Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill album thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by mark winstanley, Sep 5, 2023.

  1. Triops99

    Triops99 Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    Back in the day when A Black Box was first released as an LP, I'm pretty sure you had to write off for the lyric sheet and that was what got you onto the original Sofa Sound mailing list. Maybe PH did the same thing with Sitting Targets later
     
  2. PhR

    PhR Forum Resident

    Location:
    Finland
    The album version had an inner sleeve with lyrics and my Holland Mercury pressing of "A Black Box" has one too. I think the S-Type pressing had an insert.

    The first cd version has no correspondence information but maybe the Sofa Sound mailing list had one when the cd was first released in the late 80's?

    EDIT: You were right about S-type "A Black Box":
    https://www.discogs.com/release/580889-Peter-Hammill-A-Black-Box

    I
     
  3. Triops99

    Triops99 Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    Haha....thanks for the edit! Sadly I haven't got the original albums anymore, but I do remember that the lyrics for A Black Box in its S-type iteration were a fold-out sheet rather than on the inner sleeve, and my rusting memory has a recollection of receiving them through the post and finally being able to try to make sense of what I had been listening to. Any Hammill/VdGG album without lyrics is like having a picture without the frame....

    PS: thank you Discogs for the dedication to detail and accuracy!
     
  4. ArpMoog

    ArpMoog Forum Resident

    Location:
    Detroit
    I've got 2 lp copies for this one... Netherlands Mercury/ inner lyric sleeve
    USA PVC /lyric sheet.
    A lot of nice textures on this record.
    Chorus effect used quite effectively.
    Does the band tour with Pete for this record or do they start on the next one?
     
  5. 1@aTime

    1@aTime Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    I picked up this album for cheap sometime back. Actually my first PH solo LP . It is a USA PVC copy. They are still cheap. I have not listened to it in a while. I'm gonna have to now.
     
  6. PhR

    PhR Forum Resident

    Location:
    Finland
    The K Group was formed in 1981 so basically yes.
     
  7. 1@aTime

    1@aTime Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    I played my LP copy last night. It isn’t a PVC but a Rio/Passport records version. Sounds pretty good. Been months since I’ve last listened to it. Pretty good album. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it more than The Future Now. Peter does have some pretty aggressive vocals going on but to me the song arrangements are better on this album. I also really enjoy Guy Evans and David Jackson back playing with him again. On the previous albums it was mostly PH on his own and the recordings were not very good.
     
  8. Samudra

    Samudra Well-Known Member

    Location:
    San Francisco
    Agreed. The synthesized percussion ruins this for me. This could be a great song for the full VdGG band to have played on and contributed on. However, after listening to it again after a long time, parts of it are quite beautiful.
     
  9. Putrifiers II

    Putrifiers II Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    Breakthrough

    Great opener! Felt a rush of affection on hearing the drums again - definitely a friendlier sounding album. PH really has deserved a hit at so many points in his career. There's a few tracks on Sitting Targets that could have done it (in a parallel plane where gen pub appreciated great art when they heard it). Breakthrough isn't one though - I love it as a sonic scene setter, but too much prog not enough pop for 1981?
     
  10. rikki nadir

    rikki nadir Gentleman Thug

    Location:
    London, UK
    This album was the first one I bought by the artist when it came out, after getting into Peter Hammill in 1979. A Black Box, as an independent release, was not readily available in the average record shop.

    I have a special affection for this album, because of that. Also, this was the album featured the first time I saw him play live (with the K Group). And since then, there has not been a single solo show which has not featured a couple of tunes from the album, on occasion as many as four or even five.

    Breakthrough leads the album, but is not really like other tunes - it seems more of a prog-rock tune to me, if that makes sense. Amazing this song can exist on the same LP as Ophelia and Central Hotel!

    Richard Rees Jones, in his excellent Hammill On Track overview (the book quoted by the author himself some posts back) agrees that Breakthrough is one of those Hammill songs that 'stubbornly refuse to resolve into conventional narratives'.

    What exactly is going on in this song? I see parallels with the lyrics of Godbluff :

    'At night this mindless army/ranks unbroken by dissent...'

    'He looks into the future and remembers what is past,
    wonders what he's doing on this battlefield'

    I wonder if these songs, like Breakthrough, originate in dreams Hammill might have had? Anyone who has recorded their dreams will recall dreaming of a situation which seems immersive and of life-or-death importance until the dream ends, then strange and barely comprehendible on awakening.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2024
  11. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    My Experience.

    It was nothing, it came from nowhere at all,
    it was a casual remark, not a curtain-call.
    Late for breakfast - black coffee, brandy-laced...
    that look on your face.
    I'll remember last night,
    I'll look out for the signs:
    you were caught in the light....

    Time after time
    it's been my experience
    that when the row gets serious
    a certain silence will fall....

    But I just can't stop it,
    why don't you tell me what's wrong?
    My heart goes like a rocket, the feeling's so strong.
    I just can't stop it, why don't you tell me what's wrong?
    Don't think about it too long.

    I could argue this another way,
    but on another day I might have to shout.
    You keep your mouth shut,
    but it's too late for that now:
    the word got out.
    In translation it's lost, in desperation it's mimed;
    is this Paradise lost, or Paradise time after time?

    It's been my experience
    that when the row gets serious
    a certain silence will fall....

    But I just can't stop it,
    why don't you tell me what's wrong?
    My heart goes like a rocket, the feeling's so strong.
    I just can't stop it, why don't you tell me what's wrong?
    Don't think about it too long.

    Writer Peter Hammill
    Publisher ?

    We open with a nice acoustic guitar riff, and then these metallic hand claps come in, the bass following.

    Again a more full band sound and the styling of the song is undeniably Hammill, but certainly it is right in the lane of the new wave movement of the time.

    It's so interesting hearing Hammill dance on the skirt of mainstream pop/rock, that came in the form of new wave at the time....
    I think he manages to engage the feel and sound of new wave, whilst still retaining the Hammillisms we have come to know and love.

    Lyrically this sounds like a lovers tiff ... Something said off the cuff the previous night rubbed someone the wrong way, and there is morning resentment and the silent treatment...
    Enough to cause a want for some brandy in the coffee lol
    Relationships are hard, and anyone in a relationship would be familiar with a scenario somewhat like this at some point.

    Of course we also know that the chorus section of this track speaks an unspeakable truth. Women need us to be mind readers... I have said to my wife, don't give me hints or expect me to guess, tell me straight up. I have enough issues trying to deal with my own thoughts, I don't have the capacity to read yours lol

    Anyway, this is almost a fun new wave track from Hammill, and I like the use of the sounds he chose here, and the way he used them.

    This is a cool track, and this very different album continues to surprise.

     
  12. Jamsterdammer

    Jamsterdammer The Great CD in the Sky

    Location:
    Málaga, Spain
    "My Experience"

    Hammill rocks the house with this one and proves himself a master of pop and new wave as well. Great song about a theme that is all to familiar for people in a long-term relationship.
     
  13. Tristero

    Tristero In possession of the future tense

    Location:
    MI
    "Breakthrough" is a moody, vaguely ominous way to kick off the album. I don't have any particular insights into the lyrics, though there's something spooky about the classroom scene conveyed with those minor tones. I particularly enjoy the sudden dramatic shift from the murky, bass driven textures of the verse to the more urgent refrain of the chorus. I don't know that I'd characterize this as "prog" so much as brooding art rock.

    With "My Experience", Hammill delivers a bracing rocker with crisp beat and a memorable hook. As we also heard on A Black Box, there seems to be a continuing theme on this album about the limitations of language and the deep fear of giving voice to difficult feelings. It's not surprising that this one would remain a staple of the K Group's live set.
     
    Mylene, Max Florian, mx20 and 5 others like this.
  14. ArpMoog

    ArpMoog Forum Resident

    Location:
    Detroit
    Hammillisms .....love it.
     
  15. Triops99

    Triops99 Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    Re "My Experience".....as on the Rockpalast K Group performance and others.....did we ever find out who Marilyn was?
     
  16. Putrifiers II

    Putrifiers II Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    My Experience

    Great pop attack! The aural equivalent of an early Godard film. Ah, new wave!
     
  17. mx20

    mx20 Enthusiast

    Location:
    Raleigh, NC
    This isn't ringing a bell for me... remind us about Marilyn?
     
  18. Triops99

    Triops99 Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    In the end chorus -
    "But I just can't stop it,
    why don't you tell me what's wrong?
    My heart goes like a rocket, the feeling's so strong.
    I just can't stop it, why don't you tell me what's wrong?
    Don't think about it too long."

    "I just cant stop it" is replaced by the name Marilyn - its on the Rockpalast K Group video and seems to have been the norm at most live shows at the time. I always wondered what Marilyn Monroe had done to upset him so much....

    Listen here -
     
  19. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Ophelia.

    That token drag on your cigarette,
    that well-known face in the fire...
    it could be someone you can't forget,
    someone you've learnt to admire.
    And it's strange how the feeling goes.
    All change -
    down the river Ophelia goes.

    You're treading water, the price is steep,
    you say you'll cope with it all;
    you've made some promises you can't keep,
    you throw yourself against the wall,
    you throw yourself against the wall.
    And it's strange...

    You heard a noise in the firegrate,
    you look to see who goes there -
    it's just the stranger, he's come too late
    and even he's unprepared
    to find the cupboard so bare
    And it's strange...
    down the river Ophelia goes.

    Writer Hammill
    Publisher ?

    So historically Ophelia is a young lady in Shakespeare's Hamlet, who goes insane due to Hamlet.
    Initially I wondered if this was going to be a cover of the song by the band, but clearly that was a silly thought....

    We open with these nice layered acoustic guitars and there is a slight chorus effect. This creates a really smooth and almost lush kind of sound and feel.
    We get some very restrained and beautifully used keyboards coming in underneath. They add some texture and nice little melodic augmentations that really help to keep this musically interesting and .... embracing... this has a rare sweet embrace kind of feel for a Hammill track.

    Lyrically I'm assuming this is somewhat Hammill's poetic interpretation of Shakespeare's Ophelia with the reference to "Down The River Ophelia Goes", as in the story she drowns.
    I am not well versed in Shakespeare, so beyond that I couldn't really say.

    This is a very sort of traditional more mellow third track, in keeping with what seems like a somewhat more commercial style of album so far for Hammill.
    and to me that is not a bad thing. I think it is important to explore all facets of music in order to get the best out of yourself.... and I like the songs so far.....

    The gentle bittersweet sound feel and delivery of this track works for me.

     
    Mylene, Max Florian, 100423 and 6 others like this.
  20. mx20

    mx20 Enthusiast

    Location:
    Raleigh, NC
    "Ophelia" is a gorgeous track. Love the keyboard work on this version. Live versions have much more power, yes, but none ever match the delicate beauty of the studio version.
     
  21. Jamsterdammer

    Jamsterdammer The Great CD in the Sky

    Location:
    Málaga, Spain
    "Ophelia"

    What a wonderful track. Yes, it embraces you in a kind of comforting melancholy. Surely "down the river Ophelia goes" refers to Hamlet and even more specifically to John Everett Millais' famous and quintessentially Pre-Raphaelite painting of Ophelia, with which Hammill was undoubtedly familiar (who isn't?):

    [​IMG]

    And this is exactly what comes to my mind when hearing this song.
     
  22. fRa

    fRa Conny Olivetti - Sound Alchemist

    Location:
    Sweden
    Ophelia.
    Classic song by Hammill. Love it.
     
  23. Putrifiers II

    Putrifiers II Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    Ophelia

    Gorgeous! This version is my favourite.
     
  24. Alien Reg

    Alien Reg Forum Resident

    Yes, Mark, I think The Band's "Ophelia" was a different lady.
     
  25. Alien Reg

    Alien Reg Forum Resident

    "Ophelia"... Mysterious song - I get the feeling someone's been dumped - "sold down the river?" But it could be Ophelia who's done the dumping, leaving him to stare at the fire. She's caught the train - "all change" - and moved on - Not sure who the "stranger" is though.
     

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