Peter Hammill And The K Group Live At Rockpalast – Hamburg 1981 DVD review

Peter Hammill's full 1981 concert gets the seal of approval on DVD.

Peter Hammill And The K Group Live At Rockpalast – Hamburg 1981 DVD cover

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“Oh, Peter Hammill is great. A true original. I’ve just liked him for years. If you listen to him, his solo albums, I’m damn sure Bowie copied a lot out of that geezer. The credit he deserves just has not been given to him. I love all his stuff.”

Thus spake John Lydon in the Capitol Radio show of July 16, 1977, which sparked a new form of ruckus when Mr Rotten presented host Tommy Vance with favourite records that included Captain Beefheart, Can, Third Ear Band and two tracks from Peter Hammill’s 1975 solo album Nadir’s Big Chance.

A blinder of pastoral foreplay and hailstorm dynamics.

Now seen as an uncanny prediction of the upcoming punk phenomenon, Hammill had adopted the persona of Rikki Nadir as a shades-sporting, guitar-ravaging hoodlum playing what he described as “beefy punk songs”. After Lydon chose Nobody’s Business as being an unintentional “song about punks”, Hammill found himself a different sort of pioneer who, it transpired, had been the first British artist to use the P-word in liner notes. While Rotten’s seal of approval made Hammill immune from punk’s year zero assassins, it also gave him a fresh lease of life as he brandished his electric guitar on 1980’s A Black Box and 1981’s Sitting Targets.

Hammill formed the K Group to catch this energy live, all bearing aliases; Hammill was K, former Vibrators guitarist John Ellis was Fury, early VdGG bassist Nic Potter was Mozart and stalwart drummer Guy Evans was Brain. The band, which lasted about three years, was previously documented live on The Margin, recorded in 1983 and released two years later. But in 1981, Hammill and the boys played Germany’s esteemed Rockpalast show and, on this evidence, turned in a blinder of pastoral foreplay and hailstorm dynamics. Although the John McEnroe sweat-band and baggy trousers are strictly of their time, Hammill performs with manic intensity but disconcertingly introduces songs in his usual cheery fashion, presenting a programme that straddles A Black Box (including a 22-minute Flight), Sitting Targets and even revisits 1974’s The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage for a riveting Modern. VdGG are represented by The Sphinx In The Face from The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome and a cathartic closing solo take on My Room from Still Life.

Although much attention has recently been focused on Van der Graaf’s supposed final album, it’s a safe bet Hammill’s solo career will be raging for some time yet. Any new archive material is always welcome so it’s a proper treat to have
a whole concert from this crucial time in physical form.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!