|VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR I PROPHESY DISASTER||
01. Afterwards (4:57)|
02. Necromancer (3:36)
03. Refugees (5:21)
04. The Boat Of Millions Of Years (3:50)
05. Lemmings (including Cog) (11:35)
06. W (4:26)
07. Arrow (9:45)
08. La Rossa (9:50)
09. Ship Of Fools (3:44)
10. Medley: parts of A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers & The Sleepwalkers (13:32)
Total playing time: 70:49
All songs written by Peter Hammill
Produced by John Anthony except 7,8 by VdGG; 9 by Guy Evans & 10
(1969, from 'The Aerosol Grey Machine')
This track appeared on the group's U.S.-only debut album, which took six years before securing a British release. Its acoustic guitar and understated organ give it a Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd feel. The song was originally written in 1967.
(1969, from 'The Aerosol Grey Machine')
Although rumour has it that more one version of this has appeared over the years (on the album, the U.S.-only coupling with 'Afterwards', and on the '68-71' compilation), the vaults indicate otherwise. We've performed our own act of necromancy in conjuring up this vintage recording in tip-top quality.
(1970, single version)
An undisputed Hammill classic composed in the aftermath of the political upheavals of 1968. A longer version of the song appears on the group's second album, 'The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other'.
4. The Boat Of Millions Of Years
This backed the 'Refugees' 45, and subsequently appeared on the '68-71' compilation, since when it's lain dormant on scratchy vinyl. Here it is for the first time on CD.
(1971, from 'Pawn Hearts')
With 'Man-Erg' and 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers', this makes up the trilogy on what's probably the band's finest album. Fuelled by an insistent, undulating riff, it was always a live favourite.
If George Martin's 'Theme One' instrumental was a somewhat out-of-character diversion, Hammill used the flip to revisit one of his favourite themes, estrangement.
(1975, from 'Godbluff')
Comeback albums are often fraught with difficulty but VdGG passed the difficulty admirably with 'Godbluff'. Although hints of more conventional jazz-rock playing were in evidence, 'Arrow', when it got going, provided an album highlight.
8. La Rossa
(1976, from 'Still Life')
'I've been hiding behind words', sings Hammill on this, one of several classic songs on 'Still Life', probably the groups's most satisfying 'comeback' release. 'La Rossa' provides plenty more camouflage, though it sounds more like ten minutes of no-hold-barred purification!
9. Ship Of Fools
This appeared in live form on 1978's 'Vital' though the studio version, once slated for 'The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome' ended up on an obscure overseas single release of 'Cat's Eye'.
10. Medley (Parts of 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers' & 'The Sleepwalkers')
(1978, from 'Vital').
The 'Vital' double album live set wasn't perhaps the perfect ending to Van der Graaf's ten-years career, but this medley coupling excerpts from 'Lighthouse Keepers' (from 'Pawn Hearts') & 'The Sleepwalkers' (from 'Godbluff') found the newly-reconstructed group performing two classics from the VdGG repertoire.
Conceiving in an age when every second social science student aspired to become a poet and young, classically-trained musicians wanted to be rock artists, Van der Graaf Generator's mission was certainly of its time. The order of the day to be progressive pop was simply no longer adequate to describe the aspirations of a generation reared on a heady cocktail of the Beatles, Karl Marx & Coca-Cola.
Nothing was simple anymore. Even the career of VdGG was marked by so many intricate twists & turns that it defies summary within the space of a few brief paragraphs. The group once described as 'an incredible combination of rock, poetry & jazz' (Charisma advertising slogan, 1970) are now rightly regarded as perhaps the ultimate progressive rock experience, albeit one that, both musically & conceptually, remain far more than a pleasing anachronism.
The existential tightropes walked by singer/lyricist Peter Hammill still find resonance in the work of many rock artists who've drawn inspiration from him, Johnny Rotten (Lydon), Marc Almond & Nick Cave in particular. And newcomers to Hammill are usually struck by similarities with a style touted by David Bowie - certainly vocally, & occasionally in the writing too.
Hammill has pursued a solo career since Van der Graaf finally parted the ways in 1978, with a series of fascinating, and richly varied solo albums. Musically, he's strayed far from the manic maelstorm of sound conjured up during VdGG days, although few would argue that his talent with the pen has diminished in any way.
But it's to the VdGG years that we turn to for this CD collection of classics & rarities. The nucleus of Hammill, Hugh Banton (keyboards), David Jackson (saxes) & Guy Evans (drums) presided over the group's most active period, which lasted roughly from 1970's 'The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other', through to 1976's 'World Record'. A rejigged version of the band soldiered on using the abbreviated name Van der Graaf for another couple of years, but the arrival of punk rock, coupled with a sense of creative exhaustion prompted one final split - they'd already been wrested apart in 1969 & 1972, on the latter occasion, for 3 years.
This set is designed to complement Virgin's previous two CD collections, 'First Generation' & 'Second Generation', which documented the group's career from either side of the 1972-75 watershed. 'I Prophesy Disaster', which takes its title from what's probably the group's finest moment, the 'Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' suite on 'Pawn Hearts', has the good fortune of drawing from both periods.
While providing an alternative intro to the group's music, we've also managed to unearth a few rarities which, until now have yet to make it onto the CD format.
Whether you're a recent convert or a confirmed completist, this set should provide what every VdGG album sought to do: combine moments of hair-tearing panic with touching displays of lyrical & musical splendour. VdGG always courted the outermost limits both in terms of emotional intensity & musical experimentation. This didn't always translate into commercial success - their biggest audiences were always the student circuit & on the continent - but their cult following remains fiercely loyal & insistent that in Peter Hammill, VdGG had one of the leading songwriters of their generation.
Mark Paytress, Record Collector, April 1993
(P) © 1993 Virgin Records Ltd. (Virgin Universal)