Peter Gabriel (with the BBC Orchestra) – Live At Mermaid Theatre (Godfather Records GR700)

Live At Mermaid Theatre (Godfather Records GR700)

Mermaid Theatre, London, England – October 19th, 2011

(76:00):  Heroes, Wallflower, Intruder, San Jacinto, Signal To Noise, Downside Up, Mercy Street, The Rhythm of the Heat, Father Son, Red Rain, Solsbury Hill, Don’t Give Up

Peter Gabriel’s latest album New Blood was released in the second week of October, 2011.  In what was supposed to be the second half of his previous album Scratch My Back, the new album was originally conceived to be orchestral arrangements of other artists covering Gabriel’s music called I’ll Scratch Yours.

Since that idea fell through, Gabriel took the burden upon himself to record the album. 

On October 19, 2011, Gabriel performed an exclusive show for BBC Radio 2 In Concert, showcasing New Blood tracks with the BBC Concert Orchestra.  He was supported by Tom Corley, Rosie Doonan, Jessica Hoop, his daughter Melanie Gabriel and Bed Foster conducting the orchestra.

It’s a magnificent performance overall, but five songs, “Secret World,” “Blood Of Eden,” “Biko,” “In Your Eyes” and The Nest” were edited from the broadcast due to time constraints.

The new arrangements bring out new emphases in the songs which the original recordings couldn’t.  The orchestra gives Gabriel a new vocabulary.  Such as the opening cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  

The original was a catchy new wave tune with a strong dance beat.  The orchestral arrangement sounds similar to “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” by the Polish composer Henryk Górecki such as the simplicity of melody and repetitive harmony building into a discordant climax.  

“San Jacinto” plays strongly with more American, particularity south-western, musical sounds and themes.  Not all of it works, however.  The Security song “The Rhythm of the Heat,” based upon a Carl Jung vision, sounds closer to movie program music than an actual tone poem.  And “Father Son” sounds too maudlin even for the emotional theme of the song.

But others work beautifully.  “Red Rain,” with the chimes doubling the piano melody and urgent violins, brings much more drama to the song.  

“Solsbury Hill” is very clever by the end with long quotes from J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Third Movement and the “Ode Zu Freunde” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement.

Before “Mercy Street” Gabriel confesses that this will be “the last time I get to sing this with my daughter Melanie here.  And the reason for that lies somewhere in the center of her anatomy.  This is for a wonderful poet Ann Sexton.”  The So song takes its name from Sexton’s 1969 play “Mercy Street.”

The disc ends with a very straight interpretation of “Don’t Give Up.”  Gabriel points out that it was inspired by the great depression, “but is appropriate today – don’t give up.” 

Live At Mermaid Theatre is a great release by Godfather.  This label, along with Virtuoso, are the only ones who are recognizing his contribution to pop music.  It comes packaged in a gatefold sleeve with various photographs from the event.

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