Created | Updated Mar 11, 2008
Peter Gabriel was a pupil of Charterhouse school in the late sixties. During his stay there he met Anthony Philips, Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford. Together they started a band by joining The Garden Wall and The Anon, both duos at the time. Because ex-student and celebrity Jonathan King came to visit in 1969, they wrote several 'BeeGees-like' songs, J King being an avid fan of BeeGees. Mr King was at least impressed enough to get them a record contract and came up with a name for the new band, Genesis.
The first LP, From Genesis to Revelation, was not very successful and the band decided to alter their musical course to more suit their own preferences. The musicians started working towards refining their own musical style, often by rehearsing for 18 hours or more a day. In combination with the musical talent present, this resulted in the second LP, Trespass. Trespass contained the first Genesis songs in the style that was to become their trademark, most notably 'The Knife' with its complex musical changes and almost classical structure.
On the road Genesis was still not very successful. They tended to get gigs in ballrooms filled with audiences expecting a pop-band. The complex structure of the songs required somewhat more attention than the average 'hit song' and a long span of attention was usually not one of the qualities possessed by the audience.
In the years that followed Genesis steadily won over a lot of people. This was, among other things, due to the outrageous costumes that Peter Gabriel used to wear on stage. No one knew at the time, and it is still an obscure fact today, that these costumes were in fact made by Peter himself from all kinds of left-over materials. Anything else was out of the question because it would have involved money and there was none around.
As the band's popularity grew, Gabriel started to feel uncomfortable about the way the band was run. All through the history of Genesis the band has been a musicians' collective. This means that only the keyboard player is allowed to play keyboards, the drummer is the only one playing drums and percussion, etc. On top of that the songs were all written collectively.
After recording several increasingly complex studio LPs - Foxtrot, Nursery Crimes and Selling England by the Pound - Peter gave the band an ultimatum: either he would be allowed to write a whole new Genesis album or he would leave the band. The other members agreed to give him his chance and they collectively chose Peter's line, 'the lamb lies down on Broadway...' as the subject of the new LP. In the end it turned out that Peter was not able to complete the double-album he intended to write on his own, so keyboard-player Tony Banks assisted him throughout side four.
The band performed The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway live and were met by both great critical acclaim, as well as by dissatisfied fans who just didn't quite understand it all, and especially its surreal lyrical content. Nowadays the album is considered to be the most progressive and complex album Genesis ever recorded with Peter Gabriel. It is usually placed in the hall of fame next to such other great classics as Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd and Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes.
Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1974, when the band returned from the The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour. The popular media used this occasion to declare both Genesis and Peter Gabriel musically dead, and good riddance. However in 1975 Peter surprised the world with his first solo LP, tentatively named Peter Gabriel. On it were such immortal songs as 'Here comes the Flood', 'Slowburn' and of course 'Solsbury Hill' which went straight into the charts. The multi-faceted album surprised many people who had expected a logical progression from the music of Genesis to that of Gabriel. Peter, however, seemed to enjoy musical side-tracking, as can be heard, for instance, in 'Waiting for the Big One' :
The wine's all drunk, and so am IPeter's second album, again called Peter Gabriel had a more obscure and introspective ring to it. Among the people who contributed to the album were Kate Bush and Robert Fripp. The album contained no real hits although 'DIY' did make it into the charts.
The next album, which first indicated a major shift to experimental world music, was again called Peter Gabriel. According to Peter, the reason for giving all his albums the same name was very simple; he considered them all editions of the same 'newspaper'. As he stated himself:
The Times is called The Times but its content changes daily.
The album contained the hit song 'Games Without Frontiers' but the most famous song in the long run turned out to be 'Biko'.
In itself 'Biko' is a song about the death of the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, but it soon became an exemplary song about the problems with apartheid in South Africa. It also started Peter's involvement with world music on a larger scale. Because of the depth of the lyrics the album was considered to be Peter Gabriel's finest so far. How little did the world know about what would become its successor.
Peter's fourth album, again called Peter Gabriel (but this time nicknamed Security) turned out to be the perfect combination of modern rock-influence and world music. Contributing musicians were, among others, Manu Katche and Tony Levin. The album starts with the mesmerizing track 'Rhythm of the Heat', followed by the mysterious 'San Jacinto' before blasting off into the electronic 'I Have the Touch'. The album also contained 'Shock the Monkey', still one of the all-time live audience favourites because of its fantastic electronic dancebeat.
Next came the double live-album Peter Gabriel Plays Live. As the name indicates it is a live album, containing a good cross-section of his work and is very good as an overall introduction to his music. Throughout the eighties Peter Gabriel worked on several soundtracks including those for the movies Birdy and the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. These productions were based on previously released material, which was edited and re-recorded when and where necessary.
Peter Gabriel's biggest commercial success came with the release of the album So. Contributing musicians included Kate Bush, Tony Levin and Youssou N'dour. The album contained the superhit 'Sledgehammer'. The accompanying video redefined the making of videos in general. The album also contained the ominous 'We Do As We're Told' and the very cynical 'Big Time':
My belly's getting bigger, and my bank-account
So was followed by a similar album called Us. Although it is much more an album 'to listen to', it does contain the hit 'Steam' - a song of the same ilk as 'Sledgehammer'. After Us Peter released his second live-album Secret World Live, another fine example of how to go about on stage. The album perfectly captures the atmosphere of a Peter Gabriel concert. It also contains several previously unreleased songs.
Gabriel's most recent music can be found on OVO and OVO the Millennium Show. OVO tells the story of three stages of evolution, through three generations. It's the story of a family on the move, divided by conflicts and by huge changes going on around them. It is a story of forbidden love.
Ever since he began Peter Gabriel has made changing style an art form. What Bowie did for visuals, Peter did for music. He has, since then, become very popular. He started the WOMAD festival, produced some dazzling videos that could be called art and through him several artists have became famous, for example Youssou N'dour. He is also credited by Kate Bush for 'opening the windows' for her.
A quick, incomplete, discography of his solo work:
- Peter Gabriel
- Peter Gabriel (PG 2)
- Peter Gabriel (PG 3)
- Peter Gabriel Plays Live
- Peter Gabriel (Security)
- Birdy (original soundtrack to 'Birdy')
- Passion (original soundtrack to 'The Last Temptation of Christ')
- Shaking the Tree
- Secret World Live
- OVO - The Millennium show