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Music  >  Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel
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Peter Brian Gabriel (born February 13, 1950, in Chobham, Surrey, England) is an English musician. He first came to fame as the lead vocalist and flautist of the progressive rock group Genesis. After leaving Genesis, Gabriel went on to a successful solo career. More recently he has focused on producing and promoting world music and pioneering digital distribution methods for music. He has also been involved in various humanitarian efforts.

Gabriel founded Genesis in 1967 while a pupil at Charterhouse School with bandmates Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart. The name of the band was suggested by fellow Charterhouse School alumnus, the pop music impresario Jonathan King who produced their first album From Genesis to Revelation.

A lover of soul music, Gabriel was influenced by many different sources in his way of singing, mainly Nina Simone, Gary Brooker of Procol Harum and Cat Stevens. He also played the flute on Stevens' Mona Bone Jakon album in 1970.

Genesis quickly became one of the most talked-about bands in England and eventually Italy, Belgium, Germany 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. The concerts made extensive use of black light with the normal stage lighting subdued or off. A backdrop of fluorescing white sheets and a comparatively sparse stage made the band into a set of silhouettes, with Gabriel's fluorescent costume and makeup the only other sources of light.

Among Gabriel's many famous costumes (which he developed partly as way of overcoming his stage fright) were "The Flower" (worn for "Supper's Ready", from Foxtrot), "Magog" (also worn for "Supper's Ready", from Foxtrot), "Britannia" (worn for "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight", from Selling England by the Pound), "The Old Man" (worn for "The Musical Box", from Nursery Cryme), "Rael" (worn throughout most of the performance of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and "The Slipperman" (worn during "The Colony of Slippermen", also from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway).

Backing vocals in Genesis during Gabriel's tenure in the band were usually handled by bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist/guitarist Tony Banks, and (most prominently) drummer Phil Collins, who (after a long search for a replacement) eventually became Genesis's lead singer after Gabriel left the band in 1975.

Although he had already achieved critical, and some commercial, solo 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, highlights being the '60s-tinged pop and suggestiveness of "Sledgehammer" (a #1 smash in the US, knocking Genesis's Invisible Touch off of the top spot), "Big Time", the ballad "Don't Give Up" with Kate Bush about the devastation of unemployment, and the love song "In Your Eyes". "In Your Eyes" had a conspicuous inclusion in the 1989 film Say Anything... three years later. 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 R. Johnson, Aardman Animations, 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.

Gabriel played a prominent role in supporting Amnesty International at this time, appearing on the 1986 U.S. A Conspiracy of Hope Tour (where "Shock the Monkey"'s percussive echoing around stadiums was a highlight) and on the 1988 worldwide Human Rights Now! Tour.
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. For this work Gabriel received his first Grammy Award, in the category of Best New Age Performance. He also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture.

Following this, Gabriel recorded Us in 1992 (also co-produced with Daniel Lanois), an album in which he explored the pain of recent personal problems; his failed first marriage, his relationship with the film actress Rosanna Arquette and the growing distance between him and his first daughter.

Gabriel's introspection within the context of the album Us can be seen in the first single release "Digging in the Dirt", an extended metaphor which Gabriel uses to describe his process of trying to unearth the things inside of him that cause him trouble. Accompanied by a disturbing video featuring footage of Gabriel covered in worms, this song also made reference to the way media coverage seems to wallow in the foibles and mistakes of high visibility artists. Gabriel describes his struggle to get through to his daughter in "Come Talk To Me" which featured backing vocals by Sinéad O'Connor. O'Connor also lent vocals to "Blood of Eden" the third single to be released from the album. The result was one of his most personal albums, though one with less success than So, reaching #2 in the album chart on both sides of the Atlantic, and making modest chart impact with the singles "Digging in the Dirt" and the funkier "Steam" which evoked memories of "Sledgehammer" from six years before. He followed the release of the album with a hugely successful world tour which was filmed and released as the double CD and DVD Secret World Live in 1994.

Gabriel went on to win three more Grammy Awards, all in the genre of Music Videos. He won the Best Music Video - Short Form Grammy in 1992 and 1993 for the videos to "Digging in the Dirt" and "Steam" respectively. He then won the 1995 Grammy for Best Music Video - Long Form for his Secret World Live video.

After a substantial break spent pursuing other projects, Gabriel released OVO, a soundtrack for the live Millennium Dome Show in London in 2000, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. This soundtrack also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture.

In September 2002, he released Up, his first full-length album in a decade, which was entirely self-produced and returned to some of the less commercial, darker themes of his work in the late '70s and early '80s. The album also showed Gabriel's continued freedom from the typical requirements for airplay of songs: 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. Three singles failed to make an impression on the charts but the album sold well globally, proving Gabriel was still a major artist and viable commercial force after thirty years in the music business.

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 L. Shankar, Trent Reznor, Youssou N'Dour, Larry Fast, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sinéad O'Connor, Kate Bush, Paula Cole, John Giblin, Papa Wemba, Manu Katché, and Stewart Copeland.

Over the years, Gabriel has collaborated with singer Kate Bush several times; Bush provided backing vocals for Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and "No Self Control" in 1980, and female lead vocal for "Don't Give Up" (a Top 10 hit in the UK) 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 (Excellent Birds)" 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.

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.

Gabriel has also appeared on Robbie Robertson's self-titled album, singing on "Fallen Angel", co-wrote two Tom Robinson singles, and appeared on Joni Mitchell's 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, on the track "My Secret Place".


Peter Gabriel

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