vdgg still life lrg

Van der Graaf Generator – Still Life (Cherry Red Records)

Starting with probably one of the coolest names in music and a play on words is Van der Graaf Generator. The English prog-rock band, formed in 1967 in Manchester by singer-songwriters Peter Hamill and Chris Judge Smith, are responsible for releasing 13 albums between 1969 and 2016. What I’m listening to here is 1976’s Still Life, an album recorded at Rockfield Studios and borne out of sessions that were recorded for 1975’s Godbluff album. So productive were these sessions that two tracks recorded, ‘Pilgrims’ and ‘La Rossa’, would go on to form part of Still Life.

That album commences with one of those tracks – ‘Pilgrims’ is filled with what I can only describe as a majesty suggesting a headmaster. In my mind, this headmaster is wearing a full gown, although being born in the late 60s, perhaps one who went on too many trips during his education, and appears like Syd Barrett playing a Farfisa organ, his gown now psychedelic. That Farfisa is rich in tone and played by keyboardist Hugh Banton, the accompanying drums provided by Guy Evans, supplying an incredible cage on which the song sits. The title track that follows is gorgeous, beginning as a church organist might, although performed quite flat and with minimal reverberation that might suggest its surroundings. Hamill’s vocals are presented to the listener clean and precise, with occasional phrases bursting from the speakers with vibrant colour, these otherwise different to its plain canvas. I’m hearing vocal similarities to Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, where certain vocal passages are emboldened, as text might be on a printed page, providing gravity.

The album is short in content, just 5 tracks, although, at 46 minutes, this content is as a single LP would have been back in the day. ‘La Rossa’ follows, a track that again begins with orchestral tones, then a wild-eyed Hamill begins this tale in a magical voice, “Lacking sleep and food, and vision, here I am again, encamped upon your floor…”, and it appears that the exuberance of the late 60s still runs in the vocalists’ veins. The tale continues with Benton’s keyboard runs matching every beat of Evan’s percussion. What follows is a surprise, as a jazz tone joins the party, as ‘My Room (Waiting for Wonderland)’ begins. Here wind instruments match the vocalist note-for-note until soaring high, with a bass guitar run closing this track, before another possessing Krautrock tendencies rounds things off.

‘Childlike Faith in Childhood’s End’ is that number and seems fitting that it should close the album. With a downcast vocal from Hamill telling the tale, he muses “…somehow there must be more…”. Then, again with woodwind matching each tone of the vocalist, he changes his presentation to one that Chris Cornell would’ve been proud of. I would never have thought that leaving VdGG would have put me in mind of Soundgarden, but that’s the strange tapestry offered here, as ‘Rusty Cage’ was where I ended up and I can certainly see why this album was considered one of their finest.

This sixth album from VdGG is released in the form of an edition remastered from the original tapes, cut at Abbey Road Studios and comes with fully restored artwork. If you were ever unsure of the term prog-rock, have an inquisitive urge and a record deck, then give this one a spin, as you sit back and enjoy this trip down memory lane.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.