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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 246 - 09/16/16

Peter Hammill & The K Group
Live At Rockpalast
MIG Music GmbH

This is the recording of a gig at Markthalle in Hamburg in late November 1981, in the country that was called West Germany or The Federal Republic of Germany at the time. It was broadcasted live on TV throughout western Europe along with concerts of many other bands and artists in the years before and after. Some of the others have recently or will soon be given the same treatment as Hammill's performance by MIG Music. There have been rumours of an official release of this for several years, and finally ... Two different formats have been issued, a DVD-only version and one with the DVD and the music on two CDs in addition. The sight and sound quality is substantially better than the VHS copy (of a copy of ...) I obtained some decades ago.

Peter Hammill went solo after the demise of his band Van der Graaf with and without Generator in 1978, but he continued to play now and again with some of the other band members. In September 1981 he gathered the K Group as a sort of semi-permanent vehicle for his solo career and they kept together until the money had dried up in August 1984, with solo and duo performances in between. Apart from Hammill (aka. K, lead vocals, piano and guitars), the Group included John 'Fury' Ellis (guitars and backing vocals, ex-Vibrators), the late Nic 'Mozart' Potter (bass) and Guy 'Brain' Evans (drums). The two latter had played along with Peter in Van der Graaf and Guy still does, since the reformation of the Generator version of the band in 2005. The K Group was a logical extension of latter-day Van der Graaf with lots of guts, punk energy and no compromises. They had only been together for a couple of moonths when this concert took place, during the Group's first tour, which goes to show. They are well rehearsed, but there is another live album by the band, The Margin, recorded two years later. The combo was definitely tighter at that stage.

Both albums begin with one of my all-time Hammill solo favourites "The Future Now". Check these great impatient, youthful lyrics (Peter was still in his twenties when he wrote them):

Here we are, static in the latter half
of the twentieth century
but it might as well be the Middle Ages,
there'll have to be some changes
but how they'll come about foxes me.
I want the future now,
I want to hold it in my hands;
all men equal and unbowed,
I want the promised land.

But that doesn't seem to get any closer,
and Moses has had his day...
the tablets of law are an advertising poster,
civilisation here to stay
and this is progress?
You must be joking!
Me, I'm looking for any kind of hope.
I want the future now,
I want to see it on the screen,
I want to break the bounds
that make our lives so mean.

Oh, blind, blinded, blinding hatred
of race, sex, religion, colour, country and creed,
these scream from the pages of everything I read.
You just bring me oppression and torture,
apartheid, corruption and plague;
you just bring me the rape of the planet
and joke world rights at the Hague.
Oh, someday the Millennium!
But how far is someday away?
I want the future now
I'm young, and it's my right.
I want a reason to be proud.
I want to see the light.
I want the future now,
I want to see it on the screen,
I want to break the bounds:
make life worth more than dreams.

Phew! The Rockpalast version misses the great Fury guitar contribution in the choruses of The Margin version and sounds closer to the somewhat weaker original studio version. And there's a kind of synth drum that threatens to destroy the entire song in between. It pops up on a few more songs later on. I guess they got rid of it soon afterwards, it sounds really old fashioned and really out of place nowadays. The tour was in support of Hammill's latest solo album at the time, Sitting Targets. That album is represented with five songs here, including the title track, "Central Hotel" and "Stranger Still". The latter has often been featured in Hammill's set list ever since. And yes, he gets up from the piano and walks to the front of the stage to scream 'A stranger, a worldly man' repeatedly at the end. The previous album A Black Box is even better covered, with three tracks including the LP-side long/almost 22 minutes epic "Flight" in seven parts, about the, yes, flight of a fighter pilot. This one is missing from the Spotify version of the album, which of course is a great shame. It offers some time off the rock'n'roll trial with quieter sequences now and again and more diversity than the remaining songs. A highlight to me. It was last heard on Van der Graaf Generator's 2013 tour and the live album from the tour Merlin Atmos.

Before the punky "The Sphinx In The Face", off Van der Graaf's last studio album back then, The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, Hammill announces that this will be the only Van der Graaf song to be played that evening. Well, in the end, probably as the encores he has a couple more up his sleeve. "Door" is a heavy rocker with lots of guitars, at the time only available on Vital, the double live farewell album from Van der Graaf in 1978. After a long period of applause, cheers and apathy among those present (documented on the DVD, not the CD), Hammill finally returns alone and admit that the band have played all the songs they have rehearsed. He sits down by the piano for "My Room (Waiting For Wonderland)", from the 1976 Generator album Still Life. Always a treat, a more dedicated version than the one on the studio album and far from the rock'n'roll the rest of the evening.

If I should recommend only one K Group live album, it would surely be The Margin. Then of course you'd miss the moving pictures of the Rockpalast show and the last two Van der Graaf numbers plus "Losing Faith In Words" from A Black Box. Instead The Margin includes several treats from the two following Hammill studio albums, recorded with the K Group: Enter K (1982) and Patience (1983), both ranking among his best along with his classics from the 1970s. But, of course, the hard-core followers need both. And it might be worth while watching a spastic K in that strange green operation doctor alike outfit and daft 1980s headband (see the cover picture; our chef suggested he looks like Michael Palin doing a Mark Knopfler parody ...), a very young Fury, quite young and little mobile Mozart and Brain who hadn't lost all his hair yet.

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