FuzzLogic.com - Van der Graaf Generations
VdG Generations  Article Reprint

home | news | personnel | index | articles | sites | about

Van der Graaf Generator III

Unknown source, 1968

One of the advantages of having a long and complex name is that people will remember it when they see it, they'll spell it wrong - as Tyrannosaurus Rex will testify - and generally it's not a bad way of getting known. It's even better if the group have something worthwhile to offer. So, good people, prepare for the day of the Van der Graaf Generator.

The Van der Graaf Generator is a machine that produces sparks and does all sorts of weird things in a physics laboratory. The group are starting to do much the same in clubs and universities. It's a four-piece band, the members being Keith Ellis, bass and occasional vocal, Hugh Banton, organ, occasional guitar and vocal, Guy Evans, drums, and Peter Hammill, mainly the singer but also a guitarist and pianist.

I first heard the Van der Graaf's music in the office of manager Tony Stratton-Smith. The records were scratchy acetates and the record player was not functioning as nature intended, but nonetheless the group's sound was nothing short of remarkable. What is generally called "heavy" in the current pop idiom, with many intriguing crossflows shooting around the clear voice of Peter Hammill.

Hammill is probably at the root of what the group are trying to do. All the songs used by the group are his. "I started writing when I was still at school - just poems, with music coming along later. I just write down the words and the chord symbols and store them away. I suppose I've written about 250 songs of which I should think 50 are performable".

Songwriters who Peter likes - and to whom he may be compared - include the two contemporary raves Leonard Cohen and David Ackles. "Both of them have written only one song really; all the rest are mostly variations. But that one song - in both cases - is really something fantastic". Peter's songs, too, are very good, with a touch of fatalism in most, and already people are talking about him in the same breath as Donovan. Tony Stratton-Smith as manager obviously has a vested interest; but rarely has anyone I know been as enthusiastic about a songwriter.

On bass, there's Keith Ellis. He may be a familiar face, having played with the Koobas - a good group who never quite achieved their potential. "Sometimes it was OK with the Koobas. We weren't a bad group, but we were a bit lazy. And anyway, all the members were really interested in different scenes. With the Van der Graaf Generator, there's so much enthusiasm. It's the best band I've ever been with, and if it doesn't work out really well, nothing will". This is the voice of authority speaking. Keith has a reputation as one of our best bassists, and has been on the scene long enough to know what's what.

Hugh Banton the organist doesn't really look like a typical group man. In fact, until comparatively recently he didn't even like pop. "I was originally a classical organist, playing in churches and that sort of thing, and I wasn't at all interested in pop". According to Keith, going into Hugh's flat is like entering an electronic chamber of horrors. "You can't move for all the electrical gear that's lying around. Old televisions, radios, record players, amplifiers. He's the one who takes care of all the technicalities".

I didn't meet the drummer, Guy Evans, who was one of the founders of the group up in Manchester a year ago - but judging by the sound on the records, his musical thinking is right in line with the rest of the group. The sound they produce is rather similar to what Traffic used to do, though the Van der Graaf Generator are less cluttered and the music is more immediately appealing. The melody is more prominent than the complexities of a dazzling technique, contrary to the usual thrashings of people who consider themselves an underground group. The sound is tight and disciplined, though improvisation is a big part of their music. About the comparisons with Traffic, Peter says, "I can see why we are put in the same category - but we are doing something which we think is completely our own, and we think that the bits of us that sound like them are the bits we want to change".

The group have a contract with Tetragrammaton, a fast-rising American record company, and their first album will be appearing before long, preceded by a single, all produced by the group with Stratton-Smith. They hadn't done many live gigs when I say them, but one of them was at the Marquee, where they got a roaring welcome, on their first outing. And they think they played badly. The stage is now set - so watch out for the Van der Graaf Generator. They really do generate.

© 1969 R.S. - Unknown source

[This article comes from the Pawn Hearts' archives.]

space © 1999 FuzzLogic