“One L of a tour” - last year’s roving Steve Hackett tour report by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Alan Hewitt.
Well, one Hackett gig per tour is never enough for me and so it was with this UK tour by Steve and his merry band. My first stop this year was for the London gig which was reviewed in #95 and so the next venue on the itinerary for me was a trip to what proved to be a surprisingly sunny Llandudno in North Wales and a brand new venue for me: the Venue Cymru.
Arriving in plenty of time with my good friend Dave Roberts who had been granted permission to film tonight’s proceedings, we were met at the stage door by one of the local crew, Wayne who proved to be very helpful and informative. Leaving Dave to get himself set up for filming I returned to the front of house to pick up my ticket and greet a few friends before show time which duly arrived.
As I have already stated elsewhere, opening the show with what to many fans is your best track: Spectral Mornings could have led to severe disappointments but as we all know, Steve is no one trick pony and has more high calibre musical ammunition in his locker than most armies! Spectral got things off to a suitably dramatic start before we were treated to the first helpings from Steve’s latest opus: Wolflight. Indeed, the title track and Out Of The Body segued perfectly together and once again it was astonishing to see just how seamlessly the new material fitted in with the established Hackett classics which formed the backbone of the first half of this show. Love Song To A Vampire too, is destined to remain a live favourite and was delivered in fine style tonight.
Other new tracks included a gorgeous reading of Loving Sea, which saw Steve unleash the delicate yet awesome power of his twelve string Zemaitis guitar while The Wheel’s Turning gave the entire band a chance to test their mettle and new boy Roine Stolt acquitted himself admirably throughout although at times he did seem to be a little lost - awestruck perhaps? He kept his head down and let his musicianship do his talking for him - a bit like Steve himself I guess!
Of the other old material that featured in the first half of the show the undoubted highlight for me was a truly remarkable reading of Icarus Ascending in which Nad Sylvan pulled off an almost miraculous transition into the late great Richie Havens for a simply spine tingling version which brought back a whole heap of wonderful memories.
Celebrating its fortieth anniversary we also got a healthy helping from Steve’s first solo album: Voyage Of The Acolyte and what a joy it was to hear Ace Of Wands, A Tower Struck Down, Star Of Sirius and a truncated version of Shadow Of The Hierophant which, as it turned out was to be performed in its entirety at the gigs which were graced by Amanda Lehmann’s presence. Either way, this material has more than stood the test of time and was received like an old friend by the enthusiastic crowd.
In the blink of an eye it was half time and after an interval which gave both us and the band a chance to get their breath back, we were ready for the “sprinkling of Genesis” which the advertising for these gigs promised.
Augmented by Nad Sylvan once more, this half of the show got under way with a brilliant rendition of Get ’Em Out By Friday in which the characters were acted out in fine style by both Nad and Gary O’Toole who was evidently having a blast from behind his kit. Steve has wisely in my opinion, placed the emphasis of the Genesis material firmly on the lesser known tracks and so next up was an equally impressive Can-Utility & The Coastliners.
We were treated to some classic though, including the one real omission from the previous legs of this tour: Cinema Show, although given Steve’s original intent to showcase the track in which he played a prominent part, its omission up until now made perfect sense. Tonight though it was here in all its glory with some impeccable keyboard work from Roger King who gives this classic material a new edge every time I hear him play it.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway too got a huge response from the crowd and deservedly so, as it was another electrifying performance but for me, the highlight of the entire night was the beautifully understated After The Ordeal, yes that “contentious little number” which Steve’s cohorts had dismissed all those years ago. Steve and Roger performed an exquisite ballet between them and Aisle Of Plenty brought gasps of surprise from several members of the audience.
The show was rounded off by The Musical Box in which the entire band really showed their relish for this material with some fantastic playing and with no visuals to detract from the performance this year, the emphasis was firmly on the music throughout and it simply doesn’t get better than this… or does it…?
Encores were not long in coming and the metronomic beat of Gary O’Toole signalled the aural mayhem that is Clocks - fantastic to see it back in the set it is too! Here once again, the rhythm section of Roine and Gary were unleashed on our eardrums whilst Mr Hackett tore into some of his finest licks like a man possessed before the show was rounded off by what is perhaps Steve’s finest moment in Genesis: Firth Of Fifth. What can I say about this that hasn’t been said already? Nowt really so I will leave it to your imaginations, folks!
And that was it, another evening of musical magic over in the blink of an eye. Thankfully my itinerary had a few more stop offs to come and so on we go to…
The celestial city of Liverpool and my home town and my favourite music venue: the majestic Philharmonic Hall, for what promised to be a very special evening as the show was being filmed for this year’s live DVD. I had already secured a front row seat for this one even before I found out about the plans to record it but even so excitement was almost tangible tonight.
Fundamentally the show was the same as it had been for Llandudno and at least the staff at the Phil were not like their jobs worth counterparts at the Llandudno venue had been and left people alone to take their photographs in peace. The only extras being the acoustic section where Steve was joined by his brother John for wonderful performances of Jacuzzi and Amanda Lehmann for a truly glorious complete reading of Shadow Of The Hierophant and her voice was the missing element at the Llandudno show as the harmonies on this and several other tracks not least the magnificent Love Song To A Vampire benefited enormously from her presence.
Rob Townsend was in fine form throughout apart from one minor hiccup which we won’t dwell on and he switched from flute to sax and penny whistle with ease throughout the show. The interplay between Steve and the rest of the band was a joy to watch with much on stage humour evidently going on from the amount of smiling and laughing I could see.
Personal highlights for me included Every Day which brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye it was that good. Once again, Nad did the business with another superlative performance on Icarus… while the new material consolidated its place in the canon of live favourites as well. Once again though, After the Ordeal ticked all of the boxes for me and I doubt if I have ever heard Steve’s acoustic guitar sound better than it does here.
Onwards and upwards or downwards geographically speaking next for the show at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. A venue stepped in Genesis history (it was where the Genesis Live album was recorded back in 1973) and also a regular haunt for Steve as a solo artist although on both previous occasions (1993 and 2003 respectively) the venue had been less than half full and Steve had technical problems on stage.
I noticed that once again the venue was far from full which did surprise me but hey, those of us who were there were prepared to compensate for that weren’t we?
Right from the outset the sound was noticeably better than it had been at any of the previous shows. Steve’s decision to deliver these gigs in “surround sound” had fallen rather flat to my ears but not tonight I can honestly say that this was the best sound I have ever heard at a Hackett gig - and this was my 120th such event folks so I know whereof I speak!
With Amanda Lehmann and John Hackett appearing we were treated to the whole card tonight. Once again, old and new merged seamlessly throughout the evening with Steve and the entire band all having their moment to shine and truth be told, for me there was no point at which I was anything other than entirely delighted by the magic that was unfolding before us. The crowd were up for it too and made their presence known throughout although not in a disruptive way and the end result was another impeccable performance all round.
OK, so the title of the review is slightly misleading as my final destination this year was the magnificent Symphony Hall in Birmingham but I know you will forgive me folks but I couldn’t let this one go. Steve’s gigs here over the last two years have been superb to say the least.
It must have seemed to Steve that he was playing in someone’s living room as most of the front row was taken up by some very familiar faces from among his fans and maybe that provided an added impetus to he performance tonight but what I can cay was that tonight the band and the audience were really on fire!
That is not to say that there weren’t the odd hiccups here and there not least Steve coming surprisingly unglued during one of the acoustic moments but hey, it proved that the show was live and not Memorex folks!
Right from the outset there was a special vibe tonight which had been lacking at some of the previous gigs I had seen and if Leicester was the best for sound, and Liverpool the best for atmosphere then tonight it was the best of both those worlds really. Set wise, the show was as it had been throughout the previous gigs and with no Amanda Lehmann tonight, we were treated instead to the acoustic guest spot of Steve’s brother John accompanying him on another remarkable rendition of Jacuzzi.
Before we got there however, we had a LOT of other stuff to listen to and enjoy. Once again Spectral Mornings got things off to a suitably emphatic start. Steve was in his element here and was definitely possessed by the spirit of his guitar throughout. Speaking of possession, I think that the late Richie Havens had returned to earth tonight to imbue Nad Sylvan’s vocals with a touch of his magic as once again, this was one of the real highlights of the set and greeted by enthusiastic (and deserved) applause.
All of the band shone throughout the performance and each had their individual moments not least another impeccable performance from Roger King on Firth Of Fifth.
I loved the interplay between Gary O’Toole and Nad Sylvan during Get ‘Em Out By Friday and new boy Roine Stolt acquitted himself manfully on both bass and twin neck guitar and he seems to have finally settled into his position within the band and there was no sign of the nerves which had made his performance at previous gigs a little on the mannered side.
I have said to many fans and to Steve himself that this tour has been mis-titled and should have been called “The Best of Both Worlds” as that is precisely what we got with a glorious visitation of both halves of Steve’s career. Once again, the new material came across incredibly well when put up against classics like Every Day and Clocks. Of the new stuff, Love Song To A Vampire and Loving Sea were outstanding although the latter would have benefited from the presence of Amanda on harmonies. No matter, the rest of the group did the business and I am sure this track is destined to remain in the live set for some time to come.
With the emphasis for the Genesis material being placed on some of those tracks which had seldom (if ever) been played by the band, the result was a revelation (pun intended) especially on what for me was once again the true highlight of the evening; that contentious little number After The Ordeal during which Steve’s and Roger executed a delightful duet which they were both evidently enjoying.
No screens at these gigs so the focus was placed squarely on the music and when you have the likes of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Musical Box and Firth Of Fifth in your locker, the end result was every bit as explosive as any fireworks display you may see this or any other year.
I doubt if we shall ever see Steve playing this stuff again and so if you have not seen these shows or those that preceded them since this entire exercise began with the release of the album back in 2012, then all I can say is you have missed an absolute treat, one which I would not have believed possible beforehand and which I would not swap for all the tea in China!
And that’s it for another round of Hacketting. It only remains for me to say the usual thank you’s so, here goes…
First of all once again my thanks to Steve, Roger, Roine, Nad, Gary, Amanda, John and Rob for putting on such remarkable shows night after night. To Jo for all her help and incredible kindness towards not only me but all of the Hackett fans who she does so much to help. Thanks too to Steve’s mum June and aunt Betty for all their kindness and encouragement. Grateful thanks to all the local crews at the venues without whom none of this would happen and to Ben, Tigger and Richard - Steve’s very own backroom boys who do a fantastic job show after show. My thanks also to the irrepressible Mr Brian Coles for handling all the tour details with such suave sophistication and skill.
And to this year’s members of the crazy gang for making it all such an enjoyable experience. Take a bow please: Petra Leech and Steve LeBlond, Lee Millward, Frank and Will Rogers, Graham Drabble, Brian and Alison Lancaster, Kevin Fearn, David Houghton, The Mellotrons, The Hammonds, Dave Roberts and Mini Kingman and the unstoppable Steph Kennedy for being… Steph! And to anyone else who may have said “hi” before, during or after one of the gigs, it would not be anywhere near as much fun without you, so thank you!