Requiem Mass – Reviews


(29 Oct 2016 / by Chris Roberts)

Judge Smith – Requiem Mass album review

Ex-Van der Graaf Generator veteran Judge Smith composes neo-classical construct.

Founder member of Van der Graaf Generator and erstwhile collaborator with Peter Hammill, Judge Smith has also composed stage musicals and operas. He wrote the punk parody Gob On You for Not The Nine ‘O Clock News too, but this setting of the Latin Mass For The Dead is a far more earnest proposition. Written in 1975, it’s only now that he’s found the satisfactory marriage of musicians, finance and recording quality to make it happen.

It’s a startlingly grandiose half-hour piece, featuring the 50-voice Crouch End Festival Chorus, a rock quartet, orchestral percussion, trumpets, trombones and the baritone Nigel Richards. While at times it feels a bit — well, a lot like being in church for a Songs Of Praise episode, at others the rock band get driving and the movements muster a wallop A very loose parallel would be one of Rick Wakeman’s 70s zeniths — but without the keyboard flourishes. And if it does come across rather worthy and bombastic — as a formal tribute to the deceased has every right to — the ambition is admirable. Somewhere between rock opera and classical elegy, this requiem is a mass of monolithic mournfulness. He’s realised a long-held vision: Amen to that. CR



(22 Nov 2016 / by Sid Smith)

Judge Smith: Inside the mind of the man who named Van der Graaf Generator

He’s probably best known in the prog world as the man who gave VdGG their name, but there’s plenty more to Judge Smith, from solo albums to stage musicals and more…

Since he co-founded Van der Graaf Generator in Manchester in 1967 with Peter Hammill, Judge Smith has been rather busy in the intervening years. In addition to appearing on Peter Hammill’s In Camera and providing material for Nadir’s Big Chance, he also contributed the libretto for Hammill’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher project. Smith has also written various musicals for the stage and as well as having worked in television, he’s also penned books on the supernatural. Something of an intrepid musical explorer, he’s released 12 records including a concept double album about the age of the airship. His latest release, Requiem Mass, was written for a 50-strong choir, an eight-piece brass section and a rock band and is his most ambitious work to date.


Goldmine Magazine

Judge Smith with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Nigel Richards: Requiem Mass

(Masters of Art – CD)

Anyone with an eye for the antiquities of Van Der Graaf Generator will know Judge Smith’s name; songwriter and drummer in the bands earliest incarnation, he departed when he realized the band really didn’t need help in either department

“I was just starting out as a songwriter and finding my feet”, he tells Spin Cycle “I couldn’t sing that well at the time and Peter [Hammillj didn’t need me as a songwriting partner. Also, they were all good musicians and I was a very bad drummer. In fact, it was me who insisted they get a proper one, thus doing myself out of a job.

Or forcing himself to find another one – which he did, and continues to do, across a long stream of solo albums and projects that add up to one of the most startlingly idiosyncratic discographies of the past forty years: and which has just taken another major leap with Requiem Mass, a piece that Smith wrote back in 1974, but which he has only now got around to recording.

it’s a big piece….’  he explains, “It’s only half an hour long, but it requires a large choir, a four piece guitar band, four trumpets, four trombones, percussion and a solo singer. not me.. a fine-voiced singer. l went to the world of musical theater to get my soloist which l thought was a good radical solution, and I got Nigel Richards, who’s been a phantom in Phantom of the Opera in the West End, and he did a wonderful jab. Just that lovely interface, – not classical but not rock’n’roll, either.”

The Crouch End chorus, too, has rock kudos, courtesy of its involvement with Ray Davies, but the Requiem itself moves in other directions entirely, a solid piece of chorale music, exquisitely toned in the mood of what we lazily call classical music’ (as if a single genre could ever sum up 300+ years of creatMtyL but neither locked into what we might “expect” from such a description, nor willfully flinging those expectations aside, even when the guitars kick in.

Quite simply, it is beautiful, a soaring, moving, but most of all thrilling performance whose sole true relative in rock history is the musical-within-a-musical presented by Jim Maclaine in the movie Stardust. Which, intriguingly coincidentally, was also written in 1974-

There must have been something in the water.

Progressive Ears

Judge Smith and his latest album “requiem Mass”

I can not remember I have ever seen a thread about Chris Judge Smith here on PE. Time for a change!

He is probably one of the most unprolific progressive rock artist around. Mostly known as one of the founding members of VDGG (although he never played on one of the official albums) and as the writer of several hammill songs like ‘been alone so long’, ‘Time for a change’ and ‘Four pails’. Over the last 15 to 20 years he has been regulary releasing albums under his own name.

I have 3 of them. First there is ‘Curly’s Airhip’; probably his magnum opus. A concept album over 2 CDs with several guest vocalists ( Like Hammill and Lene Lovich) and various VDGG musicians. The album does not sound anything like VDGG though. This is a very varied and very wordy affair. I like it a lot but it took me some time to get used to.

The second album I got is ‘The Climber’; again a concept album (or ‘song story’ as he calls them) This album just has a Danish man choir and Judge Smith singing. No other instruments. Interesting stuff.

The 3th is Zoot suit. This is not a concept album but a collection of songs. Probably his most mainstream sounding album of the three. This it is very varied and overall good songs. Produced by david minnick; a name which might ring a bell with Cardiacs fans.

All those 3 albums are very different, which is a good thing. The one thing that kept them from becoming real favorites is the voice of Judge Smith. he is by no means a bad singer but he sounds so extremely civilized ( by the lack of a better word). I like vocals that are a bit rougher around the edges. Anyway, this is just a matter of personal preference and a not matter of quality. The quality of the songwriting is, as far as I can judge, pretty high throughout.

And now there is a new one ‘requiem mass’. Again, this one is completely different.

Apparently this piece was already written in 1975 but never recorded or performed. The positive side (for me): Judge Smith is not singing on this one. All the vocals are by a full choir and solo parts by a baritone voice. The band consists of bass, drums, 2 guitars and a more sparsely used brass section. If it weren’t for the choir and baritone I would say this is a typical 70ies rock album! Lotsa heavy riffin’ going on!

The negative it is only a half hour long. The positive is that it is not longer then it needs to be. The danger with albums like this is that it can easily sound kitschy. I do not have this problem with requiem mass. I played it three times in a row yesterday and I think it simply sounds very cool.

There are not many samples available but check it out on:


Lemming Chronicles: 08.10.16

Judge Smith: Requiem Mass

One hears so often of a re-issued classic prog rock album [sic] ‘newly mastered from the original’, which description could so easily apply to Judge Smith’s Requiem Mass except that the original album never actually existed until now.

It ought to have done: it would have been a ‘rock & classical music’ fusion album to rank, certainly, alongside Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Moody Blues and The London Festival Orchestra and most of the mid-seventies God-Rock efforts. This 30 minute work has riffs that Pete Brown’s Piblokto or Spooky Tooth would have been proud of, easily surpassing in both grit and quality the ‘middle-class’ ostinati on offer at the time from the likes of Karl Jenkins, Mike Oldfield or Lloyd-Webber and Rice.

A Requiem Mass is a piece of music especially composed to honour and pay tribute to the dead, defined pretty much by the words of the Introit, ‘Requiem Aeternàm Dona Eis’, the first part of any requiem mass, ‘Eternal rest give unto them, 0 Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them’. They’re usually choral and really come into their own at funerals. Mozart wrote one. Berlioz, too. And so did Judge Smith. But he put electric guitar, bass and drums in his. He added beat. You’re not supposed to do that.

Why not? Composer Judge Smith came of age in the beat generation. Check out his recent album Zoot Suit and you’ll see what I mean. Beat was exciting, made you want to groove. A beat was what you added to something to make it really swing. The Beatles were a beat group. But if, like Keith Emerson, Love Sculpture or Episode Six you took classical Music and put a beat to it, you’d be sure to rattle the Bone China in the ivory towers of the BBC’s Third Programme.

While drummers protect the beat in rock music, conductors safeguard the pulse, spirit and energy of the Requiem Mass. With The Nice’s version of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, the rhythm lends itself to the beat perfectly, but requiem masses tend to have the sanctimony of the noli me tãngere about them so John Ellis’ vivacious guitar solos would certainly have caused The Reverend and Mrs. Gingham-Tweed of Esher to choke on their rectory tiffin.

Of course, one can say it’s a work very much of its time but the real achievement is that Judge Smith has reinvoked it here – transcribed and orchestrated by both Ricardo Odriozola and Michael Brand between them – just as he originally conceived it, in a freshly laundered set of duds to celebrate its release following forty years of cranial servitude. The singing of the Crouch End Festival Chorus conducted by David Temple and featuring the splendid baritone Nigel Richards is brave and commanding, with all the energy one hears in Mozart or Haydn.

It might be worth checking out a requiem mass by Michael Haydn, Cherubini or Saint-Sâens to trace how requiem masses developed from the Baroque period to their dramatic embellishments in the Romantic age to further appreciate Smith’s approach to the form, with its nine recognised movements from the Introit and Kyrie to the Communion and the Amen.

The Introit here has something tribal about it while the Kyrie recalls the free rythms of seventies Jazz Rock. The gentle acoustic guitar arpeggio of the Tract [James Pusey] contrasts effectively with the fourth movement, the Dies Irae, – Day of Wrath and Doom Impending – which is where the real anarchy resides with a galloping 4/4 and some exemplary rock guitar work from John ‘Fury’ Ellis, capriciously tossing in some quirky major thirds to an uncompromisingly minor modal setting and who, incidentally, would not have been available at the time of any 1976 recording, due to commitments with The Stranglers (Smith might have had to make do with Ritchie Blackmore or possibly Steve Hillage). Also in this Dies Irae, Nigel Richards is coaxed successfully to notes well beyond his natural baritone.

The fifth section, the offertory is almost a Doo-Wop while the sixth, the Sanctus, is a blend of fizzy Tijuana brass with another irresistably provocative rock motif.

After some military style percussion, the Agnus Dei – movement seven – has a lyrical beauty which would have suited the voices of Scott Walker or Quintessence’s Shiva Shankar Jones: the eighth movement, Communion, echoes the Introit, and finally, the Amen hints at souls in torment rather than spirits at peace – but this could be the whole point: the Requiem Mass was originally a conceit of the Catholic Church and posed, it seemed, the question as to whether the idea of God’s will was supposed to be of spiritual comfort or ultimately intended to scare the living daylights out of you. The history of mankind’s approach to religion up until the Victorian era was that we should all cower in fearful deference to the Almighty.

Judge Smith has, over his career, given us The Songstory [The Climber, Orpheus], Sprechgesang [LRADI and he is one of two founding fathers of the Van der Graaf Generator dynasty and, like his magnum opus Curly’s Airships, The Requiem Mass is a considerable achievement but what of It now? What must it bring to us today?

Well, as we had ‘beat’, so Malcolm McLaren brought ‘mix’ and trance to opera; and as current rappers and deejays bring ambience and cross-over to all kinds of standard repertoire, I’d like to see a new kind of treatment brought to the work; after all, a requiem mass is as much a celebration of sacred memory as it is a reverential gesture to the concept of eternity. It’s also a very beautiful piece of choral music. I would have liked a double CD set of the original rock version and a maybe minimalist, musique noire approach: you couldn’t do that with Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph’s Dreamcoat or Godspe, and yet these musical shows are revived frequently.

So if you like late 1960’s and early 1970’s underground Music as a genre, this is the album that didn’t make it here for you until now. Not only does it fully merit shelf- space in the Van der Graaf Generator trophy room, It is an example of how ‘Good’ music sounded in those innocent and inspiring times as well as an extraordinary feat of memory and composition, and must be allowed to take its prestigious place among the other fine works in the Judge Smith canon.

Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to wait for someone to die to compose a requiem mass: as this piece of choral music has no dedicatee, each contributor to the project has submitted a picture, forming a thumbnail mosaic of remembrance, of a dear departed loved one or relative as a composite part of the CD cover, to each one of whom Judge Smith’s work is respectfully dedicated. How comforting to know that no person or persons died especially for the making of this album and that those cherished ones who went before, now have a beautiful piece of music to be remembered by.


Luna Kafé e-zine – Judge Smith: Requiem Mass  14/11/16 (Extracts)

It’s been a great autumn for followers of Van der Graaf Generator (VdGG) and its cohorts. In addition to the new album Do Not Disturb by the band itself released the last day of September, the Rockpalast concert from 1981 with Peter Hammill’s K Group including two former VdGG members in addition to Hammill himself finally saw the light of day on CD and DVD in late August. And here’s the new album by VdGG co-founder along with Hammill and original drummer, the artist formerly known as Chris Judge Smith. I guess the album might be characterised as the eccentric outskirts of the VCIGG sphere. It’s certainly a one of a kind album, a real mass of the dead, in the vein of Roman catholic masses – with lyrics in Latin – in nine movements for a massive 48 members strong choir, brass and a rock’n’roll band. No organ involved. With the rock group involvement its not a traditional mass as such, neither a “rock opera” as his and Peter Hammill’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher, nor the kind of songstory that Judge has written a few of earlier, Curly’s Airships being the first. it’s certainly a one of a kind Work….

…As you might expect, the final recording sounds a bit pompous here & there, as it ought to, with a big choir, brass and all. Though not in the self-centred pomp (& circumstance) way. Here & there the rock band dominates and there are unquestionably some rock’n’roll songs involved here, with blistering guitar solos by Fury Ellis and all. Only they areung in Latin by a big choir and a male lead vocalist that belongs on the theatre/musical scene. The opening “Introit” with the reprise, sort of, “Communion” towards the end, are tight little rockers turned into symphonic rock once in a while when the full choir kicks in. During “Sanctus” I even seem to discern some short glimpses from Deep Purple’s kind of mass of the funeral pyre “Into The Fire” … But there are mellower moments involved as well. “Tract” in particular is a great little requiem ballad, sort of, with gentle guitar picking, choir and lead vocals, while “Agnus Dei” is closer to West End musicals. Judge insist that “Dies Irae” includes real rock’n’roll lyrics (translation from the album booklet):

Day of wrath and doom impending David’s word with Sibyl’s blending Heaven and earth in ashes ending. Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth When from heaven the Judge descendeth On whose sentence all dependeth.

I guess some black metal workers might nod approvingly. I also guess the lyrics are traditional Roman Catholic Mass stuff, and not our Judge writing his autobiography.

In his own writings about his requiem, though, Judge has admitted that: ‘I am a hopeless salesman; I couldn’t sell a life-jacket to a drowning man.’ And yes, the Requiem Mass seems like a hopeless project commercially. That might be one reason why it appeals so much to me. There certainly are no commercial hidden agenda involved here. The album clocks in at just a little more than 30 minutes, which is about ideal, according to the norm of the classic pop albums from the 1960s. Only this is something completely different. Very different from anything else in my record collection, as it happens. But the musical blend is indeed very fascinating. Hats off to Judge who managed to fulfill the project 41 years down the road. He and his Work certainly deserve all the support they can get. The album be ordered from our man’s own home page. Or you might check out if Burning Shed still have copies signed by Judge available.

Copyright 0 2016 JP (

Babyblaue – Prog Reviews

Judge Smith:  Requiem Mass

Rezensionen Von: Gunnar Claußen @

Die bislang aktuellste Veröffentlichung von Judge Smith ist dem Vernehmen nach die Realisierung eines lange gehegten Plans: Smiths “Requiem Mass” war eigentlich bereits von 1973 bis 1975 in Zusammenarbeit mit einem gewissen Michael Brand komponiert worden und wurde damals sogar in gedruckter Form verlegt. Zu einer Aufführung oder Aufnahme kam es dagegen nicht, wobei Smith in seinen wie üblich ausführlichen Ausführungen zum Hintergrund gar Andrew Lloyd Webber beschuldigt, mit seinem eigenen “Requiem” aus dem Jahr 1985 vergleichbaren Projekten, in denen ein Requiem mit Rock- und Musical-Mitteln inszeniert wurde, das Wasser abgegraben zu haben. Erst um 2010 herum kam durch die Mitwirkung des bereits von “The Climber” bekannten Ricardo Odriozola wieder Bewegung in die Sache. Smiths “Requiem” wurde überarbeitet und mit zusammengesuchten Musikern, darunter erneut Veteranen wie John Ellis, dann ab Oktober 2015 aufgenommen (was sich dann noch letztlich bis zum Sommer des Folgejahres hinzog, aber das ist eine andere Geschichte).

Judge Smith scheint hiermit also erneut einiges bewegt zu haben. Wie klingt nun das Ergebnis dieser Anstrengungen? Das sollte man vielleicht mal wieder ausgehend davon beurteilen, was hier zusammenkommt. Einerseits haben wir hier den Chor, Nigel Richards als Solisten, Bläser und Orchesterpauken. Die andere Seite besteht dann aus einer klassischen Rockband (samt John Ellis), und im Hinterkopf sollte man natürlich noch haben, dass Struktur und Libretto eines Requiems natürlich im Wesentlichen vorgegeben sind. In dieser Konstellation läuft die Frage, welche Qualitäten “Requiem Mass” hat, damit eigentlich auf zwei Punkte hinaus: Wie ist der “klassische” Anteil der Musik beschaffen, und wie wird nun die Rock-Komponente hier integriert? (Dass letzteres in dieser Hierarchie erfolgt und nicht etwa umgekehrt, liegt natürlich auf der Hand – ein Requiem ist nun mal vorwiegend ein chorales Werk.)

Im ersten dieser beiden Aspekte überrascht Smith sowohl in Komposition als auch bezogen auf die Aufnahme positiv. Der Chor singt die bekannten Texte überwiegend in prägnanten, rhythmischen Melodien, die interessant geführt sind. Im “Introit” geht es zu fanfarenartiger Begleitung aufsteigend nach oben und erst in Passagen, in denen der Chor alleine agiert, wieder herunter. Auch “Tract” und vor allem das “Dies Irae” sowie “Offertory” überzeugen mit schönen Harmonien und einem Gegensatz aus polyphonen und homophonen Stimmen. Auf der anderen Seite sind auch die Soloeinsätze für Richards hörenswert und erhalten, auch wenn der Schwerpunkt jeweils auf dem Chor liegt, ihr eigenes Gewicht. Die Bläser wiederum spielen eine eher untergeordnete Rolle, sonderlich in Erscheinung treten sie hauptsächlich mit den Fanfaren in “Kyrie”, einigen markanten, strukturierend eingesetzten, später gar zu einer Satz-Passage ausgewalzten Motiven in “Dies Irae” und dann noch mal in “Communion”, das im Wesentlichen zwar eine Reprise des “Introit” darstellt, dabei aber eben die Trompeten verstärkt.

Fehlt also noch die rockige Komponente. Hierzu muss festgehalten werden, dass die versammelte Band eigentlich gar nicht so außergewöhnlich agiert und faktisch sogar eher mainstreamig spielt. “Introit” unterlegt man jedenfalls mit einem rockigen, leicht stampfigen Rhythmus, “Dies Irae” abseits der Trompetenmotive mit einem Boogie, “Offertory” gar mit einem 6/8-Blues à la “Only You” und im Mittelteil von “Sanctus” taucht schließlich das Riff aus Deep Purples “Into The Fire” auf. Hier fragt man sich gelegentlich, inwiefern die klassische und die rockige Komponente tatsächlich miteinander verknüpft sind. Umgekehrt allerdings gibt es auch Momente, in denen beides sehr wohl miteinander interagiert. Das betrifft insbesondere den Anfang von “Sanctus”, der mit einem Wechsel von A- und E-Gitarren, Bläsern, später dann Chor, Richards, nochmals Gitarren und Glockenschlägen eine sehr bewegte Mischung mit Gentle-Giant-Anklängen ergibt. “Dies Irae” wiederum erinnert im Mittelteil mit Wechselbass-Rhythmus und dem Chor dazu an Klassik-Crossover-Vorreiter wie Therion (“Land Of Canaan”), und der schöne Chor hat zum leicht schmalzigen Blues von “Offertory” wiederum eine regelrecht verblüffende Wirkung.

Starke bis sehr starke Momente, die sehr für eine gelungene Integration von Rock-Elementen in einen klassischen Hintergrund sprechen, hat “Requiem Mass” somit zweifelsohne. Nicht verschweigen möchte ich allerdings, dass die Kombination abseits davon zeitweilig allerdings doch Befremden auslösen kann. Das liegt einerseits daran, dass der Rock-Part mit seinen eher simplen Riffs und trockener Produktion ohnehin teils ein wenig hölzern tönt, mehr noch aber daran, dass – und das war ja eigentlich nicht anders zu erwarten – sämtliche Bewegung und Entwicklung der Musik wiederum vom Chor ausgeht. Deshalb gibt es dann eben einige Abschnitte, in denen die Band zwar vor sich hinrockt und dabei, da sich aber sonst nichts tut, buchstäblich in der Luft hängt und die Musik nicht von sich aus in Gang zu setzen vermag. Das wiederum wäre dann eben auch eine heikle Stelle dieser Herangehensweise an den Versuch eines Rock-Requiems.

Uneingeschränkt empfehlenswert ist “Requiem Mass” somit also nicht, denn die Verbindung eines klassischen Requiems mit Rockmusik als am ehesten ausgestelltes Merkmal dieses Albums gelingt nicht durchgängig. Dennoch finde ich, dass man Smith für seine Beharrlichkeit, nach 40 Jahren endlich dieses Werk zu einem einigermaßen gelungenen Abschluss gebracht zu haben, Respekt zollen sollte. Das scheint ja eine regelrechte Herzensangelegenheit gewesen zu sein.

Anspieltipp(s):   Dies Irae, Offertory

Vergleichbar mit:       was den Rock angeht, liegt’s irgendwo zwischen Gentle Giant und “Only You”

Veröffentlicht am:      4.8.2017

Letzte Änderung: 4.8.2017

Wertung:    9/15

Wie erwähnt, Klassik und Rock hängen leider nicht immer eng aneinander