4 things I love about Peter Gabriel

On Friday I bumped into an old colleague at BAFTA, Tom Dolan of the Government Digital Service, who said he’d spotted me coming out of a Peter Gabriel event the other day. Which reminded me I’d been meaning to write this, it was majorly inspiring. The event was set up by The School of Life and centred on Peter Gabriel being interviewed by philosopher (and bit of a fanboy) Alain de Botton. PG came across as humble and connecting. The setting was The Emmanuel Centre in Marsham Street, just behind Channel 4 yet I’d never suspected that behind the modest door lay a massive, magnificent circular church auditorium. In the queue I bumped into an old C4 colleague & friend, Jan Younghusband, then Commissioning Editor for Arts & Music at C4, now Com Ed for Music & Events at the Beeb. Also Mike Christie, director, whose work includes one of my favourite shows during my time at the Channel, Jump London. (My other favourite is one of Jan’s, The Cost of Living featuring the DV8 dance company.) Mike’s a one for interesting buildings – I recently watched his modernist architecture series From Here to Modernity which inspired me to go back and look at the Isokon building in Hampstead.

 

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1. He’s ever curious

This video was shown which blew my mind. It’s an ape learning to play the keyboard through its own exploration. At c.1’48” you can see it discovering the octave. PG is just a few feet away harmonising in the background.

 

You can see the set-up here:

 

Now (a) I love monkeys and (b) I reckon we’re just bald ones so this was guaranteed to appeal: the notion of communicating with our simian cousins through music which, as PG pointed out (a PG Tip) is the most direct and non-rational of art forms. As Walter Pater put it:

All art aspires to the condition of music

i.e. to that direct to the heart&soul unmediated non-material nature.

 

2. He’s a great collaborator

Kate Bush & Sinead O’Connor are two that particularly stick in my mind…

The Don’t Give Up video by Godley & Creme.

Blood of Eden

 

3. He was great looking

Captured particularly well by Robert Mapplethorpe – I remember this shot jumping out at me at a Mapplethorpe exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (?) because of that white V and the downward eyes.

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Peter Gabriel by Robert Mapplethorpe

 

4. He has an open mind

Whether it’s his championing of world music through his Realworld label and WOMAD festival or his embracing of interactive digital technology (and apes) he has a most admirable and inspiring openness. When I won the very first Interactive Entertainment BAFTA Award in 1997 with the MindGym team the main nominee we beat was Peter Gabriel’s Starship Titanic game made with Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe) Adams. It felt very much like the young upstart had triumphed. His work with Amnesty International. His campaigning for South Africa in the wake of Steve Biko’s murder. His wide-ranging interests and boundless enthusiasm remain an inspiration to young upstarts across the globe.

 

 

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