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In a Foreign Town
Peter Hammill

1. Hemlock
2.Invisible Ink
3. Sci-Finance (revisited)
4. This Book
5. Time to Burn
6. Auto
7. Vote Brand X
8.Sun City Nightlife
9. The Play's the Thing
10. Under Cover Names
11. Smile

Recorded at Sofa Sound, Oct '87-Jan'88 (24-track analogue)
Mixed at Crescent, Bath Jan-Feb '88
Produced by PH. Mix engineering by DAVID LORD.
Sound creation & consultancy: PAUL RIDOUT
Musicians: STUART GORDON violin (1)
otherwise all PH

Cover design by Paul Ridout
Photography by Hilary Hammill and Armando Gallo

By general consensus this seems to be the least favoured of my solo albums. I'd have to agree that some of the playing, recording and sound choices seem a bit clunky to me these days as well. Nonetheless this is an absolutely crucial set of recordings in terms of my development and it's safe to say that if I had not undertaken them in exactly this way and with this result much of my subsequent work would not have come about.
In the preceding records - "Skin", "And Close as this" and, indeed, "Spur of the Moment" I'd been introduced to the world of sequencing by Paul Ridout, who was working as a programmer at the time. (These were the days when such a role - being in charge of everything MIDI - was the preserve of specialists.) After these experiences I realised that this was the way of the future and that I'd better get on that learning curve PDQ.
At this time my computer was an Atari and the software Pro-24 by Steinberg. In today's terms very primitive, but quite enough for me to be getting to grips with then. Evidently I didn't go full pelt into ONLY using sequences - guitars crop up all over the place on these recordings - but I believe that they were, effectively, the backing track for each piece here. Control, I thought; but I had not yet learnt to loosen the grip on those controls and this is what leads to a certain squareness in the results.
My biggest mistake here lay in the rhythm tracks. They simply don't groove, I'm afraid, and I stick my hand up in full acknowledgement of the fact. I might also, perhaps, have varied the instrumentation more than I did; but at this point I was interested in using a specific musical palette and this led to a certain uniformity of sound.
Enough of the negatives - I was learning all the time, particularly in the area of putting together keyboard and guitar parts into a structured whole, and the continuing evolution and importance of Backing Vox. Indeed, I was also crash-coursing my way though string arrangement (Time to Burn"). David (Lord) was going to do it, but ran out of time, so the responsibility (and fear!) fell on my shoulders....
The songs are a diverse set. Several are "socially connected" - the only time my writing has veered in this direction apart from the "Future Now"/"pH7" era. Some are very personal - "Time to Burn" is something of a goodbye to Tony Stratton-Smith, who died just prior to this; "This Book" and "Auto" are, effectively, vignettes from my days of touring.
Both "This Book" and "Smile" are covers. The latter is a Herbert Gronemeyer song which I translated, the former one of the Miguel Bose pieces; this is not a translation as such because I worked up these lyrics from scratch and they were then translated into Spanish and Italian for his album(s).
Other stuff: a long overdue hommage to M. Shakespeare and as always a couple of mystery/identity/memory pieces, "Invisible Ink" and "Under Cover Names".
One of the things which pops up on these recordings and which was later developed (apart from the method of recording) is the attempted use of systems music in an emotional way; most noticeable on "Hemlock" and "Invisible Ink" but present in other songs as well.
There you have it. Not the pinnacle of achievement or even of performance but, as I've said, an absolutely crucial staging post along the way.
Final incidental notes: both photographs are in Italy...the swimming pool in Tuscany and the view down onto the stage in Rome, taken by Armando Gallo.

Later notes: several people have intimated that I'm being a bit harsh on myself/this album here...that there are good songs on it and that the instrumentation and recording style were of its time. I'm in agreement with this and don't mean to give the impression that I'm disowning these recordings. As I've said above, without making them I would not have been able to continue along subsequent paths.
It seems to me, though, that if anything I should err on the side of harshness in these self-critical evaluations...with the proviso that it all made sense to me at the time and continues to do so, if differently, today. It wouldn't be helpful or informative for me simply to say "These are all marvellous", would it? Even though they are....

The above Artists's notes are, frankly, pretty unreliable and may be changed or edited at a moment's notice.
Only what you hear on the CD is to be taken as approaching the truth.