Sofa Sound  Newsletter

28/December 2005


Past Newsletters


As you might expect, almost all of this newsletter is given over to reports of the VdGG activity during 2005.

As for me, here and now.... At long last I'm getting on with writing and recording the next solo studio cd. I hope to complete this early in 2006 and will almost certainly do solo shows thereafter. There will be another Fie! release before this one comes out but I'm going to leave discussion of that until the next time....

Until later, as ever...thanks for listening.


Here We Are, There We Went....

At long last I'm back on Terra Firma after various eccentric orbits around Planet Van der Graaf during 2005. It's time to give some kind of report in summation of the whole story.

Convening once again in Pyworthy to rehearse for the Royal Festival Hall show was something of a daunting experience for all of us. Where the "Present" sessions had only the self-imposed pressure of hope and expectation bearing down upon them this time we knew that we had to get up to speed both individually and collectively in something of a hurry. (After all, we could have quietly walked away from "Present" if we'd felt it hadn't worked and nobody would have been any the wiser apart from our immediate families.)

We'd all done such homework as we could, having agreed the basket of songs from which we intended to choose a set. But - and it's an important one - we hadn't actually played any of the old VdGG material together until this point. It was time to discover once again quite how complicated much of it was. (Actually, in some cases it was time to establish for the first time ever exactly how some things were meant to work!) I have to say that HB was an absolute tower of strength throughout this process. He not only seemed to know exactly what he was doing but also what the rest of us should be up to as well....

We had allowed ourselves a week. Enough time, we thought, but not too much. The hope (amply fulfilled) was that a lot of edge would still be involved at the conclusion of rehearsals. Just as in the old days, we weren't interested in producing perfect arrangements which we would then recite note for note; rather, more organic modern versions from which we could explore and diverge. It was an intense process in which the brain turned to blancmange on an almost hourly basis. Finally, we managed to go through the list of possibles and even had a couple of complete run-throughs of sets by the end to prepare us for the rigours to come.

By this stage we'd also sorted out exactly what equipment we'd be using as well; this had involved several crucial decision paths, especially, of course, for David. His horns no longer had "bugs", so he had to rely on mics and a mixer to gain access to the world of FX. As for myself, I'd already settled on a retro combo of (an original) DX7 and Boss Chorus for electric piano/clavinet sounds. On guitar I opted for Meurglys III and my latest purchase, also (just about) a Guild and definitely related to the black one. All in all, modest confidence infused us as we left Devon at the end of the week.

Speaking for myself that confidence grew slightly shakier a few days later when we met up for full-scale production rehearsals. Having a stage layout and meeting up with the crew for the first time made it pretty clear that, er, this was really going to happen and was going to be in real time to boot. The scribbled notes and crib sheets weren't going to be enough to save us if the minds froze mid-song as they'd often done even at the end of the Pyworthy rehearsals. Over three days we went through the "difficult" tunes several times, established our out front and monitoring sound needs, chose the set...and then launched into two or three full, "whatever happens we keep going", renditions. Scary but energizing to say the least.

And so to the RFH. There was such a sense of purpose - and so much to be concerned about on an individual level - that from my perspective at least we seemed to be a pretty nerve-free crew as the day drew on. Just quiet concentration, then very, very suddenly we were on stage. It was, of course, an extraordinary experience. It was immediately clear that the audience was quite nervous enough for all of us, but also hugely expectant and fantastically warm and welcoming. (Incidentally, by all accounts there were 27 different nationalities represented in the crowd.)

The show itself went by in a flash. Far from error-free, of course, but without any really significant car crashes. For us as well as for everyone else present it was an incredible experience, a real focusing-in of time and space. Absolutely priceless.

At this point, in response to numerous questions , I can report that yes, we did record the concert, in full multitrack mode. To HB fell the dubious honour and/or pleasure of the hours and hours of listening, mixing and sorting which were required to bang it into shape. He's done a fantastic job and we expect that an official release will be forthcoming early next year. It will be a proper document of what was a unique event; presented, naturally, absolutely in real time (Meanwhile, of course, any audio or visual stuff of this or any other concert which you may find on Ebay (for instance) will be bootleg. Speaking personally I have no problem with people trading bits of "evidence" from this strange trip we've been on with each other; but I do object, as ever, to people profiting from it. Enough said...?)

A month later we all had real nerves in Milan for the start of the touring phase. The mere fact that we'd managed to pull it off in London meant there was more, rather than less, pressure for the second show. But things went pretty swimmingly for this and, indeed, all the subsequent efforts. Not without event, naturally; a fair bit of equipment melt-down happened along the way and I dare say we all lost a few brain cells as well. Pretty sprightly, though, nonetheless.

Every show and every audience was different but all were experiences to treasure. We managed to play all the tunes we'd rehearsed at least once. (Apologies for a low score on "La Rossa" and "Theme 1", but both seemed a tad thrashy to us when compared with other, more dynamic pieces.)

Shepherd's Bush, of course happened the day after the London bombings; if anything this made us all the more determined to "play for our lives". The show in Leverkusen was filmed for the "Rockpalast" TV show and this will be broadcast in January 2006. Thereafter it may or may not eventually emerge for sale in DVD form.....

My - and our - thanks to everyone who organised things, everyone who attended. Most significantly of all, we were indebted to a fantastically dedicated crew who were also totally good-humored and, above all, fun. Very much in the VdGG crew tradition, in other words. We would not have made it through this without them.

And now we've come to the end of this particular chapter of the band's history.


At present there are no plans for any further shows or recordings for this incarnation of Van der Graaf Generator. After the experiences of the last couple of years I'm reluctant to utter the word "never" in the context of the group but it does seem unlikely that this line-up will attempt anything else in the immediate future. A fascinating ride it's been but time's up. In due course I expect we'll explain things further.

Of course we didn't manage to play in a numbers of cities and countries which - in an ideal world - would have been on our agenda and that's a matter for some regret. Remember, though, that this was always a reunion rather than a reformation. As evidenced by all I've written above we feel that we have done good and honest work in the course of it - that in itself is a cause for celebration.

Hopefully the legacy of the RFH CD (and the possibility of a DVD) will bear testimony to what we managed to achieve in any case....

VdGG The Book

Some of you will be aware that Phil Smart and Jim Christopulos have been working away on a biography of VdGG for a number of years. This has now finally been published. Their research for this project has been diligent and wide-ranging and they've come up with a fascinating collection of interviewees and an even more fascinating range of photographs and other pieces of documentary evidence of all the lives and times of the band(s).

For myself, I decided not to do any in-depth interviews for the book, though I did do a certain amount of confirming or denying on specific subjects from time to time and am also quoted from previously published interviews. This is not to say that I was antipathetic to the work; rather that I have my own impression of the VdGG story and, rightly or wrongly, I'd like to i) keep that to myself and ii) not compare it with anyone else's. Not that I'm saying my take on things is the definitive objective truth, of course....which in VdGG's case barely exists in any case.

Thus far I've only skimmed through the book, dipping in and out of the text - and naturally having a few "no, it wasn't like that" moments while doing so - and being amazed by the wealth of pictorial material. I'm not quite ready for a straight-through read!

I don't mean to put you off. It's an honest and thorough piece of work and virtually everyone involved contributes a say or so, along with quite a few "celebrity" enthusiasts and commentators. It's an expensive purchase, but an interesting one. You can get it by going to on the web. (Sorry, we've no terrestrial address.)

VdGG the DVD

On the other hand, an expensive and (to my mind) unrewarding item is Classic Rock's "Inside VdGG" DVD. This purports to be a "critical review" but is in reality a sub-cable TV talking heads type show which will reveal nothing new to anyone who knows anything about the group. Mysteriously it comes to a grinding halt after "Godbluff"; doubtless this was in order to get it out in time to cash in on the reunion. The interview DVD is coupled with - yet again - the Belgian TV and "Godbluff" footage. They also put on stuff from "Beat Club" and this was clearly the carrot with which they hoped to lure the punters in. This move was both cynical and a breach of their (retrospective from release) agreement with us relating to the other video material. To be avoided by all but the most avid completists, I would say....


Finally - and admittedly some time after its release - I should point you in the direction of Judge Smith's latest CD, "The Full English", featuring a tight little band including John Ellis, songs both new and old and available from

top of page

top of page