Before their 1978 release, Flyday, original member Jan Fride took his leave and was replaced by drummer Udo Dahmen. With compositions being credited to either Peter Wolbrandt or Hellmut Hattler, the album again covers much of the same ground as the last. The instrumental "Far West" kicks off, the band soaring along with the jazzy tempo. The vocal effort "My Brother Said" is a real treat, reminiscent of the aggressive rock of their earlier Wintrup album. "Ausflug" is (not surprisingly) light and airy, with Wolbrandt's guitar tone predating Mark Knopfler's technique. The more aggressive "Gayu Gaya" is the album's wordless-vocal entrant. Both "You're Right" and "Buy Buy" turn up the funk quotient on the second side, with Ingo Bischof 's keyboards taking a step to the fore. The balance of the side is contrasted with two mellow numbers. "Young King's Song" is a fairy-tale vocal effort, while the sleepy title track is marked again by Wolbrandt's poignant guitar work. The album was released by EMI Electrola (on blue vinyl), but again did not see an international release. A live album Tournee followed in 1980, presenting material from the last two records. The 1982 release Nachtfahrt would again see a change in drummers and something of a first for the band: German language vocals. Kraan would then undergo substantial personnel changes, until a late '80s lineup reunited Hattler, Wolbrandt and Fride, with newcomer Joo Kraus.
National Health's beginnings precede this debut recording by some two years. Two keyboardists, Hatfield And The North's Dave Stewart and Gilgamesh's Alan Gowen, founded the group as a large-scale rock ensemble. Early lineups included Stewart and Gowen, along with two Phil's (Lee and Miller) on guitar, one Mont Campbell on bass, Amanda Parsons on vocals, and, eventually, Bill Bruford on drums. Large indeed. Lee left first, to be temporarily replaced by Steve Hillage; Neil Murray then replaced Campbell, but not before Bruford joined U.K. Gowen then left the band he co-founded. By the time Stewart's head stopped spinning, he'd settled with Miller, Murray and Pip Pyle on drums - basically the Hatfield And The North lineup he had left! In March 1977, National Health recorded their debut album. Augmenting the line-up were Gowen, Parsons and long-time Canterbury stand-in Jimmy Hastings. The music is instantly recognizable: intricate, highly arranged, partly frenetic and always melodic. "Tenemos Roads" rides over the Pyle/Murray rhythm section; Parson's vocals are angelic, Miller's guitar tone thick, and four hands worth of keyboards fill out the lush sound. Shifting between sections with ease, it is one of Stewart's finest compositions. "Brujo", penned by Gowen, follows with the same tenacity, but is punctuated by his lead Moog. "Borogroves (Excerpt From Part Two)" features Murray's bass work; the second section sneaks in a bit of that fuzz organ, ever so associated with the so-called Canterbury bands. The chaotic introduction to "Elephants" is followed with a more frenetic than usual pace, before returning back to "Tenemos Road" for a final coda. The group signed to Charly late in 1977, leading to the album's release in 1978. Fear, not however, more change was just around the corner.
Synthesist Michael Hoenig had his start in the German group Agitation Free, alongside drummer Chris Franke. That connection was renewed when he filled in for a vacationing Peter Baumann on some of Tangerine Dream's 1974-5 tours, obviously learning a bit of their craft along the way. In 1976, he worked with Ashra's Manuel Göttsching, but recordings would not surface until decades later. In 1977, Hoenig became one of the first German musicians to sign an international deal, inking with US label Warner Brothers. It's easy to see why: Departure From The Northern Wasteland is a classic example of the "Berlin" school of electronic music, as it's been said, "even more Tangerine Dream than Tangerine Dream". Hoenig uses repetition to great end: pulsing, trance-inducing sequencer lines percolate, bubble and carry the listener throughout the sonic journey. He adds significant texture with a variety of keyboards, while former Agitation Free guitarist Lutz Ulbrich lays down some thick guitar lines as well. "Hanging Garden" offers up some solid sequencer lines in a bold arrangement, while "Voices of Where" is more ethereal, layering treated vocal loops. "Sun and Moon" closes the album succinctly, recapping Hoenig's sonic journey. Throughout, he presents one of the most listenable albums of electronic music. Hoenig never really recorded a follow-up to this album, eventually immigrating to the United States to find work in the movie soundtrack business. Along with Tangerine Dream's synchronous adventures, this brand of electronic music would see some degree of commercial acceptance over the next few years, even outside the confines of new age music.
Renaissance's next two albums were produced by David Hentschel and predictably enough saw a significant change in direction. Hentschel had of course perfected his technique with Genesis, and he certainly brought some of that influence here; just listen to the opening of "Kindness (At The End)". Not surprisingly, the songs are shorter and more pop orientated, with Michael Dunford's songwriting now mostly co-authored with Jon Camp. Additionally, Dunford's guitar goes steel string and electric, while John Tout's hands traverse far more synthesizers than any previous Renaissance effort. Granted, most of the short songs are unspectacular, but the longer "The Day Of The Dreamer" and title track contain all of Renaissance's old appurtenances and coupled with Hentschel's production, gain both a greater immediacy and denser landscape than ever before. Haslam's voice too was more moderate in the mix, but no less inviting. The sleeper however is the rather throwaway "Northern Lights". Released as a single, it rose to No. 10 in the UK charts. So after nearly a decade out of the UK charts, A Song For All Seasons would finally gain them entrance again, rising to No. 35. The album fared well in the US as well, reaching No. 58. Renaissance recorded the even more commercial Azure D'Or in 1979, but without an accompanying single, it sunk with little trace. The band effectively broke up following the departure of Tout and Terry Sullivan in 1980, though in the early '80s, Haslam, Camp and Dunford recorded two forgettable albums for Miles Copeland's IRS label.
Since we last visited Tangerine Dream, Peter Baumann had packed his bags for a solo career, most notable though was his excellent production work for the French Egg label. Edgar Froese and Chris Franke then took the dramatic steps of reinventing Tangerine Dream by inviting drummer Klaus Krieger and wind instrumentalist Steve Jolliffe into the band. Jolliffe had been in an early incarnation of the band during the late '60s, but his tenure now would certainly be more controversial: Jolliffe would also supply Tangerine Dream with vocals! This change of direction, including adding acoustic instruments to the mix, was another attempt to broaden the band's sound. So at the very least, hats off to the band for trying something radically new. The album opens with "Bent Cold Sidewalk"; a straight-up song with a decent hook, the chorus fades into the much more familiar terrain of a great sequencer workout before ending in vocal refrain. "Rising Runner" is even more of a short-take; riding on a sinister keyboard line and Krieger's quick tempo, it seems more like proof of concept than a finished work. Taken alone (and vocoder aside), Jolliffe's vocal contributions may not be ideal, but they certainly integrate well with the music. So whatever the prognosis, Froese and Franke must have put some thought into what they were doing here. Yet if the first side of the album left anyone feeling short- changed, the second side's "Madrigal Meridian" more than makes up for it. Here Tangerine Dream offers a journey as dark and sinister as the cover art. Krieger's syncopation with the sequencers is perfectly hypnotic and the track ends in a gloriously romantic refrain. Jolliffe's leads, whether flute, lyricon or modulated whatever, float effortlessly, and Froese offers one of his best guitar solos on record. The album took quite a bit of critical heat upon release, but certainly not commercial. Cyclone lays claim to be the album that broke the band in their native Germany, and the subsequent European tour in support of the album had record attendance. I have to agree: the album is one of the most original and unique in the timeline. Yet the fact remains, Tangerine Dream would never weather this type of storm again.
Tim Blake was one of the first members to leave Gong after the completion of their Radio Gnome trilogy in 1974. After a solo recording contract with Virgin stalled, Blake found himself back in France, near penniless and homeless. He then hooked up with Patrice Warrener to help pilot the Crystal Machine into what was perhaps the first full-on laser light show the world would see. The duo presented the production at a couple of weeklong residencies in Paris in 1975, before eventually taking the extravaganza to Britain in 1976. Blake then secured a recording contract with French label Barclay’s progressive imprint Egg. His first release, Crystal Machine, was a compilation of live recordings from 1976 and 1977 and while providing excellent examples of his electronic technique, the album suffered from a less than stellar recording. Released the following year, Blake’s New Jerusalem presents a much more complete realization of his art. Blake’s synthesizers were contemporaneous to many at the time, including those of the so-called Berlin school. But his studio recordings are more song-based than purely instrumental vignettes; with Blake even taking his hand at vocals on a few tracks. The excellent “Song For A New Age” is exactly that, while the quicker tempo of “Generator Laser Beam” has a more modern slant. The lengthy “Passage Sur La Cité (Des Révélations)” reveals the combination: under a pulsing sequenced rhythm, Blake’s bubbling and burbling synthesizers provide texture, while the Mini Moog provides lead; there’s even a modicum of glissando guitar for good measure. The second side is encompassed with “New Jerusalem”, perhaps the most fully-realized presentation of his considerable talent on the synthesizer. Although there’s a hippy vibe throughout, the album gives clear insight into his contribution to the Gong sound and his much underrated skill as a writer. In fact, “Lighthouse” would fit squarely on any of the trilogy Gong albums. The album also sees Jean-Philippe Rykiel as guest; the French synthesist would form a long relationship with Blake, and with Warrener and the Crystal Machine in tow, the trio would hit the road again in 1978, playing throughout Europe and Japan. An unreleased album, Waterfalls In Space, was produced the same year. However the expensive production was eventually landed and Blake then found full time work with his old mates Hawkwind.
Tony Banks, Phil Collins, and Michael Rutherford headed to Amsterdam shortly after mixing Seconds Out to record this, their eleventh record. Rutherford chose to fill Steve Hackett's now vacant position (hence the album title), but Genesis also made a conscious decision to shorten the songs up, in order to provide for more diversity on the album. Boasting eleven tracks, And Then There Were Three still contains substantial musicality and a wonderfully dark production that gives it a very uniform feel, something not usually associated with the band. Driven by a deep bass pedal, "Down And Out" leads things off. The songs are indeed not only shorter, but also a lot more concise; gone is most of the instrumental flash, but not necessarily the fire. The second side's "Deep In The Motherlode" ambulates over a similar rollicking bass line. "Undertow", "Snowbound" and "Many Too Many" carry on in the tradition of "Carpet Crawlers" or "Afterglow"; beauty is never in short supply in Genesis' repertoire. "Burning Rope" is most similar to anything on the previous Wind And Wuthering album, and at seven minutes the longest track on the record. Similar are both "Scene's from a Night's Dream" and "The Lady Lies". The album closes with "Follow You, Follow Me", a track that nearly didn't make it on the album. Written in the Genesis "jam" fashion, its simplicity marks not only the end of side two, but also the beginning of a new era in Genesis history. The single reached No. 7 in the UK and a respectable No. 23 in the US. The album was similarly successful, reaching No. 3 in the UK and at No. 14, charted higher than any previous in the US. Genesis spent most of 1978 touring in support of the album, including two treks across America with "the mirrors" in tow. Milwaukee born Daryl Stuermer, previously in Jean-Luc Ponty's band, joined the band as their touring guitarist, in another relationship that would extend decades.
Heavy Horses, the band's twelfth album, was released as the Jethro Tull celebrated a decade in the business. No small feat. Unfortunately, Anderson stuck to the tried and true Tull formula he first pitched on Too Old To Rock-n-Roll, and precious little had changed, save the song's titles. He continues his dalliance with most things country, including two songs about... mice. Darryl Way lends a fiddle to the upbeat number "Acres Wild". In sharp contrast is the altogether heavy "No Lullaby". Similar to the previous album's "Pibroch", it's the only potent rocker on the album. "Journey Man" reveals a little nostalgia with the Tull of old; however the album is mostly big on acoustic numbers that bypass instrumental flash for rich arrangements. Technical perfection may have its place, but rock-n-roll was never supposed to sound sterile! "Moths" and "Rover" opt for a little simplicity while the title track sports a big orchestral gown. Despite the rural nature of the compositions, Andersons' voice sounds like a canned studio trick; he is almost always doubled-up in each channel, sounding both hoarse and processed. Regardless, the album still scored high in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching into the Top 20. Jethro Tull set off on the annual round of touring, dragging along their Masion Rouge mobile studio to record what would make up their next record, the live double-album Bursting Out. Released later in the year, it again put Tull into the Top 20 in both the US and UK charts.
The start of the Here & Now band stretches back to 1974 and the Ladbroke Grove squat scene of London. Taking their name from the book Be Here Now by Babba Ram Dass, their lineup was as fluid as their improvisations, never recorded and performed for free. A sort of critical mass however was reached at Wakefield Free Festival in 1975. Here, the band comprised of drummer Keith “Kif Kif Le Batter” Dobson, synth player Paul “Twink” Noble, Keith “Da Missile Bass” Baily, and guitarist Stephan “Steffi Sharpstrings” Lewry, along with dancer/singers Suze Da Blooz (Allport) and Anni Wombat. By the time they teamed up with Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth for Planet Gong in 1977, Keith Da Bass had left and returned while Twink was ousted for Gavin “Da Blitz” Allardyce. Tipped off by Gong bassist Mike Howlett, Daevid and Gilli rechristened the band as Planet Gong and took to the road. A concert in Toulouse provided the tapes for Floating Anarchy, released in 1978 on Charly Records. After a familiar introduction, “Floating Anarchy Radio” blasts the record open, presenting an electric mix of so-called “space and punk”. The tune, along with much of the album, was repurposed Here & Now material (denoted by the writing credit “Zero”). But Allen’s “Stone Innocent Frankenstein” puts the match into historic perspective: Allen’s been there all along. “New Age Transformation Try: No More Sages” stretches out into long-form free-form; it’s a heady groove, as hypnotic and satisfying as anything from Allen’s former group. The studio “Opium For The People” was released as a single, but the second side’s improv “Allez Ali Baba Black-Sheep Have You Any Bullshit: Mama Maya Mantram” again goes big, offering a harder edge seldom heard in Gong. Steffe Sharpstrings and Keith Da Bass absolutely shine throughout the record. The album reputedly sold a whopping 250,000 copies, making it one of the most successful in the great Gong canon. Yet Daevid and Gilli backed out of a tour in early spring 1978, bringing Planet Gong screeching to a halt. However, Here & Now were just beginning.
With his second record, Steve Hackett began his solo career in earnest. It should come as no surprise then that none of his former bandmates make a contribution here. Instead, Hackett opted for a very diverse guest list: Steve Walsh and Phil Ehart of Kansas, label-mate Graham Smith, Chester Thompson (well, not technically a member of Genesis), the returning Johns' Acock and Hackett, and a few unlikely candidates, namely Richie Havens and Randy Crawford. The album starts out with a few numbers that wouldn't sound out of place (not surprisingly) on a Kansas record. In fact, it's worth noting that the single release of "Narnia" featured John G. Perry on vocals, as Steve Walsh's record label feared fans would confuse it as a new Kansas single! Fast and furious, the tracks reflect the harder edge of Hackett's songwriting. "Kim", for his wife (who would also provide the paintings for most of his albums), showcases Hackett's favor for nylon string guitar. His brother John provides a lone flute line, both haunting and beautiful. "How Can I" features Havens' raspy voice and who would have guessed it would be such a perfect match. The second side runs continuous, and again parades the album's diversity. Featuring Randy Crawford, "Hoping Love Will Last" is an interesting mix, both soulful and progressive in the same pass. The title track covers the same instrumental terrain as Genesis, but here Hackett lances out with some very aggressive guitar work, again, something he'd never have managed to do with that band. "The Voice Of Necam" flows effortlessly into "Icarus Ascending". Again with Havens on vocals, it's another achingly beautiful song, giving the album a powerful and soulful ending. The album reached the UK Top 40, though failed to chart in the US. Hackett would then assemble a touring band, with greater success just around the corner.
In late 1977, Steve Hillage spent some time with his ex-Gong cohorts producing ex-Hawkwind member Nik Turner's eponymous solo album Xitintoday. He then toured the UK, assisted by American drummer Joe Blocker and newcomer Curtis Robertson on bass, and of course his ever-present partner Miquette Giraudy on keyboards. For his fourth album, Hillage manned the producer's chair with Pink Floyd's Nick Mason; so it should be no surprise that the ensuing Green is one of his most cosmic releases. "Sea Nature" opens in style, and immediately evident is a much larger sense of space, both inner and outer. "Ether Ships" bubbles with electronics, while "Musick Of The Trees" kicks back with acoustic touches. Hillage gets in the mood on "Palm Trees (Love Guitar)", while "Unidentified Flying Being" is a throwback to the funky groove of the previous album. Both tracks feature some great lead guitar from Hillage. Beginning with "UFO Over Paris", he and Miquette weave their ambient magic over the next few tracks: the hypnotic pulse of "Leylines to Glassdom" floats right into the luscious "Crystal City". Eventually Hillage reprises a quite heavy "Glorious Om Riff" from Gong's "Master Builder" to close. There's little doubt the album is one of his strongest ever, and it would again see Hillage chart in the UK, reaching No. 30. And yes, the album was pressed on green vinyl.
After King Crimson came to a close in late 1975, the rhythm section - the formidable duo of Bill Bruford and John Wetton - took some journeyman work (Genesis, National Health and Uriah Heep) before regrouping to form what would become U.K. Rick Wakeman was around for some of the early rehearsals, but for whatever reason he opted to return to Yes. Then, in 1977, the duo decided to each pick a replacement: Wetton brought Eddie Jobson, while Bruford towed in guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Given the pedigree of the members ("super" being the operative word), their debut album was eagerly anticipated. The three-part "In the Dead Of Night" leads off, penned, like most of the other tracks on the album, by Jobson and Wetton. The latter certainly knows a decent hook, a perfect complement to his distinctively clear voice. Holdsworth adds his signature guitar playing, while the second section showcases Jobson on the electric violin. Bruford's drumming is crisp throughout, but the highly-rated Bruford/Wetton rhythm section is unfortunately mostly understated. Jobson's keyboards, and their unique sonic signature, provides a wonderful document of the technology he used (early polyphonic synthesizers). "Time To Kill" gives Jobson another turn on lead violin but Holdsworth's single note accompaniment is equally enthralling. "Nevermore" and "Mental Medication" offer Holdsworth both a hand in the composition and two on acoustic guitar. Overall the songs are good, and the album is punctuated by a particular heaviness, and of course, lots of virtuoso soloing. But it's also replete with sterile production: few outside the cognoscenti were going to get excited about this music. So despite the hype, the album failed to make any significant dent in the charts. The quartet did take to the road in the US, and judging by their set lists, had a larger repertoire ready to record, but Bruford and Holdsworth had other plans.
After the success of his debut album, Anthony Phillips set out to record this, an album of (more or less) commercial rock music. As such, Wise After The Event showcases Phillips' songwriting. There's no denying the similarity of his music here to that of Genesis, but the connection is one of lineage more than anything suspect. He is joined this time not by any Genesis cohort, but rather the world-class rhythm section of Michael Giles and John G. Perry, and the production talents of Rupert Hine. Phillips also takes on all guitar and keyboard duties, with typically excellent results. "We're All As We Lie" is relaxed and playful, with layers of acoustic guitars picking gently away. Similarly "Birdsong" again starts off placid, but ends under the fury of the Giles/Perry rhythm and an electrifying lead guitar. On the second side, both "Pulling Faces" and "Greenhouse" are considerably up-tempo, and Hine's production certainly makes the best of everyone involved. But there is also this certain gentleness, or shall I say femininity to the album - not that there's anything wrong with that. Lyrically, Phillip's songs are purely romantic, as evidenced by the overwrought "Regrets" and "Now What Are They Doing", but given the material, they'd work no other way. Phillips also handles all of the lead vocals for the album. Although not the most powerful singer, he's more than capable here. The album saw release on both sides of the Atlantic, with Phillips now signed to Passport in the US. Several of the vignettes on the Private Parts & Pieces Vol. II album were intended as instrumental bridges between the songs here.
Born in 1937, Conrad Schnitzler was one of the most original and influential audio artists in Germany. During the late 60s, with a similar-aged Hans Joachim Roedelius, he started the Zodiak Free Arts Lab club in Berlin and the band Kluster, eventually joining Tangerine Dream for their debut album. His earliest solo recordings were mostly private releases, commissions from galleries, or cassettes, most titled with a color, (Schwarz, Rot, Blau, usw). Ever prolific, his forte however, was performance art, and his media was sound. Iconic images of Schnitzler either face-painted or wearing a motorcycle helmet, with tape-records or bullhorn reveal this association. But 1978 he teamed up with ex-Tangerine Dream Peter Baumann at his Paragon Studio, for a commercial release, simply titled Con. “Electric Garden” opens the record, revealing a stark, electronic landscape. Blips, bleeps and washes of sound may sound like some alien soundscape, but the construction of sound is preeminent. The ensuing “Ballet Statique” offers a minimal sequence over its five minutes, as well as a contemplative, even soothing mood. “Zug” kicks off the second side, and yes, it mimics a train, while the following “Metal 1” utilizes white noise. “Black Metal” reprises many themes from the album. The album saw release on both Germany’s Metronome and the French label Egg (and would later be retitled as Ballet Statique when released on CD). From here, Schnitzler would enter his most prolific, at least from a commercially-available release standpoint, working with various artists, including his son Gregory and Wolfgang Seidel. He even teamed up with Baumann again in 1982 as Berlin Express, for a new wave-ish 12” that would see release on CBS’s Portrait Records in the USA.
Hailing from Toronto, keyboardist and bassist Cameron Hawkins and Nash The Slash (Jeff Plewman) formed FM in 1976 as an electronic duo. The band eschewed electric guitar, instead opting - quite uniquely - for the electric violin and mandolin of Nash. Martin Deller joined on drums and the band recorded their debut album Black Noise in 1977. The opener “One O’Clock Tomorrow” swings steadily, riding a melodic verse, but the following “Hours” features Nash on violin. It’s a blistering instrumental, that glides effortlessly into “Journey”. “Dialing For Dharma” rides a nice sequence, with Nash and Hawkins trading solos, but “Slaughter In The Robot Village” queues up a big bass line for a much heavier approach. “Aldebaran” showcases Nash’s mandolin work, with Hawkins offering a sympathetic vocal. Clocking in near ten minutes, the title track “Black Noise” closes the album, again featuring Nash on violin. It’s a striking album for the time, ushering in a fresh take on progressive rock through inventive instrumentation and synthesizers. However, their Canadian label CBC released it mail order only, and it wasn’t until spring 1978 when US based Passport Records picked up the release that the album really took off, eventually earning a Gold Record award in their native Canada. But by that time, Nash had left the band, being replaced by Ben Mink (same instrumentation) and a limited edition “real time” album, Direct To Disk, had already been released by Canadian label Labyrinth Records. FM undertook their first US tour in that same year and recorded their second studio album, Surveillance, for Passport. Released in 1979, it was eventually picked up by Capitol Records. A third album, City Of Fear, produced by Larry Fast of Synergy followed in 1980, but the combination of record label woes and personnel changes put the band’s future in limbo.
Following his departure from Hawkwind in 1976, Nik Turner decamped to Egypt, only to find his host being deported. But through some luck of fate, he was able to secure recording time in the Great Pyramid (Chepos) of Giza, where he recorded hours of flute improvisations, all of which would form the basis of his first solo album, Xitintoday. Upon returning to England, he enlisted Steve (Stiv) Hillage to produce and album from the tapes. Most of the Gong crew, including Mike Howlett, Miquette Giraudy, Tim Blake and Harry Williamson appeared, along with Alan Powell from Hawkwind. Fittingly, he adapted text from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to the music, and in doing so assembled one incredibly unique album. With very little rhythm to give traction, the music simply floats over the first side, from track to track, over endless flute passages, heavily-processed spoken-word vocals, and bubbly synths, providing the ultimate Eygptian inspired trip. The second side’s “Isis and Nephthys” finally gets a little forward propulsion, culminating in the excellent “God Rock (The Awakening)”. Released by Charisma, it’s a testament to the times that the record saw commercial release. Turner then assembled a band Sphynx to play a few festivals over the next few years, including Deeply Vale and Glastonbury, and guested on Gilli Smyth’s Fairy Tales album. But Turner then turned his back from the hippydom of the 70s for the much more immediate “punkadelic” rock of Inner City Unit, with Dino Ferari and Trev Thoms from Steve Took’s Horns, and Philip “Dead Fred” Reeves and Mo Vicarage, where he would spend most of the early 80s before returning to Hawkwind in 1982.
Peter Gabriel hit the road after his first album was released, crossing America in the spring of 1977 before heading over to Europe later in the fall. Touring solidified the band for the upcoming album, which by the last leg comprised bassist Tony Levin and electronic wiz Larry Fast, plus new guys Jerry Marotta on drums and Sid McGinnis on guitar. Keyboards were handled by Automatic Man Larry “Bayete” Cochran, though duties would be split with Roy Bittan on the album. For Gabriel's second record, again titled Peter Gabriel, he found himself in Holland with Robert Fripp in the producer's chair, evidently in an effort to "speed up [the] recording process". Fripp had guested on his last tour (performing as “Dusty Rhodes”). The album is again a mixed affair. Gabriel's songwriting shines brightly on the big tracks, "On The Air", "White Shadow" and the timely anthem "D.I.Y.". Usually anchored by Marotta's firm drums and Levin's soon-to-be-legendary bass work and with a ripping solo from Fripp, they offer something uniquely Gabriel, and very removed from his work with Genesis. “Mother Of Violence” was co-written with his wife Jill, is the better of the slow tracks on the album. Yet tracks like "Animal Magic" and "Perspective", with Bittan's tinkly piano and McGinnis' slide guitar, just come across as standard rock tunes, and at worst, even Fripp's production can't save languid crooners like "Home Sweet Home" or “Flotsam and Jetsam”. Slightly out of place, "Exposure" is really a Fripp number and quite different from the other tracks on the album, but it does, in some way, point to the future. Despite the lack of single, the album was again successful, reaching No. 13 in the UK and No. 45 in the US. His fall 1978 tour (with Timmy Capello replacing Bayete) included “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” in the set list, the last time he would regularly perform a Genesis tune in public.
Van Der Graaf ended their last tour with a few nights in early January at London's Marquee Theatre. The band was now a five piece, the same quartet that recorded the prior year's The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Zone, plus the addition of Charles Dickie on cello. Those recordings made the basis of this, the final installment from VDGG, offering more of the chaos and less of the control that marked their music. "Ship of Fools" sets the tone. Peter Hammill's playing electric guitar; nothing subtle here, he's got as much grace as a steamroller. "Still Life" follows and literally explodes, with Guy Evan's drumming mixed high up on the right channel and Nic Potter's overdriven bass in the left. Gone are the delicacies of Hugh Banton and David Jackson (though the latter makes a guest appearance) for a full frontal assault. If you get through Graham Smith's screeching intro, "Last Frame" is one of the more successful translations on the album. The same isn't always true for the older VDGG material, though "Pioneers Over C" holds together fairly well. The double-album even contains some new material; well suited for the quintet, it's about as raw as Hammill's music would ever get. "Door" spins out of control underneath Evan's ever-increasing tempo, while "Urban" reprises a bit of "Killer". Fittingly, the punk "Nadir's Big Chance" closes the show. The album was mixed the following month at Foel and given to Charisma in hope that it would balance their finances with the label. By the time of the release though, Hammill had already spent the majority of the year on tour with Graham Smith (including his first U.S. dates) and recorded his seventh solo album, ph7. Thus, Vital remains Van Der Graaf Generator's swan song, warts and all.
Camel's lineup remained stable since the last album, and no doubt Breathless is all the better for it. The album again sports immaculate production, this time courtesy of Mick Glossop. The melodic and airy title track opens the album, with a signature vocal from Richard Sinclair. "Echoes" features some tasty guitar work from Latimer and reprises his now familiar melodic song style, as does the second side's "You Make Me Smile". But "Wing and A Prayer" is an unfamiliar venture in pop, while Sinclair's "Down On The Farm" is uniquely his own (and not Camel). "Summer Lightning" is also dissimilar, this time not unlike the funk-up of Steely Dan. The instrumental "The Sleeper" is indeed the album's sleeper; fiery and exciting it's an up to date reminder of Camel's instrumental dexterity. The album was well received, rising to No. 26 in the UK charts. However, shortly before the album's release, Pete Bardens would depart Camel for Van Morrison's band, while Sinclair would also take his leave. Two keyboardists from Caravan, Jan Schelhaas and Dave Sinclair, would be deputized for the subsequent tour, but American keyboardist Kit Watkins and Colin Bass (the latter on bass of course) would take over for the next album. Released in 1979, I Can See Your House From Here sported remarkable musicianship, but unfortunately offered little but straight up commercial rock. From here, Camel would be plagued with personnel changes on each successive album, though Latimer would manage to hold the band together (and continue to chart) until the mid-'80s.
Recorded just prior to the last days of VDG, The Future Now marks a new beginning for their former lead singer. It's a very idiosyncratic record, partly due to the lo-fi nature of the recording and partly due to it being a Peter Hammill solo record. In fact, even if one was unfamiliar with his previous albums, the Man Ray-influenced pose on the cover should give a fairly good idea that this isn't going to be easy listening! And with the exception of a few overdubs by some ex-VDGG musicians, the album is one-hundred percent Hammill. The opening track "Pushing Thirty" is a throwback to his Rikki Nadir alter-ego; slightly acerbic, highly literate and full of attitude. Yet Hammill is much more than a wordsmith. The unconventional performance of both "Energy Vampires" and the title track tread similar lyrical ground, but occupy a different music space. Whether the sustain of the thick-toned guitar, an ambling harmonium, multi-tracked voice or some other fx'd instrument, they're a glorious indulgence of "sculpted noise" (and a tribute to the tape-recorder and razor blade). Undoubtedly that technology wrought each song as well: "The Cut" and "Motor Bike In Afrika" are from a similar die, while "Second Hand" blithely ticks away over its drum-machine pattern. But Hammill's really in his element with as little accompaniment as possible. Whether forged on the guitar ("Trappings" and "If I Could"), the piano ("Mousetrap" and "Still In The Dark") or just voice ("Mediaeval"), few artists can create so much with so little. Stripping away the studio trickery, Hammill's delivery is both emotive and superlative, and a good approximation of the power of his live performance. Hammill's next album, PH7 would tread very similar ground; in fact, it's almost a sister-set of recordings. But with little commercial success to show for his efforts, these would be his last for Charisma. From here, he would foster a solo career uniquely his own. While others would find mainstream success in the '80s, Hammill's career would be best defined by a different measure - perseverance. One of the most prolific artists to arise from the progressive era, he continues to release records to his ever-fervent fan base to this very day.