“A Hacketting I Will Go…” - The annual migration around the UK by your editor told in Graphic detail. Review and photographs by Alan Hewitt.
Yes folks, its that time of year again when yours truly migrates to some of the finest venues in the UK in search of the lesser spotted Hackett Band.
This year’s jaunt promised to be a little bit special - aren’t they always? First of all, Steve was to be performing the magisterial Selling England By the Pound in all its glory, but for me, the really exciting news was that his own masterpiece; Spectral Mornings, was being performed, not quite in its entirety but nonetheless, that was enough to send shivers up and down my spine when I heard it.
First port of call this year was Steel City (that’s Sheffield for any of you foreigners out there) and the City Hall, a venue I have enjoyed many events at over the years. I managed to catch up with Steve and Jo before the show and also had a chat with Steve’s brother John and Amanda Lehmann and not forgetting Steve’s mum June, whom I also had the privilege of sitting next to for the gig itself so I was on my best behaviour for once!
An excellent seat meant I was in a great position to take in what was about to unfold before my eyes and at just after 8 Pm the intro music cued the band’s arrival on stage and we got things under way with the evergreen Every Day. This one really is timeless and I was transported back to the heady days of 1979 (aaah the heir, ‘twas a wonderful thing!) as the band raced through it in fine fashion.
With a new album to promote, it was only right that Steve should perform a brace of tracks from it and so we got Under The Eye Of The Sun, followed by Fallen Walls And Pedestals and Beasts In Our Time, all replete with potent musical and lyrical imagery and relevance to events going on in th world right now..
Then we were back to 1979 again as the band performed the one track I had been hoping to see again since then: The Virgin & The Gypsy. With Amanda Lehmann, Jonas Reingold and Steve on vocals, this simply soared and was one of the definitive highlights of a show cram packed with them - yes, I shed a tear or two!
Tigermoth too, took me back to the slightly damp days of the Reading Festival where this one kept us thoroughly entertained. Here the new boy behind the drum kit, Mr Craig Blundell really let rip with some fine licks slotting into the big shoes left behind by the departure of Gary O’Toole with ease.
Then the title track. What can I say about Spectral Mornings which has not been said already? This one is Steve’s undoubted masterpiece and to hear it performed again with the synth intro restored to its rightful place, simply cannot be easily described. The entire band - and Steve especially - seemed to be having a blast performing it, and we the audience certainly were listening to it!
The Red Flower Of Taichi has always been a personal favourite of mine and to hear it in Steve’s set again was a joy. Here he was joined by John Hackett and the melodies that he and Rob Townsend wove between them on bamboo and orchestral flute were simply wonderful.
The first half of the show climaxed with… Clocks, what else? This beast is definitely a welcome addition to the set after a lengthy absence. It is a monstrous rampaging beast in which the rhythm section of Jonas Reingold and Craig Blundell took charge and drove it along like a heard of elephants, a brilliant finale to the first course.
After a suitable interval for us to powder our noses and other such things, the band were back to perform Selling England By The Pound. Personally, I cannot get as excited about many of these tracks now as they have featured in Steve’s set for many years (I know, heresy, innit?) Opening with what else but Dancing With The Moonli Knight, the band set the bar very high with a superb reading of this bona fide classic track. I Know What I Like too was equally as enjoyable although if I am honest, I can do without the added extemporisations which are an addition from the original Revisited album, and don’t really do the song any favours.
Firth of Fifth, well, this is another track which, like Spectral Mornings, really needs no further comment apart from saying that Roger King nailed the keyboard part in a fashion which I think even Tony Banks would have been proud of and as for Steve; well he was grinning from ear to ear throughout so I think we can assume he was enjoying himself!
More Fool me was a delight, a delicate song which requires delicate handling for it to work and Nad Sylvan is just the chap to deliver it flawlessly and that he did - bravo Nad!
The wonderful contrast that is The Battle of Epping Forest and After The Ordeal could not be more astonishing. The former, a dramatic and at times, comedic, re-telling of a gangland turf war, gave the entire band plenty of time to flex their musical muscles whilst Nad Sylvan managed to imbue the vocal parts with a super range of characterisations really bringing it to life. Following this with After The Ordeal, was a delight. This beautiful, slightly austere, almost classical instrumental has always been a favourite of mine and has been overlooked for far too long. Here at last, it gets its due recognition.
Cinema Show and Aisle Of Plenty too, are a pair of contrasts, the former one of the most sweepingly epic tunes from the Genesis canon whilst the latter is perhaps one of those tracks which really doesn’t do that much if I am brutally honest.
That left the one track which had set fans’ tongues wagging when they heard that Steve intended to perform it: déjà vu, theone that got away from the album, superbly performed on the original Genesis revisited album by Paul Carrack, here tonight Nad Sylvan delivered it and did so absolutely flawlessly, this was the absolute highlight of the entire evening for me.
We were not given time to rest however, as the chiming tones of Dance On A Volcano heralded the end of the show proper and what a way to bow out? This one just gets better with age and once again, the entire band put their hearts and souls into it.
No prizes for guessing what the encore was…Los Endos of course,, complete with its extended medley comprising bits from Myopia and Slogans brining the entire audience to its feet for one last celebration of what had been a truly remarkable evening.
And that was that, two hours flew by in a blur of musical excellence and excitement. Each and every musician on stage can take kudos for performing this music that we all know and love so well to perfection. One down, six more to go…
The show got under way in fine form with Everyday which simply gets better each and every time I hear it. The new tracks from Under The Eye Of The Sun got a polite if somewhat reserved reaction from the crowd, many of whom I suspect may not have heard Steve’s new album yet.
Back to the heady days of 1979 for the remainder of the first half with the bulk of Spectral Mornings being performed for the first time since 1979. As it had been in Sheffield, hearing these tracks again was a joy for me and none more so than The Virgin ^& The Gypsy which simply took my breath away and was a truly beautiful performance.
I expected to cry my eyes out during Spectral Mornings - well, it was Armistice Day after all, but I was somewhat surprised when Steve dedicated this masterpiece to me - cry? Oh yes I did, just a bit!
The first half was concluded by a truly rampaging reading of Clocks in which the new boy Craig Blundell threatened to lift the roof off the hall with his percussive pyrotechnics!
It was after the interval that things began to become unglued. A couple who were probably the same age as me (and if they were, they should have known better) who had plainly had one too many lemonades before the gig proceeded to ruin the second half not only for me but for those in their immediate vicinity by constantly talking, and in the case of the woman (after hearing her language I will not call her a lady!) jumping up and waving her arms about at every moment as if she had an extreme case of St Vitus’ dance!
This quite naturally made concentration on what was going on, on stage quite difficult let alone trying to take photographs! The band ran through the whole card with Selling England By The Pound and it was as impressive as it had been at Sheffield.
The highlight of the entire evening again though was the contentious number which didn’t make it to that album: déjà vu, which ironically was the only moment where the aforesaid couple were quiet (I assume they didn’t know it!) and once again, Nad Sylvan put in a performance of true grace and beauty on the vocals
The show concluded with the brace of tracks from A Trick Of The Tail - Dance On A Volcano and Los Endos complete with the extended medley including extracts from Myopia and Slogans bringing the entire evening to a suitably dramatic close.
Audience problems aside, this was another magnificent performance from a band which seems to have been reinvigorated by the music. There was much smiling and laughing going on onstage which is always a good sign. And that was it. Two down, four left…
Next up a trip to a previously unvisited venue: the Victoria Theatre in Halifax, a delightful Victorian establishment ideal for an intimate evening with Mr Hackett & Co. After catching up with a few friends it was time to settle into my seat for the evening’s entertainment. Thankfully, this time I was spared any drunken antics throughout.
With no special guests this evening, the show relied on the superb musicianship of the band and they did not disappoint. If anything they reached new heights with certain songs tonight, not least being Spectral Mornings and The Virgin & The Gypsy - the latter seeing a particularly impressive vocal performance from Nad Sylvan who has grown enormously in stature since he first took up the cudgels to perform this music back in 2013.
The second half elicited a more enthusiastic response from the crowd - understandable I suppose - although the first half remains my favourite. Each track was greeted by enthusiastic and deserved applause as the band delivered them in fine fashion. Once again, for me, the highlight of the evening was Nad’s impassioned delivery of déjà vu which sent shivers up my spine once again.
And then it was all over for another night and onwards and upwards to the next venue o this year’s trip: The Sage in Gateshead, a firm favourite of mine since I saw Steve there last year. This place really is a delightful venue and seems to get better every time I visit. Tonight was no exception. Musically the band were absolutely tight throughout and the sound was impeccable. Sadly, once again the visuals were let down by the lighting engineer’s insistence on drowning everything out with smoke - as you can see from the photographs. Nothing daunted, the band put in another stellar performance which reduced me to tears at several points. For me this music means so much - as it evidently does to so many other members of the audience - that it is difficult to put into words so choose your own superlatives here folks!
A couple of days off before I was back on the road (or train this time) to Manchester and the Bridgewater Hall another favourite venue of mine with impeccable sound. I managed to have a chat with Nad Sylvan about his trilogy of albums beforehand before venturing down to take my seat. Once again Amanda Lehmann and John Hackett were present tonight making the performances of The Virgin & The Gypsy and The Red Flower Of Taichi just that little biit more special. Once again, hearing Spectral Mornings in all its full glory simply blew me way with emotion.
The second half too, was full of equally delightful moments. I loved Nad’s characterisations during The Battle Of Epping Forest - a song that was simply written for him to sing! He was equally at home with the rest of the material on this classic album as were the rest of the band and once again, kudos to drummer, Craig Blundell who delivered precise and tasteful percussion throughout the evening making it all look so incredibly easy! Once again, as had been the case on every preceding evening, déjà vu really shoe as the stand out track. Nad simply seemed possessed and the raw emotion in his voice as he sang this gem could not be denied.
No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith as the live album once cried. Well, not quite but eventually I made my merry way down to this doyen of London venues despite the chaos caused by yet another lunatic earlier in the afternoon. Nothing was going to stop me attending the finale of this year’s tour and eventually I found myself ensconced in an excellent seat ready for the final show.
The band did not disappoint and as you will see when the resulting DVD/Blu Ray comes out, they were on fiery form tonight. The first half of the show remained the favourite for me. Each and every track from Spectral Mornings was performed with real gusto and verve, none more so than Clocks in which Craig Blundell’s drumming threatened to lift the roof off the old Hammersmith Palais, Thankfully it didn’t, although it might have been beneficial if it had, as it might have cleared the amount of smoke that once again shrouded the stage and musicians throughout!
The second half, once again, was greeted by the most enthusiasm from the crowd and each and every number was performed to perfection. Highlights tonight for me included After The Ordeal and of course, déjà vu once again. There was even a passing nod to next year’s show as during Los Endos, the lighting assumed Seconds Out cover status and for once, the smoke was completely appropriate - and effective!
And that was it. A years’ worth of waiting and anticipation over in the blink of several eyes. Time always passes quicker when you are having fun, and these gigs have been a collective heap of fun as anyone who attended any of them will tell you. Hearing much of this music for what is likely to be the last time in the live context, merely gives it that extra piquancy and is something to truly savour. The band, as usual, put their heart and soul into delivering performances of true emotion, drama, and, on occasions, humour and were evidently enjoying themselves every bit as much as we were which is always good to see.
However, in amongst all the deserved praise, there are a couple of criticisms which have to be made. First, as mentioned several times above, the use of smoke/haze throughout the show was excessive and really did neither the light show or the musicians onstage any favours. In fact, on several occasions it was quite difficult to actually SEE some of them - especially Nad who was, for some bizarre reason sandwiched awkwardly between Rob Townsend and Roger King. This has to be addressed in time for next year. Musically, the band were as tight as always although, I do think that Mr Townsend overdid it somewhat with his sax solos which had a tendency to overpower the rest of the band at times - enthusiasm is one thing, but conciseness is the name of the game here I think!
Those criticisms aside, however, the resulting shows were everything I expected and hoped for and will live long in the memory. As usual, there are a few thank you’s to be said. First of all, to Steve and Jo for their unceasing kindness and encouragement. Grateful thanks to Nad Sylvan for giving up so much of his time to talk to us and for his irrepressible humour! Thanks to Craig Blundell, Rob Townsend, Jonas Reingold and Roger King for their efforts each and every night. To Adrian Holmes for his organisational skills. To Ben Fenner for impeccable sound each and every night. To the staff of the various venues for their help and kindness. To June and Mike Leaney for heir encouragement, to John and Katrin Hackett and Amanda Lehmann for all their kind words.
Finally to the fans who make these events so special : Paul Gibbon, Jimmy Appleton, The Mellotrons, Gwen Collins, Linda Peacock, The Hammonds, to Tony and Sara Bridgeman, to Volker Warnke and Michaela Ix, The Lancasters and finally, to Lee Millward for making this year’s road trip just a tad special and to anyone else who I may have forgotten - thank you! Hey, let’s do it all again next year!