Peter GabrielReleased 25th February, 1977
Having left Genesis the previous summer, Peter’s first solo album arrived in February 1977. He was 26. With legendary producer Bob Ezrin taking charge the intention was to make something more direct and tougher than what had come before.
“With the first album I’d just left Genesis and had been used to having roles defined, and so suddenly to find myself in a studio full of serious musicians (serious in terms of their ability and what they’d done and so on) was unnerving.
It took me three albums to get the confidence and to find out what I could do that made me different from other people. And the first record really was a process of trying …
I’d chosen Bob Ezrin to produce the album, after having met with many producers, and he was based in Toronto at the time. We were working in his studio there, and there was a selection of people that he’d recommended and some that I’d brought in. It was an interesting thing to see how it would work.
I really wanted the first record to be different from what I’d done with Genesis so we were trying to do things in different styles. A bit of barbershop, which Tony Levin helped with, there were more bluesy things, a variety of songs and arrangements that were consciously trying to provide something different than what I’d done before.
The sessions were in wintertime in Toronto and there was a lot of snow around. I had a bicycle and that was a good way to discover Toronto. It was so long ago that Tony Levin actually had hair, which is something very hard to believe now. He’s been bald for so many years, and of course, now I’m the same way myself, but looking back at the photos that was the most shocking thing.
The album cover was done with Hipgnosis who I’d worked with a little bit during the end of the Genesis period and Storm (Thorgerson) and Peter (Christopherson) particularly from there. I think that they are very important in the way that album sleeves have developed over the years. Storm had a very dry, laconic, sense of humour that made it a lot of fun to be around him. You ended up the butt of some of his jokes, but I always enjoyed working with him and it was actually his car that I was sitting in on the front cover. I liked the idea of the water and the black and white and the blue colour.
The picture was taken in Wandsworth, London in Storm Thorgerson’s car, a Lancia Flavia. It was sprayed with water from a hose and Peter sat in the passenger seat. Originally in black and white, the artwork was then hand-coloured and each droplet highlight patiently scraped clean with a scalpel by Richard Manning.
One idea I’d had for that first cover was to do mirrored contact lenses and it took me about a month to find someone who would manufacture mirrored contact lenses. Someone in America, I think in Boston, agreed to do it, but they made me sign something that if I damaged my eyes they wouldn’t take any responsibility – because they’d put a bit of mirror on the back of these hard lenses. They were very painful to wear, but the effect was fantastic; it was like having steel balls for eyes. I remember putting them on in an aeroplane at one point and scared quite a few people, which gave me a lot of pleasure at the time. But, eventually the mirror gradually eroded from the back of the lenses.
Another photo session around that time, which I enjoyed, was with Terry O’Neill who’s a really good photographer. I wanted to do this smoking underwater thing and he found a place in London which was this old seventies disco with coloured lights and a mini pool in the centre of it, which I’m sure they would fill with scantily dressed young ladies in a very Hefner seventies vibe. I went in this pool to get filmed and the lights had shorted and so I got quite a shock underwater as I was doing the filming, but that was quite fun that session.
The first time I went out on the road with another band, other than the one I’d grown up and been to school with, was also a very different experience. Some of the musicians were very much professional musicians and would be flying back to New York between dates to do early morning jingles. Others came from a similar background to myself and were more about the music than maximizing the income.
But it was a lot of fun and I remember we had this percussionist, Jimmy Maelen who sadly died, but he was always a great performer and used to have these two huge gongs at the back of his percussion kit and he would set them up very carefully before the show, and they would be up above so that he had to jump up to the top height he could reach before he could hit the centre of them. So it was always maximizing the drama.
The video for Modern Love was done with this director Peter Medak (I’d seen the film The Ruling Class which I really enjoyed, a great film with Peter O’Toole) and he did that with me in Shepherds Bush. They were just putting in this new shopping centre with moving escalators which seemed very ‘of the future’ at the time.
We did something with Solsbury Hill later, just messing around at Real World with a painter friend of mine Graham Dean. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have budget to do much in the way of video at that time.”
Bob Ezrin talking to CBC Radio in Canada in May 2019 about the making of the album:
So, then we got together in Toronto, I put together a band. We made this record here on Hazleton. I had a studio here by then [Hazleton Avenue is the address of Ezrin’s Nimbus Studios] which was really good and I was quite sure it would work well for him. I didn’t want to be away from my family any more than I had to and so I put together a band, which was like the Dirty Dozen; a bunch of people he had mostly never met before, including Tony Levin who has stayed with him all this time and Steve Hunter who played that guitar part [referencing Solsbury Hill]… and Jimmy Maelen and Allan Schwartzberg, a phenomenal drummer. He introduced me and Peter to Larry Fast who came and played synthesiser and Joey Chirowski who was in a band called Crowbar, who played piano, a local guy. And Peter said ‘can I have a Brit?’ And I said, oh ok, you can have one draft pick, who do you want? ‘Well, I’d like Fripp’, so I said can’t you get someone who’s decent? [laughs!] So we brought Fripp over to join the band.
This group of people… I like to say that miracles happen when you have a confluence of disparate, brilliant personalities. These were as different as you could get, everyone came from a different discipline and had a different background, but when they got together and started playing this stuff, which they did live in the studio, it was unbelievable, magical.