Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Need Of Music

Little known in the US, Van Der Graaf Generator was one of the more interesting bands to emerge in the London milieu of the late-1960's, early 1970's. The band was led by Peter Hammill, who was a huge influence upon John Lydon of The Sex Pistol's/PIL. I read an interview with Hammill, in which he said that he was not a confident guitarist, which is why on the first several VDGG recordings, the guitar is played by Robert Fripp.

Trying to classify them is almost impossible. Usually tagged "prog", they sound nothing like classic prog. While some lump them in with the more jazzy-influenced Canterbury bands - Soft Machine, Matching Mole - really, they are just their own band. Their songs tend to be pretty depressing; if you listened to the whole song I just posted, you might note a bit of light toward the end, but by and large they tend toward the truly dark. They can make Pink Floyd sound like a church choir at times. Their mix of sounds, including saxophonist David Jackson (who has recently done work with The Tangent), was unique. While the certainly having a jazz influence - if you listen to the drumming, the way the songs often just cease for some expansive improvisation - there was also a strong element, surprisingly, of Roman Catholic hymnody (Hammill was raised Catholic). This churchiness is what gives the songs their depth, I think. Neither jazz nor fusion have that sense of liturgy that Van Der Graaf Generator can bring.

After breaking up in 1971, the band reunited in the mid-1970's for a couple albums - Godbluff, Still Life - then fell apart, only to re-emerge in 2005 for a series of reunion dates around Britain. Peter Hammill looks a bit like a fading Old Testament prophet, his voice adding that edge of not-quite-all-thereness one associates with folks like Ezekiel. They hadn't lost their edge, though, despite being, at that time, thirty years older than their prime:

Something random this way comes.

Ququag en Transic/ Naon/ Transic to - Jon Anderson
Loose Heart (Live) - Riverside
Pacific Haze - Steve Howe's Remedy
Baba O'Riley - The Who
Falling Farther In - October Project
How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You (Live) - Marvin Gaye
Lark's Tongue In Aspic, Part 2 (Live, 1984) - King Crimson
Accolade II - Symphony X
Kindred Spirits - Liquid Tension Experiment
Darn That Dream - Miles Davis

Because I can . . .

Virtual Tin Cup

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