The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other by Van Der Graaf Generator


Everything is connected. Consider this. As an over indulged child I was spoilt by the cessation of sugar rationing and, sadly, my love of chocolate has never left me. Of all the sweets that are no longer available, a plain chocolate Toffee Crisp and Fry’s Five Centres are the ones I still think of. The latter was similar to a Chocolate Creme but had five different flavours in the five segments: orange, raspberry, lime, strawberry and pineapple.

J. S. Fry & Sons was formed in 1822 and in 1847 they produced the first ever solid chocolate bar. The ownership of the company was passed through the generations and Sir Geoffrey Fry, (J. S. Fry’s grandson) became a director. He had a daughter, Jennifer Fry who, after divorcing her gay husband, married Alan Ross, who for many years was The Observer’s cricket correspondent.

In the late Sixties, when I was living in Tunbridge Wells, there was a brilliant second hand bookshop about five minutes walk from our house. I bought a copy of the 1948 Wisden there along with a really good book called “Australia 55” by Alan Ross. It was a very well written account of his time in Australia watching the 1954-55 Ashes contest. There was quite a lot about what life was like in Australia which was of huge interest to me, as my Mum had lived in Australia until 1948.

I didn’t realise until today that Alan Ross was not only an excellent writer about cricket but was a well regarded poet and travel writer. His first travel book was about Corsica and was called “Time Was Away” and although there were no photographs, the book had illustrations by an English artist called John Minton who was born in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire which happens to be five miles from where Roo and I lived in Duxford.

In 1942, John Minton held an exhibition of his work in London and The Times reviewed his work by writing that he had “an overcast, gloomy realism with much intensity of feeling” which would perfectly describe most of my favourite music including this album. Another example of his gloomy realism is his quote about the state of modern life (bearing in mind that he died in 1957), “We are all awash in a sea of blood and the least we can do is wave to each other”.

One of the songs in “The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other” is “Refugees”. One of the lines is “West is Mike and Susie” which refers to Mike McLean and Susan Penhaligon, who shared a flat with Peter Hamill, the songwriter and lead vocalist of Van Der Graaf Generator. The song was written when Peter Hamill moved out of the flat and he realised that his friendship with them would never be the same again. He was hoping for a Utopian future in which a reunion was possible. The song then developed into consideration of the concept that we are all refugees, seeking a home. Susan Penhaligon was a regular in “A Fine Romance”, a TV comedy from the early Eighties starring Judi Dench and Michael Williams.

“Darkness (11/11) was written on November 11th 1968 and is marvellous. It starts with a strong bleak wind blowing before keyboards introduce the vocals. Peter Hammill’s vocal style is not necessarily to everyone’s taste being dramatic, intense and invoking an other worldliness. The instrumentation includes David Jackson playing two saxophones simultaneously.

“White Hammer” describes the “Malleus Maleficarum” of 1486. This was a treatise which recommends the extermination of witches by burning them alive at a stake. The song explains that whilst the intentions were to defeat evil, many innocent people also died. Luckily (naively?), the White Hammer of love eventually reigned supreme. There’s a brilliant menacing improvised instrumental coda to this song.

The ‘Robert’ in “Whatever Would Robert Have Said” refers to Robert Van Der Graaf, the inventor of the generator named after him. However Peter Hamill says he has no idea of the relevance of this to the lyrics. The singer of the song claims to be a suck of air, a blow to the head, an inexplicable void, a hidden love, an undeniable hate, peace, pain, joy and God. If only they still wrote lyrics like this. The music is suitably overblown, self indulgent, pompous and pretentious. I love it. Underground music from 1968. What could be better?

Talking of pretentious, here is what Peter Hamill wrote about “Out Of My Book”. “This song makes reference to an unfortunate school experience, the allocation at the start of term of a maths textbook in which the answers to exercises are absent. Although working from an answer to a question is a dishonest way of approaching a scientific problem it is disturbing to know that there is no escape clause and that the only way to arrive at an answer is by logic. In such an illogical emotional area as the context as this song, the disturbance itself can seem greater than the disturbing factor, the question.” I’m sure that made a lot of sense at the time.

My favourite song is the last song “After The Flood” which is a complex eleven minute romp through the full repertoire of everything that is great about early progressive rock. The lyrics describe a post apocalyptic world in which Einstein’s prediction of total annihilation have come true. There are several sections to the song with organ, saxophone, flute and drum creating sounds of organised bedlam.

I bought Roo some Davenports’ chocolates for Christmas and they arrived in the post today. She saw the label on the outside of the box so the intended surprise has been spoilt. I blame the owner of Davenports who also happens to be named Michael Williams – the same name as Judi Dench’s co-star in “A Fine Romance”. I should have bought some Fry’s chocolate instead.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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