“The Italian Job 2009” - TWR’s roving reporter on duty again as Steve Hackett takes to the road in Italy. Report by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Alan Hewitt and Roger Salem.
I had heard about the shows that Steve was planning in Italy and was thinking of perhaps flying out for the show in Rome when a surprise telephone call from Brian Coles changed all of that. Brian, as some of you may recall was the tour manager for Steve’s 2003 and 2004 tours and he is also in charge of this year’s “Italian Job” as we refer to it. Apparently Brian had been speaking to Steve about who to have in charge of the tour merchandise and Steve put my name forward (mad fool!). Anyway, the upshot of it was that once again, yours truly has had the immense pleasure of working with Steve and what follows is my diary of events as they unfolded on the road.
This year’s adventure started in a typically inauspicious with the overnight trip from Liverpool to Gatwick airport to ensure that I was in plenty of time to meet the rest of the touring party in time for our 8am check -in. Airports are depressing places at the best of times and at ungodly hours of the morning, doubly so. Mind you, this time there was some “entertainment” of sorts with two people being arrested during my stay there for reasons which I never did find out but there you go! Eventually the rest of the party arrived, led by obergruppentourfuehrer Brian Coles and we were off for an uneventful two hour flight to Genoa. Arriving in the early afternoon, the first thing I noticed was how warm it was - no winter woolies needed here I can tell you!
|With the luxury of a whole day before the first gig, it wasn’t long before the entire group of us were out of the hotel and exploring the sights and sounds of Genoa. The city is a typical seaport and as such there is plenty to see and eventually we found ourselves a nice little bar/café on the waterfront to ensconce ourselves for a few celebratory capucchinos! What a great way to start the tour! The fun and games continued in the evening though, when Alberto Agostini, our friendly Italian tour promoter informed us that a meal had been laid on for us at a very nice restaurant in the old town. Before that however, I was delighted to spot a familiar face in the hotel foyer as we gathered before going for the meal. It was long time Genesis/Hackett fan Mino Profumo and I was delighted to have the chance to have a chat to him before we set off for the restaurant. This was to be the venue for one of the most amusing incidents of the entire trip. As the meal progressed, and the wine and beer flowed, one member of our group decided to pour himself another glass of “wine” . As I watched in minor disbelief, he proceeded to pour himself a glass of - balsamic vinegar! Fair play to him though, he drank it down like a good ‘un before someone had the courage to inform him of his mistake! Fortunately for the person concerned, my photograph of this particular incident will remain under lock and key!|
The day of the first gig dawned fine and bright and after a leisurely breakfast, the crew (me included) set off for the venue to ensure that everything was up and running smoothly before the band arrived to do their sound check. It is always fascinating to me as a musical Luddite to watch the amount of hard work and preparation that goes in to staging a gig. Those of you who think that the band just turn up and do the show have it completely wrong! The band could not even get on a stage to play without the work of the crew members who ensure that everything is not only working but SAFE as well. Steve was well served on this trip by several stalwarts including Ben Fenner and Richard Buckland who have worked with him for many years. They were augmented this time round by Steve Barnett (lighting) and Steve Spring (drum technician) all of whom were consumate professionals.
By the time the band arrived everything had been checked and re-checked and the sports arena which was to form the venue for tonight’s extravaganza was soon echoing to such classics as Every Day and The Steppes. There were also a couple of new numbers too and hearing them in sound check for the first time sent the same shivers up and down my spine that hearing Please Don’t Touch and Spectral Mornings live for the first time had done for me all those many years ago. The band eventually pronounced themselves happy and it was time for me to set up the merch stall for the evening. Not before I had spotted a couple of familiar faces among the small group of fans who had gained access to the hall during sound check. I was delighted to see both Mino Profumo and Roger Salem again, both are long time Genesis and Hackett fans and Roger in particular has been a goldmine of photographs for my forthcoming biography of our hero.
Eventually the doors opened and in came the punters and soon a fairly brisk trade was going on. Some fans even recognised me from the Genesis Songbook and asked, in hushed tones; “are you Alan Hewitt?”. A couple even asked for MY autograph! I had to check my security pass to make sure that I was and thankfully no impostor had taken my place! With showtime rapidly approaching, I packed up the merchandise and made my way into the hall. The atmosphere of anticipation was almost tangible. Even after seeing so many shows by Steve, there is nothing to beat the excitement of a first night of a tour. The band emerged on to the stage and the dam broke as the crowd cheered to the rooftop an this was before they had even played a note!
Opening the show with a new song; Fire On The Moon was an inspired choice. This track, like so much of Steve’s recent output has multiple layers (or personalities?) and works on so many levels. The great surprise for me was the harmony vocals. Not only is new boy Nick Beggs a phenomenal bass player, but he’s no slouch in the vocal department either! A great start to the gig was followed by some classic Hackett as the band tore through Every Day and Ace Of Wands with barely a pause for breath. The Avant Garde Pollution B served as a fine link into the windswept desolation that is The Steppes. Once again, Steve’s choice of musicians proved to be inspired as Rob Townsend’s flute playing evoked the vastness of the subject while the rest of the band conjured up a desolate aural landscape of their own.
Darktown was next, a firm favourite of mine ever since I first heard the album and it has got better in performance. Steve really let rip with some over the top vocals while Gary O’Toole and Nick Beggs beefed the performance up with an impeccable rhythm section. The pace didn’t slacken as Slogans roared out of the traps, dominated by the “Mighty Kingatron” and a damn fine performance from Mr King it was, too!
Finally, the band gave the audience (and themselves) a chance to catch their breath and Serpentine Song was a welcome respite from the drama of the proceeding tracks. Without doubt, this is one of the finest songs that Steve has ever penned, not only a wonderful tribute from a son to his father, but simply a beautiful song and one which Gary O’Toole sang to perfection. New material apart, I am sure that the biggest surprise of these gigs was to be which items from the Genesis catalogue Steve had chosen to include in the set list. Ever since Genesis Revisited, Steve has gradually rehabilitated his part in the Genesis story and he now, thankfully wears that particular “badge” with pride - and deservedly so, too! Anyway, there was to be a real surprise for the crowd as the band began Firth Of Fifth. We were used to the instrumental section featuring large not only in Steve’s shows but even in Genesis’s own but what we had here tonight was a COMPLETE rendering of the song, including the famous piano introduction. The collective gasp from the audience as they realised what was taking place before their very eyes made me smile. If Roger King had any nerves about tackling this one, they didn’t show and he nailed the track perfectly, garnering his own round of well deserved applause from the crowd. Once again, the rhythm section of Nick and Gary were flawless in their execution of this classic and Gary’s vocal was masterful, especially as he had some problems with the vocal mic but he took them in his stride.
|The crowd were given time to collect themselves after that performance by the acoustic set without which no show by Steve would be complete and the acoustic theme continued as Steve and Roger gave an inspired performance of Walking Away From Rainbows another underrated classic. Then it was back to the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll - Hackett style, of course! Mechanical Bride set the tone for the rest of the gig and here the entire band, led by some maniacal sax playing by Rob had a work out worthy of any gym. I was surprised and delighted to see that Blood On The Rooftops had retained its place in the set list after its long overdue debut back in 2004. You will not be surprised to hear that it had exactly the same effect on me tonight as it did back then - wonderful!|
Spectral Mornings was next up. It is simply impossible to even begin to describe the emotions that flow through me every time I hear this one performed live and the memories as well but I am sure you can fill in the gaps with your own thoughts on that subject - fuckin’ amazing - nuff said! This was followed by The Wall Of Knives ( a reference to the impression that Peter Green’s playing had on a young Mr Hackett back in the 1960’s I believe) once again made a link to the next Genesis classic. If anyone has any doubts about Steve’s contribution to The Lamb… if you heard this performance they would easily be blown away. I doubt if I have ever seen him in better form than he was here and the crowd knew it!
More personal memories for me with Please Don’t Touch which was every bit as good as ever. A Tower Struck Down was another opportunity for everyone in the band to ladder their tights with a full throated workout which culminated in the surprise inclusion of a passing nod to The Hermit as well. The crowd were now well warmed up and ready for more tasty helpings and Steve and the band readily obliged with In That Quiet Earth which still sends shivers up and down my spine even though I do miss Afterglow (perhaps next time, eh Steve?) .
The show closed with a classic Hackett pairing of another new song with a golden oldie. Storm Chaser is one of the tracks which Steve has co-written with Chris Squire for the much talked about “Squackett” project. A rhythm charged number as you would expect and one which is destined to become a live favourite if the reaction to it here is anything to go by. Los Endos (what else?) closed the show proper. Once again, the entire band lapped up this chance to flex their musical muscles and the crowd were on their feet long before it finished!
The band took their well deserved bows and left the stage but everyone knew that they would be back for at least one encore. They gave us Clocks, another fine instrumental romp and one which sent everyone off happy and contented. Then it was all over, difficult to believe that almost two hours had flashed by but that’s what happens when you’re enjoying yourself. I dashed back to the merch stall and happily watched as Steve and the band came out for a signing session with everyone looking happy and contented - deservedly so after such a marvellous performance.
|One show down, three more to go. Oh dear, the realisation hit me that tomorrow’s gig would be on Friday 13th! Oh well… the day dawned fine and clear and myself and the rest of the crew set off in advance of the band to Schio another corner of Italy I had never visited before. The drive to the venue passed off uneventfully thanks to the skill of Alberto and we arrived at the venue in the early afternoon. Fortunately, this time the hotel was a mere 900 yards from the gig! The Teatro Astra is lovely theatre/cinema which was just the right size for some magic to happen and the show was a complete sell-out too which was very good to hear. As usual, the afternoon was spent in sorting out the gear and making sure everything was ready for when the band arrived. I had to attend to a couple of merchandising issues of my own as well and so everything was ready well in advance of showtime. Doors eventually opened and the crowd soon kept me busy in the lead up to the performance. Once the show started I ensconced myself at the back along with a couple of the local theatre staff who had made me so welcome during the afternoon and I watched the show in complete comfort replete with beer and the odd snack. With the opening night nerves behind them, the band were in fine form and there was no repetition of the previous night’s technical problems and the set remained the same and was rapturously received by the sell-out crowd.|
Once again, the afternoon was spent in sound checking and other technical issues. There were particular problems with the lighting at this gig which led to our lighting engineer, Steve Barnett remaining at the venue with me while everyone else repaired to the meal that had been laid on elsewhere. Steve really had his work cut out but his dedication ensured that by the time the audience were allowed in, he had pronounced himself content - and I had ensured that he had something to eat from the food provided for us. The punters were allowed in and soon I was surrounded by a sea of faces some of them familiar again. The gig itself passed off without incident and the crowd were really enthusiastic and gave the band a great welcome.
The Gig - Pordenone
The last gig of the tour was always going to be the most problematic. Everyone was faced with a six hour drive from Pordenone to the final venue; the Stazione Birra in Rome and so with barely five hours’ sleep myself and the rest of the crew set off in the capable hands of Alberto at 7am to ensure we were there in plenty of time for load-in and eventual sound check. Sunday or “Domani” in Italian is always a laid back day but after a six hour trip, none of us were pleased to find that when we arrived at the venue the only guy there was the caretaker (or should that be “Janitor”?) . The local crew eventually sauntered up and load in could begin in earnest.
The Gig - Rome
There were several technical issues which could not be resolved immediately and which tested people’s patience at times including mine I have to admit but perseverance paid off in the end. The problems had delayed what was already a late starting gig (10.30pm start time) but eventually the doors opened and people flooded in - straight past me to get the best viewing position! Thankfully their curiosity eventually got the better of them and I could practice my sales pitch in my best broken Italian for one final time. Then ensconcing myself halfway between the stage and the bar in the company of yet another of my new Italian friends; Bruno Cavicchini, I watched as the final show unfolded. No surprises, no cock-ups and another great gig rounded off the trip in fine style. One surprise remained for me however, after the gig when I made the usual photo request to Nick Beggs… the result you can see for yourselves…. We are good friends nothing more - HONEST!
This was the trip I never expected to make and as such I have relished every minute of it. Yes, it’s f**king hard work - especially for the technical members of the crew but when that well-oiled machine fires on all cylinders, the hassle and the problems are forgotten in the white heat of special performances and that is exactly what these shows were - SPECIAL. Being a part of them is something I would not swap for a gold clock!
None of this could have been written without the following individuals and so my grateful thanks are extended to… First of all Steve and Jo for asking me in the first place. To Brian Coles for his patience when I was “at home to Mr Cock-up”. To the guys in the band; Nick, Gary; Roger and Rob for making it all so enjoyable and for making it all look so easy. To the guys in the technical department without whom gigs don’t just happen… Richard Buckland, Ben Fenner; Steve Barnett and Steve Spring whose dedication and professionalism is a credit to them all. Also to the English fan contingent ; the “Bradford Two” and Paul Gibbon.
And to mi amici Italiani nuovi e viecchi. Un grazie enorme a Alberto Agostini
e Vania Santi di Blue Sky Productions, Oscar; Mino Profumo; Mario Giammetti;
Paolo Bolla; Bruno Cavicchini; Giulio Canova; la bella Frederica; Roger Salem
Attilio Rovai; Marco Lo Muscio; Cladio Fracasso and anyone else I may have missed
- mille grazie!