An interview with David Jackson by Mick Dillingham
July 1990 - I'm sitting in the charming family home of David Jackson, unobtrusively watching him listening to the home demo tapes he's playing me of his new one-man musical venture "Tonewall", an achievement which marks his re-emergence back into music after nearly a decade spent teaching mathematics. There's a burning passion in David's eyes as he listens to the fruits of his creative labours. His hands occasionally lift from his knees to snatch a punched riff from the air or to follow a certain melody, his fingers dancing in perfect time to the instrumental music which fills our ears. The music is everything you'd expect from this man, chock-full of integrity and invention, one moment unleashing the sheer power of a double sax riff and the next rending the heart with a melody line that bears all the unmistakable hallmarks of the man who's producing it. Vital and beautiful music to look forward to in what is increasingly looking like the dawn of a new underground renaissance for this new decade. And yet I'm not primarily here to look forward with Mr. Jackson but to look back at what has gone before. Behind him, on the wall behind his home studio, hangs a large black and white photograph which depicts one of the definitive images of British music. It's of his stage persona 'Jaxon', clad all in black with that peculiar Germanic train driver's hat perched on his head, swathed in saxophones and flutes and stalking centre stage with his beloved Generator. Van der Graaf Generator were undoubtedly one of the greatest bands this grey and septic isle has ever produced. A perfect gestalt, four equally important individuals - David Jackson, Peter Hammill, Guy Evans and Hugh Banton - who together produced music of unerring beauty and unholy power. Only King Crimson could match the evil hammer-force of the Generator in full swing, smashing audiences flat before effortlessly picking them up again with butterfly gentleness in the very next breath. Like so many bands, Van der Graaf Generator are benefiting hugely from the arrival of CD's both financially and in terms of following, and whilst a reformation of the original band seems remote at present, the appearance of archive material in the form of radio sessions and other live works looks a strong possibility and in the meantime, we have Peter Hammill's continuing solo career to enjoy and shortly the arrival of Jaxon's "Tonewall" album and live dates to look forward to. (Dave has a fortnightly residence at the "Boozy Blues" in Reading). And so here I sit on this gloriously timeless July afternoon imbibing the delights of Jaxon's creativity and preparing to relive the good times and bad of the much cherished Van der Graaf Generator. Let's go back to the beginning. Once upon a time...
Jaxon - When I was five years old I used to play these bamboo pipes my brother had made at school, while listening to trad jazz on the radio. That's a real infant memory for you. After I went to boarding school I really wanted to play the flute, so when I was about nine I stopped having piano lessons and started flute lessons instead. After about four years I was considered to be an up-and-coming star of the school orchestra, destined to be lead flautist (or so the school believed). My older brother had already left school by then and was playing saxophone. I was very impressed with this instrument, and one Christmas he gave me his saxophone and I just fell in love with it. I would be up in my study, possessed with this clapped out old instrument and when I wasn't honking and squawking on it I'd be listening to all this wonderful music on a crystal radio set I'd built.
I was absorbing all these influences, and after a while I started buying records and building a collection. I had my first experience of being an out-cast at this time, there I was making as much noise as possible on what was considered to be the 'Devil's instrument' - and at the same time I was refusing to take up my destined post as head flautist in the all-important school orchestra. More and more I was being treated as a rebel and in the end I became one. The school finally wrote to my parents saying "the boy must take the saxophone away, we can't have him making these noises and disturbing the peace". My parents created an absolute stink over this - they insisted that I should be allowed to pursue the saxophone. They could see the commitment in me, it became a matter of great principle to them and in the end we won. I started to play in bands and be influenced by key friends. I think growing up to be a musician is all about finding these friends to play with, who feed you revelations about music ("have you heard this album" or "have you heard this musician") and you'd be doing the same back. You'd suddenly meet a new friend or a new musician to play with and your whole life would change. One of the key people I met after school, at a barge party. A bass player who was also a saxophonist, an incredible musician and also an incredible thinker. Maxwell Hutchinson, who went on to become head of the Architectural Association who are always in the news these days having arguments with Prince Charles over this building or that. Max ultimately led me to joining Van der Graaf Generator, because he had been at school with Chris Judge Smith. I went on to university in Dundee and Max also went to university in Scotland and even though we were sixty miles apart, it didn't stop us playing together whenever we got the chance. I had a residency four nights a week in a local pub. My drummer at the time was a brilliant 14 year old called Robbie McIntosh who went on to be in the Average White Band. Even though the underground scene had only just vague echoes up in Scotland in '67 and most of the bands were still grounded in soul music, I had already become interested in rock music so we were playing a kind of hard jazz rock. I played in lots of different bands around the Aberdeen circuit with Max, and made lots of contacts.

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