Tag Archives: kate bush

Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

mccartneypaulwings_rockshowcover_72dpiAnother thing that took a lot of time was combing through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. You and I know that TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films at the local cinema that featured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings, and so many others. Now, just about every major band of the rock world can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive. I’m still that guy, the one who collects the high quality digital transfers available on media, rather than streaming them. Having said that, many of these films are available on streaming services like YouTube.

Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Top Ten Concerts from 2014

kate_doug_hamThis year has been one of the greatest ever for live music based on the sheer number of amazing rock concerts I was privileged to witness. Many milestones were hit – Kate Bush performing 22 sold out shows in London 35 years after her first and only tour – Stevie Wonder doing all of Songs in the Key of Life – his masterwork from which had never played more than 3-4 numbers – Fleetwood Mac with Christine McVie back after 16 years absence from touring – Yusuf / Cat Stevens, back in the U.S. 38 years since his last appearance here. To top it off, Sir Paul McCartney, playing the final event at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the site of the last Beatles concert some 50 years prior. So quite a few firsts, which may become “lasts” – one never knows.

Special mention this year goes to the “progressive rock cruise” called Cruise to the Edge. On that journey my lovely wife joined me and we saw Steve Hackett, Yes, UK, Tangerine Dream, Marillion, and most importantly for me, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM, from Italy) and Three Friends (Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm with full band of hired help). Both of these shows were absolutely fantastic – both celebrating 70’s progressive rock and keeping it alive with surprising precision and power.

Hard to pick a top ten out of these, but here goes:

  1. Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo Theater, London

IMG_1127This was one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences as we witnessed the third of what were 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she staged after 35 years absence. As the night’s proceedings and the accompanying media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame. Focusing on The Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005) irked some fans, but it gave her the chance to perform two acts of the best rock theater ever staged – heights only reached by the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis. Absolutely brilliant – here’s hoping they filmed it as well!

  1. Three Friends (Gentle Giant), CTTE

P1000511Because I had not been able to see Gentle Giant until their last ever show at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, I had not seen them perform many of their complex classic works live. Gary Green (guitar) and Malcolm Mortimore (drums) hired a band of crack musicians calling themselves Three Friends and changed all that on the cruise as they tore through almost all of the third Gentle Giant album, Three Friends (1972) along with something from almost every record made between their debut and Interview. Early in they played “The Moon is Down” – one of four tracks they would include from Acquiring the Taste (1971). They perfectly nailed this dense composition going beyond all expectations. For this fan the whole experience was true nirvana.

  1. Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), CTTE 

P1000160PFM was Italy’s answer to the British progressive rock invasion of the ‘70’s. Their records were unique, beautiful, and completely original. We had been able to catch them early in this millennia at a prog rock festival, but the shows on the cruise beat that, as the band covered lots of tracks from their first five releases, along with a few more recent, including one from PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration. A highlight of the show was their performance of “Promenade The Puzzle”, an early classic with brilliant lyrics by former King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield.  It was a truly rare treat to witness these maestros perform live, and to interview them for Gonzo Weekly as well!

  1. Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Nokia Live Theater, Los Angeles

cat3Cat Stevens has been absent from the stage in the U.S. for 38 years. The first concert I ever attended was his last – the Majikat tour in 1976 with my sister Sue. My 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in class, focusing on his seminal album Tea for the Tillerman. At that first concert, in my 15th year, I discovered the amazing impact seeing an artist perform live could have on a heart. “The Wind” was the first song on the set list back then, and again when Yusuf / Cat Stevens came to the Nokia Live theater in December. What was surprising and gratifying about this show was that he chose songs from his whole career, including the Foreigner suite, Days of the Old Schoolyard from IsItSo, and others. His voice is aged like fine wine and the show was superb.

  1. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life Tour, Oakland Arena

stevie_bandUnbelievable, fantastic, heartwarming, tear jerking joyous show in which one of our finest artists played his entire masterwork from 1976, sounding like he’s never aged a day since. Joined by 30 musicians including a 10 piece orchestra, 6 piece horn section, three keyboard players, three drummers, numerous backup singers, bass, and guests, each track was played with it’s perfect accompaniment, whether that meant Stevie alone, as on “If It’s Magic” or all 30 as with the anthemic finale “As”.

  1. King Crimson, Warfield Theater, San Francisco

KC_Oct4_BowThis progressive rock juggernaut brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to the states for a series of highly anticipated concerts. These were epic events for King Crimson fans. For the first time in what seems like forever, leader Robert Fripp agreed to dust off older tracks like “Pictures of a City” from In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” from Islands (1971). Given he had winds genius Mel Collins in the band they were able to reproduce those rare treats with surprising ferocity, particularly “The Letters” which was just stunning. The three-man drum assault was legendary. I’ve never seen Robert appear more happy and excited to be addressing his followers!

  1. Elbow, Fox Theater, Oakland

P1010130Elbow played one of the top shows we’ve seen this year.  Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings.  What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience.  At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery.  In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen last spring.

  1. The National, Greek Theater, Oakland

P1000846The band were in fine form this year, supporting 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession.  Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work.  This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience.  The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.

  1. The Eels, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Eels_closeupThis American alt-rock band played the best and most impactful show I’ve seen them deliver here in the city. Since so much of singer-songwriter E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects (he calls it “soft bummer pop”), his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with the upbeat. Notably, E sang several covers, including lovely renditions of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” (okay small tears were shed) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis and “Turn on Your Radio” by the similarly underrated and wonderful Nilsson. Friends of soft-bummer pop unite!

  1. Fleetwood Mac, Oakland Arena, Oakland
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Christine McVie

The Mac is back! They rolled into the town for the “On With The Show” tour featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause. It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

 

paul_ticketHonorable mention goes out to other amazing artists we caught this year including Paul McCartney, Yes, UK, Steve Hackett (on his Genesis revisited tour), Kraftwerk, Queen (with “glambert”), Tom Petty, Neil Finn, Midlake, Daniel Lanois, America, Erasure, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Adrian Belew, Paula Frazer, The Musical Box and others. Thank you to Artina for being so open minded and musically inclined, and for taking so many of the best photos we shot during the year. I will have to renew that resolution to catch more new artists this year – we are starting in January with Ty Segall. Happy New Year, everyone….

Kate Bush Before the Dawn

IMG_1127I had one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences last Friday night August 30, 2014 at the Hammersmith Apollo Theater in London. Here, I witnessed the third of 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she is putting on after 35 years absence from the stage. As the night’s proceedings and this week’s media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame!

Kate Bush played her first ever concert tour back in 1979, at the age of 21, after releasing her first kate_livetwo albums. She demonstrated right at the start that she was not just a prodigy on piano, and a writer and singer of the highest caliber, but also that she was a performance artist – turning what were generally short pop songs into spectacles complete with dance, costumes, props and what amounted to musical theater. Fortunately there is a video available that captures a portion of that historic show.

Unfortunately for fans all over the world, Kate did not tour again until this month. In the intervening years she released increasingly complex, rewarding work, much of it considered challenging “progressive rock” – work that was crying out for proper live performances – which it seemed would never arrive. Consider the music and lyrics on The kate_bush_ticketDreaming (1982) or The Hounds of Love (1985) for instance, or Aerial (2005) which hold within stories and musical adventure second to none. What we did get from Kate, particularly during the ‘80’s were stellar music videos – in their own right artistic marvels that also stoked the fire for a live experience. I for one always vowed to travel any distance if a show was eventually planned, and in fact did fly from San Francisco to London with my beloved two days ago full of expectations and hope for a show that might be staged with the kind of dramatics that would match her innovative music.

==spoiler alert – read on only if you are not attending the upcoming shows==

== also, find photos of the show itself elsewhere – we kept cameras off by request==

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poster, ticket, brochure and tee!

As performed Friday, Kate’s show was a spectacular success. It was divided into three parts with intermission and encore. She played most of 1985’s masterpiece The Hounds of Love, and 2005’s Aerial along with several other tracks, all found on her post 1985 releases. Part I of the concert began with a short set of six songs beginning with “Lily” from The Red Shoes (1993) continuing with the title track from The Hounds of Love and also doing the hit from that album, “Running Up That Hill”. She included “Joanni” from Aerial, and “The Top of the City” from The Red Shoes ending this first segment with “King of the Mountain” again from Aerial.

Kate was herself adorned in fine cloth, barefoot, and smiling ear to ear fronting her band of incredible musicians and backup singers, who were lined up in a row behind and beside her, with a modern concert light rigging above. This short first segment hewed to a rather standard concert format, Kate fronting her band, generally standing and swaying in place, warming up her still pliant, beautiful voice. It was almost surreal to see her in the role of lead singer after all these years – in this visually simple setting, she and the band sounding brilliant, but without much of anything else going on to accompany them.

kate_houndsFor those expecting more theater, any fears that this would be the dominant format for this show were quickly alleviated while the sixth song faded away, as percussionist Mino Cinelu came to the fore spinning an object on a tether as the sounds of a storm brewed and he seemingly pushed the band’s risers backward to reveal a huge stage. A projection screen, full of stars, then came down to hide the stage. A video began, portraying a craft lost at sea and an astronomer trying to convince the coast guard there was a craft that needed rescue in the murky seas.

Thus marked the beginning of part II which consisted of “The Ninth Wave” –one of Kate’s most daring works, and which comprises the second half of The Hounds of Love. We were treated to that entire song cycle, presented with costumes, stage craft, props, a rigging above the audience resembling a helicopter, video, and a tremendous performance by musicians and vocalists alike. The idea was to present “real events on the screen in the form or pre-filmed footage” while “nightmares and delirium took place live on stage.” Costumes ranged from frogmen in diving gear to very effective skeletal fish that came in and out of the proceedings. During “Under Ice” a form of light on the stage floor depicted Kate’s character under the icey waters and after she realizes “It’s Me!” frogmen cut the ice and lift her out. During one particularly brilliant segment, the ocean’s surface was depicted by laser lighting, on which seemed to float a crooked living room in which two of the backup singers (one being Kate’s son Bertie) portrayed the family of the lost woman, Kate then appearing as if a ghost singing the segment “Watching You Without Me” to interrupt their television program.

Near the end of “Wave”, Kate was carried away by the crew, through the audience, there to finally escape her watery entrapment, and return to center stage with lights up, engaging the band and audience through a jubilant and touching version of “The Morning Fog” coda. The impact of the story ending in this celebration was intensely emotional, and the audience responded in kind, standing and cheering for this happy ending to “The Ninth Wave.”

IMG_1126During the intermission, the curtains were lit with pink light and the image of a single feather projected – in retrospect cluing us into the fact that Aerial would be featured next. In fact, after an intermission, Kate and band returned to perform the second half of Aerial called “A Sky of Honey.” Kate says in the booklet that the staging for this was harder to envision – the story being about the connection between light and birdsong, saying “It’s also about the observer. Us, observing nature. Us, being there.” Now the band was occupying stage left, and room was made for a grand piano, which Kate played to begin the “Prelude.” A huge Moorish door descended on stage right, through which an ingenious wooden puppet – an artist’s model, controlled behind by a black clad puppeteer, emerged. This boy puppet would be featured throughout this piece, as an evolving character, witness to the beauty and wonder described throughout the sections of the song cycle.

Also featured was Bertie as a painter – as Kate says “somehow responsible for the sky and the events that happen on stage – a kind of ‘Pan’ figure.” kate_aerialIn this really amazing segment, Bertie “painted” a cloud-covered scene on a digital canvas in tandem with a huge backing screen drop showing a similarly clouded sunset. The brush triggered colors and changes to the image on the “canvas” as the larger backdrop slowly evolved as well. This made an absolutely beautiful centerpiece for the vocals and delicate sounds found within this work. The piece also included more time for Kate to work the piano, to sing in a call-response phase with birdsong, and eventually to don the feathers and wings of a bird and rise above the stage. Eventually the puppet became a wooden boy and found his way out of the scene back through those Moorish doors. All of this was imply stunning in its execution.

After a bow and departing the stage to endless applause, Kate returned solo to play an encore beginning with “Among Angels” from 50 Words for Snow (2011) and finishing with “Cloudbusting” from Hounds, which brought the audience to their feet to clap and sing along and end the show in a massive display of audience affection to match the spectacle we were privileged to witness.

kate_doug_hamThe focus of the concert being the two major narrative pieces – “The Ninth Wave” and “The Sky of Honey” – one dark, the other light, made for more theater than just song, and was a truly inspired choice. Sure there were some attendees grousing that she did not play her early work including the “hits” such as her first, “Wuthering Heights” but as it turned out the alternative was far sweeter. In fact for this state-sider, the show focused on her most creative material, even if my favorite, “The Dreaming” did not figure into that this time. 

Was it an “Once-in-a-lifetime” experience? I’d give that an unequivocal “yes” – it was beautiful, magical, and emotionally impactful to finally see this amazing artist perform her work live, with a level of production befitting her art, and with an audience of her adoring fans, this gem of Britain.

=====Credits====

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The band:

Guitar: David Rhodes (also Peter Gabriel’s guitarist, Random Hold – oh, and Blancmange!)

Guitar, Bouzouki, Charango: Frissi Karlsson (of Icelandic band Mezzoforte)

Bass: John Giblin (many fusion, prog collaborators, and bassist on almost all Kate’s albums)

Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals, Programming: Jon Carin (long time Pink Floyd collaborator who most recently played on “The Wall” tour)

Keyboards, Accordion, Uilleann Pipes: Kevin McAlea (many collaborations including Barclay James Harvest, he also played Kate’s first tour)

Percussion: Mino Cinelu (many works including Miles Davis and Weather Report)

Drums: Omar Hakim (also Weather Report, Sting, and Dire Straits work)

The chorus included Kate’s son Albert McIntosh (Bertie), who also sang lead and acted in several passages. Also in the chorus were Jo Servi, Bob Harms, Sandra Marvin, and Jacqui DuBois. And, there were a series of actors and stage hands that were part of the presentation – all adding to the fabulous, unforgettable evening.

Gabriel Without Frontiers

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 6.20.56 PMIn his new new biography, Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel, author Daryl Easlea manages to craft a definitive look at the man and his art. Peter’s life, music, performances, videos, productions, and charitable endeavors are covered in depth from the late 1960’s when forming Genesis up to today. The book is very well researched, as Daryl takes care to include frequent direct quotes from Peter, his band members, management, and friends.  I found his inclusion of remarks by key collaborators including Peter Hammill, Richard MacPhail, and Daniel Lanois particularly interesting and revealing.  These observations contain insights into not just Peter’s work, but his life, such that the reader really gets a sense of him as a person. One interesting angle I’d not known was his lasting but friendly rivalry with Tony Banks and it’s impact on their early work together.  Daryl’s skilled narrative and storytelling manages to breathe new life into every chapter as he explores Peter’s influences, his focus on quality work, and continued ability to innovate and entertain.

Many fans of Genesis and Peter’s work who have read some of this information or seen documentaries in the past, will still find new revelations here.  His formative years fronting Genesis are key to his development as an artist, and their work to many represents the golden age of progressive rock music.  These times are treated with an attention to detail and the author takes care to incorporate parts of the story that add clarity to that short period of time, including matters both serious and entertaining.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter exhausting those years, Peter’s early solo career is examined in a way that sheds light on his search for direction as a solo artist.  Every key development from 1977’s Car (as Daryl refers to Peter Gabriel 1) through to 1982’s Security is illuminated.  I learned new facts about this era even though this is a time in particular when I was old enough to be a devotee of every album release, concert, and news item about the man.  The rest of his career from his breakthrough, more commercial release So, to the Scratch My Back and New Blood Orchestra work is also well covered, along with his frequent charitable work.  Often videos and filmed live performances are given short shift – not here – for instance it was a pleasure to see someone hail the 2013 Live in Athens DVD release as a spectacular document of Peter playing live near the end of the So tour in 1987.

This is a truly wonderful biography of one of the most amazing artists of our time.  Highly recommended.