Big Blue Ball: Track by Track

1. Whole Thing

Karl Wallinger: “Andy White and Tim Finn were huddled on the floor in the writing room. Bassist Alexis Faku was locked in the groove and we were trying to find our way in the dark, put it on tape, and give it a middle and end.” Frances Bebey played a Pygmee flute, or ndewhoo, which played just two notes. “The rest of the tune was made up of his own voice,” remembers Peter. “You couldn’t know when it was him or the flute. It was a magical ritualistic music and we were hypnotised. The smallest things can have the biggest impact.”

2. Habibe

From the final Recording Week in 1995. Natacha Atlas sings with an Egyptian string section brought in by Hossam Ramzy. Peter Gabriel: “The leader would improvise, and the other guys followed slightly behind him, so you get this serpent-like weaving of notes.” The original take was over twenty minutes long, with everyone in the room together with the strings in the centre and Peter and Karl conducting the session from the side of the room.

3. Shadow

First recorded in the 1991 session, with Papa Wemba’s extraordinary vocals and his percussionists laying down the groove. Key to this track is the flamenco guitar of Juan Cañizares locking in with Papa Wemba’s sound. It’s a marriage made in heaven.

4. Altus Silva

French techno duo Deep Forest (Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez) brought in the piano riff, American singer Joseph Arthur provided the verse and while Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird recorded the Gaelic chorus, a fellow in sunglasses who turned out to be James McNally pulled a flute from his shirt pocket— and that’s the Irish whistle on the chorus. Papa Wemba’s band underlay a conga rhythm line, and Living Colour’s Vernon Reid adds some definitive synth guitar lines.

5. Exit Through You

Joseph Arthur and Peter Gabriel composed this in about an hour during the 1995 sessions. Guitarist Justin Adams was there, brought in for backing vocals, but the basic song featured just Peter, Joseph, and Karl Wallinger.

6. Everything Comes From You

Joji Hirota (Japanese percussionist and composer, formerly Musical Director of Lindsay Kemp’s theatre company) co-wrote this with Sinéad O’Connor. Flautist Guo Yue was sat in a circle of Chinese pina players with Sinéad to one side. “It’s a real mixture between Joji, who came up with a piano melody, and Sinead, who added her thing to it,” says Peter. “It’s a nice mix of moods and cultures.” Includes the last recording session for the album with Sevara Nazarkhan’s vocals added in 2007.

7. Burn You Up Burn You Down

Another song that comes from the first year. Richard Chappell: “This was the long groovy track and everyone ended up in the workroom at midnight listening to it— Billy Cobham on drums, a lot of red wine going round.” Peter recalls The Holmes Brothers’ involvement: “Popsy Dixon had this very high voice, a hauntingly beautiful voice, and he’d come up with these high notes that hit me hard every time he reached them.”

8. Forest

The first track recorded for Big Blue Ball. Senegalese djembe player Arona N’diaye started this off with some percussion. “He was such an amazing guy,” says Peter. “He made you feel joyful. He just wanted to jam and had great energy.” N’diaye appears on three of the album’s tracks, and was a key presence in the first year’s recording session, laying down lots of grooves. Vernon Reid overdubbed his guitar on this in the second year.

9. Rivers

Richard Chappell remembers producer John Leckie being involved in this session with Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen (“a real character, with real attitude”). Leckie was producing Turkmenistan ensemble Ashkabad, but was around when this was put down in the upstairs writing room. Richard Chappell: “Marta cut another song that didn’t make it to the final album, but which intrigued Karl because of its extremely risqué lyrics about men.”

10. Jijy

This is Madagascan singer Rossy’s rap from the first year. Arona N’diaye begins it, and Jah Wobble comes in with his arpeggioed bass. The brass section on this was added later by Chuck Norman. Peter remembers “Rossy arriving with a valiha – a wonderful sounding instrument made out of bamboo and bicycle brake wire. It’s like a harp they make themselves, with a beautiful sound, and he then added this rap.”

11. Big Blue Ball

Peter: “This was Karl’s baby. He generously crafted it and threw it into the pot in the first year.” Richard Chappell: “At the end of each night over the next two recording weeks I remember staying up with Karl working out what he would do with the vocal. We’d work on it for about an hour every night, adding harmony vocals. But the rest of it was pretty much done straight away.”

Featured Release

  • Big Blue Ball

    Various Artists

    Released 26 July 2008

    Almost eighteen years in the making, Big Blue Ball grew from three extraordinary Recording Weeks at Real World Studios in the summers of 1991, 1992 and 1995. With Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger at the helm, the album features a huge cast of performers with a global reach.

By Online Editor

Published on Fri, 01 August 08

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Jocelyn Pook & Akram Khan on reimagining The Jungle Book

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