Van Der Graaf Generator live in 2022; still a potent force many decades on from the golden age of Progressive Rock.
Release Date: 10th March 2023
Label: Cherry Red Records
Format: 2CD + DVD/Bluray
“Have we just seen one of the last great Prog outfits from the golden age?” we asked after an encounter with VdGG in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall almost a year ago to the day. With King Crimson as their only real challengers in the world of the avant garde framework hanging up their boots as Mr Fripp teams up with Toyah on a titillating husband/wife project, we’d suggest we could be right. Suggestions on a postcard…
We even dared suggest how Peter Hammil and his partners in crime – Hugh Banton and Guy Evans – that make up the 2022 VdGG, continue to challenge rather than become a watered down version of what they once were. You’d expect nothing less from Peter even as he hits the age where he might be considered an elder statesman.
We’re fortunate that we now have a record of the tour with the release of the entire Bath Forum concert. One mixed by Stephen W Tayler, whose involvement in the recent reissues of the VdGG albums puts him in prime position of having the perfect set of sympathetic ears for the band.
And for all the bluster about the ‘classic’ era of VdGG which has received a shot in the arm from the recent remastering and shiny 5.1 surround polishes, the live experience confirms how the more contemporary work (that we can now call ‘from this century’) is no less engaging classic era of the seventies. Time has not mellowed or watered down the Hammill fervour; it wouldn’t dare.
Making a mockery of the twenty-five-year sabbatical, two ‘modern’ pieces open proceedings. Interference Patterns rumbles with tempo changes and some impressively early interplay and Hammill is straight into his protestations and declarations. It’s some warm-up piece.
“In the current circumstances, we have absolutely no choice but to play this tune,” he deadpans in the intro to Every Bloody Emperor. Hammill once again shining brightly as a lyricist and observer of whom there are few peers. Along with Marillion’s F.E.A.R. it highlights the political inconsistency in grand musical form and suitable disdain. “Strange times eh?” Grand as in powerful organ chords that give an almost hymn-like presence to the piece. Parts reminiscent of Wakeman in Awaken – you know what we mean. You’d be tempted to think the trio has peaked too early but hang fire…
Having broken the ice, we head back to the last century and the mid-Seventies (nineteen, not eighteen…). A Louse Is Not A Home picks up on the grandeur as Hammill continues his protestations. never a vocalist in the classic sense, often discordant, but always passionate and engaging. Masks is a resplendent and stately march complete with frequent grandiose flourishes that leads into a pair of ruminations from either side of the year 200 divide, on some of the great mysteries of life; considering mortality and given the advancing years of the many long term fans who attended the shows adding a genuine poignancy
“Existence is a stage on which we pass,” thus begins the Dylanesque soliloquy of Childlike Faith In Childhood’s End and we’re into a sequence that sees the intrepid trio occupy territory that would them with that other once favoured prog trio, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The reflections of Go ended the first half of these shows on an emotional high. No less incisive, perhaps the simplicity of the lyric and the fragility of the delivery making it more so. The sobriety of the instrumentation, a chapel-like stillness and chillingly simple closing words of the first half, “it’s time to let go,” is a goosebump moment. And a first set that might prove hard to follow.
Bookended by latter period VdGG another handful of ‘modern’ cuts, having had the appetite whetted, we get the chance to tune in on Hugh Banton’s organ lines (while noting that his bass pedal work is all going on at the same time). Some of the more outrageous parts in the arrangements raise their quirky heads in Alfa Berlina but there’s an intelligent balance between the two eras, not in any way a sense of being a heritage act although one can’t help but pause for a hit of nostalgia. Many are the lines of significance given the context of world events and of maturity of the players. You sense that there’s some degree of getting the emotions under control and composing himself before Hammill tell us : “It’s a great delight to be finally doing this,” as he readies himself for the eerie organ phrase of Over The Hill. And as the concession to those, and there were many in Manchester, who’ve been on the journey, Again, it’s easy in hindsight to read into the choice of songs and their words.
It’s all the way back to 1970/71 for a twenty-minute finale that sees Man Erg and House With No Door recreate the excitement and electricity that shook the progressive music scene back in the day. Trailblazers they were and Banton is again channelling the spirit of Gary Brooker, laying down some suitably inspiring chords and lines.
The bonus of the concert film in both DVD and Bluray formats. Quite often not as essential maybe as the audio, but not so in this case. The Bluray on my big telly looks fabulously sharp. Plus, we’re afforded the sort of views you never get to see watching the show – close-ups of all three musicians from assorted angles and you can even read off Hammill’s lyric crib sheet. Avoiding the traditional fast frame cutting where you’re never allowed to settle, the sound is pristine with the trio arranged in a set up that allows for eye contact should. the channels of telepathy get crossed wires.
A fantastic souvenir of a fantastic tour – one that actually enhances the memories. In conclusion, we return to our thoughts after the 2022 Manchester gig. Quality Progressive Rock never dies. As Peter says, hooray for life in these dark times!
Here’s an audience clip of the wonderful Go, taken from Birmingham on the 2022 tour:
Van Der Graaf Generator online: Website / Facebook
Peter Hamill at Sofa Sound
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I was at Bath Forum for that gig and will long remember a fabulous show…. In case I should start forgetting though… (I’m 70 this year), I’ll be buying the dvd. I was so impressed with the show I was left wanting more and thought to catch one or two of the European shows, preferably Italy, but I had forgotten how big they are in Italy and everything was showing sold out there so moving my ambitions to a venue further west, Peter had a medical episode that resulted in the rest of the tour being cancelled…. Still he’s recovered thankfully and I’ll always have Bath