As ready as I’ll ever be….

The car’s packed, though doubtless I’ll have forgotten something or other as usual. Travelling light this time: my guitar amps are out of their flightcases and I’ll be using HB’s piano rather than my own for the next four days. It’s off to Birmingham and VdGG rehearsals ahead of the upcoming North American tour.

Bit by bit over the last month I’ve been going over the repertoire, reacquainting myself with some fiendishly complicated stuff. It’s been a luxury to have time at my disposal and I’ve attempted to be pretty thorough this time. At the outset of any rehearsal period HB usually sends me a spreadsheet of what we’re proposing to play, with boxes to tick, one to five, against each song as competence gradually returns. Working away by myself I never actually feel that I’ve hit a note-perfect five on any of this stuff and that’s been the case this time as well. It’ll be easier, though, once we’re actually in a room together and muscle memory and the imperative of getting to the end of the song kick in.

I have now got a really authoritative set of crib sheets. Anyone who’s seen me in the past few years, solo or with the band, will know that I come on stage with a whole sheaf of papers to help my aged brain stay on track. In solo concerts that’s often because there are simply so many songs on the available list that I’m in great need of memory jolt for the ones chosen on any given night, especially those which are newest in the repertoire. In a VdGG set there’s so much going on (on stage and in my hands and head) that I need the security blanket of an authoritative lyric and music set close to hand.

I’ve been accumulating different sheets as the tours have gone by, sometimes with conflicting information and scrabbled amendments. The sheets have usually contained full sets of lyrics as well, which is not necessarily the most helpful of things. It takes up a lot of space for one thing, so that some songs have stretched over three or more sheets of paper. As well as that, it can be hard to grasp in a moment of panic (which would be when I’d go to the sheet of course) where I should be looking on the page. So I’ve taken the opportunity to write down only key words and phrases and have also, diligently, I hope, distilled the musical information down to the essential. I hope this is going to work!

Of course I don’t read or write music, so the musical clues are often arcane and in my own secret language. Well, not so secret within the band, I suppose: our cue sheets are littered with such instructions as pianopianoFortyfour, Beastroutefour, two times, one and a half, one times one and so on. These are the locks around which we attempt to navigate and we’ve got to be clear about what we mean….

Well, that’s the kind of thing we’ll be engaged in for the next few days; hoping that our respective notes and memories still marry up. And then, of course, trying to kick in the muscle memory to actually play the things. Fun, but hard work; actually playing a set is much less arduous, if only because whatever mistakes you make (hands up!) you’re going to plough on, somehow, to the end regardless. But if we get close by the end of this stint we’ll be happy, -ish. In any event this part of the process involves only the three of us, so any shameful meltdowns of mental or physical capacity will be kept – and forgiven – in house. Oh, there’ll definitely be some of those!

It’s a particularly long run-in to these nine shows this time. Last week we (band and crew) had our appointment at Grosvenor Square to have our US visas ratified. Always something of a stressful moment as nothing is certain until that formality’s been cleared. There was then the slightly nervous wait for the passports to show up at our respective homes; they came speedily this time, happily. Now our rehearsals and then all the gear gets picked up from us the week after next. We’ll hope (!) to see it again in Bethlehem PA where we’ll have a final rehearsal (in a pretty lagged state, doubtless) the day before the Nearfest performance. And then we’ll be on our way and doubtless everything will go past in a blur for the next fortnight.

Very exciting: short, intense bursts of activity, that’s the modern VdGG way and we still seem to be thriving on it.

Brain frazzle ahoy and incoming….


23 Comments on “As ready as I’ll ever be….”

  1. Jocelyn Bourdages says:

    My seat’s reserved in Montreal’s PdA, and I just have another month wait…
    Be sure to bring some of the the latest CDs because it’s always a little long and arduous to get them, over here…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wish I were there!
    Much love to you and the band.
    patricia from Argentina

  3. Ian Beabout says:

    I look forward to seeing you in Bethlehem! Hope to pick up the new album at the show.

  4. Good luck for the whole tour! I will be listening to AGIN and some older stuff and stay here in Germany and will have a summer work stressfest.

  5. willy vlyminck says:

    I wish you all an exciting tour. If you ever consider to bring “Usher” live, you need to talk to the people of the band Aranis who play at Nearfest just before VDGG. They are musicians with conservatorium education, so they can play a score, wich saves money on rehearsals. As singers I would suggest Dagmar Krause and Mike Patton. I know you are playing only VDGG tunes, but if you want to make an exeption, play also Scissors, wich could be a great VDGG song as well. I hope there are plans for touring in Europe too?…

    • Erez says:

      “Usher” with a chamber ensemble with Patton and Dagmar Krause as singers? I would spare a kidney or two to see that…
      (Also – Hugh Banton on church organ and Chris Judge Smith as The Herbalist 🙂 )

  6. jaytausig says:

    ahhhhrrhhhh….no West Coast shows!!!….sad. My moving to California was maybe not the best of ideas, if for that reason alone. Have a great tour, I wish I could make it to one of these shows, but i don’t think it will be possible. All the best Peter, “Consequences” is wonderful BTW…

  7. Stuart says:

    Im living in LA – disappointed !! If you want a tour let me know. Im certain you will find an audience. I have an American boss here who is a long term Vdgg fan.

  8. Kevin M Flaherty says:

    Ahh good to se that Peter and the boys are once again out on the road. There is so much mundane music thrust upon us. It is trully good to know that real music, (not Adeleasized), still exiats. God speed to all involved. May your sojorus be profitable Peace Kevin

  9. Erez says:

    Hey, Peter, did you polish your dance moves?:
    http://www.vividseats.com/concerts/van-der-graaf-generator-tickets.html
    (MUST read the show description 😛 )

  10. May I suggest some paperweight/clips too – as when VdGG thundered their thang at the Manchester Academy last year – your crib sheets cascaded like confetti from your keyboard.

    I’ve got to admit – as a regular death metal / punk / grindcore / gig / attendee / guitarist, I am used to wall of noise-style vibrations – Guy’s drums were soooooo acoustically percussive, that, as an audience member at the front of the stage – adjacent to your keyboard, every pedal kick and snare made my trousers flap furiously as if I were in a wind tunnel.

    It was fantastic of course. Exactly the kind of visceral loudness that I need at a live gig, to satisfy my particular decibel criterion, and then some, on a wave / particle level of clothing rearrangement and bass level intestinal platitudes.

    But it also put paid to your crib notes!

    Your tour crew, mind, were impressively fast to collect them from the floor in a brisk shuffle – but forearmed is forewarned. To quote, well… you!

    Have a ball on tour – you are playing to every artist’s dream – fans who aren’t mindless!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Wish we were there!

  12. Bill says:

    Much as I’d love to see you in Chicago, I was grateful to see you there a few years ago. That said, I do wish you’d done a few impromptu lines of “I Smile Like Chicago!” 🙂

  13. Henry Miller says:

    So it was true…Mr. Hammill can’t read/write music…Is it a disadvantage?

    • Bill says:

      I think it’s not that unusual that he can’t read/write traditional musical notation. Phil Collins apparently doesn’t, either. Other proggers who don’t? (I suspect it’s a long list!) I think it’s not uncommon in jazz, either. I recall Art Blakey couldn’t (more common w/drummers?).

  14. Clive Norman says:

    Good luck to Peter and the guys… I wish I could be there…

  15. Len says:

    I hope all three of you and the crew have a good time, I wish i could fly over there just to see a gig The last time I saw VdGG was in Paradiso Amsterdam (2007) my home town. Luckily that was recorded and brought out on DVD, which is a great memento\monument for me.
    Have fun and good luck
    Len

  16. Anonymous says:

    How come you’re not playing th Cow Palace in Abilene?

  17. Kevin says:

    Good luck and all that for a successful tour!

  18. sfrattare@frontiernet,net says:

    Well am looking forward to another performance in Buffalo, NY! With all the planning, might be too late to make a suggestion, but if it’s not, then how about opening with Black Smoke Yen / Aquarian (now I think Black Smoke Yen segues into Aquarian…or whatever piece that might be)…

    Steve

  19. Good luck! Hope I’ll manage to grab one of the US occasions, or maybe a Canadian one.


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