I started writing the following for a fan page for Peter Hammill. It started to become very long, so I decided to put it up here as well in the English section of my blog for anyone who is interested.
In order to properly answer this question, I’d like to start from the beginning. I will be telling my own story as well, so this is going to be a bit long. I hope I wont bore you with this. I am sure that many of you have many interesting stories about yourself as well. I will relate how I came to meet Peter Hammill and about some of the work we did below.
I grew up in New York City. I went to PS 49, and later to Little Red School House, which is on the corner of Bleeker Street. My fourth grade teacher ( that’s when we’re 10 years old) introduced me to Edgar Allen Poe. Edgar Allen Poe wrote many of his works in NYC, and there was a seat in Riverside Drive Park nearby, where he used to sit and think of ideas. I was first interested in literature and poetry, and took part in poertry recitation contests. “The Fall Of The House Of Usher” and “Annabelle Lee” were some the first literature I was exposed to. I was much more interested in reciting poetry and stories, then I was in performing music in front of people, although I saw a lot of bands when I was growing up.
The late sixties and early seventies were a great age to be in NYC. I started guitar when I was eight because it was 1968, and even our primary school went on strike to protest against the war in Vietnam. At the time,12 year olds could go to see psychedelic rock bands play at the Filmore East, Academy of Music and other places without being asked anything. I went with my classmates to see the Jefferson Airplane, Yes, and Mott The Hoople. My mother had many artist friends from Japan, and she acted as a coordinator to take them to meet people like Andy Warhol, Saul Stenberg and the people working at the Musuem of Modern Art. We took them to see rock concerts toghether. I saw The Who perform the entire “Tommy” with Seiji Ozawa, when I was ten years old. We felt the spirit of freedom, maybe even more than the grown-ups of that time. We didn’t have to deal with the problems of getting drafted into the army. We didn’t have problems with girlfriends and boyfriends and marriages and divorces. We didn’t have to deal with responsibility yet. I once heard that Terry Rily’s daughter, whom I played with once when we were kids, had her first acid trip when she was eight years old. Well, my first psychedelic experience wasn’t that far off either. Some of my mother’s friends later told me that they were worried about me. A painter named Tadanori Yokoo told me years later that at the time he thought “this kid’s going to be really messed up when he grows older”. Yokoo may be known to rock fans for the album jackets he did for Santana, John Cale, etc.
In the early seventies, I was influenced by rock lyrics. I especially liked Lou Reed, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell and Jon Anderson. I was influenced by the way Peter Gabriel told stories, and the small gestures he used while he was singing. I adopted them in the short stories I told to my classmates at school, and this made me a little popular in school. My classmates used to wait for me to tell some strange story. Lou Reed’s lyrics and the way John Cale recited Lou Reed’s story “The Gift” was an influence. The almost subconcious flow of poetry in the songs of Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny, sang over open tuning guitar was another influence.
However, my mother and my step-father suddenly split one summer unexpectedly while I was visiting my father and my Irish-American step-mother in Japan.In the next few years, there were so many divorces and splits in both sides of my family, and this influenced my life in a very negative way. Not understanding much about Japan and not having anyone to teach me about Japan was another difficulty. From 1978 to 1985, it was like living in some kind of a surrealistic nightmare.
I first heard Van Der Graaf around this time. I bought “The Quiet Zone/ The Pleasure Zone” and then discovered “Still Life” and “The Least We Could Do Is Wave To Each Other”, which are still my favorite albums of the classic Van Der Graaf Generator period from the seventies.
Being able to sign a recording contract first with Epic-Sony and later with Midi Records was a huge turning point for me. I was 22 at the time. My father had prevented me from completing my education. He had suddenly turned into a hardline leftist. So being able to do music became a way to escape from this.
However, I wasn’t an experienced musician yet. I needed some kind of guidance, but no one was providing me with much advice. I had signed a three album contract with Midi records, but for my third and final album for them, they told me they can only provide me with a very small bugdet. So I told them, if they could give me that amount in travel checks, I will take that money to England and find people there to record an album. At that point I didn’t really know anyone. The label gave the money because I think they thought if it didn’t work out, they would simply give me the money and finish off my contract with them. This was in 1986.
One week after I got to England, a musician I met in Hyde Park gave me David Lord’s phone number. He had been on a recording for an independent label, which was recorded at David Lord’s Crescent Studios in Bath.I rang him up, and he told me he was coming to London to do some recording at a studio owned by Jerry Boys, the producer who recorded a number of albums by Steeleye Span. So we met, and I played him some material that I had. I told him that I only had a budget for an indies album. He told me he was mostly doing work for major labels now, but that he was interested. I had heard some of the albums he recorded, but he knew nothing about me.
I asked him if we could get Maddy Prior and Peter Knight from Steeleye Span, and Dave Mattacks from Fairport Convention. I had seen them play recently, and they were great. So David Lord rang up someome, and then asked if I would like to have Annie Haslam from Renaissance on my album, because the promoter who was working with Steeleye Span was also working with Annie Haslam. I said that just Maddy Prior would be fine because I wouldn’t have the time and the budget to call up everyone even if I were interested to see what would happen.
I came to England virtually like a backpacker, travelling with some travel checks, and I wasn’t expecting this.
Now, I had always worked on music with poetry recitation because reciting poetry and telling stories were what I originally liked doing. I wanted to have someone recite a poem from the Carmina Burana in Latin.
David Lord said that he would like to phone up Peter Hammill to do the job, if it was okay with me.
I said ” Really? Are you sure he would interested?”
David said that Peter Hammill did a lot of poetry reading. That Peter studied the real anthentic Latin prononciation, which is closer to Italian. And that he was sure he would be interested.
David Lord was by then getting quite enthusiastic about bringing in people in, and seeing what would happen. He would see a name on a magazine, and say “Oh, it says so and so also worked with Faiport Convention. Should we call him up? Go for the lot.” He also said “We should call up Peter Blegvad, he has a great voice for recitation.” He was enjoying himeself. He would also also stay up until late at night like 3 AM on his own, working on slight adjustments on the mix until it was just right. I would say let’s call it a night, but David was quite a perfectionist and wouldn’t stop until he felt it was just right.
So it was getting to be a nice atmosphere. And all the work by Maddy Prior, Peter Knight and Dave Mattacks were all great as well. The performances were perfect for the songs. I couldn’t believe it. I was quite astonished at what was going on. Both the speed and the professionalism were amazing. Both Dave Mattacks and Maddy Prior mentioned working on my album on program notes some years after this. This was the album “Nova Carmina”. I was 25 at the time.
Peter Hammill drove me to his house, and he played me some tracks he was working on. They would be released as “As Close As This”. He showed me his Lute. I recorded an interview with him, which I later published.
The recordings I had done in Japan weren’t like this. The engineer and everyone else would be just sitting there waiting for me to tell them what to do. I learned a lot from working on this album. Things I didn’t know. I still regard “Nova Carmina” as my first real album.
The next year in 1987, my work with Peter Hammill went further. Peter Hammil was working on his opera, “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”. I was working compositions based on the 17th century Chinese novel, “A Dream of Red Mansion”. A Japanese Koto player named Kazue Sawai wanted to record an album at the same studio where I recorded “Nova Carmina”, and that she would like to play some of tghe music that I was writing for this music theater piece based on “The Dream Of Red Mansions”. I called up David Lord and I called up Peter Hammill and asked them to help me out. They rang up all the musicians who played on this CD. Sara Jane Morris had come to Bath to record some vocal tracks for “The Fall of The House Of Usher”, and sang with Peter on one song. Peter knew two sisters who could recite the part of the two cousins in “The Dream Of Red Mansions”. We also called up Guy Evans (VDGG)and James Warren (Stackridge) .We also asked Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band) to compose a solo composition for the Koto. The entire album was recorded in a week. Peter brought some wine to the studio and helped me record the recitation parts.
Years later, Peter Hammill tld me that he was surprised that this CD didn’t sell very well. It was a great CD. It had a little bit of everything. Songs, solo Koto music, one traditional composition and a song with a rock band.
He told me he was thinking about re-releasing it on his label. Actually this CD was re-realeased on label for traditional music in Japan, and remastered by a Japanese engineer who remastered Anthony Philip’s CDs.
One difficulty I’ve had throughout the years is that I would be placed in the the more serious Avant-Garde/Contermporary Classical Music section. I once asked one of the heads of Midi Records, why he signed me. He told me that he wanted someone to give the label a more ‘Academic’ image without it being really difficult and I fit the bill. The other head of Midi Records told me, “you know why we don’t work with your father. (He’s an Avant-Garde musician.) It’s because he’s too difficult, and it wouldn’t sell.” Music jounalists will often write about an album without really listening to it, so often a complete misunderstanding will spread from the media. I’ve read somewhere that Tony Stratton Smith created the label The Famous Charisma Label because he wanted to release “The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other” , but he couldn’t find a label that would do it. The bands on that label were considered more ‘classy’ because many of musicians ( as well as Monty Python) were more educated than most rock musicians are. There is lack of an audience for more intellectual sounding words and music, without it becoming Avant-Garde. And most Avant-Garde/Contermporary Classical Music are simply superficial and pretend to be intellectual without having much real content.
The year after recording the Koto album, I suddenly got a call from Peter. “Hi. I’m in Tokyo now. I’m playing a concert the day after tomorrow, would you like to come? I can put you on a guest list.”Throughout the years, I’ve often enjoyed the many small conversations we’ve have had.
At the time, Genesis was all over the radio with “Invisible Touch”. He told me about the time years before, when Van Der Graaf Generator toured with Lindisfarne and Genesis. “Genesis woud play the same solos and do the same thing each night, while we would be different each night. At first, we thought it was boring to do the same thing each night, but then I realized something. We would have great nights and nights when it didn’t work out. But Genesis would always be the same. They would never really have bad nights. And then I thought, this band is going to be more successful than we are.”
In the early 1990s, I was conmposing music for theater, ballet, contemporary dance, TV commercials, and documentary films. I went to Scotland with a ballet company in 1996. Around this time, I was working on a demo tapes for a project which would become “Songs From A Eurasian Journey”. I sent these tapes to Peter Hammill asking him if he would be interested.
For a while, I didn’t recieve an answer. Then suddenly one night at about 4AM in Tokyo time, I got a phone call. I answered the phone thinking who could it be calling me at this hour. It was Peter saying that he’s definitely interested in doing this recording project with me. He didn’t answer earlier because he had been busy. I asked him who we shoould get as an engineer, he said I should get David Lord because they were now sharing a recording studio together. Crecsent studios became Terre Incognito.
When David and I started working on the tracks, I asked him if we could get the kind of reverb in the sound mix we got in “Nova Carmina” in 1986. Peter walked in and said jokingly, ” Oh yeah, I liked you when you were nineteen. And he would be going like this.” Then he sang in a high falseto voice like that of a young boy. That was really funny.
Peter told me he liked the words he was able to come up for “Air” and “My Gazelle” on “Songs From A Eurasian Journey”.
In Spring of 1997 and December 1999, I spent about a month each in England recording two CDs. “Songs From A Eurasian Journey” (1997) and “Earth Guitar”(2000). I also guested on a CD called “Voice Of The Celtic Myth”. I play bouzouki on one track, on which the singer is Brandon Perry from “Dead Can Dance”. Peter Hammill’s daughters Beatrice Hammill and Holly Hammill sing on this CD as well. I was introduced to the producer John Anthony, who came around for a visit while I was there.
The president of MIDI records rang me up around 1998 and said that he could offer me a recording budget for a solo album, if I would go to do some recording in England. He told me he had been listening to Nova Carmina (1986), and wanted to listen to some more. He told me, “There is an atmosphere in those albums of real communication with the people you are working with. In the albums you made in Japan, it isn’t there. “
It was a joy to record those albums, and I think it shows in the sounds you hear. Too often in the albums I made in Japan, people were just doing their job and not getting into what I wanted to do. This only changed when I worked on the CD for John Zorn’s Tzadik label, such as “Red Moon” and “AOI”. I also think the two acoustic albums in the 2000s, “What We Look Like In The Picture” and “dna” are well recorded.
Peter Hammill wrote the following on the liner notes to my CD, “Eurasian Journey”:
“When Ayuo invited me to become involved in this project I was delighted to be able to do so. We share a love of early music, both in itself and as an examplar. of common origin. When we hear the Old Stuff we are potetially tapped in to more than merely musical history and there is na sense of homogeneity in more than simply musical modes. It’s a fascinating excercise to take musics from the 6th and 7th centuries (among others) in various different cultures, combine them together, compare and contrast them with each other and emerge with something truly new, yet strangely familiar.
In writing the lyrics for the songs on which I worked I found a certain responsibity to attemp to speak not inly of their own essential content but also of the nature of the work itself, the while retaining respect and sympathy for the origins of the music. This highly specific approach is, perhaps, best exemplified by the piece !Air” which, for me at least, can be taken as a statement of intent and belief in the project as a whole.”
For “Eurasian Journey”, I also got Dave Mattacks on drums and Danny Thompson to play the Double Bass. A great folk singer from Ireland, Aoife Ni Fhearraigh, was introduced to us from Clannad, who were involved in pruducing and managing her career. I remember Dave Mattacks sitting on the ground floor of the studio saying he really enjoyed the recording.
While I was recording “Earth Guitar”, Peter was there from about 10AM to 6PM, every weekday. He worked hard alone. he would spend hours fixing up small details in the mix. I heard many parts of what became “None Of The Above” being recorded and mixed. I borrowed Peter’s guitar and amp to record some parts in “Earth Guitar”. Clive Deamer played drums on “Earth Guitar”.
From the 1990s to 2007, I was married and have one child. In the early 2000s when Peter was in Tokyo, my child was still a baby, and Peter asked how she was doing? I said “She’s learning a lot each day.” Peter said “That means you’re learning each day.” I thought how true. Very small dialogue like this would make me think about many things in life.
My favorite of Peter Hammill’s solo albums are the ones I heard while he was making them. “As Close As This” and “None Of The Above” . I also like the recent recordings of VDGG and the live recordings. The classic albums of VDGG I like are “The Quiet Zone/ The Pleasure Dome”, “Still Life” and “The Least We Could Do Is Wave To Each Other.”
In recent years, I have been working a few music theater compositions. The three I have been working on are:
1) The Dream Journals Of Carl Jung
2) Outside Society Ⅰand Ⅱ
3) Pele (based on the Hawaiian mythology)
“The Dream Journals Of Carl Jung” are based on Carl Jung’s The Red Book and are performed with Akikazu Nakamura (Shakuhachi), Toshiko Kuto (Koto, Vocals, Recitation), Yoko Ueno (Vocals, Recitation, Accordion, Bass), Junzo Tateiwa (Percussion, Drums) and myself Ayuo on Vocals, Reciation and Bouzouki.
Akikazu Nakamura once asked me to arrange any progressive rock song I liked for an ensemble consisting of Shakuhachi and two Kotos for album on King Records. I made an arrangement of Peter Hammill’s “Dropping The Torch”. It is now unfortunately out of print.
When I got together with Akikazu two years, I made an arrangement of “The Lamia” from “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” for this ensemble. “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” was influenced by Carl Jung’s memories as well as the Tibethan Book Of The Dead. Akikazu Nakamura was telling me we should make our own music theater piece based on Carl Jung, and this is my composition. We will be playing this at a concert and lecture by an organization interested in Carl Jung, next February.
“Outside Society Ⅰ” is based on “Tokyo Journals” by the journalist Donald Richie, who lived in Tokyo for close to sixty years. It looks at Japanese society from the outside, which is the same way that I view this society. “Outside Society Ⅱ” is based on my own journals and observations of living outside the Japanese society.
“Pele” was composed for vocals and string quartet. I recite the story, sing and play the Celtic harp in this composition. Sometimes it has been performed with my own String Quartet arrangements of Debussy, Satie and Wagner.
A contemporary dance company, Richard Alston Dance Company toured England with live performances of “Eurasian Tango”, a set of compositions I composed at the same time as “Songs From A Eurasian Journey” in 2013-2014. And a group in Germany called Black Pencil released their version of one of my tangos on CD this year.
I would like to put these music theater works on a DVD, but I do not have any support yet. Some people have suggested Kick Starter and Crowd Funding.
For the much of my time, I teach music and do some writing. This has become quite a long essay, but this puts me up to date.