"From the flight case to the merchandise stall" - A review of Steve Hackett's UK tour by Alan Hewitt.
It all started as a joke…
When I first heard that Steve would be performing his first UK and European shows in ten years (Italy excluded) I was quite naturally, extremely excited at the prospect. That initial excitement led to me making a rather rash offer to Steve's manager; Billy Budis… "If you want someone to help John on the merchandise stall; I am available at very reasonable rates…" So ran the gist of the e-mail sent to him.
I never expected him to take me seriously (he never has in the past, LOL) but anyway, further communication between myself and John Wood at Camino indicated that my suggestion had indeed been taken VERY seriously indeed and I was provided with one of those "Triple A" (Access All Areas) pass thingies for the tour. When it arrived I was even more surprised to see that it was a personal one with my name on it (just in case I forgot who I am… happens at my age!) So, I was a member of the crew - a dream come true for yours truly.
It was therefore with a certain amount of trepidation and anticipation that I set off for the first show of the tour which I was to attend, at Wolverhampton and what follows is basically a diary of the events before, during; after and between the shows I was able to attend…
Sunday 5th October 2003: Wulfrun Hall Wolverhampton
Trying not to read the postings on the bulletin boards about the previous shows in Holland and at Milton Keynes , I started the journey with a friend from Crewe to Wolverhampton arriving in plenty of time and venturing inside the venue to find that true to form with such things; the band and crew were running late. Managed to find John Wood the guy whom I would be assisting on the merchandise stall and had a chat to him before being introduced to Paul Clark the tour manager for this outing. The one thing that struck me immediately about this group of people was their total commitment to making sure that everything was done to the highest standard of professionalism possible whilst at the same time managing to be both friendly and approachable. This was to be amply demonstrated elsewhere throughout the tour as well.
Left the band to sound check undisturbed, and helped John to set up our stall in the main foyer before venturing outside to be greeted by a couple of old friends; Kevin and Shirley Powell with their daughter; Rachel without whom any trip to Wolverhampton is incomplete.
6.30pm arrived and we got ready for the eager hordes to arrive. Eventually the doors were opened and John and I were soon busy dealing with the requests for various CDs, DVDs; T shirts and tour programmes before settling in for the main event. Show time arrived and I ensconced myself at the side of the hall to watch the show. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife as Steve and the band arrived on stage to a roar and launched straight into Mechanical Bride, already a firm live favourite from the recent DVD and delivered with gusto here. Another favourite of mine from the new To Watch The Storms album was next: Serpentine Song with a wonderful set of harmonies from Gary, Terry and Rob accompanying Steve, truly excellent stuff . Watcher Of The Skies and Hairless Heart managed to just about rip the hairs off the back of my neck, the latter in particular merely serving to show how important a contribution Steve made to The Lamb…album and to Genesis' sound overall.
Darktown was another highlight, a sombre, malevolent number for which Steve and the band were bathed in green lights. The harmonised vocals were delivered with just the right amount of menace to send shivers up and down my spine. Segueing this with Camino Royale was an inspired decision, another classic live Hackett track which didn't disappoint.
I was surprised to hear Pollution B in the set but the reason for its inclusion was soon apparent as it flowed into the aural soundscape that is The Steppes with some superb sax playing from Rob Townsend to boot. No Hackett show would be complete without an acoustic set and this was the chance to hear it. Strangely enough, this was the one part of the show that didn't seem to fit. The flurries and snatches of such classics as Black Light and The Skye Boat Song never seemed to gel; even the surprise inclusion of a couple of excerpts of Mason Williams's Classical Gas failed to impress this time… maybe it would get better further into the tour, I thought…
Walking Away From Rainbows however, restored the acoustic balance nicely with a beautifully delivered version combining Steve's acoustic brilliance and Roger King's magnificent keyboards and another healthy dose of flute from Rob Townsend.
We were then back to the "rock stuff" with a damn
fine version of Slogans which I admit brought a lump to my throat hearing it
again after so long. As if that wasn't enough the appearance of Everyday, Please
Don't Touch (complete with authentic wheezing organ effects!) and the glorious
guitar refrain from Firth Of Fifth were enough to send me over the edge and
tears did flow!
A Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite restored a little humour into the proceedings before the rabble rouser; Clocks got everyone off their collective backsides and continued into the evergreen Spectral Mornings which even after all this time still sends shivers down my spine. A brand new track for a brand new show; Brand New fitted easily into place alongside the classics on display here.
The show proper ended with… Los Endos (fittingly enough) and Steve's Re-Visited version still cuts the mustard as a heavy duty romp through some of his finest licks leaving the audience begging for more. They were not kept waiting long and In That Quiet Earth certainly sent everyone home happy.. a truly delightful ending to the show.
Then duty beckoned and it was back on the merchandise stall for a further stint before Steve emerged to patiently sign autographs and pose for photos as has become his trademark won't. Then it was all over for tonight and wearily I began planning my trip up to Leeds for Round Two…
City Varieties Hall Leeds Monday 6th October 2003
Wearily I said my goodbyes to my hosts in Wolverhampton; Kevin and Shirley (who else?!) and travelled up to Leeds . Not a city that I have had the pleasure of visiting for many gigs before. Grabbed a hasty bite to eat at a nearby hostelry before arriving at the venue which to my surprise was a GENUINE old time English Music Hall…home in fact to the BBC series "The Good Old Days". John had other things to attend to and so I was left very much to my own devices with regard to setting up the stall at the back of the hall from where I had a prime vantage point to watch the crew set up the gear and hear the band's sound check.
There were quite a few gremlins in the sound system at this gig and the sound check took an inordinate amount of time to complete to the band's satisfaction - another example of professionalism at work. There were a few chances to say "hi" to a few more familiar faces as the crowd wandered in to take their seats. After the sell-out at Wolverhampton I was somewhat disappointed to se that this gig was not better attended. Mind you, what the audience lacked in numbers they made up for in voice as Steve and the guys took to the stage again.
Set wise the show remained the same as Wolverhampton and it was just as well received although from a personal perspective, the sound at this gig was distinctly flatter than at the previous gig… can't win 'em all I suppose!
Oakwood Centre Rotherham Saturday 11th October 2003
After a few days off which I deeply regretted, I was back on the road again up to Rotherham and the Oakwood Centre, home of the Classic Rock Society and a chance to catch up with my old friend Richard Nagy who had done the same thing I was doing this time, on Steve's last Italian tour. After an evening of libational indulgence we made our way up to the venue to check out the lie of the land. My first surprise on gaining entry was to see Steve's brother; John on stage! I had forgotten that he lived locally and I was glad to see that he intended to join his brother at some point in the evening's activities.
Once again, the usual mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces visited the merchandise stall and I remained there for a prime vantage spot during the gig. John duly appeared on stage during the acoustic set to bring us a marvellous additional acoustic rendition of Jacuzzi. Another enjoyable gig.
An added bonus from this was the opportunity to interview John Hackett at his home the following day for the forthcoming biography of Steve and it was a delight to hear some of his reminiscences.
Neptune Theatre Liverpool Monday 13th October 2003
Well…at last, back in my own home town and almost a case of déjà vu. Steve opened his Guitar Noir UK tour at this venue and so of course I was looking forward to seeing him on my own turf again.
No real surprises with the set which had reverted to that of Wolverhampton with no appearance by John. I was heartened however, by the turn-out: a complete SELL-OUT! It was sad see friends at the merchandise stall before the gig asking if any tickets were available only to have to turn them away empty handed. The atmosphere was superb and the rose to the occasion admirably with another excellent performance. One amusing incident occurred when one of the security staff asked my advice about how to deal with someone he suspected of recording the gig - oh the power!
Academy 2 Manchester Sunday 19th October 2003
Another week's rest whilst the band took in the joys of North and South Ireland and Newcastle. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the venue for this gig had been moved to a bigger hall to accommodate the demand for tickets. Once again, I was surprised on arriving backstage to see John Hackett again. Having plenty of time available, I was able to have a good chat to him and Roger with some humorous anecdotes about the band's recent trip to Ireland being shared.
From my perspective it was great to once again have to move seats into the hall from the bar outside to enable extra people to sit. Strange experience though having John and his wife: Katrin standing by the mixing desk with me throughout the gig as punters instead of as a player. Performance wise, another strong show with a relaxed and contented band in good form.
De Montfort Hall Leicester Monday 20th October 2003
Ticket: S Barnes/TWR
Hmmm.. I had already expressed reservations about this venue after the disappointing turn out there back in 1993. History was about to be repeated in some respects. Setting up the stall as usual we still managed to do some brisk business before show time with some more familiar faces appearing to accost me about a T-shirt or CD.
I did not know that John Hackett was at this gig nor did I know that he was to appear onstage again. What took me by surprise the most was getting into the hall and seeing the first three rows of seats EMPTY! The hall was less than a quarter full (and it is a BIG hall). Anyway, getting over my initial disappointment I settled in for the show in one of the numerous empty seats next to my good friends Kevin and Shirley Powell who had travelled down for this gig too. Kevin was in his element and musically the show got off to a flying start before the technical problems kicked in, with severe hum and feedback from Terry's bass.
John's appearance onstage during the acoustic set elicited a lacklustre response from a decidedly lacklustre crowd and Steve experienced more problems when he broke a string during Spectral Mornings of all tracks! He handled it well but did not look a happy bunny! I took advantage of being able to move around the hall and finally found myself sitting next to John again who had returned to the hall after his spot on stage.
Surprisingly enough, given the less than over enthusiastic turn out, Steve and the guys emerged after the show ended to sign material and it was here that the beginnings of what were to be one of the highlights of the tour took shape. A friend of mine and longstanding Genesis fan; Ian Macpherson had already brought his son James to the gig at Wolverhampton where he met Steve after the gig. The same thing happened here, only this time James himself was soon in a huddle with Steve discussing something which was obviously VERY important to the pair of them. Being busy on the stall I did not take that much notice but all became clear a day or so later…. Packing up the merchandise I headed off with a couple of other fellow fans; Stuart Barnes (TWR's brand new web co-ordinator) and Stuart Waby for a well-earned pint.
Astor Theatre Deal Saturday 25th October 2003
Another lengthy trip to the South Coast to another venue which had not been graced by either my or Steve's presence previously, in the company of more good friends (hi, Gudrun, Dave and Ken!). Arriving in time to watch the sound check again and meet up with the other half of the Camino merchandising team: Andy Lodge for the first time. Also managed to have a chat with Steve's manager Billy Budis who had decided to check out this gig.
The theatre was a small one but the audience packed it out again. The show was very well received with a by now standard set and I was surprised when Steve made reference to a certain "young fan who had been following him on tour" and whom he was looking forward to playing Spectral Mornings with at the subsequent show at Croydon. Sooo… THAT was what James and Steve had been discussing!
Queen Elizabeth Hall London Tuesday 28th October 2003
Ticket: S Barnes/TWR
A very "Up marche" venue this one, a very prestigious orchestral venue and one which Steve had had a very successful gig here in the mid 1980's and tonight was another sell-out. After the journey from hell I arrived hot, and somewhat bothered and once again met up with Steve and John both of whom kindly expressed sympathy with my transport problems!
Tonight was looking like an easy one for me. The hall organises the sale of CDs ,DVDs and programmes themselves (and takes HEFTY percentage too, I can tell you, folks!) so all we had to sell were T-shirts and Kim's limited edition prints. That didn’t stop us being busy and I felt sorry for John who had his work cut out flitting between our stall and the others. I was delighted to see another longstanding Genesis fan Mino Profumo here as Italian Genesis magazine, Dusk's reporter for the tour as well as several other long distance fans including Peter Blight from Australia with whom I was to spend an eventful couple of days.
Managing to find a vacant seat in the almost capacity hall I thoroughly enjoyed another excellent show including yet another performance from John. The entire Hackett clan were at this gig as well as several other previous Hackett alumni including Nick Magnus. I really discovered the hard work element of the show at this gig when because of the peculiar arrangement with the venue for the other aspects of the merchandise; John had to spend most of his time supervising the accounting and I was left to pack up. Fortunately, Peter had remained and he kindly assisted and was duly rewarded when on our way back up we bumped into the bass player: Terry Gregory. I introduced Peter to him and explained that he had come from Australia specifically for these gigs - before we knew it; we were both being ushered into the green room where a host of Steve's family and friends were enjoying the usual post-gig hospitality.
What made it unusual was the fact that as I surveyed the people in the room, a familiar face appeared… Tony Banks! He was happily chatting to John Hackett and I ventured to say "hi" to the pair of them. I think Tony was quite taken aback to see me there but neither he or John objected when I asked for a photo of the historic moment! After a few more minutes' chatting; Peter and I took our leave - we had a VERY busy day ahead of us on Wednesday!
The Farm Recording Studios Chiddingfold and Fairfield Hall Croydon Wednesday 29th October 2003
Ticket: S Barnes/TWR
As you can see… this was indeed a BUSY day. Prior to the tour our new webmaster; Stuart Barnes had suggested that if it might be possible, why not conduct the scheduled interview with Genesis' record producer Nick Davis whilst I was down in the vicinity for Steve's shows? Nick duly agreed, and it was because of that, that Stuart, Peter and I found ourselves wending our merry way to the recording studio for the TWR exclusive you can read elsewhere in this issue. Mission accomplished there, we moved on to the Fairfield Hall for Steve's last UK gig this time round.
The Fairfield Hall is a regular haunt of Genesis and the solo members most (if not all) of whom have played it at various points in their careers. Being the last UK show, there was another high Hackett family presence here with both Steve's mum and dad saying hi to us on the merchandise stall. Steve's wife; Kim was also here as was John; a full Hackett house in fact!
Once again, a few familiar faces appeared including another long distance fan: Roger Salem who had travelled in from Switzerland and whom I had had the pleasure of meeting previously at Musical Box gigs both here in the UK and in Canada. There was also the presence of a weird and (hate to sound rude but…) irritating American fan who continually badgered both myself and Andy for a free T shirt simply on the grounds that he had flown from the US for the show - that being the case my friend Peter should have had his pick of the merchandise!
Unusually, the venue had advertised this gig as having a "support" act with one unfortunate side effect: a LOT of fans arrived late and were not best pleased to discover that they had missed part of Steve's set!
I kept a weather eye out for Ian and James Macpherson and they duly arrived and with a judicious nod to Paul Clark, they were both ushered upstairs for that IMPORTANT meeting that Steve and James had been discussing at Leicester. I have to admit, that because of the fact that there was also a play going on in one of the other halls in the complex, the stall could not be left unattended and it fell to me and Andy to look after it whilst John attended to other business; I did NOT actually see this gig … apart from Spectral Mornings which I made a point of seeing, although I missed the intro! Imagine my surprise therefore when I found out afterwards that Steve had not only dedicated Spectral Mornings to James but had also thanked all of the crew (including me!) from the stage… Oh for a recording of THAT gig!
Back to work on the stall for the final time and it was then
that I found out exactly what had happened with James. Both he and his father
(and James's guitar) were taken upstairs to meet Steve and James got to play
Spectral Mornings with Steve and also to play Steve's guitar! When Ian told
me I was so pleased - not your typical rock star behaviour, eh but that is Steve
Hackett all over! Glad you liked the poster too, James!
Final chats with John and Andy as we packed up the merchandise ready for John's long distance overnight drive from London to Stockholm I said my final goodbyes to everyone and make my way back to our hotel a happy but very tired Hackett fan!
So, that was the UK tour as seen through my eyes. It is incumbent
on me to say a few "thank you's" to those who made it possible…
First and foremost to Steve; Roger; Terry; Gary and Rob for putting on a show replete with musical excellence; humour and craftsmanship.
Continuing thanks to Steve's manager; Billy Budis for making it come true in the first place, to Paul Clark for all his help to me and so many other fans on the tour. Special thanks to John Wood and Andy Lodge for all kindness and for letting me loose on an unsuspecting public!
Thanks also to Steve's brother; John and his wife Katrin for their encouragement and wonderful hospitality. And thank you to Steve's mum and to Kim for just being….!
To the technical operatives; Tigger on the lights; Ben on the sound and Richard without whom none of this would have been possible.
The fans for their loyalty to Steve's music and for their encouragement to me so a final thank you to…
Ted Sayers, Richard and Andrew Nagy; Stuart Barnes; Peter Blight; David and Nigel Beaven; David and Gudrun Whitehouse; Ken Hilton; Stuart Waby; Paul Gibbon; Kevin, Shirley and Rachel Powell; Mike Jackson; Julian Hulse; Mino Profumo and the "Italian Mob"; "Seattle Dave"; and any others whom may have spoken to or sold a T shirt to, I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did - here's to the next one!