Rychard Carrington reports on Van der Graaf Generator: The Junction, 8 April 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Some lyricists are sufficiently distinct that, given a previously unheard couple of lines of theirs, one could identify the writer. For a lyric like ‘it'll take a lifetime to unravel the threads / that lead us to a sense of ricochet', Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator would be a good guess, and it'd be right. All his songs seem to be about dark forces playing mythological chess inside some poor unfortunate's head. If your favourite film is The Seventh Seal and your favourite painter Munch, your favourite progressive rock band will be Van der Graaf.

The existential doom is so predictable that it gets rather cosy after a while. You know just what to expect from good old Van der Graaf. The new songs reassuringly have exactly the same feel to them as the old ones. The angst is too controlled, too artistically crafted to be really unsettling. And the craftsmanship really is distinguished. The careful intensity of Hammill's vocals, electric guitar and piano is masterfully executed. He could indeed claim forefatherhood to all the doomsters of the 80s such as Nick Cave. Guy Evans' powerful drumming keeps the drama hard, while Hugh Banton's organ renders the sound distinctively prog with a welcome mellifluence. Unfortunately the fourth classic Van der Graafer, saxman David Jackson, has recently dropped out of the reformed band, inevitably limiting the texture somewhat.

For all the excellence, a little more light to throw the dark shadows into relief would have been welcome. Some of Tull's jesting, or Floyd's cosmic-pastoral lyricism, would have been appreciated. Alternatively, they could have done the odd Abba cover. (Come to think of it, the lyric of Knowing Me, Knowing You isn't so different from Hammill's). As it was, the greatest light relief came when my companion informed me that ‘the keyboard player looks just like my next door neighbour, Bob'. Perhaps Pete Hammill should take a leaf out of Davey Graham's book (see Moving Tone News review) and regale us with tongue-twisters, before another song about killers, angels, refugees and the like.

For dark existential progressive rock, no one can touch Van der Graaf. But for my next gig I fancy seeing someone like Jonathan Richman, or Half Man Half Biscuit.

Writer: Rychard Carrington