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Peter Hammill

 B i o g r a p h y

Peter Joseph Andrew Hammill (born 5 November 1948) is an English singer-songwriter, and a founding member of 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. He has been married to his wife Hilary since 1978 and they have 3 children.


Peter Hammill was born in Ealing, west London, and moved with his family to Derby when he was 12. He attended Beaumont College, Old Windsor, and Manchester University, where he studied Liberal Studies in Science.

Hammill's solo career began with Fool's Mate (1971), while Van der Graaf Generator were still active. To some extent it is difficult to separate Hammill's solo work during the 1970s from his work with the band, as he tended to be credited as the sole songwriter on the majority of the songs included on the band's albums, whilst conversely many of his "solo" albums feature all the members of Van der Graaf Generator playing on the recordings – the difference between the two scenarios seemed primarily to be who was paying for the sessions. In general, however, solo Hammill is concerned with more personal matters, while the band's songs deal with broader themes. His earlier work was largely existential in nature and many of his solo album lyrics are literary, poetic and amongst the most sensitive and intelligent and complex expressions of angst and a search for meaning in the history of music. Indeed, his work ranges from short simple riff-based songs to highly complex lengthy pieces. Mainly because of the strangeness of his music, 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 progressive rock scene. It appears to be very difficult to categorize his music. In many interviews Hammill has stated that he does not want to be put in the progressive rock music label, or any music label at all.

Hammill recorded a series of diverse albums during Van der Graaf Generator's three year hiatus between 1972 and 1974. Among these, Nadir's Big Chance (1975) is notable for its anticipation of punk rock. In a 1977 radio interview, John Lydon of the Sex Pistols played two tracks from the album and expressed his admiration for Hammill in glowing terms: "Peter Hammill's great. A true original. I've just liked him for years. If you listen to his solo albums, I'm damn sure Bowie copied a lot out of that geezer. The credit he deserves, has just not been given to him. I love all his stuff".

Hammill's solo career resumed in earnest after the final demise of Van der Graaf Generator in 1978, and has continued to the present day. Many different styles of music appear in his work, among them avant garde electronic experiments (Loops and Reels; Unsung; Spur of the Moment), opera (The Fall of the House of Usher); solo keyboard accompaniment (And Close As This); solo guitar accompaniment (Clutch); and band recordings (Enter K).

Despite the complexity of his work, Hammill's output is prolific, typically with new albums once or twice a year. His catalogue varies between artful complexity in the late 1960s and early 1970s; raw, energetic new wave in the late 1970s and early 1980s; mature, expansive songform in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and slow, melancholic balladry in the late 1990s and 2000s. There are numerous exceptions to all of these phases, illustrating the difficulty of categorising Hammill's work.

Hammill's early records, like the VdGG albums, were released on Charisma Records. He parted company with them after pH7 (1979), and then released albums on a number of small labels. A Black Box came out on S-Type, a label run by Hammill and his manager Gail Colson. Enter K and Patience appeared on Naive, Skin and The Margin on Foundry and In A Foreign Town, Out of Water and Room Temperature on Enigma Records. In 1992 he formed his own label, Fie!, on which all his albums since Fireships have been released. The label's logo is the Greek letter phi (Φ), a pun on PH-I.

Hammill survived a heart attack in December 2003. He was awarded the prestigious Italian Tenco Prize for songwriting at the end of 2004.

In 2005, Hammill reformed Van der Graaf Generator. They recorded a new album, Present, in April 2005 and played a series of well received concerts.

Hammill released his new album Singularity in December 2006, and has announced plans for a British and European tour in November as well as gigs by Van der Graaf Generator as a trio (minus David Jackson) in 2007.

Hammill's voice

Many consider Hammill's voice to be the most distinctive element of his music. As a former Jesuit chorister, his delivery is invariably middle class English (rather than Americanised), 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 lyrics are another distinctive feature of his work. He has visited a number of recurring themes including: love; human relationships; ageing and death; human follies; politics; self-awareness and introspection; religion; and current affairs. He expresses these themes with a verbal dexterity that is rare in rock. His lyrics often include literary references. For example, the Norse names mentioned in the song Viking on Fool's Mate are characters in the Icelandic Eiríks saga rauða. (Judging by the spelling of the names, Hammill's source 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. 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).

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Official Homepage: www.sofasound.com

 A l b u m s

Solo Albums:
Fool's Mate (Charisma Records, 1971)
Chameleon on the Shadow of the Night (Virgin Records, 1973)
The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage (Charisma Records, 1974)
In Camera (Charisma Records, 1974)
Nadir's Big Chance (Charisma Records, 1975)
Over (Charisma Records, 1977)
The Future Now (Charisma Records, 1978)
pH7 (Charisma Records, 1979)
A Black Box (Sofa Sound Records, 1980)
Sitting targets (Virgin Records, 1981)
Enter K (Fie! Records, 1982)
Loops & Reels (Fie! Records, 1983)
Patience (Naive Records, 1983)
The Love Songs (Charisma Records, 1984)
And close as this (Enigma Records, 1986)
Skin (Enigma Records, 1986)
In a Foreign Town (Enigma Records, 1988)
Out of Water (Enigma Records, 1990)
Fireships (Fie! records, 1991)
The Fall of the House of Usher (Fie! records, 1991)
Fix on the Mix (Rockports Records, 1992)
The Noise (Fie! Records, 1993)
Offensichtlich Goldfisch (Rockports Records, 1993)
There Goes The Daylight (Fie! Records, 1993)
The Claim (After The Storm) (Virgin Records, 1993)
The Storm (Before The Calm) (Virgin Records, 1993)
Roaring Forties (Fie! Records, 1994)
Past Go: Collected (Discipline Recordings, 1996)
Tides (Sine Records, 1996)
X My Heart (Fie! Records, 1996)
Everyone You Hold (Fie! Records, 1997)
This (Fie! Records, 1998)
Typical (Fie! Records, 1999)
None of the Above (Fie! Records, 2000)
What Now? (Fie! Records, 2001)
The Thin Man Sings Ballads (Fie! Records, 2001)
Clutch (Fie! Records, 2002)
Incoherence (Fie! Records, 2004)
Singularity (Fie! Records, 2006)
Veracious [with Stuart Gordon] (Fie! Records, 2006)
Thin Air (Fie! Records, 2009)
Pno Gtr Vox (Fie! Records, 2011)
Consequences (Fie! Records, 2012)
Other World [with Gary Lucas] (Esoteric Recordings, 2014)
...all that might have been... (Fie! Records, 2014)

with Van der Graaf Generator:
The Aerosol Grey Machine (Fontana Records, 1968)
The last we can do is wave to each other (Virgin Records, 1969)
H to He, Who am the Only One (Virgin Records, 1970)
Pawn Hearts (Virgin Records, 1971)
Godbluff (Virgin Records, 1975)
Still Life (Virgin Records, 1975)
Maida Vale - BBC Sessions (Virgin Records, 1976)
World Record (Virgin Records, 1976)
The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome (Virgin Records, 1977)
Vital [Live] (Virgin Records, 1978)
Now and Then (Magnum Music, 1985)
First Generation [Scenes from 1969-1971] (Virgin Records, 1986)
Second Generation [Scenes from 1972-1975] (Virgin Records, 1986)
Present (Virgin Records, 2005)
Trisector (Virgin Records, 2008)