St.Austell, Cornwall Coliseum

Setlist Pictures Recorded Output
  1. Across The River
  2. African Shuffle
  3. Red Rain
  4. Don't Give Up
  5. No Self Control
  6. Islamic Offbeat
  7. Sledgehammer
  8. In Your Eyes
  9. Biko
Sorry: the only available one is already featured within this page.
And as you can see, I already had to resort to a few extras to fill in the gaps...
none that I really know of! Do you???

close upSt.Austell's Cornwall Coliseum used to be a huge squarish or better cubic concrete/metallic box. I say used to, since as far as I know the whole setting was tore down a few years ago to make place for a newer entertainment center... Anyway, set at the very heart of Carlyon Bay - a really enchanting bay on the southern coast of Cornwall, which, and it's not my opinion only, was the most perfect setting for a Womad Festival - the Coliseum constituted the centre for all the festival's weekend main acts. This, as it used to be a tradition with Womads in the past, were supposed to be "surprise guests" (on the very first one, for example, one got as headliner the incredible line-up of PG, Peter Hammill, David Rhodes, Shankar and Stewart Copeland... but that's another story!).

Since Gabriel was one of the founders, until the late Eighties papers tended to "announce" his presence at each and every Womad regardless of his true intentions and/or availability. But on that night expectations were quite high: the whole festival was sold-out (though it always was, and well in advance) even without any official rumour about Peter's presence. Everybody was waiting for Nusrat's set as a highlight (his previous Womad appearance, in 1985, took not only the UK but the whole soon-to-be-born World Music scene by storm), but I remember that around four or five o'clock in the afternoon, a strange mood strated taking over the whole bay... and that by 6 the main hall of the Coliseum was fully packed - a more or less 5.000 people capacity, I believe - and HOT!

At a quarter past eight, the house announcer came on stage to introduce the special guest, and by Jove!, it was Peter indeed... Dressed in a black jacket and trouser suit, he looked relaxed and acknoledged the crowd's ovation by saying:
«It's nice to be back at Womad. We have quite a bunch of musicians on stage tonight, and we tried to put together a set that was different from the usual. We start with our own cotribution to the Womad phenomenon: it goes under the title of
Across The River».

That was just the first in a long series of master strokes that night. On stage with Peter were Manu Katche, David Sancious, and David Rhodes - i.e.: 4/5ths of the 1987 band, with only Tony Levin missing. On bass was indeed a new face for me, Daryl Jones (who had previously played with Sting and which later joined the Rolling Stones on tour). But that was not all, since four more musicians were on stage from the very first minute: on guest vocals Youssou N'Dour, accompanied by two of his band's most important members, Babacar Faye and Hassan Thiam on percussion and odd dance steps, with a further special guest appearance on vocals and electronic violin by L.Shankar. And from such a line-up one immediately could surmise big surprises might come at every step.

Across The River was, to say the least, sublime: a very long, choral, vocal introduction slowly gave way to the rhythm, harder and harder and more infectious with each passing beat. Probably one of the best incarnations ever of the track: given that kind of a band, a much fuller and warmer sound than either the studio or previous/later live versions. Literally, one of a kind.

Not much time to start breathing again or realize that you were really there, than Peter introduced a totally new song, described as part of The Last Temptation Of Christ soundtrack (NB: the film had been out in the States for a couple of months, while in Europe it was still unscreened - I actually took a 42 hours Milan-London-Milan train trip to see it right a the end of the HRN European tour leg!! but that's another story...). The title, improvised as musch as the song itself on that night: African Shuffle.

It being the first hearing of the (much) later to come «Passion» album, the first impression that struck me was how much rhythm really was at the base of Peter's writing process: the drum machine pattern was at the forefront of the sound, and upon that the voices and other instruments began drawing unexpected twists and turns. It was all - on Peter's behalf - sung in classic style gabrielese, with the refrain that literally seemed to cut the song into different sections. I might as well point out that what I'm trying to describe is a very "early" version (the man himself would probably label it unrehearsed) of A Different Drum...

Peter was, as usual, standing behind his faithful Yamaha piano and Prophet 5 synth: often searching for the other musicians eyes to give instructions about the different "sections" they are actually playing. A process which has always left me with the feeling that his method for "improvising" actually needs to learn every minimal detail first and then forget/discard it in search of a different/better way during the actual performance... Hey: no complaints, there, as this very kind of improvising style was always able to give me shivers down the spine!

After these kind of kicks - and after Shankar and Youssou had left the stage - the following three numbers - «some songs that are part of the usual set» - might sound like a sort of letting down. The first is Red Rain, a remarkable execution, even more powerful than the 1987 version, followed by the almost total disaster of Don't Give Up: here is where Tony's absence is more felt, since Daryl's touch - great in other parts - really doesn't help the building up of the whole first part of the song. The chorus and the finale are excellent as usual, and even though the crowd really doesn't take part as much as a proper Gabriel audience would, the end makes justice of it all.

No Self Control is another strike: memories of 1987 and the amazing lightshow linger in my mind but are soon swept away by the newer rendition. The Varilites absence makes for some odd moments, though, and Peter himself walks up and down the stage looking a wee bit lost himself... At times he almost smiles embarrassed while looking for the booms' sweeps that never come. The lack of acting and visuals, in the end, does not subtract one bit from the musical performance, on par with the best.

Then came the moment that one might dream all of one's life but never sees it happen... For me it was worth the whole trip from Italy to Cornwall and more: it was a "payback" for all the crazy things I've done in order to see Peter perform live.

Peter walked out of the stage for a couple of minutes. On coming back he brings a simple wooden chair that he places in the centre of the stage. Out again only to come back in another minute guiding a huge man that I had never seen in person before and that surely made an impression. The man is none other that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. «This song is totally improvised» announces Peter, «except for the base of the track that was written for The Last Temptation Of Christ - and for this reason we cast our faith to the wind». Incidentally, as I found out later on from a print out of the setlist, the title of the song for that night was Islamic Offbeat. Now, this is really something that I find hard to describe in words.

Being wise after the event is easy, and since on the HRN Tour (which started one week later at London's Wembley Stadium) he actually performed it again, though in an abbreviated form, the real title can be unveiled as Of These Hope. But if you keep reading you will find out that that was not all. The slow chord sequence at the beginning immediately built an amazing mood. Keyboards and violin merging and then leaving it up to Peter's and Youssou's vocals - clear and cutting as ice. Slowly, really slowly, Nusrat started joining in. I find myself wondering what he might be thinking: after all, though he's played in front of Western audiences before, this must indeed be his very first "rock" performance ever...

Slowly, really slowly, Nusrat gains confidence and enter"s the riff's mood. Both Peter and Youssou at this point simply shut up in awe, and only assent to each other and to Nusrat, inviting him to just go ahead on his own. An thus the song gets to its climax. In the space of a couple of seconds that Nusrat stops singing and the music apparently fades slowly out, the whole crowd jumps up as one for the most incredible and heartfelt standing ovation I have ever witnessed. Nusrat, just like the audience, is probably fooled into believing that would be the end of the song: he stands up as well and repeatedly bows in thanks. Nonetheless, Islamic Offbeat is everything but finished.

I don't know wether it was intended that way - with the middle pause - or wether it was just on the spur of the moment, but Peter starts signalling Daryl Jones to keep pumping that bass, so that the rhythm gets tighter and tighter and the song takes up again (again, with the wisdom of the here and now, this time they shift from Of These Hope to the chords and riffs of the actual "Passion" track: amazing!). Another sign from Peter and the rest of the band get back into the beginning riff with double the strenght and a series of sudden bursts of chopped piano that just go to show how much Peter himself is getting carried away by it all. Nusrat turns to look at Peter, then sits down again and once again he begins transporting all of us on higher level of conscience.

He accompanies/guides himself with little gestures of his hands, just like directing the full orchestra that lies within his own voice. Peter, Youssou and Shankar join back in the chant, and I really believe that you can forget all that three tenors crap and hype: here were three of the best singers ever, together on the same stage, not showing off their ability but giving vent to such a wall of feeling that it's enough to bringshock! me to tears. I wish - I believe as everybody else - that such a moment could go on forever. But, alas!, it is not so. Once again, more from the audiences scream than for the musicians real intentions, the sound is covered by another standing ovation. Peter announces Nusrat's name and the crowd covers the fading notes once and for all. All in all, it lasted 9 minutes and a handful of seconds. 9 minutes that were some of the best in my whole life.

Again, after such a piece going back to Sledgehammer and In Your Eyes is like getting back on your feet to walk after having felt what it's like to have wings and soar the skies... I only have enough attention to mark a really shortened version of IYE (in comparison to the 1987 tour version), that something special happens again. This time it's even more of a surprise because it comes from where I least expected it: ie, from Biko.

Yes indeed! Having heard it at every single Gabriel gig since 1980, I wasn't too fond of it anymore (as I am not now... I will confess), but Peter managed to rework it in such a way that besides putting the sense of novelty into it, really gave the song even more meaning. And the WOmad performance beats hand down any of those (though with a similar arrangement) from the subsequent Human Rights Now world tour.

Starting out in the utmost silence (and that in itself could only have been possible at a Womad gig...!), no drums, no guitar, no keyboards: just a drone made up of the band's vocals (uhmmm hah-uhmmm hah...) and Peter's voice less than whispering the first verse's words.

The chorus gets a a rivher instrumental background, yet the voices all together remain unbelievably quiet and loose. So it got to the second and third verse which - again - slowly, slowly gathered momentum. And the addition of one simple sentence before the final chorus (Waiting for a change, waiting for a change to come) let Peter play around with the song even more. And I sincerely believe that out of the 5000 people inside the Coliseum not a single one of them was silent or didn't raise his/her hand for the finale.