The stories of Peter Gabriel's solo albums, told by his collaborators

Peter Gabriel
(Image credit: Press)

Back in 2010, when Peter Gabriel released his covers collaboration Scratch My Back, we put the Progfather, as we dubbed him (much to his amusement), on the cover of Prog Magazine.

Part of the cover feature saw Sid Smith tracking down a load of people who'd worked with Gabriel on his solo albums (up to 2002's Up) to offer their thoughts on what it was like to work with the great man.

Up, of course, legendarily took Gabriel ten years to complete. We've been waiting 20 years for a follow-up. The Internet is rife with rumour about I/O, a working title for his new album, which is allegedly being recorded at the moment. Italian news magazine SPECCHIO reported that he was working on new material, and Gabriel posted pictures of himself with Tony Levin, David Rhodes and Manu Katche at Real World studios on his Instagram page.

For now though, enjoy a trawl through Peter's solo studio albums and soundtrack work...

Prog Magazine

(Image credit: Future)

Prog

PeterGabriel 1 (Car)

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Charisma)

Bob Ezrin (producer): If there’s anything that made me work with Peter Gabriel in the first place it was his natural sense of humility. Humility in the Christian sense of the word in that he is a humble guy. I was impressed that a person that brilliant can also hold himself on such a realistic level of esteem. All I know is that Peter played me Here Comes The Flood in my living room on our first meeting. 

I was in the middle of producing albums for both Kiss and Alice Cooper, working on tight deadlines. In the midst of all that I went to bed singing Here Comes The Flood instead of my own records! There’s not many songs I’ve heard fresh from the writer’s mouth that are that great.


Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch)

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Charisma)

Robert Fripp (Guitarist/Producer): Peter’s second album is a much subtler proposition that tells a lot on the production side. I think it is impossible to judge unless one has listened to it at least a dozen times. Peter was afraid of using me as a producer. He knew that my production would not be “commercial” and he was right. I was not guaranteeing any hit. 

What I wanted was to record him faithfully. I could have produced two or three cuts only and let Bob Ezrin do the others. So it was with some reserves on Peter’s commercial interests that I was chosen to produce the album.


Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt)

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Charisma)

Steve Lillywhite (Producer): I think a lot of people have quoted Peter’s third album as being a new departure in sound. I see Peter as a really important artist. He’s extremely talented, but he has to push himself. It doesn’t come easy, unlike Phil [Collins]. 

Things probably come easier to Phil than to anyone I’ve ever met. And things come more difficult to Peter than to anyone I’ve ever met. He will put off making a decision until the last possible moment, but that’s only because he doesn’t con himself into thinking he knows what he’s doing.


Peter Gabriel 4 (Security)

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Charisma)

David Lord (Co-producer): I like the way he really perseveres and struggles through things that you might not think would work. I could be sure he wouldn’t get a song out of this idea, sure that he was going round in circles and not getting anywhere – he always knew at the end of it he would. 

He doesn’t like being proved wrong, though he is not dogmatic. Most of the people I think are interesting musically would regard Peter as being influential, though I don’t know how much effect he has had on the mainstream hit parade stuff. 


Birdy

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Charisma)

Alan Parker (Director): We got on so well, he’s such a sweet man. It was such a refreshing change from working with megalomaniacs like Roger Waters. Peter’s record company were very difficult to begin with, and so I phoned them to ask if they’d mind if Peter took a little time to do this, and they said as long as it didn’t take more than a couple of months because Peter was already a year late or something. He had strong views and I would never be able to persuade him to do something he didn’t feel comfortable with, but we didn’t have any confrontation as such. 


So

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Charisma)

Tony Levin (Bassist): On Big Time I asked the drummer, Jerry Marotta, to play on the bass strings while I did the fingering – not a new idea, but what is! Then, live, I was attempting to play that part with a drum stick in my hand. One day at soundcheck, Peter looked at me and said: “why don’t you attach sticks to your fingers?”. What a great idea! I asked my tech, Andi Moore, to help devise a way to do it, and voila, Funk Fingers! Of course, the first sets broke the bass strings – some adjustments had to be made!


Passion

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Real World)

Martin Scorsese (Director): I began listening to Peter’s music back in 1982-83 and I especially liked Rhythm Of The Heat with its drums, and then I Go Swimming where the lyrics start quite ordinarily before taking off to reach a spiritual level, especially in the live version... I said I’d be interested in having him do the music [for The Last Temptation Of Christ] because, for me, the rhythms he uses reflect the primitive and his vocals reflect the sublime – it’s as if the spirit and the flesh are together right there... 

Of course, he had to do it as a labour of love because there was hardly any money in it. Normally, he says, it takes two years to do 40 minutes of music, and this was two hours and 40 minutes which he did in three months!


Us

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Real World)

Daniel Lanois (Producer): It’s true that Peter likes detail, but he also likes performance a lot. Having watched Peter for a long time now, I know that this is the aspect of recording that he enjoys the most: giving it hell and jamming it out with the band. His attention to detail generally goes into the area of sonic creativity. He likes to break new ground sonically and I encouraged him to spend time on that.


OVO

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Real World)

Peter Gabriel: With the music, I’m doing something that I’ve never done before – both looking back towards a whole range of folk references and then looking forward to the future, bringing in industrial elements. So from my perspective I’m pushing into areas I haven’t explored, which I’m really enjoying. 

I have really enjoyed working with the singers, all of whom have added a lot to the music. Elizabeth Fraser, Paul Buchanan, Alison Goldfrapp, Larla O’ Lionaird and Richie Havens are some of my long-time favourite voices and I was delighted that they were willing to take a part. Their performances covered a real range of emotions that brought the OVO family to life.

Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit Proof Fence

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Real World)

David Noyce (Director): I think that Peter’s major contribution to the film Rabbit Proof Fence was not only to underscore the drama that is the traditional function of a film composer, but he also gave the film a poetry. Peter was largely responsible for allowing the audience to really participate in the emotions that were at play in the story. 

What he said to me at first was: "I want to do a score that comes out of the earth. I want to do a score that expresses the Aboriginal ’one-ness’ with their land." He said that he wanted me to provide him with all the real sounds that would be used in the effects and atmosphere track of the film – birds, insects, winds, rain, water, all sorts of animal sounds. Peter then sampled, programmed and synthesised these sounds, and made them part of his score.

Up

Peter Gabriel

(Image credit: Real World)

Richard Chappell (Engineer): I think Peter invited Tchad Blake because he was producing himself and wanted to have a fresh pair of ears towards the end of the project to keep things under control. Tchad is very strong-willed and having someone like him around is a good discipline. We tried out a few songs with him, and Peter liked the results, so we kept going. 

Tchad is a genius with what he can do sonically... Peter would be in here recording things with me for the same song that Tchad was mixing, and we’d walk towards the main building to add these things to the mix. Tchad would either agree or disagree, and they’d have to figure out between them what was going to be used.

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.