"GTR Evolutions" - the birth and death of a supergroup by Alan Hewitt.
It is now some ten years or more since the much vaunted guitaristic group GTR hit the headlines, and I thought it was high time we examined their all too brief career in a bit more detail. My thanks to Pam Bay of the "Steve Howe Appreciation Society" for the US dates and to Judith Mitchell and Peter Gozzard for providing the press cuttings.
The GTR story began in late 1984 when both Steves were given the idea of forming a group after a casual meeting with Brian Lane (then manager of Yes). At the time both musicians were on hiatus. Steve Howe had left his previous group, the AOR giants, Asia; and Steve Hackett had just released what was his least well-received album, "Till We Have Faces" and was struggling to find a record deal.
Rumours began to circulate of the new guitar combo in mid-1985 much to the excitement of fans of both musicians and also a certain degree of scepticism. After all, neither of the two main protagonists had fond memories of the "group" stakes. The expectations of the fans were given their first appetiser in March 1986 with the release of the debut single "When The Heart Rules The Mind" which certainly surprised both fans and critics with its catchy tune and infectious lyrics. The single charted in the top twenty both in the UK and USA.
The new band, apart from the two Steves, included several members who while not exactly unknowns, were nonetheless of lesser stature, including Max Bacon on vocals, whose previous bands had included heavy rock outfitd Bronz and Nightwing. Bassist Phil Spalding had previously executed those duties in Mike Oldfield's band, and drummer Jonathan Mover's previous work included a stint with Progressive Rockers Marillion - not bad credentials for a new band to start with!
The album eventually appeared in June 1986 having taken over nine months in production, involving Geoff Downes which certainly gave it an edge in terms of its clean and modern sound. A second single was released in the USA and other territories to coincide with the forthcoming tour. "The Hunter" was the chosen track. This was not issued in the UK and failed to make any lasting impression on the charts where it was released, unlike its predecessor.
Musically, the GTR album did not really contain any musical surprises. It was a solid AOR album, pitched blatantly at the mass commercial market, especially in the USA. That is not to say that the music it contained was substandard - far from it! In fact there are several cuts that stand out, including the two singles and Steve's re-working of "Hackett To Pieces" which was unoriginally re-titled "Hackett To Bits", and Steve Howe's glorious acoustic opus "Sketches In The Sun".
Steve Hackett's own feelings on the album were mixed... "I think of it more as a negotiation than as a record... It's certainly not the best record I have ever made and that is putting it diplomatically..." However; some good did come out of the project. Steve's work with Steve Howe produced the surprise hit of 1986, "When The Heart Rules The Mind", and it was heart warming for Genesis fans to see that 1986 was the year when virtually every off-shoot of the Genesis family had at least one single/album in the charts both here and abroad! Even Steve agrees that the single worked out well..."He (Steve Howe) had the instrumental bit and I had the song, so we just stuck the two together and I think It sounds very good..."
The success of the album and single led to the obligatory tour to promote the record which took place in the USA/Canada and Europe from July to September 1986. The shows were met with mixed reviews although generally the audiences enjoyed the performances of what were, in effect, three acts with both Steve's performing a solo acoustic set before being joined by the rest of the group for the main event. A typical set for the tour ran as follows...
Steve Hackett acoustic set (including Horizons) / Steve Howe acoustic set (including The Clap) / Jekyll and Hyde / Here I Wait / Prize Fighters / Imagining / Hackett To Bits / Spectral Mornings / I Know What I Like / Toe The Line / Sketches In The Sun / Pennants / Roundabout / The Hunter / You Can Still Get Through / Reach Out (Never Say No) / When The Heart Rules The Mind
Interestingly enough "Prize Fighters" should have appeared on the second GTR album, and "Pennants" has subsequently ended up on a solo Steve Howe album. The former also incorporated the guitar riff that eventually became the central theme to "Slot Machine", a track which Steve recorded the following year as part of the abortive (up to time of originally writing this) "Feedback" album. The inclusion of tracks in the set from an as yet unheard second album led many to have high hopes for a lengthy future for the band. However, by the time the tour reached Europe, the writing was already on the wall for GTR, as Steve recalls... "I felt half way through the project that it was going to be a tough one to finish. A lot of needs had to be met and there were, perhaps, too many chiefs and not enough Indians..."
The GTR tour ended on September 29, 1986 with a second show at the prestigious Hammersmith Odeon in London, and after a break work began on the second album, but without Steve Hackett as Steve Howe recalls... "I was going to make a new album with the same band and call it 'Steve Howe And Friends' but it didn't come into shape..."
Both musicians have gone on to attain remarkable success in their chosen endeavours and the other band members have continued to make music in one form or another, leaving one highly enjoyable album as the legacy of another super group.
GTR UK Discography & Videography
|Steve Hackett GTR Tour, 1986|
|Hammersmith Odeon, London, England||6.2.86 *|
|Lyric Theatre, Baltimore MD, USA||20.6.86|
|Stanley Theatre, Utica NY, USA||21.6.86|
|Ulster Performing Arts Centre, New York NY, USA||22.6.86|
|Orpheum Theatre, Boston MA, USA||23.6.86|
|Beacon Theatre, New York NY, USA||25.6.86|
|Palace Theatre, Newhaven CT, USA||27.6.86|
|Tower Theatre, Upper Darby PA, USA||28.6.86|
|Constitution Hall, Washington DC, USA||29.6.86|
|Convention Centre, Quebec, Canada||2.7.86|
|Congress Centre, Ottawa, Canada||3.7.86|
|Verdune, Montreal, Canada||4.7.86|
|Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada||5.7.86|
|Music Hall, Cleveland OH, USA||6.7.86|
|Syria Mosque , Pittsburgh PA, USA||8.7.86|
|State Theatre, Detroit OH, USA||9.7.86|
|Riviera Theatre, Chicago IL, USA||10.7.86|
|Performing Arts Centre, Milwaukee, WI, USA||11.7.86|
|The Orpheum, Minneapolis IN, USA||12.7.86|
|Music Hall, Omaha NB, USA||13.7.86|
|Mc Nichols Centre, Denver CO, USA||15.7.86|
|Warfield Theatre, San Francisco CA, USA||18.7.86|
|Wilton Theatre, Los Angeles CA, USA||19.7.86|
|California Theatre, San Diego CA, USA||21.7.86|
|Arizona State University, Mesa CA, USA||22.7.86|
|Coliseum, Austin TX, USA||24.7.86|
|Bronco Bowl, Dallas TX, USA||25.7.86|
|Music Hall, Houston TX, USA||26.7.86|
|Sam Gore Theatre, New Orleans LA, USA||27.7.86|
|Bayfront Theatre, St Petersburg FL, USA||30.7.86|
|Arena, Miami FL, USA||31.7.86|
|Apollo Theatre, Manchester, England||8.9.86|
|Odeon Theatre, Birmingham, England||10.9.86|
|Hammersmith Odeon, London, England||12.9.86|
|Apollo Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland||14.9.86|
|Alabamahalle, Munich, Germany||22.9.86|
|Hammersmith Odeon, London, England||29.9.86|
|* This performance was as a guest of Marillion at a charity
in aid of Pete Townshend's "Double O" drug rehabilitation charity