Last night Peter Hammill visited Vienna to play a solo set at the jazz club ‘Porgy and Bess’. I last saw him in Glasgow, at the Oran Mor, which was a fantastic gig and a hard act to follow, since he played a stunning ‘Time Heals’ and ended the show with ‘A Better Time’ and a standing ovation.
Porgy’s is unlike any venue I’ve ever been to, I think. Red velvet chairs sat in fours around small round tables with waitress service and a very relaxed atmosphere, all very civilised. Even better than the layout was the attentive audience; every song played out to the very end, with not a single clap of premature applause. That made listening to the rich dying chords from the grand piano a real pleasure, though PH was a bit heavy coming off the sustain pedal, which sometimes resulted in a bit of a noisy clunk. Indeed, the only noise at the venue came from bar staff dropping the occasional glass and the waitresses jangling loose change as punters paid for their drinks.
Perhaps because of this attention to quiet, I had the feeling that PH played some songs more delicately than normal. ‘Stranger Still’ live usually ends with him yelling “A stranger, a worldly man” over and over in a crescendo of seeming madness. Last night it played out almost the polar opposite, getting quieter until almost a whisper. Real pin-drop stuff. Simply stunning.
After a dark ‘Friday Afternoon’, we were then treated to a song that PH claimed he had been carrying around for years, but had never put any chords to. Inspired by the quality of the piano at Porgy’s he sat down at rehearsal and worked them out: ‘Not For Keith’, one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite albums, the classic ‘pH7’. I’m not sure he did manage to get all the chords right, but it was very powerful and a delight to finally hear this song live.
Another highlight was ‘His Best Girl’, a song that was perhaps a little over-played during the early 90’s, but hasn’t seen the light for a while. Last night he combined it with the version from ‘Offensichtlich Goldfisch’, singing the last few lines in German and making the song in general seem every bit as threatening as the lyrics imply.
‘Shingle Song’ started off a cappella, with some very understated guitar coming in for accompaniment. This would have been a perfect performance, but for PH starting before the applause from the previous song had died down, which took away from the impact a little.
The gig finished with an encore of ‘Your Tall Ship’ and it was all over. Another fantastically emotional night in the presence of a musician who is never afraid to bend and twist the phrasing of his songs until they show all their hidden secrets.