Peter Hammill's February 2003 UK Tour
(Accompanied by Stuart Gordon on Violin)

PH flyer
The UK tour kicked off in Glasgow at the Cottier Theatre on the Saturday night, February 16th. The set started with Peter on guitar; Comfortable, Shingle Song, Like Veronica, Habit of the Broken Heart, (On Tuesdays She Used to do) Yoga, and Bareknuckle Trade; then piano; Easy To Slip Away, Just Good Friends, A Better Time, Bubble, Stranger Still; back on guitar for Driven, Primo on the Parapet, Patient; and encore Still Life.

Most people's recollections of the gig include uncomfortable seats and little heating whilst it was sub-zero outside! Read a review of the concert here.

Then came The Lowry in Salford, Manchester on the 17th February. Guitar: Amnesiac, If I Could, The Ice Hotel, Slender Threads, (On Tuesdays She Used to do) Yoga, Bareknuckle Trade; Piano: Siren Song, Nothing Comes, A Better Time, Bubble, A Way Out; Guitar: Crossed Wires, Time For a Change, Modern; and encore Traintime.

The Guardian
Peter Hammill
5 stars
Lowry, Salford
By Dave Simpson
Tuesday February 18 2003

Peter Hammill is the great British idiosyncratic vocalist's favourite idiosyncratic vocalist, feted by David Bowie, Johnny Rotten, Thom Yorke and the Fall's Mark E Smith. The attraction is obvious. Hammill's career has seen him relentlessly confront the uncomfortable truth about humanity, and, although he has never enjoyed great commercial success, he has never compromised himself. His favourite themes - futility, time, personal inadequacy and death (and those are the cheery ones) - would make Leonard Cohen sound like Jimmy Osmond. His voice, a howl of hurt and outrage, is an acquired taste but, as the chap in front of me comments: "Once he's got you, he's got you for life." Hammill's fan base is committed: some fans remain from his early 1970s days in prog-rock outfit Van der Graaf Generator; others are fresh-faced converts keen to glimpse the man in fearsome form.

Hammill dissects his favourite themes unforgivingly, and his music shifts around them. He has dabbled with prog-rock and drum machines, and is currently joined by an electric violinist, Stuart Gordon, whose John Cale-ish dramatic swoops are an excellent foil.

Between songs, Hammill, a youthful and dapper 54, is personable: when the equipment breaks down, the singer and violinist even engage in a Pete and Dud-type routine. But once the songs begin, they lock into them absolutely, taking the audience on a white-knuckle ride peppered with moments of startling insight and musical beauty. If I Could is an early highlight (the killer line "She's gonna leave you" spat out with fury), and others wallow in a lack of self-esteem. Hammill hurls in what he mischievously dubs "positive" songs, but moments later, the serene A Way Out is virtually a suicide note set to music.

By the closing Modern, which rages as powerfully as anything by the Sex Pistols, the sense of catharsis for band and audience is undeniable. Leading us into the blackness and allowing tantalising, uplifting shafts of light, his life's work is a metaphor for life itself.
(Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited)

I wasn't at either concert but I was at Worcester on the 19th February:

PH by Steve Emery PH PH
Great venue, Huntingdon Hall, in the middle of Worcester. The building is an old chapel but encased in a modern shopping precinct. The foyer and bar are part of the new building and on this occasion the foyer housed Fred Tomsett (Pilgrims) and Ian Laycock (The Box) selling their wares. A few of us had been in Worcester since lunchtime and staying at a hotel around the corner from the hall. We'd had a few pints at a real ale pub in the afternoon so were just ready for this gig.
The duo began with The Comet, The Course, The Tail, Shingle Song, What's it Worth, and Bareknuckle Trade with Peter on guitar, then Easy to Slip Away, A Better Time and Faculty X on piano. There then followed a break and the raffle! The first prize was a collection of Peter's ex-guitar strings which a bloke in a snazzy hat won. We adjourned to the bar for sustenance. The second half then featured: Nothing Comes, Unrehearsed, Vision (wow! great rendition), Just a Child, Last Frame, Patient and encore Refugees. It's always good to hear Refugees but I didn't think that it was well done on this occasion, unlike Vision, which had me in tears. Altogether a very atmospheric and enjoyable show.
PH The gig was well attended although a certain member of the audience felt the need for a nap. PH
After the show it was back to the cafe on the corner... err, no sorry, back to the hotel, for further refreshment and philosophical discussion.

I headed home to Northamptonshire the following morning, closely followed by a few of the faithful for coffee and pizza as my residence is only 30 mins from the next venue, The Stables at Wavendon, Milton Keynes. This is the place owned by Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, and not so easy to find apparently (like local curry houses)...

Being not so far from home a few old mates came along too. Although three of them were at Norwich in October 2001, one hadn't seen Peter Hammill perform since the Van der Graaf Generator gig at the University of East Anglia, in 1975. We took the photograph below on that occasion and on Wednesday the 20th February 2003, in Milton Keynes, there were no less than five of that group present; namely Pat, Alf, Julie, Twinx and myself.

Would you believe I was so wrapped up in the event that I failed to take a photograph of our little group at Milton Keynes!
Also at this concert were Tim (he who did the interviews with Hugh Banton and David Jackson for the website), my wife Alison, sister Julie and her partner Ron
...and they all enjoyed it!

So the setlist; on guitar: Amnesiac (amazingly my sister knew this one but that's another story...), Out of my Book (great - one of my favourites), Ice Hotel, Slender Threads, (On Tuesdays She Used to do) Yoga, Bareknuckle Trade; on piano: Siren Song, Just Good Friends, Bubble, Traintime, Stranger Still; back on guitar for: Ophelia (another favourite), Like Veronica, Primo on the Parapet and again, Refugees as encore, but I thought much better than the previous night.

So, to London. I was leaving on a jet plane for Algeria on Friday so picked up a hire car on Thursday afternoon and headed down to Jamie's in Godalming. Arrived there, dumped the car and my bags and got the train up to Waterloo to meet the gang in a wine bar called "Pilgrims". My wife was a little sceptical about this before I left and as it turned out with good reason. I did figure out that it was probably in Villiers Street but no bar by that name anywhere around. So, no gang pre-gig drink but I did manage to meet up with Jamie and his pal Fred in a pub around the corner for a couple of pints and a curry. We then headed across the Hungerford Bridge for the South Bank complex and the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
I noticed Hugh Banton in the bar straightaway and had a quick chat. He was down in London to do an interview with Classic FM about his Goldberg Variations. It transpired at this time that the start of the concert was delayed until 8pm.
PH But start it did...with Peter on guitar: Comfortable, If I Could, Just a Child, The Habit of the Broken Heart, (On Tuesdays She Used to do) Yoga and Bareknuckle Trade. PH
PH Peter then moved on to the piano to do: Easy to Slip Away, Just Good Friends, Bubble, A Way Out (stunning rendition) and Traintime.
Then it was back on guitar for: Time for a Change, Patient and a great Modern.
What happened next was somewhat unexpected.
After Modern, Peter and Stuart left the stage but Peter reappeared very rapidly and said that they wouldn't keep us waiting. He then launched into a spiel about Fie! and how he was becoming a record company supremo and then introduced his latest signing...Mr Hugh Banton. The crowd went wild, Hugh sat at the piano and the threesome immediately started playing Still Life.
PH One thing that was very apparent was how much better Peter Hammill's singing was when he wasn't playing an instrument. It was a magical moment. PH
We hear "time, which no longer has any meaning"...and then a figure appears from the shadows of stage right playing a brace of! Jaxon! The crowd went a bit wilder.
PH PH goes off to the left of the stage and drags out a mike for Jaxon, Stuart indicates to the sound man to turn Jaxon up a bit and then... PH
On walks Guy Evans with tambourine in hand!
PH The crowd really did go wild! It took me a few seconds to grasp the significance of the occasion and to be honest when Guy came on I thought "who the hell is that"! PH
It soon dawned on me of course that this was Van der Graaf Generator!
PH After Still Life the guys hung around on stage for a while absorbing the rapturous applause, but eventually disappeared. PH
After much clapping and whooping, Peter came back on stage to explain that they wouldn't be doing another song. What a pity!
It appears that they all enjoyed the experience so just maybe...

Unfortunately the bar was shut after the show but a few of us went to a pub opposite Waterloo station called the Hole in the Wall for a few drinks and chat about the nights amazing experience. A great few days...maybe I should have gone to Glasgow and Manchester.