Interview with Peter Hammill for Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page by Sergey Petrushanko and Mikayel Abazyan, 28 June 2010

Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page

Russian version is here.

Sergey Petrushanko: Dear Mr. Peter Hammill. First of all, thank you very much that you agree to give us the interview for Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page. Many of your Russian fans visiting my site would like to say you many thanks for your music, lyrics and, especially, your concerts in Russia. Since 1995 eleven concerts not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but from Kaliningrad to Siberia, both as solo and with Van der Graaf Generator. That's really great!

In January 2010 you were talking with David Baird and Dutch Progressive Rock Page published the interview in the web. Having read that, Mikayel Abazyan and I realized that this is probably one of the most successful and valuable interviews during the last couple of years. We think that it will be extremely good if Russian-speaking people could have got to it too. So, Mikayel has translated it into Russian, and I put this to on the site.

In DPRP interview among other topics you talked about pirate industry, copyright laws in Russia and sites. Let me here add a little bit on how is that seen from the inside.

From the beginning of the 90-s year's piracy has occupied almost all of the ex-USSR territory. The reasons here were not only that there was no law dealing with copyright in Russia. The real income of the most part of the people was so small that 15$ for 1 cd was _really_ very big money. For example, in 1995 (when I was a student and just started with Van der Graaf Generator music) for this money I could live for 1-2 weeks. Many of your fans had to buy pirate cds in 90-s just to be able to listen to the music. Of course, we know that this is bad etc. etc, but it was very crazy post-Soviet reality of 90-s. I can't say that all pirates of 90-s were "black" guys, some of them did "white" job in fact, spreading good music around (including Van der Graaf Generator)... Of course, I don't want to justify them, but this is just the statement of fact.

In 2000-s the situation with piracy in Russia became not so bad as before. Now we have some laws dealing with copyright protection (they don't work very well but at least that is what we have now), "gangster"-like time of 90-s is over. More important thing is that people's income rate now allows buying official copies. But then the sites like have started to do their dirty jobs. From my point of view, this new pirates have done "absolute evil". They have sent me (as the creator of Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page) many e-mails, asking to put the links to their sites and saying "we are working on territory of legal law". Of course, I always answered to them that I don't work with pirates etc., but they were very persistent. So I had to use bad language for them and they stopped bombarding me by e-mails.

I am happy that the sites like this are closed now. Please, don't be so upset with Russians.

Sorry for the long beginning. I hope you can comment on this somehow.

Peter Hammill: i certainly can and am glad to. obviously one of the privileges of having been to (the various) russia(s) a number of times is that i've been given an insight into how things were/are/will be. so iam, of course, quite aware of what you write above.

my first intimation of how different things are was, years ago, when it was explained to me that official album releases had to be priced at only 1% more than bootlegs in order for things to work. i had (and have - similar difficulties still arise in poland for example) no problems with this.

in general my problems are with how idiotic the "west" countries are in their attitudes. they don't realise, in fact, that a lot of the lawlessness has actually been exported (along with the oil, gas, aluminium wealth) out of russia *here*. andf they have no concept of russian suffering, so to speak, which has both underpinned the excesses of ruling regimes forever and yet is still the provider of the essential russian spirit of endurance....

in short, a lot of people in the west are idiots when it comes to dealing with a russia which is already here and playing by entirely different (for here) rules. for you, as you've effectively said, the rules have always remained the same....

anyway, when i speak to a journalist in belgium about, say, i'm trying to wake up a public who think "oh, the copyright's paid in russia, so it must be alright". idiots! and a russian would well and immediately understand the nature of the international piracy immediately.

sorry, i could bang on about this. i just mean to say i am not upset with the vast majority of russians. but there are bastards everywhere!

Sergey Petrushanko: What is the current status of the new Van der Graaf Generator recording? Are you going to play the concerts this year?

Peter Hammill: we're doing the overdubs now, mixing to follow soon, then we'll see what we have. i don't think there'll be any vdgg shows before november at the earliest

Sergey Petrushanko: When are you going to start to work on your next solo album, if such is at hand? If yes - should it continue the dramatic and sad line of the Singularity and Thin Air, or we can hope for a more optimistic one?

Peter Hammill: soon, i guess.

and until i start i simply don't know what kind of record it'll be

Sergey Petrushanko: You visited Russia so many times since 1995. Do you enjoy playing in our country? Is there any significant difference between the Russian audience and those in another countries?

Peter Hammill: yes, i do enjoy playing in russia and it's less of a struggle to do so than it used to be., at times ;-).

well, the audience is russian, so there's a lot of history both in terms of my connection with the audience, the audience's with me and, of course, just plain history.

at this point i'd like to express the opinion, as an englishman that russia is, indeed, an riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. and i mean that in a good way!

Sergey Petrushanko: In your youth what musicians or groups were the most important for formation of your musical interests?

Peter Hammill: beatles, who, kinks, animals.

joh lee hooker, howling wolf.

that's what comes to mind right now

Sergey Petrushanko: What kind of books do you read?

Peter Hammill: modern novels, mostly. english, mostly.

a fair bit of crime stuff too.

Sergey Petrushanko: What is your favorite classical composer?

Peter Hammill: messaien i guess.

bach. mozart too obviously....

well, quite a lot of guys....

Sergey Petrushanko: You often use non-English words in your songs (French, Greek, Japanese...). Is there any chance to hear also Russian ones?

Peter Hammill: as i don't speak russian i wouldn't have the presumption to do so

Sergey Petrushanko: Is it difficult to be a father of three daughters? Did you ever want to have a son?

Peter Hammill: i've always been very, very happy to have the children i've been blessed with and have never had hankerings to change that!

Sergey Petrushanko: I need to thank you for "Interference Patterns" song from "Trisector". In my Russian review to the album I call this song "hymn for physics and physicists". This is a big pleasure for me (as nuclear physicist) to hear this song. I see that you have real knowledge in quantum mechanics and it seems that you read Richard Feynman! But... did you ever want to be a physicist?

Peter Hammill: no, i never read Feynman. but my academic background might explain quite a bit....

when i went to university in 1967 it was to study Liberal Studies in Science. (It *was* 1967!!!). It was the only course of its kind in the UK and i was in the second year along with 10 or so others. only 6 in the first year. the idea of the professor was that there was going to be a need for people who understood science to explain it to society...and vice versa. it's a commonplace these days, in part thanks to people like feynman of course, but then was radical. everyone else on the course was a grade A scientist. i was a pretty poor physicist/chemist but an ok mathematician. and i could write, -ish, of course.

in the year that i was there (well, i left...for obvious reasons!) we studied... physiology, engineering, economic history, nuclear physics (ish) and the philosophy of science. the last was the core of the course and in my period there the subjects were i) the astronomers: tycho, copernicus, galileo &c and ii) the manhattan project. in other words, interaction of science, belief, society and so on and implications thereof.

the prof's idea was that it was important that some people had the knowledge, even if (in his words) they then went off and lived in caves.

later i found out that my fellow students had almost all gone into computers after graduating. (as for me, i'd programmed (very low grade) for ibm *before* going to university....)

so, for what it's worth and in my small way i think i have done the job my prof hoped for, in a sideways fashion, with things like stranger still and, of course, interference patterns (many more as well, naturally, though non-scientists may not notice ;-)!). though it also seems obvious to me that anyone with ( as in my case) even an ephemeral knowledge of modern (ish) science will know that it's mirroring the way we think and live more than ever before....

i don't claim or pretend to be remotely up to speed, but even what was around when i *was* is enough to keep one going!

Sergey Petrushanko: I also have the questions from Mikayel Abazyan.

Mikayel Abazyan: We all know that the Peter Hammill Music is very different in its nature. There are no such things in your works like definite forms, styles, structures and ideas - everything may vary either within a scope of a given album or the whole back catalogue. Same approach can be found in your co-operative activities such as composing, producing, singing or playing for other (non-VdGG) musicians. Here we can find, so to say, explicit participations like sessions for Ayuo Takahashi, David Cross, Random Hold, Robert Fripp among others, as well as more concealed ones, e.g. your appearances on albums of Peter Gabriel, Miguel Bose, Herbert Gronemeyer, Moondog. Finally, there is a list of almost unrecognizable contributions of yours, like those with Christian Demand, Islo Mob, Crazy House, Echo City and recently released album of David Rhodes. As we see, this music is also very, very different. What is the main criteria when you are making your decision to or not to appear as a guest performer on other musicians' records? Is it just about fun/challenge/interest in those works or there is something more? Have you rejected any projects offered to you? Anything new in the prospects?

Peter Hammill: it's usually the fun/challenge/interest thing that gets me. and i particularly like to do things which require only a day or so's commitment from me and then others can go away and work on it, use it or not....

i'd rather not do things which fall within my normal working remit, so yes, i do pass on quite a lot of projects which are offered me.

i've done a couple of things in the last two years or so which still haven't seen the light of day. and they may or may not do so in the future, but until they do they remain in progress.

Mikayel Abazyan: Some musicians do not like to play their records after the latters are finalized, and vice versa - others like to play their new works often as well as to run retrospective listening. Knowing your attitude to your works, similar to father-to-child one, let me ask whether your albums (after they are released) are played at home by you or family members or not? If yes - how often and is there a kind of distribution law?

Peter Hammill: once they're done i don't tend to play them as i know them so intimately.

my family, on the other hand, only play them *when* they're done as they want to hear the finished thing as opposed to work in progress with the father going "oh but it'll be like this...."

Mikayel Abazyan: You know that different performers all over the world play PH/ VdGG tunes, and even include them into their records, Marc Almond, Tatti Lille, Dean Carter, and Parallel Or 90 Degrees being among others. Given that you are listening mostly to the classical music of different styles, and also that your usual working process includes lots of improvisations on either guitar or piano, have you ever happened to accidentally find yourself playing tunes of other musicians? What would you feel if somehow you looked into the distant future and found that there is an album of PH playing original covers of the songs of other musicians (in the manner of the recent Peter Gabriel's album)? Back in 90-s you used to deny the possibility of VdGG forming back together, but then life led us to the reunion, and now we have such luck of living in parallel with actively working VdGG, of buying new VdGG works and witnessing world premieres of the new songs. So would such revelation of a "Covers played by PH" album come as a shock to you today or it is quite a possible perspective?

Peter Hammill: i hope that i've still got other and more original things to do than a covers album.

Mikayel Abazyan: It became popular to associate calendar dates with the same dd/mm/yy numbers with something special (popular, money-bringing, etc.). For example, the new Seven Wonders announced on 07/07/07, Olympic Games started on 08/08/08, the release of Beatles Remasters on 09/09/09... Sober mind says: "November 11, 2011 will be an ordinary day, same as November 10 or November 12". However, to all of the pHans this date possesses some magical aspect as well. I anticipate that you do not assign any special property to 11/11/11, but do you have similar feeling of that day being, you know, special for you?

Peter Hammill: i hadn't thought about about it but oh dear i might have to now ;-)

Sergey Petrushanko: That's all. Thank you and sorry for the long list of questions!

Peter Hammill: my pleasure sergey (and mikayel), happy translation!

Russian version is here.

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