On tour with Peter Hammill, November 1999
Well, well, well. The title is a slight exaggeration as I didn't even manage to meet Peter Hammill in the USA - it was close though, and many others did.
The last time that I had seen PH perform live was in London in 1990 and I have been looking for an opportunity to see him again especially as in the meantime I had been developing a Van der Graaf Generator web-site. This had rekindled an interest in his music which hadn't exactly disappeared but diminished due to other interests and the fact that I had spent much time overseas. It's this last fact that gave me the opportunity to go to the USA - Air Miles.
My friend Nick, who was a keen follower of Van der Graaf Generator (see his memories of Sheffield Uni), had moved to Boston, in the USA in 1980. He last saw PH in the USA in 1990 with Nic Potter.
When the Canada/US tour was first announced there wasn't a concert planned for Boston which was a disappointment. We made a tentative plan to go to Philladelphia instead and I booked my flights. Unfortunately the Cambridge (near Boston) concert was then announced and was to take place about an hour after my arrival. I hastily re-booked my flight for the previous day. This gave me a day in Boston to do some shopping and visit the Museum of Science which houses the largest Van der Graaf Generator in the world, which visitors to my web-site will be aware of.
My previous experience of Van der Graaf Generators had been 1. at school and 2. at the London science museum, neither of which had prepared me for the beast at the M.O.S. It is enormous. I went at about 4pm and the place was deserted mainly because it closed at 5pm. I walked into the Theatre of Electricity and couldn't figure out where the machine was - then I looked up! The generator features on the front cover of the Museum map, which gives a good idea of the scale.
Later that evening of course we were to see Peter Hammill at the House of Blues in Cambridge and you can imagine my surprise (and disappointment maybe) when during the evening he said that he had also been to see the largest Van der Graaf Generator in the world, at noon that day. Now that would have been good; to have bumped into him there! (They do shows at 12pm and 2pm - yes, the thing actually works!)
One other mission that I had to complete whilst in Boston was to have a chat with Joe Breines at Boston University. Joe was a friend of Graham Smith during his years in Iceland and I was interested to know more. Joe told me that after leaving Van der Graaf in 1978 Graham Smith joined the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and moved to Iceland, where apart from ISO albums, he released several of his own. Joe has a copy of an album of Icelandic folk songs performed by Graham Smith on violin.

The previous week Peter Hammill was interviewed by The Boston Globe.

The North America tour kicked off with five dates in Canada; in Quebec, Sherbrooke, Montreal, Ottawa and Trois-Rivieres, between the 26th and 30th October 1999, and then moved to the USA on the 1st November 1999. The second US gig was in Philadelphia, which unfortunately we weren't able to make. The third was at The Bottom Line club in New York City, which we did make.
So, they did 'Refugees' during the NYC second set. I had come all the way to the USA from the UK and missed 'Refugees'!! A decision had to be made and it wasn't easy. Maryland is quite a distance from Boston. But, "you've gotta do what you've gotta do" so it was off to Baltimore. By the time we had returned to Boston from New York it was too late to get to Washington (Wheaton). Nick was busy that weekend so I hired a car and drove the 500 miles to Baltimore and saw them again at The Recher Theatre in Towson, Maryland, on my own.
'Refugees', a brilliant end to a very enjoyable week in America. I surprised myself, in a way, that I enjoyed seeing Peter Hammill again after so long. I can't say that I have liked all of his albums, especially some of the 1990's ones, but there wasn't a single song that he performed during the concerts that we saw that I didn't enjoy. Maybe we appreciated it more because we hadn't seen him for such a long time - only more time and a few more concerts will tell.