Friday, March 31, 2017

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1993 - I Prophesy Disaster

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1993
I Prophesy Disaster



01. Afterwards (4:57)
02. Necromancer (3:36)
03. Refugees (5:24)
04. The Boat of Millions of Years (3:50)
05. Lemmings(including Cog) (11:37)
06. W (4:26)
07. Arrow (9:46)
08. La Rossa (9:50)
09. Ship of Fools (3:46)
10. Medley (Parts of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "The Sleepwalkers") (13:32)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Guy Evans / drums
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass pedals and guitar (No 1 to 8)
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes (No 1, 8, 10)
- Keith Ellis / bass (No 1, 2)
- Nic Poter / bass (No 3, 4)
- Graham Smith / violin (No 9, 10)
- Charles Dickie / cello, keyboards (No 10)


 A Van der Graaf Generator compilation is never a bad thing as the band had so much to offer and choose from to fill up an album. I sat down with this compilation simply to hear all these tracks compiled in a different way than the album releases and to re-familiarise myself with some of the lesser known tracks. The first thing one notices is the almost maddening patience the band has as it introduces each of the tracks. But there are always moments of brilliance with each track as the pace ranges from slow to breakneck, and the time signatures change throughout, not only with the instruments but with Hammill's incredible vocal delivery. It is pleasant to listen to these cuts taken from the classic albums such as the choices from the debut 'Afterwards,' and 'Necromancer' that demonstrate the innovation in the early years.
'Refugees' is a treasure from "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other", though I definitely prefer the brilliant 'Darkness (11/11). 'The Boat of Millions of Years' was a rarity until its release as a bonus track on the remaster of the aforementioned album.

We move then to some tracks from the masterpiece "Pawn Hearts", including genius composition 'Lemmings (including Cog)'. Here, it is easy to see why this band are musical pioneers and boundary pushing visionaries. The track begins innocently enough, "I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top, looked down around and all I could see were those that I would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea." David Jackson's saxophone soon turns it up a notch and we are treated with the maelstrom of sound and verbal music psychosis that is quintessential VDGG. 'W' follows that is a track that never made it to the album but it is nice to hear it here.

"Godbluff" is well presented by the dark, brooding menace of 'Arrow'. Hammill's vocals are more tortured and raspy on this track and are a surprising contrast to the smoothness on the other tracks. The track begins with a percussion and saxophone improvisation that reminds one of the early King Crimson years. The track relies highly on saxophone and Hammond but the understatement of the bass is admirable and knits it all together perfectly.

'La Rossa' is one of the gems from "Still Life", a wonderful composition with an antithesis of intense atmospheres and entrancing beauty; Hammill absolutely blasting out with an emotive delivery. Jackson is a revelation on sax and the organ grinds powerfully throughout, along the drums and bass motifs. This track is truly a wonderful foray into the dark netherworld of VDGG. Ear splitting vocals and ambient keyboards are the order of the day and Hammill is a master of the insightful existential lyric. This is him at his existential best as he indulges in caterwauling along genuinely off kilter melodic jazz dissonance.

'Ship of Fools' was an unreleased single but now represents the bonus track from the remastered "The Quiet Zone/ The Pleasure Dome" with raucous servings of heavy guitar, and intense vocals full of angst and rage. It is perhaps the heaviest that the band gets, and shows a new direction that the band took during this era of 1977.

'Medley (Parts of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "The Sleepwalkers")' is the 13:32 treasure from the live "Vital". I always loved this version from the live performance and at least this compilation does include some of the ingenious "Pawn Hearts" epic. It is not as good as the epic of course but still nice to revel in. The way it segues into "Godbluff"'s 'The Sleepwalkers' is a stroke of genius and again it is great to hear those quirky melodies again. It begins softly and then launches into the maelstrom of sound and verbal music psychosis that is VDGG. The Hammond and sax take us deeper into the abyss and VDGG really let loose with wild staccato riffs and a monstrous finale where everything just explodes into a paroxysm of uncontrolled mayhem. It's a killer track and moves from romanticism with piano elegy only to explode into a doom-laden soundwave with wild saxophones screaming over unfriendly sounds such as Dickie's keyboards and Guy Evan's off-kilter percussion. Potter's bass is booming on this live album and is one of the real drawcards to hearing the whole concert. 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' was the first track I had heard from this amazing band that tells the story of an eyewitness who sees the unspeakable as he feels his body fading in a storm while voyaging on a doomed ship; It reminds one of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. 'The Sleepwalkers' is zombies rising from their sleep to wreak terror upon the unwary; both work together as a grande guignol visceral excursion into the macabre.

Overall, this is a terrific compilation but is missing some of the indispensable VDGG tracks. I like the way it features unreleased tracks at the time and still retains some of the masterful tracks that made this band such wonderful progressive legends. There is nothing new to offer those who own the VDGG remastered CDs but still is better than the average VDGG compilations as it features all of the years to the present date of release; from debut to "Vital".

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1988 - Now And Then

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1988 
Now And Then



01. Saigon Roulette - Jackson, Banton, Evans (4:43)
02. The Liquidator - Van Der Graaf Generator (5:27)
03. Gentlemen Prefer Blues - Jackson, Banton, Evans (2:58)
04. The Main Slide - Jackson, Banton, Evans (4:07)
05. Tropic Of Conversation - Jackson, Banton, Evans (7:19)
06. Spooks - Jackson, Banton, Evans (5:15)
07. Tarzan - Van Der Graaf Generator (2:14)
08. The Epilogue - Jackson, Banton, Evans (4:10)


On the Van Der Graaf Generator tracks:
- Peter Hammill / piano & vocals
- Hugh Banton / organ & bass pedals (presumably, because he is credited with 'sax', which can't be true compared to the Time Vaults release)
- Guy Evans / drums
- David Jackson / saxophone

On the Jackson, Banton, Evans tracks:
- David Jackson / saxophones, flutes & keyboards
- Hugh Banton / keyboards & drum programmes
- Guy Evans / drum machine, percussion, baliphones & trumpet


Most of the tracks on this album were recorded around 1984, after VDGG had split. With Hammill perusing a solo career, the other three band members (Guy Evans, Hugh Banton, and David Jackson) recorded a number of tracks together. It is doubtful whether these were ever seriously intended for commercial releases, and even more doubtful that they were intended to bear the name Van Der Graaf Generator. Inevitably though, they found their way into the bootleg market as "Gentlemen prefer blues" and bearing the VDGG name. They have since gone on to acquire quasi-official status in terms of release, although there is no indication that the band have ever sanction them.

Two of the tracks, "The liquidator" and "Tarzan" are from an entirely different period in the band's history, both featuring the classic line up including Hammill (who writes both tracks). These songs date from 1973/4, between the "Pawn Hearts" and "Godbluff" albums. These tracks are taken from the "Time vaults" compilation.

Those seeking the lost treasures of Van Der Graaf Generator would be well advised to tread carefully when it comes to the 6 Jackson, Banton, Evans tracks. I am not saying there is anything wrong with them, but they bear little resemblance to anything VDGG have ever done. All the tracks are instrumentals, Hammill's defining vocals are absent altogether. The tracks are much more accessible than is customary for VDGG's work, with simple rhythms and themes; they are effectively soft smooth jazz outings.

At times, we move into pure, traditional jazz, such as on "Gentlemen prefer blues" which is simply a sax improvisation by David Jackson. The jazz is put aside temporarily for the experimental "The main slide", a piece devoid of musical structure or form. Bizarrely, this gives way to a reggae influenced synth backed interlude called "Tropic of conversation". As pleasant pop/reggae/jazz ditties go, this one is actually quite enjoyable. While "The epilogue" fits in well with the other tracks, it actually dates from a previous incarnation without Hammill from 1977. Jackson and Evans are absent from this track, which features Eric Cairns and Ian Gomm instead.

Of the two tracks which include Hammill, and are thus by the full VDGG line up "The liquidator" is one of the most upbeat and enthusiastically performed songs ever recorded by the band, with Hammill positively bouncing along to his vocals. "Tarzan" is a short funky instrumental more in keeping with the rest of the material here.

In all, one for the VDGG collector really. The music is reasonably enjoyable, but it is somewhat different to the style usually associated with Van Der Graaf Generator.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1982 - Time Vaults

Van Der Graaf Generator
1982
Time Vaults




01. Liquidator (5:24)
02. Rift Valley (4:40)
03. Tarzan (2:09)
04. Coil Night (4:12)
05. Time Vaults (3:33)
06. Drift (I Hope It Won't) (2:40)
07. Roncevaux (6:55)
08. It All Went Up (4:07)
09. Faint and Forsaken (2:45)
10. Blackroom (8:52)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Guy Evans / drums
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass pedals and guitar
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes

Releases information
First officially released on musicassette only by Sofa Sound in 1982, later on LP by Demi Monde (DM 003) and on CD by Thunderbolt (CDTB 106).


"Time vaults" is not an official VDGG releases, and indeed it was never intended that the music it contains be released at all. While some tracks, such as "The liquidator" are pretty much completed, others are clearly works in progress. The tracks here are all Peter Hammill compositions recorded during the band's sabbatical between "Pawn hearts" and "Godbluff". The tracks originally found their way onto the bootleg market, but have since been (perhaps reluctantly) legitimised.

During the period covered by these tracks from 1972 to 1975 VDGG did not officially exist. Hammill was pursuing a solo career, with other members of the classic line up helping out along the way while also working on their own material.

The opening track "(The) liquidator" is the best of the bunch here. Opening with some delightful echoed piano, Hammill offers a fine vocal performance on a rousing, rocking number. The song sits alongside the band's most accessible material, a sort of "Theme one" with vocals.

Unfortunately that's about I really. Much of what remains is made up of studio jams, rehearsals and demos. As the quality of the sound dips, so does the quality of the music. To be fair to Hammill and the rest of the band, the experimentation which can be heard here was just that, this is not a final product by any means. Some of the tracks (such as "Coil night" and "Tarzan") remain in instrumental form, presumably intended as backing tracks for as yet unwritten lyrics and vocal melodies.

The title track is the most bizarre, the piece drifting in and out of "Rudolph reindeer" and a plethora of other themes. "Faint and forsaken" sounds like a loose attempt to recreate "Theme one", but without the benefit of a memorable melody. It sounds great with all those thumping keyboards, but a tune would have been nice.

In short, one for the VDGG fan who has to have everything by them. That said, worth acquiring just to hear "Liquidator".

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1978 - Vital

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1978 
Vital



1978 Original double LP:
SIDE ONE
01. Ship Of Fools
02. Still Life
03. Last Frame
SIDE TWO
01. Mirror Images
02. Medley (Parts Of 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers' And 'The Sleepwalkers')
SIDE THREE
01. Pioneers Over C
02. Sci-Finance
SIDE FOUR
01. Door
02. Urban
03. Nadir's Big Chance

1989 CD release:
01. Ship Of Fools (6:44)
02. Still Life (9:43)
03. Last Frame (8:59)
04. Mirror Images (5:48)
05. Medley:
a) Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers
b) Sleepwalkers (13:47)
06. Pioneers Over C (16:59)
07. Door (5:29)
08. Urban / Killer / Urban (7:36)

2005 Remastered Edition double CD:
DISC ONE
01. Ship Of Fools (6:43)
02. Still Life (9:42)
03. Last Frame (9:02)
04. Mirror Images (5:50)
05. Medley:
a) Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers
b) Sleepwalkers (13:41)

DISC TWO
01. Pioneers Over C (17:00)
02. Sci-Finance (6:16)
03. Door (6:00)
04. Urban / Killer / Urban (8:20)
05. Nadir's Big Chance (7:00)

- Graham Smith / violin
- Nic Potter / bass
- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Guy Evans / drums
- Charles Dickie / cello, keyboards
GUEST:
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes


- The first Charisma CD release contains the first LP.
- The 1989 CD release contains a selection of the two LP's ("Sci-Finance" and "Nadir's Big Chance" are left out)
- The Japanese CD release publishes the whole album, as does the 2005 Remastered Edition.


Perhaps this sits much better in a punk-rock collection, even though this is no simple punk rock, either.
One of the things I always loved about Vital is it's raw playing and the best (and probably only) prog/punk hybrid ever. What a show!

I don't know how does the original pressing compares with the 2005 Remaster (the one I have), but the sound of the latter is crystal clear enough to hear every nuance but not enough to miss the edge, which is damn nice item in my book. Here you get to hear PH's flagerised guitar and sweetly obnoxious voice, Potter's amazing fuzz bass (something I think he, alongside Hugh Hopper, is a king of), Guy's jazzy drumming, Smith's lovely violins, Dickie's compressed cello and electric synthesizer and synthesized electric piano, and even Jackson's bleeded unrecorded saxes, a real joy to hear. Not quite, because Vital is an as uncomfortable listening experience as it gets, where the listener is constantly challenged and reminded to pay attention, the mark of an essential live record and the why this one is so high in my list, maybe even more than Live At Leeds.

What I like the most about it is the inclusion of the then-unreleased stuff like the paranoid "Ship Of Fools" or the angry medley of "Urban/Killer/Urban", and Charles Dickie's homemade synthesizer (the same from The Future Now) adding atmosphere such as the sequences on "Door" or the processed noise at the end of "A Plague Of Sleepwalkers", which may look like little but makes a whole lot of difference.

The album opens with some uncertain applause just before Hammill plays some notes to test the air and then proceeds with the riff from "Ship Of Fools", a ferocious rocker with a nice violin/guitar/cello bridge; "Still Life" contains some of the best fuzz bass I've ever heard, doubling the guitar, and somehow I don't feel disappointed about this rework; "Last Frame"'s intro is a teaser for the forthcoming brutality, another piece of Hammill's constant question of identity; this version of "Mirror Images" is much superior than the one from pH7, it opens with some violin-dominated gloomy intro before it becomes a bittersweet ballad of sorts; "A Plague Of Sleepwalkers" is a medley, of course, but just as the reworking of "Still Life", there's enough elements to make it special such as the extended intro and moving ending; "Pioneers Over C" is the only song I think could have been trimmed or made differently, but just because the sax wasn't recorded to make the solo audible enough; "Sci-Finance" in this form is a monster, contrary to the dreaded version from In A Foreign Town; "Door" is odd and Peter himself admits it, but that doesn't mean it isn't good; "Urban/Killer/Urban" begins with a jam and ends in a similar way, the stuff within is just as good as all the rest; and "Nadir's Big Chance" closes Vital with an angular, slightly sloppy version.

I understand this isn't prog as such and prog fans may not be interested in this sort of stuff, but prog or not, this is excellent enough as a live record to ignored.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1977 - The Quiet Zone / Pleasure Dome

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1977 
The Quiet Zone / Pleasure Dome



- The Quiet Zone (LP side 1):
01. Lizard Play (4:29)
02. The Habit of the Broken Heart (4:40)
03. The Siren Song (6:04)
04. Last Frame (6:13)
- The Pleasure Dome (LP side 2):
05. The Wave (3:14)
06. Cat's Eye / Yellow Fever (Running) (5:20)
07. The Sphinx in the Face (5:58)
08. Chemical World (6:10)
09. The Sphinx Returns (1:12)

Total time: 43:20

Bonus tracks on 2005 Charisma remaster:
10. Door (Studio version) (3:28)
11. The Wave (Instrumental Demo) (3:03) *
12. Ship of Fools (1977 French Single B-side) (3:43)

* Previously unreleased

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards, producer
- Graham Smith / violin, viola
- Nic Potter / bass
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion

With:
- David Jackson / saxes (7,9)



Bizarre doesn't even begin to describe this album. A blend of progressive punk and almost pastoral music with a mean violin, vocal stylings that baffle even the Peter Hammill initiated, quirky, though generally brilliant, lyrics... the list goes on, and the bizarre melding of standard musical elements and a freakishly experimental mindset works overtime. Really, there is no way to describe this album effectively, it'll probably take a while to catch on as a whole, and any preconceptions you have about Van Der Graaf Generator probably do not apply to this album. Consequently, it's a bizarrely essential album: I really enjoy it, I appreciate there are a lot of people (particularly the pretty vocals crowd) who probably won't get it (not a bad thing, just different tastes), and I think it was really pushing the barriers in a way that the other classic prog bands had rather given up on by 1977. Graham Smith and Nick Potter give the album a great deal of attack, Hammill's experiments with all sorts of vocal ideas have jumped off into the deep end in a way that you'll either love or hate, Guy Evans is solid as ever, and the pianos and guitars are used with a lot more confidence and detail than most previous Van Der Graaf Generator efforts. I think it's a masterpiece, sure some others take the opposite opinion. Lizard Play exhibits the rather Van Der Graaf Generatorish (well, in this case, Van Der Graafish) of having some sort of anti-catch value. On the first listen, it made virtually no impact on me, either lyrically or musically, but now, I can call it nothing less than amazing. The first Meurglys III notes lead us into a little, slightly jazzy intro a bit reminiscent of When She Comes, before Hammill's light-hearted, very cleverly harmonised vocals come in, using a full range of high wispy overdubs to counterbalance low, gritty multiple vocals. Evans is fantastic, of course, providing all sorts of rolls in addition to some absolutely beyond-belief unusual hollow and tingly percussion inclusions. Hammill's lyrics are metaphorical, assertive and extremely potent once you actually see the whole picture, and allow for a couple of clever spins which you somehow never quite expect even when you know they're coming up. Potter's thorough, thick basslines provide the real backbone for the piece, as well as a sort of bestial feel to the piece. The Graham Smith violin is characteristically unusual, and includes a couple of rather neat subtleties that provide a little more weight to the acoustic. A song full of weirdness, shamanic rhythms, a general refusal to accept the standard terms of what rock is, and a touch of whimsicality that works really well for Van Der Graaf.

The Habit Of The Broken heart is another somewhat eclectic song, moving from a fairly basic acoustic riff to a subtle bitter bit of reflection to a full on burst of rock to a small vocal coda. The lyrics are a touch less sharp than I'd expect from Hammill, though they still contain a couple of great lines, and a basic message, which is more than a lot of bands manage to do. The lyrical vulnerability of the song relative to the rest of the album is more than outweighed by the superb musical content and the rather odd mood in Hammill's vocal. Guy Evans and Nic Potter provide a weird bass-driven riff for a fair amount of the piece. The dashes of organ fit in quite nicely, as does the lush background viola. A lot of the punk ethos thumping in again, along with a few elements of dissonance and the rather curtailed melodies than characterise much of World Record. The conclusion is nicely done. Not an absolutely perfect piece, but a lot of redeeming features, and a particularly top notch performance from Evans.

Siren Song features the album's finest lyrics, and some of the finest lyrics in rock, and the closest thing to a conventionally pretty vocal on there. The piano is absolutely lovely, and supplemented by a tragic violin, Guy Evans' very emotional and delicate percussion and the unusual Potter distorted bass sound. The mood changes of the song are distinctive, involving and feature a rather more upbeat, folk-inspired violin part, as well as an example of just how mobile Van Der Graaf Generator can make a song. Nic Potter never did a weirder bass part than that in the middle of this song, and it pays off fantastically. Anyway, the best way to describe this one is with a bit of a lyrics quote. It has reduced me to tears on occasion, and not many pieces can do that.

Laughter in the backbone laughter impossibly wise that same laughter that comes every time I flash on that look in your eyes which whispers of a black zone which'll mock all my credos as lies, where all logic is done and time will smash every theory I devise

The six minute Last Frame could well be the highlight of the album for a lot of the more prog-by-the-books listeners. A hollow atmospheric introductory solo on viola (I think) from Graham Smith leads us into the song proper, coupled with a couple of very dark, full jabs on bass and a tinkle of percussion, takes us onto the tragic retrospective vocals, coupled with a savagely bleak and determined set of lyrics. Hammill provides an acoustic (on occasion surprisingly unusual in sound) pretty much throughout the main part of the song, which is quite a nice change, and it fits in neatly both at the higher-tempo sections and the more introspective low-key parts. A sort of freakish guitar or violin solo backed up by a dab of Meurglys III riff takes up prime position in the instrumental mid-part. The song's conclusion is particularly awesome, with a distinctly rocking bass riff mixing itself in with dabs of percussion, classy lyrical bite and a distorted guitar. As always, Evans is a solid drummer, controlling his sound, volume and feel quite precisely and adding a slightly human feel through the drumming. Fantastic stuff.

The Wave is probably the most daringly introspective of the songs on this album, with quirky, and yet quite moving lyrics about the point of analysis and the effect of that on nature or feeling. The lush, but quite delicate, interplay between Hammill's piano and mellotron (it's probably actually a viola, listening to it a bit more closely) and the strings is extremely well-written, and Hammill's vocals are simply amazing in a way that only they can be. The tension is available, and a mixture of grandeur, uncertainty, high and low and whispered vocals, and selective self-harmonies adding a sort of ebbing feel to the piece. The rhythm section is again excellent, with Guy Evans' fitting in his own sort of style quite softly, accomplishing a number of subtle cadences that other drummers often seem nervous to add into soft songs, accomplishing the same sort of rolling line with no intrusion at all. It did take a while to catch onto me, as one would sort of expect a soft song like this to simply head for plain lyrics, but in the end the combination seems simply more and more right. Unusual soft songs are one of my favourite features of the classic 70s prog rock bands, and this fits that description perfectly. Masterful.

If one track can be described as driven, it's probably Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever, this piece rivets itself into the mind, frantically and schizophrenically leaping off its own ideas. Hammill's lyrics and vocals have a wonderfully reeled-off-on-the-spot tint, albeit not a lot of conventional beauty to counterbalance that. The jarring aggression of the vocals is in the vein of Nadir's Big Chance rather than Arrow or La Rossa, relying on an innate menace, speed and rhythm over volume or arrangement, and yet they are actually surprisingly fitting for the song, ramming in uncertainty, panic, menace and rage without pausing for breath... a burst of vocal dubs only heightens the frantic mood. The exhausted final vocal line is a complete contrast to this schizoid personality... one of the best worst vocal performances ever. Graham Smith's violin and viola provides truly berserk emotionality, reeling off a pulsing, tense riff as well as an array of off-the-wall solos, counterbalanced by the utter catharsis of the concluding solo. Nic Potter has never sounded better, with pulsating, demanding, insistent bass-lines complete with mixed-in sort of bass groans, as well as a bass-sound or two I haven't heard used in that way before. Even under that incredible violin solo at the end, he fits in a tasteful, obvious bass sound. The guitar is equally superb, providing a sort of picked-electric sound that lends a lot of character to the piece, as well as some blitz-on-the-ear wails. One of the big standouts of this piece, though, is Guy Evans. His combination of sort of trapping drum sounds, solid, aggressive beats, tasteful leaves, hard, flat rock beats and manically fast, yet comprehensible, fills, which sort of overspill all the parameters of the song, providing a sensation of real vertigo and being off the edge.

Anyway, I've gone into a bit more detail than I usually do on shortish songs for this one, but it was entirely worth it. An incredible song, one that really both pushes the parameters of rock and yet builds on existing traditions. As Peter Hammill would say, the 'exciting stuff'. It's a sample at the moment, so take a listen to it on the appropriate volume. If you don't like it, the album might not be for you (there's a wide range of material covered, and the lyrics, here, are probably not as strong as the rest of the album), but if you do, really, the album might be your thing. It's the song that brought me to going beyond the obligatory four VDGG albums.

The Sphinx In The Face is another oddity, complete with a particularly anarchically arranged set of lyrics, a range of rather clever musical quotes from previous pieces incorporated into the main piece. Opening with a cheerful guitar riff, backed up by the appropriate groove from the bass. A couple of rather reggae-ish moments are juxtaposed with a general pushing-rock-feel, amazing mellotron/viola, as well as possibly the most remarkably moving harmony in rock. The musicianship, as always, is incredible, and though the 'concept' of it all... the unifying theme of disunity, of a search... is a bit hard to grasp at first, once it kicks in, it sinks below the surface, and a range of exclamations that first seem trivial become extremely moving. Also brilliant, though I can imagine that the harmony ending won't hit anyone until you've really wrapped yourself in the album.

Chemical World is another piece of particularly good writing disguised by a bit of general chaos, noise, and lyrics which alternate between whimsical and acidic. Aside from a surprisingly Spanish guitar melody from Hammill, the song's softer moments are highlighted by Graham Smith's fascinating sax/flute-'imitation's on violin. The noisy, distorted-out-of-this-world mid-section is probably the high point of the piece, with an explosive Evans and a number of tense melodies and more 'psychedelic' ideas, which perhaps resemble that rather haunting section of Nine Feet Underground a little. Nic Potter's bass is very effective, again, handling a couple of lead guitarish licks on one occasion. Amazing stuff, and extremely progressive.

The Sphinx Returns concludes the album proper, with a rocked up version of the outro to The Sphinx In The Face, somewhat sealing up all the themes of the album in one range of bizarre musicianship and a fade to indicate that they continue.

Onto the bonus material. The Door is another great piece, with a killer riff. Rocking everywhere, a high-range thumping bass and a couple of hilarious keyboard effects. The demo version of The Wave is actually very moving and effective even without the lyrics, and it places a little more emphasis back on the individual music parts. Potter is probably a bit more effective (think it's that he's a lot more conspicuous with a quieter piano) on this one. Anyway, it illustrates that Van Der Graaf really could do instrumental extremely effectively... almost as incredible unpolished as it is finished. Ship Of Fools truly kicks, with a hammering riff, neat lyrics, and a sort of electric fire that reminds me a bit of a couple of the things 80s Crimson and Tull would go on to do. The vocals are truly off the wall, or off the charts, depending on how you see it, and Hammill gives a great guitar burst or two. I'd probably call it hard rock, more so than any of the Deep Purple and Uriah Heep stuff I've heard.

So, all in all, a collection including pretty much exclusively absolutely fantastic songs (The Habit Of The Broken Heart is a bit weaker, but not much so), which I would consider among Van Der Graaf (Generator)'s list of finest achievements, and that really does mean a lot, coming from me. The album is characterised by subtlety disguised as blatancy, which is a pretty standard VDGG feature, so if you don't get H to He or Godbluff or something like that, you probably won't get this. The lyrics are typically . Nonetheless, vital for fans of Van Der Graaf Generator, aggressive progressive music, later, but still very progressive albums, or quirky, obtuse concepts. A masterpiece of progressive rock, and (and I say this even with Starless And Bible Black, and Brain Salad Surgery close in mind) Guy Evans' performance on this is perhaps my favourite percussion on one album ever.

Rating: Five Stars... seems a bit standard fare for VDGG and my ratings, but that's alright... Favourite Track: Very, very difficult choice. Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever or The Siren Song if I had to pick.

(oh, a couple of considerations)... I'm sure some of the times I reference saxalike/flutealike violins it is actually Jaxon, but I think at others they are, in fact, actually violin sounds that correspond to how I'd expect some of the saxes on World Record to sound. I'm not great on violas, so my exact terminology for string instruments may be horrifically wrong. Finally, the cover art, it's amazing, don't you think?

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1976 - World Record

Van Der Graaf Generator
1976
World Record



01. When She Comes (7:58)
02. A Place to Survive (10:00)
03. Masks (6:55)
04. Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild (20:47)
05. Wondering (6:33)

Total Time: 52:13

Bonus tracks on 2005 Charisma remaster:
06. When She Comes (Live) (8:10) *
07. Masks (Live) (7:24) *

* Previously unreleased

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, piano
- Hugh Banton / organs, bass pedals, Mellotron
- David Jackson / alto, tenor & soprano saxes, flute
- Guy Evans / drums, cymbal, percussion



The mood of this record is dark and melancholy. Every single song reminds me of November (the birth month of Peter Hammill), though incomprehensible it was recorded in the month of May (my birth month). The dominating mood is farewell here. The forthcoming third split of Van der Graaf Generator and the forthcoming separation of Peter from his longtime girl-friend already show up on the horizon.

The remastering of the record is most pleasing, though in some savage passages Peter's roaring voice couldn't be made as clear as the instruments out of technical reasons.

The most interesting two songs are "When She Comes", which I see as a kind of follow-up to "La Rossa" in Peter's personal love affair, and the over 20 minutes long "Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild", a perfect fusion between Rock, Blues and Jazz. Peter excels on electric lead guitar here. (Funny, but "Meurglys III" always reminded me of "I want you / She's so heavy" by The Beatles.)

The year 1976 was incredible creative for Peter Hammill. He wrote the songs for "World Record", each one of high quality. In the same year he wrote and produced his stunning solo album "Over".

Comparing the two albums I always found the mood of "World Record" depressing and the mood of "Over" liberating.

Both have the same topics: split, leave-taking and wrench. In some of the songs of "World Record" Peter Hammill tries to generalize these themes into reflections of typical human behaviour, above all in "Masks" and in "A Place to Survive". Peter explained that from time to time he wrote songs that suited the band. These couldn't be about his own traumata in a too personal way.

On the other hand the solo album is uncompromising personal and though pain and hurt are even more obvious and in some songs nearly unbearable, it has a more optimistic feeling. Because it's "Over". "I'll see you on the wedding / I'll see you on the other side".

The two bonus tracks bring "When She Comes" and "Masks" again - this time from the BBC Peel sessions. Deripped from even the small overdubs of the official production these tracks show the wonderful structures of the music of Van der Graaf Generator.

After two quickly succeeding masterpieces, VdGG went back in the studio, but this time, they would actually deny the "Never two without three" saying and head for the "Two out of three ain't bad". While still a worthy Graaf album, World Record (with a stunning artwork again on a single sleeve) is clearly a step away from the right direction.

Clearly (and quite unfortunately), it appears that Graaf's inventivity and inspiration had come to the end, and the quartet will once again go their separate ways after this album. The first side of the vinyl is filled with rather short tracks, none of which would've made the cut on the previous albums, but in no way are they fillers, I insist! Just tracks that fail to have as good ideas as before, like if all of them ideas had been used on the previous two albums.

However, on the second side of the vinyl, there stands a monster track Meurglys III (Hammill's guitar spirit) with an incredible descending crescendo, and clearly the highlight of the album. However, the track does overstay its welcome a bit too much as the reggae jam is simply a bit too long and highlights Hammill's (relative) weakness as an electric guitar player, but overall, if this track had been shorter by five minutes, it might have a been Graaf's crowning achievement (with Lighthouse). Please note Italian group Germinale will record an astounding cover, but more succinct) on their second album.

Still a typical VdGG album, just not as strong as the previous five albums, every with will still find this album a must-have. Unfortunately, the group will implode (due mostly to exhaustion), leaving Hammill to suppress the Generator part of their name and find old mate, Potter, keeping Evans and and enlisting Smith on violin, for a drastically different sound. But this is another story

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1976 - Still Life

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1976 
Still Life


01. Pilgrims (7:07)
02. Still Life (7:20)
03. La Rossa (9:47)
04. My Room (Waiting for Wonderland) (8:09)
05. Childlike Faith in Childhood's End (12:20)

Total Time: 44:45

Bonus Track on 2005 Charisma remaster:
06. Gog (Live) (12:23) *

* Previously unreleased

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, piano
- Hugh Banton / organs, bass & bass pedals, Mellotron, piano
- David Jackson / alto, tenor & soprano acoustic & electric saxes, flute
- Guy Evans / drums and percussion


As there were remaining tracks from the previous writing/recording sessions, Still Life arrived fairly quickly on the market, and what a splendid album it was! Godbluff's twin album is actually superior (and ultimately more rewarding) to it and it shows with the stunning artwork sleeve.
Opening Pilgrims (and its slowly solemn descending crescendo) is a sure winning salvo only topped by the lengthy La Rossa (their Italian affinities showing), while the very personal My Room (Hugh Banton on bass and Jackson's superb ambient sax, with Evans' restrained drumming) is a real contender for the best Graaf track >> not far from House With No Door. The title track is another spine-chiller, with Hammill's doomy and desperate vocals crying out in the middle of the night, before the quartet is picking up momentum and Hammill's mood changing to anger. Then comes the lengthy and awesome Childlike Faith In Childhood's End (inspiration taken from a book that was particularly well appreciated from all band members) closing off the album in a grandiose way.

While two of the five songs were written (and recorded) during the Godbluff sessions, the remaining three tracks are certainly of the same calibre if not even better, but certainly the proof that Graaf still had major things to say in the realm of prog rock. As I said before, I prefer Still Life to Godbluff for it has no weak track, but sincerely, choosing between there two is something I would rather not do.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1975 - Godbluff

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1975 
Godbluff



01. The Undercover Man (7:00)
02. Scorched Earth (10:10)
03. Arrow (8:15)
04. The Sleepwalkers (10:26)

Total Time: 35:51

Bonus tracks (Remaster 2005):
05. Forsaken Gardens (Live) (12:23) *
06. A Louse is Not a Home (Live) (10:26) *

* Live at L'Altro Mondo, Rimini (Italy) on 08/09/1975 - previously unreleased

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, piano, Hohner clavinet D6
- Hugh Banton / organs, bass, bass pedals
- David Jackson / saxes, flute
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion



After a two and half year break spent at different projects , but all four roads kept crossing each other's, the quartet reconvened and recorded a batch of songs that ill produce not only Godbluff, but also a good deal of the following Still Life. The batch off "songs" were actually shorter, mot as intricate, but certainly more aggressive (bar the opener of this album), but this was also fully intended as they were careful not making a "son of" Pawn Hearts, however disputable this choice might have been. One of the characteristic from this era of VdGG is that Hammill will gradually pick up more and more the electric guitar as the picture on the back-cover shows.
From the absolutely stunning Undercover Man, a slow crescendo starting from an all too rare Jackson flute and drums, the progression is astounding as Hammill's voice and Banton's organs slowly fill the soundscape, until halfway through the track hit full stride with Jackson's sax, before slowly returning to the flute to the third track Arrow (the most aggressive), this album is a real stunner and would've been their best ever if the last track, Sleepwalkers (a fairly shoddy track with a completely out of place Cha-Cha-Cha ruining it further, yes colleagues I confirm this point of view ;-) had been substituted by any track from the almost perfect Still Life. But life is made out of choices, and Sleepwalker (still acceptable track, but not up to standards of the others here). If you'll pardon the pun, but Scorched Earth is also a real scorcher of a track, also full of constant tempo changes and Banton's organs pulling in its weight. Actually, Hugh Banton (for other projects were still pending) did not participate as much in this album and one can feel it. He also plays bass guitar on a track.

Except, for the closer, an all too sober/bland artwork (as well as a single sleeve design) and its short duration (the only three flaws), the Godbluff album saw the Generator return in great form, and its remastered version is a must have as it has a few bonus live tracks from Hammill's solo albums (but played with the full VdGG line-up), which were actually played in the group's sets.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1971 - Pawn Hearts

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1971 
Pawn Hearts


01. Lemmings (11:39)
02. Man-Erg (10:21)
03. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (23:04)
a) Eyewitness
b) Pictures / Lighthouse
c) Eyewitness
d) S.H.M.
e) Presence of the Night
f) Kosmos Tours
g) (Custard's) Last Stand
h) The Clot Thickens
i) Land's End
j) We Go Now

Total Time: 45:04

Bonus Tracks on 2005 Charisma remaster:
04. Theme One (Original mix) (3:15) #
05. W (first version) (5:04) $
06. Angle of Incidents (4:48) *
07. Ponker's Theme (1:28) *
08. Diminutions (6:00) *

Total time 65:39

# A different mix from the version on the U.S. and Canadian LPs or the UK single
$ The February 1972 single used the second version
* Originally intended to be part of the abbandoned double disc initial project

- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, acoustic & slide guitars, piano, electric pianos
- Hugh Banton / Hammond (E & C) & Farfisa Professional organs, piano, Mellotron, bass & bass pedals, ARP synthesiser, Fx, backing vocals
- David Jackson / tenor, alto & soprano saxes, flute, Fx, backing vocals
- Guy Evans / drums, timpani, percussion, piano

With:
- Robert Fripp / electric guitar


 With the astounding Pawn Heart, VDGG has reached its peak artistically, although financially they were broke. Only three tracks made up this fourth album of theirs, but awesome, each and every one of them, they were. Again a Paul Whitehead-designed artwork, with a very controversial inner gatefold. With this album, they reach to the comparison of Thick As A Brick, Selling England, Angel's Egg, Lark's Tongue (or Lizard), Grey and Pink, Dark Side or Close To The Edge. A real reference! This is the album where Peter Hammill reaches maturity mixing meaningful lyrics with superb melodies for his astounding vocal range and his weird voice. I must say that once again the remastering job did miracles but on this album, Hammill's vocals seem to have profited most from the job.
Lemmings is one of my fave VDGG track and with its 11 min+, it has every chance to please any proghead not allergic to that peculiar voice. Man-Erg is another superb classic and reaches a maximum in conciseness also making reference to the two previous albums by evoking Killers and Refugees. A real tour de force, but was those evocations of previous tracks not prophetic? A bit like Fripp closing off a Crimson chapter by bringing back previous members for the grande finale of Starless on Red.

From the first notes of piano of the last track of the vinyl and the first goose bumps after hearing Jackson evoking the fog horn of the lighthouse with his sax ( again evoking another earlier song? Darkness, in this case), a real fan can only be awed at the grandiose voyage that lay ahead for us ? for the Hero of the story, however no trip, voyage or even promenade except on the top ledge of his building. I always shiver in delight at the beginning of the haunting melody of the second verse of Eyewitness: "I prophecy disaster, then I count the cost ?. I shine but shining, dying, I know that I am lost." - What perfection. Many more motions lay ahead , notably Banton and Jackson's impressive rendition of what a lighthouse keeper can feel among which solitude and boredom must the cake. Only Klaatu will make an even more eerie Lighthouse Keeper theme in their second album: Hope

In case someone has problem getting into this great track, I can only suggest them to find the Belgian TV special where they do this track almost un-rehearsed (they had not expected that request), with Hammill having to find a lyrics sheet from the album to remind himself of the words/ it is right there on his piano. Grandiose!!!!

The first bonus track is a rather quirky BBC theme and dos stick out of the album, but not like a sore thumb. Then comes W, much more in tune with the dark forebodings of the other tracks, but still not bringing that much added value to the album. The last three bonus tracks are little more than bits and pieces, jams and improvs from baton Evans and Jackson: not really in line with the album, either.

Then will come some three years before VDGG will be re-formed, but all Generator unconditional fans can turn towards the fabulous trilogy of Hammill solo albums: Chameleon, Silent Corner and In Camera. Do make the financial effort for the mini-Lp sleeve, it is worth it, but don't get rid of that first generation CD, because the remastering's EQ'ing will not be to everyone's tastes, namely in audiophile quarters.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1970 - The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other

Van Der Graaf Generator
1970 
The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other



01. Darkness (11/11) (7:27)
02. Refugees (6:22)
03. White Hammer (8:15)
04. Whatever Would Robert Have Said? (6:17)
05. Out Of My Book (4:07)
06. After The Flood (11:28)

Total Time: 43:56

Bonus Tracks on 2005 Charisma remaster:
07. Boat of a Million Years (3:50) *
08. Refugees (Single version) (5:24) *

* Respectively B- & A-side of 1970 Single


- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano (2)
- Hugh Banton / Farfisa organ, piano, backing vocals
- David Jackson / tenor & alto saxes, flute, backing vocals
- Nic Potter / bass, electric guitar
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion

With:
- Mike Hurwitz / cello (2)
- Gerry Salisbury / cornet (3)


 With this album, we plunge into the fantastic world of VDGG without any hope or resurfacing or even finding an exit. If you got this far and had the urge to investigate this band, why would look for an escape, anyway? So with the first album of the classic era, VdGG with its almost definitive line-up (only bassist Nick Potter will make an early exit) strikes for gold with this album. I will review the remastered album as the difference is enormous compared with the first generation Cd (not necessarily all that positive, because the remasters are horribly EQ'ed), which I never owned as I had friends lending them to me, until recently as I bought the Mini Lp sleeves, which comes very close to capturing the excitement of the big vinyl covers, this being valid for the next two albums also.
Right from the first seconds, can we tell the difference with the wind noises of the opening track Darkness (written on a Nov 11, hence the second part of the title), do we hear Jackson's first growls on his sax sounding like a mist/fog horn (much the same way he will do in the Plague Of The Lighthouse Keeper), something I had simply never heard before even after some fifteen years of listening to the album. Darkness is gaining tremendously from the remixing and is even more awesome (and awe-striking). Refugee is also profiting from the remastering job as the cello is clearly better heard as well as the bass guitar. The album version is more easily recognizable than the single version available as the second bonus track. White Hammer is still the monster track it ever was but the remastering job was not as good as I was expecting it to be: The enormous effect-laden sax-induced screams supposed to represent the torture of the Spanish Inquisition is still atrocious (which it is supposed to be since it is torture) but till way too loud and really ruins the enjoyment of the track. Oh well! "Un coup dans l' eau ».

Side 2 ( I will always have problem not thinking of the VDGG vinyls) then starts with the average Whatever Robert (Fripp?) Would Have Said has some rare electric guitar from Potter and the no-less average Out Of My Book however flute-laden it is. Both tracks gaining little interest IMHO from the remastering job done on the album. Clearly the pinnacle of the album is the 11 min+ After The Flood. The sinister atmospheres and strong dramatics are clearly an acquired taste as is also the effect-laden Hammill screams still way too loud and unsettling, also maybe an odd choice in the remastering choices operated. Nevertheless the whole track is blood-curdling, not just that awkward scream. "Uncanny Masterpiece" would've said Roger Townstart, had someone not stolen his line a year before. The real gift of this releases is the superb B-side of the Refugee single Boat Of A Million Years , which blends really well with the rest of the album tracks. Actually since his track was not accessible to me for decades, it gets always a second and third spin.

The real interest is there to acquire those remastered Cds with worthy bonus tracks, especially if you make the fully justified financial effort for the mini-Lp sleeve. But you may not want to get rid of that first generation CD, because the remastering's EQ'ing will not be to everyone's tastes, namely in audiophile quarters.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1970 - H To He, Who Am The Only One

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1970 
H To He, Who Am The Only One



01. Killer (8:07)
02. House With No Door (6:03)
03. The Emperor In His War-Room (9:04)
- a) The Emperor
- b) The Room
04. Lost (11:13)
- a) The Dance In Sand And Sea
- b) The Dance In The Frost
05. Pioneers Over C. (12:05)

Total Time: 46:32

Bonus Tracks on 2005 Virgin remaster:
06. Squid 1 / Squid 2 / Octopus (15:24)
07. The Emperor In His War-Room (first version) (8:50)



- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano (2)
- Hugh Banton / Hammond & Farfisa organs, piano, oscillator, bass (2,5), vocals
- David Jackson / alto, tenor & baritone saxes, flute, Fx, vocals
- Guy Evans / drums, timpani, percussion

With:
- Nic Potter / bass (1,3,4)
- Robert Fripp / electric guitar (3)


With this strangely titled album, VDGG take you one step further into their sombre and lugubrious world. As potter exits throughout the album, Hugh Banton will handle that duty as well as most of the keyboards. However, as remastering job clearly reveals ( much better dynamics gives new life to bass lines) , it is obvious Banton is not as good as Potter was, but this is rather tenuous.
With the concert favourite ( but not mine) Killer to start up side 1 with its rather silly (IMHO) lyrics lamenting shark's loneliness at sea, one can see/hear the difference the remastering does but this is even more obvious in the next House With No Door that gains a new life especially with the good Banton bass lines. However the track gaining most is The Emperor: this track used to bore me stiff but this is simply not true anymore with Monsieur Fripp making a superb appearance again much bolstered by the re-mastering job.

The second side is a mixed bag as it contains my fave track, but also a very flawed second track. Lost is rather like the pinnacle of the album with the song meandering between the many moods and Hammill's voice together with Jackson's sax sends shivers down my spine still some twenty years after. Pioneers Over C has many orgasmic moments but also a few flaws, of which the weak Help Me chorus that is so obvious it becomes weak, the other being the semi Free jazz sax solo that gets simply ... lost! (Have they got their track titles mixed-up?) Not as bad as I make it to be , but here although the re-mastering job still does marvels , a good song-rewriting (correcting more an just the two flaws I mentioned) would help even more.

The first bonus track is a real gift, being a live-in-the-studio track holding many improvs that can only give us a hint of what was VDGG in concert at that time. It holds some magic moments and some lengths, but it is an outstanding track. The second bonus track (The Emperor) is less interesting as it can be considered as an alternate take, although there are some notable differences. If it had the Fripp intervention on this version , I might even like it better than the album version.

Again, this album is also available in mini-Lp sleeve and if you are to buy the remastered version, you might want to make the little extra financial effort to acquire the superb Paul Whitehead-signed gatefold sleeve.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1969 - The Aerosol Grey Machine

Van Der Graaf Generator 
1969
The Aerosol Grey Machine



01. Afterwards (4:58)
02. Orthenthian St. (Part I) (2:23)
03. Orthenthian St. (Part II) (3:53)
04. Running Back (6:32)
05. Into a Game (5:56)
06. Aerosol Grey Machine (0:56)
07. Black Smoke Yen (1:18)
08. Aquarian (8:27)
09. Necromancer (3:30)
10. Octopus (7:41)

Total time 45:34

Bonus Tracks on 1997 Repertoire:
10. People You Were Going To (Single A-side) (2:44)
11. Firebrand (Single B-side) (4:08)



Total time 52:26

Track list of 1997 Fie! Records remaster:
01. Afterwards (4:58)
02. Orthenthian St. (6:19)
03. Running Back (6:36)
04. Into A Game (6:57)
05. Ferret & Featherbird (4:34) *
06. Aerosol Grey Machine (0:46)
07. Black Smoke Yen (1:27)
08. Aquarian (8:21)
09. Giant Squid (3:19) *
10. Octopus (7:57)
11. Necromancer (3:30)

Total time 54:44


- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, acoustic guitar
- Hugh Banton / piano, organ, percussion, backing vocals
- Keith Ellis / wah-wah bass, backing vocals
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion

With:
- Jeff Peach / flute (4)
- Judge-Smith / slide-saxophone (10), lead (11) & backing vocals (10) - Repertoire bonus tracks



VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR is an English eclectic progressive rock band with front man Peter HAMMILL from 'the classic period' that has proven be one of the most important bands of the progressive genre.

In England, 1967 Chris Judge SMITH formed 'VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR', but after his departure it was up to Peter HAMMILL (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Hugh BANTON (organ, bass on organ), David JACKSON (sax, flute) and Guy EVANS (drums) to become one of progressive rock most proliferate and unique bands as well as the first band to be signed to the Famous Charisma Label. The band was named after the scientific instrument 'the Van de Graaff generator', which is used for accumulating high voltage bolts. VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR (VdGG for short) is known for its extrovert dynamics (ranging from slow, calm & peaceful to fierce & heavy), its intense and emotional 'love it or hate it' vocals by Peter HAMMILL, its celebrated contribution to extended progressive songwriting and its combination of psychedelic, jazz, classical and avant-garde or even acid influences. Moreover, VdGG can be seen as the first band that was to combine the very progressive with the very personal, whereas other bands used to work with abstractions and fantasy. Peter HAMMILL has a talent for singing out intense graving, anger, panic and confusion whilst still being able to sing warm and caring in other passages. The band never really fitted in the symphonic progressive rock subgenre because of its widespread influences and unique style, though the band would have symphonic leanings throughout it's career. Unusual for the time was the focus on organ, drums and sax, whereas in the sixties the guitar and the bass guitar had played a major role.

The band had a leading role in the very first progressive phase releasing high-rated albums from 1970 to 1975. The strong conceptual 'H to He Who am the only one' (1970), the intense and highly innovative and daring 'Pawn Hearts' (1971), the bleak and ever evolving 'Godbluff' (1975) and the matured 'Still Life' (1976) are often cited as masterpieces of the progressive genre. Alongside VdGG there would be a very interesting solo-career for Peter HAMMILL who frequently invited members of the band to come and join on his seventies recordings, some of which are seen as 'lost VdGG albums'. VdGG would directly influence a lot of Italian progressive acts, a country in which they were particularly well received. The band stopped performing in its classic line-up after 1976, not to return until 2005.

The first VdGG album (though without David JACKSON) 'The Aerosol Grey Machine' was actually intended to be the first Peter HAMMILL album, but was recorded under the VdGG flag due to contractual constrictions. Only the last song 'Octopus' would feature what fans think of as 'the VdGG sound' whereas most of material could be perceived as late-coming sixties psych with some progressive and even proto-metal (due to the heavy bass riffs by Keith ELLIS) leanings. The album was recorded in two days and didn't sound very professional, but listened to as a sixties psychedelic rock record it stands quite well.

In 1970 the band released 'The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other' which introduced the VdGG sound with intellectual songwriting, lot's of slightly distorted organs and intense dark passages. Moreover, wind-player David JACKSON would join in to complete band with his double sax playing. At this time the band would gather itself a cult-following, though significant commercial success would never be reached in England.

The second 1970 release, the strangely named 'H To He Who Am The Only One' (the first words referring to the chemical reaction in the sun) would show the band having grown towards brilliance with the best of lyrics about troubling solitude by Peter HAMMILL and great epic songwriting in 'The Emperor in his War Room' and the celebrated 'Pioneers over C'. The latter would take visual and philosophical songwriting to a new level. In the studio King Crimson front-man Robert FRIPP would join to add some guitars to the mix. Due to the departure of Nic POTTER the bass would be played by organ-player Hugh BANTON for halve of the album and on tour.

In 1971 the band would return with an even more daring and adventurous recording, the much anticipated and revered 'Pawn Hearts'. Psychedelic darkness was taken to the maximum with not a single passage left untouched by inspired heavy progression. This would make the album both a favourite and one of the less liked classics of the progressive genre. The album would feature the 23 minute epic 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers'. After this album Peter HAMMILL would focus on his solo-career releasing 'Chameleon In the Shadow Of The Night' (1973), 'The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage' (1974) and 'In Camara' (1974) with much participation of other VdGG members. These albums are considered to be great progressive records by most fans of VdGG. The VdGG recordings that were made during these years would be released as 'Time Vaults' (1982).

The year 1975 would bring us the return of VdGG with the classic 'Godbluff' that would have four ten-minute long epics showing a complex, but less freely psychedelic VdGG. The instrumental and lyrical development of these four songs is phenomenal and the before-mentioned dynamic range of the band was stretched to the maximum. After that the band was quick to record 'Still Life' (1976) on which the band's sound matured with a more solid production. In 1976 the band would also record 'World Record' which is often seen as a regression with three less progressive tracks on side one and a strong epic 'Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild' that was plagued by a long aimless jam-session towards the end. Later this year Hugh BANTON quit VdGG and he was soon to be followed by David JACKSON, because of the problematic financial situation of the band.

In 1977 the band was revived with the return of Nic POTTER on bass and the addition of Graham SMITH on the violin. 'The Quet Zone', otherwise known as 'The Pleasure Dome' showed a different band with a different sound. In 1978 the band's first live album was released, the double lp 'Vital' with David JACKSON appearing as a guest musician and the addition of Charles DICKIE on cello and synth. Due to a different line-up and a different zeitgeist (the rise of punk) the sound would again differ from the classic VdGG sound, which would have a distinctive effect on most songs. After this Peter HAMMILL would once again focus on his solo-career.

The return of the Generator with the classic line-up would be a main event of 2005 for the progressive community with the well received 'Present' (2005) and the celebrated 'Real Time' live-album which would feature great live-recordings of most of the bands progressive classics. The first concert in the Royal Festival Hall in London (where 'Real Time' was recorded) would be visited by fans from 32 countries with black-market tickets rising to a staggering 1000 dollars on Ebay. After the departure of David JACKSON they would record 'Trisector' in 2008 and 'A Grounding In Numbers' in 2011. In 2012 the band is releasing yet another new album as a trio, 'ALT'.

Retrospection. VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR has always remained too small to be a widely recognized act (like for instance Genesis or Yes), yet it was too big to get an illustrious title as ' underground band'. The band acquired some devoted following over the years and is nowadays considered to be one of the biggest acts of progressive rock history, as the amount of reviews and debates on PA can underline. For lot of us their music has proven to be very hard to get into, but it is even harder to live without it once you've acquired a taste for the band. The way the band combines the very personal with the abstract sound of progression creates a fascination that lives on and the way Peter HAMMILL puts his soul in the music seems to be untouchable for other musicians.

'The Aerosol Grey Machine' was initially planned as the first Peter Hammill solo-record, but was finally released under the group name 'Van Der Graaf Generator', a device for producing high electrostatic potentials up to 15 million volt and quite a good name for such an energy loaden band. Now, VDGG owns as much to Byron, Shelley, Keats and E.A.Poe as to Chuck Berry. Peter Hammill is like Bob Dylan in the first place a poet, who composes music for his poems, supported by a great band . Hammiill has an expressive vocal range (from lamantations to cries and whispers) and on 'The Aerosol Grey Machine' one can already find the major elements of VDGG's music : Hammills expressive vocal style and poetry, Banton's classical inspired keyboard playing and Guy Evans' subtile drumming. The first five tracks (four songs) have a similar structure, the instruments enter one after the other (first the guitar, [on 'Afterwards' organ] than the bass, the piano or organ, Evans enters on drums establishes a medium tempo groove and Hammill starts singing , with small variations throughout the track. It is already typical VDGG, but the dynamic of the later records is still missing. The most interesting track of the four is 'Into a Game', the song starts the same way as the others, but in the middle there is an instrumental break starting with bass and drums joined by Banton, who delivers a nice piano solo and then Hammill joins and sings ad-libitum "into a game.." over the groove, until the track fades. 'Aerosol Grey Machine' is a funny publicity spot followed by a short instrumental 'Black Smoke Yen', where Evans establishes an interesting drum pattern joined by the bass and another piano solo by Banton. Now comes the best part: 'Aquarian' is a fantastic Prog-Pop-Song! It is the only track on the record (a part from the Bonus tracks) that follows a classical song structure with verse & chorus. [with the band joining on vocals for the chorus]. It starts with a great groove by Evans heavily phased drums and a pumping bass line joined by Hammill's vocals, a great chorus and a final organ frenzy.'Necromancer' is a nice stop and go rocker and 'Octopus' a heavy rocker with a ostinato bass line, organ washes and a nice organ solo in the second half, reminding Jon Lord. The record misses the dynamic tension of the later records, but is nevertheless a great record.


Peter Hammill - 1991 - The Fall Of The House Of Usher

Peter Hammill 
1991 
The Fall Of The House Of Usher



- Act One (The road to the House of Usher) 
01. An unenviable role (2:29)
02. That must be the House (4:56)
- Act Two (Within the House of Usher) 
03. Architecture (3:40)
04. The Sleeper (3:19)
05. One thing at a time (2:50)
06. I shun the light (3:46)
07. Leave this House (5:05)
- Act Three (Immediately following) 
08. Dreaming (3:30)
09. A chronic catalepsy (3:16)
10. The Herbalist (3:32)
11. The evil that is done (3:46)
- Act Four (The Following Morning) 
12. Five years ago (3:51)
13. It's over now (3:32)
14. An influence (3:18)
15. No rot (2:27)
- Act Five (Dawn the Next Day) 
16. She is dead (3:51)
- Act Six (Three Days Later) 
17. Beating of the heart (5:20)
18. The Haunted Palace (4:22)
19. I Dared not speak (2:57)
20. She comes towards the Door (1:07)
21. The Fall (3:20)


- Peter Hammill / vocals ("Roderick Usher", "The Voices of the House"), guitars, keyboards, percussions (only on 1991 recording, see below), arranger & producer

With:
- Sarah-Jane Morris / vocals "The Chorus"
- Andy Bell / vocals "Montresor"
- Lene Lovich / vocals "Madeleine Usher"
- Herbert Grönemeyer / vocals "The Herbalist"
- Stuart Gordon / violins (only on 1999 re-recording, see below)


I must admit, although I am a fan of both Edgar Allan Poe and Peter Hammill, this release left me rather cold. It simply is overdone and does not feature enough melodic memorable tracks to warrant repeated listens. However, in saying that, it is a one of a kind project, and deserves at least one listen, and it is quite an absorbing experience initially. Hammill is more bombastic and vindictive than ever with his narrative storytelling vocal style. He incorporates many guest artists to retell this macabre infamous tale of a house that possesses its occupants to the point of utter madness. Hammill plays "Roderick Usher" and "The House" as well as all instruments, which is a feat in itself, and he is joined by Sarah-Jane Morris as the "The Chorus", Andy Bell as "Montresor", Lene Lovich as "Madeleine Usher", and Herbert Grönemeyer as "The Herbalist".

Indeed, the Poe story emerges in snippets of dialogue or the author's famous lines, though these are repeated ad nauseam. At first the album is a curio that grabs my attention, but the idea soon wears thin and then becomes stale. This is very unfortunate as I expected something special given the content and the artists involved. The Alan Parson's Project did it better on "Tales of Mystery and Imagination"; the reason it worked was simply great compositions, musicianship and attention to detail encompassing many of the tales, rather than labouring on the one solitary tale. Poe's tales are short little shockers and they are meant to be enjoyed in one sitting like a one act play.

There are some stunning pieces of classical music and it is all rather dark in passages. This is apt to build a threatening atmosphere of foreboding and gloom. It is perhaps an experimental approach that failed in many respects as Hammill never returned to this type of self-indulgent album making (though he did release a remaster with added features).

It is impossible to recall any particular track as it merges together as a whole. Though I firmly believe the first track and the last part of the album are gripping and definitely deserve attention. Act IV with Lene Lovich is one of my favourite segments; I always loved her voice, and the music dominated by cathedral organ, is very dynamic and ethereal. Act VI is very interesting as it incorporates my favourite Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart, reimagined by Hammill as 'Beating of the Heart', and then the climax is the girl rising from her grave to exact revenge and the house crumbles into the Tarn.

The reason I believe the album should be listened to, despite its flaws, is to experience the dramatis personae of the visionary, who had the sheer audacity of releasing it in the first place. The drawcard is obviously Hammill's inimitable vocals, and he revels in the dark power of the text. He is better off with Van der Graaf Generator when his musical genius is at the height of its powers, but nevertheless his solo material is always an intriguing project. Every Hammill solo album rings differently, and it doesn't get much more different than this! This is one to savour as a curio and certainly will generate a topic of conversation.

Peter Hammill & Guy Evans - 1988 - Spur Of The Moment

Peter Hammill & Guy Evans 
1988
Spur Of The Moment


01. Sweating It Out (6:34)
02. Surprise / Little Did He Know (9:31)
03. Without a Glitch (3:29)
04. Anatol's Proposal (4:01)
05. You Think Not? (4:03)
06. Multiman (8:07)
07. Deprogramming Archie (1:46)
08. Always So Polite (5:24)
09. An Imagined Brother (5:21)
10. Bounced (5:11)
11. Roger and Out (1:37)

- Peter Hammill / Washburn semi-acoustic guitar, pianos, synths & samplers (Akai MX73 MIDI keyboard, Akai & Emax samplers, Roland MKS 20/80 piano and Super Jupiter modules, Yamaha DX7 and TX modules), producer
- Guy Evans / acoustic & Roland Octapad electronic percussion, samplers

With:
- Paul Ridout / programming, sequencing & engineering



At the beginning I must to confess - I enjoy whole Mister Hammill's "miscellaneous recordings", but there is some specific climate on His and Evans "Spur of the moment", which makes from this LP my favourite one. It is an instrumental work of members of VDGG. Album is an amazing adventure into the dangerous, modern atmosphere, that musicians made by their improvisations. It is one, that you will love or never listen to. Why? Artists initiates interesting dialogues, which are mainly based on a agressive keyboards, and hypnotic sound of percussion. All compositions are rather similiar, but it makes from "Spur of the moment" extremely strong LP. There is no weak points, of course if you are able to go into and follow the musical structures, which duet create. I always waited for that kind of an instrumental piece.

Peter Hammill - 1992 - Fireships

Peter Hammill 
1992
Fireships


01. I Will Find You (4:43)
02. Curtains (5:43)
03. His Best Girl (5:00)
04. Oasis (5:37)
05. Incomplete Surrender (6:38)
06. Fireships (7:21)
07. Given Time (6:32)
08. Reprise (4:18)
09. Gaia (5:32)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar (1,6,7), keyboards (1,3,5,6), piano (2,7,9), bass (6), percussion (1,4,6), strings & winds (5), co-producer

With:
- David Lord / keyboards (2,4,7), orchestration (2,9), bass & percussion (4), strings & winds (7), samplers (8), co-producer
- John Ellis / guitar (5)
- Stuart Gordon / violin (2-6)
- David Jackson / soprano sax & flute (4), alto sax (6)
- Nic Potter / bass (1,3,5)


Yet another intriguing album from Hammill , at least from the artwork point of view and for a long time, I thought there was a link with The Roaring Forties and its intriguing artwork also, but thankfully Fireship is a much better album than TRF. The main obvious difference is that the drumming is not quite as awful as on the other album, but it still is a very basic straight-ahead boring sound. Actually this remark is valid for a lot of Hammill's albums where Guy Evans is absent. And I would never thought I'd say this one day, but actually I wish Hammill would've used drum machines rather than ask drummers to play this poor and unimaginative. Oooops, I think he actually does on this one...
Aside from this remark (I specify again this is valid for many of his records), the album is rather above the average compared to his entire discography, but again the same remarks also applies to this album regarding the choice (dare I say the relevance?) of the tracks: half of them would've gained their inclusion elsewhere. Hammill's usual collabs of the time are again present (Potter, Gordon and to a lesser extent Ellis and Jackson), but the difference with this album is David Lord with his kb, strings orchestral arrangements and he even gets a co-writing credit and a co-production credit. Not that his contributions are changing anything under the Hammill Sun, as the tracks are still generally slow-paced allowing for some interesting ambiances (start of Incomplete Surrender), but again this album fails to take off. I realize that Hammill's songs (with generally extremely profound and personal lyrics) are not designed to "take-off", but we can only be slightly disappointed when the tracks speed up slightly, the level of decibels slightly rise above the quiet-mark, only to be cruelly deceived when the track falls back down to its previous levels. Exception must be made of the lengthier title track, which does temporarily raise the tone of voice, but it is unfortunately marred by awful drum programming sounds.

Not anymore than essential than his other records from the era, the least we can say is that Hammill's inspirations were not at an all-time high in the early 90's. Best discovered after his 70's and early 80's (and even his 00's) albums.

Peter Hammill - 1990 - Room Temperature Live

Peter Hammill 
1990 
Room Temperature Live


101. The Wave (3:43)
102. Just Good Friends (5:15)
103. Vision (4:52)
104. Time To Burn (5:00)
105. Four Pails (6:42)
106. The Comet, The Course, The Tail (9:19)
107. Ophelia (4:20)
108. Happy Hour (9:14)
109. If I Could (6:03)
110. Something About Ysabel's Dance (7:27)
111. Patient (10:02)

201. Cat's Eye / Yellow Fever (6:06)
202. Skin (5:30)
203. Hemlock (8:23)
204. Our Oyster (7:12)
205. The Unconscious Life (6:03)
206. After The Show (10:57)
207. A Way Out (8:46)
208. The Future Now (4:06)
209. Traintime (6:40)
210. Modern (10:03)

- Peter Hammill / guitar, keyboards, vocals
- Stuart Gordon / violin
- Nic Potter / bass


This wonderful live album serves both as a souvenir for Hammill fans and as an introduction for his solo work. Recorded along several concerts in North America during his 1990 tour, with a backing band of only two musicians (longtime bassist Nic Potter and violinist Stuart Gordon), "Room Temperature Live" offers a complete concert (well, pieces of different concerts gathered together to duplicate a typical songlist of the tour), in more than 140 minutes of music. And great music is offered here: almost all songs came from various solo albuns, with only "The Wave" and "Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (Running)" (both from "The Quiet Zone, The Pleasure Dome") representing his work with Van Der Graaf Generator. Hammill sings with passion (sometimes he sounds a bit desperated), and offers a good job playing acoustic guitar and piano; Nic Potter provides rhythm and pulsation to the songs (and sometimes, by using some distortion, he pushes his bass to the front); and Stuart Gordon, often featured as a soloist, makes a significant contribution to the album's sound. IMHO, the highlights are: "Cat's Eye...", "If I Could", "Hemlock" and "After the Show". The only reason I didn't gave this album five star is: sometimes the sparse instrumentation makes it a bit tiring. Try to listen CD one, go to other CD, and then listen CD two; this will make listening to "Room Temperature Live" more easy.

Peter Hammill - 1990 - Out Of Water

Peter Hammill 
1990 
Out Of Water


01. Evidently Goldfish (5:02)
02. Not The Man (4:23)
03. No Moon In The Water (4:35)
04. Our Oyster (5:33)
05. Something About Ysabel's Dance (5:31)
06. Green Fingers (4:35)
07. On The Surface (8:14)
08. A Way Out (7:16)


- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards, producer

With:
- John Ellis / guitar (1,7)
- Stuart Gordon / violin (5)
- David Jackson / saxes (3,6)
- Nic Potter / bass (3,6)


After two «true» solo albums, Peter is again surrounded by some of the Graaf gang and I won't complain. I was rather disappointed with his last album ("In a Foreign Town") and I was looking forward to get a full band "solo" album.
But if one is expecting a partial VDGG effort, let me tell you that you find it here. Even if "No Moon In The Water" fully brings us back into this world, it is not yet enough to be impressive. And the least I can say is that both opening numbers aren't really thrilling either.

The listener has to wait for "Our Oyster" to feel that the great man is back. Weird lyrics, subtle backing band and Peter's delicate voice. A well known combo. But it works damned good.Just as the fine violin play during "Something About Ysabel's Dance". Well done Stuart.

"Green Fingers" is probably the first song during which one realizes that Jackson is on board. Not that his sax play is over-invading but just because you can finally hear the big man. Which is always a pleasure to my ears. One of the best track of this album.

The album ends on two longer songs, but the repetitiveness of "On The Surface" is not convincing. Eight minutes of the same notes are too long and offers little to be laudatory about. Backing vocals remind me some "Talking Heads" ones (but it is not the first time that I could find some similarities between them). Still, the guitar work in the last section does convey a nice feeling.

The story is different with "A Way Out". This one is a fantastic Hammill song: grandiose vocals and a perfect band to raise this song to the masterpiece status. Peter on the keyboards is extremely emotional; but what to say about his brilliant vocal performance? THE highlight of this album, no doubt.

Peter Hammill - 1988 - In A Foreign Town

Peter Hammill 
1988
In A Foreign Town


01. Hemlock (6:30)
02. Invisible Ink (4:19)
03. Sci-Finance (Revisited) (4:22)
04. This Book (5:14)
05. Time To Burn (3:44)
06. Auto (3:58)
07. Vote Brand X (4:03)
08. Sun City Night Life (4:34)
09. The Play's The Thing (4:54)
10. Under Cover Names (4:19)
11. Smile (5:18)
12. Time To Burn(Instrumental) (3:44)

Total Time: 54:55

Bonus tracks on 1988 Restless & 1995 Fie! releases:
11. Smile (5:18)
12. Time To Burn (Instrumental) (3:43)


- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion, producer

With:
- Stuart Gordon / violin
- Paul Ridout / sound creation (MIDI, electronics)



Peter Hammill's "In a foreign Town" is not an album, that you should start your adventure with a PH's creative power. Problem is not with a bad or hard songs that this one include, but rather interpreations. Mr. Hammill write on His page, that using of rythm ("plastic drums") in some tracks was a mistake, and I have to agree with His opinion. From the other hand "In the foreign town" is still a strong LP - just listen to the memorable songs like "The play's the thing", or "Time to burn" and "Invisible ink" to understand that Hammill's form is still on the highest level. I'm personally a little disapoipointed (for the first time!!) only by the vocal on the "Invisible ink", because when you compare it with the "Peel sessions" version (which is full of expression) it sounds much weaker. To sum up - very good album, don't be afraid to buy it.

Peter Hammill - 1986 - Skin

Peter Hammill 
1986 
 Skin


01. Skin (4:18)
02. After the Show (4:20)
03. Painting by Numbers (4:01)
04. Shell (4:18)
05. All Said and Done (3:40)
06. A Perfect Date (4:11)
07. Four Pails (4:26)
08. Now Lover (9:47)

Total Time : 43:17

Bonus Tracks on 1986 Date Rec. CD:
09. You Hit Me Where I Live (Single) (4:27) *
10. Painting By Numbers (Extended version) (4:43)

* Also as bonus track on 1986 Enigma LP & 2007 remastered CD


- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards (Yamaha DX7 synth), Emu drum machine, producer

With:
- Stuart Gordon / violin, viola
- Hugh Banton / cello
- David Jackson / saxes
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion
- David Coulter / didgeridoo
- David Luckhurst / voice
- Paul Ridout / electronics


An essential addition to any PH collection. One of my favourites. Seven nice songs in the 3-4 min. range. "After the Show" (about the life loneliness of actors) and "Shell" (the mood of walking alone on the beach) are the best here. Very relaxed, very good lyrics, perfectly instrumented.
The highlight of this album and one of the highlights of PH overall is the epic "Now Lover". Now Lover has three parts. Part 1 gives a first sight into the topic which Peter is on to here. In the calm part 2 Peter sings with an undescribable soft, still strong, yearning and longing voice. David Jackson plays and mourns around Peter's voice with his saxes. Part 3 has the way of a hymn with thrilling rock rythms. Synthesizers and for the first time computermanipulations are extensively used. In the third part Peter's voice sounds powerful, passionate and in a deliberate way exhausted. One of the most impressing vocal parts of all his albums. The sound collage at the end of this song reminds to musical experiments of the German artist Kurt Schwitters.

"Now Lover"is still breathtaking, fresh, exciting and touching after 20 years. It is perfectly instrumented. Hugh Banton does one of his best jobs on the cello.

The topic of this song are certain modern theories of biology and neuro-psychology (Peter Hammill recurs oftenly to these sciences) stating that the human conciousness is always a split second behind the event. So that the conjecture is that all action takes place without or before the mind can control it. We only think we control.

"In the here and now.... Between sensation at the nerve-ends and arrival of information at the cortex time elapses. So, you see, each time we touch we did so in the past."

And the other topic is - sex! No other song I know by any artist comes close to these lines and these expression. A hymn to sex and emotion.

"Cracked, forgotten statues, we are strangled in the undergrowth; lying on the mattress of the magic and the wonderful, nothing really matters as we're sucked in by the undertow.... We are Motion, we are Feeling, we are Now!

Now come on, come on, lover, slicing through time in a perfect curve, due for a moment of energy... somehow we'll get what we most deserve in the here and now. Melt in the crucible, flesh and blood bodies consumed by the catalyst, surrender to nothing, welcome the flood of the here and now."

Just listen, play it loud, get sucked in, and - do it!