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Mercy Mercy Me

In 1977, aged 13, I was whirling around in a new universe, having discovered the Sex Pistols (and John Lydon in particular). By complete contrast, Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" was released in the same year. I caught up with it about 7 years later and became entranced with the man and the voice. His debut single after leaving Genesis, he allegedly wrote it after a "spiritual experience" atop said hill in Somerset.


Somehow, these two artists, at such opposites on the surface, formed me musically and personally: a drive both towards sensualist and rebel! Peter Gabriel's creativity in his artwork, live performance, and videos influenced me heavily, along with his probing, searching, sensitive, and sometimes erotic lyrics.


"Mercy Street", from the 1986 album "So", was never far away from me at the time, and remains one of my favourite songs of his.


And "so" to The Voice. As with all great artists, his voice is instantly recognisable. You could argue it has limitations in its flexibility, but what IS there is so rich. It has beautiful harmonics in its resonance ("WEAR your inside out", "SWEAR" they moved that sign"). Its warmth wraps around you like a soft and loved blanket ("Pulling out the papers from drawers that slide smooth", "Tugging at the darkness, word upon word").


I love the contrast between the depth and grittiness of his chest and middle voice, with the utter purity of the head/falsetto ranges, and how easily he switches (5:24 onwards).


And then there's the interpretive ability - the tenderness, the pain, the sorrow. As a singer, Gabriel is most inspired by Otis Redding, which perfectly explains the deep element of soul in Gabriel's own voice. Listen to "Washing of the Water" to explore that more! This live version is incredible and also showcases what I was saying earlier about moving around from chest, middle, to head/falsetto with such ease and confidence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbK-UFF6heQ.


Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs) said about him, "There's some vocalists who have no artifice, whatever is in their hearts comes out of their mouth and into your ears and into YOUR heart, and he's one of them". This lack of artifice is something all budding singers should take on board and work with.


In the 90s, I was working at Bath Art Fair with Glasgow Print Studio. He came to the stand to buy prints and my boss told him I was a huge fan (and a singer with This Mortal Coil). I was on my lunch when he visited but came back just in time before he left. I will never forget walking up to him and looking into such beautiful, soft blue eyes. He was utterly charming and listened patiently as I gushed (just a little). It can be a dodgy and disappointing experience to meet your influences, but not this time I'm glad to say! He had mercy on an excited young woman!





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