An interview with David Jackson by Mick Dillingham
Page 7
No British band had played Italy for a year or so and suddenly what the Italians considered to be the British band were coming back - you can imagine the stir it caused. Now I'm no expert in Italian politics, but I do know that the Communists were not supposed to hold rallies. They got round this by putting on rock concerts, and before the band came on they would invariably set up a rostrum and do speeches - and then the trouble would start. Things had got so out of hand that no foreign bands would play Italy. Our first concert was in Padova in this enormous enclosed market, with high glass sides - a spectacular building. They had built this huge stage for us at one end with a line of barricades along the path to our tour truck which on this occasion had to double as our dressing room. So the four of us were in this truck and we suddenly became aware that we had been double-crossed, because from the stage the Communists had started up with political speeches. We went berserk, shouting at the promoter, telling him that he had betrayed us. We eventually started to play and suddenly became aware in the darkness that this enormous phalanx of people had come in through the far entrance and had swept in behind the crowd.
There was an unpalatable taste of tension and fear in the air. We carried on playing and then a few missiles started coming towards the stage. Something nearly hit me, another one whizzed past Guy and then Peter staggered as one found its target. Freakout! We stopped. We left the stage and went back to the van. The promoters went down on their knees, begging us to return, so we went back on stage and carried on playing while the fighting in the audience became more and more wild. A brick missed me by half an inch, the stage was stoned and that was the end, we stopped again and ran back to the van. We had just pulled the back down when the van suddenly started up. The driver had been on the mixing desk, vainly trying to protect it from the surrounding sea of madness, and he'd got a bit too rough with one particular person so the mob had decided to 'see to him'. He'd run through the crowd with these people in hot pursuit and had locked himself in the cab of our erstwhile dressing room. Unaware that we were in the back, he just took off when a crow-bar or two was brandished by the bloodthirsty mob. Marquee gig
He drove through the masses with people diving out of the way and us rolling around in the back screaming as our instruments and equipment crashed about our ears. He ploughed straight through the glass side of the building with a massive crash and kept on driving until he eventually stopped. I've never been so frightened in all my life as I was in the back of that truck. That night we went into hiding in various friends' houses, for we knew that returning to the hotel was not the wisest of moves.

The next day was OK - we did two concerts in Genoa and there wasn't any trouble at all. The third day was the 'Palast Sport' in Rome, a gigantic concert - 40,000 people. It was awe-inspiring, standing on that stage looking at this endless sea of faces that were there to see Van der Graaf Generator. But then the heavy political speeches started up from the stage... there were hundreds of heavily armed policemen, very aggressive, gathering in the crowd during the concert. A fire broke out but was quickly brought under control. The day didn't turn out as we thought it would, but things still weren't right and we seemed powerless to stop the political speeches.
The next day was a day off and we had all gathered at breakfast to decide what to do about the situation when a roadie arrived with the news that our truck, along with all our equipment, had been stolen. Everything was in that truck, every single thing we had - including the Second (Hammill's guitar).

(Historical note: a 'phone call to Peter Hammill in December 1990 elicited the following invaluable information. 'Meurglys I' was a black Hargstrom guitar that pre-dated Van der Graaf Generator. 'Meurglys II' was an ice-blue Stratocaster with extra Gibson pickup and a whammy bar, and was used to record 'Nadir's Big Chance' in 1974 and seen on the cover of the same. It was stolen from the truck in the Rome 1975 fiasco, and is still "greatly missed". 'Meurglys III' as seen on the 'Over' cover, featured on 'World Record' and subsequent recordings).
The promoters turned up and demanded that we carry on with the tour using hired equipment. An impossibility - it couldn't be done - but the truck containing our equipment had seemingly disappeared off the face of the planet. Our road crew were out desperately trying to find a trace of it. The promoter got very, very upset and we got very, very nervous looking at the gun-shaped bulge in his pocket. He was desperate, but we said we would NOT play with rented equipment. After three days of fruitless searching we received word that a lorry had been taken to a wrecker's yard outside Rome. When the roadcrew arrived to check it out they were met by men with crowbars. The local police showed a strange reluctance to help us, and it wasn't until we found out that the yard actually belonged to the police that things began to fall into place. We were eventually allowed to quickly see the lorry - the tail-lift had been sawn off, somebody had taken away the batteries and it was half-empty. 'The Pig', a massively heavy transformer, was found by chance hidden under a pile of tyres nearby. We couldn't take it back, it was too heavy and needed special equipment to move it, so we just had to leave it behind. It was our conjecture that the police had towed away the lorry to the dump and someone had stolen most of the equipment - and that this had been done officially to kill the tour. Which it did...

A minor miracle happened when we got back; they were unloading what remained of our equipment when it was suddenly realised that what had been mistaken for one of the P.A. cabinets was in fact 'Vangogh', my customised packing case containing everything that was Jaxon. There it all was, my saxophones with their customised keys, the electrical pickups, even my hats - all safe and sound. But still the band had been shaken to the very core - this three week high-level tour of Italy, the biggest tour ever undertaken in that country by anyone, had collapsed after only three days. The promoter threatened us very heavily when we pulled out and things got very sinister for a while - we certainly didn't dare show our faces in Italy. We were freaked out beyond belief, and it did permanent damage to the band. When we got home we had no work lined up, no money, and we owed £30,000 to the people we'd hired the lighting rig and P.A. from for all that stuff which had gone missing. The insurance deal fell through for some small-print reason or another and the equipment wasn't replaced. We were having to do scratch gigs - Hemel Hempstead, that sort of thing - using hired equipment. Everybody was very upset, especially Peter who wouldn't talk to anyone for a long time. His whole world had been taken away, including his beloved guitar Meurglys II. It's absence symbolised everything Peter and the band had lost in that disastrous time in Italy. The spirit of the band had been completely broken.

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