So many years ago....
As has been rumoured for some considerable time - and
confirmed at the website a while ago - Virgin are about to
release a 4-CD Van der Graaf Box set. It'll be out on
November 13th and is a major retrospective piece of
Virgin/EMI own all the VdGG back catalogue as well as all my
solo stuff from Charisma days and have not always had the
most consistent attitude in keeping CDs available. I have to
say, though, that, apart from a few budgetary considerations
and constraints, they have been fully supportive of and
committed to the project of "The Box".
The initial stimulus for the collection came from Glen
Colson (brother of Gail, who's still my manager) and Paul
Russell; they had been involved with Virgin in previous
boxed sets - which to be frank, had sales far in excess of
anything that might be expected from this effort (no names,
no pack-drill) - and therefore had the ears of the
Armed with a provisional track listing and something of a
brief from Virgin they got in touch with me and I, in turn,
with all the other ex-members of the group(s). At this point
we (the ex-es) had some immediate decisions to make. We
could either let things proceed upon the normal
corporate-world path, with some minimal contributions from
ourselves...or could have a more active involvement in the
process. The first route would, we felt, have led to a
"product" of some interest but possibly not of historical
accuracy; the second would be as comprehensive a
retrospective statement as we could manage. With some
measure of trepidation (this was, after all, the very
corporate world of which we've always been deeply
suspicious) we decided to commit our enthusiasm to the
project. As a result, we believe that in audio terms alone
the result gives a fair and balanced picture of a fairly
The entire Van der Graaf history is represented, from the
4-piece with Keith Ellis to the final "Vital" line-up. Among
many considerations, the desire to present an all-round
picture, with rarities as well as well-known pieces, was
paramount. Research revealed some things in the Virgin
vaults and many more in those of the BBC. (Some of these I'd
forgotten about myself.) As we all know, various bootleg
recordings - with typical bootleg sonic quality &
standards of quality control - have been around for some
time. Since these represent the real live playing of the
group in a way which, for instance, performances in the
semi-controlled environment of BBC sessions do not it seemed
appropriate to include these, if they could be pulled into
some kind of shape and sound appropriate to a major label
Someone had to do the pulling together. Perhaps someone with
100% studio access and full knowledge of the material. Yes,
reader, I nominated myself to master, remaster & recover
the whole thing...the only conditional factor in this was
that I would do so in full consultation with Guy, Hugh and
David at each stage of proceedings. In the end, naturally,
the work was much greater than I'd originally imagined,
particularly in the bootleg recovery; but it was welcome
What we're left with is a mix of BBC sessions (from
'68-'78), none of which have been available commercially
before; bootlegs brought into the fold - all from a Rimini
concert at the height of the '75 band's powers; remastered
versions of the original album tracks and a balance of "b"
sides and vaults stuff. A total of over four and a half
hours of music, alpha to omega.
People You were Going to; Afterwards; Necromancer; Refugees;
Darkness; After the Flood (all BBC sessions); White Hammer;
House with no door; Killer; Lost (all remastered studio
Theme One (BBC); w ("b" side); A Plague of
Lighthouse-Keepers (studio); (In the ) Black Room; Lemmings;
Man-Erg (all live in Rimini).
La Rossa; Arrow; Still Life; My Room; The Sleepwalkers;
Pilgrims; Childlike Faith (all studio); Scorched Earth
Masks; Meurglys III; When she comes; Wondering; The Wave
(all studio); Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (BBC); Chemical World
(studio); Door (studio vaults); Sci-finance (from "Vital");
The Sphinx in the Face (BBC).
It may be a bit much for anyone to listen to the thing all
the way through in its entirety (although HB did so in the
final checking session) but each hour's worth of music on an
individual CD is a rewarding, coherent and consistent
In the remastering I did not attempt to be too radical;
however it was a delight to get to grips with some of the
stuff that has previously been out on CD in a straight from
vinyl form. I hope that I've enhanced without altering the
essence. As far as the Rimini stuff goes the songs still
sound diamond rough, lighting buzzes, hums, stereo swings
and all...but that's exactly what it was like in 1975!
There are a couple of edits: the intro of "Arrow" and the
fade of "My Room", if I recall correctly. These were made so
that disc three could fall within the "Red Book" standard of
74 minutes. (If one goes over that then things get
potentially hairy in CD-land.) The major (and more creative)
editing came on "Meurglys III", the tail of which has been
considerably reduced. To my mind it's fine in the context of
"World Record" itself - even if The Guitarist is at times
working it out rather than working out - but in this
collection would have disturbed the rhythm overmuch at its
Working on the music (for, inevitably, a considerable time)
was a fantastic experience. I found myself singing/shouting
along, exhorting the solos as they arrived, laughing and
crying at it all by turns. Very emotional.
Needless to say the Box comes as a full package, designed by
Ridout (after some heavy lobbying of The Company, I have to
say). All of us opened what remains of our archives,
photographic, documentary and mental. Hugh writes a piece
about the development of his various organs, David a similar
one on electric horns; my contribution in this area is a
comment on what it was like to write for the group. Guy drew
the short straw for an overall introduction.
In addition to this there's a history of the group written
by Paul Russell and interspersed with quotes from us. For
this purpose we were interviewed in different locations and
combinations, The most significant of these was an entire
day spent at Terra with Guy, Hugh, David and myself chewing
the fat and picking/laughing over the past for, I think, the
first time ever. For all of us I think that acknowledging
what - and how mad - our lives had been between the ages of
18 and 28 or so was quite a profound experience.
In raking over the past we were able to refer to a list (as
complete and correct as is currently known) of all the shows
we ever played. This is also included in the booklet and
came courtesy of Ian Laycock (and, in turn, other
contributors), who had something of a Phantom of the Opera
role in the project and also contributes a "fan's eye view"
So, all in all, diaries were dug up, old date sheets
consulted...even old contracts and accounts (which we'd
happily long forgotten) had the dust blown off them. A
highly emotional experience, as I've said, for all of us. It
simply is not normal to have so much of one's youth
documented so densely, in all forms...but particularly in
the music. And that, of course, as the life, was decidedly
We believe that The Box is, in the end, a worthwhile and
true representation of our history and as such, expensive as
it is, represents good value.
Already (naturally) some people have asked whether there is
an implication that Virgin will release individual CDs in a
remastered/repackaged form. I simply don't know; their
decisions will be based entirely on budgetary concerns...it
may well be that this is the only time remastering will be
Incidentally, a single CD is also being released as "An
Introduction to....". This contains remastered studio
versions of: Darkness, Refugees, Killer, Theme 1, Man-Erg,
Sleepwalkers, Still Life, When she comes and The Sphinx.
A last word:"The Box" was a concept that we always hated in
VdGG...to be put into it, to be categorised or hemmed in in
any way. (Hence..."What kind of music do you play?"
"Godbluff!") As will be obvious , I suppose, we spent years
trying to avoid it...so it's pretty funny that that's where
our history has ended up. But then, all the other potential
titles we came up with were frankly pretty silly. And we
can't have silliness getting in the way of serious fun, can
Chris Judge Smith's "Curly's Airships" has now been
released. This mammoth, sprawling work (2 CDs, over two
hours of music) is a "songstory" detailing the events
leading up to and including the fatal crash of the R101
airship in 1930, interwoven with stories of love, lust and
Chris has worked on this project for six years or more. I
sing one of the parts (the bastard of the piece, naturally!)
and other vocalists include Arthur Brown and Paul Roberts.
The bulk of the vocals, naturally, are Judge's own.
The instrumental backing - apart from Judge's own input - is
built firmly around Hugh Banton's organ and John (Fury)
Ellis's guitar. Jaxon, too, makes an appearance or so, along
with David Shaw-Parker ("The Lemming Chronicles") among
The whole thing was mixed by David Lord at Terra Incognita
over a considerable period of time.
Now I'm sure that those of you who have encountered his work
before will know that Judge is an idiosyncratic writer and
performer. This piece conforms absolutely with his ideals,
though the instrumental sound is somewhat more "rock" than
is his norm. It's a work which resolutely defies
categorisation; as is customary with Judge, it comes with
full documentation...two booklets' worth! An expensive
package, but unique .
You can find out much more about all of this, by the way, at
Judge's website: www.curlysairships.com.
As for me...
As I've said - and as is usual - I've been writing and
recording away over the last months, since finishing the
VdGG mastering. At present I'm at the stage of reviewing the
assembled material and deciding what to continue working on
and what to leave for the present...in other words,
determining exactly what shape the next release will take.
In any case, I expect to release a new PH cd some time early
I will, as I've said, also be touring in 2001 but as of now
have no confirmed dates.
In response to many requests we have some new T-shirts.
They're simple, unobtrusive Fie! logo ones, in the style of
the old Monogram shirts. Sweatshirts will probably follow,
but for these you'll have to check the website, which is, of
course www.sofasound.com. Naturally, news of live dates will
be posted there as well.
A propos of websites, no, peterhammill.com is still not up
and running, but remains under active consideration. All
these things take time and, to be honest, I think my time is
best spent currently working on the music....
Over and out.