A Global Sound PoV – Interview with Peter Gabriel – Part 1

pg1PETER GABRIEL is the doyen of World Music promoting and WOMAD instigator, a studio and label owner, a producer, a reluctant and flawed Rock star and an all round introverted guy. During 3 decades career frequency of his albums has legnhtened: the ‘US’ graced our CD lasers in 1992; aside a two-disc ‘Secret World Live’ in 1994 and ‘Eve’, CD-ROM album-game in 1997, there hasn’t been a new album in 8 years!?

‘OVO – The Millennium Show’ is a soundtrack album to the multi-media show staged at the ill-fated celebration of the civilisation at the London’s Millennium Doom, pardon — Dome. For two years Gabriel toiled on this project to have only some 20 minutes used in the show; ‘OVO’ is the complete score that demanded of him to cast different singers for character voicing: Elizabeth Fraser (ex-Cocteau Twins), Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile) and the legendary Richie Havens; among the players were his long-term collaborators David Rhodes (guitar), Tony Levin (bass) and Manu Katche (drums) .

There has always been some vagueness of character about Gabriel, now more defined with age; the recent clocking half-a-century is reflected in his hairs being shorn to a millimetre from the skull and greying goatee. It all makes him look a tad on the cool professorial side but he’s always been interested in music making rather than ego and image building; Gabriel’s never followed fashions and joined trends but being an individual not afraid to express it through his art.

“I was attracted to the project,” Gabriel speaks slowly and fairly quietly that simply underlines his modesty, “because I’ve always been drawn to the multi-media performances. It was an opportunity to collaborate on a huge project that presented so many challenges. I worked with Mark Fisher who created stages for ‘Zoo TV’ (U2), The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Tina Turner, REM… This was new to him because it was like a musical with so much more resources.”

‘OVO’ presents the story of the three time-frames of human evolution through the lives of three generations of a family, the socio-economical changes that affect their relationships, causing conflicts and disagreements. It takes in the dawn of man, industrial revolution (centred in a Tower Of Babylon-like structure) and the post-cyber existence of humanity.

pg3“Our biggest problem was the shortness of it but the requirement was to tell the whole history of mankind. I don’t think that the 20 minutes used for the show make the story comprehensible… The first part is about nature, ‘The Man who loved the Earth’ when father is learning to live in such environment, the second is the time of his son, ‘The Tower that ate People’, corresponding with the industrialisation that divides people. There is love, warfare, starvation, a bit of a revolution at the end and then, the third act, ‘The Nest that sailed the Sky’, the future period, the daughter’s time and she gets together with the member of ‘Skypeople’ (oppressed classes), has a baby and it is the beginning of harmony between nature and technology.”

“We have reached a bio-technological age when we have computers based on the organic processes now, we have various means to take the systems of nature and put them into the machines; it is like decentralised nature and technology but on a much deeper level. And, instead to have a happy ending, we have a baby, called OVO, ascending into the sky, little like (cyber) Moses but also referencing the ‘Star-child’ from ‘2001’ film, floating into the unknown.”

At times the ‘libretto’ of ‘OVO’ reads like a fairy-tale cum pulp science-fiction crossed with the Biblical snatches but its music is deeply rooted in reality and reflects many of the different facets that have combined into the British culture: there are elements of the sonic heritage from every continent as well as the components of the popular culture, with only a hint of reggae.

“The idea was to incorporate everything and your objection about reggae not being represented well is correct, there is only about 30-second dub-bass, but it didn’t really fit in… I’d have liked to have had a bit more in because it has had a major influence on the British culture but there was no way to include everything in equal proportions.”

“The thing to bear in mind is that at the turn of the millennium we were asking ourselves ‘Who are we?’ but we weren’t who we used to be within a short space of the calendar change.”

– This is not the first time you’ve wrestled this subject but attempted to tell the story of the world (in 40 minutes) on the Genesis’s debut album, ‘From Genesis To Revelation’ (1969)?

“Yeah, I like nice, small kind of the ideas,” Gabriel almost smiles, ” but this time there is a little booklet to go with the package. Unfortunately the record company couldn’t produce it for the commercial release, it costs too much, but I will make it available on our Web-site. At least the story is there and to make music more accessible to the contemporary audience, it is not narrated but rapped. We got Neneh Cherry and Rasco to do it.”