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Without Frontiers .... But Not Without Mistakes
on 25 November 2013
Not many authors have tackled Peter Gabriel's illustrious career. This is just the third 'proper' biography on the man who climbed up on Solsbury Hill, before making it his business to expose the horror in Police Room 619, pioneered the use of Fairlight synthesisers, made ground breaking videos, scored film soundtracks, instigated WOMAD, opened Real World Studios, founded Real World Records, formed Witness, founded The Elders and pioneered digital music downloads. All this while making some of the most thought provoking and distinctive music of the past 35 years. Oh and did I mention he formed Genesis in 1967 and quit them just before they made the Big Time in 1975? Well all these tales and more can be found in this very readable chronicle of Gabriel's career that covers just about every significant step along the way in sufficient detail in near chronologcial order, which due to Gabriel's lack of focus on any one project at any one time, is actually no mean feat.
Spencer Bright's An Authorised Biography got here first and had considerable help from his main subject and Bright took the brave step of compartmentalising most of Gabriel's career into discreet subjects (WOMAD, Real World, Love and Marriage etc)- which sometimes made it difficult to contextualise his rise to fame and what he did with it when he achieved it. Chris Welch's 'The Secret World of' book was less detailed but took the story in a more linear fashion. He just made too many errors getting the story out for my liking and is now well out of date.
Daryl Easlea has taken the near chronological approach that Welch used and borrowed from many sources without ever getting his subject to sit down to be interviewed for the book. Having said he has spoken to many of the main players in Gabriel's circle of friends and musicians - although I suspect many turned down the advances of the author. Gabriel's close associates have a legendary allegiance to their boss and would only particiapte in an official biography. So it falls short of a direct replacement for Bright's thoroughly excellent study of Mr. Gabriel but it does bring the story bang up to date.
The new revelations in the story are few and far between but some significant facts do emerge, such as the strongest evidence to date that the Six of the Best Genesis reunion show in 1982 WAS videoed professionally.
Easlea does well to keep the story trotting along at a decent pace without getting too bogged down in detail, although this brevity at times gives misleading accounts of when certain things happened (e.g. when Genesis first played to an Italian audience of 20,000, and when Tony Levin shaved his head for instance - which I accept won't upset too many readers out there!) but if you are going to put in detail it should be as accurate as it can be, particularly when such detail is already well documented.
For those who know this story inside out, and unfortunately I am one of them, there is a factual inaccuracy once every five pages or so but most of these are quite minor and don't spoil the overall job that Easlea has done here, and its clear that the author holds his subject in high regard. I'm currently reading the book a second time, making a note of these errors or inaccuracies and hopefully if the book makes it to paperback the publisher may feel the need to correct them. But as a study of Gabriel's career this is a very decent read, that will inform and please most fans.
There is still room though for a book on Gabriel that delves a bit deeper and is carefully edited to avoid the introduction of so many minor errors. If only someone would dig their quill out and write it!