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Van Der Graaf Generator - We Are Not Here



The band formed at the University of Manchester, but settled in London where they signed with Charisma. They went through several incarnations in their early years, including a brief split in 1969. When they reformed, they found minor commercial success with The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other (released in early 1970 and their only album to chart in the UK), and after the follow-up album, H to He, Who Am the Only One (December 1970), stabilised around a line-up of Hammill, Banton, Evans and saxophonist David Jackson. The quartet subsequently achieved significant success in Italy with the release of Pawn Hearts in 1971. After several exhausting tours of Italy, the band split in 1972. They reformed in 1975, releasing Godbluff and frequently touring Italy again, before a major line-up change and a slight rename to Van der Graaf. The band split in 1978. After many years apart, the band finally reunited at a gig at the Royal Festival Hall and a short tour in 2005. Since then, the band has continued as a trio of Hammill, Banton, and Evans, who record and tour regularly in between Hammill's concurrent solo career.




Van Der Graaf Generator - We Are Not Here



The group's albums have tended to be both lyrically and musically darker in atmosphere than many of their progressive rock peers (a trait they shared with King Crimson, whose guitarist Robert Fripp guested on two of their albums), and guitar solos were the exception rather than the rule, preferring to use Banton's classically influenced organ, and, until his departure, Jackson's multiple saxophones. While Hammill is the primary songwriter for the band, and members have contributed to his solo albums, the band arranges all its material collectively. Hammill's lyrics covered themes of mortality, due to his love of science fiction writers such as Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick, along with his confessed warped and obsessive nature. His voice has been a distinctive component of the band throughout its career, with Hammill himself having been described as "a male Nico" or "the Hendrix of the voice". Though the group have generally been commercially unsuccessful, they have inspired several musicians across various genres.


In July 1969, Hammill had begun performing solo at the Marquee Club in London, and since there was no group, he decided to record what was intended to be his first solo album at Trident Studios on 31 July and 1 August, with Banton, Evans, and Ellis as session musicians.[20] However, through a deal worked out by Stratton-Smith, the album, The Aerosol Grey Machine, was released in September 1969 by Mercury under the group's name in return for releasing them from their contract. The album was initially only released in the United States with hardly any promotion at all, so sales were minimal,[21] but the group decided to reform in the middle of the recording session. Ellis had already committed to joining Juicy Lucy and was replaced by Evan's former bandmate in The Misunderstood, Nic Potter.[22] The band had also enjoyed flautist Jeff Peach's contributions to the album and wanted to recruit a further instrumentalist. "There was always the idea of having another melodic instrument," recalled Evans. "He [Banton]'ll play a solo, sure, and really give it something, but he doesn't want to do that all the time."[23] Peach was approached to become a full-time member, but dropped out after one rehearsal as he didn't think his playing style fitted the band.[23] The position was eventually filled by saxophonist and flautist David Jackson, who had previously played in a band called Heebalob with Smith.[21] Hammill had already sat in with Heebalob at the Plumpton National Jazz Festival on 9 August, and, impressed by Jackson's playing, invited him to join the band, partly because he also needed a flatmate to help pay with the rent.[22]


Potter, however, did not feel he fitted into the increasingly experimental sound the band was developing and tended to wait until the others had worked out their parts during rehearsals, adding his bass lines on top at the last minute.[30] After recording three tracks of their third album, H to He, Who Am the Only One, he decided to quit the band. His last gig was on 9 August at the 1970 Plumpton Festival. The remaining members auditioned Dave Anderson, roadie for Brinsley Schwarz and friend of the band, but after a week's rehearsal found that things weren't working out musically. Banton, meanwhile, had become influenced by Vincent Crane's work in Atomic Rooster, where Crane played the bass lines on a Hammond organ's bass pedals and suggested that he could do this as well.[31] With just days to go before the next gig, they tried rehearsing as a four-piece, and it was successful.[32] Banton later played bass guitar on certain songs, having already learned the instrument in the mid-1960s,[33] and Hammill expanded his instrumental capabilities on stage to cover piano and keyboards as well as guitar. Jackson modified his saxophones to be completely electric, as opposed to simply being amplified through a microphone, and combined the sound with a wah-wah pedal and an octave divider.[34]


Following commercial success in Italy, the band did a six-week tour there at the start of 1972. The band were apprehensive about touring there, concerned they might be playing to half empty venues, but they were all shocked by the sheer volume of the crowds that came to see them. "Pawn Hearts was seen as the ultimate album by the ultimate band," said Jackson, who at times found it difficult to walk down the street in parts of Italy without being recognised. "The tour was like the prophets have landed ... you couldn't go anywhere without this lunatic 'Generator Mania' breaking out."[49] After the tour, the group was immediately offered another Italian tour, this time doing up to three shows a day. In between the tours, the band made an appearance on Belgian television performing "Theme One" and "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers".[50] Since the studio recording of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" was a collage of multiple recordings, impossible to reproduce live in one setting, the band simply filmed individual sections of the song and spliced them together in the editing suite.[51] It was the only live performance of the song until 2013.[39]


In the summer of 1975, the band gigged in Italy without incident, but when they returned to tour there in November, the intense political situation the country was going through caught up with them. The opening concert in Padua was marked with clashes with communists delivering political speeches, and the audience started throwing missiles towards the stage. After a gig without incident in Genoa, the third day of the tour at the PalaSport in Rome, in front of 40,000 people, saw similar confrontations to the Padua gig. A fire broke out at the venue, but was brought under control.[59] The next day, the band learned that most of their gear had been stolen from the tour van, including Hammill's blue Fender Stratocaster, christened "Meurglys". Despite threats from promoters that the band would continue the tour using hired equipment (which Jackson considered impossible given the electronic modifications he had made to his saxophones),[54] they abandoned the tour. Miraculously, all of Jackson's saxophones had survived the theft.[59]


Hammill stated in a December 2005 newsletter that there were no plans for further recordings or performances by the "classic" Van der Graaf Generator line-up of himself, Banton, Evans and Jackson.[70] Hammill subsequently announced that the band would be continuing as a trio, for live and studio work, without Jackson. He later stated that the reason for Jackson's departure was that he "seemed to have difficulty in understanding what we had mutually agreed"[71] and that he clashed with the other band members. Relationships between Jackson and the others became strained, and Hammill, Banton and Evans realised that the only way the group could continue was without him.[71]


The first trio recording, Trisector, was released on 17 March 2008. Live concerts were played in Europe in March and April, and in Japan in June, among them, one at the Gouveia Art Rock Festival.[73] There were further concerts in January 2009 in Europe, and the band played several concerts in Canada and the United States in the summer of 2009, among them a performance at NEARfest in Bethlehem PA. It was only the second time Van der Graaf Generator had visited the United States (their first being in New York City in 1976).[74]


Due to the time-frame of the original band's career, Van der Graaf Generator have been frequently referred to as a progressive rock band. Writing in Record Collector, Toby Manning said the music was "philosophical, even intellectual, complex .. at times, terrifying".[91] While the music on The Aerosol Grey Machine (September 1969) has a more pastoral, hippie feel,[92] with prominent use of Hammill's acoustic guitar, later work featured more complex instrumentation and arrangements. Hammill thinks the style of the band evolved due to the culture of music in the late 1960s, stating "the whole of music was laid out in front of you ... it was the blues in wonky time signatures."[93] Both Hammill and Banton have stated that Jimi Hendrix was an influence on the band's sound, with Hammill remarking that "there'd been distortion before, but there hadn't been that real out-there attitude to sound in itself".[93] The group's experimental style has also been compared to Krautrock bands such as Can.[16] Because of their musical influences and line-up, the band tended to play darker musical themes than other progressive bands, with the possible exception of King Crimson.[90] However, Hammill has stated that the group is still fun to work with, stating "as far as we're concerned, it's serious fun, but fun nonetheless."[76] Promoting Do Not Disturb, he said "We love making a racket, and that has to do with chaos, which is pretty punk".[94] 041b061a72


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