An update on 2004
Post heart attack, the first part of 2004 was for the most
part spent in rehabilitation, both physical and mental. I
was keen to get back to work - specifically to live
performance - as quickly as possible, but it took quite a
frustratingly long while to get things in motion again. It
takes only a moment to cancel a tour...but a matter of
months, of course, to set up new ones.
My first venture back on stage eventually came in Sos del
Rey Catolico, a charming medieval Spanish village a couple
of hours' drive from Bilbao, where I appeared in their
annual festival. I was somewhat tentative at first, unsure
of what to expect or of how far I could push myself. Quite
far enough, as it happens. From this point on I knew that I
was going to be fine about performing. I don't want to make
too big a deal out of all this - heart attacks are
comparatively common and eminently survivable these days.
It's just that the first time back doing something as
extreme as performing was a bit like diving into a swimming
pool without knowing how deep - or shallow - the water might
prove to be.
Soon enough the Big Touring came around. I began with a solo
show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London; it seemed only
right that I should start off again alone on stage.
Different, but familiar.
In San Remo I performed at the Tenco Awards ceremony where
Iwas presented with the International Songwriter Prize. I'm
not, in general, one for prizes and awards; this, though, is
a very specific thing dedicated to writers, of many
different styles and cultures, for whom the Song itself is
an object of virtue, so to speak. Definitely not a Music Biz
kind of deal.
Immediately after that the schedule really began to get
going. The first long-haul trip was to Tokyo, for a
four-night stint with Stuart. Needless to say, my burgeoning
self-confidence was due to get a bit of a shaking and so it
On the morning of the first show I suddenly began feeling
decidedly dodgy. When Stuart returned to the hotel from
sightseeing I warned him that a doctor might be in order. My
symptoms were very similar to the cardiac ones...faintness,
discomfort, inability to settle. Eventually I came to the
conclusion that I might well be having another heart attack
and so an ambulance was called and I was straight off to
hospital. There I received very interesting and fantastic
care. In the course of a couple of hours I had cardiograms,
a blood test, x-ray, shadow test, the whole system. And
happily this revealed...nothing. I was cleared (and clearly
very relieved) to sing that evening. It had been a panic
attack. Nothing new there, as they've been a habitual
feature of the touring experience for me over many years; an
occupational hazard. Hopefully I'll now know enough to
clearly recognise which kind of attack I may be experiencing
in the future....
Thereafter the shows went swimmingly. David Jackson was also
in Tokyo for this period. (In fact he'd arrived at the hotel
just in time to see me going off in the ambulance!) He had
expected to play two shows when in fact he was only booked
for one; since he only found out about this on the afternoon
of the non-show it seemed appropriate that he should join us
for half of that evening's set.
Over the next month a succession of European shows, nearly
all with Stuart, proved that I really am back in business at
last. My thanks to everyone who attended.
The VdGG Reunion
It will probably come as little surprise to you to learn
that the original impetus for the forthcoming Van der Graaf
Generator reunion came from our meeting to perform "Still
Life" at the Queen Elizabeth Hall back in February 2003. In
turn this tweaked enough interest for a couple of offers for
full VdGG shows to be sent to me. (Not for the first time,
needless to say....) This time I decided to pass on details
to the others, just to let them know the kind of thing to
which I'd habitually said "Thanks, but no thanks."
I'd been prompted to do so, in part, by the fact that in
recent years we'd all met up more frequently at the funerals
of our past road crew members than at ordinary social
events. (I'm sorry to say that we've now lost four of our
erstwhile roadies.) Without actually proposing that we
should commit to doing something together again I at least
felt drawn to point out that were we to consider doing so it
had better be while we were all still alive....
There followed a flurry of round robin emails between us
over the next few months, in which were outlined all the
reasons for doing it and for not doing it; all the things we
dreaded and hoped for most; what we could or should
reasonably expect from such a venture. Eventually we came to
the conclusion (in brief) that we would not be interested in
doing some kind of Madam Tussaud's waxwork version of VdGG -
that there should be something new and vital about it. And
that some sort of face to face meeting should take
place...and that we should make no public moves or
announcements at all until we had all agreed to commit to
To that end we met up in the West London Novotel in
September 2003. (During our French tours of the seventies
the Novotel chain had just been starting up and we often
stayed in them, so they are very much part of the VdGG
mythology and history.) Over a jolly evening we decided that
we would at least give it a go at playing together,
maintaining a strict "radio silence" as far as the outside
world was concerned.
Guy suggested that Pyworthy Rectory, a sprawling spread in
North Devon owned by old friends of his, which had been his
bolt-hole, haven and retreat since Van der Graaf days, would
be a suitably neutral venue for this experiment and we
arranged to spend a week there in February 2004.
All of this was thrown into doubt, of course, by my heart
attack in December. The imperative to try something while we
were all still capable, though, was even more marked. Once I
was - more or less - back on my feet this seemed an obvious,
if potentially extreme, reintroduction to music. With an
added degree of trepidation, then, we all drove down to
We had the place entirely to ourselves and the experience
bizarrely echoed our rehearsals in Crowborough, Norton Canon
and Headley Grange in the old days. First, we crammed
equipment into what began by looking like a large room but
which was quickly packed to the gunwhales with Stuff.
The equipment each of us brought to the party was
interesting in itself. HB no longer has a Hammond but swears
by the latest generation of organ emulations; bass pedals,
of course; his new bass guitar; impeccable amplification.
Guy brought a modest drum kit with no add-on pad or sample
technology. David, apart from his horns and flutes, had his
racked-up Soundbeam rig. As for myself, an amp, some pedals,
an original Yamaha DX7...and Meurglys III, the Guild. Lots
of microphones, lots of different ways of getting things
recorded. A very open architecture.
We proceeded to have an extraordinary week of natural
music-making. The minute that we all kicked in the Van der
Graaf noise emerged. Perhaps surprisingly - though true to
the spirit of the venture, now as ever - we didn't even
consider playing any old stuff. There were other things to
I'd managed to write a couple of songs in the preceding
months which seemed to fit into a Van der Graaf frame of
reference; David and Guy also had some tunes which proved
appropriate. We set about rehearsing these pieces in quite a
dedicated way. The rest of the time we played, played,
We recorded all the while; a forthcoming CD, out at the end
of April, will prove it. Entitled "Present", It'll be a
double; extraordinarily enough, it will come out on the
Charisma label, which Virgin/EMI are resuscitating for the
One CD consists of the songs/structured pieces which we
consciously rehearsed: "Every Bloody Emperor", "Boleas
Panic", "Nutter Alert", "Abandon Ship!", "In Babelsberg" and
"On the Beach".
The second CD features an hour's worth of improvisations.
These have always been a feature of Van der Graaf playing
and are quite whacky.... I recommend taking these at about a
half an hour at a time; it's really like being locked in the
room with us.
We left Pyworthy in a state of enthusiasm but uncertain of
whether or not we had (even) an album's worth of material.
Much work over the next months - of which, perhaps, more
later - showed that we had. In any event, we decided to
"make ourselves available" while simultaneously keeping our
mouths utterly shut about the whole thing. Eventually this
bizarre tightrope walk led to the RFH show....
Other stuff: we have now agreed to do two shows in Italy in
June; Milan on the 11th and Rome on the 12th. Full details
will be posted on the web site "touring" page shortly. We
are also close to finalising a few other dates in July and
possibly August but these are not quite certain yet. It must
be stressed, though, that this is a reunion rather than a
reformation. The spirit of this venture is to be in the
In terms of the Future Present this brings us to the Royal
Festival Hall. I can't tell you yet exactly what we'll be
playing, even though we all have some revision sheets to
work on. There'll be at least a couple of the new songs and
hoary old chestnuts will doubtless appear as well. In any
case, we'll be rehearsing the stuff over the next couple of
months and I believe that a suitable racket will be
It's been somewhat bemusing to see tickets sell for
astronomical amounts on ebay over the last months. (It
doesn't put any pressure on us at all, of course!) In fact
we held back quite a few tickets at the outset for "friends
and family" and it's most likely that we won't need them all
and will be releasing the spare ones closer to the date.
These will presumably go back to the RFH box office; as soon
as this is happening we will send out an email to those of
you on the newsletter list so that chances are the sales
will be to genuine people rather than scalpers....