Jaxon The David Jackson Interview
The Castle Theatre, Wellingborough
21st May 2001
Interview by Tim Locke
Photography by Phil Longstaff


(All Material Copyright)

Tim: Now, you played on the 1997 Van Der Graaf reunion album The Union Chapel Concert. Is there any chance of that sort of thing happening again or even a Van Der Graaf reunion to promote 'The Box'?

David: Not that I know of - I really enjoyed that gig immensely - it was fantastic - but it was pretty short notice, it happened very quickly and nobody quite got a chance to get too wildly excited about it - not even the punters, not even us! All we had time for was 'Lemmings' - we didn't have time to rehearse anything else - but the concert was the concert and the guys who organised it wanted it to be what it was, and that was all the unplayed stuff - it was a concept - you know, all respect to the people whose idea it was - it was a great, great evening and a great chance for many people from different generations of the band to play together.

Tim: What about 'The Box' - how's that selling?

David: As far as we know, it has exceeded all expectations ...

Tim: Is it selling to young people as well?

David: Oh yes, I could talk about 'The Box' for ages. My daughter, who's a singer, and she's in three different bands at the moment, she's just been doing a big, heavy-duty presentation in London - you know, a Spice Girls kind of job - she's the backing singer in a boy band actually. The managers of the band were in a meeting the other day (the band's called Smiley) and they were going on about this amazing box set called Van Der Graaf Generator Box Set and, you know, going on about it - And Smiley said, ' You know Dori, the backing vocalist - that's her Dad - and these guys were so excited - and so was Dori to see how excited they were. It was a real coincidence that they were trying to convince Smiley that this was a really good band... 'It's what you should be doin', Smiley, you know' - 'Learn some of these songs!' He's a really talented guy and I really like him - a great performer.

Anyway - back to the Box - Virgin said it would sell a thousand which was the break-even - current score to May was about eight and a half thousand - and every time somebody reviews it, it gets a five star and they're all saying, 'What is this?' And it's even on compilation albums now - you know, 'when you buy this magazine, you get a Van Der Graaf Generator track' so, all these people are being introduced to Van Der Graaf who've never heard it before, and the Box Set is fine. I know that Virgin have made a quarter of a million pounds profit on it already.

Tim: Keeping you in dog food?

David: Well, I've had the best royalty cheque for ages, based on 3.5 thousand and - Wow - if it really has sold 8 thousand - the royalties I'm gonna get! - It'll pay for some new tyres for the van!

Tim: I had a question emailed to us from Jim Christopulos asking about your time in the 70s in Italy where the band was huge - in the other interview on this site you mentioned French, Belgian and German TV appearances, but you never mentioned Italian TV. Did the band appear of Italian TV and what happened?

David: God knows. It's a very very good question - I'm sure there must be some Italian TV footage because we were very popular there - but, when we were in Italy we were just charging around doing two gigs a day, and some of them could have been televised - I just don't know, I don't remember - it was just mental - it was headlong all the time. We played some very big gigs and it's inconceivable that cameras, news cameras and tv, weren't there - because there were always news stories about Van Der Graaf gigs in Italy.

Tim: Like driving through the side of a glass stadium and having your equipment stolen ?...

David: There were legends about what happened to poor Van Der Graaf in Italy - I don't remember doing a 'posh' tv show, playing 'the hit' - Theme One.

Tim: You work mainly with disabled people with Soundbeam workshops - what do they get out of it, and what drew you especially to work with them?

David: I don't think disabled people are the most natural people for the instrument, it was actually designed for dancers, but people have been dancing since time began - its millions of years old - Everybody dances, and everything on the planet displays - you know, butterflies display, insects display - everything displays and dancing is a display mostly for mating. I assure you that nothing like that happens in a Soundbeam! But people who dance don't really want to be consumed with the problems of trying to play music at the same time, so it isn't actually very popular - I've done quite a lot of dance work with Soundbeams, but it's very hard to convince the dancers that it's really what they want to do. They enjoy it as a token but they don't say, 'That's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life'.

So what drew me to working with disabled people was that, when I wanted to get out of teaching I wanted a different kind of job, I wanted to be a musician again - but then I realised that, practically speaking, it wasn't going to happen - I was writing music and albums, but they were never going to sell enough for me to form my own band, and be my own man, and I'm not that keen - I didn't want to really to do that in a real way, I wanted to write music and perform, but not have a band or anything. Really, it's too much hassle, too much money, you need an enormous amount of money and organisation to do it.

So I really wanted to play ever so much - so, as a day job, I started working with disabled people just to get some money in while I was writing music and so on, and I discovered that there was a whole philosophy of musicians working with disabled people - it's not like teaching... it's more of a 'pied piper' situation where if you can play well, you can lead people into territories and put things together - now, mostly that's a guitarist or a pianist doing it; now a saxophonist doing it - well, it's going to be difficult but it's worth a try and I started doing it and it went down really well - and I started making collections of percussion instruments - in fact I've got 32 collections of percussion instruments so that disabled people could accompany me. But also, I made images of the instruments on cards and on photographs so that disabled people with learning disabilities could actually choose what was happening today, rather than me choosing all the time - there were hundreds of sessions and that's a lot of sessions to come up with all the stuff. You don't want to do the same session every time - you want random and I got random with 36 collections of instruments. I had a set of tubular bells and I split it up into things that you had to play individually and the same concept applied to many things.

Anyway, within a year of starting, people were saying that it was ground-breaking what I was doing - but I wasn't completely satisfied because I still felt that it too much the pied piper sort of thing and it was only me who really knew what the tune was - so I heard about the Soundbeam, spent a lunchtime fiddling with it, and told the bloke I wanted to use it in the afternoon - I needed to have a go on my own - and I led the session with clients in the afternoon, having programmed it at lunchtime, and he said he'd never heard the instrument do what I'd made it do; so it was love at first sight - this was it, it was absolutely brilliant - an incredible idea.

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