Peter Hammill: Nadir’s Big Chance 12” (1975, Charisma Records)
My favorite source of musical discoveries lately is the BBC 6 Music program The Freak Zone with Stuart Maconie, which plays left-field music of many stripes, including psych, prog, kosmiche, jazz, modern classical, electronic, and many more that are unclassifiable. I mentioned the show a few weeks ago because it turned me onto the Okay Temiz and Johnny Dyani LP that was my staff pick then, and another recent episode had me heading to Discogs to find a copy of this 1975 LP by Peter Hammill. I can’t remember what track Maconie played on his show, but it was enough to get me interested, and when I did a little digging and found that Nadir’s Big Chance was pretty much entirely in that 70s glam / art rock vein I love so much, I knew I had to find a vinyl copy for the full experience.
I didn’t know it until I started doing research in preparation to write this piece, but I already had several Peter Hammill records in my collection. However, they were not under Hammill’s own name but Van Der Graaf Generator, the group he co-founded. I’m not super knowledgeable about Van Der Graaf Generator, but I pick up their records whenever I come across them, and I always enjoy them. Hammill was prolific in the 70s, releasing a spate of LPs under his own name and Van Der Graaf Generator, sometimes multiple albums in a year. The solo and Van Der Graaf projects seem fluid as well, with the same musicians and songwriters contributing to both projects. In fact, Nadir’s Big Chance features all the musicians in Van Der Graaf’s 1975 lineup, and songwriting contributions from Judge Smith, who played drums in the original lineup of Van Der Graaf Generator.
While I’m not well-versed enough in this universe of musicians to explain precisely how it fits into the bigger picture of their discographies, I can tell you that Nadir’s Big Chance differs from Hammill’s other records in that, on these tracks, Hammill inhabits the character of Rikki Nadir. On the back of the jacket, Hammill calls Nadir a “loud, aggressive, perpetual sixteen-year-old,” and Nadir’s voice gives these “three chord wonders” an extra jolt of energy. While, in 1975, the glam rock movement was losing steam in Britain, Nadir’s Big Chance huffs from the same bag as records like Electric Warrior and Ziggy Stardust, all pomp and drama and exuberance. Nadir’s Big Chance doesn’t sound like kids’ music, though; what it resembles more than those mainstream glam touchstones are the artists from the artier end of the glam spectrum, particularly early Roxy Music and Brian Eno’s first couple of solo albums. Like those records, Nadir’s Big Chance struts and preens, but it also reaches and challenges, and the record is produced with a raw, homespun feel I love.
Famously, when John Lydon played some records on Capitol Radio in 1977, he dropped in two tracks from Nadir’s Big Chance, “Institute of Mental Health, Burning” (what a title!) and “Nobody’s Business,” noting that Bowie might have stolen a few moves from Hammill (though by 1975, one must note, Bowie had killed off Ziggy and was moving into his Thin White Duke phase). If I’ve piqued your interest, Lydon’s selections are a great starting point, but I’ll also mention “Birthday Special,” another of the highest energy tracks on the album.