David Jackson

David Nicholas George Jackson was born in 1947 in Stamford, Lincolnshire.
I had an elder brother by five years, and a younger sister. This was a postwar world and there was rationing. I remember food being a bit of an issue but my mother’s brother had a post office and general store. We used to have Christmases there and the food was just stupendous! My father was working all the time, he had his own garage business, pivotal at the center of the village, with a petrol pump. I used to fill up people’s tractors and cars. He was brilliant at fixing things, and absolutely brilliant at welding. I used to love watching him do that. But by the time I was about seven or eight I followed my brother into boarding school. I went to Stamford School because my parents wanted me to have a proper public school education. It also freed them up to get them on with their lives. My brother went to a posh school in the town nearby and they had a class making bamboo flutes, with a cork to make the fipple. He used to make them and bring them home. I loved playing it. The village we lived in had a hall where the sun used to shine in. I remember playing this instrument and the dust started dancing around, as if the air was dancing to the simple tunes I was playing. In a way, that’s a bit like what happens when you become a professional musician and stand playing in the spotlight.

I do remember my father giving me a crystal radio set. When I was at home on the holidays I used to stick an aerial, a long wire out of the bedroom window, tuning my little crystal radio set. When I found Radio Luxembourg I was thrilled and I heard lots of music that I had never heard before. Blues and rock, a bit of jazz but I kept on tuning in and finding things. That was really exciting and really thrilling. I became addicted to the radio. When I was a six primer, you had your own private space - I think they called it a study or something. It was a tiny, little room but by then I’d manage to save up a bit of money to start buying records, and buying vinyl records was the new religion when I was 16, 17, 18. You’d save up for a month, six weeks, buy the record, get it out of the sleeve, a religious experience it was, to put it on the turntable. We would all sit around and listen to these records, and then you’d go into somebody else’s room and listen. Well, we were a group of young people, young musicians or people interested in music. It was inevitable at some stage we were going to start playing the stuff.

When I was about 12 or 13 I was getting a bit bored by the flute. I was doing exceptionally well on it. I had actually -- when I was 11 at boarding school I’d cause loads of problems myself because I ended up winning the senior music prize. When my brother came home from school, he used to play amazing Charlie Parker tunes on saxophone. He was crazy about the saxophone and I thought I’ll try and get him to give me the clarinet. So I begged and begged and begged him. One Christmas, I forget which year it was in the ‘50s, I didn’t get a present from him. Christmas was all over. He said, “Hang on. Just go up in the bedroom. There’s something for you up there.” And I went up to the bedroom and in the cupboard there his old alto saxophone. He said, “That’s for you.” The saxophone was a bit of a renegade instrument but I grabbed it, fixed it, played it, and I was pretty much obsessed with it.

In 1965 I decided to go to university and of all the options, psychology looked like the best bet. It’s about behavior. All I wanted to do was play saxophone better. So I thought if I understood learning itself, I can teach myself better, which is the only way. I was obsessed with becoming a great player. I was inspired by this point by some absolutely incredible players, these were guys I bought records from. Cannonball Adderley, then I discovered tenor players, particularly, Sonny Rollins. And then John Coltrane came through and that was just too much, really. I mean when I was at school I tipped the edge of it with a Miles Davis collection from my friend’s records but when I was at university, when I went to St. Andrews University in Scotland I was getting pretty hooked on John Coltrane.

David’s first band was with a young Scottish drummer, the late Robbie MacIntosh.
The next year I found an advert for a saxophonist needed with van. I though, that’s amazing. I’ve only ever had vans, incidentally. I literally went ‘round, across the street, and knocked on the door, and said, “My name’s David Jackson. I have seen an advert for a saxophone player who’s got a van.” And he said, “My name’s Robbie. I want to see your van.” We literally walked out across the road into the university car park and there was my van, an old Bedford van. And he opened it up and looked at it and said, “You got the job.” I said, “Do you want to hear me play?” He said, “You’ve got a van.” We had some contacts and we got a band together. In the summer of 1967 that band took over the Isle of Arran as
the resident band and there was some very good people in it.

After a stint in Bernard Reich in Oxford, David’s friend Max Hutchinson from boarding school days led to his connection to Chris Judge Smith and Heebalob.
One day the phone rang and it was a guy called Max saying would I come to London to be in a band with someone called Chris Judge Smith? The band was called Heebalob and they had a gig at Plumpton Jazz Festival, which is the really big - it became Reading Festival. The music was fantastic and there was one amazing day when we’d done our recording at Polydor Records on the same desk where the week before somebody called Jimi Hendrix had made a record called Are You Experienced?. There was a playback party for the Heebalob record in Chris Judge Smith’s flat where we were living and practicing. Some guy called Jon Anderson came ‘round and we all sort of sat around and played the tapes. It sounded absolutely amazing because it was quite well recorded. I do remember Peter Hammill saying, “Hey, which one of you guys is a saxophone player?” Heebalob failed to get a record deal but I did make friends with Peter Hammill and we got on well. Somehow or another I ended up in Van der Graaf Generator and as in earlier days, the job comes with a flat. You’ve got to have somewhere to live and I kind of went from job to job and flat to flat and lived together and wrote music together.

David lived with Peter Hammill in the early days of Van der Graaf Generator.
What was really exciting about the early days of Van der Graaf was that Peter and I shared a flat. We would play music every day. We were discussing music, listening to music, and trying to write music together. Every single weapon in my armory was being used in those days. All the musical ideas I’d thought of might help write music or create music or arrange music were being lapped up, like I had something really good to offer. Max had introduced me to modern classical music and Schoenberg,
lots of strange stuff that. I really liked the principal of 12-tonality and I talked to Peter to that about that idea. Peter had not studied music. I had, but I’d learned more from Max and my friends along the way than I’d ever learned from my teachers. But I introduced Peter to that idea and we - one day we were just learning a 12-tone riff that Peter had come up with and he and I created an arrangement, playing it on guitar and saxophone, and it became this rather strange riff, “After the Flood”. We
literally went out on the streets and played it on the street corner to see how it went down. A few people nodded and put a few coins in a hat. So in those days were writing music and playing it on the street because we were just playing all the time.

David’s double horn playing in Van der Graaf Generator was one of the band’s unique signatures.
The double horns thing was really, really important. I never threw away the alto that my brother had given me five years before or six years before. It always was there but I had a really good tenor saxophone but the moment we started playing Van der Graaf songs and Peter Hammill’s songs particularly, double horns were just simple. I had been practicing double horns when I was at school. As soon as I had a tenor and saxophone I had been practicing double horns and I had been kind of trying to play a few Roland Kirk. I forgot to mention Roland Kirk because he was absolutely crucial in the development of my playing of saxophones together but those kind of tunes were not - they were jazz tunes and they were not rock tunes. But Hamill’s tunes were very modal and double horn parts just flew out of the horns. I never had to think about it. I just played them instantly and they worked. Songs like, “Darkness,” or “Killer.”

I lived with Peter for a while, I lived in Guy’s flat for a while. You lived in different places and you had a vehicle. You always had a vehicle. I had a van or a car and you didn’t have much stuff. You had your instruments, you had your few clothes, and a few possessions and you lived and worked. I remember The Least We Can Do, which was our first record when I was in Van der Graaf and that was -- we practiced like mad in rehearsal rooms and very quick and then we did a few gigs. Lots of gigs in those days and recorded it all in four days and so on and so forth. We used to have these cataclysmic meetings and I come around and we see what we can do because we’ve got an album to do.

I remember one period of visiting Peter and had to practice a lot of my keyboard ideas on my keyboard in my little flat and met up with Peter in his flat and we sat together on a pianist stool and within a couple of hours we had collaborated and written “The Pilgrims” and “Scorched Earth” and things like that and literally, I had my bit and Peter shoved me off the stool and said, “No, let’s try this.” And then I say, “Get off.” Bang, shove him out the way and then I play the next bit. And literally, we had - we were working so fast and so exciting and we couldn’t wait to take these ideas and see what lyrics he’d come up with and take them to the band. Then I showed Hugh how to play those bits and Guy works on amazing rhythms and so on.

But in those days we were under a lot of pressure to do an album a year and do 200- 300 gigs and lots of tours and the great pressure for our management and record company, who were the same thing, which - there was nobody to protect us at all. We just - they just made us work and work and work and three years of that was just tough but I suppose they got a lot out of us and they sold a lot of records. We had albums every year. We ended up in 1971 with the front page of the music papers and then in ‘72 we had a No. 1 record in Italy. I mean we had a meteoric three years, from 1969 to 1972.