The initial idea and impetus for the Union Chapel Concert
came from Guy. The venue - a magnificent and still working
church in Islington - had lately taken on a fellow member of
Echo City as Artistic Director and she had suggested to Guy
that he present an evening's entertainment as part of an
ongoing series - and as a drive to raise the profile of the
place as an alternative London concert site and therefore
secure its funding and survival. Guy immediately contacted
me, with a view to doing something along the lines of - or
at least starting out from the general principles of - our
mutual "Spur of the Moment" experiences. We would,
therefore, be doing something comparatively left -field in
a wonderful ambience, while helping to ensure its continued
existence as a performance space. In other words, from a
motivational point of view, we would be being 100% Good
I sensed, he offered and we both agreed on a sense of
challenge. I was keen to avoid a "Hammill solo show with
added Evans weirdness" scenario; he to bypass spurious
random improvisational noodling. So he encouraged me to hit
guitar mode and I him to Go Sample. We also concluded that
the involvement of others would be positively beneficial.
Beyond this, we had no initial principles to follow or
Jackson, by dint of history, nature and personality, was an
obvious first candidate for inclusion in whatever scenario
would eventually emerge. Giles Perring (unfortunately
credited Perrin on the cover!), a fellow-member of Echo
City, also loomed as a strong candidate - as an instinctive
improv player with a manic streak (something of a dictionary
definition for all involved!) - to play second psychedelic
guitar. I was also keen that Manny and Stuart (who have, of
course, now been fully inducted into the strange frameworks
of what might be expected, allowed or demanded in terms of
playing with me) should be involved. Finally, Guy pointed
out that there was a rather wonderful Pipe organ in the
chapel, that he had spoken to Hugh and that he, in turn, had
an organ arrangement of Barber's Adagio which he was keen to
perform. With the potential addition of an Echo City cast
and six weeks or so to go, we had our line-up(s). Clearly,
we were obliged, by each other if not by audience
expectation, to undertake at least one VdGG effort. From the
outset, however, we were all clear that, although an obvious
and monumental highlight, this should not be the entire
focus of the event; and that we should keep it absolutely
unpublicised and secret.
The great material debate then ensued by phone and fax.
Early on we agreed that in general we wanted to avoid things
which were more or less in my current repertoire; indeed,
that by preference we would do stuff which was rarely, if
ever, performed live. We were still left with several
impressive and lengthy lists with which to juggle, both in
terms of set and who-would-play-what. Before we actually
began (what can only be loosely described as) rehearsals
the only certainty was that the - one and one only - VdGG
song should be "Lemmings", since this would be i) not the
most expected of choices and ii) difficult enough to stretch
us and give us the opportunity for some ensemble playing,
some improvisation and some sheer racket.
Guy arrived at Terra Incognita, then, with his stripped down
kit and sampler; I'd dug out E-bow, bottleneck and wah-wah;
and we both had open minds. Over two one-day sessions we had
a lot of fun and made most of the crucial decisions. Some
time was spent sifting through my multitracks and masters in
order to give Guy a palette of samples which would be
architectural rather than ornamental in function; and not
too much time on deciding, more or less on-the-fly, who
would be responsible for signals and nods. It was with some
joy that I discovered I still had the original "Roger and
Out" loop; the swirl of "Accidents" was something of a
challenge to fit into coherence; many other journeys of
sonic research were also undertaken.
On the final set list, three pieces would be live premieres:
Guy's sample-and-improv based "Fireworks"; "A Forest of
Pronouns"; and "Accidents". Guy has, in fact, been keen to
play the last for years (possibly because in the initial
recording he had the feeling that he had to drum as though
landing a plane in darkness under control tower direction
from PH masquerading as Lloyd Bridges). "Anatol", "Roger"
and "After the Show" were obvious candidates with loose
structure and open possibilities. "Ship of Fools" and "Seven
Wonders", both rarely performed, offered different spins on
the intended guitar-based world, as did "Red Shift", which
had the added historical benefit of having been a song
played by the very first VdGGs - both the Judge Smith duo
and the Keith Ellis incarnation. The remainder of the set
would be taken up by the solo contributions and an ensemble
"Traintime", for which Guy was keen to create an Echo City
In the meantime, the others involved had been left in some
twilight world; they'd been told, just about, what tunes we
were expecting them to join in on, but that was about it. I
had Manny and Stuart over for an afternoon each to give them
the bare bones; Guy worked with Echo City and Giles.
Happily, it was generally understood that things would only
really become clear, if at all, when we finally rehearsed
On the Friday before the concert we assembled, a motley
crew, in the Chapel. Jackson had his new Tower block of
equipment; Banton a hurriedly adapted organ rig; Elias a new
D-drum set-up. Everything just about fitted on stage. Since
Guy and I were reasonably confident about our duo pieces the
day was devoted to integrating our guests; however, time and
space dictated that each piece was only performed twice.
Enough: enough to give a taste, to iron out major glitches
and leave a sense of eager anticipation. Giles had,
incidentally, turned up - he said he could hardly ignore the
uniqe nature of the event - with his vinyl copy of "The
Least we can do", which had fired him up at the age of
eleven; he also later revealed to me that it had been a
strange experience for him to arrive having worked on what
he thought was a unique E-bow/wah/disto guitar approach to
find me belting out something which, if not exactly the
same, was certainly in the same Solar System.
Cut to the concert. Something of a sound-check, something of
a rehearsal. Something of chaos, something of inner calm.
The day went by in a rush and suddenly we were on stage; the
other participants had just about been given their
instructions as to when to appear and what to expect before
we did so.
I was very glad that we'd decided to do two seamless halves:
it kept the intensity and focus going throughout. At
half-time we decided to add "Hamburg Station", a piece which
we'd discussed and for which I'd learned the motif, but
which we'd never actually played; a suitable glide into
"Seven Wonders". The swell of the pipe organ was a fine
oasis amid the sonic assault. Then the final rush. It was a
delight that we managed to finesse the VdGG reunion in such
a way that it was not immediately clear i) that the four of
us were, indeed, finally on stage together or ii) what it
was that we were playing. Quite emotional, of course, but
also fully spiky and eventful in terms of playing. The
wisdom of the choice of "Lemmings" was, I think, borne out
by the fact that the extended outro meant we could end
internalised on the music and each other's playing, rather
than in a triumphal blast. Acknowledgements, "Traintime" and
done. It was a great event and, from all our different
standpoints, encapsulated what a lot of making music - any
kind of music - is about: Serious Fun.
It was meant to be video-ed, but the video didn't show; it
was meant to be recorded on three different DATs, but only
one materialised. It's from this one, with PZM mics and
compression, that the CD has been generated. This took a
degree of mastering effort, but I've attempted to stay true
to the neo-bootleg nature of the thing rather than attempt
spurious enhancement. The sound is far from crystal
clear...but it retains the power of the event! There's a
modicum of editing, particularly of spoken introductions,
applause and chatter (not the most fascinating things on
CD!) or, musically, where enthusiasm overtook intention, but
this excised only a few minutes and is, I believe,
imperceptible. Otherwise, the concert is presented in its
raw entirety over two discs.
As I write I'm taking some brief time off from recording.
In spite of a slew of Fie! releases, it seems to be a long
time since the last "normal" PH CD, "X my heart". The next
one is now well under way. Five songs are (almost) mix-ready
and work is in progress on the rest.
I don't want to be rushed, though. I've set myself no
absolute time-frame within which to finish and want to be
able to keep my options open about style and content as long
as possible this time. My expectation is that I will be done
by the end of April; this would mean a release some time
towards August or September, I suppose. Enough said for
I've had a couple of odd singing slots to occupy myself in
the meantime. One was for the German cellist Wolfram
Huschke. I believe the CD will be released, by BMG
Classical, in September. I've also been doing some work - at
a distance - with Ayuo Takahashi, for whom I've both sung
and delivered Latin recitation in the past. This one is far
from finished; when it is, I'll doubtless have something to
say about it, for it's an interesting project!
Departures: Norma Bishop has been with Gail Force for the
last 16 years and has been largely responsible for ensuring
that I've survived out on tour. She's now left. I - and by
proxy you - owe her a large debt of gratitude!
Finally, I was very sad to hear of the death of the great
In spite of being bound up in recording and uncertain of
exactly when I'll finish, I have signed up for a couple of
solo shows to keep the stage genes ticking in the next few
months. Thessalonika (20th) and Athens (21st) are in March.
On April 30th I'll take part in the "In Folio"
literary/musical festival somewhere in Geneva.
There aren't many Antipodeans on the Sofa mailing list but
for you few I will also finally be making it to Australia in
June - a couple of shows in Melbourne around the 20th,
followed by another couple in Sydney around the 25th.
Naturally, these are still some way off and await final
confirmation but things do look positive!
David Jackson will be doing a series of Soundbeam
presentations at the Hannover CeBIT '97 Fair on March 13-18,
at the Mitsubishi stand, sponsored by them and Serious (my
normal London promoters). Scanner is also appearing and some
kind of collaborative effort is in prospect. Should be very
interesting. It can be accessed on the Web at
The main thrust of touring will be in the Autumn and is
likely to be with the PH Quartet, although for farther flung
places cloth may have to be cut to fit....
In any case, I hope to see some of you in 1997 from the
stage...no mountain-top experiences are proposed at this
point! More info next time....