Here Comes The Flood, by Robert Fripp and Peter Gabriel

Late in 1975 two giants of progressive rock laid dormant following their temporary departure from the rigor of music making machinery and leaving their respective bands, Genesis and King Crimson. An improbable session to record a song by comedian Charlie Drake found the two in the same studio with an unlikely cast of extreme talent including Sandy Denny, Keith Tippett, Percy Jones (Brand X) and Phil Collins. Peter Gabriel produced the session and wrote the song, You Never Know, a ditty that resembles in spirit the Willow Farm segment from Supper’s Ready on the Genesis album Foxtrot. Robert Fripp played a simple guitar accompaniment, a unique occurrence in his session catalog, and later said of the peculiar occurrence: “This was arguably the strangest session of the entire era.” The session and the song it produced, long forgotten in the annals of music history, was significant for the mere reason that it sparked a series of encounters between Gabriel and Fripp, going through Gabriel’s first solo records and culminating in producing one of my all time favorite recorded songs: Here Comes The Flood, from Fripp’s solo album Exposure.

Gabriel and Fripp

Fripp and Gabriel 1978

Robert Fripp was the first of the two to declare he had it with the tribulations of managing a band and life on the road. In 1974 King Crimson operated as a trio and there was talk of adding founder Ian McDonald to the mix. Quite an intriguing quartet that could have been, but no. Drummer Bill Bruford was quite disappointed by the sudden turn of events, as the setting of improvised art rock was his cup of tea and the reason he left the comfortable but (to him) repetitive confines of Yes. Fripp was fed up with life on the road and the loss of control when operating within the music business. Amazingly after Fripp made the decision to end the band, they were still able to record the album Red, a milestone in progressive rock. Fripp was uncommunicative for most of the recording process and deferred to Bill Bruford and John Wetton to make decisions in the studio. In an interview for Melody Maker in 1979 Fripp recalled: “My ego went. I lost my ego for three months. We were recording ‘Red’ and Bill Bruford would say, ‘Bob – what do you think?’ And I’d say, ‘Well – ‘and inside I’d be thinking how can I know anything? Who am I to express an opinion? And I’d say – ‘Whatever you think, Bill. Yes, whatever you like.'”

Fripp Bruford Wetton

Bruford, Fripp, Wetton

Peter Gabriel followed Fripp’s path and left a successful Genesis in 1975 after the long tour of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. As with Fripp and King Crimson, the decision was not favored by the band who felt they were on the verge of success. Unlike Crimson, however, they were able to not only continue but soared to new levels of success without him. Gabriel took some time off from music in the latter part of 1975 and then surfaced on two musical projects. The first was the Charlie Drake session, the second was the soundtrack to the obscure film All This And World War 2, a bizarre marriage of Beatles covers with 1940s footage of WW2 news reels and films. The film tanked expectedly after two weeks, but the soundtrack fared much better. It also included an interesting version of Strawberry Fields Forever performed by Gabriel.

Gabriel wrote the song Here Comes The Flood shortly after leaving Genesis, and while stylistically he wanted to get as far from the band, he used past and current band members to rehearse with. Guitar player Anthony Phillips who left the band in 1970 and was at that point a decent piano player after resuming his music studies, recalls: “I remember doing Here Comes The Flood. We were back in Trident studios were we had done Trespass, playing at the piano that the Beatles had recorded Hey Jude on. It went very well. I always got on well with Peter. He was full of talk about the future and what we were currently listening  to. Although he used Mike [Rutherford] and Phil [Collins], essentially it was a new broom for Peter…John Goodsall (Brand X again), nice chap, slightly eccentric, was on guitar.” The entirety of Gabriel’s musical career thus far has consisted of working with members of Genesis.

Spare his flute contribution on Katmandu from Cat Stevens’ Mona Bone Jakon from 1970, and guesting on vocals on Colin Scot’s self-titled album from 1971 (another gathering of who’s and who of prog rock including Phil Collins, Peter Hammill, David Jackson, Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson and none else than Robert Fripp, possibly the first time Gabriel and Fripp participated in the same session) I know of no other musical collaboration he made during his years with Genesis. This would quickly change when he met the session musicians for his first solo album.

Peter Gabriel 1977

Seeking a producer outside the UK for a change of style and pace, his first thought was Todd Rundgren. The meeting between the two did not prove fruitful and his next choice was Bob Ezrin, who recruited studio musicians that can knock out a record quick. Drummer Allan Schwartzberg (the cheesy Tie a Yellow Ribbon by Dawn and disco anthem Never Can Say Goodbye by Gloria Gaynor), Percussionist Jimmy Mealen (later on the infamous Capacabana by Barry Manilow), Keyboardist Larry Fast (later on Kate Bush’s Never for Ever) and most importantly bassist Tony Levin, the strongest link moving forward between Gabriel and Fripp. I’m not even going to attempt listing the great recordings by Levin. Lets just say that Barry Manilow is not one of them.

Peter Gabriel 1978

Peter Gabriel

In the meantime Fripp’s seek of a deeper meaning to life brought him to the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and his disciple J.G. Bennett. Gurdjieff’s methods of reaching higher consciousness and focus resonated with a number of artists throughout the years, one of them Keith Jarrett who even recorded the album Sacred Hymns in 1980 with music written by the spiritual leader.

After spending part of 1975 recording and touring with Brian Eno (his unmistakable guitar adorns St. Elmo’s Fire), Fripp took the plunge and retreated for ten months to Sherbourne, at the International Academy for Continuous Education. The institute was founded in 1971 by Bennett and combined Gurdjieff’s teaching with practical skill building such as erecting walls and metalsmithing. Other than playing the guitar in social gatherings at the retreat, 1976 was a very quiet year musically for Fripp.

Robert Fripp at Sherbourne

Robert Fripp at Sherbourne

Fripp’s first commercial music activity coming out of the retreat was playing on Peter Gabriel’s debut solo album (Car) and the live performances that followed its release. Seeking one British soul to lean on amongst the Canadian-American majority in the studio, Gabriel immediately thought of Fripp, who took the job but may have not been ready yet to resume a demanding commitment: “I only accepted to be on the tour on the condition that I would be playing in the dark without being seen by the public. My imaginative part was really limited.” Hiding inside the confines of the studio did not prove any better due to the artistic differences he had with producer Bob Ezrin: “I do not like the first album’s production at all. It is vulgar, it lacks subtlety, it is too American and, most of all, it totally misses the essence of Peter Gabriel. At the time, Peter thought it was a good thing to do. Today, he admits there are problems. He lacked confidence at the time and Bob Ezrin gave him some”. Although I like some of the songs on Gabriel’s debut, I agree with Fripp. Ezrin is an able producer but his tendency for bombastic production, which did wonders on albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and many Alice Cooper albums, just doesn’t seem fit for that album. It could potentially have worked for a dramatic song like Here Comes The Flood, but even Gabriel felt that the production did not do the song justice on that first album. The version he recorded with Fripp on the latter’s debut solo gave it a completely different treatment.

Peter Gabriel I Car

Peter Gabriel I (Car)

Robert Fripp’s true return to music life took place in July 1977 when he got a call from Brian Eno, who was working with David Bowie in Berlin on the follow up album to Low. Working with producer Toni Visconti at the Hansa studio they needed hairy rock guitar licks on some of the songs. Eno didn’t think twice before placing a call to Fripp, who came in and recorded the first thing that came into his mind as he was listening to songs such as Beauty and the Beast and Heroes (multiple Fripp guitar tracks edited by Visconti).

Fripp Visconti Bowie Eno

Fripp, Visconti, Bowie, Eno

1977 was a great comeback year for Fripp. After a set of live shows in the US with Gabriel in February 1977, Fripp decided to relocate to New York which was then a hotbed for a new American music scene led by bands like Talking Heads, Blondie and Television, all of whom he socialized and collaborated with. In August he spent three weeks in the studio with Daryl Hall producing and playing on Hall’s first solo album, Sacred Songs. The two got on so well together that they planned for Hall to sing all the songs on Fripp’s solo, a plan that was soon put on the shelf by Daryl Hall’s record label executives who saw their cash cow losing its commercial appeal by hooking up with an eccentric English man with a tendency to run away from success. Only two songs survived, one of them the wonderful North Star, with Phil Collins, Tony Levin, Brian Eno, Fripp and Sid McGinnis on pedal steel guitar.

Daryl Hall Robert Fripp

At the end of 1977 Gabriel and Fripp got together again to work on Gabriel’s second solo album (Scratch), this time with Fripp as producer. The album included the song Exposure, which would later be recorded again with Terre Roach singing her heart out for Fripp’s album and become its title track. Gabriel’s second solo is not a consistent affair and the experiments he tried with Fripp in the studio did not always produce satisfying results, as Gabriel noted: “Fripp is probably still my favorite guitar player, but as a producer I don’t think it worked very well. Neither he nor I ended up that satisfied with the second album.” Despite the results, Fripp participated as a guest musician on shows to promote the album. On an October 4th 1978 show at the Bottom Line in NYC they played Here Comes The Flood as an encore.

Peter Gabriel II Scratch

Peter Gabriel II (Scratch)

Exposure and Here Comes the Flood showcase the guitar soundscapes that Fripp developed for a number of years with musical partner Brian Eno. At the time the system to produce that sound was analog and consisted of two Revox tape recorders, a technique that Brian Eno provided a diagram for on his Discreet Music album cover. The Idea of feeding the signal from one tape to another, thus creating a delay effect, was not new. Electronic music pioneers and later minimalists like Terry Riley already used it in various recordings during the 60s. Riley created the Time-Lag Accumulator, essentially the same setup as the early Frippertronics equipment, but he usually fed it with previously recorded music, for example Music for The Gift from 1963.

Eno and Fripp first showcased their use of the method on the album No Pussyfooting in 1972, with the side-long track The Heavenly Music Corporation, a piece Fripp said was the best thing he has ever done. In that case Fripp was playing the guitar and Eno operating the tapes. Eno on the process: “Fripp did all the clever stuff, for sure, but the sound that he was he hearing was routed through my machinery. I was changing it and he was responding to what I was doing. This was really a new idea, the notion that two people could make one sound in that way.” Fripp was later looking to use the same setup performing alone on stage: “I did Frippertronics at the Kitchen in NYC in ’78. It was completely improvised music, with two Revoxes. I said to Eno, “How do you get these Revoxes working?” He drew me a diagram. I said, “You’ve just done yourself out of a job.”


Two Tape Looping Diagram

Fripp with Revox recorders

Fripp doing his Frippertronics

The recording of Here Comes The Flood for Fripp’s Exposure album took place in March 1978. On the album it is preceded by a Frippertronics track called Water Music 1, a great introduction to the song. Fripp incorporated into the track a recording of J.G. Bennett in a lecture where he predicts an ice age and climatic floods across the planet:
“From the scientific point of view it is now very likely that there will be again another Ice Age, quite soon, in the world, that we shall have the north part of the world all frozen like it used to be, and we’re beginning to have natural disasters, from the scientists’ study it seems likely that we should soon begin to have these great changes in the earth’s climate so people will not be able to live where they have, and the oceans will rise, and many cities will be flooded, like London, and Calcutta, and so on. These things, they say, will happen, according to scientific theory, in about forty years at the most, but maybe even quicker.”
We are past the 40 year mark since that lecture was made and as of this writing I am still above water, so we are in the clear as far as that prediction goes. However it is a solid forecast into the future, as the rate of sea level rise is consistently increasing over the last few decades. Disaster theories aside, the spoken word on top of Fripp’s guitar create the perfect mood for what is to follow.

Fripp in NYC 1978

Robert Fripp in NYC 1978

And what follows is in my opinion the best recorded version of Here Comes The Flood. There are other wonderful performances of the song, such as Gabriel’s solo on Kate Bush’s Xmas TV Special from 1979:

and his later live performances of the song, again with piano only:

His vocal delivery on the song is one of the best in his career, in my book competing with his singing on The Carpet Crawlers from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and the opening of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight  from Selling England By The Pound. The subject of the song has nothing to do with a literal flood or in any way related to liquid substances. Gabriel talked about the song on a few occasions. In 1977, after releasing his debut solo album, he said: “It’s a sort of flood of the mind, a telepathic flood, which some people are able to swim, and others not. The situation where those people, who cut themselves off as islands, not being honest with themselves or with other people, will be bombarded by other people’s thoughts and other people reading their own minds, and the people who have been open and straight forward would be no different.” In 1986 he gave an insight into what drove the writing of the song: “When I wrote this song I had an obsession with short-wave radio and I was always amazed at the way in which the radio signals would become stronger as daylight faded. I felt as if psychic energy levels would also increase in the night. I had had an apocalyptic dream in which the psychic barriers which normally prevent us from seeing into each others’ thoughts had been completely eroded producing a mental flood. Those that had been used to having their innermost thoughts exposed would handle this torrent and those inclined to concealment would drown in it.”

Exposure front

The performance by Fripp and Gabriel on the version from the Exposure album is simply perfect. The fade from the guitar effects on Water Music 1 to the beginning of the song with the stark piano accompaniment and Gabriel’s emotional voice is a great work of mixing. Brian Eno is also present playing a nice synth flute accompaniment, and the best part is the end of the song with the guitar effects build up behind Gabriel’s vocals. I love songs that have odd meters in them, and Gabriel has no short supply of those. In this song it is applied in a subtle way, a single ¾ bar in each verse. Here it is, a meeting of two musical geniuses:

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When the night shows

the signals grow on radios

All the strange things

they come and go, as early warnings

Stranded starfish have no place to hide

still waiting for the swollen Easter tide

There’s no point in direction we cannot

even choose a side.

I took the old track

the hollow shoulder, across the waters

On the tall cliffs

they were getting older, sons and daughters

The jaded underworld was riding high

Waves of steel hurled metal at the sky

and as the nail sunk in the cloud, the rain

was warm and soaked the crowd.

Lord, here comes the flood

We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood

If again the seas are silent

in any still alive

It’ll be those who gave their island to survive

Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.

When the flood calls

You have no home, you have no walls

In the thunder crash

You’re a thousand minds, within a flash

Don’t be afraid to cry at what you see

The actors gone, there’s only you and me

And if we break before the dawn, they’ll

use up what we used to be.

Lord, here comes the flood

We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood

If again the seas are silent

in any still alive

It’ll be those who gave their island to survive

Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.

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22 replies »

  1. Veeeery interesting. I usually love minimalist productions, but I make an exception for this song. The original “full” version is outstanding (I love 1979 “naked” version too !)

  2. Happy to inform. You may also be interested in the Roches’ first album from 1979, which Fripp produced. Very different material, but no less brilliant.

  3. “unless I was sleeping through a global climatic catastrophe, we are in the clear as far as that prediction goes.”

    I guess you haven’t heard about this interesting and well-documented phenomenon known as “climatic change”, aka “global warming”? “We” who live today may be “in the clear”, but future generations are not. Your snark aside, Bennett was far closer to being right than you are.

    • c’mon, you are taking my ‘snark’ out of context. The peril at which our planet and our future within it are in is not questionable here. The specific time frame, predicting 40 years at most, is the subject of my remark. Like many other global catastrophe predictions throughout history, definitely those that are past due, they were wrong. The scientific tools at the disposal of those who made those predictions could not possibly allow them to make such exact estimates, and it was foolish of them to state such claims. Are future generations in the clear then? Of course not. Can we tell them the specific date when they may pay the price for the actions of the careless generations who begat them? Of course not.

  4. Interesting piece about an interesting period. While I agree with some of Fripp’s (and the author’s) criticisms of Gabriel’s debut album (overproduced/Americanized), listening to it recently, I think it’s aged incredibly well and the songs and performances are amongst his best. However, I agree 100% that the Fripp/Gabriel version of HCTF is the definitive version. Perhaps the simplicity/sparseness of it should have been their template for Gabriel’s second album (which is very good and underrated despite the so-so production).

  5. Fripp often talked at the time about the three albums — Exposure, Sacred Songs and PG2 — as a trilogy. You’re right about RCA being spooked a bit by Daryl’s album. They didn’t like the trilogy association and delayed the release for a year or more after Exposure came out in 1979 (PG2 came out in 1978).

  6. Here Come the Flood is such an amazing song. Timeless. Now over 40 years old and no less moving. I do though, like the version from his compilation album. In that version, the first chorus is song in the same octave as the first part of the song and PG only sings it an octave higher in the second chorus. I feel the build up to it brings in part of the original ‘over produced’ rapture like sound, but using only his voice to accomplish it. I get tingles every time I hear it. The words of the this song were way ahead of their time… or as you mention in the article, perhaps just a prediction of things to come without a timeline. Thank you for the great article.

  7. Nice piece. It does short Terry Riley; he did not normally use prerecorded music in his delay system; at the time that Eno copied it exactly, down to the specific model of Revox tape machines, all recordings and live performances by Riley using the system used live input. Examples of pre recorded input into the system by Riley were unavailable until the 90s.

  8. I’d have to say I disagree with Fripp’s dislike of the 1st album’s production values. Sonically/audio wise, it is very good and better than the 2nd. I’ve always loved the album and prefer that version of “Flood” to Fripp’s Exposure. Get a good UK pressing (LP) or the Classic Records audiophile pressing, it’s a GREAT record.

  9. On an additional note, I am of the opinion that it is Fripp’s 2nd collaboration with Eno “Evening Star” side 1 that has some of Fripp’s best work and sound.

  10. What a great read. Full of historical twists I wasn’t aware of, and thank you for that.

  11. If, as Peter Gabriel suggests, Here Comes the Flood is not about the climate disaster that is facing us, but rather a flood of the unconscious that overwhelms consciousness, the link to Exposure is even more meaningful because what many of us fear most is that others see through our personas and into one’s psychological ‘shadow’, the parts we want no one else to see. And, to bring things into a nice confluence, what is the Judge’s sentence on Bob Ezrin’s (PG’s first album’s producer) work on Pink Floyd’s The Wall? “I sentence you to be exposed before your peers. Tear down the wall.” Now that’s exposure!

  12. The picture with the caption “Peter Gabriel 1978” is definitely a later picture: we can see an SSL E Series console behind him. That console didn’t come out until the 2nd half of 1979 and Peter installed his first SSL 4000 E Series in 1983

  13. Nice story and great illustrations of the pure talents of Fripp and Gabriel. Very nice post !

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