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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
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 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
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.
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
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).
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