Not a thing you see much - cover tunes of Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator songs. And since I have begun to learn about and appreciate the music of VDGG the last couple of years, I was very interested in how other musicians would treat those songs.
Before there was Parallel Or 90 Degrees, there was Gold Frankincense & Disk Drive, a two-piece consisting of Andy Tillison Diskdrive (vocals, keyboards, guitars, drums) and Guy Manning (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals). The project started in 1988, when Tillison lost his copy of VDGG's Godbluff album, he started to record the song Arrow from memory. Through the years, they recorded some more songs by Hammill and VDGG (well, written by Hammill anyway). In 1992, the results were released on a tape, together with two self-penned songs (the last two). Now this tape has been released on CD (well, back in 1999 that was, actually...). For this release, Tillison and Manning re-joined to record one more Hammill song (In The Black Room), so if you like the tape, you don't get just a CD issue of that probably by now worn-out tape, but also a bonus track!
With anticipation we (my girlfriend and I) put on this CD. Arrow is first. Of course, we immediately compared the music to the original. We didn't know what to expect, so it could be anything between one's weird interpretation and a serious attempt to a tribute. It was clear that the lever was set in the direction of the latter. Sounds nice, we thought. But when Tillison started to sing... the way he hits Hammill's original power is impressive. Not long after, I was listening to it without trying to compare. It was like a different version of the original. A modern version.
I can't compare Flight to its original, as A Black Box is
probably the only Hammill album we don't have. But I can say that this song is
definitely too long. The end is weird, and although I don't mind weird songs,
it's too much for this one. The other two Hammill songs are good. Yes, simply
As a bigger VDGG than Hammill fan, I prefer the first two songs, and especially Roncevaux is very good.
The album holds versions with a different approach towards the originals. On
the one hand there's Arrow. Freaking, haunting, menacing like VDGG. On
the other hand there's Modern (from Hammill's 1974 solo album The
Silent Corner And The Empty Stage). Tillison and Manning play this song
(originally played mostly on electric guitar only), and give it a VDGG
treatment. The intro is so Hammill - you instantly know what it is, even if you
don't know the song. The moments other instruments join in, it begins to start a
bit electronic. Modern, you can also say. The way Tillison sings the lyrics and
succeeds to create the atmosphere the original take you to, is really
impressive. He has a different voice alright, Hammill's voice is even more
tortured, frightened, and has a bit more air to press out of his lungs. But
never for one moment I got the urge to compare these versions to the original -
something I often have when listening to cover tunes.
The song is a bit longer than the original, made up by guitar improvisations. To me, these bits make the songs less interesting, but whenever the two musicians start to play again, more instruments join in, the music brings me back where we were before. It's not completely out of tune with the original VDGG way of making music, though!
The big difference between the original VDGG songs and these versions is the lack of saxophones. That instrument and the way it was played meant a great deal to VDGG's sound. Tillison and Manning had to use keyboards to reproduce that sound, and so it remains a bit artificial. But the power and enthusiasm with which the music is played makes up for a lot of this.
It is completely clear to me why there are such VDGG influences in PO90's music (see review above). He loves Hammill and VDGG! I do, too, and I really enjoy the treatment those songs got on this album. I'm going to hear this one a lot...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Jerry van Kooten