They recorded a demo under dubious conditions, put together by their first
manager Caleb Bradley, a fellow student, at his parents' house, only
amplified by two tv sets. The tape included Firebrand
and Sunshine. They were accompanied by rain and thunder in the
background to match because the recordings partly were made outside to
get the right sound conditions. It somehow secured them a rotten contract with
American Mercury Records.
In 1967 young Christopher John Judge Smith fresh out of public school went
on vacation to the US of A. At school he'd been involved in blues and trad.
jazz combos - one of them was called The Gutbucket Stompers. In San
Francisco he met members of Country Joe and the Fish, lived in Haight
Ashbury and went to see the S.F. scene at The Fillmore and Avalon Ballroom.
On his way home at the end of the summer of love, he thought of starting a
rock band and wrote a list of possible names. One alternative was Zeiss
Manifold and the Shrieking Plasma, to which Peter Hammill added Exudation
at the end. Another alternative was Van der Graaf Generator.
Meanwhile London-born Peter Joseph Andrew Hammill of Derby had started
writing poetry at an early age while he attended Beaumont College, a Jesuit
school. His first recording experience was at the age of 12 when he sang lead
treble in the school choir's recording of Silent Night. He wrote his first song,
also a Christmas carol, at about the same age. His interest in music really
awoke about 1965, influenced by the blues (John Lee Hooker, Sony Boy
Williamson ...) and also the British beat, rhythm'n'blues and soul boom
(Beatles, Kinks, Who, Animals ...). Then along came Dylan and the folk
movement, and one Jimi Hendrix demonstrated the power of rock and role a
bit later on. One of Peter's bands at school was called The Hex. At their sole
gig Peter played electric guitar through the headmaster's amp which he blew
up. He continued to write songs that he wanted to sell while he worked as a
computer programmer for IBM in London.
In the autumn of 1967 he attended Manchester University to do a degree in
liberal studies in science. Judge started his short-lived university-career at the
same time - to read drama. After a week or so they both read a notice saying:
"Anybody interested in rock music, meeting in such and such a room on such
and such a day, possible starting a band". About 15 people turned up an
jammed/rehearsed a few times and - according to Judge who gave them their
name - played at least one gig. Probably more, see the November 1967
Judge: "After one of these amorphous jam sessions, I heard this chap
playing, strumming a guitar and singing a song to himself in the corner. It was
a wonderful song! I said 'Who wrote that song?' and he answered 'I did'. I
asked 'Christ, have you got any others?' and he said 'About eighty or ninety' -
I can't remember how many he said. Anyway, this was Hammill. I asked 'Can I
hear them please? Play them; this is amazing!' And so that was really how I
got to know him. He was writing fantastic songs, fully mature, wonderful...".
(Pilgrims no. 15)
The 15 or so strong band soon diminished, or split in two. Our heroes kept the
original name and played songs by Peter Hammill (some written with Judge).
Maggie departed "in shards of screams during a dress rehearsal when
Judge emerged from behind his drum kit in full costume/Latex mask/blood
capsule effect, looming towards her at the climax of a wherewolf tune" (PH
1997 in the booklet of his Fie! release of The Aerosol Grey Machine). Judge
was well into theatrics and used a typewriter as percussion from time to time
and blazing drumsticks, too.
The remaining trio probably only played one gig, at the university, where
everything went wrong. It was ruined by a load of drunk medical students.
They had a few gigs in the Manchester area as a duo though, because the
band didn't possess an organ and because Nick was pulling out. One of them
was as support for Tyrannosauros Rex at the Magic Village Club. On another
occasion they played at the university along with barefoot female dancers in
flowing garmets. Judge: "It was billed as a Happening. People had payed to
get in and nothing happened all night except we came on, with this
under-amplified under-rehearsed band. It was terrifying, absolutely awful.
...One of my worst memories!" (Pilgrims no. 15)