Van der Graaf Generator – live at the BBC 1971 – BBC Radio 1
Probably one of the most influential bands of the Prog period, Van der Graaf Generator have maintained a large and loyal following ever since they first started in 1967. Fronted by the enigmatic and highly-intense Peter Hammill, Van der Graaf Generator created a stir throughout Europe, particularly in Italy, where they became the prototype for countless bands from the 1970-1975 period.
Although not that well known in the U.S. – not having the benefit of touring to any extent, save for a brief trip around the East Coast in 1972, they nonetheless caught the attention of many musicians and listeners who kept their ears to the ground for anything new and interesting coming from overseas.
The band formed at the University of Manchester, but settled in London where they signed with Charisma. They went through several incarnations in their early years, including a brief split in 1969. When they reformed, they found minor commercial success with The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other (released in early 1970 and their only album to chart in the UK), and after the follow-up album, H to He, Who Am the Only One (December 1970), stabilized around a line-up of Hammill, Banton, Evans and saxophonist David Jackson. The quartet subsequently achieved significant success in Italy with the release of Pawn Hearts in 1971. After several exhausting tours of Italy, the band split in 1972. They reformed in 1975, releasing Godbluff and frequently touring Italy again, before a major line-up change and a slight rename to Van der Graaf. The band split in 1978. After many years apart, the band finally reunited at a gig at the Royal Festival Hall and a short tour in 2005. Since then, the band has continued as a trio of Hammill, Banton, and Evans, who record and tour regularly in between Hammill’s concurrent solo career.
The group’s albums have tended to be both lyrically and musically darker in atmosphere than many of their progressive rock peers (a trait they shared with King Crimson, whose guitarist Robert Fripp guested on two of their albums), and guitar solos were the exception rather than the rule, preferring to use Banton’s classically influenced organ, and, until his departure, Jackson’s multiple saxophones. While Hammill is the primary songwriter for the band, and members have contributed to his solo albums, the band arranges all its material collectively. Hammill’s lyrics covered themes of mortality, due to his love of science fiction writers such as Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick, along with his confessed warped and obsessive nature. His voice has been a distinctive component of the band throughout its career, described as “a male Nico”. Though the group have generally been commercially unsuccessful, they have inspired several musicians across various genres.
Tonight, it’s a session recorded for the BBC in 1971 and it features three songs:
3. Theme One
If you aren’t familiar with them, take a 12 minute break and check them out. If you are familiar with them, you need no introduction, no enticements and no excuse to crank this up and enjoy it.