Van der Graaf Generator


Band members                              Related acts

  line up 1 (1967-68)
- Keith Ellis -- bass
- Peter Hammill -- vocals, guitar, keyboards

- Nick Peake -- keyboards

- Chris Judge-Smith -- drums, percussion

 

  line up 2 (1968-69)

- Hugh Banton -- piano, organ, percussion (replaced Nick Peane)

NEW - Keith Ellis -- bass
NEW - Guy Evans -- drums, percussion (replaced Chris Judge-Smith) 
- Peter Hammill -- vocals, guitar, keyboards


  line up 3 (1969-70)

- Hugh Banton -- piano, organ, percussion

NEW - Nick Potter -- bass (replaced Keith Ellis)
- Guy Evans -- drums, percussion 
- Peter Hammill -- vocals, guitar, keyboards 

NEW - David Jackson -- sax, flute

  line up 4 (1970-71)

- Hugh Banton -- piano, organ, percussion

- Guy Evans -- drums, percussion 
- Peter Hammill -- vocals, guitar, keyboards 

- David Jackson -- sax, flute

  line up 5 (1975-77)

- Hugh Banton -- piano, organ, percussion 

- Guy Evans -- drums, percussion 
- Peter Hammill -- vocals, guitar, keyboards 

- David Jackson -- sax, flute

 

  line up 6 (1977)

- Hugh Banton -- piano, organ, percussion

- Guy Evans -- drums, percussion 
- Peter Hammill -- vocals, guitar, keyboards 

NEW - Nick Potter -- bass

NEW - Graeme Smith -- violin (replaced David Jackson)

 

  line up 7 (1977-)

- Hugh Banton -- piano, organ, percussion 

NEW - Charles Dickie -- cello, keyboards

- Guy Evans -- drums, percussion 
- Peter Hammill -- vocals, guitar, keyboards 

NEW - David Jackson -- sax, flute

- Nick Potter -- bass

- Graeme Smith -- violin (replaced David Jackson)

 

 

 

 

 

- Peter Hammill (solo efforts)

- Peter Hammill and Guy Evans

- Heebalob (David Jackson and Chris Judge-Smith)

- Juicy Lucy (Keith Ellis)

- Koobas (Keith Ellis)

- The Long Hello (Nic Potter and Guy Evans)

- The Misunderstood (Guy Evans and Nick Potter)

- Graeme Smith (solo efforts)

- String Driven Thing (Graeme Smith)

 

 


Genre: progressive

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other

Company: ABC Dunhill

Catalog: CPLP 4515

Year: 1970

Country/State: Manchester, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6122

Price: $25.00

 

Genre: progressive

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other

Company: Charisma

Catalog: CAS 1007

Year: 1970

Country/State: Manchester, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: UK pressing

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6123

Price: $80.00

 

It only took two years for Van De Graaf Generation to release their sophomore LP - 1970's John Anthony produced "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other" (great album title).  In the UK the album was released on manager Tony Statton-Smith's newly formed Charisma imprint.  In the States ABC's Probe subsidiary had the pleasure.  Naturally the US and UK pressings sported different covers, though they shared the same track listing.  With Hammill again responsible for the bulk of the six songs, the majority of these songs were apparently written and in some cases even recorded prior to the debut album.

 

US pressing  back cover

 

- Yeah, Peter Hammill's lyrics and delivery were pretty depressing (the blowing wind sound effects and Hugh Banton's ghostly synthesizers aptly set the tone), but 'Darkness (II/II)' has always been a personal favorite given it's nifty melody and the amazing performances from bassist Nic Potter and the rest of the band.  The song title apparently came from the fact Hammill wrote it on November 11th.  Regardless the song simply sounds amazing when cranked up on a quality stereo system.   rating: **** stars

- Complete with a Baroque-tinged woodwind arrangement, 'Refugees' found the band marching off in a pastoral direction.  Easily one of the prettiest and most mainstream things they ever wrote and recorded, I think most folks would be amazed to learn this ballad was by one of England's foremost progressive bands.  Maybe it's just me, but I've always taken the lyric to be a comment on the impact of communism on human desire for freedom (yeah, I need to cutback on the caffeine).   rating: **** stars

- 'White Hammer' found Hammill and company moving towards a hybrid incorporating Al Stewart-styled story-telling ("In the year 1486 ... Malleus Maleficarum ...") and a mix of progressive and hard rock elements.  Hammill's typically dark and dense lyrics seemed to have something to do with the evils associated with the Spanish inquisition, but who really knows.   Hum, wonder if Stewart ever thought about recording an album on the subject.  Yeah, it sounds a bit over the top, but kicked along by Guy Evans dynamic drums and Jackson's surprisingly effective sax, the track actually rocked out with a surprising amount ton of energy.     rating: **** stars

- I can't swear this is true, but recall reading that the eclectic rocker 'What Would Robert Have Said?' was inspired by band namesake Robert van der Graaf.    rating: *** stars

- 'Out of My Book' was another beautiful ballad with great multi-tracked vocals ...  about as close to a pop construction as these guys would ever come.   Simply wonderful with Jackson turning some beautiful flute work and Banton adding to the melody with what sounded like a church organ.   rating: **** stars

- While the extended 'After the Flood' attracts the most critical attention, to my ears its always been one of the album's least interesting performances.   Clocking in just short of twelve minutes, the post-apocalypse/environmental disaster lyrics were definitely sobering - doubtful you'll find anyone shaking their groove thing to this one.  Technically the song was certainly impressive mutating through a much of segments, including a slow ballad section, some frightening distortion-laced Hammill vocals, some pseudo-jazz moves, and even outright discordant experimentation where Jackson was allowed to freak out on sax for a couple of minutes, but it felt kind of stitched together, with the changes sound abrupt and forced.  The good news is that if you could get through the first two thirds of the song, the track took an unexpected change in direction, revealing a likeable, rock melody.   rating: *** stars

 

In the UK the album was tapped for a single in the form of:

 

 

- 1970's 'Refugees' b/w 'The Boat Of Millions Of Years' (Charisma catalog number CS 122)

 

As shown on the US pressing, Hammill's liner notes have always made me smile: "Don't listen when you're hustling, depressed, or with preoccupations, and if you're always in these moods, don't even bother ..."

 

"At Least We Can Wave To Each Other" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Darkness (II/II)   (Peter Hammill) - 7:25

2.) Refugees   (Peter Hammill) - 6:22

3.) White Hammer   (Peter Hammill) - 8:15

 

(side 2)

1.) What Would Robert Have Said?   (Peter Hammill) - 6:05

2.) Out of My Book   (Peter Hammill - David Jackson) - 4:04

3.) After the Flood   (Peter Hammill) - 11:58

 

 

 

Genre: progressive

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  H To He Who am the Only One

Company: ABC Dunhill

Catalog: DS 50097

Year: 1970

Country/State: Manchester, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; small punch hole lower left corner

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 5740

Price: $50.00

 

As to be expected, the band third studio set "H To He Who am the Only One" was recorded amidst another round of personnel turmoil.  This time around former The Misunderstood bassist Nic Potter decided to tender his notice midway through the recording sessions.  King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp was brought in as a guest and the shake up didn't seem to have a major impact on the recording sessions.  Produced by John Anthony, this may have been the band's creative zenith.  Mind you, as you probably figured out from the goofy title (anyone got a clue?), it wasn't their most commercial, or accessible ousting so newbies and the casual fan might want to sample something else in the VDGG catalog before jumping in with this one.

 

- Even though it stretched out over eight minutes and found David Jackson literally freaking out on sax, 'Killer' stood as a fantastic song and one of those progressive pieces that deserved it's classic status.  Propelled by a surprisingly commercial riff and Peter Hammill's dark and scary vocals, the plotline was largely lost on me (using a shark's life as an allegory for life as an anti-social introvert?), though I have to admit that the 'fish can't fly' chorus has always made me smile.

- 'House with No Door' stood as the song for folks who didn't think VDGG could put together a straightforward commercial track.  A simply stunning ballad, Hammill kept his over-the-top tendencies in check, turning in a stark and compelling performance highlighted by what may have been Jackson's prettiest flute solo.  Great piano and organ from High Banton and Hammill.    My only complaint - they faded it out too soon.

- A two part suite, 'The Emperor In His War - Room' featured Robert Fripp, though his performance was relatively low keyed and didn't kick in under towards the start of 'The Room'.  Musically 'The Emperor' segment was a fairly conventional ballad apparently meant to provide insight into the mindset of a political tyrant ...  you can see why I normally don't try to second guess lyrics.  Not quite as commercial 'House with No Door', but with a pretty and distinctive melody.  'The Room' opened up with Fripp, then bounced around between slower and more upbeat segments.  Given the track's complexity, Guy Evans turned in some nice drumming to keep it tied together and focused.

- Longtime fans seem to consider 'Lost' the standout performance, but I'm going to go against the current and suggest that clocking in at over 11 minutes the two part suite was one of the lesser performances.  To my ears it captured Hammill and company at their most theatric and over-the-top pompous. Musically it was all over the place giving all the players an opportunity to stretch out.  Certainly listenable and occasionally even pleasant, but not my favorite.

- Hum, imagine VDGG doing science fiction lyrics ... well you don't need to go any further than the closer 'Pioneers Over C'.  Musically this one didn't do a great deal for me, the band bouncing around an extended piece without any real form or format.  On the other hand it had a fascinating lyric that seemed to have something to do with the possibilities of time travel (I/m not a big sci-fi fans).  I borrowed this Hammill interview off the official VDGG website:

 

"This is my only attempt at writing a specifically sci-fi song, although the balancing is much more towards fiction than science.  Man's first plunge into the unknown territory beyond the speed of light (c): in the light of the discoveries necessary for the attempt, the date is meaningless, although in rational terms it is ludicrously optimistic. The Pioneers... the first hypernauts... are, because of theoretical deficiencies, thrown into time-warp or absolute relativity, in which they exist as 'creatures' of limitless imagination but total non-physicality. They are thus potentially ghouls, ghosties, poltergeists and all manner of indefinable Forces: this is one possible explanation but, truly, in such circumstances explanations are meaningless, irrelevant and totally speculative.  My only regret is that I found it necessary to provide a certain chronological continuity in order to remain, if faintly, within the bounds of comprehension. I don't pretend that there are any answers here, and any questions are entirely subjective."

 

Summation - One of the lost treasures in the VDGG catalog and something every progressive fan should at least hear, if not own.

 

"H To He Who am the Only One" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Killer   (Peter Hammil - Hugh Banton - Chris Judge-Smith) - 

2.) House with No Door   (Peter Hammill - David Jackson) - 

3.) The Emperor In His War - Room

     i.) The Emperor    (Peter Hammill)

     ii.) The Room   (Peter Hammill) 

 

(side 2)

1.) Lost 

     i.) Dance In Sand and Sea   (Peter Hammill) 

     ii.) Dane In Frost   (Peter Hammill) 

2.) Pioneers Over C   (Peter Hammill - David Jackson) - 

 

In case anyone cared, the original UK issue sported slightly different packaging.

 

  

  Charisma catalog CAS 1027

 

There was also a cool gatefold inner sleeve:

 

 

 

For anyone interested, YouTube features an in-concert performance of 'Lost':

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTtLBFp-SgY&feature=related

 

 

 

 



Genre: progressive

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Godbluff

Company: Mercury

Catalog: SRM-1-1069

Year: 1975

Country/State: Manchester, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: still in shrink wrap; cut lower right corner; include lyrics insert

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5559

Price: $20.00

Cost: $66.00

 

In an effort to hop onboard the punk and new wave juggernaut, the mid-1970s found  record companies signing virtually any band with at least one band member sporting a Mohawk or a safety pin poking though a cheek.  Against that marketing environment it was funny that Van Der Graaf Generator decided to reform in 1975.  You also had to wonder what Mercury Records was thinking about (the leather jackets may have confused management into thinking these guys were punks in disguise), when they decided to release the group's comeback album - 1975's "Godbluff" in the States.  

 

 

Self-produced, the comeback album showcased a series of four extended Peter Hammill penned tracks - the shortest number clocking in at almost seven and a half minutes.  Hammill's always been an acquired taste to my ears, his eclectic lyrics and occasionally braying voice not the easiest thing to get accustomed to.  That said, VDGG fans rate this one pretty high in the catalog and it certainly had some moments.  To my ears it sure sounded like a concept piece, but given Hammill's highly personal lyrics I've never been able to figure out what that narrative was about, leading me to the conclusion there simply wasn't a unifying theme.  Dark, driven, and still complex, their sound remained firmly planted in the progressive camp, though in contrast to some of the earlier albums, musically this one was relatively commercial (remember we're talking about VDGG here so I'm using the term loosely).  Tracks like 'The Undercover Man' and 'The Sleepwalkers' actually showcased recognizable melodies that you could have hummed if you'd put your mind to it (be sure to check out the weird little cha-cha segment midway in 'Sleepwalkers').  Mind you this wasn't an ELO album.   Showcasing Hugh Banton's stabbing keyboards, Guy Evans jazz-influenced percussion, and David Jackson's aggressive sax and flute, 'Scorched Earth' and 'Arrow' showcased a much sharper edge.  'Arrow' may have been the album highlight. Starting out like a bunch of bee bop jazz musicians who stumbled into a rock groove by complete accident, the song then mutated into a soft acoustic piece before a pissed off sounding Hammill started shrieking about what sounded like the reflections of a recent survivor of a battle.  

 

"Godbluff" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) The Undercover Man   (Peter Hammill) - 7:25
2.) Scorched Earth   (Peter Hammill) - 9:48

 

(side 2)

1.) Arrow   (Peter Hammill) - 9:45
2,) The Sleepwalkers   (Peter Hammill) - 10:31

 

Thanks to YouTube here are a series of links to live performances related to the LP:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK3nCpfI_4M

'Undercover Man'

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6vLBDGxi1g

'Scorched Earth'

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dq0M0bT8xc

'Arrow'

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byxMIdmAJAQ

'Sleepwalkers'

 

 

In 2005 the LP was re-issued in an expanded, reissued CD package.  The LP included two live bonus tracks that were pulled from Hammill's 1974 solo collection "The Silent Corner and Empty Stages" which had been recorded at a concert at L'Altro Mondo, in Rimini, Italy.

 

- Forsaken Gardens   (Peter Hammill)

'- A Louse Is Not a Home  (Peter Hammill)

 

 

For true fans, 2005 saw the release of the DVD "Godbluff Live 1975".  Recorded during a September 1975 European tour, the concert film found the reunited band touring behind the "Godbluff" LP.   Most of the write ups say the concert was recorded in France, but it was actually recorded at a September 1975 performance in Charleroi, Belgium's Palais des Expos (says so on the cover !).

 

 

By the way, you can find a fantastic VDGG website at:

http://www.vandergraafgenerator.co.uk/godbluff.htm

 

 


Genre: progressive

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  World Records

Company: Mercury

Catalog: SRM-1-1116

Year: 1976

Country/State: Manchester, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: promo copy banded for radio play

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5560

Price: $25.00

 

Their second studio release in a year, 1976's self-produced "World Records" has always been savaged by critics who saw it as a sell-out attempt by the band to court a more commercial sound and a bigger audience.  While I can see why hardcore VDGG fans were put off by the album, reflecting my own lowbrow tastes, I'll readily admit that I've always enjoyed the album.  At least part of the reason I like this outing stems from the fact it isn't as intense and complex as earlier releases.  Don't get me wrong, propelled by Hammill's challenging lyrics and full of the band's patented melodic and rhythmic twists and turns this was instantly recognizable as a VDGG product.  On the other hand, 'When She Comes' and 'A Place To Survive' may have been two of the most straightforward rockers they ever recorded (both literally kicked butt).  Elsewhere 'Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild' even saw the band incorporating reggae into a song ... reggae for gawd's sake !!!  No wonder critics had a meltdown.  Another big surprise - Hammill was a decent guitarist.  Who knew.  Nah, he wasn't about to put Beck, or Clapton out of a job, but for a band that had relied on Hugh Banton's keyboards, Guy Evans' drums, and horn player David Jackson it was a surprise to hear an occasional guitar solo (check out Hammill's work about half way through 'Masks').  Standout track was the closing ballad 'Wondering'.  Easily one of the prettiest things Hammill ever composed.  It wasn't all as impressive.  Clocking in at over 20 minutes, the second side suite 'Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild' seemed even longer.  Reportedly inspired by one of Hammill's guitars, the composition bounced all over the place without ever establishing much of an identity, though you got to hear some additional Hammill lead guitar (though it was almost drown out by Jackson's squawking sax)..

 

In the UK 'Wondering' b/w 'Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild' (Charisma catalog CB 297) was released as the single.  In France 'Masks (Parts 1 and 2)' was released (Charisma catalog number 6837 345).

 

 

The band toured extensively in support of the album, 1976 saw them undertake their first US tour.  Unfortunately the album marked the last release by the original foursome.  Personality conflicts with Hammill saw keyboardist Banton leave, followed in short order by sax player Jackson.  The two were quickly replaced by ex-String Driven Thing violinist Graeme Smith and bassist Nic Potter.  The revamped line up also decided to streamline the name to Van der Graaf.

 

"World Record" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) When She Comes   (Peter Hammill) - 8:01

2.) A Place To Survive   (Peter Hammill) - 10:00

3.) Masks   (Peter Hammill) - 6:55

 

(side 2)

1.) Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild   (Peter Hammill) - 20:50

2.) Wondering    (Peter Hammill - Hugh Banton) - 6:34

 



Genre: progressive

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Vital

Company: PVC

Catalog: PVC 9901

Year: 1978

Country/State: Manchester, UK

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: double LP; gatefold sleeve; minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6128

Price: $15.00

 

Recorded at a January 1978 date at London's Marquee Club, "Vital" was a ten track, double album live set.  Credited to 'Van der Graaf' (note the missing 'Generation'), musically the set's always struck me as 'challenging' given Peter Hammill and company seemed intent on showing the world they were as capable of being as snotty and in-your-face raw as any punk band.  That attitude combined with Hammill's hyper-aggressive vocals (check out the opener 'Ship of Fools'), gave the album a dark, brooding, and slightly ominous feel (only enhanced by the crystal clear sound thanks to producer Guy Evans).  Anyone thinking they were going to hear live versions of some of the band's more melodic catalog (stuff like 'Darkness (II/II)', 'Refugees', or 'Killer'), was going to be disappointed.  These ten tracks (including three catalog rarities - 'Ship of Fools', 'Mirror Image' and 'Door'), showcased a band far 'heavier' than you would have imagined having grown up on their studio albums - Nic Potter's heavily fuzzed bass frequently sounded like a weapon, while original sax player David Jackson (playing on about half of the set), seemed to delight in adding a discordant edge to much of the material.

 

- Opening up with some tasty Hammill lead guitar and what may be the heaviest fuzz bass guitar I've ever heard, 'Ship of Fools' was hard rock at it's most molten ...  Anyone who thought these guys were a bunch of progressive patsies needed only check out this track to see how wrong that assertion was.   If you'd ever heard the studio version, this take was slowed down and stripped of whatever excesses the original had, leaving this one as a raw, sledgehammer.  Love to know what the lyrics were about: "The nurse in black seamed stockings, she's already on patrol for fake fur starlets panicked by the watering-hole; everybody's waiting for the drama to unfold ..."   rating: **** stars 

- Hammill has always had the ability to turn his voice into one of the creepiest instruments ever recorded and 'Still Life' stands as a perfect example of that characteristics.  The song itself started out as a dirge and just kind of crept along leaving you in a fit of desperation, which only seemed appropriate given the lyric seemed to be about life in a miserable marriage.  rating: ** stars 

- Opening up with some eerie Graham Smith violin and heavily phased bass guitar, 'Last Frame' got even weirder when Hammill's half spoken/half sung vocals kicked in.  They were certainly enough to scare the crap out of young children.  As for the song's oddball lyrics, I've always thought it was about a photographer's voyeuristic fascination with a woman ...  the title and lyrics seemed to have something to do with photographic darkroom technology.  Who knows ...   Needless to see, this one was pretty dark and disturbing.  rating: *** stars

- Starting out sounding like a slightly out of tune high school band, 'Mirror Images' started out at a dirge pace, got better when Hammill's voice kicked in.    rating: *** stars

- 'Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers' (don't you love the title) started out with Hammill pounding out some pretty keyboard chords and then grew progressive tougher and colder as the song went along.  Coupled with Hammill's snarling vocals and the freak-out jazzy interlude, this wasn't exactly the kind of ballad you were going to slap on the turntable in order to cuddle with your honey.  rating: ** stars

- Lifted from the "Godbluff" album, 'The Sleepwalkers' captured the band at their most progressive, growing in intensity and menace as it progressed.  The song almost comes off as an aural threat.  You also got to hear David Jackson at his best and worst.   rating: *** stars 

- 'Pioneers Over C' started out with a chilling bass and guitar pattern; got a little more intense when Hammill's dry vocal kicked in, and then became nightmarish when the song kicked into gear - Potter's bass lines sounded like they'd been lifted from some 'B' grade horror flick.  Science fiction's seldom given me nightmares, but this track routinely does.  And clocking in at 17 minutes there are times when it feels like an endless flight to a far off planet.   rating: *** stars   

- 'Sci-Finance' found Hammill turning his full venom on the financial system.  Guess he wasn't heavily invested in the stock market.    rating: *** stars   

- So Hammill introduced 'Door' with 'This song's a little odd."  Was it really about some drunk a**holes trying to figure their way out of a room?  Regardless, complete with more of Potter's uber heavy fuzz bass, Graham Smith's squealing violin, and a plateful of Charles Dickie's bleeping and burping synthesizers this one quickly went into hyper drive with the band sounding like they'd ingested a week's worth of amphetamines in an hour.   Cool track.  rating: **** stars 

- 'Urban' started out with a surprisingly funky groove built around a nifty Hammill guitar figure and was actually one of the album's more accessible tracks.  rating: **** stars 

- 'Nadir's Big Chance' was worth hearing if only for the chance to witness Hammill at his most sarcastic.   rating: **** stars 

 

Not an album for a VDGG newcomer, or the faint of heart to start with ...

 

"Vital" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Ship of Fools   (Peter Hammill) - 6:43

2.) Still Life   (Peter Hammill) - 9:42

3.) Last Frame   (Peter Hammill) - 9:02

 

(side 2)

1.) Mirror Images   (Peter Hammill) - 5:40

2.) Medley - 13:41

    a.) A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers   (Peter Hammill) - 

    b.) Sleepwalkers   (Peter Hammill) - 

 

(side 3)

1.) Pioneers Over C   (Peter Hammill - David Jackson) - 17:00

2.) Sci-Finance   (Peter Hammill) - 6:25

 

(side 4)

1.) Door   (Peter Hammill) - 6:00

2.) Urban   (Peter Hammill) - 8:20

3.) Nadir's Big Chance   (Peter Hammill - Smith) - 3:40

 

 

 

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