Tag Archives: Steve Hackett

Steve Hackett – In The Skeleton Gallery

A taster from the album “The Night Siren”, released in March.

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Are Heritage Acts the Bed Blockers of Music?

The questions about AC/DC’s future following the forced retirement of frontman Bryan Johnson for health reasons has prompted the question: Are so-called “Heritage Bands” holding music back by denying opportunities to younger bands who still have something new to say?

The ultimate heritage act has to be The Rolling Stones, who still embark on mammoth stadium tours despite having added little of significance to their canon since the 1980s. Given the sort of ticket prices these bands charge, how much money are they hoovering up that might otherwise go to support dozens of smaller bands?

At least some older acts are willing to give bands from the next generation a leg up by inviting them as opening acts. Ritchie Blackmore giving Mostly Autumn the support his arena show in Birmingham is a very recent example. So is Steve Hackett; as well as Mostly Autumn, Anne-Marie Helder and Alan Reed have supported him in some sizeable venues. But at the other end of the scale we have those wretched “Package Tours” where two or three veteran acts share a bill and nobody below bus pass age gets a look in. They seem calculated to appeal to those for who the part of the brain that assimilates new music ceased to function when they had kids.

There isn’t a hard and fast definition of what is and isn’t a heritage act, and it’s not just down to age. I don’t think anyone would begrudge Robert Fripp for what is probably the victory lap for his long and innovative career. His new incarnation of King Crimson is playing brand new material and reinventing their older work. It would have been a different story had King Crimson been playing jukebox versions of “21st Century Schitzoid Man” and “Starless” round the circuit for decades. Likewise Curved Air have recorded an excellent recent album “North Star”, which is more than can be said for John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest’s embarrassingly awful “North”.

So, are older bands who refuse to retire the musical equivalent of bed-blockers in hospitals? Or is it simply that they appeal to an audience of their own generation who have no interest in new music?

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The Rights and Wrongs of Negative Reviews

Oh dear. The Guardian’s Ian Gittins has written a one-star review of Ed Sheeran protégée Jamie Lawson, and all hell has broken loose in the comments. So much so that the reviewer, to his credit, has entered the fray and defended his review. Not that I’m completely buying his defence.

Since I mentioned his negative reviews of Steve Hackett and King Crimson as a reason not to take his word for it in the comments, he also responded directly to me:

Hello Kalyr. I think we have safely established now that we don’t see eye to eye on Steve Hackett and King Crimson! However, I thought Steven Wilson was great at the Albert Hall a year or so ago, and raved about it in the Guardian. Believe it or not, I am not pathologically anti-prog…

This was my response:

Ian,

First, you deserve a lot of credit for coming into the comments defending your review; most writers won’t do that.

About that Steve Hackett gig. I was reviewing that show for another publication. I had volunteered for that one not because I was a huge fan of Steve Hackett but because I was a friend of the support act, singer-songwriter Anne-Marie Helder. I knew it was going to be a nostalgia show, and thought Hackett’s newly-released Genesis Revisited album was a rather pointless record which added nothing to the original 70s recordings.

Because the publication I was writing for wasn’t high enough up the food chain to get more than one person on the guest list, I had to double up as a photographer, and there was no photo pit for that gig. Which meant I had to position myself along the side of the room about a dozen rows back and use a telephoto lens. So I had a very good view of the audience, and how they were reacting.

I have no idea what part of the room you were in, but from where I was the atmosphere was absolutely electric throughout his set. It’s true that there was little verbal interaction with the audience between songs, and Nad Sylvain is no Peter Gabriel, but that wasn’t the point, the music spoke for itself. For much of the audience it was music they’d grown up with but had not heard performed live for thirty years. There was a lot of passion in that performance, feeding off the energy from the audience, and it sure didn’t feel remotely like a bunch of has-beens going through the motions like a few other 70s bands I could mention.

My golden rule for reviewing is base everything on how you feel the moment you walk out of the venue; are you in a state of euphoria or is it a case of “thank God that’s over”? For me, and for almost everyone else I know who was there, that was at least a four star gig, not a two star one.

You are entitled to your opinion, of course. But I’m far from the only person who thought you misjudged that gig very, very badly.

I know we prog fans can get very defensive about critical reviews in the mainstream press. But that’s because no other genre seems to get misjudged so frequently.

What got me about his Jamie Lawson review was the mean-spirited nature. It might be true that the subject is a mediocre talent who’s been the undeserving recipient of media hype. It might be equally true that one irritatingly simplistic and sentimental song has become a massive hit with the sorts of people who are not normally music fans. But that’s no excuse for a spiteful review that reads more as a personal attack on the artist than a critique of his art. And like a lot of this kind of review, there’s an implied subtext of an extended sneer at his audience. Like the all-too-common ritual dismissals of progressive rock, it’s a sort of lazy faux-iconoclasm, going after targets who already fall into the writer’s outgroup for cheap applause.

We prog fans get very defensive about this sort of thing. In part it’s because we’re all sick and tired of the ritual dismissal that harks back to the days of punk. But it’s also a consequence of the incestuous nature of the current prog world where there’s a blurring of boundaries between artists, critics and fans. That sort of scathing review simply isn’t possible; as the saying goes, you can’t shit in your own bed. There needs to be a space for critical reviews, of course, but if you want to avoid being ostracised from the scene you either have to frame things constructively or carefully pick and choose what you review. There have been cases where I’ve been disappointed with records when I’ve known the artist, and have told editors that I wasn’t willing to review for that reason. As I’ve said in the past, criticism is as much about what you do and don’t write about as it is about what you actually say.

You only have to look over the wall at the toxic cesspool that Science Fiction fandom has become in the wake of Requires Hate and the Sad Puppies to recognise what happens when empathy-free criticism is actively encouraged.

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2015 Albums of the Year – Part Two

We continue the album rundown with the countdown down to Eleven, setting things up for the Top Ten.

Eleven is a very metal number….

Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic

Beyond the Buried and Me Coma EclipticA quite remarkable record that sounds like all the best bits of contemporary metal and progressive rock from the last decade put into a blender. It’s hugely varied with musical references all over the place, yet it still hangs together as a coherent whole. There is an awful lot happening on this record, and it does take a few listens to take it all in. Songs take off in unpredictable directions, and there is more than one number that feels as though it contains a whole concept album’s worth of music in seven or eight minutes.

Dave Gilmour – Rattle That Lock

Rattle That LockThis highly polished singer-songwriter album is perhaps more satisfying that Pink Floyd’s coda “The Endless River”. Though it does tend towards the middle of the road in places, Gilmour’s immediately recognisable lead guitar lights up every song and sets this record apart. While it doesn’t reach the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd’s heyday. it’s still as much about the gorgeous orchestrated arrangements as it is about the songs.

Gloryhammer – Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards

Rise of the Chaos WizardsDundee’s finest power-metallers return with the follow-up to “Tales from the Kingdom of Fife” in which the hero Angus McFife takes the battle with the evil sorcerer Zargothrax to outer space, where he encounters The Goblin King of the Darkthrone Galaxy, and with the aid of the legendary Astral Hammer and The Hollywood Hootsman defeats the sorcerer in epic battle. Unfortunately Earth and all its inhabitants were destroyed in the process, but nobody noticed because Chaos Magic. But that’s power metal for you…

Iron Maiden – Book of Souls

Iron Maiden Book of SoulsThe metal veterans and British institution continue a strong recent run of albums with one of the most ambitious things they’ve ever done, a double album that might just be their best record they’ve made since their 1980s heyday. They’ve managed a double album without filler, covering all bases from galloping rockers to ambitious epics. It culminates with “Empire of the Clouds”, an eighteen-minute tour-de-force which combines Bruce Dickenson’s loves of history and aviation, telling the story of the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R101 airship.

Motörhead – Bad Magic

Motorhead Bad MagicLemmy’s increasingly frail health means Motörhead aren’t the live force they once were, but in the studio it’s another matter. Lemmy has still got it, and accompanied by Mikky Dee and the underrated Phil Campbell, they rock like a bastard, with songs that barrel along like a runaway train. On record at least, with what might prove to be their final album, Motorhead are still the epitome of the primal spirit of Rock’n'Roll, Britain’s equivalent to The Ramones.

Napalm Death – Apex Predator: Easy Meat

Apex Predator - Easy MeatNapalm Death are very angry. It’s hard to make out the words, so it’s not always obvious exactly what they’re angry about, but they’re very, very angry. They combine the visceral fury of punk with the precision of metal, to produce an album that tears out of the speakers and nails you to the wall. Napalm Death show absolutely no signs of mellowing in their old age, and they’ve made a record that’s utterly uncompromising.

Steve Hackett – Wolflight

Steve Hackett - WolflightThe former Genesis guitarist has gained a high profile with his Genesis revival show of late, but he’s also hit a late career purple patch with a string of excellent albums, of which this might be one of the finest. It’s a huge symphonic-sounding work, dominated by his distinctive liquid guitar playing and gorgeous harmony vocals. Just ignore the cover art with the embarrassed wolves and focus on the music.

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Steve Hackett – Love Song to a Vampire

Official video for the song from the album “Wolflight”.

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Steve Hackett and the Genesis Documentary

Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Odeon

No, I haven’t had the chance to see the BBC’s Genesis documentary for myself yet, I was out at a gig when it was screened. Judging from the comments on social media including a lot of retweets from Steve Hackett himself, it seriously downplayed his contribution to the band’s music, and completely ignored his prolific solo career. While he wasn’t airbrushed out of history altogether like the unfortunate Ray Wilson, he surely deserves better.

There are a lot of parallels with AC/DC’s Malcolm Young here. Only the most ignorant dismiss Malcolm Young as an anonymous and easily-replaceable sidesman; anyone who understands their music knows his playing was the heart of their sound. It’s the same with Steve Hackett for 70s Genesis.

If you want proof, listen to “Wind and Wuthering”, Genesis’ last Studio album before Hackett left the band in 1977. Then listen to “Burning Rope”, the best song from the Hackett-less “And Then There Were Three”, and imagine how it might have sounded had Hackett played on it. Mike Rutherford’s workmanlike playing is a pale imitation.

Though not known for his stage presence, Hackett is a hugely talented musician, who managed to invent a completely new language for rock guitar. He took the electric guitar way past its blues roots, and in his way he was as groundbreaking as Jimi Hendrix a few years earlier. And he was also a maestro on classical guitar.

Hackett has been the “keeper of the flame” for the music Genesis made in the 1970s, music which Banks, Rutherford and Collins have sometimes seemed embarassed by. While it was fashionable for many years to claim the 80s stadium-pop Genesis to be the real deal, much of their later output has dated badly, and it’s the music they made while Steve Hackett was in the band which has stood the test of time.

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Gigs of the Year – 2013 Edition

Panic Room at Sound Control in Manchester

I went to so many gigs in 2013 I ended up losing count; everything from local cover bands in pubs to rock monsters in enormodomes, and everything in between. There have been a few gigs outside my usual comfort zone, such as The Damned and The Orb; I even went to see Iron Maiden at the O2 Arena, a band I last saw in 1982.  I even went to see a Fleetwood Mac tribute band…

Picking a best-of list out of all those gigs is a hard one, but these six stand out as ones to remember for all the right reasons.

Marillion – UK Convention Saturday

Marillion’s fan conventions are always amazing experiences, with a hall full of hardcore fans and three sets with completely different setlists over the three nights. The end result is an electric atmosphere that few regular gigs can approach. All three nights in Wolverhampton were amazing experiences, but for me the best of the three was Saturday, with the dark, intense concept album “Brave” played in its entirety.

Fish – Islington O2 Academy

I got to see Fish four times this year, twice in his spring tour before the band went into the studio to record the album, and twice in the autumn on the tour to promote the album. All were great shows, with the big man on superb form, the London gig in May was a real standout.

Steve Hackett – Hammersmith Apollo

I wasn’t entirely convinced by Steve Hackett’s restatement of his Genesis legacy in the studio; the re-recorded versions seemed to add little to the much-loved favourites. But live it was a completely different experience; a triumphant and uplifting celebration of the magnificent music that deservedly won many standing ovations.  The Guardian completely missed the point.

Panic Room + Morpheus Rising – Manchester Sound Control

Panic Room have had a few ups and downs this year, forced to regroup following the departure of lead guitarist and founder member Paul Davies. Their tour in early summer featured Morpheus Rising’s Pete Harwood standing in guitar doing double duty with both the headliners and his own band. The tour ended with two superb shows in Bilston and Manchester demonstrating the band’s ability to triumph over adversity, with great support from Morpheus Rising, themselves premiering a lot of new material.

Mostly Autumn + Chantel McGregor, Islington O2 Academy

Mostly Autumn have been a bit hit-and-miss as live band during 2013, with fluctuating lineups from gig to gig due to various members’ other commitments. But the stars aligned when they came to London in Ocober. Chantel McGregor’s incendiary opening set gave the whole show the feel of a co-headliner, and Mostly Autumn’s barnstorming set had to be one of the best shows they’ve done in the past two or three years.

Steven Wilson, Royal Albert Hall

Steve Wilson came to London’s most prestigious major venue with his band including Theo Travis, Guthie Govan, Nick Beggs and Zappa alumnus Chad Wakerman, with the combined virtuosity you’d expect from a top-flight jazz ensemble rather than typical rock band. They proceed to delivere a mesmerising set drawn almost entirely from Steve Wilson’s three recent solo work, reinventing 70s Mellotron-drenched progressive rock to make it relevant to the 21st century. There are still people missing Porcupine Tree, but on the strength of shows like this, his new band are very good trade.

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Steve Hackett Live in Hammersmith

Promo for Steve Hackett’s forthcoming DVD, filmed at the superb sold-out show at Hammersmith Apollo back in May. It was a great priviledge to have been at that show as a reviewer, and from what we can see here, the DVD seems to capture what it was like that night.

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The Guardian tries to review Steve Hackett – and fails

The Guardian has published an appallingly bad review by Ian Gittins of the same Steve Hackett gig that I reviewed for Trebuchet. While it’s often the case that’s it’s best to ignore bad reviews, but this one is so egariously bad it really needs calling out.

Aside from some serious factual innacuracies that betray a lack of basic research, he describes the hugely influential guitarist as “the anonymous Hackett, the quintessential low-profile sideman“, then comes up with bollocks like “but your spirits sink when he is joined by 80s electropop also-ran Nik Kershaw and Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery“, and ends with  “but what a dispiritingly redundant evening this is“. It really is one of those awful 1980s NME style reviews that tells you far more about the prejudices of the reviewer than it does about the show itself.

I can’t think of any other genre of music where reviews of this nature have sadly come to be expected. The reason I’m going to the effort of calling it out is because The Guardian has been getting better. Recognising that they lacked knowledge of prog and metal they signed up Dom Lawson, who’s given favourable reviews to the likes of Opeth’s “Heritage” and Steve Wilson’s latest opus. Then they risk all this new-found goodwill by sending the same reviewer who wrote this pile of utter cobblers about Caravan. Somebody who can’t review a prog gig without constantly referencing punk needs to stop trying to review prog.

A better writer like Alexis Petridis would at least have attempted to engage and try to understand what Steve Hackett was trying to achieve, even if the music was outside his personal comfort zone. But Gittins’ review just reinforces the widely-held perception that The Guardian is where superannuated NME hacks go to die. They can and should do better than this.

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Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Apollo

Steve Hackett

Much like Fleetwood Mac, a band that still provokes endless discussion between fans of the Peter Green and Stevie Nicks eras over which was the best, Genesis were really two quite different bands appealing to different audiences. The 70s incarnation fronted by the charismatic Peter Gabriel saw them as one of the most innovative and influential bands from the British progressive rock movement, influenced more by baroque composers than the blues, with lyrics filled with English whimsy and Greek myths. The 80s incarnation saw their more commercially-orientated pop-rock fill stadiums, and for a while it was fashionable to dismiss their older music as hopelessly dated and worthless. Even the band seemed willing to disown their past in interviews. But in recent years progressive rock in general is being increasingly reassessed, and now it’s their 80s work that many consider ‘of its time’.

The watershed moment between the two eras of Genesis wasn’t Gabriel’s departure in 1975, but guitarist Steve Hackett’s departure two years later. His 1996 album “Genesis Revisited” and last year’s ambitious double-album follow-up have made him the keeper of the flame for Genesis’ 1970s legacy. Recent tours have seen Steve Hackett’s band mix selected Genesis favourites with highlights of his 35 year solo career, but with the release of “Genesis Revisited II”, he’s now taking the full Genesis revival show on the road.

Anne-Marie Helder supporting Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Apollo

Opening act was Anne-Marie Helder, best known in recent years as the lead singer of Panic Room. Acoustic singer-songwriters can often work well in small intimate settings, but Anne-Marie is one of the few in the business who can project strongly in much larger halls. It was amazing to hear the way her voice fill the venue. Her short-but-sweet set included a spellbinding stripped-down version of Panic Room’s “Promises” alongside some older acoustic numbers that haven’t been heard live for far too long.

The famous symphonic keyboard intro to “Watcher of the Skies” heralded the main event. Aside from Hackett himself, the six piece band includes Nad Sylvan on the majority of lead vocals, Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on drums and vocals, Rob Townsend on flute and clarinet and Lee Pomeroy on bass, with Amanda Lehmann joining them on guitar and vocals for a couple of songs.

For the next two and a half hours the band took us through the 1971-77 Genesis songbook, with so many highlights it’s difficult to single out individual moments. We saw “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” turn into a singalong of the opening section. “The Lamia” saw the first of several special guest appearances, with Nick Kershaw on vocals and Marillion’s Steve Rothery trading licks with Steve Hackett at the end, earning the first of many standing ovations of the evening. “Shadow of the Heirophant”, the sole non-Genesis song was simply stunning, with Rob Townsend pogoing at one point and some incredible liquid shredding from the man himself. A beautiful “Entangled” featured a three-part vocal harmony with Nad Sylvan, Amanda Lehmann and Gary O’Toole. John Wetton guested on “Afterglow” after the extended jazz-fusion instrumental workout of “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers/In That Quiet Earth”. And pretty much the whole audience shouted “A FLOWER” at that point in the epic “Supper’s Ready”.

Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Apollo

The band gave the old songs something of a new lick for the 21st century. It wasn’t a reverential note-for-note reproduction of the original recordings, but neither was it a ground-up re-imagining that didn’t respect the original versions. Certainly the arrangements gave greater emphasis to Hackett’s distinctive and hugely influential guitar playing, and Nad Sylvan didn’t attempt to impersonate either Gabriel or Collins on vocals. The two songs Gary O’Toole sang from behind the kit,”Broadway Melody of 1974″ and “Blood on the Rooftops” were perhaps the closest to the originals vocally. Rob Townsend’s clarinet doubling or occasionally replacing Hackett’s original guitar lines added another dimension, resulting in “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” taking on a jazz flavour.

It’s all an unashamed nostalgia trip, with an audience disproportionately filled with people of a certain age. But after forty-odd years the music has stood the test of time in a way few anticipated a generation ago. So it’s great to hear this classic material played by a member of the original band, and the rapturous response from the audience with multiple standing ovations said it all. We’re probably never going to see the full-blown reunion of the mid-70s Genesis for which fans have been clamouring for years. But in the absence of a reunion, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited tour is the next best thing.

The band will be playing Japan, Europe and the US before returning to the UK for further dates in October, including a show at the Royal Albert Hall.

(This review also appears in Trebuchet Magazine)

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