Van Der Graaf Generator live 1971 to 1977
I always found Van Der Graaf Generator to be a tricky and complex band. They come from the dark and deep side of prog which they inhabit with King Crimson. I totally loved some of their songs, but found others too dark, strange, jerky and lengthy for my liking. My favourites were, and remain, “Killer”, “Refugees” and “Darkness”. “Killer” is an epic prog classic, which was played again and again at my local Locarno ballroom in the early ’70s. Its narrative tells the story of a lonely killer whale: “So you live in the bottom of the sea, and you kill all that come near you ….but you are very lonely, because all the other fish, fear you …..”. I would group “Refugees” and “Darkness”‘ together; both are beautiful, slow ballads. “Refugees” tells a poignant story of hope, and of Mike and Susie who are “refugees, walking away from the life that we’ve known and loved”; they “walked alone, sometimes hand in hand……smiling very peacefully” and ends “Now we are alone….” “Darkness”, as its title suggests is a moody, fascinating piece: “Day dawns dark, it now numbers infinity. Life crawls from the past, watching in wonder. I trace its patterns in me. Tomorrow’s tomorrow is birth again.” Deep, heavy stuff. VDGG live were equally dark, complex and intense. I found their performances fascinating, uplifting, yet also frustrating and troubling; sometimes even slightly scary. The focus was always the intense and passionate performance of Peter Hammill, swirling organ, and lengthy (sometimes too lengthy in my view) sax solos. The classic line-up, which I saw twice in the period between 1971 and 1972 was Peter Hammill (vocals, piano), Hugh Banton (organ), Guy Evans (drums) and David Jackson (sax, flute). The first time I saw VDGG was at a concert at Newcastle City Hall, where they were supported by Lindisfarne and Genesis (a great triple bill 🙂 ). It was a Charisma package tour, and the tickets were all of 30p, but we had vouchers from Northern Arts which entitled us to half price entry. That was a great evening, and a bargain at 15p! I blogged of that concert some time ago. I next saw them at Sunderland Locarno on 3rd March 1972. Another great gig. The band then split for a period, reforming a couple of years later. I remember going to one of the shows on their “comeback” tour at Newcastle Polytechnic on 24th October 1975. I saw them again the following year at the Reading Festival on 28th August 1976, where they played a short festival set of Masks, Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End, Still Life, The Sleepwalkers and closed with Killer. By 1977 the line-up had changed. David Jackson and Hugh Banton had left and Nic Potter had joined on bass, along with Graham Smith, formerly of the excellent String Driven Thing on violin (check out String Driven Thing’s great song “Its a Game” which was covered by none other than the Bay City Rollers). I saw that line-up at a gig at Redcar Coatham Bowl on 30th October 1977. VDGG reformed a few years ago, and I have blogged on a performance I attended in Manchester a couple of years ago.
Van Der Graaf Generator are, without question, one of the most important and influential bands to come out of the prog rock genre.
Archive for the ‘Van Der Graaf Generator’ Category
Van Der Graaf Generator live 1971 to 1977
The Reading Festival 27 – 29 August 1976
It was August Bank Holiday 1976 and I was back at Reading for the annual festival. By now a group of us went every year, usually traveling down in the back of a hired transit van. The line-up for this festival wasn’t as strong as previous years, and included a mix of reggae, classic rock, underground and heavy metal bands. Punk was on the horizon, but yet to break through. The other memories I have are of rain (some, but not lots in 1976, as I recall), mud, lots of drunkenness (by us, and every one else as I remember), and lots (and I mean lots) of can fights, which seemed fun at the time, but were probably actually pretty dangerous. If you got a half-full can of Watney’s Red Barrel on the back of your head, you really knew about it, and several people must have come home from the festival with pretty nasty cuts and scars. The festival was moving from a friendly, hippy vibe to a drunken, laddish, almost aggro vibe. This also matched the way the line-up and the music would develop, as it moved more to heavy metal in the late ’70s. The main attraction for us this year was Rory, who was the man, and a hero to us all.
Friday’s line-up consisted of Stallion (don’t recall who they were), Roy St John (American pub rock), U Roy (reggae), Supercharge (a Liverpool band fronted by singer and sax player Albie Donnelly, who had quite a bit of success in the mid-70s and played a lot up and down the country; I remember seeing them several times), Mighty Diamonds (reggae), Mallard (Cpt Beefheart’s original Magic Band, and pretty good too) and headliners the hippy, trippy and quite weird Gong. I remember watching Mallard and Gong, who were both pretty good.
Saturday had Nick Pickett (a folk singer, who I’d seen supporting Curved Air a few years earlier), Eddie & The Hot Rods (classed as pub rock as much as punk at this stage), Moon, Pat Travers (ace guitarist), Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum, Sadista Sisters, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Van Der Graaf Generator, Phil Manzanera and the 801 band, Camel and Rory Gallagher. Stand outs for me were Van Der Graaf who played an amazing extended version of Killer (John Peel: “Bloody marvellous, Van der Graaf Generator. Come on let’s here it for them”), Manfred Mann, and Phil Manzanera and the 801 band, which was seen as a pretty big deal at the time as Phil had assembled a stella line-up of himself (guitar), ex-Roxy compatriot Brian Eno (keyboards, synthesizers, vocals), Bill MacCormick (bass, vocals), Simon Phillips (drums), Francis Monkman (ex-Curved Air, piano and clavinet) and Lloyd Watson (ace slide-guitar, vocals). The 801 band released one album, and a live lp which was recorded at one of three gigs that they played, at the Festival Hall. They played a great version of the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. But Rory was the highlight of the weekend. We were all massive fans, and made our way to the front of the crowd for his set, which was just amazing. A recording of Rory’s set that night exist which shows that he played: Take What I Want; Bought and Sold; Everybody Wants To Know; Drinkin’ Muddy Water; Tattoo’d Lady; Calling Card; Secret Agent; Pistol Slapper Blues; Too Much Alcohol; Souped-Up Ford and Bullfrog Blues. The Rory Gallagher band was Rory (guitar, vocals), Lou Martin (keyboards), the great Gerry McAvoy (bass) and Rod de’Ath (drums).
Sunday featured: Howard Bragen; Aft; The Enid (who got the crowd singing along with Land Of Hope And Glory and became a festival favourite), A Band Called ‘O’; Back Door (very jazzy); Sassafras; Brand X (featured Phil Collins on drums); AC/DC (one of their early UK appearances, and just blew everyone away; Angus and Bon Scott on top form); Sutherland Bros & Quiver; Ted Nugent (had some arguments with the crowd who were throwing cans at him); Black Oak Arkansas (Jim Dandy to the Rescue 🙂 ) and Osibisa (who were billed as special mystery guests, which seemed a bit of a let down, but got the crowd going and went down well).
Another fun time had by all 🙂
Note; for the first time there was an official glossy programme, as well as the newspaper programme, produced by the local Evening Post. Both are pictured here.
Brand X and Peter Hammill Newcastle City Hall 1978
This was a somewhat strange pairing, in fact the tour is known as “The Odd Couple Tour” on the Van Der Graaf Generator website. Brand X were a jazz rock fusion band, and were highly respected in the 70s. Phil Collins played with them at one point, although he wasn’t in the drum stool at this gig. I also saw them play at the Reading festival a year or so earlier. I recall the set as being largely (solely?) instrumental, with impressive musicianship. Setlist was apparently (I found this on a website): Access To Data; Black Moon; Smacks Of Euphoric Hysteria; The Ghost Of Mayfield Lodge; The Poke. I went along with some mates for a couple or reasons. Firstly because of the Phil Collins and Genesis connection, and secondly to see Peter Hammill, who had recently left Van Der Graaf Generator to go solo. Peter wass in a pretty crazy phase, and had shaved half his beard (see programme). He was accompanied by violin and sax, and delivered a strange set to a pretty empty hall. Peter’s set was straneg, dark, quirky and everything you would expect of him. A review of the time proclaimed him the “Springsteen of Weird”. This was a memorable gig, although it was a shame that the City Hall was pretty empty. The tour was pretty ambitious in booking this pairing into largish concert halls.
Van Der Graaf Generator, Lindisfarne and Genesis Newcastle City Hall 1971
I’d just started going along to gigs at Newcastle City Hall. The first gig I went to was Iron Butterfly with Yes and DaDa support, followed by this Charisma package tour which featured Van der Graaf Generator, Lindisfarne and Genesis. I went along with my mate Gillie, and remember that we paid at the door. The tickets were all of 30p, but we had some vouchers which Northern Arts were giving out at through schools at the time to encourage young people to go to live concerts, and they entitled us to half price entry, which meant that we paid 15p each! We hadn’t seen any of the three bands before and were really excited about it. We got the train through to Newcastle and when we arrived at the City Hall there was a massive queue to get in to the venue. The place was packed and we only just managed to get in. In those days, when the hall was full, they sometimes used to let you sit on the stage on tiered choir seats which are behind the performers. Thats where we ended up that night. The atmosphere was great up there, but the view wasn’t too good. I seem to recall that during the evening we wandered into the main hall and managed to find a couple of seats in the circle.
First up were Genesis. They had released their second lp Trespass a few months earlier, and were also playing tracks from Nursery Cryme which was released later in 1971. I remember being really impressed by them, and by singer Peter Gabriel in particular. At that time Peter would introduce the songs with quite intricate stories. Musical Box, Return of the Giant Hogweed, and Twilight Alehouse were all preceded by such stories and were great concert favourites at the time. Musical Box was my favourite; Cynthia kills Henry, by knocking off his head with a croquet mallet, and then finds his musical box in the attic. I found the story dark and fascinating and hung onto Peter’s every word. It was obvious in those early days that Gabriel was a tremendous front man. Genesis finished their short set with the Knife, which was always my favourite, and often the encore in those days. Gabriel held the mikestand as a machine gun, shooting us all, as a heavy strobe light featured him centre stage. Great memories. The set at that time will probably have consisted of: Happy the Man (to become a single in 1972); Stagnation (from Trespass); The Fountain of Salmacis (from Nursery Crime); Twilight Alehouse (not recorded until 1973 as B side of I Know What I Like, but a great favourite in concert); Musical Box (from Nursery Crime); Return of the Giant Hogweed (from Nursery Crime); closing with The Knife (from Trespass). This was the first of many times that I saw Genesis in the early 70s.
Next up that night was Lindisfarne who were local heroes and had us all singing along with Fog on the Tyne, Meet me on the Corner, Lady Eleanor, and Clear White Light (my favourite along with Winter Song). The band was yet to break through big, and I was to spend many memorable nights with them over the coming years; including the regular City Hall Christmas concerts.
The headline band for the evening was Van de Graaf Generator, who Gillie and I found quite strange and difficult to get into. I remember long sax solos, and the fabulous prog classic Killer (about a lonely Killer Whale): “So you live in the bottom of the sea, and you kill all that come near you ….but you are very lonely, because all the other fish, fear you …..”.
This was a great evening, and a bargain at 15p! Gillie and I both came away raving about Genesis and Lindisfarne, and a little confused by Van de Graaf….
Van Der Graaf Generator Manchester Academy March 26th 2011
I always found Van Der Graaf Generator a tricky band to get into. To me, their songs range from classic progrock (Necromancer, Darkness, Refugees, Killer) through to others which are much darker, intense and, in parts, almost inpenetrable. So I approached last night’s concert at Manchester Academy with interest, and some nervousness; would I enjoy them after all this time?
Last night was the first time I’d seen VDGG since the 1970s, so this was a trip back in time for me. VDGG were one of the first bands I saw at Newcastle City Hall, on the Charisma 6/- package tour; the support acts were Lindisfarne and Genesis. I still remember parts of that night well, Genesis were exquisite (The Knife blew me away; Peter Gabriel used the mike stand as a gun and shot us all), Lindisfarne went down a storm with the home crowd (lots of singing along) and stole the show, and Van Der Graaf were quite perplexing for me. I remember thinking Killer was great, but also losing my way in some of the seemingly endless saxophone solos. I saw them a few times after that, at the Reading Festival, Newcastle Polytechnic, Sunderland Locarno and Redcar Coatham Bowl, and got quite well into them by the time they split up for the last (for then) time in the late ’70s. I missed their show at the Sage a few years ago as I away at the time, so I decided to make up for it last night, and drove across to Manchester to relive a little piece of my youth.
Manchester Academy 3 is a small, dark venue situated on the top floor of Manchester University Students Union building. Last night The Stranglers were appearing next door in Academy 1 and Peter Wolf was downstairs in Academy 2 (must be great being a student in Manchester!). Upstairs the venue was crammed full with 50+ (and 60+) year old fans fans who were waiting expectedly for their heroes. Peter Hamill, Guy Evans and Hugh Banton took to the stage to warm cheers at around 8.30pm and launched into Interference Patterns, which is from their 2008 Trisector album. Peter Hammil’s vocals were as unique and challenging as ever. He alternated between electric piano and guitar, and explained to the audience that he finds the arrangements difficult (and hence has to work from sheets of music). Guy Evans drumming was excellent, as was Hugh Banton’s organ playing; quite intricate with lots of 70s Hammond swirling. The set was largely drawn from their recent albums, with none of the favourites which I so wanted to hear. But this is a band reborn, with the same values and ethos, but a new take on the music. The vocals are still strident and dynamic, but the songs are more complex, there is more guitar and the trademark sax has departed with David Jackson. I still found the songs challenging and dark; I guess I would have found them easier if I’d listened to the recent albums. Most of the crowd around me seemed to know the new tracks; indeed each song was greeted with loud applause and almost reverance. But actually last night I sort of started to get it, and enjoyed the set. If a stranger walked into the hall last night, I swear they would wonder what on earth was going on: a strange manic old guy singing some weird songs, with a crowd of (mostly) older people hanging on every word. But it worked; the musicianship was superb, the vocals ranged from touching and beautiful to manic and almost screaming. Peter ignored the cries for Killer, Refugees (one guy was shouting for Mike and Suzie!) and Darkness, but actually, that was OK. I finally appreciated VDGG for what they are: superb musicians, complex, challenging, difficult, but ultimately satisfying.
Your Time Starts Now
All That Before
All Over The Place
Over the Hill
We are Not Here
Encore – LaRossa