Van Der Graaf Generator @ Beachland June 25

2 06 2009
Van Der Graaf Generator - From H to He / Who Am The Only One

Van Der Graaf Generator - From H to He / Who Am The Only One

There used to be a time when the first wave of punks, offering a scorched-earth policy of music, would sneer at the complex composition of bands like Yes and Genesis.  Years later, disco divas and new wavers would also scoff at what they saw as dinosaur rock.

But current scientific hypotheses maintain that dinosaurs, in a sense, never really went away; some just got a wee bit smaller, grew feathers, and are now pooping on your windshield, unconsciously avenging the apparent mammalian conquest of Earth. And so it goes with prog-rock.  The general concepts got absorbed into the general musical populace.   For instance, Talking Heads worked with guys like Brian Eno or Adrian Belew in the late 70s and early 80s. Over the last few years, both contemporary ‘underground’ bands‘ (Devendra Banhart) and some more mainstream (Mars Volta) groups have inherited musical DNA predisposed to shy away from three-minute pop tunes.  Instead, there’s a value on ambience, technique, and compositional depth.  Oh, yeah. And you can healthily ride a good buzz on 10 minute-long songs, too.

One of the commendable granddads of the 70s prog-rock movement (though they really got rolling in ’69) is Van Der Graaf Generator, from the UK.   If you’re a newbie to the band, here’s  a live version of “Theme One”,  full of growling organs, glass-breaking sax, and burly funk drumming.  If you’re an oldster, crank this one up and dislodge some memories:

The story of VDGG is rather comprehensively told by UK scribes at the New Music Express.  For those of you who need to dip into details deeply, here’s a bowlful of biographical info for the swilling from an online prog-rock field guide.  For the sake of brevity, we culled the following from

Van Der Graaf Generator are Peter Hammill (vox, gtr, kbd), Hugh Banton (organ, bass) & Guy Evans (drums , percussion), the three surviving members of the original group line-up of 1968.

The band originally formed in 1967 while its members were studying at Manchester University. The three-piece was composed of Peter Hammill, Nick Pearne (organ) and Chris Judge Smith (drums).

When the band turned professional in 1968 Pearne was replaced by Hugh Banton. Tony Stratton-Smith became the band’s full-time manager and through him the band acquired a bass guitarist, Keith Ellis. Drummer Guy Evans joined soon afterwards. This line-up released a single – ‘People You Were Going To’ b/w ‘Firebrand’. Judge Smith left the band, amicably, shortly after the recording.

Although the four-piece line-up toured successfully in 1968, performed on BBC Radio 1’s Top Gear radio show and supported Jimi Hendrix at the Albert Hall, it briefly broke up during 1969. Pressures leading to this included the theft of the band’s gear in London. In July 1969 Hammill went to record his first solo album. Banton, Evans, and Ellis joined him as session musicians and the resulting ‘The Aerosol Grey Machine’ was subsequently released as the first VdGG album, on Mercury.

The Hammill/Banton/Jackson/Evans quartet that resulted from ‘H to He’ – often considered the ‘classic’ line-up – went on to record ‘Pawn Hearts’ in 1971. It contains just three tracks, ‘Lemmings’, ‘Man-Erg’ and the 23 minute concept piece ‘A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers’. The album proved highly successful in Italy, topping the chart there for 12 weeks.

Here’s also a excited preview in Time Out New York of VDGG’s upcoming tour. The writer of this piece claims that Van Der Graf Generator frontman Peter Hammill performed one of the best shows of 2008. An informative NPR interview with the band explains a few things as well.

A storied band on their own, the Acoustic Strawbs, open. More on them in some future posts. This show is presented in part by Q5Media. Tickets are available immediately through the Beachland Ballroom website. – EAS




One response

22 06 2009
Waterloo Arts Fest, The Church, Jonathan Richman, Van Der Graaf Generator, and more « Beachland Ballroom and Tavern Blog

[…] Beachland, we’ll have some incredible performances throughout the week.  Art-rock legends Van Der Graaf Generator perform their head-scratchingly melodic art-rock on Thursday, June 25th.  The Church, who can […]

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