When Peter Gabriel announced in a letter to the British music press that he was leaving Genesis in order, among other things, to “grow cabbages” many who read it were amused (this being a time welcoming to such gentle humour), but many more were puzzled. Cabbages metaphorically, did he mean? Perhaps he planned to dress as one? Surely not plain old actual muddy cabbages?
As you’ll read in our latest Ultimate Music Guide, out as the man gets set to release a box set edition of his i/o album, the very Peter Gabriel answer to this is: a mixture of all the above. As he explains in one of the revealing early archive interviews we’ve reprinted here, when he quit Genesis, it was because he saw his future mapped out in front of him in world tours and promotional events and he didn’t like the look of it. The growing of cabbages, which we can take as a general stepping off the treadmill, exploring of a hidden path, indulging a whim, has been something Gabriel has done ever since.
Although his So album helped make him synonymous with major label affluence in the CD era, at heart what you’ll read about in each of the in-depth reviews of his catalogue that we’ve collected here is the unfolding story of a truly independent artist. When Gabriel gets it in his mind to do something that he believes in – be that setting up a world music record label or the WOMAD festival – he will get it done, even though the bills will need to be paid by some other means. After the financially disastrous first WOMAD event, that meant the convening of “Six of the best” (the classic Genesis lineup, plus their new musicians, under a name referencing a public school caning), to settle the bills. Gabriel was carried on stage in a coffin, which he climbed out of, his career financially resurrected.
Something like this dynamic flirtation with disaster has been a feature of Gabriel’s career. There wouldn’t always be a Genesis reunion to help, but Gabriel’s tightrope walk between commercial success and deep experimentation has given us massive sellers like So and Us but also challenging projects like OVO, (the multimedia madness of which Nigel Williamson breaks down for us here), collaborations which didn’t quite make it like Big Blue Ball and ones like Scratch My Back which seem to have simply run aground on sheer politics. “This is different,” as Gabriel said at the time “and it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.”
Cut to the present is, and Gabriel is unchanged, tending the curious garden plotted by his muse. His current album i/o has been offered to the public a song a month on YouTube, with each full moon, as if to confirm that his capacity for invention and appetite for digression is as strong as ever. Onstage in London a few months ago, he played the hits, to rapturous effect, but also a new song called “Olive Tree”. Yes, it was very good, and of yes of course, it pertains to a new project which reflects an interest in his Virtual Reality. It should go without saying, what with those cabbages and everything, there’s no immediate release date planned for it. You just don’t know what might come up in the meantime.
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