By Jim Christopulos

King Crimson's lead singer (and also their guitarist) Jakko Jakszyk has a brand new album out called 'Secrets and Lies'. Most of King Crimson (incl Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, etc) are on it, and so is VdGG vocalist Peter Hammill. I asked Jakko if I could conduct a VdGG-centric brief interview with him that would include and lead up to Hammill's involvement with his new album. He was nice enough to agree to this. So, here it is. Thanks Jakko!!!

JC: How did you get into VdGG? How old were you, when did you first hear him/them, etc.

JJ: A guy in my class at school was the son of a local farmer. Every so often he would go to this magical place called a cash and carry, something we'd never heard of back in the early 70s. Anyway, his dad used to buy him a treat when he went there. On one occasion he bought an album they had for sale, because the cover looked interesting. The kid hated it and brought it to school and gave it to me. It was 'Pawn Hearts'. I was completely smitten. I played it endlessly in the dark of my bedroom. And I remember a party at an old remote house where one of our 'groovy' English teachers lived and it playing in the half light.

JC: Did you ever see the band live? If so, where and how was it (any memories...)

JJ: I saw them live several times. The first at a local venue, Watford Town Hall in March of '72. Double bill with Hawkwind. I saw them at the Victoria Theatre in London when they reformed in '75 with a good school pal of mine. And again at the Theatre Royal in '76. Of course, I was at the reunion at The Festival Hall in 2005. A really special evening. I was on the guest list so sat with others, friends and family. There was a guy behind me who was talking very knowledgably about the band, but his voice was incredibly familiar. I kept trying to wrack my brain for who it was. Eventually I tried to subtly turn around to see the face from which the familiar voice was emanating. It was Matthew Corbett of Sooty and Sweep fame! "Whats that Sooty? You hope they play 'Man Erg'?" Very odd. I've also seen Peter on his own many times too.

JC: Do you have any fave VdGG songs? Were they/he an influence on your own musical approach?

JJ: Oh, so many... I love all of 'Pawn Hearts'. Still one of my favourite records. "Killer", "The Emperor and his war room", "Refugees"... Look, this is pointless - I'll be here all day! I'm not sure about the influence... I don't think it's obvious but there's some of it somewhere, as I listened to so much of it when I was learning to do what I do.

JC: How/When did you first meet Peter Hammill? I know you were on [ex-VdGG sax player] David Jackson's 'Long Hello Vol. 3' album, and so was Hammill, but I'm guessing you didn't cross paths at the time of contributing to that disc...

JJ: When I signed my first solo deal in 1980, I asked my label if they could locate David Jackson. He was very friendly and seemed to like what I do, so I used him on most of that record. I became very friendly with him and his family and would often spend Sundays there with his wife Sue and their kids. So, I met Peter socially through them. And at Hammill solo shows that we went to whether David was playing or not. So, we've known each other since then really.

JC: King Crimson performed "Heroes" live within the last few years, it's a Bowie tune that Fripp contributed to. Any chance in the future of KC performing VdGG's "The Emperor in His War Room"? Obviously this is a (half-way) tongue-in-cheek question but it would be awesome, and there is a spotlighted brilliant Robert Fripp guitar solo. Would you be game?

JJ: Ha. No chance. Pity, because between Robert and me we could emulate the guitar overdubs he does on that song.

JC: "Fool's Mandate" from your new album 'Secrets & Lies', is co-written with Hammill, who also does co-lead vox. How did this collaboration come about?

JJ: I kept bumping into Peter. And he kept asking me if I had made a solo album yet. I'd say no, and he'd say that I ought to, that this was a moment to get it together. So eventually when I last saw him and he asked the same question, I said, "Yes I'll make a solo album on condition that you appear on it!' He said, "Of course!" So, that's how it started. I was keen to 'collaborate' rather than just get Peter to sing some back-up. So, he asked if I had anything started but incomplete. I sent him an instrumental that I had based on some traditional music from the Middle East.

JC: Regarding the recording process, was PH in the studio with you or was it done trading files, etc. Which way of working do you prefer?

JJ: We exchanged files. I would have loved to have done this in the same studio at the same time, but it was one of the last things I did and COVID was creeping!!

JC: PH gets a writing credit on "Fool's Mandate", how did the songwriting collaboration work (were you trading ideas back & forth, or did you both have pre-written sections you merged, etc.)

JJ: Well, Peter listened to the track I sent and back came a load of vocal files, and even some guitar playing. He'd written a lyric that was vague enough that I could have applied any number of subject matters. So I ended up using the lyric and the Middle Eastern feel to write about the Balfour Declaration!!

JC: "Separation" is the other track Peter Hammill appears on. It's almost like a King Crimson tune with that lineup (you, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Gavin Harrison), except for Hammill on backing vocals. Hammill has said that he's been asked to do b-vox by Peter Gabriel on two different albums because PG uses him for parts that he (PG) knows aren't really in his range. Other than the fact that you obviously like his vox, why did you choose Peter Hammill for b-vox (what did he bring to the table that you were looking for, if anything)?

JJ: I could just hear him singing this in my head, so I asked him if he'd do this too. And it sounded great. Just like Peter Hammill in fact. Which was lucky, because that's just what I was going for!!

JC: During all the long King Crimson tours and down time where you might just be relaxing and chewing the fat with Robert Fripp, has he ever brought up any PH/VdGG anecdotes while reminiscing about the past? Have you guys ever discussed PH/VdGG? To my knowledge, Fripp's not on record anywhere discussing his work on [VdGG / Hammill ablums] 'H to He', 'Foolsmate', or 'Pawn Hearts'.

JJ: No, never. I've passed on greetings to both of them, from both of them. But no, Robert has never spoken about it. I have brought up some of the stuff on "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" [a song Fripp contributed guitar to on VdGG's 1971 album 'Pawn Hearts'] because he plays a similar part on a newer Crimson tune, but he doesn't seem to remember the sessions very well.

Jim Christopulos, 29th October 2020.