Of course you will all know that Hugh was Van der Graaf's
organist. Although he also played pianos, synths and bass in
the band - not to mention psychedelic razor - he has always
regarded the organ as his principal instrument and live this
was his only keyboard.
At first he played Farfisa and then moved on to a succession
of Hammonds. He modified these to the extreme in ways which
I still don't entirely understand with level after level of
distortion and independent motors running amok.
At the time of our reformation for "Godbluff" HB declared
his intention of finally building the organ of his dreams.
This was to create a pipe organ sound as near as damn it,
something which had not been attempted before in electric
organ design. He laboured away on this project, assisted by
John Goodman, in the months leading up to our first shows.
This HB organ was a magnificent beast and - though late and
over budget of course - it finally made its appearance on
stage and on record around the time of "World Record".
Shortly thereafter Hugh quit VdGG as the Stuff of Life
weaved its merry web. Since then he has worked on the
development, design and manufacture of church organs
professionally, first for the well-known firm Makins and
latterly for his own company, The Organ Workshop. The organs
he now produces are serious and expensive - though not, of
course, as expensive as an acoustic pipe organ - and are
installed in churches, halls and the salons of a few rich
individuals in the UK and worldwide.
Hugh is one of the most instinctive, baffling and brilliant
people I've known and his intuitive hold on the worlds of
music and electronics has always astonished me. I still felt
a measure of surprise (and a frisson of excitement, it must
be said) when he told me that he had decided to make an
album using one of his own organs and that the music was to
be Bach's Goldberg Variations.
Those of you familiar with the work will know that there are
about 14 million different versions of this piece, the
pinnacle of late Baroque keyboard writing. Most of these are
on piano (to which it is particularly suited, particularly
in the hands of Glenn Gould) or harpsichord (for which it
was originally written). It is a work of fiendish
mathematical and musical density, yet impelled by such
ineluctable logic that it calms the spirit even in its most
dervish-like moments. (Indeed, according to the "myth and
history" of GV it was originally commissioned as a cure for
Pipe organs, due to their physical nature, are notoriously
difficult to record with clarity; Hugh's use of his digital
organ (this is NOT to say sampled...waveforms are
individually generated to emulate the sound of given organ
stops) means that the bustling individual lines come through
sparkling and clear.
Personally, I love the Goldberg Variations and own a number
of versions by other artists. In turn, I thoroughly
recommend this recording, a really astonishing achievement
on both technical and musical fronts, and am proud to have
it out on Fie! Records. Typical of Hugh to go for something
as mountain-high as this for his first solo