Friday, 5 December 2014

Van Der Graaf Generator - H to He, Who Am The Only One (Progressive Rock UK 1970)


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Source: Japan SHM-CD Remaster

H to He, Who Am the Only One is the third album by the British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was released in 1970.

During the recording of the album, bassist Nic Potter quit the band. Organist Hugh Banton offered to play bass guitar on the two tracks that had not yet been finished. In concert, Banton would play bass pedals to substitute for the lack of a bassist à la Ray Manzarek, but he would continue to record bass guitar parts on subsequent albums. H to He, Who Am the Only One also featured Robert Fripp of King Crimson playing lead guitar on one track, "The Emperor In His War Room". Fripp would collaborate again with Van der Graaf Generator on their next album, Pawn Hearts.


The album contains several references to modern physics: "H to He" in the title refers to "the fusion of hydrogen nuclei to form helium nuclei"; c in 'Pioneers over c.' refers to the speed of light.

The foreboding crawl of the Hammond organ is what made Van Der Graaf Generator one of the darkest and most engrossing of all the early progressive bands. On H to He Who Am the Only One, the brooding tones of synthesizer and oscillator along with Peter Hammil's distinct and overly ominous voice make it one of this British band's best efforts. Kicking off with the prog classic "Killer," an eight minute synthesized feast of menacing tones and threatening lyrics, the album slowly becomes shadowed with Van Der Graaf's sinister instrumental moodiness. 

With superb percussion work via Guy Evans, who utilizes the tympani drum to its full extent, tracks like "The Emperor in His War-Room" and "Lost" are embraced with a blackened texture that never fades. The effective use of saxophone (both alto and tenor) and baritone from David Jackson gives the somberness some life without taking away any of the instrumental petulance. H to He is carpeted with a science fiction theme, bolstered by the bleak but extremely compelling use of heavy tones and the absence of rhythms and flighty pulsations. 

This album, which represents Van Der Graaf in their most illustrious stage, is a pristine example of how dark progressive rock should sound. 

BIOGRAPHY: An eye-opening trip to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury during the summer of 1967 inspired British-born drummer Chris Judge Smith to compose a list of possible names for the rock group he wished to form. Upon his return to Manchester University, he began performing with singer/songwriter Peter Hammill and keyboardist Nick Peame; employing one of the names from Judge Smith's list, the band dubbed itself Van der Graaf Generator (after a machine which creates static electricity), eventually earning an intense cult following as one of the era's preeminent art rock groups.


The Aerosol Grey Machine Despite the early involvement of Judge Smith and Peame, the group found true success as a vehicle for Hammill, whose dark, existentialist lyrics made him the focus of considerable attention. After the release of the 1968 single "People You Were Going To," Judge Smith left Van der Graaf Generator, which by then consisted of Hammill, keyboardist Hugh Banton, bassist Keith Ellis and drummer Guy Evans. The group soon split, and in 1968 Hammill entered the studio, ostensibly to record a solo album; however, he ultimately called in his ex-bandmates for assistance, and when The Aerosol Grey Machine appeared, it did so under the Van der Graaf Generator name.

The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other Although Ellis was replaced by Nic Potter and woodwind player David Jackson, the reconstituted group continued on for 1969's Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other. After 1970's H to He, Who Am the Only One, Potter departed; the Generator recorded one more LP, 1971's Pawn Hearts, before Hammill left for a solo career, putting an end to the group. After five solo efforts, however, Hammill again re-formed Van der Graaf Generator in 1975 for Godbluff. Following a pair of 1976 albums, Still Life and World Record, Banton and Jackson exited; as simply Van der Graaf, the band recorded The Quiet Zone with new violinist Graham Smith. After a 1978 live set, Vital, the group officially disbanded, although most members made appearances on Hammill's subsequent solo records.

Present Twice during the '90s, Van der Graaf reunited for one-off gigs, and in 2005 released a reunion album, Present. Without Jackson, the trio of Hammill, Banton, and Evans recorded Trisector, which appeared in 2008. They appeared in concert frequently during 2009, and released another studio album, A Grounding in Numbers, in 2011. An album of studio jams and outtakes, titled ALT, followed one year later.

LINE-UP:
Peter Hammill - lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano (3) 
 Hugh Banton - organs, oscillator, piano, bass (2,5), vocals 
 Guy Evans - drums, tympani, percussion 
 David Jackson - saxes, flute, vocals 

GUESTS: 
 Nic Potter - bass (1,3,4)
 Robert Fripp - electric guitar (3) 

01. Killer (8:07)
02. House With No Door (6:03)
03. The Emperor In His War-Room (9:04)
- a) The Emperor
- b) The Room
04. Lost (11:13)
- a) The Dance In Sand And Sea
- b) The Dance In The Frost
05. Pioneers Over C. (12:05)

Bonus tracks:
6. Squid 1, Squid 2, Octopus [Trident Studios Unreleased] (15:24)
7. The Emperor In His War-Room [first version] (8:50)

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6 comments:

Stephen said...

VDGG are the best; and Hammill makes every other singer sound limp or derivative.

Doug said...

Thanks Chris!Always good to hear some VDGG.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for VDGG and Zappa as well. Excellent posts and very good sound quality.
JJ

Vitko said...

Of course, I have this album, VDGG is one of my favorite bands. I am always happy when I see someone, today, to respect this kind of music. With a band and singer Peter Hammill bind me beautiful memories. In their music I enjoy and still just as passionate as before so many decades.
Nice post. Cheers. V

Norm said...

A Classic, their best!!!

Anonymous said...

Chris...
The People request some more VDGG!