Peter Hammill Biography

5 November 1948, Ealing, London, England. In 1967, singer-songwriter and guitarist Hammill formed Van Der Graaf Generator in Manchester, England, with university friends Nick Peame (keyboards) and Chris Judge Smith (drums). The band collapsed without making any recordings, but in 1968 it was re-formed with Hammill joined by Keith Ellis (bass), Guy Evans (drums) and Hugh Banton (keyboards). Hammill had intended to release a solo album, but the new Van Der Graaf Generator seized on his material, the result being the celebrated The Aerosol Grey Machine. The band always enjoyed greater success in Europe than in the UK, and broke up for a third and more permanent time in 1978.

Van Der Graaf Generator’s dissolution gave Hammill the opportunity to continue with the limited success he had already found in his solo career, which he now pursued again. He has maintained a prolific output ever since, counting contemporary artists such as Peter Gabriel, Nick Cave, Marc Almond, David Bowie, Mark E. Smith (the Fall) and John Lydon among his many admirers. It is the quality rather than the quantity of his work that ensures that more mainstream artists return to him for inspiration again and again. The various stages of his work have been analogized as progressive rock (Van Der Graaf Generator), lo-fi pre-punk (his 70s albums, particularly Nadir’s Big Chance) and the search for the perfect exposition of the love song (much of his subsequent output). Despite writing pieces for ballets and undertaking an opera version of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’, he has never fully escaped the legacy of Van Der Graaf Generator. He has described this hindrance as a ‘monkey on my back’, which militates against his subsequent artistic divergence. Nevertheless, Hammill has achieved a commendable level of autonomy in his work, owning his own studio and record label (Fie!). For all his previous protestations about Van Der Graaf Generator, Hammill reunited with his former colleagues in 2004 to record a new studio album. The reunion took place after Hammill had suffered a near-fatal heart attack the previous December.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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