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J.S Bach
The Goldberg Variations

Hugh Banton - organ

1. Aria
2-30. Variations
31. Aria

currently unavailable

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 insomnia!)

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 release...life-affirming work.

Onwards, Oh Navigator!