Monday, 13 May 2013

10th May 2013: Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited - Hammersmith Apollo

Right back in post numero one of this blog, which nobody read, I hinted at the story of my adolescent musical awakening at the hands of a bald drummer who didn't divorce his wife by fax. That's a story which still needs to be told, but suffice to say that for me and gig-buddy-then-and-now Graham, there's something extremely special about seeing a bona fide member of Genesis live on stage, even if they don't play any Genesis songs - and let's face it that's something we've had even less chance to see since 1994. Apart from the two times we saw Genesis. And Phil Collins. And Steve Hackett. And Mike and the Mechanics. Obviously none of those count.

But it's a very special night tonight, marrying the singalong, nostalgic atmosphere of a sweaty tribute gig in a student union with the superiority and lack of shame which comes from knowing that tonight's tribute band contains one of our long-time musical and coiffeurial heroes.


There's a school of thought that says it's a bit sad to go out on tour, trading off a catalogue of songs from a band you left 35 years ago- it's a rather snooty school of thought, with prefects and fagging and probably the cane- so to that school of thought, this evening I say "Yah Boo Sucks", for three reasons:

1) Nobody else from the band in question is remotely interested in touring with this material, if at all. 

2) The man co-wrote and played on what is arguably the most enduring material from the band's legacy - and he does at least only play material he was actually involved in creating (Oh, Hi Ray, didn't see you there...) 

3) People pay good money to go and see tribute bands containing Canadians and Italians doing Peter Gabriel impersonations - so why shouldn't Steve go out on the road with a Swede doing a Pheter Gabrins impersonation and get a slice of the action?

4) He's still got the most hair out of anyone in the band, so he's the perfect choice to bring the music to a whole new generation of men who (like our party of four this evening) are only approaching, rather than leaving middle age. In fact the barnet is resplendent this evening, the light show behind him catching the edges of the tonsorial helmet at various points, making him look like he's wearing giant sparkly headphones. (Not a very serious look - you wouldn't catch, say, Robert Fripp looking like he's wearing giant sparkly headphones, oh no.)

Tonight's tickets proclaim "NO SUPPORT" and that the show will start promptly at 7:30, which confuses everyone when we arrive bang on time and find that most of the audience are still mingling in the bar. Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing to indicate when Mr Hackett actually will be putting in an appearance, which is probably why half the crowd are still quaffing lager in the foyer when the famous sci-fi opening to "Watcher of the Skies" announces that this evening's shenanigans are most definitely on the way. 

Tonight's party is comprised of the aforementioned Graham (he of the record shopping confessions) and his two younger brothers, who were literally children playing on the floor with fire engines when we were getting into this stuff, but are now fully-fledged humans with fiancees and jobs and mortgages - which is always a nice reminder of how OLD you are. It takes the entire Overture of 'Watcher' to get the stragglers into place, although as one of our party points out, at least the grand Mellotron intro makes a rather nice way to announce our entrance.

Safely in place, we settle down just in time for the song proper to start, and it's an impressive start with It Bites and Take That man Lee Pomeroy's meaty bass (one of the fattest I've heard in a while), and Gary O'Toole's powerful drums setting the foundation for a note-perfect but not too much so opening number. Oh, and there's some guy on guitar too, who gets centre stage and a bank of spotlights, but doesn't ever open his mouth to sing... the cheek of it. Wide smiles creep across 3,000 and something faces in the room this evening, and stay firmly in place for the next 2 and a half hours (no interval either, meaning Steve's bladder is definitely much stronger than mine.)

The night progresses with classic song after classic song - selections from all the Genesis albums which Steve played on and co-wrote, continuing on with 'The Chamber of 32 Doors', 'Dancing With the Moonlit Knight' and a medley of songs from 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway', culminating in a teasing snippet of 'Cuckoo Cocoon' before leaving us all hanging. But not to worry, there's an absolute belter up next, as Steve introduces tonight's first special guest, Nik Kershaw (he of 'Wouldn't it be Good?' fame and Genesis-acolyte through his solo work with Tony Banks, which nobody bought, as Tony would probably like me to remind you at this point...) - Nik's here to reprise his wonderful rendition of 'The Lamia', always one of the most haunting songs from 'The Lamb' and definite highlight of Steve's most recent album of Genesis reworkings, thanks to Nik's new vocal take on things which defiantly doesn't just consist of doing a cabaret Peter Gabriel impression.

This is blatantly a photo of 'Blood on the Rooftops' - I just thought
it had been a while since you'd had a picture to break up my waffle.

In fact, I owe Nik an apology because his vocals on the album are so controlled and precise in their tone, I ranted elsewhere about the possible use of autotune - but it's exactly the same story tonight, a vocal tour-de-force which we're extremely lucky to witness. And as if that wasn't enough, from out of the shadows at stage right appears Marillion's Steve Rothery, to recreate the guitar duel which closes the reworked version on the CD, battling with Steve over the extended closing section of the song. It's so good, it gets a standing ovation, which I'd like to think is for going a bit beyond a recreation of the original - although 'The Musical Box', which is up next with its screen graphics depicting playing cards and demonic babies is a very faithful rendition of the 'Genesis Live' version and gets an even bigger ovation, so what do I know?

There are a few things which set tonight's Genesis renditions apart from a tribute band like The Musical Box - firstly, there's room for a little interpretation, though not too much, to the relief of the man behind us whilst filing out who was "concerned that he was going to take extreme liberties with the material". Steve's updated many of his guitar solos, there are the various vocal interpretations we hear tonight, and then there are the places where keyboard solos are replaced by the fantastic woodwind of Rob Townsend - such as on the goosebump-favourite 'Blood on the Rooftops'. It'd be easy to bristle at the idea of iconic synth sounds from the 70's being replaced by cheesy sax, but firstly I imagine if they'd had a real woodwind instrument to use in the late 70's, they might have done it - and secondly and mostly thankfully, tonight's woodwind is less Kenny G and far more VDGG. 

Rob can stay - and so can his fellow hat-wearing band member Gary O'Toole, who's a great drummer and a good vocalist, although he does shout some of the vocals to the song in a most bizarre fashion, which suggests that the similar performance on the album was a stylistic choice and not because someone dropped a piano on his foot at an inopportune moment. The song's a triumph though, as agreed by someone across the way who yells out:

"Steve, thank you for choosing Planet Earth!"

I'm really struggling for useable photos here, bear with me.

Another un-tributey thing about this evening is that nobody dresses up in costumes, thankfully. Well, apart from main vocalist Nad Sylvan. His costumes range from undertaker for 'Watcher', to the South American gigolo outfit of lace-up frilly white top and leather trousers which he wears for most of the rest of the set. Nad's an interesting one - on the album I was less than impressed with his diction and "interpretation" of the lyrics (prompting a nameless friend to suggest that it sounded like he was swallowing his tongue) - however this evening you actually can't fault his vocals, they're on key and powerful and, sure there are a few pronunciation slip ups ("Today's a day to cellar-brate?") but he's no worse than his compatriots Abba, and nobody ever complains about them. Not for that reason, anyway.

No, on this showing, Nad's actually a great singer, managing to pull off both the Gabriel and Collins material. It's when you start looking directly at him that things become a little more tricky - he's obviously seen some videos of Gabriel's odd stage movements back in the 70's and decided to ape a few of them but pretty much just looks like he's having some kind of unfortunate fit for much of the set, especially at the start of 'The Musical Box' where I suspect he's attempting a kind of jack-in-the-box type thing but looks more like someone really uncool trying to dance 'the Robot'.

There's that standing ovation I mentioned earlier.

And then there's 'Eleventh Earl of Mar', where he comes out dressed like some kind of circus ringleader with a cane and all, starts the song by going "Wuuuuurrrrrgggghhhhhhhhhthe sun had been up for a couple of hours..." and starts on a bizarre little jaunty dance when he's not singing - prompting the following conversation between me and Graham:

Me: This doesn't really go with the subject matter, does it?

Graham: No, I'm pretty sure it's not a song about being a complete twat.

There are a couple more special guests this evening - firstly Steve's sister-in-law Amanda Lehman who joins the band to sing one of the very few non-Genesis songs played this evening, 'Shadow of the Hierophant', with its majestic, building closing section still managing to keep the audience rapt with its continual cycling of the same couple of chord patterns. And then John Wetton appears to belt out 'Afterglow' at the end of the 'Unquiet Slumbers / In That Quiet Earth' medley, during which the whole band shines, but especially note-perfect keys man Roger King. John absolutely nails the vocal, then hugs Steve and scoots offstage to leave the band to finish the song.

Yes, I know that could be any two men hugging on a stage. Just trust me.

After a rip-roaring run-through 'Dance on a Volcano', which is an absolute showcase for the whole band, as they tackle without difficulty the tricky ending section which Genesis themselves dropped as soon as they could, it's time for this evening's last guest. Jakko Jakszyk's vocal on 'Entangled' is a highlight tonight as on the album, harmonising wonderfully with Nad and Amanda, and providing a beautiful foundation for the spine-chilling woodwind and keyboard solos which wrap up the penultimate song of the main set. But what could possibly be left to play?

Well, of course, there's just under half an hour of the set to go, and it must be time for the main course, so we settle back and get ready for 'Supper'. The screens at the back of the stage have been adding background ambiance throughout the set and I've not really been paying much attention to them so far, freaky mutated babies aside, but it's at this point that one of my gig buddies points out the unseeable - that the images and videos for 'Supper' are perhaps a little too literal? Hence, on the line "the moon gets very bright", up comes our favourite lunar object, then there's a cross, then... yes, you're there already aren't you? "It's been a long long time..." oh, there are some spinning clocks. And so it continues into the second section of the song, as the farmer who looks after the farm is represented by some, um, dandelions, moving gradually into a field of wheat which then starts to burn as the fireman looks after his fire.

It's at this point that I decide to go back to ignoring the screens - the original Lamb show had it just right: appropriate but arty imagery, with some downright bizarre stuff and story enhancement mixed in for good measure - never was it quite so prosaic as tonight's demo reel for This minor niggle forgotten about in a matter of seconds, we can concentrate on the music, and it's just as well we do, or we'd miss one of the finest things to be seen in London all year.

When you think you'll never see Genesis live and you therefore go to as many tribute gigs as I once did, it's very easy to get blasé about 'Supper's Ready', or in some cases actively dread its appearance with the fear normally reserved for someone slaughtering your favourite song at Karaoke. (I hope 'Sledgehammer' isn't your favourite song, otherwise that person was once me.)

However, there's something impossibly amazing about seeing it performed tonight by an actual member of Genesis, and a band whose every member is a master in their field and not just a bloke from down the pub who can hold an instrument. We're taken away on a wave of emotion (and yes, nostalgia, of course) and are reminded of what a wonderfully fine piece of music this is, why it's rightly held in such high regard, and why it's spawned 376 imitations and counting. It's not even spoiled by the re-appearance of Nad Sylvan at the end of 'Apocalypse in 9/8', "air-scribbling" with a feather ("He's writing the lyrics of a brand new tune", you see) - whilst the video screens behind him show parchments covered in words. ("I hope those are the lyrics to 'Invisible Touch',"  says Graham.) Box-head mask and black cloak, it ain't.

But the closing section of 'As Sure as Eggs is Eggs' is a showcase for this evening's main attraction, as Steve himself laps up the wonderful energy in the room, giving us a tour of his guitar mastery as the band fades away and brings this amazing main set to a close.

After this, anything else might seem an anticlimax, but there's the small matter of 'Firth of Fifth', and those iconic keyboard and guitar solos which Roger and Steve deliver with passion, prompting one man down at the front to get up and start dad-dancing before being mercifully carted away by security. Sadly the same cannot be said of Steve himself, who also partakes in a spot of awkward boogieing before his solo. But then, he does play that solo, and all is forgiven.

And then there's a closing medley of 'Myopia' and 'Slogans' from Steve's solo albums wrapped around 'Los Endos', which the band jam on before it comes crashing to a close in a wall of screeching sax and guitars, but not before Nad Sylvan redeems himself by belting out the "Angel standing in the sun" lines which, again, Genesis didn't bother with live. We even allow him a little freestyle improvisation on them - only a little, mind.

The band take their bows, all the special guests come back out for another wave, and we're left shell-shocked and ready for home. 2 and a half hours of unremittingly excellent classic prog could seem a little too much in anyone else's hands, but Steve's assembled the right band for the job, and his own performance is simply spellbinding. He seems almost overwhelmed and grateful for the reception he gets all night, but his place in musical history means he deserves a little recognition at last. The lord of lords, the king of kings has returned to bring his music home (along with a man dressed as a circus gigolo.)

Tribute bands - your argument is invalid.

Steve Hackett Setlist:

Watcher of the Skies
The Chamber of 32 Doors
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974
The Lamia
The Musical Box
Shadow of the Hierophant
Blood on the Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers
In that Quiet Earth
I Know What I Like
Dance on a Volcano
Eleventh Earl of Mar
Supper's Ready
Myopia/ Los Endos/ Slogans / Los Endos


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The pronunciation of that word after "day to" as delivered by (go-)Nad is the subject of a very interesting blog by the gorgeous, talented and newly-Professorial Jane Setter.
    Here 'tis =>

  3. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this,would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

    Online abba tribute & tribute bands london

  4. Hi

    like your blog

    I live and work in Hammersmith

    Hammersmith is busy city

    I am working as Man With Van in Hammersmith

    Van Hire Hammersmith

    I have big van and its clean and i have lot of straps and blanks to protect your stuff.

    I am hard working and help with loading and unloading too.

    So if you need help with moving please remember my website

    Call 07894536780

    I can provide Moving Boxes - I have Tool Box i can disassemble furniture or washing machine etc

    Removal Van Hammersmith Removals Van Hammersmith Removal Company Hammersmith Man with Van Hammersmith Moving Company Hammersmith Moving Home Hammersmith Moving Help Hammersmith man and van Hammersmith flat removals Hammersmith, House removals Hammersmith, small removals Hammersmith, man with van hire Hammersmith,