Famous Like Me > Singer > G > Peter Gabriel
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Profile of Peter Gabriel
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||13th February 1950
|Place of Birth:
||Woking, Surrey, England, UK
Peter Brian Gabriel (born February 13, 1950, in Cobham, Surrey, England) is an English musician. He first came to fame as a member of the progressive rock group Genesis, went on to a successful solo career, and more recently has focused on producing and promoting world music and pioneering digital distribution methods for music. In addition he has been involved in various humanitarian efforts.
Gabriel founded Genesis while a student at Charterhouse School with bandmates Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, and Mike Rutherford.
Genesis quickly became one of the most talked-about bands in the UK and eventually Italy, Belgium and other European countries, largely due to Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song. Some of his most famous costumes are "The Flower" (worn for "Supper's Ready", from Foxtrot), "Britannia" (worn for "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight", from Selling England by the Pound), "Old King Cole" (worn for "The Musical Box", from Nursery Cryme) and "Rael" (worn throughout most of the performance of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway).
During "The Knife", a popular live song from the Trespass album, Gabriel would perform a stunt that, two decades later, became a fixture of hard-rock and heavy-metal concerts: stage diving. On one occasion, he broke a leg leaping into the crowd - but managed to climb back up onto the stage and finish the performance. Gabriel occasionally would fall backwards into crowds during his solo shows (notably shown in his concert film PoV during the song "Lay Your Hands On Me") and allow the crowd to pass him around, but stopped crowd surfing as he became older.
Backing vocals in Genesis during Gabriel's tenure in the band were usually handled by drummer Phil Collins, who eventually became the lead singer after Gabriel left the band in 1975.
Gabriel famously refused to title any of his first four solo albums (they were all labeled peter gabriel using the same typeface, but different cover art), since he wanted them to be considered like issues of a magazine instead of individual works; they are usually differentiated by number in order of release, or sleeve design. (His fourth solo album, still called Peter Gabriel in the UK, was titled Security in the U.S., at the behest of Geffen Records.) Even after acquiescing to distinctive titles, he cheekily used words as short as possible: So, Us, and Up. Even his most recent compilations have been called, simply, Hit and Miss.
The "untitled era"
Gabriel recorded his first solo album in 1976 and 1977 with producer Bob Ezrin, simply titled Peter Gabriel. His first solo success came with the single "Solsbury Hill", an autobiographical piece expressing his thoughts on leaving Genesis. In it, he sings, "My friends would think I was a nut...", alluding to his decision to begin a period of self-exploration and reflection, while he grew cabbages, played the piano for long hours, practised yoga and biofeedback, and spent quality time with his family.
Gabriel worked with guitarist Robert Fripp (of King Crimson fame) as producer of his second solo LP, in 1978. That album was darker and more experimental, and yielded some fine recordings, but no major hits. His third, in 1980, arose as a collaboration with Steve Lillywhite, who also produced early albums by U2. It was notable for the hit singles "Games Without Frontiers" and "Biko," for Gabriel's new interest in world music (especially for percussion), and for its bold production, which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects.
In addition, Gabriel's old Genesis band-mate Phil Collins played drums on several tracks, including the opener, "Intruder," which introduced to the world the reverse-gated, cymbal-less drum kit sound which Collins would make famous through the rest of the 1980s. The massive, distinctive hollow sound arose through some experiments by Collins and engineer Hugh Padgham. Gabriel had requested that his drummers use no cymbals in the album's sessions, and when he heard the result from Collins and Padgham, he asked Collins to play a simple pattern for several minutes, then built "Intruder" on it.
Arduous and occasionally damp recording sessions at his rural English estate in 1981 and 1982, with co-producer/engineer David Lord, resulted in Gabriel's fourth LP release (the aforementioned Security), on which Gabriel took more production responsibility. It was one of the first commercial albums recorded entirely to digital tape (using a Sony mobile truck), and featured the early, extremely expensive Fairlight CMI sampling computer. Gabriel combined a variety of sampled and deconstructed sounds with world-beat percussion and other unusual instrumentation to create a radically new, emotionally charged soundscape. Furthermore, the sleeve art consisted of inscrutable, video-based imagery. Despite the album's peculiar sound, odd appearance, and often disturbing themes, it sold well and had a hit single in "Shock the Monkey", which also became a groundbreaking music video.
Gabriel toured extensively for each of his albums, continuing the dramatic shows he began with Genesis, often involving elaborate stage props and acrobatics which had him suspended from gantries, distorting his face with fresnel lenses and mirrors, and wearing unusual makeup. For one tour, his entire band shaved their heads. His 1982-83 tour included a section opening for David Bowie, where many audience members and critics thought that Gabriel as opener (especially with his elaborate makeup) overshadowed Bowie at the height of his popularity. The stage was set for Gabriel's true breakout with his next studio release.
The hit years: So, Passion, Us, and Up
Although early on he achieved critical success and some commercial success (e.g. "Games Without Frontiers" from his third album and "Shock the Monkey" from his fourth), Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from the 1986 So album, most notably "Sledgehammer" and "In Your Eyes." Gabriel co-produced So with Canadian Daniel Lanois, also known for his work with U2.
Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer" was accompanied by a visually stunning music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen Johnson, Aardman Animation, and the Brothers Quay. The video won numerous awards at the 1987 MTV Music Video Awards, and set a new standard for art in the music video industry. A follow-up video for the song "Big Time" also broke new ground in music video animation and special effects.
In 1989, Gabriel released Passion, the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ. Many consider the album to be the climax of his work in world music.
Following it, Gabriel recorded Us in 1992 (also co-produced with Lanois), an album in which he deals with the pain of his life problems of the previous years (his failed first marriage, the distance with his first daughter). He metaphorically talks to the river: "River, river, carry me on to the place where I come from... Bring me something that will let me get to sleep... Bring me something to take this pain away." He also digs inside, trying to unearth the things inside of him that cause him trouble in the song "Digging in the Dirt". He fights to get through to his daughter in "Come Talk To Me".
The result was one of his most personal albums, followed by a world tour that consisted of two stages: a round one and a square one, united by a bridge that he crossed riding a boat.
In 2000, he followed Us with the music to OVO, a soundtrack for the Millennium Dome Show in London, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. In September 2002, he released Up, his most recent full-length album, which was entirely self-produced, and returned to some of the less commercial, darker themes of this work in the late '70s and early '80s. Aside from the ending piano ballad "The Drop," no song on Up is shorter than six minutes, and many go through several distinct movements, with great dynamics in sound and theme.
Musicians and collaborators
While the gaps between his studio album releases have become longer and longer (six years between So and Us, ten between Us and Up), Gabriel has continued to work with a relatively stable crew of musicians and recording engineers. Bass and Stick player Tony Levin, for example, has appeared on every Peter Gabriel studio album and tour since 1976 and guitar player David Rhodes has been Gabriel’s guitarist of choice since 1979, both in the studio and on the road. Gabriel is known for choosing top-flight collaborators, from co-producers such as Ezrin, Fripp, Lillywhite, and Lanois to musicians such as Yossou N'Dour, Larry Fast, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Paula Cole, Manu Katché, and Stewart Copeland.
Over the years, Gabriel has collaborated with singer Kate Bush several times; Bush provided backing vocals for Gabriel's as far back as "Games Without Frontiers" in 1980, and on "No Self Control" and "Don't Give Up" (a Top 30 hit) in 1986, and Gabriel appeared on her television special. Their duet of Roy Harper's "Another Day" was discussed for release as a single, but never appeared.
He also collaborated with Laurie Anderson on two versions of her composition "Excellent Birds" - one for her album, Mister Heartbreak, and a slightly different version called This is the Picture which appeared on cassette and CD versions of So. In 1987, when presenting Gabriel with an award for his music videos, Anderson related an occasion in which a recording session had gone late into the night and Gabriel's voice began to sound somewhat strange, almost dreamlike. It was discovered that he had fallen asleep in front of the microphone, but had continued to sing.
Unusually, in 1998 Gabriel appeared on the soundtrack of Babe: Pig in the City, not as a composer, but as the singer of the song "That'll Do", written by Randy Newman. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, and Gabriel and Newman performed it at the following year's Oscar telecast. Many who saw him on that broadcast didn't recognize him, since his hair had greyed and thinned since his most recent tour several years earlier.
WOMAD and other projects
Gabriel has been interested in world music for many years, with the first musical evidence appearing on his third album. This influence has increased over time, and he is the driving force behind the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) movement. He created the Real World Studios and record label to facilitate the creation and distribution of such music by various artists, and he has worked to educate Western culture about the work of such musicians as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Youssou N'dour. He has also recently been interested in multimedia projects, creating the Xplora and Eve CD-ROMs. He has a long-standing interest in human rights, and launched the Witness programme to supply video cameras to human rights activists to expose abuses.
Gabriel's song "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" from So refers to Milgram's experiment, and in particular the 37 out of 40 subjects who showed complete obedience in one particular experiment.
He was one of the founders of On Demand Distribution (OD2), one of the first online music download services. Its technology is used by MSN Music UK and others, and has become the dominant music download technology platform for stores in Europe. OD2 was bought by US company Loudeye in June of 2004.
Additionally, Gabriel is also co-founder (with Brian Eno) of a musicians union called Mudda, short for "magnificent union of digitally downloading artists."
In June, 2005, Gabriel and broadcast industry entrepreneur David Engelke purchased Solid State Logic, a leading manufacturer of mixing consoles and digital audio workstations.
Recently, Peter Gabriel has been working with video game companies Cyan Worlds and Ubisoft to aid in the sound production of their latest video games. The 2003 videogame Uru: Ages Beyond Myst featured the song "Burn You Up, Burn You Down" in several portions of the game. The song, in a different mix, features the Blind Boys Of Alabama (who also collaborated with Gabriel on the song "Sky Blue") and was on a press release copy of Up, but deleted before the album's actual release.
The 2004 release of Myst IV: Revelation (developed by Ubisoft Montreal) featured a song called "Curtains", originally a B-side from the single to "Big Time" from So. The song, slightly remixed from its original version, is also often called 'Portal to Serenia' or 'Portal to Dreamworld'. Gabriel also perfoms a large voice acting part in the game.
Also in 2004, Gabriel performed a cover version of "The Book of Love," a song by The Magnetic Fields, on the soundtrack to the film Shall We Dance?. He compered and performed at the Eden Project Live 8 concert in July 2005. A DVD of this show is currently in the works.
With his most recent album releases being 2003's Hit and Miss compilations, fans await Gabriel's next project, rumoured to be titled I/O. It currently has no release date, and may contain a mixture of live and studio songs. His next tour is rumoured to be a solo one with Peter singing and playing piano.
Peter Gabriel has two daughters from his first marriage to wife Jill: Melanie and Anna. Melanie was a backing vocalist during Gabriel's 2002 Growing Up tour, and Anna filmed a documentary of that same tour, called Growing Up On Tour: A Family Portrait, currently available on DVD. Gabriel and his second wife, Maebh, had a son, Issac, in 2002.
A new double DVD set, Peter Gabriel Live & Unwrapped, is to be released on October 24th, 2005.
- 1977 Peter Gabriel (I or Car, wet car cover, ) #7 UK, #38 US
- 1978 Peter Gabriel (II or Scratch, scratch cover) #10 UK, #45 US
- 1980 Peter Gabriel (III or Melt, melting face cover) #1 UK, #22 US, US Sales: 500,000
- 1982 Peter Gabriel (IV, known as Security in the USA) #6 UK, #28 US, US Sales: 500,000
- 1983 Plays Live (live) #8 UK, #44 US
- 1985 Birdy: soundtrack from the film "Birdy" #162 US
- 1986 So #1 UK, #2 US, US Sales: 5,000,000
- 1989 Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ #29 UK, #60 US, US Sales: 500,000
- 1990 Shaking the Tree (best of 1976-1990) (compilation) #11 UK, #48 US, US Sales: 2,000,000
- 1992 Us #2 UK, #2 US, US Sales: 1,000,000
- 1992 Revisited (best of 1977-1978 (compilation))
- 1994 Secret World Live (live 1993) #10 UK, #23 US, US Sales: 500,000
- 2000 Ovo
- 2002 Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit-Proof Fence
- 2002 Up #11 UK, #9 US
- 2003 Hit (compilation) #29 UK, #100 US and Miss (compilation)
See also: list of musicians with multiple self-titled albums
- 1994 Secret World Live (concert DVD from the Secret World Tour 1992/93)
- 2003 Growing Up (concert DVD from the Growing Up Tour 2002/03)
- 2004 Play (compilation DVD with all of his music videos, including bonus videos and remastered sound).
- 2004 A Family Portrait - A Film By Anna Gabriel (Peter Gabriel's daughter directs a film about her father's Growing Up And Still Growing Up tours)
- 2005 Still Growing Up: Live & Unwrapped
- from "Peter Gabriel (I)"
- 1977 "Solsbury Hill" #12 UK
- from "Peter Gabriel (III)"
- 1980 "Games without Frontiers" #4 UK
- 1980 "No Self Control" #33 UK
- 1980 "Biko" #38 UK
- from "Peter Gabriel (IV)"
- 1983 "Shock the Monkey" #29 US
- from "So"
- 1986 "Sledgehammer" #4 UK, #1 US
- 1986 "Don't Give Up" (with Kate Bush) #9 UK
- 1986 "Big Time" #13 UK, #8 US (1987 release)
- 1986 "In Your Eyes" #26 US
- from "Us"
- 1992 "Digging in the Dirt" #24 UK
- 1993 "Steam" #10 UK, #32 US
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