missing, somebody help me
I’m missing now
touch with my mind, I have no frame,
touch with my mind, I have no frame …
Well now where is the time and who the hell am I,
here floating in an aimless way?
No-one knows where we are, they can’t feel us precisely .
There is no fear here.
How can such a thing exist in a place where
living and knowing
and being have never been heard of?
Doomed to vanish in the flickering light,
disappearing to a darker night,
doomed to vanish in a living death, living anti-matter,
Somebody help me I’m losing, somebody help me, I’m losing now
people around, there’s no-one to touch,
no people around, no-one to touch.
I am now quite alone, part of a vacant time-zone,
here floating in the void,
only dimly aware of existence, a dimly existing awareness,
I am the lost one, I am the one you fear,
I am the lost one,
I am the one who went up into space, or stayed where I was,
or didn’t exist in the first place …
Songwriter(s): David Jackson, Peter Hammill

Hammill’s lyrics are another distinctive feature of his work. He has visited a number of recurring themes including love and human relationships, ageing and death, human folly, self-awareness and introspection, politics, and religion. His lyrics often include scientific, literary or historical references. For example, the Norse names mentioned in the song “Viking” on Fool’s Mate (co-written with Judge Smith) are characters in the Icelandic Saga of Eric the Red. (Hammill’s source, judging by the spelling of the names, seems to have been Magnus Magnusson’s 1965 translation.)

The science fiction themes of Van der Graaf Generator’s lyrics are mostly absent in his later work, but there still are many science references, especially to physics (for instance in the song “Patient”).

In 1974 Hammill published a book, Killers, Angels, Refugees (Charisma Books, London), a collection of lyrics, poems and short stories. This was later reissued by Hammill himself (Sofa Sound, Bath) and was followed by a sequel Mirrors, Dreams, Miracles (1982).


“Quite simply, whether something is worth a crack, whether I feel there’s something I can give to & take from a project and usually whether it’ll be something which puts me into an unfamiliar role or unfamiliar territory. Some kind of “Art Glue” is also normally required. Anything to stop myself simply continuing to tread on well-known ground. In these terms, of course, I’m often effectively doing “collaborations” with myself”.

Guest appearances

Colin Scot, Colin Scot (1971) – provided backing vocals on several tracks
Le Orme, Felona and Sorona (1974) – wrote English language lyrics for the Charisma Records UK release of the Italian album Felona e Sorona (1973)
Robert Fripp, Exposure (1979) – co-wrote and sang lead vocals on “Disengage” and sang lead vocals on “Chicago”

Ludus, The Visit (1980, 12 inch) – provided “attention and advice”
Peter Gabriel, Security (1982) – sang backing vocals on “The Family and the Fishing Net”, “Shock the Monkey” and “Lay Your Hands on me”

Georgia II, The Flag / Tunnel Vision (1982, 7 inch and 12 inch) – sang backing vocals and played guitar
The Long Hello, The Long Hello Volume 3 (David Jackson) (1982) – played organ solo and keyboard sounds on “The Honing of Homer”
Miguel Bosé, Bandido (1984) – wrote the lyrics of “South of the Sahara” and “Domine Mundi”

Islo Mob, Wir Sind das Abenland (1985) – sang backing vocals
Damian Hawkyard, Ill at Ease (1986, EP) – sang backing vocals on one track
Ayuo, Nova Carmina (1986) – sang lead vocals on some tracks
Kazue Sawai, Eye To Eye (1987) – contributed on “A Song To Fallen Blossoms”
Herbert Grönemeyer, What’s All This (1988) – wrote the English lyrics
Crazy House, Still Looking For Heaven On Earth (1988) – played piano on “Feel That Way”
Alice, Il sole nella pioggia (1989) – co-wrote and sang on “Now and Forever”

Nic Potter, The Blue Zone (1990) – played guitar on “Ocean Blue”
Judge Smith, Democrazy (1991) – co-wrote and played on various songs
Peter Gabriel, Us (1992) – sang backing vocals on “Digging in the Dirt”
Christian Demand, Kleine Fluchten (1993) – sang and played midi-guitar
Moondog, Sax Pax For A Sax (1994) – sang backing vocals
The Stranglers, The Stranglers and Friends – Live in Concert (1995) – sang on “Tank” and “The Raven”
Ayuo, Songs from a Eurasian Journey (1997) – sang lead vocals on several tracks
Saro Cosentino, Ones And Zeros (1997) – co-wrote and sang on “Phosphorescence” and “From Far Away”
David Cross, Exiles (1997) – sang lead vocals on “Tonk” and “Troppo”
Wolfram Huschke, Alien Diary (1998) – sang lead vocals on “Black Rose”
Pale Orchestra conducted by David Thomas, Mirror Man Act 1: Jack & The General (1998) – played harmonium, guitar and keyboards
Alice, Exit (1998) – wrote the lyrics of “Open Your Eyes”
Various Artists, Hommage to Polnareff (1999) – sang lead vocals on “Jour Après Jour”
Jackie Leven, Defending Ancient Springs (2000) – played harmonium, guitar and keyboard on “Murbid Sky”
Judge Smith, Curly’s Airships (2000) – performed the part of Lord Thomson
Ayuo, Earth Guitar – 1000 Springs And Other Stories (2000) – sang the gothic choir and did poetry reading
Premiata Forneria Marconi, PFM Live in Japan 2002 (2002) – sang lead vocals on “Sea of Memory”

David Rhodes, Bittersweet (2009) – sang backing vocals
Memories of Machines, Warm Winter (2011) – played guitar
Robert Jemison Van de Graaff was born at the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from Dutch descent.[1] In Tuscaloosa, he received his BS and Masters degrees from The University of Alabama where he was a member of The Castle Club (later became Mu Chapter of Theta Tau). After a year at the Alabama Power Company, Van de Graaff studied at the Sorbonne. In 1926 he earned a second BS at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, completing his PhD in 1928.[2]

Van de Graaff was the designer of the Van de Graaff generator, a device which produces high voltages. In 1929, Van de Graaff developed his first generator (producing 80,000 volts) with help from Nicholas Burke at Princeton University. By 1931, he had constructed a larger generator, generating 7 million volts. He was a National Research Fellow, and from 1931 to 1934 a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He became an associate professor in 1934 (staying there until 1960). He was awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal in 1936.

Schematic view of a classical Van de Graaff-generator.
1) hollow metal sphere
2) upper electrode
3) upper roller (for example an acrylic glass)
4) side of the belt with positive charges
5) opposite side of the belt with negative charges
6) lower roller (metal)
7) lower electrode (ground)
8) spherical device with negative charges, used to discharge the main sphere
9) spark produced by the difference of potentials

During WWII, Van de Graaff was director of the High Voltage Radiographic Project. After WWII, he co-founded the High Voltage Engineering Corporation (HVEC). During the 1950s, he invented the insulating-core transformer (producing high-voltage direct current). He also developed tandem generator technology. The American Physical Society awarded him the T. Bonner prize (1965) for the development of electrostatic accelerators.



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