20 November 2019

Review: Steve Hackett B’ham Symphony Hall, 18th Nov 2019

Probably best known for his time with cult Prog band Genesis (1970 – 77), at the age of 69 (does this guy ever age ???), since leaving the band, Steve Hackett has accrued 25 solo albums, a number of live albums and side projects and has thus created a back catalogue of much loved music among his many fans. He has also collaborated with a wealth of other artists and bands, far too many to mention here….

Having interviewed the man a number of times I think I speak for all that have met him by adding he is probably one of the humblest, nicest and most accommodating people in Prog – gotta love that man !!

Partway thru’ a huge tour to resurrect one of the most loved Prog albums of all time “Selling England By The Pound” (1973) in its entirety, which also happens to be Mr Hackett’s personal favourite during his stay with the band, plus highlights from “Spectral Mornings” – his 3rd (and probably best known and most loved) solo album, currently enjoying its 40th Anniversary.

The current touring band consists of Nad Sylvan (Lead Vocals), Craig Blundell (Drums, Percussion and part-time backing vocals), Rob Townsend (Wind Instruments, Keys and Backing Vocals), long-term collaborator Roger King (Keys) and from The Flower Kings, Jonas Reingold (Bass and Backing Vocals).

With several months to go before the end of the tour, the band are in fine form, having already played this set before hundreds of people so I think it’s safe to say, it was a VERY polished performance, in fact you might say it was a PPPP – A Perfect and Polished Prog Performance !!

Steve has mentioned a few times that he has a soft spot for this wonderful venue and of late, it has become the “go-to” place for many Prog bands visiting Brum – King Crimson, Dream Theater, Marillion and Yes to name but a few. The acoustics are quite superb, I’ve never left the place with “ringing ears“…

The evening was split in two with the first part kicking off around 7.45pm. Consisting of solo material, we had three tracks from the latest studio album “At The Edge Of Light”, but the remainder of the set was took up with tracks from the aforementioned classic “Spectral Mornings” which just HAD to include the soaring title track which has inspired so many over the years (in fact, we had a little back story in that it was originally intended to be a vocal track, which is ironic in many ways as it was re-recorded a few years ago featuring members of Magenta and Big Big Train WITH vocals LOL). The instrumental “Clocks” featured a superb solo from Craig Blundell (taking over drum duties from Gary O’Toole) and we even had Steve’s brother John join the band for the occasional flute on tracks like “The Virgin And The Gypsy” and the beautiful, but haunting “The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere” (bit of a mouthful). Lightshow was amazing and although there were little or no backdrops or slides, the spotlights were well utilised ensuring everyone had their “time in the spot“.

A wonderful first half and after a 20 minute break we kicked off the second phase at 9.15, launching straight into “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” complete with suitably attired Nad Sylvan, who towers over all, especially with his rather elaborate top hat. The album was played in track order and second off we had the single “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”. One thing I DO enjoy when I go a live gig, is when the band go “off on a tangent” to elaborate and extend the original track (“Yours Is No Disgrace by Yes from Yessongs is a case in point !) Tonight we had an extended middle section of “wardrobe” which featured Rob Townsend blowing his heart out to a real funky vibe from the rest of the band before returning to the original form with the exquisite Mr Sylvan more than adequate to handle the original vocals of Mr Gabriel. In fact, listening to the lyrics again, it made me realise once again how clever, cryptic and convoluted Genesis’ lyrics were back in the early 70s, truly inspirational in so many ways.

Onto “Firth Of Fifth” the track features (probably) Mr Hackett’s most famous and uplifting guitar solos of all time and it came across tonight like we were hearing it for the first time – soaring and magnificent, I suspect there were a few air guitars in the audience and maybe a few emotions, it was memorable in so many ways.

The set progressed through the rest of the album until we got to “The Cinema Show” play-off “Aisle Of Plenty” and I have to say (even though there may be a few of you out there who hate me for saying this) having heard the band play the album back in the day when they visited B’ham Hippodrome (one of the advantages of being an old git – I got to see all the cool bands back in the day !!), this was a flawless and faithful reproduction. I was particularly interested to see how Nad handled the different voices in “The Battle Of Epping Forest” and he did so with total and utter perfection and regard for the original. Hard to think the original album came out 46 years ago !!! It hasn’t aged and will remain a timeless Prog classic with so many other albums from that time, 1970 – 75 – a memorable five years that spawned more than its fair share of classic Prog albums….

The set continued with a “lost gem” by way of “Deja Vu” which was originally written by Peter Gabriel during the original recording session for “Selling England” but was never finished, so roll on a few decades, 1996 to be precise and with the release of the original “Genesis Revisited”, the track was resurrected and completed by Steve and included on said album, we had it live here tonight handled superbly by Mr Sylvan yet again.

With the awesome “Dance On A Volcano” from “Trick Of The Tail” and an encore that takes that track to its final conclusion with “Los Endos” (always a favourite show stopper that one !!), after 2 hrs 30 mins the band leave the stage to a justly deserved standing ovation, despite Jonas Reingold’s best efforts to steal the show by balancing a bass guitar on his chin (!!) – you needed to be there……

 I reckon most here tonight would have stayed until the early hours with encore after encore of this outstanding and timeless music, but we all have beds waiting and with the rest of the sell-out UK tour to get thru’, make sure you check when the Steve Hackett Band hit a town or city near you.

Milking the past or keeping it alive ??? You choose, but ultimately, you can’t deny – the Master was on top form tonight, long may he reign. Hats off to you and your band Mr H, they truly “Progged The Shit” out of the Symphony Hall tonight…

Many thanks to Lisa Billingham (Billibee Creative) for the awesome pix.

Steve Gould (aka Progmeister UK)