Playing For Time

Released 7th March, 2023

Playing For Time is the third song from the forthcoming album i/o, released  to coincide with the full moon in March 2023.

The track is accompanied by a cover image featuring the work of visual artist Annette Messager.

Witten and produced by Peter Gabriel, Playing For Time was recorded at Real World Studios in Wiltshire and The Beehive in London, and features Tom Cawley on piano. The orchestral arrangement, by Ed Shearmur, was recorded at British Grove Studios in London with a number of players who previously featured in the New Blood Orchestra.

‘Playing For Time is a song that I have been working on for a long time and have performed live, without lyrics, so some people may be familiar with it. It’s been an important song for me. It’s about time, mortality and memories and the idea that each of us has a planet full of memories which get stashed inside the brain.

It is more of a personal song about how you assemble memories and whether we are prisoners of time or whether that is something that can actually free us. I do think it’s good to push yourself towards more bold or interesting experiences because then you will have richer memories to feed you when you get to my age. You also get taught by every meaningful experience that you go through.’

The presence of Tom Cawley on piano and Ed Shearmur’s arrangement, provide nice touch-points with Gabriel’s previous work. Cawley, having played piano on the New Blood Tour, was an obvious choice, ‘even though I performed and played piano live quite a lot I felt that this was something that I could get a real piano player in for and Tom Cawley is a brilliant musician.’ The connection to Ed Shearmur goes even further back;

‘I thought back to That’ll Do, the Randy Newman song that I sang, and Ed Shearmur had done a beautiful arrangement on that and I thought that maybe that sort of thing would really suit this song well, so we managed to track Ed down again. When I first heard the demos it brought a tear to the eye because I felt so much emotion in it, particularly at the end. That was definitely what I wanted to try and do with this song, to give that emotional journey. It means a lot to me.’

Gabriel’s thoughts about time were, in part, influenced by the work of the Long Now Foundation, and Danny Hillis’s extraordinary invention, The 10,000 Year Clock, which is an idea designed to try and encourage us to think long-term. ‘I’m sure that if we have a chance of surviving the existential problems that we now face we have to start thinking much bigger and longer to make some real headway. So, I think what they do is enormously valuable and there are some amazing talks on their website, so for those that want a deep dive into the role of time and long-term thinking, the Long Now Foundation is a wonderful place to start.’

Just like the two previous full moon releases, Playing For Time will come with differing mix approaches from Tchad Blake (Dark-Side Mix), Mark ‘Spike’ Stent (Bright-Side Mix) and Hans-Martin Buff’s Atmos In-Side Mix. The Dark-Side Mix was released on 7 March and the other mixes released on 21 March.

The artwork that accompanies this month’s release is by visual artist Annette Messager, whose work Gabriel has long been an admirer of.

I’d seen the work of Annette Messager, who is a wonderful artist, many years ago and nearly got her involved in the Art from Us project, but this time I thought she’d be exactly the right person to ask to do something for this song.

Annette has been a real pioneering sculptor and, if you look at the breadth of her work, you’ll find that she has influenced quite a few younger artists working today. It’s wonderful that she wanted to get involved. I strongly recommend you check out her work, it is full of life, even though a lot of it has death and memory at its heart

Annette Messager –
Long Now Foundation –


Words and Music by Peter Gabriel
Engineering by Oli Jacobs and Katie May
Additional engineering by Faye Dolle
Assistant engineering by Faye Dolle, Dom Shaw
Orchestral engineering by Lewis Jones
Orchestral assistant engineering by Tom Coath, Luie Stylianou
Pre-production engineering by Richard Chappell
Produced by Peter Gabriel
Mixed by Tchad Blake
Mastered by Matt Colton at Metropolis
Recorded at Real World Studios, Bath, The Beehive, London and British Grove, London.
Cover image: Mes voeux (avec nos cheveux) by Annette Messager

Drums: Manu Katché
Bass: Tony Levin
Piano: Tom Cawley
Synths: Peter Gabriel, Oli Jacobs
BVs: Peter Gabriel
LVs: Peter Gabriel

Orchestral Arrangement by Ed Shearmur
Violins: Everton Nelson, Ian Humphries, Louisa Fuller, Charles Mutter, Cathy Thompson, Natalia Bonner, Richard George, Marianne Haynes, Martin Burgess, Clare Hayes, Debbie Widdup, Odile Ollagnon
Violas: Bruce White, Fiona Bonds, Peter Lale, Rachel Roberts
Cellos: Ian Burdge, Chris Worsey, Caroline Dale, William Schofield, Tony Woollard, Chris Allan
French Horn: David Pyatt, Richard Bissil
Tenor Trombone/Euphonium: Andy Wood
Tenor Trombone: Tracy Holloway
Bass Trombone: Richard Henry
Tuba: David Powell
Orchestra Conductor: John Metcalfe
Orchestra Leader: Everton Nelson
Sheet Music Supervisor: Dave Foster
Orchestra Contractor: Lucy Whalley and Susie Gillis for Isobel Griffiths Ltd