Sofa Sound  Newsletter

27/Mar 2005


Past Newsletters


And my apologies for the fact that there's been a bit of slippage lately regarding the issuing of newsletters.

As has now become clear, the last year was something of a strange one in terms of passing on news and announcements; oaths of complete secrecy have had to be upheld for much of the time.

Hopefully things are now back on track in all regards and two letters a year should be the norm once more from now on.

I'll start this issue with some words about the touring at the end of 2004 - quite epic in its own way.

Only then will I come on to that Van der Graaf Generator....
Until later, as ever...thanks for listening.


An update on 2004

Post heart attack, the first part of 2004 was for the most part spent in rehabilitation, both physical and mental. I was keen to get back to work - specifically to live performance - as quickly as possible, but it took quite a frustratingly long while to get things in motion again. It takes only a moment to cancel a tour...but a matter of months, of course, to set up new ones.

My first venture back on stage eventually came in Sos del Rey Catolico, a charming medieval Spanish village a couple of hours' drive from Bilbao, where I appeared in their annual festival. I was somewhat tentative at first, unsure of what to expect or of how far I could push myself. Quite far enough, as it happens. From this point on I knew that I was going to be fine about performing. I don't want to make too big a deal out of all this - heart attacks are comparatively common and eminently survivable these days. It's just that the first time back doing something as extreme as performing was a bit like diving into a swimming pool without knowing how deep - or shallow - the water might prove to be.

Soon enough the Big Touring came around. I began with a solo show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London; it seemed only right that I should start off again alone on stage. Different, but familiar.

In San Remo I performed at the Tenco Awards ceremony where Iwas presented with the International Songwriter Prize. I'm not, in general, one for prizes and awards; this, though, is a very specific thing dedicated to writers, of many different styles and cultures, for whom the Song itself is an object of virtue, so to speak. Definitely not a Music Biz kind of deal.

Immediately after that the schedule really began to get going. The first long-haul trip was to Tokyo, for a four-night stint with Stuart. Needless to say, my burgeoning self-confidence was due to get a bit of a shaking and so it proved.

On the morning of the first show I suddenly began feeling decidedly dodgy. When Stuart returned to the hotel from sightseeing I warned him that a doctor might be in order. My symptoms were very similar to the cardiac ones...faintness, discomfort, inability to settle. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I might well be having another heart attack and so an ambulance was called and I was straight off to hospital. There I received very interesting and fantastic care. In the course of a couple of hours I had cardiograms, a blood test, x-ray, shadow test, the whole system. And happily this revealed...nothing. I was cleared (and clearly very relieved) to sing that evening. It had been a panic attack. Nothing new there, as they've been a habitual feature of the touring experience for me over many years; an occupational hazard. Hopefully I'll now know enough to clearly recognise which kind of attack I may be experiencing in the future....

Thereafter the shows went swimmingly. David Jackson was also in Tokyo for this period. (In fact he'd arrived at the hotel just in time to see me going off in the ambulance!) He had expected to play two shows when in fact he was only booked for one; since he only found out about this on the afternoon of the non-show it seemed appropriate that he should join us for half of that evening's set.

Over the next month a succession of European shows, nearly all with Stuart, proved that I really am back in business at last. My thanks to everyone who attended.

The VdGG Reunion

It will probably come as little surprise to you to learn that the original impetus for the forthcoming Van der Graaf Generator reunion came from our meeting to perform "Still Life" at the Queen Elizabeth Hall back in February 2003. In turn this tweaked enough interest for a couple of offers for full VdGG shows to be sent to me. (Not for the first time, needless to say....) This time I decided to pass on details to the others, just to let them know the kind of thing to which I'd habitually said "Thanks, but no thanks."

I'd been prompted to do so, in part, by the fact that in recent years we'd all met up more frequently at the funerals of our past road crew members than at ordinary social events. (I'm sorry to say that we've now lost four of our erstwhile roadies.) Without actually proposing that we should commit to doing something together again I at least felt drawn to point out that were we to consider doing so it had better be while we were all still alive....

There followed a flurry of round robin emails between us over the next few months, in which were outlined all the reasons for doing it and for not doing it; all the things we dreaded and hoped for most; what we could or should reasonably expect from such a venture. Eventually we came to the conclusion (in brief) that we would not be interested in doing some kind of Madam Tussaud's waxwork version of VdGG - that there should be something new and vital about it. And that some sort of face to face meeting should take place...and that we should make no public moves or announcements at all until we had all agreed to commit to something.

To that end we met up in the West London Novotel in September 2003. (During our French tours of the seventies the Novotel chain had just been starting up and we often stayed in them, so they are very much part of the VdGG mythology and history.) Over a jolly evening we decided that we would at least give it a go at playing together, maintaining a strict "radio silence" as far as the outside world was concerned.

Guy suggested that Pyworthy Rectory, a sprawling spread in North Devon owned by old friends of his, which had been his bolt-hole, haven and retreat since Van der Graaf days, would be a suitably neutral venue for this experiment and we arranged to spend a week there in February 2004.

All of this was thrown into doubt, of course, by my heart attack in December. The imperative to try something while we were all still capable, though, was even more marked. Once I was - more or less - back on my feet this seemed an obvious, if potentially extreme, reintroduction to music. With an added degree of trepidation, then, we all drove down to Pyworthy.

We had the place entirely to ourselves and the experience bizarrely echoed our rehearsals in Crowborough, Norton Canon and Headley Grange in the old days. First, we crammed equipment into what began by looking like a large room but which was quickly packed to the gunwhales with Stuff.

The equipment each of us brought to the party was interesting in itself. HB no longer has a Hammond but swears by the latest generation of organ emulations; bass pedals, of course; his new bass guitar; impeccable amplification. Guy brought a modest drum kit with no add-on pad or sample technology. David, apart from his horns and flutes, had his racked-up Soundbeam rig. As for myself, an amp, some pedals, an original Yamaha DX7...and Meurglys III, the Guild. Lots of microphones, lots of different ways of getting things recorded. A very open architecture.

We proceeded to have an extraordinary week of natural music-making. The minute that we all kicked in the Van der Graaf noise emerged. Perhaps surprisingly - though true to the spirit of the venture, now as ever - we didn't even consider playing any old stuff. There were other things to do.

I'd managed to write a couple of songs in the preceding months which seemed to fit into a Van der Graaf frame of reference; David and Guy also had some tunes which proved appropriate. We set about rehearsing these pieces in quite a dedicated way. The rest of the time we played, played, played.

We recorded all the while; a forthcoming CD, out at the end of April, will prove it. Entitled "Present", It'll be a double; extraordinarily enough, it will come out on the Charisma label, which Virgin/EMI are resuscitating for the occasion.

One CD consists of the songs/structured pieces which we consciously rehearsed: "Every Bloody Emperor", "Boleas Panic", "Nutter Alert", "Abandon Ship!", "In Babelsberg" and "On the Beach".

The second CD features an hour's worth of improvisations. These have always been a feature of Van der Graaf playing and are quite whacky.... I recommend taking these at about a half an hour at a time; it's really like being locked in the room with us.

We left Pyworthy in a state of enthusiasm but uncertain of whether or not we had (even) an album's worth of material. Much work over the next months - of which, perhaps, more later - showed that we had. In any event, we decided to "make ourselves available" while simultaneously keeping our mouths utterly shut about the whole thing. Eventually this bizarre tightrope walk led to the RFH show....

Other stuff: we have now agreed to do two shows in Italy in June; Milan on the 11th and Rome on the 12th. Full details will be posted on the web site "touring" page shortly. We are also close to finalising a few other dates in July and possibly August but these are not quite certain yet. It must be stressed, though, that this is a reunion rather than a reformation. The spirit of this venture is to be in the present.

In terms of the Future Present this brings us to the Royal Festival Hall. I can't tell you yet exactly what we'll be playing, even though we all have some revision sheets to work on. There'll be at least a couple of the new songs and hoary old chestnuts will doubtless appear as well. In any case, we'll be rehearsing the stuff over the next couple of months and I believe that a suitable racket will be made.

It's been somewhat bemusing to see tickets sell for astronomical amounts on ebay over the last months. (It doesn't put any pressure on us at all, of course!) In fact we held back quite a few tickets at the outset for "friends and family" and it's most likely that we won't need them all and will be releasing the spare ones closer to the date. These will presumably go back to the RFH box office; as soon as this is happening we will send out an email to those of you on the newsletter list so that chances are the sales will be to genuine people rather than scalpers....


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