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Or 90 Degrees: No More Travelling Chess
I'm too young to remember Van Der Graaf Generator. I only 'discovered' rock music in 1976. All my compatriots had gone for punk, and I guess this was left someone in the cold with my new music. So, I listened to what I find. Genesis and Pink Floyd were first on the list, Yes were unheard of until 1977when they released Going For The One. And gems like Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator were never unearthed. And to make it worse for any Hammill fans out there. Back in 1982 or '83, Hammill was touring in support of Marillion (which is probably very offensive to the Hammill fans reading this). I saw the gig, but didn't bother turning up to see Hammill, staying in the pub with my mates for an extra pint or two instead. Philistine or what!
So, when Parallel Or 90 Degrees release a CD of their version so five Hammill tracks together with two of their own in the same style, this is all very new for me. Indeed, when I first put No More Travelling Chess on the CD player I assumed it was the new PO90 CD - and was rather surprised that they had decided to go for such a retro sound after Afterlifecyle and The Time Capsule. To be honest I was a little disappointed because it does sound very dated...
Of course is does. It should - these are songs Peter Hammill wrote between 11 and 19 years ago! Also, as I read the accompanying sleeve notes (very date and dated themselves), I discovered that this is what PO90 were before they were PO90 (if you get the drift). Actually they - Andy Tillson and Guy Manning - were known as Gold, Frankincense and Disk Drive before they went for the more commercially acceptable (?) Parallel Or 90 Degrees! Why Andy insists of incorporating the word 'Disk Drive' into all his names, I still don't know! Much of No More Travelling Chess was on GFDD's debut release in 1992. Now nine years later, Andy and Guy have taken these tracks, re-worked a few other Hammill tracks and delivered it to Cyclops Records where it has emerged as No More Travelling Chess.
The opening track that I wasn't that impressed with is Arrow. This was Andy's first VDGG cover, originally recorded from memory. It is a good up-beat song and although it sounds very dated - and was possibly not the best track to use as the opener of the album - it has grown on me quite a lot after a few playings. Next up is Roncevaux which was the only Hammill track I was at all familiar with prior to hearing this CD - although I didn't know it was Peter Hammill! And this IS a good version - although obviously I don't know how any of these compare to the originals.
By Flight, the album is really rocking along. Actually listening to this, I can here some of the influences Andy has used on PO90 albums. And also, I can see that whereas I always likened the PO90 sound to how I imagined VDGG to sound like - I was quite wrong. This has quite a different sound altogether - truly Seventies prog, not at all how PO90 sound! Whereas the first three tracks are classy songs, Modern has much more hammer and tongs fretwork in it. It loses its way in the middle a bit before Guy leaps into a storming guitar solo. Whether that is how it should be or not, I don't know, but this version works for me! In The Black Room is the new track, a re-working that Andy and Guy produced last year specifically for this CD. Of all the tracks, this is the least accessible, showing Hammill's stunning compositional skills. And of course the guys play it superbly!
Along with the first four Hammill-penned tracks, the GFDD cassette contained two original tracks - Andy's Advance and Guy's Evolutionary Status Quo. These are two stunning songs that for me are the highlights of this CD. Advance is a brilliant piece that showcases the guy's instrumentation brilliantly - and is a real forerunner to PO90's current releases; the best track on the CD in my opinion. Evolutionary Status Quo shows Guy's more acoustic approach to composition. I've still not sussed out Guy's style - his two releases are quite different, and this doesn't help much. Aggressive vocals overlaying acoustic guitars with Andy adding surreal and ambient effects in the background. This is less immediate, but grew on me over time.
Once again, Andy and Guy come up with something special. This obviously isn't cutting edge prog for the Nineties. Neither is it another one of those 'tribute' albums where a bunch of bands get to murder their favourite track by their favourite bands in the name of tributation. I guess this is REAL tribute album - Andy and Guy really playing their favourite tracks by their favourite composer for no other reason than they want to. I mean, how more complimentary can you get! And for plebs like me, who haven't heard the originals, this will do almost as well.
No More Travelling Chess (CYCL 086) is released on Cyclops Records. You can contact Cyclops at 33a Tolworth Park Road, Tolworth, Surrey KT6 7RL, UK; tel: +44 (0)181-339-9965, fax: +44 (0)181-399-0070; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out the Cyclops/GFT website at http://www.gft-cyclops.co.uk. For more information about Parallel or 90 Degrees, check out their website at http://www.deltamonsoon.demon.co.uk.or Guys at http://www.burnsidesystems.demon.co.uk