2 Reviews from Madrid:

Phil Mason:

Due to the unusual (for Spain) insistence by the Sala Clamores to find me a "suitable" seat, as a one-person group, I got put stage right, about 2m from the keys of the grand piano. This gave me good views of PH's back (quite interesting to see the way it flexes and slumps during the performance, as it happens) ears (!) and hands while he was on the piano, and a fine side view for the guitar songs. No doubt in support of the new ballad compilation album, Peter is looking astonishing thin these days.

I thought PH seemed more at ease on the guitar than the piano (the latter instrument, an apparently not-recently tuned Kawai grand, seemed dull and unresponsive), although this did not necessary mean that the results were better. The Voice is still in pretty good working order - particularly strident during the first set (Amnesiac was a high point), but increasingly adopting Lou Reed-like talk-over style ("cheating") as the second set went on.

All under very intense and precise control, whatever the style, though. Peter announced that we had heard the world premier of the solo Edge of the Road (previously played live with Stuart), and very impressive it was, too. "Edge" was preceded by Don't tell me and Vision, these three being the most engaging of the first group of piano songs (we can draw a veil over Curtains, which was a bit, err, fluffy). The three guitar songs that closed the first set were compelling and dramatic - from the shrieky Amnesiac, through the menacing Central Hotel, to the yearning Last Frame.

The second set began with more guitar songs and took a while to get going.

Comet was a bit, ummm, confused, but by the time we got to Patient he was back in top gear (and we got treated to a lesson in how to wrench broken strings off a guitar in mid song).

Back to the piano to finish the set with an excellent Unrehearsed and Faculty X, a slightly disappointing A Way Out (I love the album version of this rather contrived English-idiom shopping-list song, but I have never been drawn to it live), and a Still Life that could have done with a bit more oomph in the oomphy bits to give it more light and shade (there again, I can never get the memories of VDGG performing this back in the 1970s out of my mind whenever I hear this). A Way Out featured the deployment of a new Hammill vocal technique: singing through a prolonged sneezing fit! What a professional! I couldn't see too well, as I was right behind him, but I think the first sneeze caught him so off guard that he head-butted the microphone. Peter Hammill does John Otway...

We had one encore: the acappella Again

during which PH promenaded through the club (to sounds of glasses smashing and chairs being knocked over as people tried to get a better look!) before coming to an intensely still stop at the foot of the stage for the last verse. The clichi 'spellbinding' comes to mind. It all comes down to that Voice, in the end, doesn't it?

I stood in the queue to shake the man's hand afterwards (it's firm and sincere, as you would expect).

I contented myself with gushing thanks rather than engaging him on a profound discussion of his work, fortunately for all of us. He can come back here whenever he likes: there are several hundred other songs he didn't get round to playing, after all.


And from Koen B:

i recognise myself quite well in phil's review, so i'll content myself with some additional info i don't understand sala clamores' politics w.r.t. seats either, but as jan & i, who clearly didn't form a group of 4, couldn't fill a table, we had to wait or join another group ...

the people we got acquinted with (hi! constantino) were six, and given that there were two or so tables for eight persons, we were thrown somewhere way back, even if we were the first to enter; and no possibiltiy to change your seat yourself or you got yourself thrown out. clearly, as this was a jazz club, one of the main activities is not only presenting an artist, but selling as much drinks as possible, and drinks could only be ordered per table, in order to keep track of the (continuing) order easily ... surely this works for a jazz concert, but i hate this for a ph gig; but hey, it was 10 years ago that ph had played in madrid.

i had warmed myself to the gig by visiting the beautiful hyronymous bosch paintings in the prado museum as well as a decent goya collection: surely these guys have been able to paint outside the usual barriers, and dared to leave the contours of the normal to visit the darker aspects of life, with all the imagination they had in them: much to the incomprehension and ingorance of what people expected; add to that the angst-stricken faces on picasso's guernica, the dali's surrealism and miro's colourful abstractions and i had been brought in a perfect mood to close the whole with a ph gig ...

add to that that i'd been able to find copies of both the ballads CD and the margin + 2CD, and my day couldn't go wrong anymore, whatever was to follow ...

ph, for one, hadn't been able to visit much ... having had to leave leon at 7 in the morning to do a TV show in madrid around noon (incl. soundcheck, interview, and some songs i believe), having lunch, another two hours of interview, another soundcheck, dinner, and some rest (!) wasn't surely one of the fittest at the moment the show started (even though this wasn't really obvious during the show in terms of energy, but maybe, as phil said, in terms of depth during some songs ) ; but then again, pH says, "i'm here for work, and not as a tourist even though, of course, he regretted not being able to see much of a city as he's touring.

anyway, it was a late start, 23.00h, and first observation, 15 seconds into the opening song (easy to slip away), it was clear already that it wouldn't be a hesitating start (as is so often the case, me getting really into the show by the time he gets to the guitar ...); he had decided to take the the 200 or so people by the scruff of the neck form the start;

a welcome return of "curtains" (even if i had heard, much to my surprise, that lots of people really hate this song ??? and i wonder why it's not on the ballads CD) ; but i have to say that the song got a rather flat rendition, never sending me the shivers down the spine it does usually, pH always doubting between the lower or the higher register of his voice in terms of the ususal dynamics of the show, don't tell me came something as a surprise; and indeed, when i had a look at the setlist later, the third song 'should have been / was planned to be' touch+go; but i didn't complain; always one of my favorites this one, immediately followed by another song that never goes into the wrong direction: 'vision'

the first piano part was closed by 'the edge of the road', not my favorite on the last CD, but it really convinced me here in its skeleton version: less laid back as on CD, and more one song (on CD i always have that impression that he could have done more with that little dance tune that appears somewhere in the middle; always having the impression that it only served as glue between two parts that didn't really fit together)

The dynamics of the guitar set was of course heavily influenced by the fact that an intermission was planned (selling drinks !!!): amnesiac, great as always (what a song!), followed by one of the strangest versions of 'central hotel' i've ever heard (this clearly is a song that never got its definite version in contrast to songs such as easy to slip away, or siren song or so): lou reed like, like phil said, yes why not; i hadn't thought of that myself, but yes. Last frame: never never wrong ! somewhere into the opening chords of the song, ph stopped, repeated the chord whilst showing the guitar to everybody (and accidentally holding it almost under the neon lights reading 'jazz club') and saying "notice, a jazz chord !" and then continuing as if nothing had happened, into that most strangest of pH jazz the comet, i would have liked to add: 'never wrong' as well, but when the part containing 'in the slaughterhouse all corpses smell the same' is forgotten, then this song lacks something of its usual appeal it seems.

time for a change, once more doubting which direction to send the song, and a shortened version of 'patient' due to the broken string, given it a near a capella's ending.

back to piano with unrehearsed. no phil, i don't think this was a great version, it sounded, once more, as really unrehearsed, but he was able to hide that feature by putting all his energy behind the song then the sneezing session ... i don't think the sneezing as such came as a surprise, he was struggling against it for quite a while, but just when you though he had it under control, it caught him off guard, sweeping his head against the microphone in midflight ... ;

actually it could have sufficed to touch his nose sometimes, but he had decided to keep his fingers pianobound, leading to another sneeze in the next verse, and third still a bit later: just to embarrass him, always in mid-sense ... it's only when all this was now followed by some near liquid streaming out of his nose that he finally decided to bring one of the hands to the troublemaker after the song, he used the towel to blow his nose into, only to dry his face with it after the next one )

faculty x and still life was a great pair to round off the show, but given that it was past 1.00 in the morning already by then, pH seemed to tired to opt for the most interesting possibilities these songs could offer i heard a lots of 'agains' before, and i heard better versions then here, but this walking through the tables and audience whilst singing, i had never seen before (at least not by ph), to nice and authentic effect ! some people following ph through the whole venue, really creating some kind of pied piper of ham(m)el(l)in !

nevertheless a really nice show, that i very much enjoyed we were having another drink after the show, when the club owner repeated three times through the microphone that we shouldn't despair, but that peter hammill was going to come back after he had had the time to refresh a bit, and that he was going to sign 'everything' that would be put under his nose ! a statement nobody abused ... but that did not fall on deaf ears either.

ph got seated behind a table, and everyone who wanted so (in turn) could have a seat at the other end of the table: close to 100 people had queued up for the event, it all made me think of myself as a child, queuing up for santaclaus; some of them just waited their tour to thank ph for the show, most of them had brought an essential selection of their collection to sign (records, cds); and i'm sure that unsigned records are worth more these days than signed ones ! and some asking all possible and esp. impossible questions ph, as always, underwent it with a smile, never leaving the occasion to answer a strange question in the most serious way !

i went at 2.30, ph still busy, and i was happy to see that ph turned up in time for the gig the next day in bilbao, a review of that one will follow later ...

koen b.