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My Prog Hero: Inspiring the wider music world…

Avatarium and Carptree’s keyboard player gets inspired by Van der Graaf Generator

“When I was a kid, I listened to Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and Pink Floyd, but it’s only been within the last few years that I’ve discovered Van der Graaf Generator.

It was through my friend Leif Edling, who writes all the music for Avatarium. He and Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth can spend hours discussing weird albums and VdGG came up when Leif showed me a photo of Mikael with Peter Hammill. We discussed their old albums and he ended up lending me live DVDs from the Godbluff tour in 1975. It just blew me away because their music has an intensity I don’t often hear.

The first album of theirs I heard was H To He, Who Am The Only One from 1970, but my favourite is Godbluff. It’s not over-complicated and Peter Hammill’s vocals are like a more intense David Bowie: I love the organs and choruses and everything. Their most famous song, A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers from Pawn Hearts, is a bit too weird and too demanding for my tastes, so that’s why H To He… and Godbluff are a bit easier to digest.

The undercover fan: Carl Westholm discovers there’s far more to VdGG than he initially thought.

The undercover fan: Carl Westholm discovers there’s far more to VdGG than he initially thought.

It’s funny because someone told me about Van der Graaf in the 80s and I remember watching some short clips on compilation videos with friends. When David Jackson started playing saxophone, we laughed and skipped to the next band. I didn’t get it at all, but now I actually prefer the saxophone line-up, rather than the one with Graham Smith’s violin. The very reason I dismissed them all those years ago is exactly why I like them now!

For many years, I was the king of digital keyboards and just stacked everything on top of itself. When we recorded Avatarium’s The Girl With The Raven Mask, I focused almost entirely on organ and my electric Fender Rhodes piano to create a bigger sound. That was something I learned from listening to Godbluff. Peter Hammill plays the clavinet almost throughout the whole thing, and nothing else. I hadn’t thought of creating textures with so few instruments before so that inspired me.”

Avatarium’s The Girl With The Raven Mask is out now via Nuclear Blast. See

Natasha Scharf

Dark prog (and chocolate) fan Natasha has been a Prog regular since 2009. News Editor between 2014 and 2019, now Deputy Editor, she is the only member of the team to have appeared on Prog's cover.