Vital (Van der Graaf Generator album)

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Live album by Van der Graaf
Released July 1978
Recorded 16 January 1978 at the Marquee Club, London
Genre Progressive rock
Length 86:14
Label United Kingdom Charisma Records
United States PVC Records
Producer Guy Evans
Van der Graaf chronology
The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome
Time Vaults
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[1]

Vital 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.[2] The album (on vinyl and, later, on CD) was credited under the abbreviated name Van der Graaf, like the previous year's The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, and featured the same line-up plus newcomer cellist Charles Dickie, who had officially joined the band in August 1977,[2] and original saxophonist and flautist David Jackson, who re-joined the band for this recording.

The album is noted for its sometimes radical reworking of the older material. Although Van der Graaf Generator were seldom less than intense on stage, the 1977 and 1978 tours were remarkable for their ferocity. The absence of Hugh Banton, whose organ work was a hallmark of the group's sound before his departure in 1976, as well as frontman Peter Hammill's increased duties as a rhythm guitarist, account for much of this.


Van der Graaf Generator, in their "Van der Graaf" incarnation, debuted on 20 February 1977 at the Roundhouse in London. After a European tour with Charisma Records labelmates Hawkwind and a concert at Brunel University on 25 March, the band spent a month recording their next album, The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, at the Foel, Rockfield, and Morgan recording studios.[2] Following two concerts in Ibiza, cellist Charles Dickie was added to the line-up in August. Dickie debuted with Van der Graaf in September at the Scheeßel festival. For the rest of 1977, the band toured in Portugal, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland and Germany.[2][3]

After this, a two-night stint at the Marquee Club in London was scheduled for 15–16 January 1978, and David Jackson, who had left almost exactly one year before for financial, personal, and musical reasons, was invited to join Van der Graaf for these shows.[2]


A 24-track mobile recording unit was used to record Van der Graaf's second performance of their Marquee stint, and Guy Evans used these tapes to mix what would become Vital at Foel Studio.[2] At this time, Peter Hammill was touring in America and completing his next solo album, The Future Now.[2] Evans discovered a technical problem with the tapes. Jackson said about this:[2]

Because of the technical restrictions placed upon the recording I was only allocated one track of the 24 available on the tape. When Guy came to mix the tapes he discovered that my track was completely silent. There had been a fault on the line to the tape machines. Guy had to search through all the other tracks to find those where my saxophone had bled onto them, such as the vocal track. He then had to take out my sax, clean it up, and boost the level. That's what you hear on the finished album.


"Ship Of Fools" was the B-side to the 1977 "Cat's Eye" single, only released in France. The same reissue series that released Vital in its entirety made the studio version available as a bonus track on the release of The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome. "Door" was another song from around this time, and the studio recording was featured both on The Box and the aforementioned reissue of The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome. "Urban" was a composition that was sometimes played since 1975 but that has not been released elsewhere. A studio version of "Mirror Images" would later appear on Peter Hammill's 1979 solo album pH7, and "Nadir's Big Chance" was the title track to his 1975 studio album of the same name. Hammill would also re-record "Sci-Finance" as "Sci-Finance (Revisited)" on his 1988 solo album In A Foreign Town. In his review for AllMusic, Greg Prato called "Sci-Finance (Revisited)" "Talking Heads-like."[4]

The studio version of "Still Life" was on the eponymous album, a studio version of "Last Frame" was on The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, and studio versions of "Killer" and "Pioneers Over c" are the bookends of H to He, Who Am the Only One. The studio version of "Sleepwalkers" is on Godbluff, and the studio version of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is on Pawn Hearts.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Peter Hammill except where indicated.

Side One[edit]

  1. "Ship of Fools" – 6:43
  2. "Still Life" – 9:42
  3. "Last Frame" – 9:02

Side Two[edit]

  1. "Mirror Images" – 5:50
  2. "Medley: A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers" – 13:41

Side Three[edit]

  1. "Pioneers over c" – 17:00 (Peter Hammill and David Jackson)
  2. "Sci-Finance" – 6:16

Side Four[edit]

  1. "Door" – 6:00
  2. "Urban/Killer/Urban" – 8:20
  3. "Nadir's Big Chance" – 7:00


The European release was a double LP on Charisma Records, ref'ed CVL0D101; the US release on double vinyl LP was on PVC Records, PVC 9901. The album was originally issued twice in the UK (CVLCD101, 1989), first with the entire 2LP track listing on the cover and label, but only actually containing sides one and two, and then reissued restoring some of the songs from sides three and four (excluding "Sci-Finance" and "Nadir's Big Chance") and correcting the cover and label. The entire double CD version was only issued in Japan (VJD-25023~24, 1989), and this had a booklet with incorrect lyrics (for instance "Sit down with the greats" on "Still Life" instead of the correct "Citadel reverberates").[5][6] In 2005, a remastered double CD version (CVLCDR101) restored the omitted tracks, as part of a Van der Graaf Generator reissue series from Virgin Records, who revived the Charisma Records imprint to commemorate the 2005 reunion album Present.


Vital has been reviewed twice on AllMusic. Bruce Eder's review[7] refers to the CVLCD101 CD pressing (which omits "Sci-Finance" and "Nadir's Big Chance"), while Dave Thompson's review[8] covers the 2005 re-release, which is called "Vital [Bonus Tracks]" despite the fact that the tracks in question are merely those deleted from the earlier CD pressing and were on the initial double LP. Eder writes that "the group presents the raw, up-close, in-your-face approach that made Van Der Graaf Generator favorites of the punk bands despite the group's prog rock origins – between Hammill's loud, raspy vocals and his crunchy overamplified guitar, 'Still Life', 'Door', and 'Pioneers Over c' all sound almost like punk band performances." Both reviews give Vital a three-star rating out of five.

At the time, critical response was generally positive. A positive review appeared in Melody Maker that called VdGG "a band with enough enigma to keep Sherlock Holmes on the case for three volumes," and stated that "[Vital] indicates more fully than ever the inspired maelstrom of bitter vision and controlled desolate grandeur that Van der Graaf can create".[9] John Gill, reviewing for Sounds said "Unashamedly betraying my partisan affections, 'Vital' really is," and that "[the album] captures the dark soul of VdG, laying past and present musical nightmares on to vinyl".[10]

A negative review published in NME by John Gray said "...even endless ecstasy can be boring." While Gray praised Vital's revamp of "Pioneers over c" as sounding "well-rehearsed and complete," favourably compared Nic Potter's bass sound to Jannick Top of Magma, and approved of some of the violin and cello work, he was critical of "torturous renditions of two of Hammill's best songs" ("Still Life," "Last Frame"), claimed the deliberately omitted lyrics in the medley of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "Sleepwalkers" "rendered [them] ineffective", and responded to the "Nadir's Big Chance" lyric "jerks in leather bondage suits" by writing "what Hammill doesn't realize is that there's more bondage in his songs than there will ever be down the Kings Road."[11]


Production Credits[edit]

  • Mike Dunne – recording engineer
  • Mixed at Foel Studio, Llanfaircaereinion, Powys
  • Dave Anderson – engineer
  • Guy Evans – producer
  • Peter Hammill – existential producer
  • Cover photo by Gordian Troeller
  • Stage Equipment by: Faraday & John Goodman
  • Sound by: H.H.B., Martin Westwood, Noel Mawer & Graham Hayes
  • 16 Track by: Brian
  • Gordianisation [sic] by: Troeller


  1. ^ Eder, Bruce (2011). "Vital: Van der Graaf Live – Van der Graaf Generator | AllMusic". Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Vital (2005 Charisma reissue) liner notes. 
  3. ^ "Van der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill performances 1967 to 1978 and Van der Graaf Generator performances post 2004". Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Prato, Greg. "In A Foreign Town (Review)". 
  5. ^ Booklet of Vital double CD, Japanese pressing, VJD-25023~24, 1989
  6. ^ Hammill, Peter. "Still Life (Lyrics)". Retrieved 11 July 2013. 
  7. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Vital: Van der Graaf Live". 
  8. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Vital [Bonus Tracks]". 
  9. ^ J.O. "Van der Graaf – Vital". Melody Maker. 
  10. ^ Gill, John. "Vital". Sounds. 
  11. ^ Gray, John. "Mr. Nadir, We Presume". NME.