Peter Hammill—
Fool's Mate

Released 1971 on Charisma
The Seth Man, June 2000ce
Peter Hammill’s integrity outclassed by any other progressive artist of his generation? Never. Simply put, anyone who just constantly writes, records and then has the nerve to release such introspective nailing from brain, heart and soul down to cold, hard plastic with no generational loss of emotion whatsoever demands instant and utter respect. And for nearly thirty years, Hammill’s been doing just that, adding to his prolific back catalogue with no signs of easing up. And here, his first solo album heralds what would be the first of countless releases that almost make collecting Frank Zappa albums seem a reasonable cinch by comparison. In fact, the sheer volume of Peter Hammill’s output daunted me for years until after one listen to Van der Graaf Generator’s “Pawn Hearts” too many, I decided it was time to take the plunge somewhere, so I started at the beginning. I figured since it was recorded immediately after “Pawn Hearts” (and housed in yet another Cleen Mashine headfuck cover) it had to be at least decent if not the VdGG-like schizoid expressionism I secretly hoped for. It turned out to be both, but the psychosis simmered just below explosive levels and the expressionism was more far more sparer, reflected in brief titles like “Candle,” “Happy,” “Solitude,” “Vision,” “Child,” etc. Backed by not only Van der Graaf Generator but Robert Fripp on understated session guitar and members of Charisma label mates Lindisfarne, the arrangements range from full group backing (as on the Mark E. Smith Manc flair-creamer, “Imperial Zeppelin”) to the understated complexity of “Happy” to an acoustic cosmos revel, “Solitude (In Summer Fields)” where Hammill’s phased, angelic voice goes to “wander with the clouds through eternal space.”

The entire album is fabulously diverse, and the only similarities the songs share are the voice of Peter Hammill guiding the listener throughout the labyrinths of his angst, triumphs and past loves. On “Sunshine” things get psychotically ‘up’ in a major chord boogie “Aerosol Grey Machine”-type piss-take with all the “la la la la la”-s. It’s so overbearingly brave face it’s disconcerting. “Child” captures a youthful Hammill incanting over a similar geography to John Cale’s “Amsterdam” with Fripp’s “Moonchild” guitar quietness wafting in at the back. “Summer Song (In The Autumn)” rings so autobiographical yet hits the listener’s hidden memory zone of moments spent with ancient girlfriends. “I Once Wrote Some Poems” deceptively starts up quiet as a pin, vocals crushingly quiet and whispered until Hammill starts venting and spits out the words, banging his acoustic for all it’s worth. The vocals cut off right into invading UFO high-pitched frequency tones until the needle picks up in the inner groove. It’s the same tone “Fool’s Mate” starts off on, book ending this collection of songs Hammill recorded over a mere four days in the spring of April, 1971.

The whole album is so dense it takes many, many plays not to fall in love with it, but for it to sink in. No automatic responses work with this album, as it’s by turns confessional, brooding and celebratory. “Fool’s Mate” is at the roots of mascara-less British Goth, with not a trace of posturing or pouting, stripped naked of everything except bared confusion and anguish staring itself down in a mirror.