|Studio album by|
|Van der Graaf Generator chronology|
Pawn Hearts is the fourth album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator, released in October 1971 on Charisma Records. The original album features just three tracks, including the side-long suite "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". The album was not commercially successful in the UK, but reached number one in Italy. It has since seen retrospective critical praise and was reissued on CD in 2005 with extra material.
The songs for the album were worked out while on tour in 1971, with further development and arranging at manager Tony Stratton-Smith's house in Crowborough, Sussex over a two-month period. The original plan had been to release more material, making up a double album, but Charisma vetoed the idea. A non-album single, "Theme One" was included on some releases in the US and Canada. The album's strong commercial showing in Italy resulted in a number of lucrative promotional tours there, but the resulting pressure led to the band's split in August 1972.
By 1971, Van der Graaf Generator's line-up had stabilised as frontman and songwriter Peter Hammill, saxophonist David Jackson, organist and bassist Hugh Banton and drummer Guy Evans. The group had been gigging extensively and became close friends after a particularly gruelling tour of Germany.Hammill wrote "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" during the tour, and the group began performing "Man-Erg" towards its end. To alleviate the tedium of touring, the group invented games including "Crowborough Tennis" which involved bouncing a ball off a table, a photograph of which was eventually used as the inner sleeve for the album.
Following the tour and in preparation for the album, Hammill invited producer John Anthony to his home, where Hammill played songs intended for the album unaccompanied on acoustic guitar and piano, allowing Anthony to take recording notes."Man Erg" was written about the conflict between good and evil, represented as "angels" and "killers" in the song. "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" was inspired by Hammill's fascination with the sea, and the narrative is about a lighthouse keeper who keeps seeing people die offshore. He feels guilty about not being able to help, and the song's ending is left open, leaving the listener to decide if the keeper has committed suicide or rationalised events to live in peace. Banton was against putting "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" on the album, wanting more commercial material such as the previous album H to He, Who Am the Only One's "Killer", but after a band meeting he agreed to rehearse the song and worked out an arrangement. The group moved to manager Tony Stratton-Smith's house, Luxford House, Crowborough, Sussex for two months in summer 1971 to rehearse material.
Recording ran from July to September 1971 in Trident Studios. In addition to the band and Anthony, Robin Cable, David Hentschel and Ken Scott helped with engineering. The first tracks to be recorded were "Theme One", a cover of the George Martin composition used as the original closing theme to BBC Radio 1, and "W", which was ultimately left off the album.The music, particularly "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" was recorded in short sections between two and five minutes, which were later edited together. In addition to Hammill's original suite, Banton contributed the "Pictures/Lighthouse" section, an Olivier Messiaen-influenced organ piece, Evans wrote "Kosmos Tours" around a short piano riff, and Jackson wrote the music to the closing theme, "We Go Now". The piece was edited together by Banton and Anthony towards the end of the session. Banton used an effect called a "psychedelic razor", a customised tape recorder that could rewind and record simultaneously. The device appealed to the band's sense of humour. At one stage, every tape machine in the studio had to be used for mixing.
The album was originally conceived as a double album similar to Pink Floyd's Ummagumma (1969). The first half was made up of the album as released, while the second was to be divided between personal projects and live-in-studio versions of older Van der Graaf Generator songs such as "Killer" and "Octopus".Evans contributed an avant-garde piece, "Angle of Incidents" which featured drums being recorded backwards and the sound of a fluorescent lighting tube being dropped down the studio's stairs. Jackson recorded "Ponker's Theme'", a short jazz piece, and a longer piece, "Archimedes Agnostic", with Latin lyrics written by Hammill. Charisma ultimately felt that the group should simply release a single album, and vetoed the live and solo recordings.
The album's title came from a spoonerism by Jackson, who once said, "I'll go down to the studio and dub on some more porn harts", meaning "horn parts".The cover was designed by regular Charisma album artist Paul Whitehead, who was told by Hammill, "no matter if you're a king, a pauper or whatever – you're a pawn" which led to a design containing the earth and a curtain. The inner gatefold picture was taken by Keith Morris and featured the band playing Crowborough Tennis while appearing to give Nazi salutes to each other, though Banton later said this was simply the band attempting to look ridiculous in the vein of Monty Python.
The album was originally released in October 1971 on Charisma Records.In the US and Canada, the album was distributed via Buddah Records and contained "Theme One" as an extra track between "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg", which was done without the band's approval. In Europe, where Pawn Hearts only contained the three tracks, "Theme One" was released as a single in February 1972, with "W" as its B-side.
When the Van der Graaf Generator catalogue was remastered for reissue in 2005, several of the tracks from the missing half of the album were found and added as bonus tracks. A live, in-studio version of "Squid/Octopus" was added to the H to He, Who Am the Only One reissue, while the Pawn Hearts reissue added "Angle of Incidents", "Ponker's Theme", and "Diminutions".The CD also contained the original mix of "Theme One", which is different to the one released as a single, and an earlier take of "W". "Theme One" was also released on the 2003 compilation CD The Best Prog Rock Album in the World... Ever.
The album was not commercially successful in the UK. A Record Mirror review said "I have to confess complete ignorance of precisely what Van der Graaf Generator are trying to achieve",though Melody Maker were more enthusiastic, saying "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is one of the most fascinating and dramatic items I've ever heard". However, the album reached number one on the Italian album charts. The group toured Italy to promote the album, where they were treated like superstars and surrounded by army vehicles and riot police. They followed this with a short European tour, during which they filmed a live version of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" for Belgian television. The production took two hours to film as the band had not intended to perform the song live and had forgotten it. The resulting film shows Hammill singing the song while reading a lyric sheet. Regular tours of Europe followed over the next four months, but the strain of the workload became too much for the band, and they split up in August 1972.
Retrospective reviews have been favourable. Q magazine called the album a "misunderstood masterpiece"while Mojo said it was "one of the most extraordinary albums of its era". Singer-songwriter Fish is a fan of the album, particularly of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". Julian Cope has called the album "a masterpiece". Hammill has said, "although a fairly extreme musical statement, [the album] contains some of our most cohesive work".
Though "Theme One" did not chart as a single in the UK, John Peel replaced Martin's original orchestral version with the group's before closing down Radio 1 each night. The BBC subsequently carried on using Van der Graaf Generator's version. Martin enjoyed the group's cover, calling it "a powerful recording that respected the original".
All tracks are written by Peter Hammill, except where indicated.
|1.||"Lemmings (Including 'Cog')"||11:35|
|2.||"Theme One" (only on original US and Canada releases )||George Martin||2:55|
|1.||"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" ||Hammill, Hugh Banton, Guy Evans, David Jackson||23:04|
Tracks on 2005 reissue
|3.||"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers"||Hammill, Banton, Evans, Jackson||23:13|
|4.||"Theme One (original mix)" (different mix from US/Canada LP and UK single versions)||Martin||3:16|
|5.||"W (first version)" (February 1972 single used the second version)||5:04|
|6.||"Angle of Incidents"||Evans||4:48|
Van der Graaf Generator
Peter Joseph Andrew Hammill is an English singer-songwriter. He is a founder member of the progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. Best known as a singer/songwriter, he also plays guitar and piano and acts as a record producer for his own recordings and occasionally for other artists. In 2012, he was recognised with the Visionary award at the first Progressive Music Awards.
Guy Randolph Evans is an English drummer, percussionist and composer. He is a member of the progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator.
Godbluff is the fifth album released by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was the first album after the band reformed in 1975 and was recorded after a European tour.
H to He, Who Am the Only One is the third album by the British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was released in 1970 on Charisma Records.
The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage is the third album by British singer-songwriter Peter Hammill. It was released on Charisma Records in 1974, during a hiatus in the activities of Hammill's progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. Other ex-members of Van der Graaf Generator also perform on the recording.
The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other is the second album by the British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator, released in February 1970 on Charisma Records. It was the group's first album to be released in the UK and the only one to chart in the top 50 in that country.
The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome is the eighth album by British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. Released in 1977, it was their last studio album before their 2005 reunion. The album features a more energetic, new wave sound than its three immediate predecessors, anticipating singer and songwriter Peter Hammill's late 1970s solo work.
Vital: Van der Graaf Live is the first live album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was recorded 16 January 1978 at the Marquee Club in London and was released in July, one month after the band's 1978 break-up. The album was credited under the abbreviated name Van der Graaf, like the previous year's The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome (1977), and featured the same line-up plus newcomer cellist/keyboardist Charles Dickie, who had officially joined the band in August 1977, and original saxophonist and flautist David Jackson, who re-joined the band for this recording.
Hugh Robert Banton is a British organist and electronic organ builder, most widely known for his work with the group Van der Graaf Generator.
The Aerosol Grey Machine is the debut studio album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was first released in the United States in 1969 by Mercury Records.
World Record is the seventh studio album by the British progressive rock group Van der Graaf Generator, originally released in 1976 on Charisma Records. Bonus tracks were added for the 2005 rerelease.
Present is the ninth studio album by British progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator, released in 2005. It was the band's first studio album since The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome in 1977, and the first with the 'classic' line-up since World Record in 1976. The Charisma Records label was reactivated for its release, as well as a reissue series of Van der Graaf Generator's back catalog and Peter Hammill's solo releases from 1972-86.
Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night is the second solo album by British singer-songwriter Peter Hammill. It followed in the aftermath of the breakup of Hammill's band Van der Graaf Generator, and other ex-members of Van der Graaf Generator perform on the album.
Van der Graaf Generator are an English progressive rock band, formed in 1967 in Manchester by singer-songwriters Peter Hammill and Chris Judge Smith and the first act signed by Charisma Records. They did not experience much commercial success in the UK, but became popular in Italy during the 1970s. In 2005 the band reformed, and are still musically active with a line-up of Hammill, organist Hugh Banton and drummer Guy Evans.
John Anthony is an English music producer. He has worked with Van der Graaf Generator, Genesis, Queen, Roxy Music and Peter Hammill.
Maida Vale: The BBC Radio One Sessions is a compilation album by Van der Graaf Generator, containing eight songs from four different recording sessions at Maida Vale Studios for BBC Radio 1 in 1971, 1975 and 1976, three of which were Peel Sessions. It was released in June 1994 on Band of Joy Records.
The Box is a four CD box set by Van der Graaf Generator, containing recordings that had been released before, but also BBC-recordings and some live recordings that were never officially released before. It was released in 2000 by Virgin Records. Included in the sleeve notes are introductions by Guy Evans and Tony Banks from Genesis, a timeline of Van der Graaf Generator events from 1967 to 1978, an essay about the organs by Hugh Banton, an essay about Van der Graaf Generator compositions by Peter Hammill, an essay about saxophones by David Jackson and an essay about being a Van der Graaf Generator-aficionado by Ian Laycock.
"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is a song by the English rock band Van der Graaf Generator, from their fourth album Pawn Hearts (1971). It is a concept piece over 23 minutes long, which comprises the whole B-side of the album. "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" evolved in the studio, recorded in small sections and pieced together during mixing. The song has many changes in time signature and key signature, and even incorporates some musique concrète.
Merlin Atmos: Live Performances 2013 is a live album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator, released in February 2015. The album was recorded during the band's European tour in June 2013 and includes a full onstage performance of the suite "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", originally recorded for Pawn Hearts in 1971.
Luxford House is a 16th-century Grade II listed building near Crowborough, East Sussex. It is near the 11.5-acre (4.7 ha) Luxford Farm. It was used by several rock musicians in the 1970s under the guidance of Tony Stratton Smith.