First of all, just to be clear, I have to say that the opinions and observations herer are my personal ones, rather than any kind of VdGG policy statement!
Those of you who follow http://www.sofasound.com (or indeed, any of the other information portals relating to VdGG) will by now be aware that we’ll be touring again in June, in Europe, and that a feature of these shows will be performances of “A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers”, the side-long piece from the 1971 album “Pawn Hearts”. This has only been played live a couple of times in the past; our early efforts to include it in our then set were fairly swiftly abandoned (as being, frankly, too difficult to pull off) but a version was captured for posterity by a Belgian TV show which more or less insisted we play it. We managed it, by recording the piece in two halves.
For every tour of the modern band, including the 2005 reunion version, we’ve been keen to put together sets which balance obvious choices with unexpected additions as well as brand new material. This was, we felt and feel, one way in which we could avoid falling into the trap of becoming in some way our own tribute band.
This particular ante was very much upped once we found ourselves as a trio in 2006. We established pretty quickly that we were capable of performing anything from the previous setlists, if in particularly wonky trio ways; also that our new identity would be best served by pressing forward at an increased rate. Paradoxically some of this onward motion was served by going back to, for example, “Meurglys III” and “Gog”. In my view the trio versions of these pieces have been as definitive as things get. We also immediately began the process of bedding in new material – at that time still unrecorded – and dropping old songs. So far, so VdGG.
The tours which followed the release of “Trisector” and “A Grounding in Numbers” saw the introduction of several pieces from these albums, as the composition of sets swung more and more towards present day work, though stuff from the past continued to prove challenging and satisfying to play as well.
It’s been a feature of these new recordings that the songs have been pretty snappy – only “Over the Hill” comes in around the ten minute mark. When we came to consider what to play in our North American tour of 2012 – and we wanted to have *some* difference in repertoire from our previous visit – we decided that a version of the old PH/K group piece “Flight” would be an interesting prospect. As a long-form, with some fairly fiendish passages, it seemed a natural fit for the trio line-up, as well as a proper challenge. Once again, I feel we’ve come up with some kind of benchmark performance here, to stand alongside the original recording, the K group efforts and, indeed, one somewhat bizarre duo performance which Brain and I rendered as a grand piano/percussion duo at an early WOMAD. Crucially, we did not announce in advance that we’d be doing “Flight”, although naturally the word went out almost as soon as the first notes had gone out in public. The rest of the sets continued in the usual random rotation, but it’s important to note that having a long piece at the heart of a show does produce a somewhat different architecture.
I don’t recall who first broached the idea of “Lighthouse-keepers” being in the frame for future work, but at some point during our touring in 2012 it became clear that the germ of the idea of attempting another -this – long-form was with us. At the tail end of last year, when we met to discuss what might be our future, in both broad and specific terms, we agreed that this would probably be the best way to go forward.
And so we find ourselves committed to the piece. Significantly, half of all the shows will be taken up by “Lighthouse-keepers” and “Flight” (the latter, of course, will be being played for the first time to European audiences.) This will certainly produce a different dynamic to any previous shows, which have always hadsomething of the same spiky shape whatever material we chose to play. It’s as well that audiences should know this in advance. It’s also, of course, a matter of some interest (we imagine) to the bulk of the audience that we should be attempting such an important and rarely performed piece from our past.
Of course, the fact that we’ve announced it means that we now *have* to give it a go….
We haven’t yet worked out exactly how we’re going to deal with the various speed bumps and chicanes which await us; but we’re confident that one way or another we’ll come through with a genuine, new, trio version.
It’s important to stress that we will *not* be attempting to emulate or recreate the exact sonics from the record; that would be both a fruitless and an impossible task. But there are some cracking tunes in there and I’m really looking forward to getting to grips with them.
Roll on June….