|Peter Gabriel Tour of China 1984|
1st March 1980
Whilst sifting through the detritus which is my memory, in search of hazy recollections from these concerts, I have occasionally pondered which I would most like to be able to go back and re-live, if such a thing were possible.
I cannot give a definitive answer to this, but rather high on the list I feel would be Peter Gabriel’s 1980 visit to Edinburgh as part of his oddly titled “Tour of China 1984” tour. Not, paradoxically, because it was such an enjoyable gig (although bits of it undoubtedly were), but rather because I personally was not in a position to fully appreciate the experience.
To explain: Gabriel, after releasing a fine debut solo album (which was very much of the 1970s) and then a patchy second, had just thrust upon an unsuspecting world his third collection: known as Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel 3 or Melt. And a quite a disorientating experience it was upon first listen back in 1980. We all knew the delightfully bonkers single Games Without Frontiers, of course - although one did wonder what our Transatlantic cousins made of the "Jeux Sans Frontier/It’s A Knockout" references.
However, the album itself was, lyrically at least, a very dark place; full of allusions to Madness, Murder and Obsession. Musically, a number of the new songs were percussion driven, and few if any on the album could be readily described as easily accessible. Even Gabriel’s American record label refused to release the thing.
It would grow on one of course, and many folks (this writer included, for what that is worth) would come to view it as Gabriel’s finest post Genesis achievement. But at the time of the concert all the wonderful gems were unknown and unknowable to me, and I would have loved to have enjoyed the luxury of witnessing the gig having had a few weeks to learn to love Peter Gabriel 3. Quite what Wife-to-Be made of it all, I don’t know, given her musical tastes at this time centred around Billy Joel
The thwacking gated reverb drum intro to Intruder opened the show, with a shaven headed Gabriel skulking onto the stage to deliver what is quite probably his creepiest ever lyric. The relentless drum rhythm had just faded when the band moved into the eerie Start, followed by I Don’t Remember. This was challenging stuff for an audience hearing this music for the first time, something I am sure Gabriel realised, for Solsbury Hill made a surprisingly early appearance in the set list.
Despite a light hearted reference in the spoken introduction to "JR Ewing" and "Dallas", we were soon back in the twilight with Family Snapshot; Gabriel’s attempt to get inside the head of Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s killer. The lyrics are written from first person perspective, matter-of-factly (almost blandly) describing the lead up to the shooting. Indeed, the first few verses almost sound like a news broadcast before, in a wonderful lyric twist, Gabriel allows us a brief peek to Oswald’s Heart of Darkness:
"I don’t really hate You, I don’t care what You do.
We were made for each other, Me and You.
I want to be Somebody, You were like that too."
Before Oswald’s plaintive reasoning, instantly turns to a snarling, spitting:
"If You don’t get given, You learn to take
And I will Take You!"
Gabriel chose to eschew any of the then fashionable Grassy Knollington conspiracy theories, although in my view suggesting Oswald did what he did simply ‘cause his Mom’n’Dad didn’t love him enough, seems a touch over-simplistic.
The rest of the set followed a similar pattern, with mostly new songs (some as yet unreleased: I Go Swimming, Bully For You, Milgram’s 37), interspersed, almost as light relief, with pieces from his earlier solo albums. No Genesis tunes or R&B covers this time around.
The set proper closed with Biko and (I blush as I write this), I remember thinking at the time Biko sounded a Chinese name (tying in somehow with the tour?), and that the song was a elegy to some lost love. Quite how I succeeded in fitting the lyric “The Man is Dead” into my misconception, I cannot fathom.
This powerful piece relating the killing in a South African prison of the anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko was, I think, the first overtly political song I ever heard which actually made me go out of my way to find out more about the song’s protagonist. Which was Gabriel’s intention, I suppose.
Setlist (This is taken from the
Aberdeen gig a few days earlier, but is pretty much as I recall the gig). Edinburgh
Start/I Don’t Remember
Not One of Us
Moribund the Burgermeister
Mother of Violence
Bully For You
Games Without Frontiers
And Through The Wire
I Go Swimming
On The Air
Here Comes The Flood