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H To He Who Am The Only One

Charisma/Virgin 2005

Van Der Graaf Generator have been enjoying a renaissance in 2005: new album, new tour dates, and a full blown exhumation of their Charisma catalogue, of which this, their second, marks a high-point in the band’s erratic yet pioneering career.

Hard on the heels of a confident and original debut, ‘The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other’, 1970’s ‘He To He – Who Am The Only One’ is extraordinary in how it marks true and swift progression.

Founded from an academic well-spring (Manchester University), this is a product of intelligence and construct, the band stepping up with a set that makes ‘Least We Can Do…’ positively paisley in comparison.

Darker, even more adventurous, angrier and edgier, VdGG opens the album with ‘Killer’. This early Hammill composition is a blasted dervish, his free-ranging voice overlaying a musical miasma of wailing sax, churning organ, hammering percussion that somehow retains shape and purpose even when seemingly, hopelessly out of control.

Having showcased the band’s individual and collective capabilities, ‘House With No Door’ brings us down to a quieter passage of trademark period Hammill melancholia, already evidenced on ‘Least We Can Do …’ and to come on his first Charisma solo album, ‘Fool’s Mate’, (also part of the reissue programme).

On, on, on to the epics. "The Emperor in His War Room’ (replete with fabulous guitar work from King Crimson’s Bob Fripp – a fan), and ‘Lost’ are episodic works unfurling differing yet related aspects of the band: once tender, the next all but ‘lost’ yet still retaining their architectural whole.

The album closes with the wonderful, sprawling ‘Pioneers Over C’, a 12-minute plus trip in science fiction, into the unknown, its uncertainty somehow prescient…

Exhausted by the sheer pace of developments, bassist Nic Potter abandons ship during the recordings, leaving organist Hugh Banton to pick up the rudimentaries of the instrument and make do with foot pedals when playing live.

And play they do: a whirlwind of international dates unfurls as word - by way of press acclaim and sales - travels. The material keeps coming, further recording beckons.

This excellent reissue brings us the original tapes, re-mastered with cogent booklet notes from Mark Powell, great period publicity shots, and bonus tracks running over 25 minutes in Squid 1/ Squid 2/ Octopus (a live favourite recorded at the time but unused until now), and an earlier take on ‘Emperor’.

‘He to He – Who am The Only One’ is a work of depth and richness by a musical force that out-ran the pack.


Review by Peter Muir

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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