Big Blue Ball

Big Blue Ball, 2008

“Peter Gabriel, producer and performer”
- One week in the middle of summer this craziness exploded in our Real World Studios. We had this week of invited guests, people from all around the world, fed by music and a 24 hour café. It was a giant playpen, a bring your own studio party. There'd be a studio set up on the lawn, in the garage, in someone's bedroom as well as the seven rooms we had available. We were curators of sorts of all this living mass. We had poets and songwriters there, people would come in and scribble things down, they'd hook up in the café. It was like a dating agency, then they'd disappear into the darkness and make noises - and we'd be there to record it.

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. The project's originators and curators were Real World founder Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger of World Party and The Waterboys.

A huge number of artists came to the village of Box in Wiltshire to take part in these Recording Weeks, and contributed to writing the songs, making the music, and being part of that powerful sense of community that made the Recording Weeks so creative and so fruitful. The focus was as much on writing together as playing together, and the final tracks stand as an extraordinary testament to the common elements that bind so many different forms of music and music making together. Though not everyone who was there is present on the finished album, each artist's input was invaluable to the spirit of the enterprise.

Francis Bebey was filmed for this piece at Real World Studios during the Recording Week of 1995. He features on the track Whole Thing, playing the flute seen in this delightful film.


  • Big Blue Ball ….It’s a good thing Gabriel took his time, too, because the final product benefits from contemporary mixing concepts and technology that simply were not on the map when the music was created – as well as from the perspective hindsight brings. Relix (UK)
  • Big Blue Ball More than 17 years in the making, Big Blue Ball is the brainchild of Peter Gabriel, who produced the jam sessions at his Real World studio in southwest England. Many of the songs were cut in the early '90s, but these cross-cultural experiments rarely sound dated. Dallas Morning News (USA)
  • Snapshots of a Colourful Landscape Between 1991 and 1995, Peter Gabriel hosted a trio of "recording weeks" at his England studios that fostered collaborative environments for artists from around the world. The tapes from those sessions fell into disarray until producer Stephen Hague recently sorted out and completed selected pieces under the title "Big Blue Ball." The results are snapshots of a colorful landscape, an array of rich sonic patchworks from a palette so diverse that they are exotic to every ear. Hartford Courant (USA)
  • A Snapshot of the music-making continents at the time Sixteen years in the making, Peter Gabriel's Big Blue Ball is now out on Real World Records. This all-star collaboration began in 1992 during a "Recording Week" at Real World Studios when Gabriel opened the doors to 75 international artists from over 20 countries. This series of weeklong residential sessions continued over three years. "The idea was to put rock musicians together with musicians from all over the world and see what happened," Gabriel says. "We ran the studio like a dating service with a 24-hour cafe." The 11 tracks on Big Blue Ball offer a world-view of music, a snapshot of the music-making continents at that time. Featuring Gabriel on lead vocals on several tracks, performances also include Karl Wallinger, Tim Finn, Sinead O'Connor collaborating with Japanese percussionist Joji Hirota, Natacha Atlas singing with an Egyptian string section brought in by Hossam Ramzy, The Holmes Brothers with Billy Cobham on drums, and Papa Wemba's extraordinary vocals paired with the flamenco guitar of Juan Manuel Cañizares. World Music Central (Internet)
  • Big Blue Ball During the 1990’s, musicians from around the world gathered for recording weeks at Real World studios. On this volume, 18 years in the mixing, Peter Gabriel sings on several tracks: “Whole Thing” is wonderful…Real World fellow-travellers are represented: Papa Wemba and Juan Canizares mix rumba and flamenco; Sinead O’Connor delivers an earnest hymn, and Natacha Atlas sings with Natacha Atlas sings with Hossam Ramzy’s Egyptian orchestra. Financial Times (UK)
  • ...cross-cultural blend –arty Western rock... …Notables include Natacha Atlas, American vocal wonders The Holmes Brothers and African legend Papa Wemba. The result is a cross-cultural blend –arty Western rock, Eastern textures and African funk – with moments of brilliance… Daily Mirror (UK)
  • Stunning…A Global Melting Pot of Music. … Over three summers in the Nineties, Peter Gabriel assembled a wide range of musicians at his Real World Studios for sessions….The results were stunning: A global melting pot of music, we even hear the great man himself singing on four tracks. Artists including Sinead O’Connor, Billy Cobham and Jah Wobble, styles include dub, rock, rap , electro and jazz with plenty of African and Asian flavours. The Sun (UK)
  • Philadelphia Daily News A mere 16 years in the making, Peter Gabriel's "Big Blue Ball" (Real World, B) has finally been judged suitable for release by the artist. It's the end result of a lengthy world-music party that brought talents from more than 20 countries to Gabriel's Real World Studios. Gabriel sings lead on several tracks, trading licks with Karl Wallinger, Joseph Arthur and the Holmes Brothers, but mostly keeping the ball in his court. Other notable contributions include a sparking, Afro-flamenco pairing of vocalist Papa Wemba with guitarist Juan Canizares and the lovely, techno-folk-Celtic merger of Deep Forest, Arthur and Iarla O Lionaird. Philadelphia Daily News (USA)
  • WNYC.Org For some 20 years, Peter Gabriel has lived and worked in a refurbished mill outside the English city of Bath. The mill houses his Real World studios, and at three points during the 1990s, Gabriel invited musicians from all over the globe to what can only be described as a world music camp. For a week, musicians would live and eat and play together, and some unexpected, and unexpectedly good collaborations ensued. Big Blue Ball is a collection of some of those performances, from a motley crew that touched on the traditions of Madagascar, Central Africa, the Near East, American Gospel, indie rock, and of course, Peter Gabriel's own brand of global pop. WNYC.Org (Web Review)
  • The Boston Globe Peter Gabriel's best albums are usually slow burns, favoring muted melodies and slip-n-slide rhythms over full-bore hooks. So it's a mild surprise that his jigsaw of collaborations, co-produced with Stephen Hague and Karl Wallinger, with its global scope and 17-year incubation, has this much immediate appeal. "Big Blue Ball" was drawn from musical connections made during open sessions at Gabriel's Real World studios between 1991 and 1995, among them the Holmes Brothers' gospel blues with Arona N'diaye's djembe. Gabriel's fingerprints are all over it - vocals, keyboards, rounded tonalities, layered big-beat grooves, and flares of ethereal texture that add interest and depth. Some songs shine without his help - "Habibe" is a stirring, seven-minute improv led by Hossam Ramzy's Egyptian string ensemble. Meanwhile, Sinead O'Connor, Japanese percussionist Joji Hirota, and Guo Yue's Chinese flute make "Everything Comes From You" a moody, antiwar standout. Not everything is as wonderfully exotic; Gabriel's touch can't fully rescue a couple tracks from easy listening. Luckily, most of "Ball" follows the inventive lead of "Jijy," a brassy Madagascar rap pumped by Rossy's wordplay and Jah Wobble's dub bass. The Boston Globe (USA)
  • Lexington Herald-Leader The album is a miniature of the world music vision Peter Gabriel has designed from his Real World Studios. But Big Blue Ball also possesses a broad East-meets-West feel. Gabriel is at the helm. Not surprisingly, the streamlined album-opener Whole Thing, led by Gabriel, with World Party's Karl Wallinger on guitar, Tchad Blake on drums and a vocal chorus supplied by Tim Finn and Andy White, is a highlight. But the beautifully ethereal Rivers, fronted by Hungarian vocal minx Marta Sebestyen with guitar-synth colors by Vernon Reid, is a bigger and braver reach. Wallinger takes over for the finale title tune, a very un-World Party-ish meditation ("big blue ball, no trouble at all"). Add Gabriel's punctuated keyboards, co-producer Stephen Hague's accordion runs and the cheery beat of famed French drummer Manu Katche, and the tune takes on a summery glow. Gabriel's imprint is all over this music. But so is the sense of playfulness and camaraderie that gives Big Blue Ball ample bounce. Lexington Herald-Leader (USA)