Saturday, April 1, 2017

Peter Berkow & Friends - 1977 - Live at Cabo's

Peter Berkow & Friends 
Live at Cabo's

01. Burger Love 6:24
02. Mandala 10:40
03. I've Got Time 7:04
04. French Hougnon Soup 7:30
05. Overjoiced 8:20
06. Spin The Globe 9:30

Backing Vocals – Charlie Haynes, Joe Hougnon
Bass – Paul Abrahms
Congas – Randy Mason
Drums – Mark Williams
Flute – Charlie Haynes
Harmonica – Charlie Haynes (tracks: B3), Joe Hougnon (tracks: B3), Peter Berkow
Lead Guitar – Joe Hougnon, Peter Berkow (tracks: B2)
Lead Vocals – Joe Hougnon (tracks: A3), Peter Berkow
Percussion – Mark Williams, Randy Mason
Rhythm Guitar – Peter Berkow
Tenor Saxophone – Charlie Haynes

A nice curio private press from 1977 that one might still find on a good day of crate digging. PB&F were formed and survived off the 1970s university culture, in this case the University of Illinois. They were a full 6 piece jazz band who, like many in the day, fused elements of funk, rock and Latin styles into their distinct brew. Two guitarists, bass, drums, a dedicated conga player and the primary soloist doubles on both tenor sax and flute. A long album (close to 50 minutes), with 4 of the 6 tracks being entirely instrumental. It’s these compositions that make the album a success, with melodies that recall Ian Carr’s Nucleus and other melodic Brit-jazz combos, with plenty of room left for solos, which never bog down in tuneless noise.
A true relic of the times, and worth exploring.

Peter Berkow & Friends - 1976 - Faculty Recital

Peter Berkow & Friends 
Faculty Recital 

Spiritual Rebate (For The Stoned Zen Pimp) 
01 Part One (Instrumental Introduction) 4:26
02. Part Two (Vocals And Horn. Solos) 7:08
03. Part One (Vocals) 2:51
04. Part Two (Powerplants) 2:44
05. Part Three (The Creek, Reprise) 3:44
06. Credit Card Blues 4:26
07. Liquid Smog 4:03
08. I Run Too 4:10
09. Coda: As The Planet Explodes 5:07
10. Sometimes My Life 0:57
11. Street Jam 2:47

Bass – Paul Abrahms
Congas, Percussion – Randy Mason
Drums, Percussion – Mark Williams
Electric Guitar – Joe Hougnon
Saxophone, Flute – Charlie Haynes, Ylonda Nickell
Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Synthesizer, Harmonica, Composed By – Peter Berkow

This gorgeous album (released in 1976, recorded earlier) is a concept about the post-nuclear holocaust world and without doubt it's Peter Berkow's masterpiece, an album that I think should stand as one of the best progressive works from the United States in the seventies

Berkow made a few albums in the early seventies.  I will state right off the bat I don't recommend the other ones, which I've heard all.   His singing is something that may be hard to get used to, being in the laryngeally thin Bob Dylan school. He is also one of those artists that recycled his compositions, reworking them from one record to the next. Thus the preceding album "Thesis" has most of the songs from this album and is very similar without being as pulled-together and conceptual.  The last album, perversely called "Bootleg Demo (79)" recycled them yet again in an acoustic format, lacking the fusion that makes this installment exciting.  On the other hand "Live at Cabo's (77)" is a fusion album beginning to end, but not a good one at all in my opinion being too meandering and lacking the brilliant prog moves and pleasant dead-head vibe.

Moving on to the album in question, if you look closely at the back you'll notice the whole thing is divided into three parts.  Side one has two parts, Spiritual Rebate for the Stoned Zen Pimp (which reappears on other albums both before and after), and was composed in transit to California (check what he says about it on the back), and Half-Life (referring to radioactive decomposition of course).  The lyrics for the Stoned Zen Pimp are as idiotic as you'd expect, but very much a part of those times, as I understand them-- not having experienced them  myself.  Side 2 recorded in a different time and place contains mostly vocal acoustic songs though they do revolve around the same theme of nuclear holocaust, sometimes tenuously so though, with occasional reprises of themes from side one.

It's obvious that Peter started as a university student (presumably bio based on his lyrics) but dropped out and managed to make music a full-time career.  I'd be curious to know what happened to him after the seventies, if he burned out as so many others did on too many drugs or if he went on to shine in an academic setting?  Anybody know?

One more thing I can't as usual resist mentioning.  Both paintings are by one Michael Fernandez.  Please -- I beg you -- take the time to look at front and back and admire the surreal (acid-hazed?)  images he came up with for this beautiful album.  Incidentally the preceding album Thesis from 1975 also features a gorgeous cover painting.

Peter Berkow & Friends - 1975 - Thesis

Peter Berkow & Friends 

01. Credit Card Blues 4:26
02. Spin The Globe 4:33
03. Do The Funky Laundry Part 2 1:17
04. Old Guitars 4:10
05. No Lines 4:28
06. Dorm Floor 3:16
07. Spiritual Rebate 4:14
08. Liquid Smog 3:47
09. Dialogues 4:26
10. I Run Too 4:10
11. Coda: As The Planet Explodes 5:07
12. Sometimes My Life 0:57

Acoustic Guitar – Jim Fairs (tracks: B1, B2, B5)
Backing Vocals – Rocky Maffit (tracks: B4)
Bass – Kelly Sill (tracks: A1, A4, A5, B2), Peter Bailey (4) (tracks: B1. B3, B4, B5)
Bass Clarinet – Ron Dewar (tracks: B2)
Clarinet – Ron Dewar (tracks: A1)
Congas – Rocky Maffit (tracks: B4)
Cymbal – Rocky Maffit (tracks: B3)
Drums – Bruce Doctor, Rocky Maffit (tracks: A3, B2, B5)
Electric Guitar – Dan Fogelberg (tracks: A3), Jim Fairs (tracks: B1, B5)
Fiddle – Henry The Fiddler (tracks: A5)
Flute – Peter Swinnerton (tracks: B3, B4, B5)
Guitar – Elliott Delman (tracks: A1, A3, A5), Peter Berkow
Harmonica – Corky Siegel (tracks: A2, A3), Peter Berkow (tracks: A3), Peter Ruth (tracks: A1, A4)
Maracas – Rocky Maffit (tracks: B1)
Percussion – Rocky Maffit (tracks: B1, B3)
Rototoms – Rocky Maffit (tracks: A3)
Shaker – Jim Fairs (tracks: B1)
Sitar – Jim Fairs (tracks: B1)
Soprano Saxophone – Dennis Kita (tracks: B5)
Tabla – Rocky Maffit (tracks: B1, B3)
Tenor Saxophone – Ron Dewar (tracks: B2)
Vocals – Peter Berkow, Peter Swinnerton (tracks: A2, B4)

The Long Hello - 1983 - The Long Hello Volume 4

The Long Hello
The Long Hello Volume 4

01. Holsworthy Market Place (2:01)
02. Trick or Treat (3:46)
03. Der Traum Von Julius (4:39)
04. The Rock of Riley (3:55)
05. The Caretakers's Wife (6:32)
06. The Wonderful Brothers (2:42)
07. Martha's Express Wishes (3:04)
08. Hamburg Station (2:34)
09. Solo Kabine (0:45)
10. The Finger Points (2:19)
11. Haben Sie Waffen Oder Funk Dabei (1:57)
12. Slow Slither Loop (2:58)
13. My Feet Are Freezing But My Knees Are Warm (3:49)
CD Bonus:
14. The Rock of Riley (Slight Return) (1:25)
15. The Caretaker's Wife '92 (8:27)
16. Looking At You (6:42)

Total Time: 57:15
NOTE: Guy Evans with Life Of Riley & David Jackson

- Guy Evans / drums, percussion, tympani
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes (1-5,13)
- Giles Perring / guitars, piano (1-6,10)
- Chris Kerridge / guitars (4,6,8,10,12,13)
- Dave Sawyer / drums, percussion (2)
- Dane Kranenburg / bass (1,2,14)
- Harry Williamson / slithar, bass (5,7,8,12,13)
- Paul Schubert / bass (4)

Volume 4 of the 'Long Hello' series has always been my favourite. What Guy Evans does here with his drumming and various percussion is very interesting. Starring some members of Mother Gong's alumni, we have an amazing array of experimental pieces, sometimes jazzy and sometimes spacey. Too many tunes here for track-by-track breakdown, but highlights are : 'Der Traum von Julius' - a strange piece full of mysterious tones, courtesy of Mr Jaxon's sax playing, 'Martha's Express Wishes' - complete with fast paced drumming and nice bass-playing, 'The Finger Points' - a whimsical percussive arrangement with amusing guitaring and 'Haben Sie Waffen Oder Funk Dabei ?' - which reprises Martha's E.W. but this time around with Glissando guitar. Never a dull moment on this record, and whilst sounding different from Van Der Graaf Generator, the ghost of that spirit is still to be found here.

The Long Hello - 1982 - The Long Hello Volume 3

The Long Hello 
The Long Hello Volume 3

01. Jacko and the Pollar Bear (3:30)
02. Dr. Mop (4:48)
03. May Day, May Day (3:44)
04. Sogni d'Oro (7:50)
05. Stonewall Stands with Thomas Davies (4:15)
06. Sometimes I Do, Sometimes I Don't (4:04)
07. Range Change (4:58)
08. The Homing of Homer (5:47)

- David Jackson / voice, whistles, saxes, flute, piano, synthesisers
- Guy Evans / drums
- Nic Graham / bass, 12 string guitar, percussion
- Dave Anderson / bass, vibraslap
- Chris Barnes / guitars
- Peter Hammill / organ solo, keyboard sounds
- John Clarke / electric drums
- Jakko Jakszyk / voice, guitars, bass, synthesisers
- Jacob Jackson (age 3) / voice

The 'Long Hello' project was conceived back in 1973, where ex-VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR members could get together and have a bash and contribute some compositions which were otherwise overlooked by visionary PETER HAMMILL. It is a somewhat overlooked recording, not that it's a particularly bad one, but it's not the holy grail either. Actually, it's sax player DAVID JACKSON's project more than anything. 'Jaxon', as he is known to many, was also a crucial part of, not only one of the most incredible progressive bands known to humankind - VDGG, but also contributed to several side-projects including Hammill's solo work, 4 Long Hello volumes, Magic Mushroom Band's sensational 'Spaced Out' album, and even hooking up with R.P.I. legends OSANNA. The saxophonist is truly gifted, one of those amazing musicians who could play multiple saxes simultaneously along with The Blockhead's Davey Payne, a trick that only (to my limited knowledge) jazzer Roland Kirk had mastered. Options were open..... Recording took place between September '79 - November '81 and the resultant music reflected a good dose of experimental jazz-prog and New-Wave influences. Amongst the 'big names' we find Graham, Hammill, drummer Guy Evans, bassist Dave Anderson, and guitarist/vocalist Jakko Jakszyk (and others). Opening tune, 'Jacko and the Polar Bear', we find a folksy tune with vocalisings from Jaxon and his then baby son Jacob, leading into an odd-metred riff with Graham on bass and Evans on drums, and Hammill eventually joining in on some atonal organ stabs. Jaxon's whistles and sax work are superb. 'Dr. Mop' is a rather catchy tune featuring Graham on rhythm-box, Anderson on bass, Brian Evans on vox and Jaxon's usual grating sax work. The melody is simple, and it's in- keeping with the new-wave vibe of the time. 'Mayday Mayday' is the instrumental equivalent of the previous track, this time with Jaxon on rhythm-box (and you can't tell the difference ......!!). 'Sogni D'oro' is a longer piece, credited to Jaxon (saxes & keys) & Jakszyk (vox, guitars and bass), along with John Clarke on a Simmons electronic drum kit keeping a steady 4/4 beat. Again more new-wave inclinations along with some ethereal instrumental stretches. Flipside we get another instrumental, 'Stonewall Stands with Thomas Davies' - a more playful tune showcasing saxes and whistles, and rhythm- box. 'Sometimes I Do, Sometimes I Don't' is a cool, melodic tune with Jaxon's saxes leading the way and tasteful bass from Graham. 'Range Change' has some cheezy sounding keys, along with that bloomin' cheap-sounding rhythm-box and bass from Anderson. The saxes are the highlight. The finale of the album is 'The Honing Of Homer', a composition credited to Jackson and Hammill, even if the latter does not appear on the recording itself. Possibly the most exciting piece of the album. Sung by Jakszyk, the tune twists around from new-wave to distinctively weird, and back again. It isn't too far away to what one may find on Hammill's solo albums PH7 or A Black Box. Overall, a good-to-very good album, more of an obscurity for VDGG obsessives

The Long Hello - 1981 - The Long Hello Volume 2

The Long Hello
The Long Hello Volume 2

01. Surfing with Isabelle (4:12)
02. Elsham Road (3:35)
03. Dolphins (3:56)
04. Carnival (2:55)
05. Broken Chain (2:35)
06. Hidden Drive (2:20)
07. Indian (4:06)
08. Zen (3:12)
09. Agua Blanca (4:13)
10. Welcombe Mouth (3:12)

- Nic Potter / bass, keyboards, guitars
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion, bamboo flute, synthesizers

- David Jackson / saxes, flutes (1-5,13)
- Stuart Gordon / violin (11-13)
- Huw Lloyd Langton / guitar (11-13)
- Giles Perring / additional drums (6)

With an enviable prog pedigree that saw bassist Nic Potter play with the genre's heaviest hitters -- Van der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill -- it was only a matter of time before his skills would be displayed in a somewhat different context. And rightly so; 1974's The Long Hello, was, in some circles, a prog rock masterpiece, and with a band also featuring fellow Van der Graafers Hugh Banton, David Jackson, and Guy Evans, it was essentially a de facto Generator release. Losing Banton and adding Giles Perring, Potter and Evans returned in 1981 with The Long Hello's offspring -- The Long Hello, Vol. 2. This second wholly instrumental album follows the same path as its predecessor, and while it's not always an easy listen, there are moments that really do shine -- "Dolphin," the hand drum-heavy "Hidden Drive," and the oddly timed "Agua Blanca." Neatly divided between experimental and more straightforward pieces ("Agua Blanca" falls firmly in the first camp), it's a never less than intriguing listen and, as a document of pure instrumental prog, The Long Hello, Vol. 2 succeeds admirably. Where it falls down, however, is that it lacks the vocals that were such an intrinsic part of the best of the era's prog, and often becomes little more than one long jazz-tinged noodle. But it remains an important record of the genre's growth. If you listened to what the papers said, 1981 had little room in which such dinosaurs could rest, and the album passed with little attention or fanfare. It deserved a lot more, however, and this welcome reissue provides it.

The Long Hello - 1974 - The Long Hello Volume 1

The Long Hello 
The Long Hello Volume 1

Track list on Butt (reversed side)
Side 1
01. The Theme from (Plunge) (5:31)
02. The O Flat Session (5:32)
03. Morris to Cape Roth (6:33)
04. Brain Seizure (4:01)
Side 2
05. Fairhazel Gardens (7:56)
06. Looking at You (6:16)
07. I've Lost My Cat (8:28)

Total Time: 44:17

Track list United Artists, Phillips
Side 1
01. Fairhazel Gardens
02. Looking at you
03. I've lost my Cat
Side 2
04. The theme from 'Plunge'
05. The Obsession
06. Morris to Cape Roth
07. Brain Seisure

- David Jackson / assorted saxes, flutes, piano
- Hugh Banton / all instruments on "Brain Seisure", bass "The Obsession"
- Guy Evans / drums
- Piero Messina / electric and acoustic guitar, piano
- Ced Curtis / electric guitar, bass & basson on "Fairhazel Gardens"
- Nic Potter / bass

As Peter HAMMILL disbanded VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR after their epic album "Pawn Hearts", the rest of the group formed this project while still appearing on HAMMILL's solo albums ("Silent Corner and the Empty Stage", "In Camera", "Chameleon" etc.). This project was comprised of former VDGG members Guy Evans and David Jackson, along with bassist Nic Potter, and were sometimes joined by Hugh Banton (also ex-VDGG) who also produced the album. The music is completely different than what the average VDGG fan might expect, with the music being a relaxing form of jazzy-feel rock. As VDGG re-formed in 75, the project was put on hold until it was resumed in the eighties as VDGG finally broke down.

The Long Hello comes to us as an instrumental side project of current and one-time Van der Graff Generator members David Jackson, Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and Nic Potter; however that is where the association with VdGG music stops. This is not a VdGG side project; the output bears no resemblance to the work of VdGG whatsoever; nor does it pretend to. Any expectations of a VdGG-style album based on knowing who the players are is all our own.

That said, what have we got with this project? Some pretty cool grooves often in a jazzy style, at other times the feel is very Canterbury, then for moments here and there a symphonic sound comes to the fore. The musicianship is excellent - exactly what you would expect from this calibre of musician - although you may feel this group of prog heavyweights is playing well within itself.

Overall the music is light and bright with very minimal dark soundscapes. Put simply 'The Long Hello' is very pleasant music. It is something that can be put on as a prog background to a dinner party where guests can enjoy the music or their conversation as takes their fancy, or equally enjoyable to break the silence while beavering away on the computer or reading a book.

Is 'The Long Hello' essential to a collection? No. Am I happy to have this album in my collection? Yes. Is this an excellent addition to a collection? Yes, as long as you are not buying this album on the premise it as a VdGG wannabe.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2016 - Do Not Disturb

Van Der Graaf Generator 
Do Not Disturb

01. Aloft (6:55)
02. Alfa Berlina (6:39)
03. Room 1210 (6:47)
04. Forever Falling (5:37) *
05. Shikata Ga Nai (2:21) *
06. (Oh No, I Must Have Said) Yes (7:45)
07. Brought To Book (7:53)
08. Almost The Words (7:53)
09. Go (4:29)

* Not on LP

- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, guitars, pianos
- Hugh Banton / organ, keyboards, bass, accordion, glockenspiel
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion

Is this VDGG's final act? I would be very surprised if this isn't their last studio album, especially with how reflective this album is and the lyrics seem to point to this. I think for me that's part of my faults with this record as it comes across almost like a dirge overall with the vocals being the focus much of the time. Some have said this is more like a Peter Hammill solo album which I can appreciate. On the final track "Go" Peter sings "Time to leave, close the door" and it ends with these final words "It's time to let go" and I have to say this is a sad record, it really is. Of course even the album's title and cover indicate retirement.
David Jackson is not here so they're a trio like on the last album. They have added a lot of complex passages despite how reflective this often is which is why I picked this up in the first place, I was curious. "Present" was their first comeback album and by far my favourite of this last period of the band. I also have to say that there's a line in the song "Alfa Berlina" that for me sums up why so many bands from the golden era fail to make anything close to what they did when they were young and those words are "But when I think about the way it was we were recklessly alive." That fire and passion of youth and just starting out can't be bottled or bought and it's rare, really rare to see in an older band.

"Aloft" and the next track are my two favourites. This starts out as one of those reflective songs as fragile vocals join the relaxed guitar and cymbal melody a minute in. A change though after 2 1/2 minutes as it picks up with organ, accordion, drums and vocals. A third theme arrives that's nastier and more passionate. That second theme is back at 4 1/2 minutes before the opening theme returns to end it at 6 1/2 minutes. An inventive tune. "Alfa Berlina" is experimental to start with lots of samples. Spoken vocals in atmosphere will take over before we get the main melody before 1 1/2 minutes. The lyrics are so meaningful. A change 4 minutes in as it turns experimental and sparse again and the spoken vocals return like earlier. Back to the main melody a minute later. "Room 1210" is mellow with piano, cymbals and reserved vocals. Accordion and drums join in as well. It kicks in before 1 1/2 minutes with a brighter mood. It continues to change though as it calms down after 3 1/2 minutes.

"Forever Falling" is one I can't get into. A catchy beat to start as the vocals join in. The vocals are faster paced 2 minutes in as is the punchy instrumental work. Back to that opening theme before 4 minutes to the end. "Shikata Ga Nai" is almost haunting, kind of exotic too while a chamber music vibe is felt in this dark piece. "(Oh No! I Must Have Said)Yes" is one I can't get into with that abrasive sound with heavy drums. It changes though to a surprising jazzy motif before 3 minutes but then this abrasive guitar starts to come and go over top that I don't like. "Brought To Book" is mellow with a beat, piano and reserved vocals. Organ and drums arrive as it picks up around 2 minutes, vocals too. Back to the opening theme a minute later then it kicks in to a higher gear but the tempo will continue to shift.

"Almost The Words" is a sad dirge-like tune with sad vocals, piano, percussion and atmosphere. A change at 4 1/2 minutes as fast paced keys and drums take over as multi-vocals come in over top. The organ kicks in before 6 1/2 minutes with prominent bass and drums. I want more of this last part because I feel that's what's missing here and these guys can deliver but I think it's more about the farewell. And speaking of farewell the final song is "Go" which opens with spacey organ and sounds before these fragile vocals join in around a minute.

A sad and reflective album that doesn't scratch that itch for me but it comes across as being a must-have considering the circumstances.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2015 - Merlin Atmos

Van Der Graaf Generator
Merlin Atmos

101. Flight (21:30)
102. Lifetime (5:11)
103. All That Before (7:46)
104. Bunsho (5:48)
105. A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers (24:05)
106. Gog (6:39)

201. Interference Patterns (4:28)
202. Over The Hill (12:36)
203. Your Time Starts Now (4:14)
204. Scorched Earth (10:14)
205. Meurglys III (15:24)
206. Man-Erg (11:40)
207. Childlike Faith In Childhood's End (12:37)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar and keyboards
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass pedals and bass guitar
- Guy Evans / drums

Even though Van Der Graaf Generator have by now released quite a few live recordings, none of them has struck a chord with me like Merlin Atmos. Recorded during the band's 2013 European tour and featuring complete performances of Flight and A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers, the album is a mix of music taken from 1971 and onward. Featuring two tracks from Pawn Hearts, one from each of Godbluff/Still Life/World Record, two tracks from Peter Hammill's solo records and a total of six tracks from Trisector/A Grounding In Numbers. There is clearly something for every Van Der Graaf Generator fan to be enjoyed and some of the less familiar material might just surprise you!
The opening 21-minute Flight was quite a surprise for me since I've only once previously heard it on Hammill's 1980 album A Black Box and this version is a much more modern sounding hence omitting the dated sounds of synthesizers and sequencers. Hammill's voice sounds older but it really doesn't bother me, in fact, some of the moments throughout the opening track actually sounds more potent with his nuanced vocal approach.

The next three compositions are all taken from the current lineup's albums Trisector and A Grounding In Numbers. Lifetime has not been a favorite of mine from the studio recording but this live version has more power to the performance and engages me much more. Bunsho follows in the same suit while All That Before gives the album some much needed energy.

A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers is considered by many to be one of the greatest Van Der Graaf Generator compositions, which is why it's surprising that this is the first complete live version of this 24-minute suite. The performance keeps most of the highlights in tact and organ layers actually manage to make up for the absence of David Jackson. Gog is another highlight since the track has always been considered an unofficial Van Der Graaf Generator classic, even though it was originally recorded as a Peter Hammill solo number.

The so-called bonus disc adds quite a few great performances like the energetic version of Interference Patterns where Hammill clearly makes a strong effort in his vocal delivery. Over The Hill is another memorable Trisector number while the opening track from A Grounding In Numbers, Your Time Starts Now, makes much more sense on this setlist compared to it's role on the band's 2011 release.

The album concludes with almost 50 minutes of classics from the '70s with a lovely performance of Scorched Earth, the slightly trimmed down version of Meurglys III still sounds a bit too excessive for my tastes, Man-Erg makes me wish that David Jackson was still in the lineup even though the keyboards do try to make up for his absence. Childlike Faith In Childhood's End sounds pretty much in line with the studio counterpart but somehow this version doesn't really do as much for me.

As mentioned in the beginning of my review, none of the previous Van Der Graaf Generator live records have managed to grab my attention as much as Merlin Atmos. Yes, there are a few tracks that sound better on the studio recordings and some might even argue that a couple of these performances are overshadowed by the band's previous live offerings. Still, I'd definitely recommend you to give this one a go. Hopefully there will be a video release of these performances since we haven't got enough of those.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2015 - After The Flood - At The BBC 1968-1977

Van Der Graaf Generator 
After The Flood - At The BBC 1968-1977

101. People You Were Going To (3:29)
102. Afterwards (4:41)
103. Necromancer (4:08)
104. Darkness (6:49)
105. After the Flood (10:56)
106. Man-Erg (11:08)
107. Theme One (2:56)
108. Vision (3:13)
109. Darkness (7:15)
110. Man-Erg (10:37)
111. W (5:08)
112. Killer (8:09)

201. Refugees (6:17)
202. Scorched Earth (9:40)
203. Sleepwalkers (9:59)
204. Still Life (7:19)
205. La Rossa (9:56)
206. When She Comes (8:09)
207. Masks (7:23)
208. Cat's Eye / Yellow Fever (4:44)
209. The Sphinx in the Face (5:32)
210. (Fragments of) A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers / Sleepwalkers (9:28)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar and keyboards
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass pedals and bass guitar
- Guy Evans / drums

You get a real sense of how long ago Van Der Graaf Generator started with recordings going back to 1968. Considering I was born a year earlier, I actually have not had a chance to appreciate their body of work until my prog loving adulthood. The double disc has some of the best performances that you will ever hear from the band. It is so unfortunate that a few tracks suffer from poor sound quality, but they really improve as the years move along. Van Der Graaf Generator was so far ahead of its time, and this is an excellent showcase of their early catalog. I would call After the Flood an absolutely essential release for any fan of the band, and a non-studio album must purchase along with Vital.

Van der Graaf Generator - 2012 - Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios

Van der Graaf Generato
Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios

101. Interference Patterns
102. Nutter Alert
103. Your Time Starts Now
104. Lemmings
105. Lifetime
106. Bunsho
107. Childlike Faith

201. Mr. Sands
202. Over The Hill
203. We Are Not Here
204. Man-Erg

Drums – Guy Evans
Organ – Hugh Banton
Vocals, Guitar, Piano – Peter Hammill

On the evening of December 18, 2010, 120 lucky Van Der Graaf Generator fans braved a blizzard to travel to West London's Metropolis Studios to take in a rare UK apearance by Peter Hamill, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans.
Among the most revered of the progressive rock groups to evolve in England during the late 60s and early 70s, VDGG performed songs from all stages of their career in an intimate atmosphere that was captured in a manner unlikely ever to be achieved again.

Recorded and filmed on 18.12.2010 at special event at Metropolis Studios, West London

Van der Graaf Generator's "Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London" is the latest live album from the wonderful eclectic prog legends, and it is everything a VDGG addict could hope for. The big three are here that have kept the dream alive for years; Peter Hammill is incredible on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, as is the indispensable darkened keyboard atmospheres of Hugh Banton, also on bass, and the incomparable drumming passion of Guy Evans seals the deal. This is a beautifully packaged 2 CD album, with stunning sound quality and an even more outstanding setlist.
It opens with a terrific highlight from "Trisector", 'Interference Patterns' that gets the crowd warmed up and they seem impressed judging from the applause afterwards. One can never be disappointed with hearing a live version of 'Nutter Alert', and Hammill absolutely belts this out with as much passion and drive as on "Present".

For the first time I was treated to a live version of a track from "A Grounding In Numbers", the passive thought provoking 'Your Time Starts Now', and it is wonderful. The live set includes some of the quintessential VDGG classics including, from the brilliant "Pawn Hearts", 'Lemmings', that clocks a mind bending 14:26.

This is followed by "Trisector"'s 'Lifetime' , a song I had forgotten but as soon as it started I was delighted with the familiar melody. 'Bunsho' from "A Grounding In Numbers" follows and breezes by quickly, preparing us for the highlight of the album. 'Childlike Faith' is the popular gem from "Still Life" clocking 12:16. The piano is everpresent and a delightful augmentation of the overall texture, that resonates between dark and light with crashes of distorted chords. The tensions are subtle, releasing various musicians to take over and then holding back enough to let the music breathe. It is never overblown or pretentious due to the sincerity of blending Hammill's alienated vocals with Banton's keyboard finesse. The instrumental section is brilliant, sliding and swooping keyboards pouncing upon plunging guitar sweeps, creating a sense of isolation and intense abandonment in the icy wasteland.

Disc Two is shorter at only 34:29, something I was not impressed with, as the whole thing only runs for about an hour and a half, but at least the concert is here to enjoy. It begins with 'Mr. Sands' from "A Grounding In Numbers". Then 'Over The Hill' running for 12:21, and 'We Are Not Here', both great tracks from "Trisector". 'Man-Erg' closes the album with an 11:50 version from the essential "Pawn Hearts" masterpiece. It is a sensational way to close the program, and the crowd offer their rapturous applause demonstrating their appreciation for a great concert experience.

On the downside there is no sax because Jackson is absent and it is really missing the old VDGG magic without those blasting duel sax layers. Another thing is the band omit some songs that I would have been waiting with baited breath for if I had been at the concert, namely 'Killer', 'Darkness (11/11)', oh, and just a little bit of 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers', please fellers? Also unforgivably, nothing has been lifted from the grand trilogy "H To He Who Am The Only One", "The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other", or even "Godbluff". This is a mistake in my opinion as they could have easily injected another 4 or 5 songs, but I guess they are in the golden years now and not as spry as in the 70s years. One expects a decent length concert with the amount it costs to see a band these days so anything less than 2 hours is not really value for money. If this is the whole concert it feels a bit short for comfort. The other live albums were also quite short, though concerts generally were in the 70s, and we may recall that "Vital" from 1978 is about 90 minutes, "Maida Vale (BBC Sessions)" from the 70s is about 70 minutes, but "Real Time" recorded in 2007 is over 2 hours long!

In any case the CD is exceptional quality, some great songs here and any excuse to revisit these songs given a live treatment is definitely worthwhile. It could have been better certainly, but overall this is excellent prog and proves there is life in the old generator yet!

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2012 - Alt

Van Der Graaf Generator

01. Earlybird (4:01)
02. Extractus (1:39)
03. Sackbutt (1:54)
04. Colossus (6:33)
05. Batty Loop (1:11)
06. Splendid (3:46)
07. Repeat After Me (7:37)
08. Elsewhere (4:17)
09. Here's One I Made Earlier (5:41)
10. Midnite Or So (3:32)
11. D'Accord (2:25)
12. Mackarel Ate Them (4:47)
13. Tuesday, The Riff (2:42)
14. Dronus (10:37)

- Peter Hammill / guitar
- Hugh Banton / organ
- Guy Evans / drums

Only a short year after the rather average GIN album, the trio comes back with an uncharacteristic album, made for recent "odds and ends", improvs, soundchecks and other tidbits of the ilk. Of course, like everyone else, you're tempted to think of 05's Present's second "tedious" disc, and in some ways, you'd be absolutely right to think of it. But Alt is also rather more interesting a release; not least, because it is not overshadowed by a studio album with proper songs, like Present was. So the present (no big "P") album is made up of instrumental pieces that somehow found their ways into tapes or memory banks in the last six years ? none feature Jaxon's sax. And just like the improvised Present pieces from 05 were credited to all four members, all Alt tracks are credited to Evans, Banton & Hammill. The actual piecing/correcting and mixing of the material took place in a very inadapted place, modified by the band, as can be seen in the booklet's pictures.
Opening with birds chirping away, the aptly-titled Early Bird is a slow dronal ambient, but occasionally tense pieces, (as will the closing 10-mins+ Dronus), and in some ways, you could think of some post-rock bands' soundscapes. Some other pieces are more Graafesque sonic-wise (Midnite, Batty Loop, Tuesday Or Extractus), but the conspicuous absence of vocals can somehow dismay the listener, but since we're never (or almost) in an actual "constructed song" context (probably even less so than on Present's disc 2), one should easily adapt and accept Alt for what it is: an anecdotic but instructive Graaf "archival" (not sure this is the right word for it) release. To call Alt an experimental album might just be overstating things (it's not revolutionary or groundbreaking) and yet it teaches us a few things about the band, and lets a different facet of the trio surface. More than in any other Graaf album, Alt lets you see (or hear, in this case) just how good Evans and Banton are on their respective tools. You'd tend to think that Jaxon's absence would be insurmountable on instrumentals like these, but it's just not the case: it forces Peter and Hugh to surpass themselves and be even more inventive. And there is no doubt that Hammill keeps getting better on keys and strings. Actually, Repeat After Me is a fairly good base to solid song, as it seems that it's only missing Peter's deep vocals and solemn lyrics. At times, the trio can get very Crimsonesque in their improvisations, like Elsewhere, Here's One, Colossus (where Banton deals with heavy-duty synth and loops), D'Accord and Mackerel.

One more good point about Alt, is that it made me revisit Present's second disc with the improvisations, and I re-evaluated it (positively) in my book. Soooo, while not a normal studio album, Alt holds at least as much interest as some of the band's less inspired albums like World Record or the recent Grounding, but most likely for the average Graafhead, it will not get as much airplay in the long run, though I will probably be in the minority and come back to it occasionaly.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2011 - A Grounding In Numbers

Van Der Graaf Generator 
A Grounding In Numbers

01. Your Time Starts Now (4:14)
02. Mathematics (3:38)
03. Highly Strung (3:36)
04. Red Baron (2:23)
05. Bunsho (5:02)
06. Snake Oil (5:20)
07. Splink (2:37)
08. Embarrassing Kid (3:06)
09. Medusa (2:12)
10. Mr. Sands (5:22)
11. Smoke (2:30)
12. 5533 (2:42)
13. All Over The Place (6:03)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, piano, guitar, bass (7)
- Hugh Banton / organs, piano, glockenspiel, harpsichord, bass & 10-string bass, guitar (11)
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion, guitar (12)

Over two years after the release of the fabulous Trisector, VDGG returns with another batch of tracks written and recorded as a trio. Well after the excellent surprise of Trisector, the three compadres were going to have a tough time equalling or topping their previous effort, but then again the Generator always pull up aces from their sleeves when they need to. The least we can say is that A Grounding In Numbers is another worthy album despite the relatively (read too) sober artwork (well the vinyl features a cut-out) and the continued trend to avoid the famous logo.
After a strong Your Time Starts Now (but not equalling the previous openers like Bloody Emperor and Interference Pattern), the album flips to the unofficial title track, dealing with an artificial (IMHO) concept about numbers and maths. Some might consider this "theme" a stroke of genius, but I can't help but thinking that Hammill might have had nothing stronger a thought to deliver to us at the time of writing and recording the album. Musically, the track is a small tour de force, but the weak lyrics bug me. Some tracks (a fair bit actually) are in the fairly basic (and disappointing) verse-chorus mode (well the usual VDGG complexity aside) with a short solo, like Highly Strung, which could've been AC/Roxy/DC-like with an almost tasteless chorus line, if you get my drift. Later on the album, Embarrassing Kid and Mr Sands are made from the same mould and Smoke has an almost new-wave/electro-pop sound (which I really don't think appropriate for them) and segues into another early-80's-ish track, 5533, which sounds a bit like the Talking Heads with a return to the math theme.

There are some brilliant interludes (but not enough, IMHO), which allow for some breathing space, like the haunting instrumental Red Baron (Evans' awesome drumming), duly separating the violent Highly Strung from Bunsho, a quieter track, which seems to evolve from the Baron's descent, and where Peter deals out a decent guitar and very personal lyrics about his creation process. The challenging Snake Oil features a slow crescendo, some abrupt dynamics and then leaves the floor another instrumental interlude Splink, which is definitely not as successful and features some clunky harpsichord over those wild drums of Guy. The album closes on the longest (barely 6-mins) All Over The Place, with Hammill all over the harpsichord and the band finally unleashing mean solos to arouse our intellect. Too little too late, though. I'd love to have received as a bonus the non-album B-side instrumental piece to have taken the place of say that Embarrassing Kid song.

Well if Trisector was quite a successful album that seemed to be over too quickly, I can't really say the same of AGIN, which tends to add up a bunch of fairly similar tracks (despite all having their own life), thus bringing a certain kind of fatigue around the 4/5th of the album. Indeed, what was clicking so well on the previous album was that the longer tracks provided breathing space and more instrumental interplay and moody ambiances. Here, the shorter song format (only four above the 5-mins mark) seems to hamper the song contents to deepen and explore their own soul to the fullest. Don't get me wrong, AGIN is still a very worthy Generator effort, but it won't retain its brilliance as long as its predecessor.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2009 - Live At The Paradiso

Van Der Graaf Generator
Live At The Paradiso

01. Lemmings
02. A Place To Survive
03. Lifetime
04. (In The) Black Room
05. Every Bloody Emperor
06. All That Before
07. Gog
08. Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild
09. The Sleepwalkers
10. Man-Erg
11. Scorched Earth

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, pianos
- Hugh Banton / organ
- Guy Evans / drums

This show was held in my adoptive hometown, and it was one of the darkest most violent shows I have ever attended, the air was electric and menace was in the air, like a punk show in the early 80's... Memorable Night!

This recording of a performance from pre-album touring for Trisector doesn't just show that the band would weather the loss of Jackson; it shows that, at this point, they were a vastly superior band without him. Lest someone accuse me of blasphemy, I'll emphasize the at this point in that sentence; it's impossible to imagine the 70s version of the band thriving and making a strong mark without Jackson's noisy woodwinds, especially given the relative lack of guitar on those albums. When the classic quartet reunited for Present and accompanying live performances (like the one on Real Time), though, they essentially became a touring museum piece, which wouldn't have been so problematic if Hammill's vocals didn't sound so out-of-place worn and old. When Jackson departed and the other three decided to carry on, this didn't just require them to find a new approach to take on any new studio material they might do; this required them to reinvent their performances of their classic material in a way that would still preserve their essence without exposing the potentially gaping void in the sound. This process of reinvention gives a spark and a life to these performances that I didn't expect coming in, and it helps make for a really enjoyable live album.
Instrumentally, the main trick of the band is for Hammill's guitar to take a more central role than before, with his parts sometimes mimicking Jackson's old woodwind parts, and sometimes providing a level of noisy chaos that matches the general chaos Jackson's parts had provided. In terms of vocals, Hammill doesn't actually sound any better in tone and approach here than he does on Real Time, but the key here is to fill the setlist with material that doesn't require the kind of delicacy that he couldn't really provide in upper registers anymore. The only quiet ballads of the set are "Lifetime" (from Trisector) and "Every Bloody Emperor," and they're low-key enough (except for some angry moments near the end of the latter) and in a low enough register that there aren't any problems to deal with. The rest of the album consists of the kind of noisy material that is only helped by Peter's yelps and growls and half-singing. Plus, forcing Peter into a lower register has a major positive effect on one track: "Gog," from Peter's In Camera album, always seemed a little awkwardly pompous to me with Peter singing in the angelic higher range of his youth, but in a lower voice, the opening line of, "Some men have me Satan, others have me God..." suddenly becomes menacing as hell, and his voice generally gives a heft that wasn't present in the original.

The album has a lot of good material, but the major highlights come from World Record. Both "Place to Survive" (10 minutes to 7 minutes) and "Meurglys III" (20+ minutes to 16) are slightly abbreviated from before, but the shortening isn't really noticable, and they both exemplify all of the best aspects of the "power trio" VDGG. Trust me, you won't miss the saxes; the guitars give a dirty and sloppy edge that had always been slightly present in the studio versions but now become one of the best parts of the songs.

Look, this isn't one of the very best live albums I've ever heard (whatever weaknesses were in the studio versions of these tracks don't suddenly disappear completely), but it's definitely one of the most shockingly revelatory live albums I've ever heard. One thing I always hope for from a live album is for a few sonic surprises (which this album definitely has) and a few renditions of tracks that will make a case for being my favorite rendition of that track (aside from these being my preferred versions of the two World Record tracks, this also has my favorite "Lemmings" and my favorite "Scorched Earth"). If you're a fan of the band and you're not a diehard Jackson fan who refuses to acknowledge anything from after he left, you absolutely must get this album. More than anything else from this era, it cements late-period VDGG as having one of the very best late-period stages of any significant prog rock band.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2008 - Trisector

Van Der Graaf Generator

01. The Hurlyburly (4:34)
02. Interference Patterns (3:49)
03. The Final Reel (5:47)
04. Lifetime (4:43)
05. Drop Dead (4:44)
06. Only in a Whisper (6:43)
07. All That Before (6:26)
08. Over the Hill (12:26)
09. (We Are) Not Here (4:04)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, pianos
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass
- Guy Evans / drums percussion

Van Der Graaf Generator reformed for the second time to make Present in 2005, and since then Jackson has jumped ship for the second time. On the previous occasion that this happened VDGG recruited a violinist and welcomed erstwhile bassist Nic Potter back into the fold; the resulting album, The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome was generally considered a disappointment when it was released but has stood the test of time rather well. This time around the core members have decided to continue as a trio, and the resulting album is perhaps less immediate but deeper and more coherent than Present.

Trisector sees a number of changes for the band, some more obvious than others. The three piece VDGG has something of a keyboard dominated sound, although Hammill's distinctly non virtuoso guitar gets a more than adequate airing, and comparatively short songs are the order of the day. All but one of the nine tracks is credited to Banton/Evans/Hammill, the first time that group songwriting has dominated a VDGG album, and the overall mood and sound is relatively low key and gloomy, perhaps due to the church organ sound that Banton favours for many of the songs. They toured as a three piece before this was recorded, and they are clearly relaxed and confident in their stripped down format. But is it any good? The answer is a definite, though not unqualified, yes. The writing and arrangements are tight and focused, the musicians demonstrate a spellbinding interplay and the album's high points are well up to their extremely high standards.

There are a few weak spots; the instrumental opener The Hurlyburly would have been twice as effective if it had been two minutes long instead of four and half, and there are passages where Hammill adds some lead guitar and the absence of Jackson's sax is really noticeable . On Drop Dead it sounds as though Hammill's old alter ego Rikki Nadir has briefly taken over the proceedings - it will probably work superbly in concert, but the clodhopping beat rather disrupts the flow of the album.

The best tracks more than make up for the weaker moments, though. Only In a Whisper is a jazz tinged number featuring Hammill on Fender Rhodes and Banton on bass guitar, with splendidly restrained vocals and featherlight dumming. It's a beautifully understated performance from a band that has never shied away from the grand gesture, and all the more effective for it. All That Before is an uptempo rocker that really hits home, and Hammill's rhythm guitar playing beefs things up to great effect. The centrepiece of the album is the epic Over the Hill, which is everything an old school prog fan could wish for; time changes galore, constantly shifting moods and tempi and a bravura vocal performance of some suitably oblique lyrics which could refer the history of VDGG or Hammill's own existential turmoil. Prog rock doesn't get much better than this in any era or sub genre.

Following the triumph of Present and the subsequent live shows it seemed that VDGG had nothing left to prove, but Trisector demonstrates that they've still got everything to play for. Banton and Evans have rarely sounded better, and they provide some of the best settings ever for Hammill's voice and lyrics. Trisector isn't Pawn Hearts or Godbluff, but it isn't trying to be, which is probably its greatest strength.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2007 - Real Time

Van Der Graaf Generator 
Real Time

101. The Undercover Man (8:29)
102. Scorched Earth (10:05)
103. Refugees (6:01)
104. Every Bloody Emperor (7:36)
105. Lemmings (13:20)
106. (In The) Black Room (11:16)
107. Nutter Alert (6:05)
108. Darkness (7:20)

201. Masks (6:47)
202. Childlike Faith In Childhood's End (12:34)
203. The Sleepwalkers (10:44)
204. Man-Erg (11:36)
205. Killer (9:55)
206. Wondering (7:01)

Total Time: 128:46

Recorded Live at The Royal Festival Hall, London, 6th May 2005

Bonus CD from 2007 Japanese edition:
301. Pilgrims (Live in Paris)
302. When She Comes (Live in Amsterdam)
303. Still Life (Live in Taormina)
304. Gibberish (Soundcheck in Amsterdam)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, Meurglys III & DeArmond guitars, Yamaha DX7 Mk I (w/ GEM piano module)
- Hugh Banton / Roland VR760 & VK7 (with virtual Hammond generators), Fx pedals, Leslie Speaker
- David Jackson / saxophones, flute
- Guy Evans / drums

After the much-awaited studio return of the classic VDGG quartet (which turned out to be fine but not fabulous as we'd have hoped), this album is (a bit unknowingly) the second album that they will record in a few months. Indeed, this album was recorded on the opening night of their reunion tour, and does it ever show: you don't need to be watching films or videos, you can just feel the excitement and the tension of the event, just playing this CD in your living room.
Although I understand the point of recording the opening night, I am a bit perplexed as to why release it as a live album, because obviously the night was technically imperfect. Generally the quality of the acoustics and the recording are not really at stakes here, but more the quartet's shaky start. For very understandable with such fan expectations, the pressure's weight must've incredibly perturbed them for their first night in almost 30 years as VDGG. Their coordination was clearly on shaky grounds at first (even if they started with the awesome but shortened Undercover Man, one of my favourites), especially with Jaxon, and at one point, you can almost feel that they will fall apart in Scorched Earth. But by the fourth track, after the early crowd favourite Refugees (also shortened, but well played), the quartet attacks a well-rehearsed track, the opening of their new album, Every Bloody Emperor (clearly the album's best track and one of the rare that stands up to the older tracks) and this was obviously a confidence booster.

Lemmings was always a bit difficult for me, but I must say that this live version is completely baffling, but not necessarily positively: This version is utter chaos to my ears but this is where they unleash themselves, Jaxon's sax often over-saturating. Not really that familiar with Black Room, this "surprise" track makes almost the effect of a new (and superb) number that I have spun more often than the rest of this album, so far, and its dynamics are impressive. The first disc closes on an excellent (but shortened again) Darkness, where now the group has got all of its chops together and are starting to shine, Banton ruling on this one.

Funnily enough, the Generator is only pumping out one excellent track every second number: after the excellent Black Room, Darkness and the outstanding Childhood's End and later the outstanding Man-Erg (even if Jaxon's sax is again not perfect), there are tracks that I find lesser or not that well rendered on that night: Masks and Sleepwalkers (still with the hated Cha-Cha-Cha) are not pleasers for this writer (even if the latter is impeccably played), but nevermind me. The always-excellent Killer comes in to break this alternating cycle and reversing it with the night ending in a questionable Wondering. (couldn't resist that one ;-)

Again I must wonder about the choice of releasing the opening night's recordings, beyond of course the title's theme of Real Time; they give the time of start and the end of the concert as well as the exact longitude and latitude of the RFH on the booklet artwork, and Hammill's in-between songs presentations are all based on Time, as was the Present album they were promoting. But the rough start aside, this is a good testimony of VDGG's powerful presence on stage. Although one can discuss of the track list: only two (but two out of three's only excellent) tracks from Present, two from The Least (no surprises there), one only from H To He, two from Pawn Heart (but not the one I was hoping for ;-) is a good token that Hammill & Co, are now fully reconciled with their first period. However, I am a little disappointed that, with the unsurprising three tracks from Godbluff, there is only one from Still Life (but what a track it is, though), but two are from the rather average World Record (and not my choices either), but this is of relative minor importance. While the band is not really as tight as they could be (this is opening night after a 30-years holiday after all), this album is already a classic live Generator album that has its place alongside the fairly different Vital.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2005 - Present

Van Der Graaf Generator 

101. Every Bloody Emperor (7:03)
102. Boleas Panic (6:50)
103. Nutter Alert (6:11)
104. Abandon Ship! (5:07)
105. In Babelsberg (5:30)
106. On the Beach (6:48)

201. Vulcan Meld (7:19)
202. Double Bass (6:34)
203. Slo Moves (6:24)
204. Architectural Hair (8:55)
205. Spanner (5:03)
206. Crux (5:50)
207. Manuelle (7:51)
208. 'Eavy Mate (3:51)
209. Homage to Teo (4:45)
210. The Price of Admission (8:49)

- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, guitar, electric piano
- Hugh Banton / Roland VR760 & Roland VK7 (with virtual Hammond generators), bass
- David Jackson / saxophone, flute, Soundbeam
- Guy Evans / drums

Van der Graaf Generator returned with "Present", this 2005 album, that comes after the final studio album in 1977. It was a long hiatus and one may have been forgiven for assuming that the band would have become stale or lost their prog roots and ultimate weirdness, of course great bands like this will always provide something very special. They are definitely back and are as progressive as ever. The line up is such a nice surprise featuring of course visionary genius Peter Hammill on lead vocals, guitar and piano, and he is joined by the big three; Guy Evans on percussion, Hugh Banton on organs, piano, Mellotron, bass pedal/guitar, synthesizer and the biggest treasure for me, is the return of the extraordinary David Jackson on saxophone. The sax was absent on the last few studio releases so it was a terrific addition to include it here.

'Every Bloody Emperor' kicks it off well and sounds like vintage VDGG with that cool sax, and Hammill's vindictive serious vocals. Even the lyrics have that distinct VDGG style. This is followed by a wonderful dreamy sax and measured tempo on the instrumental 'Boleas Panic' that is kind of slow and haunting.

A highlight is definitely 'Nutter Alert' that pretty well sums up this eclectic music. It has a moderate tempo sax driven time sig, and some Dracula organ, providing a trademark VDGG sound. The lyrics are typical Hammill such as "is it the pricking of the conscious, is it the itching of hair shirt, is it the dictionary definition, of a precipice to skirt?, It's the nutter alert." I love the instrumental break with grinding keyboards, and the time sig is a progger's delight. Jackson is delightful as he blasts out a sax inferno in the freak out of organ phrases and off sync percussion. Hammill sums it up beautifully, "You're a car crash in the making, head-on, that's a racing cert, It's the nutter alert".

'Abandon Ship!' is a lot of fun and has the same type of thematic content as 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers'. It has a scratchy raw guitar riff and this is joined by sax and organ blasts over the odd meter of drumming. The lyrics are the kind that can only be found on a VDGG album. Who the heck would use the words "Oh, the heptagenarians got behind the decks, while the skeleton crew went through the motions, it was only the medication that was keeping them erect, Yeah, the devil got the best tunes so god knows what comes next." The sig goes all over the place in a kind of jazz meltdown, with sax coming in impromptu outbursts and very bizarre drum beats over hectic keyboard phrases. This is a sheer delight, as quirky as the band gets; they certainly have not lost their quirkiness and unbridled charm. When Hammill yells "Abandon Ship!" he is not kidding!

'In Babelsberg' follows on, a rather messy track with too many Hammill vocals before we are finally released into some punked up guitar and off kilter sax and organ. Again I love the sax sound and the way the song builds into a steady pace with some hi hat work and cymbal splashes. It actually sounds as though two separate songs are being played together at one stage, with sax competing against the other instruments, but that's the way we love our VDGG; served up chilling and cold with unpredictable fractured signatures and arrangements.

'On the Beach' ends it with a 6:48 composition, that includes some studio banter that is kind of cool to hear in the intro; "a cross between cool jazz and surfing safari, it has that kind of sinister vibe". Hey, who's reviewing this album anyway? When the band shut up it moves into a minimal organ and a Hammillian piece of reflection, a nice part of the VDGG repertoire. The squeaky sax is nice and the lyrics "even the Silver Surfer agrees" is a cool touch for comic fans. A weird low key way to end this album but nevertheless a very pleasant journey.

CD Two is VDGG 'IMPROVISATIONS' where we can listen for just over an hour to some of the studio improvs and sound check kanoodling of the band that ranges from okay to fair to awful, but it is only a bonus and if treated as such it is a nice way to spend an afternoon. Similar to the improvs unleased on "Time Vaults", there are some really weird oddities here including the sax and organ battle on 'Vulcan Meld' that clocks 7 minutes and features waves on the beach effects that are soothing to the senses and augment the music very well. There are lot of ideas scattered in the sound and it could be aptly described as swinging jazz math rock mixed with eclectic avant RIO.

'Double Bass' has a nice synth run and a funky bass with some spacey squelches and an incessant drum improv sig. I like the sax and the way it builds to a free form swing, the band obviously enjoying themselves with a few "ooh yeahs" thrown in. The melody kind of sounds familiar as though from "Godbluff" but I can't place it.

'Architectural Hair' is a heavy repetitive thing numbing your ears for about 9 minutes, if you can endure it. 'Eavy Mate' is kind of fun nonsense that fades up mid way through with sax squeaks and squawks and scattered percussion. It is just the band unleashing their instruments and occasionally it sounds as though they are melding together to form some semblance of a song.

'Spanner' is a drummer's paradise and has some chilling sax. 'Crux' is a slow tempo piece with a raw recording sound and delightful sax, and guitar strums. The sound is more together than other tracks and works as a pleasant instrumental. 'Manuelle' is grinding keyboards that irritate after a while but it is nice the way the drums and sax build over. It sounds a lot like 'Meurglys III' from "World Record" when this lineup was last heard. Once again it is too lengthy without any vocals and no actual melody to lock into.

The absence of Hammill's vocals is not a very welcome aspect as it his vocals that carries most of the best VDGG songs. None of the tunes are memorable and feel like a very rushed afterthought, and only with tinges of inspirational genius. Tracks such as 'Slo Moves' that overstays its welcome by about 4 minutes are dull, and a lot of this music is really crying out for some kind of lyric or at the very least a melody. 'Homage To Teo' is another weird one with no meter and just a lot of sax and avant garde sounds; perhaps some may call this genius, bit I can't hear it without wanting it to end. 'The Price of Admission' is a 9 minutes snorefest of noisy avant RIO and capped off with waves crashing. It is more of a curio then a true document of the band at their best. I guess I feel more like a fly on the wall in a studio being privy to hearing the raw unfinished material, that perhaps should have never seen the light of day. But it is still interesting to hear what these genius's get up to at work while us mere mortals are occupying our time trying to make ends meet.

This bonus CD was included on the special edition but not on others and comes across as unnecessary at times, and is one CD I won't return to often, however it is far superior to the latest 2012 "ALT" album that is all improvisation and sold off as an actual album, which is really unforgiveable. In any case "Present" is a satisfactory album that has been surpassed since by "A Grounding in Numbers", and it is well worth seeking out for VDGG addicts, of which I am one. It is great to see these visionary progenitors of prog back, recording new material when we were all under the impression they had finished long ago.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2000 - The Box

Van Der Graaf Generator
The Box

Bless The Baby Born Today
101. People You Were Going To (3:32)
102. Afterwards (4:45)
103. Necromancer (4:11)
104. Refugees (6:19)
105. Darkness (6:52)
106. After the Flood (10:59)
107. White Hammer (8:16)
108. House With No Door (6:33)
109. Killer (8:20)
110. Lost (11:09)

The Tower Reels
201. Theme 1 (3:01)
202. W (4:28)
203. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (23:06)
204. (In the) Black Room/The Tower (11:47)
205. Lemmings (16:42)
206. Man-Erg (11:09)

One More Heaven Gained
301. La Rossa (9:51)
302. Arrow (8:53)
303. Still Life (7:26)
304. My Room (7:29)
305. Sleepwalkers (10:26)
306. Pilgrims (7:11)
307. Childlike Faith in Childhood's End (12:25)
308. Scorched Earth (10:13)

Like Something Out Of Edgar Allen Poe
401. Masks (7:00)
402. Meurglys III (16:47)
403. When She Comes (8:02)
404. Wondering (6:42)
405. The Wave (3:15)
406. Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (Running) (4:49)
407. Chemical World (6:14)
408. Door (3:26)
409. Sci-Finance (6:16)
410. The Sphinx in the Face (5:33)

- Guy Evans / drums, percussion, baliphones
- Hugh Banton / keyboards, drum programmes
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes, keyboards
- Peter Hammill / vocals, piano
- Chas Dickie / cello
- Keith Ellis / bass and background vocals
- Nick Potter / bass

I am a fan of box sets, having acquired over the years box sets of many artists including King Crimson, Yes and Pink Floyd, however I was not sure whether a high price tag would be justified for a set of Van der Graaf Generator CDs. This set known iconically as "The Box", consists of many of the tracks already available on their studio albums and, as I already have all these albums, I was hesitant to buy. However it has been a long time since a VDGG purchase and there were enough live and alternative versions of tracks to peak my interest.
CD1 is a collection of the early years of the band who need no introduction. Some unusual live versions from a BBC Top Gear session recorded in November 1968, starts off this wonderful compilation. The live tracks were new to me, including upbeat 'People You Were Going To', slow wondering 'Afterwards', and the drum-heavy 'Necromancer' that is even better than the version on the debut thanks to the staccato organ hammering. There is also a live track from BBC Peel Session recorded in December 1971, 'Refugees'. Fascinating compositions 'Darkness (11/11)', with some scintillating sax, and acoustic and organ-driven powerhouse 'After The Flood' are from BBC Top Gear January 1970, and all are agreeable versions; raw, low-fi and intense, but almost as good as the originals despite the hissing radio production. The CD does include some original studio tracks, the dark dynamic 'White Hammer' from "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other", and from "H To He Who Am The Only One" the pensive reflections of 'House With No Door', 'Killer' and 'Lost'. 'Killer' is definitely indispensable and had to be included, but in place of some of the other tracks here perhaps 'Gog' or 'Octopus' would have been a better choice. In any case, it is a solid start showcasing the pioneering years of the band.

CD2 has some unusual choices, as the band became prog legends during the 70s, such as BBC Black Sessions recording from June 1971 of the exuberant catchy 'Theme One' and for some strange reason the B-side of this single, the plodding 'W' is here, not a great song but I like the weird instrumental break. Quintessential VDGG is present with the extraordinary prog epic from "Pawn Hearts", 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers', all 23 glorious minutes of it. I cannot offer enough superlatives about this atmospheric beast, needless to say it is a masterpiece not to be missed. Then three live tracks recorded in Rimini 1975, the hypnotic raucous '(In The) Black Room/The Tower', the bludgeoning 16 minute 'Lemmings' and reflective odyssey 'Man-Erg', the latter two that are brilliant studio releases but still hold some power on the stage, and have some killer passages of mind blowing music that light up with a detonation of sax, organ, bass and drums. The live songs are bootleg quality but are nevertheless prime examples of the band exploring dynamics and jaw dropping freakouts of improvisation, and as such are well worth a listen. Overall, a great CD, especially for those who do not own "Pawn Hearts".

CD3 features familiar VDGG material from the excellent "Still Life", such as 'La Rossa', the title track, 'Pilgrims', and 'Childlike Faith In Childhood's End', which are great but the edited version of 'My Room' is nothing worth pursuing. There is also an edit of 'Arrow' from "Godbluff" that ruined the original, fading up during the instrumental, but it was nice to hear 'Sleepwalkers' both from the wonderful "Godbluff". From the Rimni 1975 concert is the intense masterwork 'Scorched Earth', and it still sounds as powerful as the original. A decent CD but with some unfortunate cruel edits marring the work of the band. VDGG should never be edited no matter what, but this is what happens on box sets when producers try to cram as much as they can into the CDs, the same applied for King Crimsons box sets "21st Century Guide to King Crimson", and the edits are seldom welcome.

CD4 encompasses the poorest era of the band and features the best of "World Record", 'Masks', 'When She Comes', 'Wondering' and an edit of the epic 'Muerglys III' that never did impress me in it's lengthy form either. That takes care of VDGG's worst album and then we move onto "Quiet Zone" with 'The Wave', and 'Chemical World' which are not too bad, though 'Cat's Eye/ Yellow Fever' is the best track on that album. This track is featured however as a live track from a 1974 BBC Peel Session, and it is quite appealing with violent violin serrations, deep bass and Hammill's anguished vocals. 'Door' is also here from Virgin Vault in 1977, and it is as good as the version that appears as a bonus track elsewhere. From the great live "Vital" album the choice is 'Sci-Finance' and the compilation concludes dramatically with 'The Sphinx In The Face' from BBC Peel Session 1977.

The booklet is always a drawcard in these boxsets, where we learn about the making of albums, the lineup changes, the highs and lows of being involved with a strange eclectic prog band, scattered with interesting pictures, cuttings, headlines and information. The box is sturdy and looks great on the shelf, so if you are into the band this is certainly a worthy addition. On the other hand for those who only have one or two VDGG albums, I fully recommend this set as it features such a wide range of material, with some incredible live performances such as 'Lemmigs'. There is enough here to appreciate even if you have all the albums but even with the double ups of tracks, it is a good evening's listen culminating in a 5 hour marathon of the brilliant bizarre progenitors of prog, the almighty Van der Graaf Generator.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1994 - Maida Vale

Van Der Graaf Generator
Maida Vale (The BBC Radio One Sessions)

01. Darkness (7:21)
02. Man-Erg (11:08)
03. Scorched Earth (9:42)
04. Sleepwalkers (10:01)
05. Still Life (7:22)
06. La Rossa (10:01)
07. When She Comes (8:10)
08. Masks (7:24)

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

Actually very few live recordings of VDGG exists because on the group's own admittance , they were horrible on 40% of their gigs and bearble on 30% of the others. This left only 30% of the gigs were they could've recorded (given that they knew in advance they would smoke and that conditions allowed the recording) and this explains that the only real live album was Vital under the VDG monicker. So are we thankfull that the Beeb existed. While not really live recordings per se , the sessions made that they played together some of those real classic tracks . Unfortunately most of the tracks are from the second era (I said unfortunately but I like that one better than the first) so the early stuff is not well represented here as well. I think the material from Pawnheart or The Least is most interesting to hear live.
Nevertheless we have some kind of live recordings and it should please all unconditional fans.

This is the closest thing we can get to a live VDGG album by the classic line-up of Hammill, Banton, Jackson, Evans (OK, there are live tracks at "The Box", but a box-set does not count as a live album - except King Crimson's "The Great Deceiver". In fact, as the songs here were culled from BBC Sessions, this is actually a "live in the studio" album. That said, let's face the facts: this is a great album, with a fantastic song selection and good recording quality (the first two tracks, recorded in 1971, are slightly poorer than the others in terms of recording). From 8 tracks, six comes from VDGG's "second generation" (two from each album recorded by the classic line-up during this period). So this album also serves as a satisfactory introduction to the second generation, but not to their full career. Another BBC sessions can be found at the aforementioned "The Box", and maybe this album should have been re-released as a 2-CD set to fans who cannot afford to the more expensive box set. Highlights: "Darkness", "Scorched Earth", "La Rossa" and "When She Comes" (the last two are actually better than the studio versions). Recommended to all VDGG fans and to all prog-rock lovers.