❉ This is an expansive, career-spanning set, with a few rarities thrown in for good measure, writes James R Turner.
“If this is Van Der Graaf Generator’s final hurrah on the English stage, then this is a worthy testament to their long and varied career, and one that shows them taking their final bow in the quiet dignified manner which they have conducted their entire career.”
I had been waiting for this concert for a long time. Originally scheduled for May 2020 it was postponed three times, until March 2022 when I finally got to see one of my favourite progressive bands live for the first time ever on a rainy English night in Bath, at the magnificent Bath Forum. This concert is rumoured to be Van Der Graaf Generator’s last concert on English soil, and if so, it was the perfect way to bow out after over 50 years of existence.
The band, now a power trio of Peter Hamill (vocals, keyboard, guitars) Guy Evans (drums, percussion) and Hugh Banton (organ, bass pedals) put on a sterling performance that treated the discerning audience to an expansive career spanning set, with a few rarities thrown in for good measure.
Lavishly packaged in a four-disc box containing the entire concert over two discs, the complete live film of the night on either DVD or Blu-ray in 5.1 mixed by esteemed producer Steven W Taylor, ‘The Bath Forum Concert’ highlights the complexity and skill that these three experienced musicians bring to their work.
The concert had no support band, instead Van Der Graaf Generator played two sets with an interval in the middle, and this split is reflected in the running order over both discs, clocking in at over 1hr 50 minutes of music.
There are no conceptual stage sets, no pyrotechnics, no gimmicks, just three talented musicians working hard, coordinating with each other and the music.
Hamill has always been a marmite vocalist, (included amongst his admirers is John Lyden) and has never been a conventional progressive rock vocalist or lyricist, focusing very much on writing about reality and how he sees the world and whilst his voice is older than it was, it has still lost none of its power. H is lyrics are as sharp as ever, sadly also relevant – particularly on Every Bloody Emperor (originally written in 2005 about the second Gulf War) and now introduced here, shortly after Putin invaded Ukraine, as something they had to play.
In fact there were plenty of treats from the band’s later career as a trio, including material from their last studio album, 2016’s Do Not Disturb, and the air of melancholy and reminiscence that hangs over the album is present in the wonderful tracks that came to life in their performances. Go, Alfa Berlina and Room 1210 were all received with great applause by the audience, who really were lost in the music.
The audience were also treated to such classics as A Louse Is Not A Home, La Rossa, Childlike Faith in childhoods End and the closing power of House With No Door, which ended the show with a standing ovation from the audience, who really enjoyed what they saw.
These intricate and complex works were revised and revisited as pieces that worked really well in the trio format, and the band were absolutely in tune with each other, as one of my friends on the night said, we’ve paid good money to watch three old men watch each other – as they were waiting for the cues that would lead into such musical mastery.
Hamill when playing guitar in his unique style always looks like a man whose surprised to be holding an electric guitar and his style is in keeping with the band’s sound, there were no soloists here, no ‘look at me’ ego on display – this was a well-oiled musical ensemble performance, anchored by Evans’ skills (he is one of the prog scenes most underrated drummers – and also one of the best) and Banton on the organ fleshing out the sound and working in tandem with Hamill’s keyboard work.
The DVD brings out the intricacies of the performance and watching it takes me right back there to that night in Bath, the last live concert I saw (and the last one for the foreseeable) and one of the finest nights of live music I have ever had the pleasure to experience.
If this is Van Der Graaf Generator’s final hurrah on the English stage, then this is a worthy testament to their long and varied career, and one that shows them taking their final bow in the quiet dignified manner which they have conducted their entire career.
This is a classic in the tradition of the live album, and like the band is focused purely on the music and the performance, and makes every moment, every space between the notes and every lyric count.
We will not see their like again.
❉ Van Der Graaf Generator: “The Bath Forum Concert” (Esoteric Recordings EANTCD41093) 4-Disc (2CD, Blu Ray & DVD) Box Set was released 10 March 2023 by Cherry Red Group, RRP £37.99. Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.
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