"Acoustic Hacketting I will go!" - This year's Steve Hackett UK tour report by your roving reporter Alan Hewitt.
The standing "joke" that began with the offer of assistance back in 2003 was obviously still as potent as ever when I e-mailed Steve's manager to find out if my services would be required on this year's tour, back came the reply … "Oh yes, there's no escape" That was good enough for me! One decision I had made was to attempt to complete the ENTIRE UK tour this time, something I narrowly failed to do last year.
|So, the morning of the first gig arrived; dark and grey very much a typical English spring day really but for me the sun was shining as I and depping "chauffeur" Kevin Fearn set off for the wilds of Rotherham and our first slice of acoustic Hackett 05 style! Arriving at the venue the trio had just set up or soundcheck and as Kevin and I entered we were greeted by Steve and I received my first round of verbal abuse from Mr King so everything was business as usual there! What I didn't know was that Kevin had NEVER seen a Hackett gig before and the expression on his face as he watched the soundcheck was priceless. Eventually it was time to set up stall which at this venue was ideally placed at the back of the hall itself so a great view was guaranteed without having to move from the stall. The punters entered and it was great to see so many familiar faces including Mrs J Hackett who helped keep a beady eye on the stall for us.|
The show contained several surprises especially the beautiful tribute to Segovia and a breathtaking rendition of After The Ordeal as well as the usual mix of old and new Hackett acoustic material and even a few snippets from the wonderful new album: Metamorpheus. It was also a delight to hear a solo track from John's first solo album; Velvet Afternoon and M3, a solo composition from Roger included in the set as well. Showtime over, Steve, John and Roger emerged for the first of this year's meet and greet sessions with the fans whilst we packed the merchandise away for the night. An excellent first night an done which augured well for an enjoyable tour.
Back on my home turf for the next gig at the Pacific Road Arts Centre in Birkenhead for the next gig; scene of one of the best rock gigs last year. This time the venue was seated and this gave an entirely different vibe to the show. Adrian the bar manager engaged in the ancient art of haggling for a free T shirt in exchange for a couple of pints of well-kept Timothy Taylor's "Landlord" - a bargain if ever there was one! The audience were appreciative and the trio were certainly enjoying themselves with plenty of banter on stage and with the audience. The show featured a re-jigged set and it was obvious that the shows would each be individual with running orders changing from show to show - sometimes to the confusion of the band let alone the audience! Strangely enough, the audience did not give the trio time to return for their encore and so missed the chance to hear Horizons which was quite strange but they definitely enjoyed themselves and another good show was had by one and all.
Salford's Lowry Centre was a new venue for me. In the heart of the massive redevelopment of Salford Quays and in the shadow of a certain football stadium that a proud Scouser such as I is forbidden to mention! The theatre itself appears to have been modelled on an old Victorian Music Hall although with all the benefits of modern technology and acoustics, this was definitely the best sounding gig so far and the first in which the show finally became one of two "halves" with Steve acting as his own support act and performing unaccompanied on the acoustic guitar for the first half and being joined by Roger and John for the second; a wise decision which certainly made the performance flow much better than it had at the first couple of gigs.
A blast from my own past occurred at the next gig in Morecambe which is a place I had not visited since I was a child. You were left in no doubt that Steve was in town because there was a trail of advertising posters on lamp posts and hoardings all the way into town and the venue itself: The Platform was, I realised; the old railway station and the last time I had been at this venue it was when I debarked from a steam train for a trip to the seaside! Another unusual venue but a marvellous gig with excellent sound (listen to the "ahem" bootleg if you can get a copy!) and an extremely attentive audience, you could almost hear a pin drop while Steve was telling his increasingly entertaining stories - the one about Johnny Morris's pencil tapping performances was rapidly becoming a favourite!
Off to Derby next, to the Guildhall Theatre which is part of the Assembly Rooms complex which has played home to many a gig that I have seen over the years. A smaller and more intimate venue and another one with excellent sound. The audience were not quite as receptive at this one maybe a bit restrained by the fact that it was an acoustic gig but appreciative nonetheless.
Then off down South to London for another show at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall which is a magnificent venue and another sell-out gig. Tonight's performance was attended by many members of Steve's family including his father and mother and Kim as well as a few old band mates whom it was good to see again. The QEH was selected as the venue for this years' Live Archive recording to be made and it certainly lived up to it with magnificent acoustics and a great performance by the trio - I only hope they leave the between-songs banter in this time! It was great to meet so many familiar fans again as well as many new ones including fans who had amazingly travelled in from as far away as Moscow and New Zealand for this gig - Hackett fans are nothing if not loyal!
Brighton's Komedia nightclub was our next port of call. Strange set up this. It was a comedy club with tables set up at which the punters could order food and drink. This did cause a modicum of concern beforehand with regard to food etc being served whilst the trio were performing but strangely enough it all worked out very well. Kim was in attendance again tonight and after the disapproval I had got from her the night before for failing to shave; my clean shaven mug got her seal of approval and a kiss to boot! As merchandising went however, this gig lives on as a massive failure; the punters simply did not want to know, despite my best efforts - oh well, you can't win 'em all I suppose!
Next stop, Worcester and the magnificent Huntingdon Hall which really took me by surprise. I had heard that it was a church but I was not expecting the sight which greeted my eyes upon entering the hall. Here was a completely restored 18th century Methodist chapel, complete with pews and pulpit and lecterns. It was delightful! The show even had its own comic interval when the manager drew a raffle for some "interesting" prizes! Also this gig saw the only bootlegger caught trying to film it… I still do not know how he was spotted but Steve's manager soon dealt with him!
A day off and a chance to explore the city of Coventry. I was delighted to have the chance at last to visit the famous cathedral and both the old and the new certainly lived up to their reputations.
Back down to one of my favourite haunts next; Bristol for another new venue on me. Also opportunity to carry out another TWR exclusive interview with Mr "Karda Estra" himself; Richard Wileman before the gig; the results of which you can read elsewhere in this issue. St George's is another converted church an done with superb acoustics and to my mind I think that I would have favoured this gig over the QEH as candidate for this year's Live Archive. It was also lovely that Steve dedicated the evening's performance to a fan who had sadly died and also to Harry Pearce's father, who had recently passed away; all of which gave the show an extra air of poignancy and I was reminded of another dear friend and Bristolian Hackett fan who had passed on too; Alan Davidson who I am sure would have loved this gig and was definitely there in spirit! I have my own reasons for remembering this gig and they revolve around the theft of my dinner by a certain flute player! Another night's hospitality at my good friend Jeremy Brown's home set us up nicely for the trip to Liskeard the following day.
Ahhh, Liskeard! I had difficulty believing the description which had been given of this venue. Hackett playing in a cave? Surely not! Most surely yes! We arrived at the venue and I stared at it in frank disbelief! This was going to be a memorable night in so many ways. The venue was magnificent; the setting breathtaking. We were even taken on the guided tour of the caverns including both the underground lakes which were absolutely magnificent and to think that the cavern we were standing in had been hewn from the rock by HAND, no explosives had been used. The setting was simply stunning really. We even had our very own mannaquin to model this year's T shirt in the shape of "Billy" a replica miner. He sat quietly modelling for us all night. The performance here was excellent, punctuated with banter about who had the only portable heater on stage and periodical "flights" from Boris, the cave's very own resident bat. Suitably fortified by a couple of pints of the local brew: "Doom Bar" I didn’t really mind the cold I was enjoying myself too much!
Wolverhampton is always a good gig for Steve and I was expecting no less this time. The Wulfrun Hall is a lovely venue with great sound and everything was set fair for another good show. Sadly, the behaviour of a couple of individuals ruined all of that for me, and I think for Steve and the guys too. One guy, plainly drunk out of his tree kept on shouting out for "Spectral Mornings" and "Where's the bass pedals?!" and two others kept on incessantly chattering to the point where I left my seat and asked them politely but firmly to show some respect for the artist by keeping quiet - that told 'em, eh?! Strangest of all however, was the guy who stormed out just before the encores past the merchandise stall fuming "That isn't Steve Hackett!" to which I sarcastically replied; "Certainly looks like him to me" . This guy was obviously upset that it had not been a rock show, despite the fact that the posters clearly stated it was an acoustic show. By this time I was getting fed up myself and asked him why, if he had not enjoyed the show, had he waited until almost the end before deciding to complain? At which point he hurled a tirade of abuse and stormed out, much to my amusement - not the gig that shall be getting my "Gig of the tour" nomination at the end of this report. The upside of this gig was the extremely humorous awarding to me of a cricket bat which somehow Mark K had kept hidden from me before the gig (very "Spinal Tap" eh?) signed by the band and crew with some very amusing comments including the following from Steve's own manager… "Thanks Alan for 'Tapping' into the tour" and which is now hanging next to my framed "Hermit" print in TWR HQ.
Another new venue for me next. Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre. After the trip from Hell I was not initially kindly disposed towards this place… Norwich gets my vote for the most insanely placed traffic light system in the UK. However, once inside the theatre I sensed that this was going to be a special night. This was definitely one of the most intimate gigs on the tour and it was amazing to hear that they could have filled it twice over and had to turn people away! The audience were certainly appreciative and Roger was in fine form with his banter asking the audience to show respect for the venue by not drooling over it indeed!
Milton Keynes next. Not my favourite place for gigs I have to admit. My previous experiences have been either very "wet" (i.e. 2nd October 1982) or involving a frantic search for somewhere to get something to eat! The Stables had a good reputation however, and I was intrigued to see whether it would live up to it. Things got off to a bad start when we arrived and despite wearing our All Access passes we were denied access to the hall itself and had to wait until Steve's manager arrived and vouched for who we were. The reason for this? Apparently our passes could have been "forgeries" and the blue adhesive "Stables" ones which they eventually gave us couldn't, I suppose? A typical jobs' worth really. I was disappointed to hear that neither of the two nights Steve was playing here had sold out but then again with tickets priced at £25 I was not really surprised - they were only beaten by the ticket prices for the QEH and that is a PRESTIGE venue. It was nice though once again to meet up with several fans and have the chance of a pint and a chat even if the shows themselves were somewhat lacklustre by comparison with what had gone before - the curse of Milton Keynes had struck again methinks!
The final shows were an enormous contrast. The Broadway in Barking was a lovely little theatre with a great sound. It was obvious that the guys were having a great time and the show was extremely enjoyable. Even nicer for me to meet Terry Gregory whose local gig this was, he was his usual irrepressible self and I do hope that if Steve reconvenes the rock band that Terry's "basso profundo" is there. Also wonderful to meet up with Glyn Protheroe the original ReGenesis vocalist who appeared out of nowhere whilst I was on the merchandise stall and with whom I chatted avidly over a pint before and after the gig. Sadly, this excellent show was marred by the discovery after the gig was over that our car had been broken into and several items stolen.
After the downer of the previous night I was going to let nothing spoil the final night of the tour. Croydon's Ashcroft Theatre, part of the Fairfield Hall complex was the venue and I was expecting it to be substantially smaller than the main hall but once again it was a substantial hall. Sadly this one had a relatively poor attendance, not helped probably by the fact that Daniel O'Donnell was also playing in the same complex tonight - Hackett and O'Donnell what a combination, eh? It was a nice touch when Steve thank me from the stage during his end of tour "thank you's" brought a lump to the throat that did! Also this was the night when yours truly had a "senior moment". I had been chatting to a chap at the merchandise stall for about ten minutes when I asked… "You obviously have me at a disadvantage; you know who I am but what's your name?" To which he replied… "Piers (de Lavison) from Regenesis" at which moment I wanted the ground to swallow me up! He forgave me my faux pas and I agreed to put some advertising flyers for the G2 gigs on the stall by way of apology! The gig was an emotional one for me as the realisation set in that this was my last Hackett gig of the year.
After a brief met and greet after the gig at which I thanked everyone for having me on board for yet another year it was all over almost in the blink of an eye.
Musically these gigs have been among the most enjoyable I have ever seen Steve play. Kudos must be given to John Hackett too who had been struggling with a chest infection before and during the tour not that you would have guessed from his performances - the mark of a true professional! Roger King's serious demeanour on stage also hides a man with a superb if biting sense of humour and he is also a consummate performer.
So now it comes to the thank you's. First of all obviously, my thanks again to Steve's manager for allowing me out on the road with the guys again. To Steve, John and Roger for their continued musical excellence and support and in Roger's case the biting wit! To Tigger for his excellent lighting and sarcasm and to John Wood for putting up with me - a dream come true for yours truly - can I do it again next year, please?!
My grateful thanks to Kevin Fearon and Mark Hughes, the staff at the various
venues and in particular the staff at the Carnglaze Caverns for their marvellous
hospitality which went a long way to ensuring that that trip although my first
to Cornwall will certainly not be my LAST! Keep on flying St Piran's flag! To
the fans old and new who said "hi" at the gigs or who kindly kept
yours truly "lubricated" and especially to Steph and Dave, Jeremy
and his irrepressible mum; Kevin, Shirley and "super brat" Rachel;
Stuart; Paul; Simon and especially Andrew whose hospitality at the last minute
certainly saved my bacon and indeed to all the fans who turned out to the gigs
I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.