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Van Der Graaf Generator Van Der Graaf Generator
Album: The Aerosol Grey Machine (Expanded Edition)
Label: Esoteric
Tracks: 11+8(+9+2 on vinyl)

This is a hybrid-format, special-edition box-set reissue of the first LP released by singer-songwriter Peter Hammill and his chums Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and Keith Ellis under the Van Der Graaf Generator name, in 1969, and (criminally) only in the USA (you need to read the below-mentioned booklet for the full complicated story behind this obscure contractual arrangement). This Esoteric set also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the original LP by including the pair of tracks cut earlier, in late-1968, by this lineup for an idiosyncratic (and very swiftly withdrawn) single release (People You Were Going To/Firebrand). What we get in this lavish box, then, is a CD of the album itself (newly remastered and sounding splendid), a 180g vinyl edition of most of the LP, with a gatefold of the unissued UK sleeve, and a pukka 7-inch single. The package also contains a second CD comprising both sides of the aforementioned 1968 single plus a pair of fiery 1967 demos featuring original drummer Chris Judge Smith (both previously unreleased) and the four tremendously purposeful and confident BBC session tracks from November 1968 (including the previously unreleased Octopus, long thought lost), and (naturally!) a suitably copiously illustrated 36-page booklet (which contains an exclusive interview with Peter Hammill as further incentive).

Aside from the kooky commercial psych-pop of 1967’s Sunshine and perhaps the single’s A-side (and ok, the album’s 47-second title track of throwaway nonsense), the music of Hammill and VDGG was always progressive in every sense of the word, and it’s no exaggeration to (fire)brand them as true pioneers of what became known as progressive-rock. A truly impressive series of albums for the then-new Charisma label were to cement Hammill’s status on this front, but latter-day converts and fans who’ve not yet caught up with The Aerosol Grey Machine will now be able to hear where it all started. And for all to hear, there are virtually all the hallmarks of the VDGG style fully formed, already present and confidently expressed, notably in Hammill’s signature declamatory vocal delivery and serious intent and comparably committed qualities in the other musicians’ performances, especially the extraordinary keyboard prowess of Hugh Banton. Strongly individual, and in truth sounding nothing much like any other band, The Aerosol Grey Machine really deserves the tag of a classic early prog album. And yet one which had been frustratingly unavailable in the UK for many years after its US release and existed as little more than a rumour for many fans for a time.

It’s fair to point out that the original album itself has been available on CD for a while, in the form of a Repertoire label release with the single sides added as bonus tracks, but its otherwise perfectly respectable status has since been slightly overshadowed by the discovery of two outtake tracks (Ferret And Featherbird and Giant Squid), which eventually got released on Hammill’s Fie! Label and have now been restored and appropriately slotted into the running order for this new Esoteric remaster. So the inevitable conclusion is that this excellent new Esoteric edition is bound to be worth splashing out for.

David Kidman