Guest Appearances

I don’t do that much of it but it’s always a pleasure to put in a guest appearance on other’s work. Since one of these contributions has recently been released this seems a good moment to write a few words on the subject.

I’ve spent so much of my recording life being responsible, either individually or as part of a collective, for how the project is proceeding that it’s a great liberation not to be It. In fact, even while being Main Artist I spend a lot of time trying to trick myself into being off the cuff rather than calculating in my approach. So that, for instance, I won’t really bother to look at the keyboard chords involved when doing the first passes at guitar overdubs. (Some might be justified in saying that it wouldn’t make any difference even if I did, of course…) Equally, I won’t usually go in with a specific plan for those moments when massed B Vox are called for, but just start with one harmony and then layer the others on and adjust as I go. The great But, though, is that once I’ve made these impromptu efforts I’ll then spend hours honing, adjusting, deciding.

As a guest, though, you simply present what you think is appropriate and see if it works for the other artist. And if the first idea doesn’t work, try something else. And if *nothing* works well, that’s too – bad but it’s not something to get unduly exercised about. The responsibility lies with the person/persons whose recording it is. (As the late great Randy California said to me when I asked which of his two solos on ‘Red Shift’ he preferred: “It’s your album, man!”)

What I do look for when taking on a guest appearance, though, is to get somewhere outside my normal sphere of reference. Obviously, I’m a man of – ahem – idiosyncratic delivery both vocally and instrumentally and anyone who’d asked me to contribute something to their work will be aware of that. The hope, though, is that an element of surprise will be involved for all concerned: that something new will emerge from one style/modus operandum rubbing up against another.

So here are the most recent things I’ve done in this area. My contributions were all made some time ago – that’s another aspect of this kind of stuff, you do something and it can be months or years before it sees the light of day. Or sometimes, it never gets seen at all….

The work which has just been released which I flagged up at the head of this piece is “Warm Winter”, by Memories of Machines, a collaboration between Tim Bowness and Giancarlo Erra. I got to bother my electric guitar on one of the songs thereon, “At the Centre of it All”. This was definitely in the modern style of guest stuff: Tim sent me files on which to overdub, with a completely free remit. (All boxes ticked, then!) And in turn I sent off files of recorded stuff from which to select, without prejudice, anything which seemed interesting. Happily the main line which I pursued on the track got the thumbs up and is clear on the final mix…though not as interminably repeated as in my original version, thankfully!

Rather more traditional in terms of “doing a session” was the morning I spent doing B Vox for the David Rhodes album “Bittersweet”. I’d done stuff for David before and of course we had the Random Hold history behind us so we both had a pretty clear grasp of mutual studio work ethic. So we biffed our working way through four or five or more songs, with DR very clear about what style and stacking of vox he wanted from me. I was very pleased to oblige…the sometime supportive, sometime contrary role of B Vox remains something close to my heart. And as a guest contributor it can be *great* to be directed as precisely as this.

The “Bittersweet” album had a download-only release at first but is now out as a CD as well, if you do a bit of a search.

Of recent years there’s one other project on which I guested, although in a more major, lead vocal, role, which has still not seen the light of day. Indeed, I now fear it’s unlikely to do so at any time in the near future. Worth mentioning though, I think.

Jo Bogaert, known in a previous lifetime as Technotronic, asked if I’d be interested in contributing to an ongoing project of his with Yannic Fonderie. I gave my usual (if my interest’s been tweaked) response of  “send something and if I think there’s something I can contribute I’ll send something back”. So stuff was sent and, as it happens, I found vox & lyrics stuff that seemed to make sense both for myself and for the stuff in hand.

Eventually I sang on four or five banging tracks. But as I write they still haven’t found a happy label home and so remain secret treasures….

As the visiting guest artiste in this scenario you just have to shrug and say that you hope that eventually something will emerge….

These have been the recent three. I learned and gained something from all of them and in a way that’s the most beneficial thing of doing such instant outside work. Maybe , later, I’ll reflect on other work like this from the past.

Meanwhile, thanks for the comments on the last entry. I haven’t – yet – got involved in responding to comments and I’m not even sure that I should. But the option is there for you to put your penny’s worth in….

On to High summer, then….

19 Comments on “Guest Appearances”

  1. Chris Blackford says:

    I was interested to discover that Robert Fripp has issued Peter’s alternative versions of his contributions to EXPOSURE. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there may now be three versions (or is it just two? I dunno) of PH’s vocals on this album. It’s all rather confusing and some of the differences between versions are to do with intonation and dynamics – not huge differences but still noticeably different. Peter’s contributions to RF’s album are my favourite of his guest appearances, particularly because he gets to sing some wonderfully idiosyncratic lyrics by the late Joanna Walton.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I entirely agree with Anonymous about trying to encourage pfm to play some more dates over here. I was lucky enough to see them at The Mean Fiddler a few years back (I have to admit that I knew nothing of pfm, but went along as there were rumours of Peter appearing on stage). They were marvellous and the concert was very well attended. The next time I was in Italy I wandered into a record shop in Florence and cleaned them out of pfm albums. I’m sure a few english dates would gain them a solid following over here.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Peter, why not do a compilation of these guest spots? I really liked the song you did with Sara Jane Morris.

  4. David says:

    Are we allowed to recommend other bands on here? (cough!). Anyone who’d like to listen to a band who have a similar broad range of soundscapes as vdgg/ph could do worse than check out circle from finland. they dont sound like vdgg/ph as such, but the unsettling ominous feelings triggered through listening are equally intense.

    The singer / keyboardist Mikka Ratto, like Peter, also has the ability to sound like he’s murdering his wife whilst singing…

  5. JohnC says:

    Sorry Peter, like your posts, and your music of course, but am no musician. Can you therefore tell me what you mean by not looking at the “keyboard chords involved when doing the first passes at guitar overdubs”. As a complete muso thicko – what do keyboard chords have to do with the guitar?

    • VdGGfan says:

      I suspect that what pH means is that while all music is set in a particular “key”, e.g. a simple one such as C or a complicated one such as F# minor, such keys have a configuration on a guitar fretboard;
      if overdubbing guitar parts, he would simply follow the music as it has been set on the original recording, rather than concentrating on the fingering. His prowess as a guitarist has been the subject of (good natured) debate. Personally, I rate his playing very highly.
      Pleased to see the reference to Randy California (RIP), imo a much under-rated guitarist. For anyone interested in his “group” Spirit, a new and very comprehensive issue of his Potatoland project was released earlier this year – well worth checking out.


      • VdGGfan says:


        Upon reading my own reply, I must add that the wording “he would simply follow the music…..” should have been preceded by the words “I assume that… “.
        It is certainly not for me to suggest how pH goes about his composing.


  6. Any chance of a collaboration with Amorphous Androgynous? (sp?)

  7. Luigi says:

    One of your best guest appearances (for me) was in “Exiles” (David Cross) 1997.”Tonk” and “Troppo” are great.

    • I agree completely, they are great! I wish PH worked more often with musicians of such calibre in his solo work, the organic sound of a band, as opposed to him playing all the instruments works wonders for his music and his voice. I have often thought that it would be interesting to have a re-recording of some of his solo output with a proper band or a string quartet. The Premiata Marconi recording also supports this statement, great, great, great… Luckilly, two great musicians, Banton and Evans, are now working with him from time to time! Shame that there is the issue with Jackson, our loss.

  8. Just wanted to say that these journal entries are really inciteful, and a joy to read. Keep ’em coming!

    • Joe says:

      Insightful is what you probably mean to say. I hope! And I’d agree, we often get the impression that musicians/artistes are narcissistic and egotistical (in the worst kind of way) tantrum-throwers seeking artistic control and maximum kudos at all times.

      What we see here is total willingness to be a “bit-player”.

      Joe, somewhere north of Bristol

  9. bayernmike says:

    Wow, now I have images of Peter Hammill “throwing some shapes” to Pump Up The Jam!

    That’ll make an interesting encore on the next VdGG tour

  10. Bruce Hatton says:

    Sad to hear the Metropolis news, hopefully that will resolve itself.
    Is there any news on the long-awaited DVD of the 2005 reunion?
    Looking forward to any potential VDGG concerts!

    • Asaf Carmeli says:

      The reunion show from 2005 wasn’t filmed.
      If you’re referring to the amateur DVD that i compiled back then & shared via Torrent, i guess you can still find it floating around online.


      • Asaf,

        Bruce is not referring to the first reunion show at the RFH but presumably to the pro-shot Leverkusen footage which was slated for official release at one point.

  11. ebv2010 says:

    In your shoes, I would not get involved in the comments. You already graciously reply to emails (short or long replies both take time) and you would get involved in a time-consuming one-to-many quagmire.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Also enjoyed your collaboration with pfm a few years ago spiralling off franco mussida’s guitar. any chance of getting them over to do a show? their recent one in london was cancelled.

    vdgg and pfm. it’s an acronym attack!

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