“Solitude” – A postmodern pastoral “prog-rock” gem from 1971 by Peter Hammill

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In about 1974 I purchased a few $1.99 cut-out albums of progressive rock. They were “Pawn Hearts” by Van Der Graff Generator (Peter Hammill’s group) and “Fools Mate” by Peter Hammill. All I knew at the time was that Robert Fripp of King Crimson was involved along with other English prog-rock musicians like David Jackson. To this day I know very little about Peter Hammill, except that he has had a lengthy musical career and is still active and what I have learned about his views on “progressive rock.”

The “solo” album “Fool’s Mate” was very stripped down for “progressive rock” and apparently Hammill was not completely happy with the trend toward overblown showmanship based in technical dexterity in much “prog rock.” Hammill is thought to have been a sort of early proponent of “punk rock” according to this very interesting recent article from NPR.

The one song, from these two albums that most caught my ear and mind was the song “Solitude.” After not even hearing the song for about 30 years I could still remember it’s eerie haunting quality which became unforgettable to me. Another song that had a similar effect and history for me was the song “Aspirations” by Gentle Giant which I used for its theme in another post. I did not hear either song for a span of at least 30 years. It is interesting that these two songs are generally quite “mellow” for “prog rock” but something about them is very catchy (at least to me).

I probably only heard “Aspirations” once or twice, not owning the album it was on, but I probably had listened to “Solitude” quite a few times back in the 1970’s. It is interesting that both songs are quite subdued especially in the beginning, but both have interesting lyrics, vocals, and instruments.

It is probable that most people that read this post will not have ever heard this song, so I hope that others may newly enjoy this unique prog-rock gem from 1971. As for it’s contribution to the theme of this blog, the song touches upon themes of communion with nature, realization of existence, the modern challenges to the person from technology and society, and the seeking of peace and transcendence. Without being an expert on the thematic subject called “pastoral,” nevertheless my feeling is that I had to think of a thematic genre for the song I would call it “postmodern pastoral” (meaning a seeking or longing for the “pastoral” which is now lost).

Put more simply, with direct reference to some lyrics, and also since it is now springtime, a song about lying “in the tall green grass” while the “birds sing ceaselessly” and the mind wanders and finds “a tiny peace” by being “far from grime, far from rushing people,” seems to be a good song to hear.

SOLITUDE BY PETER HAMMILL

Silently I rest in the tall green grass
and look steadily upwards.
Birds sing ceaselessly around me,
and the blue of the sky surrounds me strangely.
Out here, life is at its essence,
and watches the world with innocent eyes;
far from grime, far from rushing people
it seems that I have found a tiny peace.

On the blue backdrop of the unknown
water droplets trace their paths;
on the sky, mortals hang on metal –
but who is to know how long either will last?
The lovely white clouds glide
across the sky and into my dreams…
I feel as though I had died some time ago:
now I’ll wander with the clouds through eternal space

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I may post a few more songs from this unique and interesting album by Peter Hammill.

Likes, comments, questions, are always welcome. Thank You!

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013

 

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