NO MORE TRAVELLING CHESS
Originally 'No More Travelling Chess' was released on
cassette back in 1992 under the band name of 'Gold, Frankincense
and Diskdrive', a collaboration between Andy Tillison Diskdrive
and Guy Manning. Due to popular demand the album has
finally been re-released in CD format and, as an added bonus,
the track 'Black Room' has been added. The other obvious
change is that the band name has been changed to that of
Parallel of 90 Degrees which is Andy's current band and one
which is probably better known to a lot of people.
The somewhat strange title, 'No More Travelling Chess' is
actually a direct quote from the Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf
Generator fame) song 'In the End' which featured on his 1972
album 'Chamelon in the Shadow of the Night'. This is very
apt since for the most part this CD contains re-workings of
Hammill songs taken from the the period 1972-75, except 'Flight'
which is from 1980. In contrast the last two tracks are
original compositions credited to Tillison and Manning
Apparently the idea that spawned this album was not initially
any great desire to attempt to create a 'tribute' album.
It seems that Andy Tillison having lost his copy of the VdGG
album 'Godbluff' set about making a recording of the track
'Arrow' from memory, and at a later date while looking for
inspiration for a project to work on he and Guy Manning decided
to record some additional Hammill tracks.
It is true to say that Hammill has long been regarded by many
as a leading exponent in the field of progressive music, and
those familiar with his work will already be aware of the
passion and unique style with which he delivers his material.
Having been fortunate enough to see Hammill perform with Van der
Graaf Generator back in the seventies, my first thought was that
any attempt to emulate the man must surely be an act of folly,
but having listened to 'NMTC' I must say the end result is
The recordings here are not hollow imitations of the
originals, Tillison and Manning have managed to capture what I
can best describe as an essence of the best aspects of the
Hammill over the years, and used it here in concentrated format
to bring out vibrant up to date performances of some classic
material. If you actually play the original recordings
side by side with these they are very different, but in some
perverse way this album almost sounds more like Peter Hammill
than the man himself.
In the discussion of the tracks that follows I have included
the title of the original album on which the song first
appeared, along with the year of issue.
First up then is 'Arrow' ('Godbluff' 1975), the track that is
really responsible for the whole affair, and arguably coming
from the zenith of VdGG's career. The music and vocals are
very up beat and the delivery shows a potency and enthusiasm
that is infectious.
In contrast 'Roncevaux' ('Time Vaults' 1972), is a much
slower paced piece, which is tinged with melancholy. The
track is perhaps a less well known one, and is based on the
story of Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, who died in the battle
of Roncevaux in the 8th century and who was immortalised a few
hundred years later in the epic 'Song of Roland'.
'Flight' ('A Black Box' 1980) is for me the real masterpiece
on the album and is something that many of the current crop of
neo-prog bands could probably learn a trick or two from.
With a run time of nearly twenty minutes this really has
something of everything - with plenty of changes of mood, pace
and tempo throughout. Again the track has very superb
vocals which effortlessly range between low, soft delivery
through to powerful hard hitting sections. Similarly the
instrumentation is full of rich texture which is sometimes in
quite stark contrast to the often sparse sounding original.
At the risk of heresy, and I never thought I'd say it, I
actually prefer the version here!
Next up is 'Modern' ('The Silent Corner of the Empty Stage' -
1974), which I have to say is not a track I have ever been
overly keen on. From what I can tell this is true to the
spirit of the original with hard edged guitar sounds cutting in
right from the edge and remaining with the listener throughout.
The track does not give so much vocal scope and the
instrumentation seems to border at times on an almost
experimental sound - undoubtedly an interesting performance.
As already mentioned 'In the Black Room' ('Chameleon in the
Shadow of the Night' 1972) is a previously unreleased track that
has been included on the CD issue. The recording covers
parts 1 & 2 of the song and also includes 'The Tower'.
This is another track that plunges headlong between soft and
hard sections, and again the vocals range from quiet gentle
phrases to periods of almost manic intensity. The addition
of backing vocals is a nice touch and the saxophone feel that
has been achieved, presumably with keyboards, adds some nice
The first of the original pieces featured is 'Advance' which
was written by Andy Tillison. This starts out with a very
up tempo rhythm and the musical style follows on very nicely
from what has gone before - it integrates well with the
preceding songs and if you are not familiar with any of the
music it's hard to hear the join. The music uses very nice
contrasts between piano and guitar which are very apparent in
the early stages. The main vocal line is perhaps not
always as strong as it might have been, but there is a harsh
edge to the sound that certainly adds character, backing vocals
had some nice harmonics but are far too limited in terms of
Finally we arrive at the closing track 'Evolutionary Status
Quo' by Guy Manning. This track takes a different approach
making great use of acoustic guitars, with a hard vigorous
playing style in support of the punchy vocals ... a great track
with which to conclude matters.
There will no doubt be purists who do not like the idea of an
album of what they regard as simply cover versions but, as a
long time VdGG / Hammill fan myself, I would strongly urge other
fans to give this a try - you won't regret it! For
the rest of our readers, not already familiar with this music, I
would recommend the CD as an ideal starting point if you are
curious about finding out more about either Hammill or Parallel
or 90 Degrees.
Simon 15th January 2001