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Van Der Graaf Generator: After The Flood: At The BBC 1968-1977

VdGG at the BBC on double CD.

After The Flood collates all the recordings made by Van der Graaf Generator for Auntie Beeb during their eventful but hugely productive first decade, from the nascent brilliance of Peter Hammill’s earliest songs through to the jaw-shattering clangour of the mid 70s Van der Graaf line-up, via studio sessions – most notably for the legendary John Peel – and live performances, all of which combine to celebrate the remarkable bravery and maturity of the true unsung heroes of British prog.

Those early psychedelic wanderings, as captured for the (sort of) first VdGG album The Aerosol Grey Machine, showcase Hammill’s burgeoning talents without ever quite crossing over into the flat-out genius of the later years; the beautiful Afterwards and the almost comically gothic Necromancer sounding wonderfully primitive and full of melodramatic oomph. But from a glistening and turbulent Darkness (recorded for Radio 1’s Top Gear in 1970) onwards, this is a sustained examination of what happens when inordinately gifted young musicians put pedal to metal and roar off into the creative unknown with no safety net. An early reading of Man-Erg, less precise and methodical than the eventual Pawn Hearts version, crackles with electrified intent, involuntarily tethered to the progressive rock bandwagon but by no means in thrall to its blueprint. (That this was conjured by men in the early 20s still boggles the mind.) Predictably, the Peel sessions are the real gems here; exquisite versions of Refugees, The Sleepwalkers and a particularly fiery Scorched Earth more than matching their album-dwelling counterparts and sounding somehow more momentous and untamed. It all ends with a potted Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers, captured for Peel in ’77, that is as intense and grotesque as anything the punk rock scene was spawning, not to mention vastly more complex and fearless. For anyone who worships at the VdGG altar, this is an unmissable exercise in plundered archives and revived magic.