Tag Archive: peter hammill

Van der Graaf Generator Ticket Barbican 27/03/11

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

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!

Addictive Personality

Still getting the odd twinge of pain in my stomach, but at least I can walk around without pain now. Hurrah! Tomorrow is supposed to be nice and hot and sunny and so this means I am going to be putting my body under further stress by going to the pub with The Missus. The funny thing is that when I get these stomach cramps, the alcohol actually relaxes the spasm. Funny that, isn’t it? Booze is the answer…but then what was the question?

I have recently realised that I have an addictive personality. In the past, this manifested itself by my creative output. I would become obsessed about writing (hey, let’s write a novel in six weeks = the unpublished but brilliantly nasty “Man of the World”) or music (let’s record a CD in four weeks = the rough and ready “Textures”, which has its moments). Nowadays, by addictive personality manifests itself in checking out pointless websites and other wasteful, potentially harmful behaviour. This is not good. I need to get myself back on track. So from this point on, I am initiating a new rule.

Everytime I feel the urge to loaf on the net or begin some of my more unseemly behaviour, I will pick up my guitar or play with my keyboard or take the dog for a walk. The chain needs to be broken and it was good while I was away because I had little web access and my mind was occupied with the real world. In my little concrete box, on my own, I have the time to waste. Stupid boy!

Anyway, the result of my obsessive and wasteful nature yesterday was that I found this rather superb Peter Hammill song on a website. It’s called “Polaroid” and it was either a single or an extra track on the US/Canadian pressings on the “pH7” album. Anyway, here it is:

Now I fully expect the MPIAA to break down my door and cart me off screaming: “But look at all the CDs and albums I have actually bought. I am a music lover, goddammit!” 🙂

CD Review: Present – Van der Graaf Generator

Van der Graaf Generator – Present

This is the first proper studio album from the progressive rock band that’s respected by all manner of fans from John Lydon of the Sex Pistols to Mark E Smith of The Fall since 1977. The band have pushed out the boat by giving the fans a veritable feast of music, spanning two CDs and 1 hour 42 minutes. The album “Present” is like a football match and is a game of two halves: the first is the CD of studio material and the second is a disc of improvised instrumental music.

The first disc opens up with the song “Every Bloody Emperor” in which Hammill rants and raves against all those meely-mouthed politicians out there. The scary thing is that it sounds like the VDGG boys are back in the seventies and nothing has changed. The song has a nice enough lyric and the music backs it up, but there’s not enough of the Hammill fire that we are so used to and the song deserves. Where’s the vitriol, Pete? This goes into a really good instrumental by David Jackson called “Boleas Panic” and it is a cool, sax lead, slinky slice of VDGG that echoes back to the Godbluff album.

The second proper song in the collection is “Nutter Alert” and here we see Hammill revisiting old themes that he presented with “Energy Vampires”. It’s about those people who turn up, those people who are a few sandwiches sort of a picnic. It has all those manic vocal twitches that we expect from pH and gives you fair warning about all those nutters out there. “Abandon Ship” starts with some spiky guitar chords (guitar and VDGG, surely not?) and it there’s a lot interplay between the six string and the sax again, with lots of call and response going on. It’s a bit loose and I am not particularly impressed with this track. It feels a little half-baked to me.

“In Babelsberg” again starts with a heavily distorted guitar and it sees VDGG returning to that ugly music we all love and hate. It’s pretty standard stuff but again just needs that edge to push it further. I am hoping that the band tears this one up live, because it “feels” more like a live track to me.

“On the Beach” starts with some studio chatter between the band members before going seeing Hammill and keyboard delivering a lilting and sad refrain. Then Jackson comes in with his saxophone again and the song shuffles along before being enveloped in a sea of sound effect waves lapping against the shore. It’s a nice ending to the first CD.

The second CD, which begins with the waves that ended the first disc, is a completely different kettle of fish. Here the band is in improvisational mode. I am not personally a fan of the improvisational VDGG. Like the Long Hello album and the Time Vaults album, the stuff here varies in content. Some of it is pleasant, some of it is a waste of time – the band noodling around, trying to find ideas. This is a shame because the first CD is quite strong and I feel that it is let-down by the second set.

Overall, I really like the first CD of “Present” with “Every Bloody Emperor”, “Nutter Alert” and “On the Beach” being the stand out tracks. My only criticism is it seems to be a Hammill/Jackson album and Hugh Banton doesn’t really find his feet in this collection. Guy Evans is Guy Evans and he can drum his way out of anything so no complaints there. The second CD is a bit iffy. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t like it. I could probably have it on in the background when I was working, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it out of choice. It is worth buying? Of course it bloody is – only so you know the material for the up-and-coming comeback show on 6 May. I’ll be there – I have some good tickets already in my greasy mitts. 😉

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