Live Solo

A couple of days ago I got back from another stay in Japan, where I did one show in Osaka (the first time I’d been there for many years) and another four day stint in Tokyo, this time in two different places. During these sets I played a total of 64 different songs, covering the whole span of my career.

The audience in Japan is incredibly attentive and the nature of shows done in small (often jazz) clubs presents special challenges, if you care to accept them. I’ve found my visits over the last few years particularly stimulating, both in themselves and in terms of the wider perspective of my ongoing touring.

For my visit there in 2007, with the VdGG story continuing to unfold in surprising but always emphatically electric fashion, I’d made the specific request that the shows take place only in places with grand pianos. I didn’t even take a guitar with me.  It was the first time I’d done a solo set for some time and I thought that if I concentrated only on keyboard songs I’d inevitably ramp up the number of songs in the live catalogue considerably. Although I’m more than happy to play electric pianos in the band and, indeed, in solo concerts I also felt that the use of (the favourite) acoustic instruments would also push me into more interesting, possibly extreme, performances.

Since then I’ve tried to add more and more material to my setlists with each succeeding solo tour with the result that I can now call on over ninety tunes, although in many cases I *will* need to have lyrics and notes in front of me in order to stay on track, or to get back on track as and when I fall off!  In any event, stable performances are not really the desired result – I’m actually more interested in versions which skitter a little bit out of control rather than in “correct” ones. Naturally, there’s no such thing as a definitive version; or at least, I’ve no desire for one. I’d rather face up to each song as it comes up on the – constantly changing – setlists and treat it as feels right on the night.

When I went back to Tokyo in 2010, once again to do a run of four shows, it seemed an interesting idea to announce themes for each night in advance.  The first was “What if there were no piano?” and, obviously, I played only guitar songs. (Actually, on a couple of occasions in the past pianos have been so far out of tune or mechanically wrecked that I’ve had to go down this route.) In the second – “What if I forgot my guitar?” – I played only piano songs . (Since I’ve sometimes broken a string on the very first guitar number in a set I’ve had some accidental experience of this, naturally, as well as the run of 2007 shows previously mentioned.)

All of which brings me to say that the next release on Fie! is now about to come out (on October 10th, in fact). A double, live, it’s called “Pno, Gtr, Vox” and is a representation of these two sets. The performances are taken from shows in the UK in 2010 as well as the Japanese ones and follow the original running order, though some songs have been taken out in order to bring the timing down to just over 70 minutes on each CD.

It is, then, something of a summation of this period of live solo work (running in parallel with the ongoing VdGG stuff). As such it will also stand as an ongoing representation of the kind of thing I do, the kind of thing I aim for, onstage. As I’ve said, no version is or can be definitive…but these are certainly authentic.

Final, shameless, plug. Now available on pre-order (and will be available after the release date, of course) from But you knew that, didn’t you?

13 Comments on “Live Solo”

  1. Adam Matlock says:

    Exciting to read this. I have recently been testing my songs, so to speak, by trying them out in versions not on the instrument they were composed on. I am limited to keyboard instruments (grand piano, accordion, electric organ) but even between those three instruments, the approaches required to be both faithful to the spirit of the song AND respectful to the strengths of the instrument(s) can be quite disparate. Same goes for experimenting between solo and band/accompanied versions of the same material. The first time I play a song solo after having arranged it for a band (especially if it began with the intention of being a solo piece) can teach me so much about the limits of the song.

    Of course this is a trick I’ve observed and studied from the years of cross-pollination between Hammill solo catalogue and VDGG live material.

  2. Can’t wait to hear the end result.

  3. Andy Lewis says:

    I don’t have the album yet but can anyone tell me where I can find out where each of the songs were recorded?

    The three solo gigs I saw earlier this year were out of this world (and the first solo shows I’ve seen Peter perform since the 80s).

    It’s great that there are recordings available but can I have a bit of a moan? It would have been nice to see Siren Song, The Lie and a couple of others that have yet to appear on live albums, and also, the version of Sitting targets at Salford is something everyone else should get to listen to.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great that performances from the Gateshead gig are included, it was a brilliant night. We took our son along and he was blown away by the intensity of the performance.

  5. Nigel Green says:

    The CD has just arrived, thanks for signing it.

    I didnt go to the Salford Quays show last year and, damn, it one of the shows recorded.

    Any chance of a retrospective DVD, I’ve got bootlegs videos of the usual stuff but DVD quality would surely be popular? An extra could be the Playaway performance – I’ve only ever heard an audio tape of this.

  6. Mikayel says:

    In my opinion, definitive studio version and authentic live version is what we might actually need to have from a performer.

    Take it or leave it, but live performances will all be different. One can feel and understand this only after being present there, at the concert hall, witnessing the event. The recorded music (I mean the recorded live performances) cannot completely recreate the atmosphere of the real event anyway. What you get during the gig is what will remain afterwards. For example, the gigs I attended will always be “the best gigs” to me, however I can compile a personal collection of the best performances from other gigs, and probably I will be listening to that collection for long time. Eventually, this will be a sort of my “understanding” of the performer’s music, my selection.

    Here, we get authentic selection of live performances played recently and thoroughly representing PH from his own point of view. He uses this approach all through his career, and now we have, paradoxically, “definitive” collection of live performances, with a couple of outstanding specific dates, like the Union Chapel and the RFH gigs.

    To conclude, in my opinion this is just how PH wants us to accept him by the 11/11/11.

  7. Avy says:

    Interesting comment about the attentiveness of the audience in Japan. Jimmy Page has just made a similar comment last week, when talking about the Japanese tour of Led Zeppelin in 1971. He said that because of this, in Japan the band could finally hear each other while playing (vs. the noisier US tours) which led to the material being developed on-stage, different changes to the songs explored etc.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The entire career span, hum… Can’t wait to hear that, considering the span is great in many ways, not just time and matter but also: from more “conventional” to total experimental, from personal to character studies, point of views, etc. Well, I can’t believe he had that in mind when Peter “lured” us to the new opus, but I’m an easy prey when it comes to Peter’s material!

  9. Richard Vernon says:

    I can’t wait. I’ve only seen Peter solo once, but it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. But what I’d really like would be to see a ‘VDGG plays Peter Hammill’ gig. By this I mean to see the band do all the classic songs that Peter has done on his many ‘solo’ albums…… many of which weren’t really all that ‘solo’, of course.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m always interested in how a comment / observation someone makes might apply to the bigger picture and there is a practical application to “Naturally, there’s no such thing as a definitive version; or at least, I’ve no desire for one”. Bravo…there shouldn’t be a definitive version to anything: whether a job interview, first date, party, trip, play, movie, business venture (as long as they are in the parameters of acceptability, of course). Imagine that: no expectations, no prejudices, just see what happens. What freedom…


  11. Chad Hoffman says:

    I just read about this release on Burning Shed’s website. I’m very much anticipating it!!!

    Have a great October all! ; )


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