“A Grand Night Out” - Steve Hackett in concert at the Barbican, York on Sunday 26th October 2014. Review and photographs by Mike Ainscoe.
York in October - easily described as the land of a thousand autumns with the trees shedding leaves by their thousands including some of the largest ones I have ever seen - some getting beyond 30cm across (that’s a foot in old money!). Talking of which, the early Seventies was very much the focus for being here, that is apart from the excellent strawberry beer in the House Of Trembling Madness on the city’s Stonegate, eh Lee? ((Hackett ‘togger Mr Millward finding the brew quite addictive and as well as living it up in the Hilton quaffing pints even at breakfast time apparently). (That certainly sounds like the Mr Millward I know - ED).
Tweeted by Steve as “beautiful and brilliant” whether he was referring to the gig itself or York in general, there can have been worse places to schedule a day off on tour (especially considering the alternatives of a road trip to the next gig in Southend!). The magnificence of the city walls and the cathedral alongside the medieval architecture was a perfect setting for a Genesis-themed show for the lucky ticket holders at the spacious Barbican.
It has been some time admittedly since Steve has been in York (14th November 1983 to be exact Mike - ED), yet less so for the support act on the tour. A quick mention in dispatches to the Mostly Autumn acoustic duo of Bryan Josh and Olivia Sparnnen taking a break from the big band and providing an acoustic introduction to anyone who doesn’t know their band. Right at home in their home county, their shirt set drew on a couple of songs from their new record: House On the Hill and the title track: Dressed In Voices together with a couple of Mostly Autumn signature pieces in Evergreen and Heroes Never Die. They made for an interesting pair, Bryan providing the ’live in rock star’ look in faded jeans, heavy boots and hair tied back, his wife looking every part the enchanting vocalist in flowing long black and adorned in flickering jewellery.
With the Hackett tour taking up most of the last two years since its live debut back at the start of 2013, there can’t be many TWR readers who won’t be aware of what he has been taking around the world to rapturous audiences, keen to participate in authentic showcases of the material which is the Genesis legacy and being given the respect it deserves by a musician and his band who are more than up to the job. Although the show is destined to extend beyond the current extended tour on into South America in 2015, it is perhaps the time to take stock and consider how the show has developed and evolved over its course.
Band wise, for the current stretch it has been goodbye to the excellent Lee Pomeroy who for my money was man of the match for his massively versatile contribution to the show . Not only musically but also in his sheer delight in playing these songs and the onstage exuberance was a pleasure to behold. However, ever cloud has a silver lining so they say, and never was a truer word spoken with Nick Beggs back in the fold. Not only has he stepped into the multitasking shoes in handling the bass, guitar, twelve string, double neck bass pedals and backing vocals duties, not to forget the Chapman Stick, he too has thrown himself in typical fashion, headlong into the task and nailed it. His erstwhile sartorial splendour has been toned down a bit too from the leather kilt/wrap around thingy and the funereal top hat to something a bit more regular although having two blondes in the band now is quite eye catching. Appearing initially quite nervous and stern, it wasn’t long before the smile s broke out particularly when goaded from across the stage by fellow multi-tasker; Rob Townsend - false teeth notably missing this evening!
One of the more noticeable aspects is the sheer amount of enjoyment these guys are having on stage. Granted they must know the rather complex music rather well by now and although there can be few times when they can actually relax, but the looks between them and the on stage banter which is apparent and quite tangible. Whilst expertly reproducing the keyboard parts, Roger King has acknowledged that to a severely stony faced Tony Banks expression is not necessarily obligatory especially the knowing nods with Rob when vocalist Nad Sylvan does his disappearing act as he returns to the New Jerusalem at the back of the stage.
It is the growth of Nad Sylvan as vocalist which has had the biggest impact on the show. At the stage now where he is handling nearly all the vocal duties and able to deal with the additions in the set without trouble are a testament to how he has grown into the role. Flamboyant, and a visual foil for the players he has certainly made the part his own.
Perhaps the biggest change of all is in Steve Hackett himself. After describing himself as very much a “head down” player on the documentary part of the Royal Albert Hall DVD, his head was distinctly ’up’ for much of the show, grinning at the band and the air drummers on the front rows, grimacing as he conjured up all sort of squeaks and squeals from his guitar all the while getting value for money from the whammy bar. The fact that he had to literally sit down on his stool at the end was an indication that he had given his musical all. The key moment was perhaps as he picked out the notes on his twelve string with the most telling beam on his face at the start of Supper’s Ready.
As far as the set list is concerned, gone are many of the early set pieces: no more Eleventh Earl of Mar, or the Blood On The Rooftops… In That Quiet Earth… Afterglow sequence. In fact, since the controversial Together And Apart Genesis documentary, it seems that Wind & Wuthering has done a bit of a disappearing act too. The Lamb… songs which have appeared in the set: The Lamia, Carpet Crawlers and The Chamber Of Thirty Two Doors have now been rested too with a much smaller portion of The Lamb.. On offer.
The stalwarts are still there, of course: Supper’s Ready, Watcher Of The Skies, now set as the encore number with the instrumental variations which result in Los Endos along with Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Fly On A Windshield, Firth of Fifth and what seems o be many fans’ highlight: Musical Box. Again testament to the strength of the songs, their performance and the esteem in which they are held by the fans. The appearance of brother John (Hackett that is, not Rael’s similarly named comrade), to add flute was a poignant touch, his musical contribution of days past being recalled and clearly a tender moment when he was called back on to take a bow with the rest of the band arm in arm with Steve.
The cementing of Squonk following the opening Dance On A Volcano has strengthened the A Trick Of the Tail content, while for this leg of the tour there has been the addition of Lilywhite Lilith followed immediately by The Knife, Nad doing wonders with the machine gun fire of the lyrics after Roger’s thrilling keyboard opening flurry which still sends the shivers a-running up and down the spine. An interesting choice though as it is the one number in the set which Steve didn’t play on originally, yet adds to the overall feel of a very early Genesis weighted set. The magnificent trio of Nursery Cryme songs are all now linked with the talk of Mellotrons leading into the Hogweed followed by Salmacis and into The Musical Box. The first music created by the famous five and its potency and power acknowledged in that half hour sequence climaxing with Nad grabbing himself in the angst of his cries of “touch me!”
The high profile guests from the fledgling shows may have come and gone and the back projection visuals may have taken a break yet what we have left is a damn fine band letting the music talk, but the fans knew that already - giving them the chance to work the Genesis catalogue has only enhanced their reputation further. Genesis Extended sees them continuing to do justice to the legacy and not being ashamed to celebrate it.