Music today comes from another unique musical genius from England, the unforgettable Peter Hammill. In between two groundbreaking Van der Graaf Generator albums, The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other (1970) and Pawn Hearts (1971), Peter Hammill released Fool’s Mate (1971) as a solo album. He described them as older songs and they needed a home. They were also shorter pieces than the VDGG material so he nipped into the studio and recorded the album in two days, you’d never know it. The album features all VDGG members plus Robert Fripp on electric guitar. There’s also two members of Charisma Records label mates Lindisfarne, Rod Clements on bass and violin and Ray Jackson on harp and mandolin. You’ll remember that Ray Jackson was the man who Rod Stewart thanks on his album Never A Dull Moment as ‘the mandolin player from Lindisfarne whose name escapes me’. Another drink, Rod?
As I’ll be playing Peter Hammill albums all night I won’t go into too much detail mainly because you could write an essay about every song he writes. Suffice to say this album was the beginning of a prolific solo career that to date includes 61 albums if you include live albums and compilations. The albums I’ll be playing tonight are his first four, Fool’s Mate (1971), The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage (1974), Chameleon In The Shadow Of Night (1973), and In Camera (1974). Hammill’s incredible voice and delivery along with all the lyrical ideas which seem to go from strange visions to normal life experiences are always thoughtful in some way. On Fool’s Mate I must mention Child as a wonderful track, although it’s a crime not to mention any other songs.
By the second album Chameleon In The Shadow Of Night (1973), Van der Graaf Generator had broken up. You can hear the story of why or at least part of the reason in the lyric to the first track, German Overalls. It’s just too hard and too expensive to be a touring rock band that is only amazing. Still all the latest VDGG members play on the album so it really was more about financial discomfort rather than personal issues. Lots of great tracks on this one, magical Mellotron on Easy To Slip Away.
This might be the time to mention the cover art. Both this album and Fool’s Mate were at the hand of Paul Whitehead. He also did H To He Who Am The Only One (1970) and Pawn Hearts for Van der Graaf Generator and let’s not forget those classic Genesis album covers Trespass, Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme. The photograph on the cover of Chameleon In The Shadow Of Night was taken by Bettina Hohls who was involved with Ash Ra Tempel and Timothy Leary as a vocalist on the album Seven Up (1972). She is also a synesthete, I’ll let you look that up. Paul Whitehead has gratefully prepared other album covers in the In Deep Collection, namely High Tide – Sea Shanties (1969), Renaissance – Illusion (1971) and Tom Fogerty – Myopia (1975) as well as three covers for Italian Proggers Le Orme.
The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage was the third solo album although it again featured all the members of Van der Graaf Generator. Artwork is by Bettina Hohls. The album opens with the classic 7-minute Modern, what a sound the band makes, odd notes, over the top singing, you can see where Johnny Lydon got his ideas from. He just changed the packaging. Randy California appears on Red Shift, all the songs are long on this album, Red Shift is 8 minutes. Even the short songs are long.
In Camera was the second last solo album before the band got back together but not the last solo album, there are another 57 after this one. Nadir’s Big Chance came in 1975 but also in that year Van der Graaf Generator reformed and released Godbluff. A lot of In Camera was recorded at home (Sofa Sound), then he took it to Trident Studios where he added ARP synth and Guy Evans played drums. There’s also percussive appearances from original member Chris Judge Smith (who left in 1968) and the cover art man Paul Whitehead (although this was not his cover art). When you hear this challenging, dark record, it makes you wonder why we needed Punk Rock, apart from the speed and the safety pins of course.
Make sure that after this post you research Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator. I wrote about the first VDGG album the other day (essentially a Peter Hammill solo album), Aerosol Grey Machine (1969). He is like Roy Harper one of the great originals of British music. I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve met him a couple of times, but I may not have told you about the time he was watching me in Canada restring my guitar standing up, tuning up and coming in at exactly the right moment with the broken string replaced. He came up to me afterwards and said he’d never seen anything like it, talk about tension, it was like James Bond defusing a bomb. (In Camera’s Magog is the aftermath of the explosion.)
The musical musings in this post are an excerpt from my daily blog, TO WHERE I AM NOW, featured on my main website. See more pictures and read the full post here.