Tag Archive: march


Van der Graaf Generator Ticket Barbican 27/03/11

Setlist
1 Interference Patterns
2 Mr. Sands
3 Your Time Starts Now
4 Mathematics
5 Lemmings
6 Lifetime
7 Bunsho
8 Over The Hill
9 Scorched Earth
10 Childlike Faith In Childhood’s End

Encore:
11 La Rossa

The last time I’d seen Van der Graaf Generator was back in 2005 when they thundered back to the realm of live performances with their now legendary comeback gig at the Royal Festival Hall. I had tickets for their previous Barbican outing in 2007, but decided not to go because I’d gotten the Missus pregnant and I thought all the noise and excitement of a VDGG concert wouldn’t be conducive to the development of the foetus.

Despite getting a little lost driving into London, we arrived late to miss the first song and caught them blistering through “Mr Sands” from the new album “A Grounding in Numbers”. And quite a bit of material tonight was from this CD and their previous released “Trisector”. But despite this, the one hour and forty-five minute set whizzed past with such speed, such was my enjoyment and involvement with the music.

It takes quite a bit of getting used to not having David Jackson’s saxophones in the mix, but I must admit I didn’t miss him with Hammill covering his lines on guitar and keyboard. This was a very different animal, much leaner, much meaner and definitely louder. The material from “A Grounding in Numbers” felt a lot stronger than the “Trisector” songs, which felt a little meandering and meek in comparison. Of course, you also want some of the old songs and there was a smattering of those to suffice: “Lemmings” which the beginning was almost unrecognisable thanks to Hammill’s lead guitar playing, “Scorched Earth” was dispatched with a raw power you come to expect, but it wasn’t until show closer “Childlike Faith In Childhood’s End” that I felt the power of the music actually suck the air from my lungs and leave me breathless. The encore of “La Rossa” continued to electrify and left me tingling as all the hairs on my neck and body suddenly stood to attention, such was the power of the music.

The band were on good form and one can forgive the “trainwrecks” (Peter Hammill’s words not mine) that happened during the show. The power and brute force of this trio still amazes me and Hammill’s unfaltering voice, which soars and screams and whispers and talks, is worth the ticket price alone. How that man can still do what he does at his age, I find totally awe-inspiring.

I must admit that I had pretty low expectations of the concert, but I feel that was the best place the start because I had a very good evening of music delivered to me. I spent a lot of the evening transfixed by the playing of drummer Guy Evans, who is the heartbeat of the band, while Hugh Banton bolstered the guitar and keyboard playing of Hammill. The only criticism, if there is to be a criticism, is that Peter Hammill is no lead guitarist and his playing was a little weak in places and sometimes you couldn’t even hear him in the mix. But it doesn’t matter because with that voice, Hammill can sing the telephone book and I’d pay to listen.

They are a pretty tight trio when they get going and, despite their collective age, make a lot of younger rock bands look like a bunch of simpering pussies. Viva le VDGG!

CD Review: Penguin Café – A Matter of Life…

Penguin Café - A Matter of Life...

The new album from Arthur Jeffes, Penguin Café

I’ve written many words about my fondness for the original Penguin Café Orchestra and its proprietor, Simon Jeffes, and you might have already read my review of the recent concert by the revived, rebooted, Penguin Café helmed by son-of-Jeffes, Arthur. Well now there’s an album of new material written by Arthur Jeffes featuring this new configuration of musicians.

It’s a hard job to fill anyone’s footsteps, probably even harder to fill your father’s footsteps but “A Matter of Life..” is brave attempt at resurrecting his musical heritage. Before you even listen to the CD you have to commend his strength of character for even attempting such a feat. I mean, what if the record is a stinker? What if it is just a piss-poor shadow of the original Penguin Café music?

Thankfully, the answer to those questions is a resounding “No!”. There are some classic moments on the record where you forget that this is Jeffes Jr work and you kid yourself that the PCO are back in town, the opening track “That, Not That” and “Landau” are examples of the music just spiriting you away to the good old days and a are worth the price of admission alone.

And while it is a brave record, you can sense that there is a lot of nostalgia here, the tunes are looking back and not looking forward. A lot of the musical cues and ticks and styles are borrowed wholesale from Jeffes Snr (the “Fox and the Leopard”, for example). Is this a bad thing? Yes, if you are looking for a work of startling genius. No, if you accept the record and the project for what it is: remembering and reviving.

I must admit I’ve never experienced music or a record like this before. It feels right as a continuation, but the snickering cynic at the back of my mind asks: “Is this music genuine – does it come from a genuine place?” I don’t want to even try and answer that because I have already accepted the record and I can’t imagine my own children being remotely interested in the music I make, let alone setting out on a path to recreate it.

The bottom line is that if you are a Penguin Café Orchestra fan and you want the closest thing to bringing the band back from the dead and experiencing a new PCO album, then this is it. My only criticism is some of the later tracks feel a little underdeveloped and meandering, but the original band were guilty of this trait sometimes too.

It truly is a remarkable piece of work and my admiration for Arthur Jeffes continues. I look forward to seeing the band again in May.

I have been using Roland guitar synths since 1994, starting with the now legendary GR-1 and working my way through to the most recent GR-33 version. Being a tech fanatic, it is no surprise that every time Roland releases a new shiny box, my pulse races and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. When the announcement of the new GR-55 guitar synthesiser was made at the 2011 Winter NAMM, the news was equally, if not more, exciting.

This time around Roland was marketing the GR-55 as a kit-killer, a one box solution that would do away with the GR-33, the VG-99 guitar modeller and any other stomp boxes you might employ. The promotional videos near enough spelt this out in huge flaming letters four hundred feet high. So, the GR-55 had a lot of hype to live up to but this didn’t stop me pre-ordering my unit.

I’ve had my GR-55 for a couple of weeks now and I thought it was time I posted some thoughts on it. First off, I must commend Roland for returning to a metal chassis when building their effects units. The VG-8 and VG-88 both sported metal cases and looked like Stealth bombers and this gave the units a sturdiness that was comforting. Other units such as the GR-33 or the VG-99 have relied on lighter, less solid plastic constructions, so it was nice to see that the big blue GR-55 was rock solid. It instantly makes you think you’ve bought a quality piece of kit. The buttons are solid, the footpedal exudes quality and there’s a nice big rotational control knob flanked by press buttons to act as your main navigational tool.

This is my Roland GR-55 guitar synthesiser

This is my Roland GR-55 guitar synthesiser

The display is lovely and large and is a refreshing change to other guitar synths I’ve had which often have relied on double line LCD displays which tire your eyes really quickly. The GR-55’s display takes a page from the VG-99 and writes its messages to you in large friendly letters. The editing and patch access takes getting used, relying on lots of flicking through the “Page” buttons to access features and it can be a bit overwhelming remember where patch functions are. But I am sure with some more practice this will come second nature to me.

But what about the tracking? Yes, the most important quality of a guitar synth is how well it tracks on your guitar and I can say, hand on heart, that the GR-55 is the best guitar synth for tracking I’ve ever owned. With minimum setup, even my nylon string Godin Multiac ACS was triggering sounds very accurately. The sounds themselves are very high quality and in my opinion, superior to the GR-33 and hark back to the top end synth sounds of the GR-1. Of course, some of the patches are near useless and will need tweaking, but I was very impressed with the pianos and the wind instruments. The flute patch itself is very expressive and sounds utterly convincing.

The unit also features a USB stick reader so it can be used to playback WAV files – making ideal for solo performers to pack backing tracks with them – and there’s a 20-second looper on board too. The looper itself is good fun allowing you to capture ideas and to overdub on the top of the original loop ad infinitum, but compared to one of the RC units put out by Boss (Roland’s dedicated guitar business) it feels quite limited. However, it is an extra value feature you get with the unit and should be considered in those terms.

Connectivity involves a USB connection to a computer allowing you to backup any patches, but I don’t think that there’s a dedicated patch editor for the GR-55 yet. This would be a great tool to have, especially if you have trouble editing on the GR-55 unit itself.

But the big question thrown up by the GR-55, or more specifically by Roland’s original promotional material, is whether you can throw away all your other effects units if you buy a GR-55? Well, you can certainly sell your GR-33 on eBay because this is the superior item on every level. But if you use a VG-99 for recording, then you might want to consider holding on to it because some of the COSM guitar modelling sounds OK, but nowhere near as rounded as the VG-99. Of course, hearing is subjective and you might think them acceptable. I can see the GR-55 being used by gigging players to replace racks of equipment as I think the pedal would be great in a live situation.

Overall, the GR-55 is a jump forward in the technology and a welcome addition to my sonic armoury. If you are considering purchasing one of these units then you I believe you won’t be disappointed. If you are looking for a cheaper option or your first foray into guitar synths, then check out eBay for all those GR-33s and GR-20s that are being offloaded by new GR-55 owners!

And here are three videos I’ve made to demonstrate the GR-55. I used my Godin Multiac ACS nylon string guitar to show how well the GR-55 tracks.


Roland GR-55 Piano Patch Demonstration


Roland GR-55 Flute Patch Demonstration


Roland GR-55 Patch Compilation

And here comes the self-publicity bit where I foolishly try to convince you to buy some of my music, much of it recorded using guitar synthesisers, funnily enough:

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/darren-lock/id4151062

And here is a complete demo of the pre-programmed patches of the GR-55: