Thursday, March 30, 2017

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1975 - Godbluff

Van Der Graaf Generator 

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 
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

- 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
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

- 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 
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

- 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 
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

- 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 
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

- 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 
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

- 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 

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

- 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 
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 
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

- 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 
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

- 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 

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

- 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!

Peter Hammill - 1986 - And Close As This

Peter Hammill 
And Close As This

01. Too Many of My Yesterdays (4:48)
02. Faith (4:28)
03. Empire of Delight (4:44)
04. Silver (5:29)
05. Beside the One You Love (5:14)
06. Other Old Chichés (4:07)
07. Confidence (6:37)
08. Sleep Now (4:44)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, keyboards (grand piano, MIDI emulations of piano & organ), producer

- Paul Ridout / computers, MIDI

During his (excessively) plentiful career, Peter has used us to switch from a full VDGG line-up to the most intimate one like for "And Close As This".
I have to say that I would tend to be more attracted with the prior of those, but as soon as I hear his voice, being surrounded by the whole gang or just with a piano, the charm (almost) always operates.

The man is just so great that he conveys lots of feelings throughout his huge work. Of course, if you are not touched, the approach is more difficult. But it is worth a try.

I won't tell that this album is a jewel, a masterpiece. It is a pleasant and relaxing album to listen to. Like I do on this Saturday afternoon. Sharing my views about it with my prog friends.

Just embark one of his most intimate album so far. Let yourself go (and there's no Jean Genie behind this), listen carefully to his vibrant lyrics and just be charmed. At times, the man is getting angry and tortured as we know him so well ("Silver"), but most of the time he is amazingly soft and quiet like during the love song "Beside The One You Love".

Be warned though that this album is not for everyone. Some will be bored to death while listening to it, while others will be touched by Peter's intricate lyricism and beauty. I belong to the latter category. And it's always nice to hear Peter saying: 'I'm in good form, I'm feeling fine (Confidence).

Peter Hammill - 1985 - The Margin

Peter Hammill 
The Margin

101. The future now (3:48)
102. Porton down (5:41)
103. Stranger still (6:22)
104. Sign (6:37)
105. Jargon King (3:18)
106. Empress´s clothes (5:50)
107. The sphinx in the face (5:15)
108. Labour of love (5:50)
109. Sitting Targets (5:41)
110. Patient (7:31)
111. Flight (20:32)

201. The second hand (6:02)
202. My experience (4:12)
203. Paradox Drive (4:18)
204. Modern (7:40)
205. Film Noir (5:06)
206. The great experiment (5:46)
207. Happy hour (9:45)
208. Central hotel (5:00)
209. Again (4:24)
210. If I could (5:52)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, piano
- John Ellis / lead guitar
- Nic Potter / bass
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion

This is the culmination of p.h,s work with the k group extending back to sitting a live representation of Hammill it nearly satisfies(it would be impossible to capture the true energy of any p.h performance)it contains some of his 'greatest hits' and the bonus of a van der graaf track 'sphinx in the face' i brought the original uk release of this album upon it's release (on vinyl of course) and wore it out (and the patience of my doubting friends- something you get used to as lifelong Hammill devotee)so i was delighted to find the cd issue contained extra tracks on the + cd these tracks are raw recordings(bootleg) and truly do a long way to conveying the truth of a Hammill gig a great starter album for a new listener but if you want to know which Hammill album to buy the answer is really quite simple.........start saving and buy ALL of them!

Peter Hammill - 1984 - The Love Songs

Peter Hammill 
The Love Songs

01. Just Good Friends (3:54)
02. My Favourite (3:00)
03. Been Alone So Long (5:01)
04. Ophelia (3:08)
05. Again (3:34)
06. If I Could (5:00)
07. Vision (3:15)
08. Don't Tell Me (4:39)
09. The Birds (3:40)
10. The Looking Glass (6:57)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass, drums
- Graham Smith / violin
- David Jackson / saxes
- Nic Potter / bass
- Guy Evans / drums
- Hugh Banton / organ
- Stuart Gordon / violin
- John Ellis / guitar
- Manny Elias / drums
- David Lord / synthesizer

This album is excellent. Forget VDGG, this is Hammill, and Hammill's records are different than VDGG records. This album contains some of his most beautiful love tracks re-arranged (some re-sung), and most of them are FAR superior than the originals (which were excellent in the first place). "My favourite" has additional instruments, which is exactly what it needed, "Ophelia" has a different mix with echoed vocals that gives it an extra spooky haunting feel, "If i could" has additional instruments (performed live if memory serves me well), "Vision", which is my favourite song, has additional violin which elevates it to a new height of sensibility, "The Birds" is re-sung with different vocals which makes it even sadder, "This side of the looking glass" is sung an octave or two below the original, which gives it a darker feel (orchestra remains the same). A full and accomplished album, and not just a "best of love songs" album. Excellent.

Peter Hammill - 1983 - Patience

Peter Hammill

01. Labour of Love (5:56)
02. Film Noir (4:22)
03. Just Good Friends (4:30)
04. Jeunesse Doree (4:51)
05. Train Time (4:27)
06. Now More Than Ever (5:40)
07. Comfortable (4:57)
08. Patient (6:16)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, keyboards, producer

K Group:
- John Ellis / electric & acoustic guitars, backing vocals
- Nic Potter / bass
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion

- David Lord / Prophet 5 synth (3)
- David Jackson / saxophone & Panpipes (1,7)
- Stuart Gordon / violin (3)

When listening to Patience, the two preceding albums - excellent as they were - shrink to not much more then the groundwork for this masterpiece. This album got Hammill even a short taste of (almost) mainstream success. So I'm a bit surprised at both the number of ratings and the overall average, but well there aren't too many Hammill fans around anyway. This was one of the first Hammill albums I sought out so I'm probably a bit biased. But then, I always am :)
Labour of Love sets off with a slow pace, almost as if it's going to be a ballad, but it takes a nice twist after the first verse when the band breaks the rhythm and delivers a nice nod to the VDGG trademark sound. Film Noir is an excellent rock track, catchy but smart and intricate. It's a perfect composition that has not one note out of place. It's one of the few up-tempo tracks that Hammill has recorded and it's surely his best. Just Good Friends is a very mellow Hammill ballad, almost sugary-sweet but just right, with an understated yet vicious lyric.

Jeunesse Dorée is another astounding up-tempo track. It has a great stubborn time signature during the verses and builds up quite a tension that finds its release during the chorus. Simply perfect. And on it goes, Jeunesse Dorée and Now More Than Ever as well are among the strongest rock tracks Hammill has ever penned. Add the tight playing of the band to that and magic happens. The two closing tracks have a slightly more epic approach, Comfortable and Patience especially build towards an intense climax.

Patience is not for every prog-head, if a 4 minute song with verses and choruses doesn't sound appealing to you, you better seek your luck elsewhere. It was the last great record Hammill would release for quite a while. I'd even say we had to wait 20 years till something of equal quality came along with the album Clutch.

Peter Hammill - 1983 - Loops & Reels

Peter Hammill
Loops & Reels

(Cover of Cd release 1993)
01. A Ritual Mask (3:55)
02. Critical Mass (8:18)
03. The Moebius Loop (3:05)
04. An Endless breath (5:34)
05. In Slow Time (3:29)
06. My Pulse (15:43)
07. The Bells! The Bells! (4:09)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, piano, organ, synths, kora, bodhran, Chinese drum, shaker, tambourine, rhythm box, tape loops, producer

A particularly (even for Hammill's generally unremittant work in the 80s) dark and disturbing album, with not a hint of levity either in the recording or the retrospective on it. Loops and Reels is an entirely experimental offering with little patience for breathing spaces, though it includes, in fragmentary and complete forms, some of the melodic quality Hammill's more sane work profits from. Conceptually, each piece has a design behind it, and together it is (in spite of the diverse providence of the various inclusions) a masterpiece in black; one of the greatest collections of dark, 'ambient' music I've ever heard.

Those familiar with comfortable integrations of 'world' music a la King Crimson and Talking Heads are going to be somewhat shocked by the intensely terrifying and xenophobic conflict ('the song of a culture/Not yet immune to/ The virus of progress') in this piece. Hammill's experiments in world music appear violently aware of his status as a sort of intruder, and this tension makes Rhythm Of The Heat sound like The Police.

Critical Mass is the first song employing the titular Loops and sound manipulation. Fragments music forms together a haunting tension, before driving their catharsis through a series of the transition through speeded and slowed loops.

Song and not-song, the hypnotic Moebius Loop drags you around in a circle of confusion over a bell-like chime, surrounded everywhere by looped vocal parts and ambiguous words. The exquisitely direct and entangling detail of the lead (listen to the incredible vibrato on 'recognise') pulls you onto the conveyor belt of melted, droning harmony vocals.

An Endless Breath. The sonic background seems to cluster into a voice-like buzzing, as heavily distorted guitar and organ snarl in voiceless protest against it. Two points stand out in the haze: the carefully integrated use of a momentary guitar 'riff' and the resplendent organ-over-pulse at the end.

Hammill's take on a 'dance piece' is every bit as virulent as his flirtation with world music. Layers of gibbering guitar and some thick smog courtesy of impenetrable exercises in analogue sound manipulation convey a sense of alone-ness in the crowd. The version here is rather sparser and more horrifyingly lonely than the disquieted narcissism off A Black Box.

My Pulse has the immediate sense of a hospital bed, with its direct rhythm and decisively clean piano and guitar melody running contrary to the winding delirium of sound effects that underpin it, before eroding into the sonic grit of the rest of the recording. A piece of modified piano with a drone impact, entirely electronic parts running underneath forcefully repeated chords and behind the pulse. There's a deep psychological weight behind every part. When the pulse runs out, the breath stops, and when it resurfaces as part of the piano, the breath starts again. The outbursts of humanity in massed choir vocals or the rare untreated acoustic piano are as warm and intimate as the surrounding loops and distorted sounds are strange and chilling.

And then - The Bells! The Bells! A slice of death, run out with the motif of the pulse.

Not for the faint of heart.

Original 1983 Cassette Release:

Peter Hammill - 1982 - Enter K

Peter Hammill 
Enter K

01. Paradox Drive (4:36)
02. The Unconscious Life (5:07)
03. Accidents (4:39)
04. The Great Experiment (5:14)
05. Don't Tell Me (4:46)
06. She Wraps It Up (4:24)
07. Happy Hour (9:18)

Bonus Track on 1991 FIE! remaster:
08. Seven Wonders (4:27)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, acoustic & electric pianos, organ, synth, producer

K Group:
- John Ellis / acoustic & electric guitars
- Nic Potter / bass
- Guy Evans / drums

- David Jackson / saxophone (2,8)

This album opens rather strangely. Paradox Drive is probably the popiest song written by Peter so far. The song features a funky groovy mood like."Talking Heads" in the late seventies. Surprising. Maybe a paradox.
But the dark and serious Hammill is back with another jewel and so classic song. Jackson is of course of great assistance in this VDGG effort. Nicely balanced between some fine piano lines and subtle sax. Nothing violent or chaotic here. This is more in line with the "Still Life" period. Unconsciously or not, this is a great VDGG song. A highlight IMO.

With all his mates back (except Banton), more moods of the band are available (and I won't complain). Although short, "Accidents" holds lots of ingredients of a VDGG piece of work. Heavy sounds, tortured Peter and even if the structure is simple, this song features a powerful and impressive finale.

The hectic "Great Experiment" has this hopping style of the "Heads" again. The similarity is even reinforced by the vocal part which, at times, reminds me the style of Byrne. This album is really good so far and "Don't Tell Me" is absolutely on par. It is thanks to such piece of music that I praise the man so much. Absolutely moving and passionate.

And it is not the immaculate beauty of "She Wraps It Up" that should change my mind. Of an easier approach, it still offers these so typical Hammill moments. And the best of him, actually.

Now the alcoholic epic. "Happy Hour". Amazing lyrics, rhythm changes (even some fine flamenco oriented short passage) and this indelible VDGG sound. I can't help, even if this is "solo" album, it has so many things in common with the band that I just have to underline these similarities when they occur. At least it is how I feel when listening to such a track. Another highlight but there are no weak song here.

Peter Hammill - 1981 - Sitting Targets

Peter Hammill 
Sitting Targets

01. Breakthrough (3:57)
02. My Experience (3:15)
03. Ophelia (3:10)
04. Empress's Clothes (4:03)
05. Glue (3:40)
06. Hesitation (4:07)
07. Sitting Targets (5:22)
08. Stranger Still (4:54)
09. Sign (3:45)
10. What I did (3:39)
11. Central Hotel (4:41)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards (piano, synth), bass, beatbox, arranger & producer

- Phil Harrison / Synclavier (3,8,9)
- David Jackson / saxes, flute (4,6,7,11)
- Guy Evans / drums (1,2,6,7,9)
- Morris Pert / percussion (4,7,10)

A full band for this Hammill solo album. I'm always pleased to see Jackson on the guest list.
Peter entered awkwardly in the eighties with "A Black Box" and I was not expecting too much out of this one. I have to say that the album starts on a good note. More on the rocking side for a while ("Breakthrough", "My Experience"), Peter gets back to a more "normal" mood with the acoustic and dark "Ophelia".

With such a line-up, it was inevitable (and very much welcome) to get some full Van Der Graaf songs. Hectic and hermetic. Here is "Empress's Clothes". Great off-beat and fine percussion work to sustain the wonderful saxing. "Hesitation" is also a track which digs into the band's repertoire.

This album also has its depressive moments, but I guess that they are impossible to avoid ("Glue"). Still, some bits of optimism would not be seen as too much of a compromise.

One of the best song is undeniably the title track. Fine backing vocals add another dimension. Peter could have developed it and make it a bit longer. Excellent instrumental part.

Actually, this album is a pleasant one. I prefer it to his late seventies production. Almost no weak songs (but not too many highlights either). It is only a shame that the charm of "Stranger Still" is ruined by the chaotic final part. but "Sign" puts things back on the good rails.

The first very average songs is "What I Did" (good question Peter!). It seems to come out the first side of "A Black Box" and all those experimentations. Not my cup of tea.

"Sitting Targets" closes as it started. Central Hotel is a rock song again. But Peter is not always at ease with such performance. The riff sounds as a Richard's one. But Peter ain't no Jagger...

I like this album. A good one.

Peter Hammill - 1980 - A Black Box

Peter Hammill 
A Black Box

01. Golden Promises (2:56)
02. Losing Faith in Words (3:40)
03. The Jargon King (2:43)
04. Fogwalking (4:04)
05. The Spirit (2:38)
06. In Slow Time (4:07)
07. The Wipe (1:45)
08. Flight (19:38)
- a. Flying Blind
- b. The White Cane Fandango
- c. Control
- d. Cockpit
- e. Silk-Worm Wings
- f. Nothing is Nothing
- g. A Black Box

- Peter Hammill / vocals, keyboards, guitars, drums, arranger & producer

- David Jackson / saxes, flute (4,8-c,8-d)
- David Ferguson / synth & tambourine (4,6,7)

"A Black Box" was released in 1980 and it sure has a different feel than the previous albums that i've heard from Hammill. More electronics and according to the liner notes Hammill himself did the drumming. Sure I wish he had his VDGG mates helping him out like on some of his past solo albums but despite all that this is still a very good album. Just different. David Jackson does add some sax and flute, while Dave Ferguson helps out with synths.The fact that Peter did this side long suite ("Flight") makes this album important enough. In his own words he talks about this track. "I'd begun writing it after "The Future Now" and the final demise of VDGG. It had been nowhere complete when the time came to record "PH7", so it had to stay at the back of the cooker for a while.This was the first time i'd attempted a long-form piece outside the environs of VDGG and I was trying to stretch my (solo) writing, playing and arranging skills to their limits".
"Golden Promises" features prominant drums and vocals. It's catchy but with attitude and aggression. "Losing faith In Words" has these almost spoken words and keyboards to start. Piano comes in around a minute.This is good. Drums after 1 1/2 minutes as it gets fuller. "Jargon King" is an experimental piece with spoken words and strange sounds. "Fogwalking" is a cool tune. Spoken words with dark, low end sounds early. Sax comes in too. This is great ! "The Spirit" has some life and energy to it. The guitar and drums are joined by vocals in this straightforward tune.

"In Slow Time" is another slower and darker track. "The Wipe" is a short experimental piece. "Flight" is the over 19 1/2 minute closer. It opens with piano as reserved vocals join in. Strummed guitar 1 1/2 minutes in. It then kicks in at 3 minutes with drums and more passionate vocals.This is intense around 6 minutes. A calm before 8 minutes with reserved vocals and piano. It's fuller after 10 minutes with sax.The tempo picks up a minute later. Guitar to the fore 15 1/2 minutes in then it calms back down a minute later with reserved vocals.

Another solid release from Hammill but then again that's what i've come to expect.

Peter Hammill - 1979 - pH7

Peter Hammill 

01. My Favourite (2:52)
02. Careering (4:06)
03. Porton Down (3:41)
04. Mirror Images (3:51)
05. Handicap and Equality (3:56)
06. Not for Keith (2:25)
07. The Old School Tie (5:07)
08. Time for a Change (3:15)
09. Imperial Walls (4:16)
10. Mr. X (Gets Tense) (5:13)
11. Faculty X (4:58)

Total time 43:44

Bonus Track on US/Canada 1979 LP editions:
07. The Polaroid (Single) (2:24)

Bonus tracks on 2006 Virgin remaster:
12. Mr. X (Gets Tense) (Live) (6:05) *
13. Faculty X (Live) (4:50) *

* Recorded for the "John Peel Show" on BBC Radio 1; first transmission 24th September 1979

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

- Graham Smith / violin (1,3,10,11)
- David Jackson / saxophone & flute (2,3,11)

While an acidic pun also, this album's title certainly gives the important information that this was Hammill's seventh solo album. And the first one (maybe second) recorded after the final VdGG break-up (until very recently that is), and the first one to be done completely free previous influences.
By this time, his friendly musical mutual admiration, made him and Peter Gabriel's path cross many times around that period or shall we say era! Era due not only our archangel Gabriel, and Robert Fripp but Brian Eno also, from the more glam rock scene of prog (those musically close to Bowie and its androgynous music), but to the other side of the pond, this lead to the Talking Heads and others, but also Hammill himself were all busy "electronifying" prog rock. This would then lead to the 80's music scene that was simply partly the result of the push the Artistes (with the big A) mentioned just above influenced tremendously with all of its excesses. If I am going through this general overview, it is because this scene was actively challenged by Peter's seventh album.

But the usual Hammill is still present also, listen to Mirror Man to see if Hammill 's shot at Bowie melodies (Five Years style), but also a more solemn hymn-like Handicap And Quality, definitely one of the most grandiose-sounding raconteur troubadour rock song Hammill wrote. Poignant lyrics and majestic Jacques Brel-like vocal delivery (pure compliments, Peter!!!!) make a spine-chilling moment, because this also appeared clearly the case in the following Not For Keith (Ellis, most likely).

On the other side of Peter's universe are the definitely experimental edges where he stretched his voice "to places it was not necessarily supposed to be natural " (sic) and this attitude translated to his music also and stretched to making it sometimes aggressive (and challenging) to the more discerning prog fan. Careering, Porton Down, Old School Tie and Mr. X are typical examples. A few tracks in this album are very subtly pointing towards Eno, or Krautrock too (Imperial Walls for ex.).

Certainly a departure from his old group's music Zone, rather challenging at times and yet another worthy Hammill album with its strengths and weaknesses.

Peter Hammill - 1978 - The Future Now

Peter Hammill 
The Future Now

01. Pushing Thirty (4:18)
02. The Second Hand (3:26)
03. Trappings (3:30)
04. The Mousetrap (4:05)
05. Energy Vampires (2:53)
06. If I Could (4:34)
07. The Future Now (4:10)
08. Still In The Dark (3:35)
09. Mediaevil (3:04)
10. A Motor-Bike In Africa (3:09)
11. The Cut (4:19)
12. Palinurus (3:43)

Total Time: 45:15

Bonus tracks on 2006 Virgin remaster:
13. If I Could (Live) (4:36) *
14. The Mousetrap (Caught In) (Live) (4:05) *

* Recorded at the All Souls Unitarian Church, Kansas City, on 16 February 1978 (released on Skeletons

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, keyboards (baby grand piano, monophonic analogue synth), harmonium, Aphex Aural Exciter (6,11), Roland beatbox, bass, harmonica (12), producer & arranger

- Graham Smith / violin (5,6)
- David Jackson / saxophone (1,2)

This first album after VdGG's final break-up is certainly not the easiest of Hammill's album to say the least. As the opening track says, Peter was on the verge of the big three O's and obviously the man had a lot to say or at least to try to express his thoughts. Can one ever speak of any Hammill albums and say that it is transitional? Not really as Hammill's whole career always seemed transitional, but if one album had to be it, this might be the one.

Peter plays nearly all of the instruments himself except for the odd violin and sax, and this could the album that is truly his most personal. Most of the tracks on this album appears to deal with life's uncertainties or shortcomings, and this angst (check out his photo on the sleeve to get confirmation) sometimes translates into his music as the eerie Caught In The Mousetrap indicates or the Energy Vampires (clearly the industry vultures).

There are true moments of wonder as Mediaeval is one of Hammill's more bizarre adventures mixing chorals with his bizarre (and almost yelled) prose and the following Motorbike In Africa and The Cut. The average proghead will no doubt really get the feeling that Peter is taking us through the meanders of his sanity and we are not sure if he is headed in or out of the danger zone. The finale Palinurus is probably the tops Hammill has ever gone in weirdness. There are many moments when Hammill's intimacy on this album becomes a bit uncomfortable, not because his proximity or his prose, but mostly because of the purpose or more likely the interest or usefulness. Do not get me wrong, this is typically the type of albums that will unravel its secrets and intricacies as time goes on and repeated listenings (IF you can stand them) go by. For my part, I doubt that the extra time spent on this album will rewarding enough to warrant the investment - both in time and money. But this album (or at least its second (vinyl) side is certainly a must hear at least once for everyone hanging out on the Archives.

I could be tempted to award the album a fourth star just out of its adventurous end, but I cannot bring myself to actually enjoy this album more than a third star. If you can get my drift, because I am not so sure I do myself, after such a weird 40 mins. If listened to properly, no-one gets out intact after the needle lifts from the wax.

Peter Hammill - 1977 - Over

Peter Hammill 

01. Crying Wolf (5:12)
02. Autumn (4:13)
03. Time Heals (8:42)
04. Alice (Letting Go) (5:33)
05. (This Side Of) The Looking Glass (6:57)
06. Betrayed (4:44)
07. (On Tuesdays She Used to Do) Yoga (3:55)
08. Lost and Found (7:11)

Total Time: 46:27

Bonus tracks on 2006 Virgin remaster:
09. Betrayed (4:47) *
10. Autumn (4:49) *
11. (This Side Of) The Looking Glass (solo version, Kansas City) (4:11)

* BBC Radio One "John Peel Show" session, broadcasted the 21st April 1977

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, keyboards, arranger & producer

- Graham Smith / violin (2,6)
- Nic Potter / bass (1,3,8)
- Guy Evans / drums (1,3,8)
- Michael Brand / orchestra arranger & conductor (5)

Very rarely does an album have an intense emotional effect on me. I could name a select handful of all the albums I own and call them life-altering or groundbreaking in my own personal development. Peter Hammill's Over, though, has had probably the most profound effect on me out of all the albums I own. I first got it because I knew Hammill from a few of his previous solo albums and Van Der Graff Generator, I listened to it casually and without really letting it all sink in, as its lyrical concept was something I was not experiencing in my life. As I look upon the album now, I can surely say that I've lived this album and at some point in the last year or so I have felt everything expressed on this album, and I know the pain and anguish that Hammill had been through nearly 30 years prior. The fact that its musical content was also of the same intensity and cynicism for humanity only helped strengthen the point of what Hammill was pouring out to his listeners with the utmost sincerity.
This primarily acoustic album shows Hammill at his rawest and most spiteful. Songs like Crying Wolf and Betrayed create webs of malaise and despair while cutting down yourself and everyone around you. Hammill bites his way through these songs with sneering, piercing vocal performances that cut through the listener like tiny razorblades. At the same time, the album contains charmingly beautiful melodies and somber, despairing moods with pieces like (This Side of) The Looking Glass and Autumn. Hammill's tasteful choice in diversity and creating peaks and troughs in intensity help convey the overall message of the ups and downs of regret, love, loss, despair, isolation, and loneliness. For the most part, though, the songs that I found so entrancing were the two longer pieces on the album. Time Heals is Hammill's story of love and loss, his regrets and woes of losing the only person he loved in the world, and his intense reflection back on what he had. Musically, the subtle use of synthesizers during key buildup moments adds an eeriness to the overall vibe of the piece. Finally, Lost and Found is the big realization of the album. If there's one song that I can say I wholly relate to, it is this piece. References to La Rossa and a moody, eerie outro help drive out the final vocal call of, Everything is going to be alright?

It would be unfair of me to say that I had given this album a completely objective overview and sufficiently ruled out the pros and cons of it. But when I listen to this album, Hammill reflects upon me a situation in his life that I most certainly relate with, and still somewhat do to this day. In any case, Over by Peter Hammill is an intense, emotional album that reaches out to the listener's heart and pleads for mercy. It's a rare treat for me to feel so strongly about an album, for very few in the past have really gripped me like this one. There is no doubt in my mind that Over is Peter Hammill's strongest outing, a true masterpiece in his extensive catalog.