An English progressive rock band active throughout the late sixties and parts of the seventies. Van der
Graaf Generator (the misspelling of Van de Graaff generator being accidental) were famous, or infamous depending on your opinion of overblown rock music, for their
love of dissonance and their almost total lack of guitar. The band, for the most part, ditched the seminal six-stringed
instrument of rock, preferring a unique saxophone/organ interplay. Along with the outstanding vocals of
singer and band leader Peter Hammill, this interplay defined VdGG's sound until 1977. Almost every one of
the few guitar passages on their albums was provided by guest guitarist Robert Fripp, from fellow progressive
outfit King Crimson.
As was the case with many progressive rock bands, Van der Graaf Generator’s lineup has had a "revolving
door" character. Many members have come and gone in the band's history, with Peter Hammill as the only
constant. VdGG was founded in 1967 by Hammill and college friends Nick Pearne and Chris Judge
Smith, none of who played the bass. The following year, Hugh Banton replaced Pearne on organ, and Keith
Ellis joined on bass guitar. Guy Evans replaced Smith on drums, and in 1970 David Jackson introduced the
saxophone to the band's sound. Finally, Nic Potter replaced Ellis on bass. Many fans consider the
Hammill/Banton/Jackson/Potter/Evans 1970-72 band to be VdGG's classic lineup, having recorded the underground
classics H To He Who Am The Only One (I know, weird name) and Pawn Hearts.
Partly because of their bizarre sound and Peter Hammill's sometimes ranting, nonsense-seeming lyrics, VdGG never
achieved the commercial success of prog-rock contemporaries such as Yes, ELP and Genesis. Hammill's strange lyrical
imagery dominated many of the band's albums, in particular those made in the 1975-76 period after a three-year
break-up. On albums such as H To He and Pawn Hearts, the music matches with the nature of Hammill's lyrics.
The mostly eight minute plus pieces on these albums contain wailing, paranoid saxophone solos and convoluted band
passages that twist from the main riff of the song, meander and mutate, sometimes not even returning to the original
riff or melody. For these reasons, VdGG was often accused of writing music that was weird for the sake of weird
in place of having substance. Despite these criticisms, the band maintained a steady cult following throughout the
1970's and gained some commercial success in Italy.
The band also went through several stylistic changes. Their debut album, The Aerosol Grey Machine, came out
before the "progressive" movement really began, and it shared more in common with older art-rock albums by
groups such as Procol Harum. After the dissonant, complex 70-72 period and the subsequent break-up and reunion
in 1975, the music became more minimal, taking a back seat to Peter Hammill's vocals and lyrics
(although World Record is something of an anomaly, being considered one of their most musically developed albums.) In 1977, Hammill
decided he didn't like the direction VdGG had taken with World Record, changed parts of the lineup and renamed
the band to "Van der Graaf". Replacing Jackson's saxophone with a violin, the band went on for one more studio album and one of the most cacophonic live albums ever recorded
until it fell apart in 1978. A second brief reunion took place in 2005, one that most people were not expecting.
From then, VdGG has reconvened and continued on, once again losing David Jackson on saxophone in 2006.