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Peter Hammill - Fool's Mate CD (album) cover

FOOL'S MATE

Peter Hammill

 

Eclectic Prog

3.78 | 329 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

siLLy puPPy
4 stars After the release of "He To He Who Am The Only One," Van Der Graaf Generator found themselves in the heart of the quickly evolving progressive rock scene but suffered a setback when bassist Nic Potter left in the middle of the recording process. Instead of seeking another band member, the role was filled by Hugh Banton by playing bass pedals on his organ. "He To He" was released in December of 1970 and the band embarked on a successful tour with Charisma label mates Genesis and Lindisfarne. These were the peak years for Van Der Graaf Generator as they released one classic and spent the year recording the next masterpiece "Pawn Hearts" which came out in October 1971 and if that wasn't enough, lead singer, keyboardist and songwriter-in-chief PETER HAMMILL found a couple minutes to record and release his very first solo album FOOL'S MATE, which is a combo reference to both the game of chess and tarot cards.

The twelve songs on FOOL'S MATE weren't intended to be a statement of where HAMMILL was at the time musically speaking and more of a testament to where he's already been. None of the tracks were written in the 70s but rather dated all the back to 1966 ("Candle") with the most recent having been created in 1969 ("Happy"), however the majority were cranked out in the 67-68 timeline and thus were written and performed with the earliest lineups of VDGG which included Chris Judge Smith and Nick Perne. While some were used as demos, none of the tracks ever made it onto albums as as VDGG became more and more complex and sophisticated, the simplicity of the more pop oriented tracks became harder and harder to incorporate into the VDGG format so they basically sat on the shelf while the VDGG recording sessions and live performances became the first priority.

As many were puzzled as to why HAMMILL would release a solo album right at the time when VDGG was just starting to take off in select prog circles (especially Italy), HAMMILL explained that these tracks had been floating in his head and he felt that as time went on they would become less relevant and forgotten and felt the utmost need to record them before they lost any relevance in his life and would become impossible to convey in a convincing manner. So off he went into the Trident Studios with not only the full cast of VDGG including Hugh Banton (organ, piano), Guy Evands (percussion) and David Jackson (sax) but also former band member Nic Potter (bass) as well as LIndisfarne members bassist and violinist Rod Clements and Ray Jackson (harmonica, mandolin, harp) as well as the inimitable Robert Fripp of King Crimson. As HAMMILL explained, it was like one big happy family getting together to jam.

Given the nature of the history of the tracks on FOOL'S MATE, it's not surprising that the tracks vary quite a bit but it's apparent that they were not of the year they were released as they exude that 60s optimism with all the hippie dippy trappings however due to the fact that they were newly performed and recorded by some of the masters of the trade, they actually sound quite good, in fact excellent. Led by the darkly distinct vocal style of HAMMILL himself, the unmistakable dramatic emotional outpouring that he crafted while serving as a Jesuit chorister, HAMMILL is joined by an interesting array of different instrumental backings and although his singer / songwriter skills seem to cast him as the Elton John piano man of the prog world, the diverse styles of the tracks on FOOL'S MATE find not only the full band effect as heard on tracks such as the opening "Imperial Zeppelin" but also with the simplicity of a single acoustic guitar as heard on "Child."

A master of the melodic development, despite the short track lengths HAMMILL cranks out some of his most pleasant and uplifting tracks of his entire career on FOOL'S MATE with some sugary pop tracks like "Happy" and "Sunshine" even reminding of David Bowie's first 60s pop album with an unusual out of character bout of cheeriness not heard on any other release. This is especially head scratching on "Sunshine" where he actually utters a series of "la-la-la's" with the intent of gleefully celebrating the beauty of a cloud free day. Despite the gag reflexing knee-jerk reaction to such sunshine pop possibilities, HAMMILL masterfully keeps it all slightly dark in tone at least with the excellent musical delivery making this track as well as the rest utterly irresistible.

It's shocking that this album was recorded in a mere four days in April 1971 and then rushed through the production and mixing process and hitting the market by July where it was sandwiched between the two VDGG albums. The album was praised by the critics which probably helped in the decision to break up VDGG after the exhausting "Pawn Hearts" recording schedule and subsequent tour. The overall sound of PETER HAMMILL's solo career isn't captured in the debut FOOL'S MATE but rather is a throwback to the earliest years. While other artist's record and release this sort of material many years after the fact, HAMMILL felt it imperative to capture the moment before it completely faded away. While VDGG would soon release their most celebrated moment with "Pawn Hearts," HAMMILL's solo career would soon blossom in its own right but only after the long drawn out and enervating last days of the first phase of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR. Despite these 60s sounding pop songs finding only slight modifications into the darker more progressive arenas, this is actually a really great album.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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