Van Der Graaf Generator- an appreciation

Prog Rock is a much-maligned beast.
We here at LTW!, though, have no fear of fashion and are prepared to wade in anywhere that’s necessary for aural stimulation.
Whilst we still find a lot of prog rock pretty hard work, there are certain aspects that appeal. Even Yes have their moments, or Chris Squire’s bass has it’s moments- the rest is all still a bit too widdly for us.
Hawkwind get lumped in with prog rock but are a totally genius band in their own right and we have often wondered why the hipsters love all manner of kraut rock but continuingly sneer at Hawkwind when Hawkwind were precursors of all that kind of riffing, space rock madness and at their Space Ritual peak were one of the best at it.
Jethro Tull may be tricky in parts but their first album sounds like early Captain Beefheart and Beefheart was a god- I’m confused! who decides this hipster stuff?
And that brings us the Van Der Graaf Generator.
When we were at school they actually had a Van Der Graaf Generator in physics. Do they still have them? It was a large metallic ball that blasted out ions and made you hair stand on end if you placed your hands on it.
Our physics teacher looked like Bobby Charlton and it was with great pleasure that every week we made him put his hands on the metallic ball and watched his hair stand on end like a bizarre greasy horn. Such laughs.
Van De Graaf Generator formed in Manchester in the late sixties but are oddly missed out of those endless history of Manchester music stories that you see everywhere.
This is because they are not FASHIONABLE.
Oddly, they are quite brilliant in parts.
Johnny Rotten loved them and you can hear their echo in Public Image (especially in those wailing vocals), they even had a song called Theme which Lydon nicked for a title, there are elements of other post punkers who have been influenced by them and they were truly soulful pioneers who could sound all squiggly one moment or deliciously, beautifully, fragrant the next- Hammill sounded almost like Bowie- that very English theatrical voice- when he sung his plaintive ballads.
Key member Peter Hammill has an exquisite voice and a mind blowing imagination- of course there are moments that are best described as ‘early seventies’ but their also moments of sublime genius in there muse as Ken Foster points out”¦

Pioneers Over ‘C’

Formed in Manchester in 1967, Van Der Graaf Generator’s charm was to produce a kind of beauty from cacophony. Although somewhat uncomfortably shoe horned into the prog rock explosion of the seventies they steadfastly followed their own path and eschewed the pomp and soloing which still carbuncles itself onto prog retrospectives.

Maybe it’s Hammill’s raucous often snarling voice, or David Jackson’s earthy treated sax, but however uncool it was to pay homage, their influence can be heard in much of the punk and post punk output ranging from X Ray Spex to P.I.L.

Witness this youtube clip of Darkness from 1970

A telling indicator of their genuine authenticity is the enduring innovation and freshness culminating in the forthcoming album (A Grounding in Numbers – March 14th, 2011) and mini-tour which sees the band return to their Manchester University birthplace on March 26th.

Hammill has toured relentlessly as a solo act and has a cult following independently of his work with VDGG. Consistently prolific, Hammill remarked in his sofasound blog, when reflecting on 2010 that it had been the first year since he started making music that he had no official releases to his name. It was, however, another busy year of solo touring, a VDGG Metropolis VIP fans show and of course the recording and overdubbing of the new album. Departing from the tradition of self-mixing, the legendary Hugh Padgham (a self confessed VDGG fan) was charged with the project.

Progressive rock is firmly in the ascendancy again. XTC’s David Gregory is now a member of Big Big Train and the truckosaurus ELP cliche has finally been laid to rest. The north west is also hosting it’s first progressive rock festival in May. The Electric Garden Progressive Rock festival is being held over 3 days in Blackpool- LINK.

Peter Hammill Website:
VDGG website: /  (fan site)

Footnote: Pioneers Over ‘C’ was a track on the VDGG album ‘H to He, Who Am the Only One’ which also contains the classic Killer and is recommended if you are unfamiliar with VDGG’s work.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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