Thursday, 26 December 2013

Van Der Graaf Generator - The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other (2nd Album UK 1970)

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Source: Japan SHM-CD Remaster

The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other is the second album by the British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was released in 1970. The album was reissued in re-mastered form, with two bonus tracks, in 2005.

While this is the second album in the Van der Graaf Generator catalogue, it is really the first proper album by the band. Their previous album, The Aerosol Grey Machine had been written and recorded as a solo record by singer and main songwriter Peter Hammill, but because of a deal with the record company, was released under the Van der Graaf Generator name.

The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other was recorded at Trident Studios, London, 11–14 December 1969. Trident was one of the most advanced studios in all of Europe at the time. Most of the album was recorded on an 8-track reel to reel machine. However, the song After The Flood was recorded on a new state of the art 16-track recorder. It was one of the first such 16 track recordings made in the U.K.

The album credited Hugh Banton with writing the cello parts on "Refugees", but he was not given an actual songwriting credit. The first U.S. issue of the album was released by the Probe Records division of ABC Records also in 1970. It featured a different cover than the U.K. version.

The title is taken from artist John Minton: "We're all awash in a sea of blood, and the least we can do is wave to each other."

Peter Hammill has always had an abiding interest, it seems, in the blurred boundary between the mystical and the scientific, and between the rational and magical mind; this is certainly evident on the debut Van Der Graaf Generator album, even though Hammill had yet to really begin focusing himself on what it was that was driving him (despite the fact that the band's very name referenced a device that resembles a bastard mix of scientific apparatus and shamanic totem). 

The Least We Can Do brings those concerns to the fore with ferocity, with time out for a couple of more personal pieces ("Refugees" and "Out of Our Book"). Hammill's lyrics, delivered with all the passion and intent he can muster, reference mysticism, numerology, astrology, various religious pantheons, the Malleus Maleficarum (leading Hammill to conclude, a bit too hopefully, that magic needs to be gray to be balanced), Robert van deGraaf himself (in "Whatever Would Robert Have Said?"), the future of humanity, and surviving ecological catastrophe. 

This being the start of the 1970s, the hopeful notes are drowned out by the tidal wave of fear, sadness, and despair, despite which, the music does tend to be rather uplifting, thanks to the undercurrent of barely restrained majesty VDGG tended to have (possibly thanks to Hugh Banton, who had been rather used to communicating with God via church and cathedral organs; he brought that expertise to a position more normally occupied by determined B3 thumpers engaged in battle with show-horse guitarists). The main thing that The Least We Can Do is in need of now is a good remastering job (and the addition of a few leftover tracks, such as the "Refugees" single version and its B-side.)

Wikipedia Biography:
Van der Graaf Generator are an English progressive rock band, formed in 1967 in Manchester by singer-songwriter Peter Hammill and Chris Judge Smith and the first act signed by Charisma Records. They did not experience much commercial success in the UK, but became popular in Italy during the 1970s. In 2005 the band reformed, and continue to perform as of 2013.

01 FEB 70 England, London, Lyceum
The band formed at Manchester University, but settled in London where they signed with Charisma. They went through a number of 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, and after the follow-up album, H to He, Who Am the Only One, stabilised around a line-up of Hammill, organist Hugh Banton, saxophonist David Jackson, and drummer Guy Evans. 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 united 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. Their most recent album, ALT, was released in June 2012.
The group's albums have tended to be both lyrically and musically darker in atmosphere than many of their prog-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 its members have contributed to his solo albums, he is keen to stress that the band collectively arranges all its material. 

Hammill's lyrics frequently covered themes of mortality, due to his love of science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein and Philip K Dick, along with his self-confessed warped and obsessive nature. His voice has been a distinctive component of the band throughout its career. It has been described as "a male Nico" and would later on be cited as an influence by Goth bands in the 1980s. Though the group have generally been commercially unsuccessful outside of early 1970s Italy, they have inspired several musicians, including John Lydon and Julian Cope.

01 JUN 70 England, London, Royal Festival Hall (Charisma Groups)
The band formed in 1967 at Manchester University, after Chris Judge Smith, who had already played in several British rhythm and blues groups whilst a pupil in Oundle School, returned from a trip to San Francisco and, inspired by the bands he had seen, put together a list of possible band names to form a new group. After an unsatisfactory audition they had both attended in response to an advert to form a band, he met fellow student Peter Hammill, who was playing some of his original songs. Hammill had begun writing songs and poetry at the age of 12 while at prep school, and progressed to playing in bands while a pupil at Beaumont College. He was then briefly employed as a computer programmer, during which time he subsequently claimed to have written much of the band's early material, before enrolling at Manchester. Smith was so impressed with the quality of Hammill's original material that the two agreed to form a band together. The band name chosen from Smith's list was based on a Van de Graaff generator, a mechanical device that produces static electricity with impressive lightning-like flashes – the misspellings are accidental. Smith recalls the reason for this may have been that Van de Graaff died in 1967, which was widely reported in the media.

Van Der Graaf Generator - Poster Front
Among the bands that regularly played the university, including Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd, they were particularly impressed by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and recruited an organist, Nick Pearne, to match the format of Arthur Brown's band. Along with two female dancers, the initial line-up was Hammill on guitar and vocals, Smith on drums, wind instruments and vocals, and Pearne on organ, though he did not initially have an instrument. According to Smith, the band initially played as a two-piece, with Smith occasionally using a typewriter as a percussion instrument; their first gig as a three piece was in the student union, which lasted five minutes before the group's amplifiers blew up.

The band managed to persuade fellow student Caleb Bradley to manage them, and by the start of 1968, the band had managed to record a demo tape influenced by blues and jazz, sending it to Lou Reizner, then the U.K. head of Mercury Records, who offered the trio of Hammill, Smith, and Pearne a recording contract in May. At this point, the band had to make a decision whether to stay on at university, or quit their courses and move to London to turn professional. Pearne was not keen to abandon his studies, so decided to leave the group.

Van Der Graaf Generator - Japanese CD Disc
On arrival in London, Hammill and Smith met up with trainee BBC engineer and classically trained organist Hugh Banton, who was a brother of one of their friends back in Manchester. Later that year, they met Tony Stratton-Smith, who agreed to sign a management contract with them in December. Through him, the band acquired a bass guitar player, Keith Ellis, with drummer Guy Evans joining not too long afterwards. This line-up performed on BBC Radio 1's Top Gear radio show in November, and recorded a series of demos for Mercury, before releasing a single ("People You Were Going To" b/w "Firebrand") on Polydor Records in January 1969. Melody Maker said the single was "one of the best records of the week". But the single was quickly withdrawn under pressure from Mercury, since it violated the contract band members Hammill and Smith signed the previous year. Smith, feeling superfluous to requirements, left the band, amicably, shortly after the recording of the single.

Meanwhile, Mercury refused to let the band record, and at the same time Stratton-Smith refused to let the other members of the band sign to Mercury too, as he did not think the deal was fair to the band (only Hammill remained now of the original three who had signed with Mercury). 

US Album Cover
On top of that in late January 1969 the band's van and equipment were stolen. The theft aggravated their financial difficulties. Although the band was touring successfully, which included a concert in February at the Royal Albert Hall in support of Jimi Hendrix,
 it broke up in June after playing a final gig at Nottingham's Pop & Blues Festival on May 10th entirely with borrowed equipment. John Peel, who was compering the show, announced their break-up to the audience.

In July 1969, Hammill had begun performing solo at The Marquee in London, and since there was no group, he decided to record what was intended to be his first solo album at Trident Studios on 31 July and 1 August, with Banton, Evans, and Ellis as session musicians. However, through a deal worked out by Stratton-Smith, the album, The Aerosol Grey Machine, was released by Mercury under the band's name in return for releasing the band from their contract. The album was initially only released in the United States with hardly any promotion at all, so sales were minimal, but the group decided to reform in the middle of the recording session. However, Ellis had already committed to joining Juicy Lucy and was replaced by Evan's former bandmate in The Misunderstood, Nic Potter. 

Vad der Graaf Generator Advertise 1970
The band had also enjoyed flautist Jeff Peach's contributions to the album and wanted to recruit a further instrumentalist. "There was always the idea of having another melodic instrument," recalled Evans. "He [Banton]'ll play a solo, sure, and really give it something, but he doesn't want to do that all the time." Peach was approached to become a full time member, but dropped out after one rehearsal. The position was eventually filled by saxophonist and flautist David Jackson, who had previously played in a band called Heebalob with Smith. Hammill had already sat in with Heebalob at the Plumpton National Jazz Festival on 9 August, and, impressed by Jackson's playing, invited him to join the band, partly because he also needed a flatmate to help pay with the rent.

In September, the new five piece band began rehearsals in Notting Hill Gate. and began to modify its sound. Banton, influenced by the effects pedals popularised by Jimi Hendrix, used his electronic skills to modify a Farfisa organ, giving it a wider variety of sounds. Jackson took his jazz influences, particularly Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and began to play multiple saxophones (usually alto and tenor) simultaneously. Hammill, for his part, elected to sing in received pronunciation, exploring the full range of his vocal capabilities. "We were all megalomaniacs," said Banton. "We grabbed our own space as best we could." The band started to gig regularly, including the first of several live appearances at the Friars Aylesbury in November.

Article About the Band 1968
(open picture in a NEW window for 100% size)
Tony Stratton-Smith formed Charisma Records and signed the band as his first act, who recorded their second album, The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other from 11 - 14 December with John Anthony in Trident Studios. Hammill's voice was electronically treated on After The Flood, while Refugees and White Hammer featured cello and cornet respectively. Because the band finished ahead of their rehearsal schedule, Potter decided to overdub some electric guitar - an instrument he had never played before. The album was released in February 1970 and made the top 50 in the U.K, Melody Maker said "If all our groups were as together as this, the British music scene would improve ten-fold."

Potter, however, did not feel he fitted into this increasingly experimental sound the band was developing, and tended to wait until the others had worked out their parts during rehearsals, adding his bass lines on top at the last minute. After recording three tracks of their third album, H to He, Who Am the Only One, he decided to quit the band. His last gig was on 9 August at the 1970 Plumpton Festival. The remaining members auditioned Dave Anderson, roadie for Brinsley Schwartz and friend of the band, but after a week's rehearsal, found that things weren't working out musically. Banton, meanwhile, had become influenced by Vincent Crane's work in Atomic Rooster, where Crane played the bass lines on a Hammond Organ's bass pedals, and suggested that he could do this as well. 

Promo Picture 1971
With just days to go before the next gig, they tried rehearsing as a four piece, and it was successful. Banton later played bass guitar on certain songs, having already learned the instrument in the mid-1960s, and Hammill expanded his instrumental capabilities on stage to cover piano and keyboards as well as guitar. Jackson modified his saxophones to be completely electric, as opposed to simply being amplified through a microphone, and combined the sound with a wah-wah pedal and an octave divider.

H To He continued to be recorded sporadically throughout 1970, and featured Robert Fripp of King Crimson contributing guitar on "The Emperor in His War-Room". John Anthony knew Fripp socially, and invited him to a session as a guest, something Fripp had never done before at that point. According to Jackson, Fripp "put headphones on and started searing away", listening to the track once, then performing two takes. Killer, later to become a live favourite, recycled a middle 8 from an old Heebalob song, and Smith received a co-composition credit on the track. Reviewing the album, Sounds particularly praised Jackson's saxophone work.

16 APR 70 England, London
Empire Rooms (for Kilburn Poly)
The Hammill/Banton/Jackson/Evans quartet that resulted from H to He, Who Am the Only One is now considered the "classic" line-up, and went on to play as part of the "Six Bob Tour" in early 1971 with fellow Charisma labelmates Genesis and Lindisfarne. Despite the complexity of their music, the band were well received on the tour, with Hammill noting "at nearly all the gigs, most of the audience have known most of the songs ... It was like a big family actually, exactly as all of us had pictured it in our wildest dreams."

While on tour, the band started working out compositions between gigs for their next album, which would become Pawn Hearts. The intention was to release a double album, and the band recorded the material; however, for economic reasons, the released recording was a single album containing three tracks – "Lemmings", "Man-Erg", and the 23 minute concept piece "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". Reflecting on this, Hammill said: "Charisma Records felt that it wasn't appropriate for us to release a double album and they vetoed the live studio recordings and the solo tracks by Guy, David, and Hugh.":8 The master tape of the recording sessions has been lost.

Fripp again provided a cameo appearance on guitar. While "Man-Erg" had already been performed on stage, "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" evolved in the studio, recorded in small sections and pieced together during mixing.:9 According to producer John Anthony, the track features a lot more studio experimentation than on previous albums, saying "we pushed the facilities at Trident to the limit and had involved the use of every single tape machine in Trident at some stage." :10 The experiments included tape manipulation and Banton playing Mellotron and synthesizer. According to Jackson, one section of it features the entire band overdubbed 16 times.:11 The album was not a success in the U.K, but proved highly successful in Italy, topping the chart there for 12 weeks. The following single, "Theme One", reached number one in Italy, too. "Theme One" was an instrumental piece, originally written by Beatles producer George Martin as a fanfare for the BBC radio station Radio 1, later to appear on US pressings of Pawn Hearts.

28 JUN 70 England, London, Marquee Club (Rock Dates)
Following commercial success in Italy, the band did a six-week tour there at the start of 1972. The band were apprehensive about touring there, concerned they might be playing to half empty venues, but they were all shocked by the sheer volume of the crowds that came to see them. "Pawn Hearts was seen as the ultimate album by the ultimate band," said Jackson, who at times found it difficult to walk down the street in parts of Italy without being recognised. "The tour was like the prophets have landed ... you couldn't go anywhere without this lunatic 'Generator Mania' breaking out." After the tour, the group was immediately offered another Italian tour, this time doing up to three shows a day. In between the tours, the band made an appearance on Belgian television performing "Theme One" and "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". Since the studio recording of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" was a collage of multiple recordings, impossible to reproduce live in one setting, the band simply filmed individual sections of the song and spliced them together in the editing suite. It is believed to be the only live performance of the song.

By June, the band had performed another Italian tour (the third that year) and wanted to start recording new material (some of which ended up on Hammill's solo album Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night). However, the combination of working for too long without a break, combined with a lack of support from Stratton-Smith and Charisma and continued financial difficulties caused the band to implode, and Hammill left to pursue a solo career in mid-1972.

The three remaining members recorded an instrumental album with Nic Potter, Ced Curtis, and Pietro Messina, under the name "The Long Hello". Their self-titled album (The Long Hello) was released in 1974.

Peter Hammill – acoustic guitar and lead vocals; piano on "Refugees"
 Hugh Banton – Farfisa organ, piano and backing vocals
 Nic Potter – bass guitar and electric guitar
 Guy Evans – drums and percussion
 David Jackson – tenor and alto sax, flute and backing vocals

Additional musicians:
 Gerry Salisbury – cornet on "White Hammer"
 Mike Hurvitz – cello on "Refugees"

01. "Darkness (11/11)" – 7:28
02. "Refugees" – 6:23
03. "White Hammer" – 8:15
04. "Whatever would Robert have said?" – 6:07
05. "Out of my Book" (Hammill, David Jackson) – 4:08
06. "After the Flood" – 11:29

Bonus tracks
07. "Boat of Millions of Years" – 3:50 
08. "Refugees" (single version) – 5:24 

These tracks were the B- and A-sides of an April 1970 single.

1. Link
2. Link


Anonymous said...

hi, chris, yet another classic masterpiece! in my opinion beside the aerosol grey machine the best what the van der graaf generator have done; i like the dull ambience, thank you very much, lg, m

Leonel Garcia said...


This is a great album, one of their best.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chris. I didn't know about this one. This is one of the most distinctive prog bands.

Anonymous said...

great to this this on CD had it for many years on vynal. Cheers Chris.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I like VDGG and Peter Hammill! I've got this one in vinyl and would be very interested in the "Aerosol" that I don't know.Thanks anyway. Cheers, bye!

Rochacrimson said...

Please more VDGG and Peter Hammill!!!
Amazing gifts in this season of year!
Thank you Chris :)

graaf24 said...

The Least We Ca Do... with Pawn Hearts is one of the best pairs albums in progressive music at all. I already have this, but this is great post (as you always do) and I must say some words.
Thanks Chris a lot. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Daniel said...

This is the first album by these guys I have listened to (and I like it a lot). Would it be possible to have more from them here? Thank you Chris :)

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard this in years. Though not quite up to the levels achieved on their next 3 or 4 albums it is still a favorite. Many thanks, Chris.


billy said...

great idea to add all the extra art ,ads,music papers info etc thanks

Stephen said...

Nice post for the extras, and many thanks for that, Chris. Van Der Graff spoil it for everyone else, really, especially for the vocals: no one comes near Hammill.

berkaal said...

Great album, I bought it on vynil back then. "Refugees", "Out Of My Book" and "Boat Of Millions Of Years"are wonderful, really impressive, while "After The Flood" is too long, its second half is disturbing, the only weak song of the lot. Qverall there's this feeling of mystery, the real signature of VDGG. A must have.