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23 octobre 2005

Portrait of the artist as family man

When Peter Gabriel wants to see more of his children, he organises a long tour, invites them along and then makes them work for their passage, he tells Nigel Williamson

MOST rock stars will tell you that being on the road is incompatible with family life and a hectic touring schedule is the surest way to break up the happy home. Second time around, Peter Gabriel has found the exact opposite to be true.

These days when the ex-Genesis singer embarks on a world tour, it's one of the few times his scattered family gets the opportunity to come together. His second wife, Meabh, and their three-year-old son, Isaac, accompany him everywhere he goes. Melanie, his 29-year-old daughter from his first marriage, sings backing vocals in his band. And his oldest daughter, 31-year-old New York-based filmmaker Anna, documents it all with her cameras.

"It's a perfect touring situation for a dad," he enthuses.
"When I feel like I need to spend a bit more time with my family, I go on tour. I see much more of them when we're on the road."

Now Anna Gabriel's documentary of the last family outing, the Still Growing Up tour, which chronicles a 30-date trek around the stadiums of Europe during June and July 2004, is about to hit stores as a commercial two-disc DVD. The first film features live footage from the shows. The second is Anna's unique behind-the-scenes account of life on the road with rock'n'roll band and family operating in tandem.

"When we started, it wasn't really planned," says Anna, who has now filmed her father's last two tours.

"It wasn't necessarily that I was going to come and make a film. I just wanted to join the tour because Melanie was singing with my dad, and my little brother Isaac and his mum were coming along, and so all the family was together. Living in America, I don't get the chance to see them much, so I wanted to come along and hang out on the road with them."

The cameras accompanied her as a force of habit but inevitably they were soon rolling. "I relax with her behind the camera in a way I wouldn't with anyone else," Peter Gabriel interjects.
"I thought she could get some good material but I didn't know what was going to come out the other end."

What came out was Growing Up on Tour: a Family Portrait, an inventive and intimate film that chronicled Gabriel's in 2002, the first tour in almost a decade. It turned out so well that when Gabriel took to the road again two years later, he invited Anna and her cameras to join him again. "I wanted to make a documentary and I knew she was the perfect person to do it," he says simply.

I meet father and daughter in London on a wet Wednesday lunchtime, Anna having just flown in from New York for a week that is part-work and part-holiday, combining promotion for the DVD with seeing the family. She's staying in Gabriel's London pied-à-terre but is also planning to go down to the family home near Bath to see her brother Isaac and sister Melanie, who lives in Bristol. Sitting next to her on the sofa, her father - whose balding, goateed, rotund figure these days exudes an air of middle-aged contentment - beams with obvious pride.

It seems to be one of those pleasingly happy endings to a story that might have turned out far less felicitously, for although he may now be the benevolent patriarch, Gabriel has led a famously complicated personal life.

After forming Genesis with school friends at Charterhouse in 1967, he and the band took prog-rock to imaginative new heights on albums such as Nursery Cryme, Selling England by the Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. He also became famous for his theatrical stage presence, dressing in outrageous costumes. One song found him decked out as a sunflower. Another found him wearing a huge fox's head. "Fortunately I was way too young to know about that and to be embarrassed," Anna says.

In 1975 he left the group and embarked on a solo career that has marked him out as one of rock music's more cerebral and adventurous figures. But by then, he already had a young family, having married his first wife, Jill Moore, when they were teenage sweethearts. Anna was born in 1974 and her sister two years later.

Gabriel and his first wife separated in the late 1980s and he set up home with the American actress Roseanna Arquette. They were together for six years and he then went on to romance Sinéad O'Connor. Three years ago, he married Meabh Flynn, a music technician and costume designer who worked at his Real World recording studios in Wiltshire.

"I'm not going to be touring as much while Isaac is growing up as I may have done in the past. At this age I've had a lot of career and I'm less concerned about my worldly success. I want to be a good father and to be present in Isaac's life in a way that I wasn't before. Looking back at those years, there were two or three when I was away touring when the girls were growing up. I was very busy when they were young and I've had much more time to play with Isaac. It's like having a second chance."

Anna claims to have been largely unaware of her father's celebrity until she was 12. "We went to a little village school in the middle of the country and I knew he went to work and did music," she recalls. "But that was all I knew really until 'Sledgehammer' came out."

Released in 1986, the song topped the American charts, and its parent album So went to number one around the world. The track was accompanied by a groundbreaking video that, almost 20 years later, remains MTV's most-shown clip. At the time, it scooped best video at the Brit Awards and won in 10 different categories at MTV's own awards. If you owned a TV, it was virtually impossible to escape.

"Suddenly kids of my age knew who he was and so that affected me at school," Anna says.
"That was when it changed for me."

Potentially even more destabilising was that, around the same time, Gabriel's marriage to Jill was unravelling. He admits to fearing he would lose contact with his daughters. "The divorce and the loss of family was the hardest thing in my life," he says.

"But I think that was when we started seeing you the most," Anna interrupts him.

He doesn't seem convinced. "But that desperate dad mode isn't great," he says. "I see these poor guys in the park or at McDonald's on Saturday visiting hours. There isn't time to go through the normal things of childhood and get through the tantrums and come out on the other side of it. The desperate dad has to be nice to keep his limited access hours in a positive place."

Anna feels it was only after the divorce that she got to know her parents properly. "They were very careful to keep any fighting away from me and my sister and we really didn't see much of it," she says.
"But it was the best thing for them to divorce. After the divorce my mum seemed a very different person from the one I'd known in my childhood and I'm very happy to know that person."

At 18, Anna moved to New York to go to college, first studying dance and then enrolling on a photography course, where she also got into video and set up a small production company with Adria Petty, daughter of American rocker Tom Petty. I wonder if she ever considered a musical career?

"I think Mel and I always wanted to sing. But I got interested in photography and the visual medium rather than music. It was hard for me to watch Mel on the last tour because I was quite jealous. Part of me wanted to be doing it too."

At this, the proud father feels compelled to interject. "She has music in the blood," he insists.
"She was doing singing lessons for a while and when she gets up on stage she's like a duck to water. She could do it very easily."

Anna blushes. "Mel worked really hard and I didn't have the tenacity to go for it," she says quietly. "It's hard for her to try and make it in music. Much harder than it is for me to make it working in a different field to dad. There's such a lot to live up to."

Anna says her father proved far easier than any of the other artists with whom she has made music videos. "No temper tantrums and star nonsense." And if there were, she could turn round and say, "Don't be an arse, dad." Whereas with other clients she'd have to be more diplomatic? "Exactly. It was freer creatively because we didn't have to worry about any of that."

They make it sound so cosy. Were there no reservations about working so closely together? "Not from my side," says Gabriel. "Not at first," says Anna more cautiously.
"But now I definitely feel it's time to move on. It can get to be repetitive after a while if you work with the same person all the time."

"Wonderful though they are," adds a proud, paternal voice. And father and daughter both laugh.

The two-disc DVD, Still Growing Up: Live and Unwrapped, is released on Warner Music Vision on October 31

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