Sofa Sound  Newsletter

31/March 2007


Past Newsletters


Into 2007, then; a time of comings, goings, renewal and well as of consideration and remembrance of the past.

The most immediate news is that the CD of the Royal Festival Hall Reunion concert, "Real Time", is finally going to be released on March 5th, after a gestation period absurd in its longevity.

Additionally, the new trio formation of VdGG will, at long last, be doing some shows during April and July.

It's certainly been a strange - and often difficult - journey to get to this stage; but here, finally, we are.

In the meantime and until later, as ever, thanks for listening.


Finally, Real Time....

The RFH concert was recorded in full multi-track mode (as the final production rehearsal had been, "just in case" - which shows just how fearful the aura surrounding the enterprise was in some ways....). Hugh Banton stepped up to the plate to mix it, in the period between the summer shows and those in October/November. He did a fantastic job; as with the "Present" sessions early versions were passed around between us and various boos and hisses came from fellow-participants at perceived ill-treatment of their (naturally, always beautiful) playing and, indeed, of the overall sonic thrust and balance. Thanks to HB we have ended up with a genuine picture of the event both musically and emotionally.

Indeed, temporally as well: we decided that the *only* way to present this material was in verite fashion with no edits moving the thing along (apart, of course, from the gap between end-of-show and encore; and a slight elision while cd1 is exchanged for cd2....) Boy, does it go by quickly in this form; how very little time there was to think.... Probably all the better for that.

The Cover is by Ridout, with photography by Ed Clarke, our estimable Monitor/FOH man, and a colour shot (somewhere during "Lemmings") for which we have to thank Daniel Thurnes. In a shamelessly cynical commercial move the audience is as much visible as we are, if not more so; the compunction to buy must, then, be absolute!

I got to write the sleevenotes, a difficult task for such a project. I struggled to find some centre of balance and in the end tried to get across the feeling of what it was like to stand stageside just before the start, a whole cocktail of (natural) drugs flooding the brain...

The experience of "Real Time" stands as a testament to our aspirations, our collective will, our belief that if we acted in concert something was possible. Later during the year, we certainly played "better"; but later we *knew* that we could do it. On the night of the RFH it wasn't clear to any of us, I think, that we would manage to get through at all, let alone play well. What had begun in idle emails, become urgent in the first Pyworthy sessions, developed, somewhat fearfully, through rehearsals, first privately and then in full production mode, finally came to fruition here in an enduring moment of celebration, enjoyment and hope for the future.

It might, of course, look a little bit strange that we, as the new trio VdGG, appear to be touring in support of a release by the "old" 4-piece. Well, i) we've never exactly "toured in support" of anything in a conventional sense and ii) this is really the only way in which things could have worked. We would *not*, for instance, have felt happy starting to tour in the new format in the oncoming months only to be referred straight back to 2005 by a later release of "Real Time". So if it didn't come out now it would have to spend some years on the shelf at least (on the assumption that we'll shortly be releasing new material....).

And for "Real Time" to be released now it had to be, in the end, on Fie! Records.

Often before - while negotiations were foundering in mid-Atlantic - I'd expressed the view that I did *not* want Fie! to be the label, both in terms of public perception ("Hammill takes everything over as usual") and inward responsibility. It's quite enough to be responsible to each other as members of the group without the added pressure of a record company relationship. However, the runes have fallen this way; and we have come to agreement in a way which should prove unproblematic and non-exploitative for all concerned. (Including, since you ask, David Jackson, of course.)

One of the reasons why we originally wanted an early (!) release for RFH was that it was clear to us that a new era in the VdGG saga was about to unfold in the light of David Jackson's exit from the group. The release of the CD would mark both the excitement of the dawning events of 2005 and, simultaneously, the closing of a chapter, the drawing of a line. Thus our frustration was fuelled day by day as 2007 - and the beginning of Trio work - approached. The saga of how agreements ultimately failed to be reached with various labels is a long and sorry one, fairly typical of the way in which things work in Music Biz. The fact that we began by saying that any release had to be made in the full knowledge that we would *not* be touring the US in its support only to discover, months down the line that this was, apparently, a necessity if a deal was to go through bears witness to how witless things became. (Incidentally, this does *not* mean that we discount the prospect of N. American shows; but it is markedly more complicated for us to undertake them than, say, European ones. Additionally, we're a bit long in the tooth to even consider going to chase that illusory Fame Thing....)

At an early stage we had been persuaded, with some reluctance, that the RFH audio should be packaged a DVD of the Rockpalast performance in Leverkusen. Eventually we even became enthusiastic about the fact that such a package would document the beginning and end of this phase of the band's story. In current circumstances, though, such a thing was clearly ruled out.

Along the way the (original) US Record Company - with whom we still maintain good relations - signed a contract with WDR, the TV company, for the rights in "Rockpalast"; in due course they will probably release this. But maybe breath should not be held on this....

Fie!, then, it is for "Real Time"....

The Power Trio.

VdGG is, as you will all know, now a trio, Banton/Hammill/Evans. How we've come to this state is something of a sorry story but the fact that we *are* in this state is, frankly, something to be celebrated.

We are now as rehearsed as we can be for the oncoming shows (i.e. quite a long way from perfect!) and looking forward to them with immense excitement and - once again - not a little dread. As of now it looks as though we're pretty well locked onto working strictly within song form - as opposed to improvisation - but who knows what's going to emerge over the various shows and coming months? The first three weeks in April will take us around Germany and the UK, with brief visits to Holland, Belgium and Poland. There will be more shows in July. The first two are now confirmed: the Burg Herzberg festival in Germany and the San Sebastian Jazz festival. Two wildly opposed ends of the performance spectrum! Details of shows are, as always, best found at touring.

Naturally, many of you have written in over the last months, shocked at David Jackson's departure from the group. I fully understand that there's an element of frustration for many of you in the fact that we have not made public any of the events which led up to the current state of things but I can't make any apology for the silence. We know that now we're - almost - up and running again we're going to have to give some more expansive answers; but to be honest we're still, even 18 months down the line, pretty bruised and bemused by the experiences we've been put through.

I can say the following.

We spent a lot of time discussing our hopes and fears for the VdGG reunion long before we even set foot in a rehearsal room and believed that we had established comprehensive understanding of what may or may not be involved and of what our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other would be.

We knew that we were not looking at a Pot of Gold (anyone who thinks that VdGG is a gravy train has clearly not been paying attention, *ever*!) - indeed, that a significant element of risk was involved in undertaking the venture at all.

Once we had made "Present" and the RFH show was booked in we agreed time slots which we would keep free for Van der Graaf activity. We also agreed that after touring for 2005 finished we would take stock of how things had gone and decide what to do next. (If anything at all: none of us were committed to an open-ended group existence.)

Inevitably, all four of us encountered - different - problems and complications in accommodating the work of the group; on balance, though, no one of us to any greater or lesser extent than another. To balance this, the experience of playing together again as a band - and the response from public and critics alike - was, of course, fantastic.

Over time, though, it became clear that David seemed to have difficulty in understanding what we had mutually agreed and that he was struggling to make the leap of faith which being in this group has always involved. This put him into conflict with us as a unit and as individuals.

After an increasingly fractious series of events (which I do *not* propose to detail) it became clear to Guy, Hugh and I that whatever happened in the future we were not going to be able to continue being in a group with David.

At the end of November 2005 we did not know whether we would be continuing or not. In January 2006 we met and expressed the desire to do so; indeed, acknowledged the need to at least try to carry on, if we were to be true to VdGG spirit. This was not the "taking stock" moment we had planned for. In summer 2006 we met to play, to see if there was indeed something worth doing in trio format. (We were clear from the outset that we would *only* continue as a three-piece.) We found that there was.

Only then did we formally announce David's departure. Since then we have tried to maintain a silence on these matters which we hope has been taken as dignified rather than secretive, which emphasised the positive nature of our move forward rather than retrospective bitterness.

The simple fact of the matter is that David will not be playing with us again. Of course, it will be Different; it will Not Be the Same. Emphatically, though, it is the next chapter in VdGG's history. Some of you may find it difficult to contemplate a group without David. But without him is precisely where we found ourselves at the end of 2005.

The issue of his departure will, I know, remain a disturbing one for many of you. Believe me, though, not remotely as disturbing as it was and remains for us.

But now...we're going onward. This is VdGG, now. The past remains and what's done is done. The future in our hands, gratefully received.

What an opportunity! What a challenge! Let's go!

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