Bremen Radio 2 aired a 2 hour Peter Hammill special "On The Tracks" on February 18, 2001

The program was recorded the previous month on January 11, a day off on his January tour with Stuart Gordon
The host and translator for the program was Arne Schumacher

Hour 1 included a fantastic Interview and hour 2 had Peter playing some of his favorite music.

Thanks very much to Sascha in Germany for providing an excellent double cd copy of the show!

Anyone needing a copy, let me know, and I am trying to get this online. (Keep checking, maybe in June)



Below is a transcript from part 1 and a bit from part 2




In the studio Peter Hammill, Hi Peter! Great to have you here.

Great pleasure to be here.



You have a new album, out of course.

Indeed



You've been lively, creative and productive over the years

Well, yeh._._. _.Kind of.



Are you counting your releases? ._._. Maybe you missed the 50th?



No No No I Don't think I got to 50, Although of course there have been odd releases of live things.

I Think I'm up to about 43 of what I call actual official new work.



Do you have a rough schedule of how to work on an album or for the time spans between albums?

To be honest I'm usually working, to tell you the truth. I still really love working, and I love recording and I'm of course lucky or I planned enough to have my own studio so I'm not at the mercy of anybody else and that's basically where I go and work.

I am something of a workaholic. I like to go in and work all the time. And in fact what happens with albums is...I've always had a certain amount of stuff that's on the go, and at a certain stage, it's a certain gestation period, and then it becomes clear or marginally clear of what kind of album the next one is going to be, because of the kind of material that I've assembled, because of whatever style I'm working in, almost imperceptably I start actually doing an album, as opposed to working on pieces, because if I'm inbetween albums I'll do some stuff that's just straight song writing, some which is piano, some which is almost folk stuff, some is electric guitar, but at the same time I'll just be pursuing musique concrete effectively and sort of discovering songs by working immediately with the recorded material.

So it's not always clear what the album's going to be until it has established itself, at that point there'll probably be about, 60-70% of it there and then I have to kind of direct myself in a conscious way to saying, "alright, how is this going to end up? Is there too much of one style, does it need some other colour in it?," and what-have-you, so it's an imperceptable process but it goes on all the time this is also why it's hard for me to say 'ah there are 43 or so', and I couldn't tell you for instance how many pieces I have that might appear in the future, already in some process.

Usually if I'm working on something, I'm working on it for the reason that I think there's something of value there and probably it will emerge at sometime in the future but it might be a question of coming back months, or even years later, and finding what the original value I thought was there within the piece, because you do sometimes lose that.



So every album......



Kind of finds itself basically, out of the material, naturally if I've been working over a period of months, I will have particular concerns as a writer, particular concerns as a musician, although obviously after this number of years, there are recognizable Hammill styles.

I've always tried not to repeat, not to write the same song or particularly to do the same kind of album consecutively.



So every album takes the time it takes?



It takes exactly the time it takes. Which in fact of course gets longer and longer because one has more and more control-

The first albums we made... the Aerosol Grey Machine was recorded and mixed in 12 hours and that was that, in the days of 8 track recording you just played the thing, and now that one can control things and mess them around, it does take longer.

I think an important point is I'm a believer in ... I think albums should be between 40 and 47 or 48 minutes, even though the cd is capable of taking 73 minutes, 59 seconds, in general I believe that it's the natural attention span and a natural...there's a symmetry of albums when there's somewhere in that 40 plus minutes spanned, I think that's a natural kind of attention....which is of course is the traditional vinyl ....the 2 sides thing and I think that's actually a very good and natural length of time for somebody to absorb a particular style of music, a particular piece.

So, it's really, a lot it is when I got a group of family members that are beginning to approach 40 minutes and have some relationship whether it's in contrast, or in symmetry or similarity with each other, at that point the album is starting to make itself.

And it naturally will have...there'll be....I think normally....a certain cohesiveness, simply because, although I haven't been working in a particularly conscious way, I will have been interested in certain things obviously in the preceding 6 or 9 months and therefore there'll be a natural cohesion I think, and that's how it works really.



......................................

From None of The Above, "Touch And Go"



[In German...something about 'our guest from England, Peter Hammill']
Peter, how did this song ["Touch and Go"] come about?



Well it's a tune I had for years and years. I think something like 4 or 5 years in fact. I remembered it because often....my wife, when there's a new record, comes out, she says, 'surely that was on an album 4 or 5 years or so ago' because she'll have heard me playing it at a certain point. This particular..., I know it was 4 or 5 years because it had almost 2 or 3 entirely different sets of lyrics on it.

This thing about when a song actually becomes a song is interesting. When I say I had the tune it wasn't completely developed in the way that it is now but it was the basic tune and I attempted to write two or three different sets of lyrics, and they were never quite

there

and I was 'errmmmm'....I sort of had 'dum de dum' words for some parts of it and a general drift of where it was going ...Some of the lyrics actually remain but they weren't quite right in their original drive and so on...

How did it start out initially, were there words, that you then afterwards threw away?



I'd thrown away words, yes...Yes I started with the music and then in fact I think in this case I started with the music and there were a couple of phrases that came almost immediately, which I think are the ones that survive, or in a couple of places they survive, and then gradually the song grew and I was going on a certain line with it but I wasn't quite happy and it wasn't quite happy, the song wasn't quite happy, and so it's one of these ones, that as I say, in the process, there are lots lurking around and it didn't put itself forward for possibly 3 or 4 different albums, it didn't fit into that familial group either, in terms of composition or how I was going to treat it.

And sometimes, it is rare, but sometimes it's the case, that a song just has to be put away and then at a certain point say 'these lyrics are not the lyrics for this song, that phrase, yes, that definitely is right, where is 'that' phrase going, what should lead into and lead out of that phrase?' and then effectively forget everything that I've written before and go back and start all over again, and write the song, and that's how this one emerged.

Now, you have to let go at a certain point from the song, because you have to finish the album.



Oh well that's the point of which... the song is let go of, when the song actually becomes itself just like the album is let go when it becomes itself.

But are there points even in your situation where you're in full control of everything, points that the song finds its way on the album, it's there and then afterwards maybe when you're preparing a show or something, that you find out that the song really isn't that perfect as you thought?



I stopped trying to write the perfect song a long long time ago. I did try to make that a mission in my youth. . . first of all songs aren't snapshots, they have to have some kind of story, and some change involved in them and be capable of reinterpretation andÖ.. each song is not intended to encapsulate everything of life, civilization and so on. No, I generally think when a song becomes a song when it just goes 'yeh that's it, this is meí and exists. And at that point it doesn't belong to me anymore and even the interpretation doesnít belong to me anymore, because, here I've put myself into it, but maybe other people can take other stuff out.

I think that's the way that it works. I'm not terribly organized about this, as I said, it's the imperative of the song and the album. In this particular case I did have 90% of the tune and took some of the lyrics but I also have scribbled down on bits of paper, not in properly bound notebooks, what-have-you, little lyrical ideas that I might have had 5 or 6 years ago that at a certain point might push themselves forward and then become songs .

I have in my head actually, little tunes and little riffs that again, might have been from 7 or 8 or 9 years ago that I haven't written down, havenít worked on, and at a certain point they promote themselves or come together with words and that's how it works, rather thanÖ.I am chaotic in that sense, I don't sit down and say

ďI am going to write a song about this, and it's going to contain this chord structure, arrangement is going to be like this. Iím led actually by the work itself, in each case

Do you work with a notebook on tour, or do you work with a pencil or....?

Scraps of paper , I have still some notebooks but generally itís just scraps of paper, envelopes, what-have-you, and I have of course folders and folders of completely useless and banal ideas to be frank, like anybody else, I have incredibly banal ideas that couldnít possibly work. But every so often thereís one that if it finds it's right context, will work and thatís how it is.

Now with somebody who's so close to you, like your family or maybe you have friends around you; is that usual way you just mentioned that you sit down and just play a song that's in work to somebody?

They just hear it, no I don't perform it. They're just around it. In the case with my wife it's quite strange for her, I used to have the studio actually at home so at the finish of any album, she would know every note that was on there and often would have thought 'he has gone completly mad now, because he's doing his backing vocals, again, and again, and again! And I don't understand any of it.'

Now that the studio is away, she hears it, she hears the tunes because I'll play them at home but doesn't hear the recording process, but I don't actually try things out on anybody.

Would you be open for criticism or comment on the songs while you're working on them?

Not when I'm writing a song , not at that early...if it's a song that's been written say at keyboard or what have you-

I would say to be honest, I'm not that tolerant of cirticsm. I think I'm being quite honest, in the work process. Yes once something is done I'll be tollerant of criticism but I think my reaction would be 'look I'm actually in the middle of making it; it's not finished yet.' Particularly, in terms of modern recording, you can be going along a particular path and as with the lyrics, you can abandon that path utterly, strip something back and take an entirely different route.

If I'm in the middle of that process, I wouldn't find it particularly helpful I don't think to have that criticism, partly that I wouldn't find it helpful and partly because I'm an egotistical scorpio, and don't take criticsm while I'm in the middle of doing something terribly well. I think I'm being honest though.

---- When you record songs, it's a very emotional process I suppose for you. In every instance, apart from you also being maybe your own technician but on the other hand it's the creative process, that's very emotional....

It's a big mix, because obviously for years and years again as a deliberate policy I began working entirely by myself, for reasons which maybe we'll go into later, it means that I am in a room by myself, sometimes I'm being an engineer and sometimes I'm being a producer, and sometimes I'm being the singer, going 'all of you guys are playing far too loud and we're not going to hear the voice on top of that'; sometimes I'm being a musician, sometimes an arranger, as I have said the recording process is much longer these days than it used to be because one has the capacity of doing this, and therefore to a certain extent the responsibility to do things right, and a lot of the time in the studio is purely technical, purely technical, arrangement, learning a part, technical engineering, and what have you and that's actually quite slow an unemotional, actually, it's technique but on the other hand it's important to ......while one's doing that, to be open to the idea of suddenly an idea hits and you just go with that idea, and don't think about anything else and that is extremely emotional and you just have to follow the play wherever it leads.

One has those moments which are in real time, say 5, 6, 7 minutes but then there's a lot of technical stuff you have to do afterwards which is just the maintaining and the organization and so on, so it's still for me a fascinating mix of these things.

I'd blow up if everday I went into the studio I was having a cathartic emotional experience from 9 in the morning until 7 at night, a lot of the time I'm just filing away things.

Now if you perform these songs, if you go out, I was always amazed that somebody who has come up with an idea that is very emotional with a song, that has recorded the song in a very emotional phase maybe, in his life, that he can go out on stage and perform and really find the emotion there again....

Well it's back to the idea that a song becomes a song when it doesn't belong to me anymore. It has its' own life.

So you meet the song again on the stage?

I meet the song again on stage and there effectively, although I wrote the song, I meet the song as an an actor. There's usually, ..... a character, having experiences inside the song, and I have to represent those as an actor would perform a role, but there's a relation but not a direct relation to the me who wrote the song, simply because the song has it's own existence, and it's escaped from me and then it can be reinterpreted.

But on stage it connects with certain parts of you?

Exactly as an actor does . The great actors are not blank slates. The great actors have very complex interior lives and that's why it's possible for them to play many different roles and bring different aspects of their personalities to them, so I have to find that part of me that connects with the song which must be in there obviously because I wrote the song in the first place although it's not necessarily the same person. The person who's writing a song is making an expression of something, is putting something out, where as especially if one is dealing with songs of emotional trauma or failure of communication particularly in a song like "Touch and Go" the whole point about "Touch of Go" is that the guy can't say anything so, it's a bit strange that he can't say anything, so he's writing a song about it! It's madness. However to sing the song it has to be sung almost as an interior monologue, this is not the same part of my character or my experience as the one that actually does the writing.

I have to say, I'm being honest, and I'm responding correctly, but I don't spend a lot of time analyzing exactly how this happens. It's a natural thing for me... I know this is what happens, but it is a natural thing for me to perform, and to adopt all these characters just as it is for me to write the stuff.

Does it happen that you're on stage, performing a song that you picked out of your songbook and suddenly the song, the emotion, of the song hits you at exactly the point where you wrote the song?

If it's a particularly personal song, they're not all totally personal, because obviously by now a 50 year old writer, not enitirely engaged in autobiography, which is common in writers generally, but if it's a particularly personal song and it connects with, not the writing of the song but with the events or experiences which led to the writing of the song. sometime that happens.

It's not necessarily a good thing, because that can become narcissistic almost, and can prevent one from presenting out to the audience, one goes into one's shell but sometimes it happens; I do get emotionally charged certainly, in performing nearly every song, but the actual connection with events that led to the writing ,it happens sometimes.

A lot of talking about songwriting, maybe we should just go over to the next song,

Sure...

Ok.. the next song...just a few words about 'Like Veronica'....

Quite a creepy song, it comes from an entirely different process to 'Touch and Go' exactly one of these moments where I had to go with 'right now' you're playing these 5 or 6 minutes, I'd been working on something else entirely, in the morning of starting to record this, I went out to the pub to have a beer and a roll, and the idea for a guitar sequence came to me and I went straight back to the studio and immediately played for, I think about 10 minutes..just straight down, playing one guitar, and then immediately overdubbed a second guitar ...

I think for the same 10 minutes , absolutely like that and then, actually , that initial playing forms the basis of the song.

The playing was actually the composing as well, and there wasn't anything else there, and then gradually by editing it, it became clear what the shape of the song was, and then I don't know where the lyrical thing came from, because it is a creepy story...but that came and immediately made complete sense, although a lot sounds very much like the conventional song that one might sit down and write, absolutely, consciously, it's the reverse of that, it's something that simply appeared in my hands in the studio, both lyrically and in terms of the music

Which is quite rare.

Studio version of "Like Veronica"

Just tell me, whatís the background of the story. Where do you have this?. It sounds like you must have read something in the paper?



Obviously, well, domestic violence and abuse is something that goes on all the time and kind of a hidden epedemic.

From time to time I have made several efforts over the years to write kind of from a womanís point of view or to write songs that arenít strong 'man' stuff. I think I have a tendencie to do that. This moment of where songs come from and why I start writing them, I simply donít know.

There must be a phrase somewhere there and I suppose in this case, you know, the thing would be playing, and it must have been the phrase, his fists are all he loves' must have been where it started from and then from that the story just reels backwards.

As I say I donít start by saying 'I am going to write a song about dometistic abuse,' I think that would be a ghastly sociologists way of approaching songwriting

The song said that's what it's about and then because songs should have holes in them, and the story is completely there but it has lots of holes. In this case it must have been 'his fists are all he loves', and Veronica Lake, between those two....Veronica Lake, for some of our younger listeners, Veronica Lake was a film noir film star, who was famous for having her blonde hair hanging over one side of her eye, so I obviously got that image and then 'why has she got one side of it hanging', and it's to hide the black eye and then the whole think just came from that.



It's kind of flippant for what is a serious subject but if there is a sociological element to songs it's that people should sometimes think a bit or recognize certain topics that come up so if it needs a justification that would be the justification.

I'm thinking about an album, like The Future Now, which I think is as far as I remember more of an album that contains more songs about political, social issues.



I don't like songs to be dogmatic, I like them to be open, therefore if I'm going to write any song that's social, I have to have a fairly clear attitude myself, obvious in attitude, 'am I for or against domestic abuse'...of course I'm against domestic violence, and round about the time of the Furture Now, I came across a number of topics or perhaps I felt capable as a writer of writing non dogmatically about these topics.

Again they came in a group, both The Future Now and PH7 which followed it,



had some of the things, it's only every so often that something comes up, makes itself clear, that I can approach in that sort of way.

Again, it's not a conscious thing, it's the songs presenting themselves.

Of course you have a list and you brought some cd's for this show, we'll make it to some of these tracks, next definitely....

[Big laugh...like he has doubts at this point]

Just in short, inbetween, you just put out as a band as Van der Graaf Generator, you just put out a box set, how's the situation with the band, was it hard for you to get together and work on this box set or was it in fact fun?


"Fun wouldn't be quite the word I don't think. It was very easy for us to get together because we all happily remain friends. One of the points about finishing when we did it that we never got into that dreadful state of being absolutely locked together forever and forever and hating each other....all of that sort if thing...we remain good friends...

We hadn't all met up to discuss it and there was one particular day where Guy, Hugh, David and I met up at my studio and we just talked about it all for 7 hours being recorded the while..Effectively being interviewed but it became us reminiscing and in many cases dealing with things that had never been dealt with at the time. Life in a group of the '70's especially in our early 20's was pretty wild and wacky. It was very good and very positive, very honest and a large part did consist of discussing a certain period and I would say um 'I think the singer was actually going a little bit crazy at that point...and someone say 'well you might have been but on the other hand, 'my behaviour was a little bit erratic as well..' so there was all of that and all in very good spirit.

Why I say it wasn't exactly fun is we did commit to the idea. Once it came up that this was going to happen, we thought, we owed it to ourselves and to the public to make it as good as possible and as authentic as possible and to tell as much of the story both musically and in terms of what was in the box as was possible.



Can you box in the history of a band?

You can't no...and in fact one of the big jokes is that while we were going the term 'the box' existed in Van der Graaf Speak which was the place that we didn't want to be put into. We never wanted to be into a box, of "They do This..." and we actively as is evident within the box, that's what we set about doing. There was an element of joke about that

...but over 4 cd's which go from the very earliest radio recordings to the final end, it shows "a version" of the group. The oddity about it is of course that most people do not have their lives between the ages of 18 and 28 or so, documented in any way; in their memory, they might have some photographs, certain memories, they don't have "this is the stuff that you were doing, these are the photographs of you doing it, here are 7 hours of you talking about exactly what happened and all that sort of thing."

And it is quite strange to look back on one's 19 year old self. For me personally because I've continued being in music ever since. For the others, as well, are involved in music but not in a direct public performance way. It was quite a strange experience. Quite an emotional experience.

In terms of when I came to actually remastering the stuff I was really quite emotional about it all, sometimes because of remembering the experiences, sometimes simply because of the music, but I was definitely not being a technician in a white coat when I was doing it, I'd be mastering the thing and I'd be shouting, shouting 'go on hit that solo' and I was sitting there in tears at other times as well..... it was good fun but not necessarily a laugh.

Was it painful for you in certain points when you go back, in general if you go back to recordings of Van der Graaf from certain periods you definitely have some stuff in the vaults, and if you re-listen to them, sometimes youíre forced to re- listen to it, even through bootlegs or whatever, does that become painful sometimes?

Itís not painful at all. I think again because we had the sense to stop, it never disintegrated into... It would only be painful if it was associated with really bad memories. Now we did have very rough and tough times and we were extreme with each other, but generally our memoires are very positive about it.

It would be equally painful if there was something in there that I felt or we felt we had done for the wrong reasons and there isnít anything in there.

I mean some of it is pretty barking mad to be honest, but itís what we wanted to do, it was our mission and so on, so there's no question of feeling compromised about it and that's the only reason for it to be painful.

Natuarly I do things differently now, but I wouldnít be who am now if I hadn't been through that when I was 19/20/21.

So even I wouldnít change any of it all so thereís absolutely no pain involved or the others and theyíve had the same kind of experiences, and they got it and listened to it. Itís very emotional and again, a lot of people especially retrospectivly have the impression that Van der Graaf was a completey dark and dour and glum group, but as far we were concerned we were actually making joyous music a lot of the time. Yes itís dark, but it's joyous at the same time, thats' why I was saying, shouting, 'go on play that sax', brutal noise going on at times, but itís a joyful expression it's an expression of life force still I think, still looking back at retrospectively.

Now we switch over to the first choice of music, a little late now [ph laughter] it's going to be an interesting another hour. What is your first pick?

I'll correct some of these spellings ASAP.....



The first piece is The Curriea from Duphe's Missle Lum Armei.....Duphe's a composer from the 15th Century ...I don't listen to a fantastic amount of music myself, partly because as I do say, I am a workaholic and I go and do my 10 or so hours, of making music all of the time and but naturally I'm often asked 'what do you listen to?'...often one of my responses is early music and vocal music, which is almost always liturgical, and I have to say with all of these choices I've made, they're going to be somewhat random...simply choosing tracks that aren't too long from the cd's that I've brought along..... so it is a kind of natural collection that I've brought along...particuarl like some early English composers...Bird for instance....but theis Duphe piece is being one of these ones I stumbled on, just driving in the car tuned to the early music station, if such a thing exists...and I heard oh yeh yeh...I'll go for that....and immediately went out and got it and it remains something of a favorite.....

....Playing of Duphe..."........."

The next disc kind of piece with some early musical education that you had?



No, I'm really not musicaly educated at all. Apart from the fact that I did sing in choirs when I was at school, and I was brought up in a catholic school. It would be true to say that my first experience in music came through singing in choirs. My first kind of blinding, This is the stuff of music I must have been 12 or 13 at Corpus Christie and went up to the big school, drafted in treble voices to sing the hallellujah chorus, of course as one would, I was suddenly aware of the existence of tenors and basses, and this glorious big sound that a choir could make and I got the chills down the spine, that is music, that I suppose was the first time I recognized what it was, but I never studied music. I don't really know how to write down music. I know nothing whatsoever about the laws and symetries of melody and composition; even as a listener I'm very much a magpie, and just go for things that trigger something in me.

[Bird?]______something like that, and a lot of early vocal music, I find it fantastical human that you have so few voices working at such complexity to produce a whole. I think it's very relaxing stuff, paradoxical, it is devotional stuff at the same time, but find it very very human altogeher. There's another real favorite of mine, is Bird's Masses for 3 and 5 voices, which are even more human, because he was a Catholic in the court of Queen Elizabeth and had to write protestant liturgical stuff, but also had to write catholic masses for when they were meeting in secret, so he wrote things again, for very very small numbers, so it's almost a secret music.

It doesn't come from any great educational knowledge to tell you the truth.

Do you study the background of music, when you're intrigued by music or captured by music?



Yes. The music comes first and then I am a man who reads his liner notes and so on.... and likes to know something about it, especially when there is a story like that, in the case of the Bird things, and that gives an added density to it.

You're fondness with this kind of music today, maybe connects with your feeling about music in the early days, when you were young?



I think so, yes. I couldn't possibly get anywhere near writing music like that so in terms of being a listener I generally go for things that are a million miles away from me, although having said that, there are elements of atmosphere that gradually creep in I think, and it's enormous fun for me to do masses of backing vocals colliding with each other.

That's what I just wanted to say, because there are elements in there I would say from listening to your music, in fact the music that you've been working on in recent years, not so much in music like in the 70's, I feel like the performance for choir music there....



Yes absolutely, that is something has come up particularly in the last 5 or 6 years, I suppose there's an element of I can do it better now and something obviously been driving towards, the more tracks one has available, the more choirs you can put on. On the other hand I would say, that normally with my backing vocals, I do a lot of them, sometimes I have 30 or 40 voices in there, the point to say that Bird only has 4 or 5 individuals doing it, which is a fantastic skill, and a marvelous experience, which I don't know so much from my own experience, 2 of my daughters, now 18 and 21 year old, and they are singers, not as a profession, but they decided that they wanted to sing classical soprano stuff and in particular the eldest one, one of her greatest joys is actually doing early music, with just 5 or 6 voices where there are 6 parts, it's entirely down to you, to get the line and hold the thing architecturly together, and the same applies with some modern stuff which I might get to play later if time is available. [more laughter....] Your two daughters....they have appeared before?

Yes they have appeared a couple of times....I have to say, I'm not just being the kind of proud Daddy in all of this, they I think they've been on 6 or 7 different recordings, experience, unusual for young singers, with headphones on, and demands from studio "Do it..." where some people are professional about it..... that do find difficulties in doing that...the proud father speaking.....very very fast, very accurate.... and no problem whatsoever....

There's quite a bit more and hope to have complete part 2 up (Someday)-Here're a few highlights:

-------------------------------------------------




Musicals:

Growing up....records around the house Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, "I still think South Pacific is one of the greatest records, still...."



Images from some are from movies....Are you a movie goer?

I like movies, but I'm not a great movie goer.... I get to see quite a lot of movies on video, because of the daughters....



Recently?

"The last movie I saw was Galaxy Quest [laughs as he says it]

Really quite amusing, and quite sweet" however I do have Rashomon waiting for me when I get back