26 OKTOBER 2000

Reports from: Dagmar/Charlotte/Marga:


here's a few random impressions from the Amsterdam gig last night -

I'm sure others have posted the set list already, as everybody and their dog seemed to be taking notes during the concert. I hadn't even remembered to bring a pen, and as for the state of my memory during a good Hammill gig, that's already more than widely known :)

The start, though, happened almost unnoticed... just as we had settled in and got used to the idea that the show was going to be a little late (as were most of the audience), the happily chatting PHan community was unexpectedly interrupted by letters in pencil, some of the apparently as heavy as lead. An unexpected entrance is always waiting as they say, and PH is not one of those large or heavy enough to make much of a noise on these stage boards... still, once that voice was engaged, there was no escaping him - a typical last night of the tour, PH in wonderfully playful mood giving his all on vocals, knowing full well that he would not have to raise that voice above a murmur at breakfast the next day :)

And what a difference in mood to the similarly excellent Mantua show - where that had been imbued with almost restrained Italian soulfulness, this show exuded a playful aggression that was a joy to watch. With a fine smile lacing his eyes, Peter proceeded to dismantle our ideas of how his songs should sound like, and I take it he was quite bloody loud about it too (I can't judge that - we more or less got just the monitor sound from where we were standing). Ridout had a field day with the delays and echoes, at one point putting Ophelia in the sonic equivalent of a turn-of-the-century Hungarian bath, a very apposite image.

Stuart fiddled his way through at least half a set of new horsehair on his bow, though if he continues at this pace, his own should soon be long enough to double as emergency replacements :) Great soloing from him this time - I'm glad to hear he's gone off the piercing, overly electric sound and turned back to the straight warm violin sound on the one hand and the utterly distorted what-the-hell-is-it-anyway on the other. Nightman got a new treatment from Mr Gordon, making it an appositely (thanks Charlotte - I finally know how to pronounce that now!) brooding danse macabre full of vibrant low noises that artfully wavered between violin and violence most of the time.

Peter himself was in chatty mode once again, introducing his new guitar which miraculously hadn't gone out of tune the previous night despite his having broken a string (this gerund especially for Lemming). Seeing as he (unnamed, as acoustics don't deserve a name in the Hammill canon) is a flashy fire engine red and adorned with what PH referred to as mother-of-pearl but what looked more like abalone to me, the guitar set was dubbed "the Country & Western set" ("...a potential career move?" That index finger has never been more threatening!!), and after a storming Comfortable (rechristened Bubble by a doubtless amnesiac Peter) and assorted other guitar songs I hope some less amnesiac fans will have remembered, he dumped the guitar in its stand, walked to the lip of the stage, smiling, and annnounced into the wild applause: "That don't impress me much". Yeah right, Shania Hammill...

The piano set started with Unrehearsed, which almost caught Stuart out entirely (not that they were in the least unrehearsed, though they certainly went beyond what had been rehearsed in the case of almost every song) and meandered on along a consistently high plateau - Faculty X had a particularly beautful improvised bit in the middle this time (the new keyboard sounds much better than the old one), and Traintime appeared to demand the very last of Hammill's hands and lungs... until he then announced a song of which he could actually remember which album it was from... "and I have no fear of that old stuff either". Still Life, breathtakingly intense and quite a surprise after that violent Traintime... to the well-meaning heckler who shoutingly asked "how come you keep getting better each year?" PH replied, bemused: "I put it down to the soil, it's all in the soil". Perfectly probable coming from an asparagus-like character as PH I imagine! :)

The encore saw two giggling boys in their early fifties take the stage again - Peter:"I gave him the choice, and he said 'I still don't know any of your tunes, Peter'... so we'll play one that isn't mine!", followed by a harrowing Time For A Change...

...and this is the bit where I go "me me me", for when Peter followed the lines "Well, young man, if you ever grow up, what would you like to be... please, sir, if that's all right, I'd really rather like to learn how to be me..." with a smilingly spoken "yeah, wouldn't we all?", and then a dramatic silence, my inbuilt surrealism circuit just blew and bypassed my conscious mind entirely... "What, learn to be _you_??". Stuart was bent double laughing, and Peter pretended to be tearing his hair out, stopped for a good giggle, then called a rewind and cut and proceeded with the rest of the song. I said sorry afterwards, but he was quite amused with it all, though he said on second thought he would have thought "what, learn to be Chris Judge Smith??" would have been even more appropriate, and definitely more difficult than being him :)

The final encore was a raging Modern, the first two minutes or so a frenetic dance of instrument abuse, last-minute tuning and joyful grimacing from Stuart and Peter, and one last test and showcase for the voice. Wow, was he on form that night!! I really recommend all who weren't there to try their best to see the January dates (to be announced as they come in...) - I'll see you there!

Dagmar 41

FROM: Charlotte/ Marga:

Where do we start?

We've already told you about Tilburg; we can say here that we thought that the versions of Shingle Song and Patient from that show were never bettered. He was also the most loquacious in Tilburg and the "jokes" about which albums the songs are from were new to us then. :)

So many different renditions of songs have followed since that our memories have started to blur, leaving only a general impression of brilliance.

Here's some of our special on-stage-memories.

Utrecht: Siren Song was excellent - it appeared that no warming-up was required. He mis-back-announced A Better Time as Bubble, prompting one audience member to shout "That was a funny Bubble!" Peter, not quite getting it, replied "You wait until you hear Comfortabububble!" before launching into Nothing Comes. Then he must have remembered that he hadn't actually played Bubble, "funny" version or otherwise, so we had it now in place of Touch and Go. So we had one fewer keyboard song on that night.

Another audience member called out something like "Don't think about tomorrow" to which Peter snarled "Isn't that a Fleetwood Mac song?!" and then confirmed that he and Stuart never think about tomorrow when they are playing "on the night". A good crowd and the biggest of the tour - about 400. The rest of the set was consistently excellent we thought.

After the first encore of Shingle Song (brilliant) an engineer-type-person came on and started dismantling the mikes and amps. And then they pulled the black curtains closed. But the crowd wouldn't shut up! We weren't going to let him get away without another encore! So they obviously went and prised PH out of the dressing-room (well, he _was_ in a state of half-undress!). The curtains suddenly swept open to reveal a thin figure in white seated on a stool looking rather melancholy. Such was the Shakespearean effect of this that we almost expected him to start intoning "TO BEEEE...OR NOOOOTTT TO BEEE!" ...but it was the acapella Again, of course! And quite breathtaking it was too. This man has the most incredible unamplified voice - even when the audience joined in (as encouraged, we hasten to add) on the last couple of words you could still hear him over the top of them. And rather like a teacher he was able to command silence when required as well. The last lines changed to: "This will never come again" (Pause) .."This.." (with a general gesture) "..Will come again and again" (Pause, then finger held up to silence the laughter) ...But this _right now_ " (points to ground) "will never come AGAI....AI...AIN". It got the message across perfectly. We all shut up after that and went home happy and very satisfied. After all, how do you beat a performance like that? We were thanked "Individually, collectively, and as Tivoli!" Hahaha.

Nijmegen: The venue Doornroosje (Sleeping Beauty) wasn't as beautiful as the name suggested... in fact it was a non-descript barn in the darkness on the edge of town and the backstage was a bat-cave. The atmosphere was more distant and less warm than the night before; this went for the audience, the staff... and it takes three quarters of an hour to get a toastie ready! Mind you, at the restaurant on the corner it takes two hours to get a meal, according to Stuart and Paul. Fortunately it seemed to have little effect on the performance although there was a slightly uncertain start with Easy to Slip Away. "I'm not speaking as much as I should" said PH at one point. "But then again, I am here to play."

"We don't know which albums the songs are from but the next two are from the new album, as we are in the business of shifting Units of course". An audience member replied rather agressively "I've got it!!" Pause... PH: "Well, it will have to be two from the next one then". Hahaha. We had 5 piano songs this time but only 4 guitar songs as a result of the broken A-string during Like Veronica. We both felt our toes curling when we saw PH wrench the broken string loose... he carried on playing but we expected to see the guitar turn even more scarlet and for his fingertips to fall to the floor. OUCH!! "Only yesterday I said that I haven't broken any guitar strings on this tour yet." He then held up the guitar and said to it: "You're now officially on tour." He appeared delighted by the fact that it didn't throw the other strings out of tune and later on mentioned breaking the string as a highlight of the evening. He obviously feels the guitar has now been initiated... "blooded" as it were, albeit not literally. We were pleased that he had already done Out of My Book by then, which was a delightful surprise (and possibly one to PH as well, as he hadn't rehearsed those chord changes too well!).

Back to the keyboard. Unrehearsed (which was) followed and we exchanged glances at the words "pull your own strings". After a few bars of Stranger Still he stopped the song and said: "I _did_ actually have lunch today... and it was on my own." Then he continued the song, which was a dangerous and daring version in that the ending was very delicate and slow instead of the usual roaring of "A stranger- a worldly man" which no doubt made Paul Ridout hyperventilate as he is always trying to predict what PH is going to do with that voice. That voice was quiet for the haunting opening verse of Traintime; Stuart tapping out the rhythm with the wood of the bow against the strings; but PH was back to bellowing for the final furlong of the song which was ...orgasmic!! :) We really had an impression of a train speeding through time, what with the lights resembling the headlamps and the stage shaking with the sheer volume of this thundering entity. The keyboard was rocking in an alarming fashion and we wondered what would happen if _that_ broke as well. An acapella evening, presumably!

We almost thought that that would be the last song (surely they need to rest after that one! And to have a cigarette, for that matter!!) but Still Life finished the set again, and a fine version it was too. When they returned for the one encore of the evening PH made a point of emphasising that: "We're going to do one song, and then that is it - Elvis will have left the building...speedily, by Limo, straight from the dressing room." A sublime Refugees followed, and we just thought...well, we don't want him to come back out again, because we didn't want to hear anything else after that. What a beautiful song.


Setlist first:

Siren Song
A Better Time
Touch and Go
Tango for One

Shingle Song
Like Veronica

**** Unrehearsed
Faculty X
A Way Out
Still Life
**** Time for a Change
**** Modern

The set was of consistently good quality and PH and Stuart seemed very happy, but then again they'd had a good meal (minus the conspicuously untouched salad) and "some" wine just before the show. He didn't hit "champagne" as cleanly in the Siren Song but his energy made up for that. A Better Time and Touch and Go were sublime; he was actually in the right octave at the end of the latter. It raised the hairs on the back of your neck... well, of _my_ neck anyway. :) Bubble was fierce, Comfortable was loud, and Tango for One convincingly nasty.

PH: "I said two nights ago that I hadn't broken a string yet and yesterday I did." (during Patient I got the impression he was _trying_ to break a string) "Yes, it is a red guitar.Yes it has mother-of-pearl trim. Yes, it is an Ovation. So watch out, or you might get the Country and Western set!"

A Way Out was very emotional and almost perfect lyrically tonight (aside from that 5th verse of course - but what he made up on the spot instead was damn impressive) and was only spoilt for us near the end by some jerk with a flash-camera. Idiot!!! It didn't break Peter's trance fortunately. What a moving song that is...and Stuart's playing was heartbreakingly rich and sublime. Somebody had called out "Why don't we have an album of just you! - and the red guitar!" which we couldn't understand at all. Lets have an official album of this _duo_ - we can't understand why people complain about Stuart's presence. They are just perfect on stage together - it's a real pleasure to watch their interaction and trust.

Still Life had a similar intensity, and PH mentioned that he wasn't scared of the "old stuff" now that he'd prepared The Box.

They came back for an encore pretty quickly. PH said that he had given Stuart the choice of song, and that Stuart had said "But Peter, I still don't know any of your tunes!" So they apparently decided not to play one of PH's tunes at all, and gave us a splendid Time for a Change. After the line "Please Sir...I'd really like to learn how to be me!" Peter broke off to say "well, wouldn't we all!" to which Dagmar called out "What - want to be _you_ ?!" which _totally_ de-railed them (good thing that wasn't during Traintime, then)!! "Rewind!" he called and they started again with a vicious "Switch..." !!

Modern was the song we'd been hoping to hear...and it was greeaaattt! We kept marvelling over how someone as slight as PH can contain so much lung-power (as shown here and during Ophelia...I mean, just how does he get away with it - smoking like a chimney and abusing his voice like this?? He must have a couple of extra lungs in there or something. And I'm sure a couple of extra tequilas help too!). Someone called out near the beginning of the show: "How come every year you just get better and better?" which obviously pleased him. He quipped something about the soil aiding growth, as it were!

It's true - he does get better and better. In this tour particularly PH's voice was in very good shape and Stuart's playing was superb. Both seemed to put all their energy, passion and commitment into each moment of each song, and really enjoying themselves in the process. The result was a set of performances which were mesmerisingly intense.

Well, we were hoping to keep this mail short...but it turns out that our magic moments were...well, most of them really! Here ends our review of a week that was surreal, exhausting and...well, we've exhausted all our superlatives for "good" haven't we?!. Night night!

Marga and Charlotte