Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel (born Feb. 13, 1950) is an English singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and activist with a career in music dating back to the late 1960s. He rose to prominence as the vocalist of Genesis, which he fronted for six albums between 1969 and 1974. As a solo artist, he issued four self-titled albums on Charisma between 1977 and 1982. He achieved superstar status with his 1986 Charisma/Geffen release So. Since then, he’s sporadically released albums on his Real World label.

Early Life

He was born Peter Brian Gabriel on February 13, 1950, in Chobham, Surrey, to a middle-class musical family. As a child at St Andrews Preparatory School for Boys, the teaching staff noticed his singing abilities. At age 10, he took up piano and drums. Before discovering soul music, his biggest influences were church hymns.

In September 1963, he entered Charterhouse, a boarding school for boys in Godalming, Surrey. During his first year there, he sang and drummed in The Milords, a skiffle combo. In his second year, he formed Garden Wall with fellow pupils Tony Banks and Chris Stewart. Gabriel and Banks wrote songs for the band, including “She Is Beautiful,” which later morphed into “The Serpent” on the first Genesis album.

Garden Wall played its only concert at a school event with Anon, another student band that featured Charterhouse pupils Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips. As members of both bands graduated, the remaining five — Gabriel, Banks, Stewart, Rutherford, Philips — assembled in a new band with Gabriel as the lead vocalist.

Genesis 1968 — 1975

In 1967, Gabriel’s band met with music producer and Charterhouse alumnus Jonathan King, who oversaw their initial recordings. King suggested two possible names for the young act: Gabriel’s Angels and Genesis. The band picked the latter. As Genesis, they released six albums with Gabriel at the mic: From Genesis to Revelation (1969), Trespass (1970), Nursery Cryme (1971), Foxtrot (1972), Selling England by the Pound (1973), and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974).

During his time with Genesis, Gabriel was known for his theatrical makeup and stage costumes, which were often worn to enact the characters of select songs in the band’s live repertoire. He left the band in May 1975 after the completion of their elaborate tour for TLLDoB.

Solo Career

Gabriel’s first post-Genesis appearance was on the 1976 soundtrack of All This and World War II, a collection of Beatles covers (set to wartime stock footage) that includes his take on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” That same year, he recorded his eponymous debut solo album with producer Bob Ezrin. It was issued in February 1977 on Charisma (UK) and Atco (US). Most of the songs are lavish, cinematic takes on 20th century styles, including ragtime/music-hall (“Excuse Me”), orchestral disco (“Down the Dolce Vita”), R&B torch song (“Waiting for the Big One”), and stadium rock (“Modern Love”). The folksy “Solsbury Hill” was issued as a single with considerable success on both sides of the Atlantic. The epic album-closer “Here Comes the Flood” became an enduring fan favorite and live staple.

In June 1978, Gabriel issued his second self-titled solo album, this time with guest-guitarist Robert Fripp at the console. The album hears Gabriel embrace rougher, fractious sounds; imported via Fripp’s involvement in David Bowie‘s then-recent Heroes. The mood of Gabriel’s sophomore effort ranges from uproarious (“On the Air,” “Animal Magic,” “Perspective”) to plaintive (“Mother of Violence,” “Indigo,” “Home Sweet Home”) with occasional bursts of whimsy (“A Wonderful Day in a One-Way World.”)

Gabriel refined his newfound darker sensibilities on his third solo album, issued in May 1980. He was joined on this release by a number of high-profile players, including Paul Weller (The Jam), Dave Gregory (XTC), Kate Bush, and former Genesis-collegue Phil Collins. Lyrically, the set tackles subjects like home break-ins (“Intruder”) and social ostracism (“Not One of Us”). The goth-tinged lead-off single “Games Without Frontiers” became an unlikely chart entry. The track “Biko,” about the martyred South African freedom fighter, marked Gabriel’s move into ethno-rock territory. Further hints of his subsequent course are heard in the instrumentals “Start” and “Lead a Normal Life,” which preview his forays into ambient and soundtrack work. (A collection of instrumental demos and outtakes from this period, Games Without Words, surfaced on the bootleg circuit.)

In September 1982, Gabriel released his fourth self-titled album. Stateside, Geffen re-titled it Security to avoid confusion with his prior three albums. The songs were largely self-recorded at his home studio in Bath, Somerset, with assorted backing from John Ellis (The Vibrators), Morris Pert (Brand X), Larry Fast, and Peter Hammill. The second single, “Shock the Monkey,” was accompanied with a surrealist video that proved highly influential on the fledgling medium. Musically, the album synthesized Gabriel’s fascination with ambient textures and ethnic rhythms.

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