|An interview with David Jackson by Mick Dillingham
|Heebalob - I remember vividly 'Sgt Pepper' coming out - there was this incredible buzz of sheer disbelief. Wherever you went, people would be playing it. Suddenly, with this astonishing music anything seemed possible. At the end of '67 - the year John Coltrane died - I was in a Glaswegian soul band doing a gig in Arran which is an island off the west coast of Scotland. Bands there would be booked for ten weeks and do two gigs a day. The band were called 'Hadrian's Wall' but the core members were all from another band called 'The Poor Souls' who were a very important Scottish band at the time.
I suppose I was quite hot property being a rock saxophone player - there weren't that many around. That year a day didn't go by when I wasn't playing somewhere or other, and yet behind it all was a struggle with my parents who wanted me to settle down and get a proper job. I had to give up the residency to concentrate on university work, otherwise I would have flunked my degree. I found myself at the start of '68 working in London for a company in the City. I was playing with this band in Oxford , 'Bernard Reich', and commuting between the two all the while. After two months I just cracked up under the strain. I jacked in the London job, which seemed like the end of the world to my parents, and moved up to Oxford to concentrate on the band and leaving lots of heavily burnt bridges behind me. The band had so much going for it, but after 6 months or so still weren't progressing. Then one day out of the blue I got a call from Max Hutchinson asking me to come down to London to be in this band, 'Heebalob', with Max, Chris Judge Smith and a few other people. The band were playing much more interesting music than the Georgie Fame type jazz blues pop of 'Bernard Reich' and I was much more of an important member with them than I had been in Bernard Reich. Chris wrote a lot of Heebalob's material, weird songs with jazzy arrangements but with a power rock rhythm section.
We played Plumpton and did a demo for Polydor with George Gomelsky. He was very interested in the band and got us gigs at the Marquee and various places. During the Summer of '69 we had a big house in Hampstead laid on - it was a luxury, but we had to be self-sufficient by the Autumn or else. The band was being taken seriously and financed, we had gigs and record company interest. Lots of people would come round and listen to the 25-minute Heebalob demo tape; I remember Jon Anderson of Yes coming over for instance. He didn't like the tape at all! One strange, curly-headed bloke came over to listen to the tape and asked particularly who the sax player was. He'd been in a band with Chris Judge Smith at Manchester University - his name was Peter Hammill.
|In 1968 Peter Hammill and Chris Judge Smith left Manchester University to concentrate on their band Van der Graaf Generator. The original keyboard player Nick Pearne soon left to be replaced by Hugh Banton. This 3-piece lasted into the Autumn, when Smith left to be replaced by drummer Guy Evans and ex-Koobas bassist Keith Ellis. The band recorded one single for Polydor, 'People you were going to'/'Firebrand' in December 1968. They then signed a management deal with Tony Stratton-Smith. Four days after they bought brand new equipment with an advance, the lot was stolen. The band split in 1969 after a particularly aggressive Marquee set. Evans then went on to join the Misunderstood where he met bassist Nic Potter; Keith Ellis went on to join Juicy Lucy and latterly Boxer. He sadly died in 1978. At the end of July 1969, Hammill recorded a solo album 'The Aerosol Grey Machine' with help from various ex-Van der Graafers. The album was eventually released in the States and on the Continent only, under the Van der Graaf Generator name.|
|The start of VDGG - At the end of that summer the Heebalob deal fell through and the band broke up. The bass player had got the Scientology bug, the flat had to be given back and I was really at my wit's end. I'd already got to know Peter a bit by this time. He came round with his guitar once, sat there and did 'Afterwards' thrashing his head around - I'd never heard anything like it. Later he said to me 'Look, I know you haven't got anywhere to live - I'm trying to reform Van der Graaf Generator, do you want to be involved and do you want somewhere to live?' I jumped at the chance and moved in with Peter. Actually, he needed help with the rent! Peter already had the other members, Guy Evans, Hugh Banton and Nic Potter, so I had an 'audition' for them just to make sure I fitted in. I just happened to be around at the right moment and have the qualities Peter was looking for. At the end of December '69 we recorded the first VdGG album proper, 'The Least we Can Do Is Wave To Each Other'. I had already started writing music myself while up in Oxford, and because we shared this flat the whole day would be taken up with music.
There were various ways of writing, but slotting in our various bits and pieces to form a whole was one of the easiest and most successful. It was really quite exciting, meetings in West End offices, recording in London studios - it seemed like the high life. We knew we only had four days to record the album so we practiced like mad the whole Autumn with the idea of doing the album live in the studio. When we finally recorded it we did it so fast we found we had all this spare time to do some overdubbing with John Anthony - the Charisma in-house producer. He was a very nice guy, he made it such fun and was so encouraging. If you had ideas he'd willingly try them and would take risks. He opened all our eyes to electronics, which we had never considered before.
In 1970 we started touring heavily to promote the album. 'Melody Maker' made it their Album of the Month. It was a great period, we were happy, and comparatively well-off compared to what had gone before. All the guys in the band could play their instruments so we were constantly pushing at the boundaries of what we could play. I'd come up with a 12-tone riff that Peter didn't even know could exist and he'd write a song around it confident that each member of the band was capable and willing to play it. All these years later, I can still pick up a saxophone and play an hour of all those various and complex VdGG riffs that are burnt into my hands from constantly having to practice them just to learn them, a sort of touch-memory.