In the early '90s, Peter Gabriel's studios in rural England were opened for several weeks of collaborations — musical and otherwise — involving scores of musicians.
In 1986, English musician Peter Gabriel opened the doors to his legendary Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England. Over the years, musicians from Bonnie Raitt and Deep Purple to Robert Plant and Nigel Kennedy have recorded at the former grain mill, surrounded by sheep farms 100 miles west of London.
But Real World has always been more than just a place for heavy hitters to lay down tracks and dash off rock mixes. Its mission has also been to provide a state-of-the-art space for musicians from around the world to meet and mingle, try out new sounds and bounce ideas off each other. The so-called "recording weeks" of the early '90s were examples of just that — some 75 artists from 20 countries came to play.
"I think we were trying to get a number of records done, as well," Gabriel says. "But I think the exciting thing for a lot of us was that there were musicians from all over the world — songwriters, poets, all thrown together — and all sorts of connections happened."
In those heady days of musical experimentation, artists recorded in all nooks and crannies of the complex, and so many tapes piled up that they started to run out of room to store them. Almost two decades later, the tapes from the recording weeks are finally sorted. On Tuesday, the album Big Blue Ball comes out on Real World Records.
Many points of the globe are represented on Big Blue Ball. There's Congolese singer Papa Wemba, Sinead O'Connor from Ireland, the Holmes Brothers' American gospel, string players from Egypt, percussion from Japan and flute playing from China. Peter Gabriel acted as curator and sings on several tracks. He and co-producers Stephen Hague and Karl Wallinger spoke with Liane Hansen about the project.
"It was just like a musical health farm, really," Wallinger says. "There wasn't any considerations other than the sounds you heard in the room, which were always pretty extraordinary and played by people who had been mastering their instrument in whatever way for however many years. I think the collective musical years that had gone down amongst everybody there would have been well into the thousands."