(Read all about Peter Gabriel after the video)
Peter Brian Gabriel (born 13 February 1950) is an English singer-songwriter, record producer and humanitarian who rose to fame as the original lead singer and flautist of the progressive rock band Genesis. After leaving Genesis in 1975, Gabriel launched a solo career with "Solsbury Hill" as his first single. His 1986 album, So, is his best-selling release and is certified triple platinum in the UK and five times platinum in the U.S. The album's most successful single, "Sledgehammer", won a record nine MTV Awards at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards and remains the most played music video in the history of MTV.
Gabriel has been a champion of world music for much of his career. He co-founded the WOMAD festival in 1982. He has continued to focus on producing and promoting world music through his Real World Records label. He has also pioneered digital distribution methods for music, co-founding OD2, one of the first online music download services. Gabriel has also been involved in numerous humanitarian efforts. In 1980, he released the anti-apartheid single "Biko". He has participated in several human rights benefit concerts, including Amnesty International's Human Rights Now! tour in 1988, and co-founded the Witness human rights organisation in 1992. Gabriel developed The Elders with Richard Branson, which was launched by Nelson Mandela in 2007.
Gabriel has won three Brit Awards—winning Best British Male in 1987, six Grammy Awards, thirteen MTV Video Music Awards, the first Pioneer Award at the BT Digital Music Awards, the Q magazine Lifetime Achievement, the Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Polar Music Prize. He was made a BMI Icon at the 57th annual BMI London Awards for his "influence on generations of music makers".
In recognition of his many years of human rights activism, he received the Man of Peace award from the Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. AllMusic has described Gabriel as "one of rock's most ambitious, innovative musicians, as well as one of its most political". He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010, followed by his induction as a solo artist in 2014. In March 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of South Australia in recognition of his achievements in music.
Peter Brian Gabriel was born in Chobham, Surrey. His father, Ralph Parton Gabriel (1912–2012), was an electrical engineer, and his mother, Edith Irene (née Allen), who was from a musical family, taught him to play the piano at an early age. His great-great-great-uncle, Sir Thomas Gabriel, 1st Baronet, served as Lord Mayor of London from 1866 to 1877. Gabriel attended Cable House, a private primary school in Woking; St. Andrews Prep School in Horsell; and Charterhouse School in Godalming from 1963. He played drums in his first rock bands, and Mike Rutherford commented in 1985 that "Pete was—and still is, I think—a frustrated drummer".
Gabriel founded Genesis in 1967 with fellow Charterhouse School pupils Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, and drummer Chris Stewart. The name of the band was suggested by fellow Charterhouse alumnus, the pop music impresario Jonathan King, who produced their first album, From Genesis to Revelation.
Gabriel has said to be influenced by many different sources in his way of singing, such as Family lead singer Roger Chapman and theatrical singer Arthur Brown. In 1970, he played the flute on the Cat Stevens album, Mona Bone Jakon.
Genesis drew some attention in Britain and eventually also in Italy, Belgium, Germany, and other European countries, largely due to Gabriel's flamboyant stage presence, which involved numerous bizarre costume changes and comical, dreamlike stories told as the introduction to each song (originally Gabriel developed these stories solely to cover the time between songs that the rest of the band would take tuning their instruments and fixing technical glitches). The concerts made extensive use of black light with the normal stage lighting subdued or off. A backdrop of fluorescent white sheets and a comparatively sparse stage made the band into a set of silhouettes, with Gabriel's fluorescent costume and make-up providing the only other sources of light.
Early Genesis concerts were hampered by a bad public address system that made it difficult for audiences to understand what Gabriel was singing. According to Mike Rutherford, this drove Gabriel to find other ways to impress his personality on the audience, leading to his performing in various costumes.
In an episode of the 2007 British documentary series Seven Ages of Rock, Steve Hackett recalled the first appearance of Gabriel "in costume". It was the dress-wearing, fox-headed entity immortalised on the cover of Foxtrot. Hackett and the rest of the band had no inkling that Gabriel was going to do this, and at the time Hackett worried that it would ruin the performance. It was a success, encouraging Gabriel to continue wearing stage clothes while singing.
Among Gabriel's many famous costumes, which he developed to visualise the musical ideas of the band as well as to gain press coverage, were "Batwings" for the band's usual opening number, "Watcher of the Skies". Other costumes included "The Flower" and "Magog", which were both alternately worn for "Supper's Ready" from the album Foxtrot. "Britannia" was worn for "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", and "The Reverend" for "The Battle of Epping Forest" (both from Selling England by the Pound). "The Old Man" was worn for "The Musical Box" from Nursery Cryme. "The Slipperman" and "Rael" were worn during "The Colony of Slippermen", in which "Rael" was the protagonist of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Gabriel's departure from Genesis on 15 August 1975—which stunned fans of the group and left many commentators wondering if the band could survive—was the result of several factors. His stature as the lead singer of the band and the added attention garnered by his flamboyant stage persona led to tensions within the band. Genesis had always operated more or less as a collective, and Gabriel's burgeoning public profile led to fears within the group that he was being unfairly singled out as the creative hub. The band also began to feel confined by the reputation (and fans' expectations) attached to their famously elaborate theatrical performances, believing that the visual element of their performances was receiving more attention than their music.
Tensions were heightened by the ambitious album and tour of the concept work The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a Gabriel-created concept piece that saw him taking on the lion's share of the lyric writing. During the writing and recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Gabriel was approached by director William Friedkin, allegedly because Friedkin had found Gabriel's short story in the liner notes to Genesis Live interesting. Gabriel left Genesis to pursue a film project with Friedkin, only to rejoin a week later. The decision to quit the band was made before the tour supporting The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, with Gabriel explaining his decision to the band while keeping it from the press until the conclusion of that tour. Bassist Mike Rutherford recalled that they all "could see it coming". Although tensions were high, both Gabriel and the remaining members of Genesis have stated publicly that Gabriel left the band on good terms.
The breaking point came with the difficult pregnancy of Gabriel's wife, Jill, and the subsequent birth of their first child, Anna-Marie. When he opted to stay with his sick daughter and wife, rather than record and tour, the resentment from the rest of the band led Gabriel to conclude that he had to leave the group. "Solsbury Hill", Gabriel's debut single as a solo artist, recorded in 1976 and appearing on the "Car" album in 1977, was written specifically about his departure from Genesis. The song reached the Top 20 in the UK Singles Chart, and also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978, reaching No. 68. In 1982, Gabriel reunited with his former Genesis colleagues for the one-off concert Six of the Best, to recoup debts that arose from his involvement in the staging of the first WOMAD concert.
Gabriel did not title his first four solo albums, which were all labelled Peter Gabriel using the same typeface, but which featured different cover designs (by Hipgnosis); in all of these designs, Gabriel's face is wholly or partially obscured in some way. The albums are usually differentiated by number in order of release (I, II, III, IV), or by sleeve design, with the first three solo albums often referred to as Car, Scratch, and Melt respectively, in reference to their cover artwork. His fourth solo album, also called Peter Gabriel, was titled Security in the U.S. at the behest of Geffen Records. For many years, Gabriel was managed by Gail Colson.
After acquiescing to distinctive titles, Gabriel used a series of two-letter words to title his next three albums: So, Us, and Up. His most recent greatest hits compilation is titled Hit; within the two-CD package, disc one is labelled "Hit" and disc two is labelled "Miss", an echo of the 1996 compilations by Joni Mitchell entitled Hits and Misses.
1976–1985: Peter Gabriel albums
Gabriel recorded his first self-titled solo album in 1976 and 1977 with producer Bob Ezrin. His first solo success came with the single "Solsbury Hill", an autobiographical piece about a personal spiritual experience on top of the Iron Age hill fort, Solsbury Hill, in Somerset, England. Gabriel has said of the song's meaning, "It's about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get ... It's about letting go." Although mainly happy with the music, Gabriel felt that the album, and especially the track "Here Comes the Flood" was over-produced. Sparser versions can be heard on Robert Fripp's Exposure, and on Gabriel's greatest hits compilation Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats (1990).
Gabriel worked with guitarist Fripp as producer of his second solo LP, in 1978. This album was leaner, darker and more experimental, and yielded decent reviews, but no major hits.
Gabriel developed a new interest in world music (especially percussion), and for bold production, which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects. His third album is often credited as the first LP to use the now-famous "gated drum" sound. Phil Collins played drums on several tracks, including the opener, "Intruder", which featured the gated reverbed, cymbal-less drum kit sound which Collins would also use on his single "In the Air Tonight", becoming his signature sound in the 1980s. Gabriel had requested that his drummers use no cymbals in the album's sessions, and when he heard the result he asked Collins to play a simple pattern for several minutes, then built "Intruder" around it. The album achieved some chart success with the songs "Games Without Frontiers" (No. 4 UK, No. 48 U.S.), and "Biko".
Arduous and occasionally damp recording sessions at his rural English estate in 1981 and 1982 resulted in Gabriel's fourth LP release, on which Gabriel took more production responsibility. It was one of the first commercial albums recorded entirely to digital tape (using a Sony mobile truck) and featured the early, extremely expensive, Fairlight CMI sampling computer, which had already made its first brief appearances on the previous album. Gabriel combined a variety of sampled and deconstructed sounds with world-beat percussion and other unusual instrumentation to create a radically new, emotionally charged soundscape. The sleeve art consisted of inscrutable, video-based imagery. Despite the album's peculiar sound, odd appearance, and often disturbing themes, it sold very well. This album featured his first Top 40 hit in the U.S., "Shock the Monkey", as well as the song "I Have the Touch". The music video for "Shock the Monkey", which featured Gabriel in white face paint and a caged macaque, received heavy play on MTV. Geffen Records gave his fourth self-titled album a name in the U.S., Security, to mark his arrival on the label and to differentiate the album from the first three.
Alternate versions of Gabriel's third and fourth albums were also released with German lyrics. The third album consisted of the studio recording overdubbed with new vocals, while the fourth album was also remixed and several tracks were extended or altered in slight ways.
Gabriel toured extensively for each of his albums. Initially, he pointedly eschewed the theatrics that had defined his tenure with Genesis. For his second solo tour, his entire band shaved their heads. By the time of the fourth album, he began involving elaborate stage props and acrobatics which had him suspended from gantries, distorting his face with Fresnel lenses and mirrors, and wearing unusual make-up. Recordings of the 1982 tour supporting his fourth Peter Gabriel album were released as the double LP Plays Live. Some of the dates of his 1983 summer tour of the U.S. and Canada included a section opening for David Bowie.
The stage was set for Gabriel's critical and commercial break-out with his next studio release, which was in production for almost three years. During the recording and production of the album, he also developed the film soundtrack for Alan Parker's 1984 feature Birdy, which consisted of new material as well as remixed instrumental tracks from his previous studio album.
1985–2000: So, Passion, Us, and hiatus
In 1985, Gabriel recorded his fifth studio album So. Released in 1986, Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from So; the album charted at No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. It is certified triple platinum in the UK, and five times platinum in the U.S. The album produced three UK Top 20 hits, "Sledgehammer", "Big Time", and "Don't Give Up" – a duet with Kate Bush. The album also produced three Top 40 hits in the U.S., "Sledgehammer", "In Your Eyes" (featured in the John Cusack film Say Anything), and "Big Time". "Sledgehammer" peaked at No. 1 in the United States, knocking Genesis' "Invisible Touch" off the top spot, and No. 4 in the UK. The ballad "Don't Give Up" was about the devastation of unemployment. Gabriel co-produced So with Daniel Lanois, also known for his work with U2 and Brian Eno. In 1990, Rolling Stone ranked So number No. 14 on its list of "Top 100 Albums of the Eighties".
"Sledgehammer," which dealt specifically with the themes of sex and sexual relations through lyrical innuendos, was accompanied by a much-lauded music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen R. Johnson, Aardman Animations, and the Brothers Quay. The video set a new standard for art in the music video industry and won nine MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, a record which still stands as of 2015. "Sledgehammer" is the most played music video in the history of MTV, and in 1998, it was named the station's number one animated video of all time. A follow-up video for the song "Big Time" also broke new ground in music video animation and special effects. The song is a story of "what happens to you when you become a little too successful", in Gabriel's words. The success of the album earned Peter Gabriel two awards at the Brit Awards in 1987: Best British Male Solo Artist and Best British Video for "Sledgehammer". Gabriel was also nominated for four Grammy Awards: Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, Record of the Year (all three for "Sledgehammer"), and Album of the Year for So.
In 1989, Gabriel released Passion, the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ. For this work, he received his first Grammy Award, in the category of Best New Age Performance. He also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture. The video that accompanied the album, ZAAR, was done by Stefan Roloff in his pioneering Moving Painting technique.
Gabriel released Us in 1992 (also co-produced with Lanois), an album in which he explored the pain of recent personal problems; his failed first marriage, and the growing distance between him and his first daughter.
Gabriel's introspection within the context of the album Us can be seen in the first single release "Digging in the Dirt" directed by John Downer. Accompanied by a disturbing video featuring Gabriel covered in snails and various foliage, this song made reference to the psychotherapy which had taken up much of Gabriel's time since the previous album. Gabriel describes his struggle to get through to his daughter in "Come Talk To Me" directed by Matt Mahurin, which featured backing vocals by Sinéad O'Connor. O'Connor also lent vocals to "Blood of Eden", directed by Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson, the third single to be released from the album, and once again dealing with relationship struggles, this time going right back to Adam's rib for inspiration. The result was one of Gabriel's most personal albums. It met with less success than So, reaching No. 2 in the album chart on both sides of the Atlantic, and making modest chart impact with the singles "Digging in the Dirt" and the funkier "Steam", which evoked memories of "Sledgehammer". Gabriel followed the release of the album with a world tour (with Paula Cole or Joy Askew filling O'Connor's vocal role) and accompanying double CD and DVD Secret World Live in 1994.
Gabriel employed an innovative approach in the marketing of the Us album. Not wishing to feature only images of himself, he asked artist filmmakers Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson to co-ordinate a marketing campaign using contemporary artists. Artists such as Helen Chadwick, Rebecca Horn, Nils-Udo, Andy Goldsworthy, David Mach and Yayoi Kusama collaborated to create original artworks for each of the 11 songs on the multi-million-selling CD. Coulson and Bruce documented the process on Hi-8 video. Bruce left Real World and Coulson continued with the campaign, using the documentary background material as the basis for a promotional EPK, the long-form video All About Us and the interactive CD-ROM Xplora1.
Gabriel won three more Grammy Awards, all in the Music Video category. He won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 1993 and 1994 for the videos to "Digging in the Dirt" and "Steam" respectively. Gabriel also won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video for his Secret World Live video.
2000–present: OVO, Up, Scratch My Back and New Blood
Following a five-year hiatus, Gabriel re-emerged with OVO, a soundtrack for the live Millennium Dome Show in London in 2000, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. This soundtrack also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture.
In September 2002, Gabriel released Up, his first full-length studio album in a decade. Entirely self-produced, Up returned to some of the themes of his work in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Only one of the three singles managed to crack the top 50—in part because almost every track exceeded six minutes in length, with multiple sections—but the album sold well globally, as Gabriel continued to draw from a loyal fan base from his almost four decades in the music business. Up was followed by a world tour featuring his daughter Melanie Gabriel on backing vocals, and two concert DVDs, Growing Up Live (2003) and Still Growing Up: Live & Unwrapped (2004).
In 2008, Gabriel contributed to the WALL-E soundtrack several new songs with Thomas Newman, including the film's closing song, "Down to Earth", for which they received the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The song was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and a Academy Award for Best Original Song.
In 2010, Gabriel released Scratch My Back. The album is composed entirely of cover songs including material written by such artists as David Bowie, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Regina Spektor, and Neil Young. The concept for the record was that Gabriel covered songs by various artists, and those artists, in turn, covered Gabriel songs released on a follow-up album called And I'll Scratch Yours. Scratch My Back features only orchestral instrumentation; there were no guitars, drums, or electronic elements that are usual attributes of Gabriel records. A brief tour followed the album's release where Gabriel performed with a full orchestra and two female backup singers, his daughter Melanie Gabriel and Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun.
On 11 October 2011, Gabriel released New Blood, a collection of his earlier songs recorded with an orchestra. A special edition of the album features solely instrumental versions of some of the songs.
In Autumn 2012, Gabriel embarked on the Back to Front Tour in which he performed the entire So album with a band composed of the musicians who originally played on the record, to mark its 25th anniversary. Following this tour, Gabriel took a sabbatical to spend time with his family. Early 2014 saw another Back to Front tour in Europe.
On 16 June 2016, Peter Gabriel released the single "I'm Amazing". The song was written several years prior, in part as a tribute to Muhammad Ali. As such, the single was released two weeks after Ali's death 3 June.
On 21 June 2016, Peter Gabriel embarked on a joint tour with Sting entitled Rock Paper Scissors. Each of the two musicians sang not only his own songs but also the songs by the other.
Musicians and collaborators as a solo artist
Gabriel has worked with a relatively stable crew of musicians and recording engineers throughout his solo career. Bass and Stick player Tony Levin performed on every Gabriel studio album and every live tour except for Scratch My Back, the soundtracks Passion and Long Walk Home, and the New Blood Tour. Guitar player David Rhodes has been Gabriel's guitarist of choice since 1979. Prior to So, Jerry Marotta was Gabriel's preferred drummer, both in the studio and on the road. (For the So and Us albums and tours Marotta was replaced by Manu Katché, who was then replaced by Ged Lynch on parts of the Up album and all of the subsequent tour). Gabriel is known for choosing top-flight collaborators, from co-producers such as Ezrin, Fripp, Lillywhite, and Lanois to musicians such as Natalie Merchant, Elizabeth Fraser, L. Shankar, Trent Reznor, Youssou N'Dour, Larry Fast, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sinéad O'Connor, Kate Bush, Ane Brun, Paula Cole, John Giblin, Peter Hammill, Papa Wemba, Manu Katché, Bayete, Milton Nascimento, Phil Collins, Stewart Copeland and OneRepublic.
Over the years, Gabriel has collaborated with singer Kate Bush several times; Bush provided backing vocals for Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and "No Self Control" in 1980, and female lead vocal for "Don't Give Up" (a Top 10 hit in the UK) in 1986, and Gabriel appeared on her television special. Their duet of Roy Harper's "Another Day" was discussed for release as a single, but never appeared.
He also collaborated with Laurie Anderson on two versions of her composition "Excellent Birds" – one for her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak, and a slightly different version called "This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)", which appeared on cassette and CD versions of So. In 1987, when presenting Gabriel with an award for his music videos, Anderson related an occasion in which a recording session had gone late into the night and Gabriel's voice had begun to sound somewhat strange, almost dreamlike. It was discovered that he had fallen asleep in front of the microphone, but had continued to sing.
Gabriel sang (along with Jim Kerr of Simple Minds) on "Everywhere I Go", from The Call's 1986 release, Reconciled. On Toni Childs' 1994 CD, The Woman's Boat, Gabriel sang on the track, "I Met a Man".
In 1998, Gabriel appeared on the soundtrack of Babe: Pig in the City as the singer of the song "That'll Do", written by Randy Newman. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, and Gabriel and Newman performed it at the following year's Oscar telecast. He performed a similar soundtrack appearance for the 2004 film Shall We Dance?, singing a cover version of "The Book of Love" by The Magnetic Fields.
Gabriel appeared on Robbie Robertson's self-titled album, singing on "Fallen Angel"; co-wrote two Tom Robinson singles; and appeared on Joni Mitchell's 1988 album Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, on the track "My Secret Place".
In 2001, Gabriel contributed lead vocals to the song "When You're Falling" on Afro Celt Sound System's Volume 3: Further in Time. In the summer of 2003, Gabriel performed in Ohio with a guest performance by Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan.
Gabriel collaborated on tracks with electronic musician BT, who also worked on the OVO soundtrack with him. The tracks were never released, as the computers, they were contained on were stolen from BT's home in California. He also sang the lyrics for Deep Forest on their theme song for the movie Strange Days. In addition, Gabriel has appeared on Angelique Kidjo's 2007 album Djin Djin, singing on the song "Salala".
Gabriel has recorded a cover of the Vampire Weekend single "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" with Hot Chip, where his name is mentioned several times in the chorus. He substitutes the original line "But this feels so unnatural / Peter Gabriel too / This feels so unnatural/ Peter Gabriel too" with "It feels so unnatural / Peter Gabriel too / and it feels so unnatural / to sing your own name."
Gabriel has two daughters with his first wife, Jill Moore: Anna-Marie (born 26 July 1974) and Melanie (born 23 August 1976). He was married to Moore from 17 March 1971 until their divorce in 1987. Moore's father was Lord Moore of Wolvercote. Anna-Marie is a filmmaker who filmed and directed Gabriel's Growing Up on Tour: A Family Portrait and Still Growing Up: Live & Unwrapped DVDs and Melanie is a musician who has been a backing vocalist in her father's band since 2002. Gabriel has two sons with his second wife, Meabh Flynn: Isaac Ralph (born 27 September 2001) and Luc (born 5 July 2008). Gabriel and Flynn have been married since 9 June 2002.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gabriel lived with actress Rosanna Arquette. He has resided in Wiltshire for many years; he runs Real World Studios from Box, Wiltshire. He previously lived in the Woolley Valley near Bath, Somerset. In 2010, he joined a campaign to stop an agricultural development at the valley, which had also inspired his first solo single, "Solsbury Hill", in 1977.