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So far, so good for prog rock's great escapee Gabriel

As part of an expectant group of people waiting anxiously for Television's Marquee Moon debut to arrive at the Liffey Street branch of Golden Discs one fine evening in 1977, there was another album I was rather keen on. Although it may have seemed at odds with the somewhat Stalinist revision which was going on at the time, I was itching to hear Peter Gabriel's debut solo album.

The single Solisbury Hill had been picking up airplay and sounded intriguing and, anyway, Gabriel seemed like a much more interesting musical explorer than many of his fellow Prog Rockers, this being one of the main reasons he left Genesis two years previously.

It certainly wasn't a disappointment and over the course of the next few years Gabriel proved himself quite the innovator. An interest in music from different parts of the world led him to found the Real World label and set up the Womad festival, these exotic influences also bleeding into his own music.

His 1980 album featured tribal drums on the stirring Biko, in tribute to the murdered anti-apartheid activist, while Kate Bush provided eerie backing vocals on the marvellous Games Without Frontiers, a song about the futility of conflict which still somehow managed to reach No.4 in the UK charts.

Duet

Six years later and Kate Bush would again feature on one of the key songs on Gabriel's most successful album, the multi-million selling worldwide smash that was So.

On Don't Give Up Bush and Gabriel duetted to mesmerising effect on a song in which the male vocal reeks of despair in the face of unemployment and poverty which the female counters with unswerving loyalty and reassurance.

Showing just how that period in music was 'anything goes' the song which caught the world's attention was Sledgehammer, a slickly-arranged, suggestive slice of white funk whose accompanying award-winning video (courtesy of Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman) became one of the most played promo films in the history of MTV.

Following the success of So and its subsequent world tour nothing Gabriel has experimented with since has come close to capturing what was very much an album of its time. But what an album it remains.

>George Byrne

Peter Gabriel performs So at the 3Arena on Wednesday


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