There’s a beautiful warmth to this original version of House With No Door, I’ve listen to so many live versions, not sure when I last listened to the original studio version. There’s a warmth to the whole album actually (even if bodies are torn by vultures and…). We featured the re-issued Pawn Hearts a few days back, there are four Van Der Graaf Generator re-issues in all, each one a three disc set, each release featuring a remastered version of the original stereo mix, the new mix and a high resolution 5.1 surround sound mix. House With No Door features on the 1970 album H To He Who Am The Only One. There are also, alongside H To He and Pawn Hearts, three disc reissues of 1975’s Godbluff and 1976’s Still Life .To pick out a favourite or to put forward an argument in terms of which is the best, as we said with the Pawn Hearts piece, it is mostly a personal thing, a case of where the four albums fit in your life, there just might be an argument that says if you don’t know the first thing about the might of Van Der Graaf then Pawn Hearts is maybe the place to start? It really is impossible to say which of the four is best and it is true to say each of the four albums feature classic tracks. I mean, look at the track listing of H To He Who Am The Only One, surely that makes it the best album? Some bands have one album that stands above all others, some bands have a period of time or a run of albums and then there are bands that just go on delivering, Van Der Graaf, including Peter Hammill’s solo work that so often featured members of the band, are one of those that have always always delivered.
And as we said with the Pawn Hearts piece, we’re not really here to preach to the converted or to closely analyse these albums for the Van Der Graaf fans who already know, we’re not hear to pour over the different mixes or ague about the bonus tracks from radio sessions and such (there’s some excellent bonus tracks on these re-issues), if you know about the band you already know, you don’t need us to tell you. Organ has always been about covering those who don’t get covered elsewhere, that or maybe introducing something to someone who might not know something special – Van Der Graaf have always been slightly underground, a word of mouth bands then never did get mass mainstream exposure. And how lucky you are if you don’t already know? If you’ve never heard Killer or La Rossa or Arrow before, how lucky are you to have that experience still to come. Each one of these four re-issues is alive with treasure, epic treasure, and once you’ve heard one there is no choice but to carry on mining the songs until they become constant friends ever close at hand…
If Van Der Graaf Generator are, in that traditional sense, a 70’s progressive rock band, then they’re far more subtle that the others, not quite so obvious, warmer maybe? Darker? More painterly? Certainly as epic as any of them, never as bloated though, always laced with a little more danger (and that isn’t a put-down of the others, I love those proper Genesis albums or the outrageous indulgence of classic Yes albums, I have to listen to a version of Supper’s Ready at least once a week). Van Der Graaf Generator are a properly progrssive prog rock band, an ever evolving beast of a band, that and a lot more besides – we’ll refrain from the argument about Rikki Nadir making the first English punk album, Mr Rotten’s love of Van Der Graaf well documented, net him at a peter Hammill gig once, he never did hide it, not even when he was wearing his I hate Pink Floyd t-shirt – Van Der Graaf were always the band it was okay to like whoever you were.
Van Der Graaf are richer, darker, there ‘s just something more in there lurking in shadow of their shadows, Van Der Graaf are not a band to listen to casually, they’re something to be saved for special occasions. Scorched Earth is sounding wonderful right now, wonderfully dangerous, wonderfully fresh. Godbluff sounds very lean, there’s a menace to it, an edge – sinister, aware, and these new mixes, as we’ve already said, without ever disrespecting the material, do bring out wonderful detail, there’s always been a beauty to the chase of Arrow, the undercurrent of the drums, maybe Godbluff is the best of them all?
Four of the finest albums ever made by anyone, all reissued, with excellent new mixes, with excellent sleeve notes and photos if those things excite you and if I’m really honest about it, than all this is far too precious to be having to think about it in terms of some kind of review in terms words and coherent statements. Arrow is just one of the coolest pieces of art ever, it sounds like the soundtrack to a classically gritty English crime movie – Get Carter, The Long Good Friday – and then the delight of Sleepwalkers kicks in (or maybe prances in). Is it the phrasing? The way the words fit together, there way they all play around each other and weave it all together, the flesh and blood, the passion? There’s a unique magic, a fingerprint that runs through all Van Der Graaf’s work. Yes, the pieces are long, it always feels like there’s a purpose to it all though, never long just for the sake of it, their pieces always feel lean, it never ever feels self indulgent, it always feels like there’s a reason, a great consideration, and I really don’t want to have to be here thinking about it all too much, or questioning it or trying to work it out or explain why it all means so much – these albums are as difficult to write about as a Turner painting or a George Best run or any of the other highest of artistic highs.
And then there’s the beauty of the opening of Pilgrims and the way it takes your breath, and surely Still Life is the best album of all? It does have La Rossa on it after all, how can it not be the finest of all their albums? It is impossible to pick, to recommend if you don’t already know, where you should start just start anywhere. Does anyone else sing in that way Peter Hammill does, does anyone else put lyrics together like he does, did any other band ever fit together like this? Maybe Still Life itself is the song to start with? Does that sound like a reasonable course? An arrival? Listen to the way he sings “sterile”, the way he, Hammill, delivers every word, and how perfectly does Still Life kick in with that Low Spark after that wonderful opening? What chance now of holding this attempt at a review together? Everything laboured forgone, it is an impossibility. Lacking sleep, and food and vision, here I am again trying to explain what it is. it isn’t enough, in the end, the organ monkey and just as long as you know , like the man in the chair who believes it beyond him to do any of this. I don’t know what I’m telling you, but I do believe you ought to know about all this treasure and the finest band ever and there’s never an end to the dancing days and if you can’t agree it might be an end to our friendship and I need more than words and the options are never plain. Now and again I like to go to the Tate and just look at one Turner painting and stay as long as need to and then leave without needing to explain to anyone, and once again I like to put on a Van Der Graaf album and treat it like I treat a Turner painting and the fact that I have now put Still Life on straight after Godbluff is simply wrong – give me life! And surely this is even better than Pawn Hearts and and and… and you see, I am clearly not the one for this job.
This is such a rich body of work, these are rich albums, and they are very much albums, each one a body of work, these are vital albums and even if you do have them already these new mixes are essential but then if you already know the band then you already know all this and if you haven’t already bought the recent box set then you’ve already rushed out to get these four new versions of these four classic proper very real albums. It was, as I already explained, Pawn Hearts that dragged me in, but it could really be any of these albums – it is hopeless I know, but onward I must go, and try to make a start. They were music visionaries, boundary pushers, they were beautiful, they were savage, they still are this body of albums made between 1970 and 76 (alongside a fifth – World Record) and in between or alongside a batch of equally excellent Peter Hammill solo albums, the whole body of work is special, the never just took the easy route, the Son of Pawn Hearts route as they put it themselves in the excellent sleeve nots that come with each of these releases. Oh look, i could gush on and on (and on), you’ll find plenty of gush if you go back through these fractured Organ pages, there’s such a depth to Van Der Graaf Generator, there’s so much to find in there, so so much (sw)