Many thanks to all who attended the shows in Europe and the
UK in January and February; a most enjoyable period of
touring. Stuart was in top form and I had a lot of fun with
grand pianos and the return of some strange guitar tunings,
which I'd rediscovered in the course of writing the songs
for "Clutch". Using these meant that some quite old songs
got revisited as well. It was, of course, a delight and
something of a relief that I was at last able to live up to
my promise of playing in the UK outside London. I hope to do
so again soon
Naturally the purpose of this touring was for Stuart and I
to stretch out on songs old and new In the Present and in
the well established duo format. If you follow anything on
the internet, though, it will doubtless have come to your
attention that the very last song at QEH involved a
temporary and ad hoc Van der Graaf reunion with Hugh, David
and Guy in addition to Stuart for a rendition of "Still
Life" in a piano/violin/double horns/tambourine line-up.
For once this was a planned encore...but defiantly
unannounced. As with the only other public reformation (The
Union Chapel) fate pointed out that we would be churlish to
avoid the moment...but it was hardly the subject of any
long-term planning. Some time before the tour, in my guise
as Record Company Supremo, I'd managed to get Hugh Banton an
interview on Classic FM to support the release of his
Goldberg Variations, of which more later. I had not
immediately realised that the date was that of the QEH.
Since he had to come down from Manchester to London for the
recording of the interview, it seemed natural and
synchronous to make him the offer of a Play with Stuart and
I. After the show in Manchester I proposed this to him as
casually as I could and suggested that we could do "Still
Life". I think HB gulped a bit but we agreed to discuss it
further once I'd got back to Bath (after the Worcester show)
and he home from East Anglia, where he'd been working on one
of his organs. I duly rang him in the evening; he'd just got
in himself and was already knuckling down to rehearsing the
song - which, of course, he'd never played on piano, as
opposed to organ, before. HB was On Board, then.
As we wended our way to Milton Keynes it dawned on me that
it would be a bit wierd for David to come to the show - as
he was going to in any case - and not have at least the
chance of a crack at the tune. I rang him from the dressing
room at the Stables and the response to my "you could maybe
play tenor?" was an instant "I'd rather play double horns!".
So naturally there was another call to make, to Guy. Now,
you can't exactly be surreptitious with a drum kit...so in
the best of spirits we agreed that Guy would also contribute
"if there was something constructive he could do."
Lots of laughs is the abiding memory. Hugh arrived in mid
afternoon at the soundcheck, which was a bit of a slow one
in terms of PA set-up. Lots of jokes and easy camaraderie.
Mr. Jackson managed to smuggle in the sax cases (again, not
the most unobtrusive of things) almost without being
observed; and eventually we had three run-throughs of the
We managed to sort out seats on the aisles for Hugh and
David, so that they could get backstage without too much
ado; agreed that David should only arrive onstage once the
middle riffs were getting going...and suddenly showtime.
Naturally, Stuart and I did a "normal" show, without
thinking about what was to come - and there was barely time
to do so as we came off stage: straight back on and into it.
Jaxon arrived on cue and then it was a delight for Brain to
tambourine his way on; it was the first time I'd seen him in
So all in all a proper VdGG moment - with the invaluable
added element of Mr. Gordon, who was wonderfully supportive
and enthusiastic throughout - done in all the most correct
of spirits. Do I really need to say that this is still
several riffs short of presaging a full-on reunion? Much
more fun to have the odd "who was that masked man?" moment
such as this!
As mentioned in the last newsletter, I've also recently done
a bit of work with Premiata Forneria Marconi. Initially my
collaboration with them was to intended to be only as
lyricist; they urgently needed English words for a new song.
By synchronicity David Jackson had been doing workshops with
the virtuoso bassist Corrado Canonici, who represents PFM in
the UK, and so I was brought into the loop. After transfer
of song files via MP3 the work ("Sea of Memory") was
Naturally I sent back a sung demo of how I thought the
lyrics worked and in turn they asked me to actually sing the
track for them for their upcoming CD. Since then I've also
appeared with them live, once in Milan at their anniversary
celebration and once in London. It would obviously have been
a bit strange fro me to be wheeled on for just one song, so
I was also given the responsibility of singing "Impressioni
di Settembre", a song which every Italian of a certain age
I can get by speaking the language, but singing in a foreign
tongue is always something of a challenge (which I've
accepted in the past with French and German, of course). To
do so live is...well, something else. Anyway, I'm happy to
say that the audience helped me out in Milan by singing
along throughout. Very enjoyable. For the London show we
also did a version of "I will find you".
One more performance with PFM is coming up in July at the
I have to say that after so many years of playing as well as
singing on stage it's been a great pleasure to be just Yer
Singer in these shows as well as the one-song VdGG reunion.
Naturally, though, my main focus remains on my own
In the midst of a somewhat frenetic start to the year one of
the most major of changes for me has been a move of the
studio (Terra Incognita) away from Bath and further out into
the countryside in Somerset.
I'd been in Walcot Street - the original location of
Crescent Studios - for a good twelve years; in that time a
great deal of water and Stuff swept along under the bridge.
At the end of last year I had to decide whether to continue
being the leaseholder for another period of five or more
years. I came to the conclusion that I would rather be more
flexible in terms of the future, especially since, as I
wrote last time, I'm looking for more mobility and have
shrunk the recording hardware down in both size and
complexity accordingly. It had been a leap in the dark
moving into Terra in the first place (as the name implies)
and now it was time for another one.
Leaving was not an uncomplicated matter, as it turned out
that repairs to the structure of the building would have to
be paid for. Protracted negotiations eventually put me in a
position where I agreed to move out a month early, at the
end of February - and therefore had to find somewhere to
move to in the week between finishing the European leg of
touring and before starting the UK leg. I was very lucky
indeed to find the new location, just outside Frome.
On the evidence so far this move out into deeper countryside
is not exactly having a bucolic effect on the new stuff I'm
coming up with. But the results of the new recording won't
be out for some months to come yet. At present I have the
feeling that I've fallen on my feet - so I'd better keep on
It may be of interest to note that for the last year in Bath
I shared the space with Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp,
who recorded their new release "Black Cherry" there.
End of chapter, end of era: onward.
Hugh Banton's version of J.S.Bach's "Goldberg Variations"
has been out for some time now on Fie! and many of you will
already have it, though this is the first time it's been on
the printed order form. This piece is a pinnacle of baroque
keyboard writing and Hugh was, of course, very bold to go
for it. The recording was made using an organ of his own
design which made the achievement all the more remarkable. I
continue to find this a life-affirming piece of work and
highly recommend it.
Rumours have abounded of late about the release of a DVD of
Van der Graaf and I can confirm that this is now out on the
Classic Rock label. It's the famous Belgian TV appearance on
which we gave one of the few live performances of "A Plague
of Lighthouse-Keepers". Also featuring "Theme One", the DVD
is only thirty minutes long...but of course quality footage
of the band just doesn't seem to be out there. It's also
available as an audio CD, by the way.
In the next couple of weeks "Enter k" will be coming out in
a repackaged form, courtesy of Ridout on the cover front and
myself on remastering. The latter moves it somewhat closer
to the power of the k group as evidenced on "The Margin +"
without, I hope, any excessive overcooking. The original
parts for this CD had been lost and this seemed an ideal
moment to update it. Sadly, Virgin still seem disinclined to
do similar work on earlier material.
More to come later in the year; I advise a check at
www.sofasound.com for the latest?