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Dance in front of a Volcano

Steve Hackett as guest with Todmobile & orchestra in Iceland 16th/17th January 2015

I hadn't originally planned to travel to Iceland in January. Does the sun ever come up there this time of year, isn't there non-stop snowfall and when does the next volcano erupt? And it seems a bit extreme, even for me, to make a trip that far for just one concert. When Steve Hackett announced that he would be appearing in Reykjavik on January 16th as a guest of the local band Todmobile plus orchestra, I simply registered it and didn't follow it anymore. In early December I got curious though and checked the ticket pre-sales and found out that most of the seats had already been sold. The seats could be directly chosen through the Icelandic ticket website - and what do I see? Pit, first row, seat 13, exactly in front of the middle of the stage, was still available. So I just took the seat, I couldn't miss out on this opportunity. Then I pondered if this trip could really be realised and checked for flights and hotels. The result: not exactly cheap, but still affordable, so I booked a direct flight with Icelandair from Frankfurt and back and a hotel in central Reykjavik. The concert venue, Harpa is located near the harbour and conveniently to reach from the hotel by foot. In the meantime I had also learned that the South of Iceland, where Reykjavik is located, had about five hours of daylight in January. So not as bad as I had feared.

Steve Hackett Island 1While there was just one concert scheduled I wanted to take some time for sightseeing, flying to Iceland on Thursday, the concert on Friday, using the Saturday for an excursion, and I had booked the flight home for Sunday. Iceland is more or less halfway to North America, so I spread the word to Jack Beermann from Boston, who is a friend of the Hacketts and who had shown them around Salem near Boston in November 2014, pictures of that can be seen on Steve's blog.

Jack told me that he even had distant relatives in Iceland so he soon decided to come as well. Even better: as he is also good friends with Armando Gallo, he asked him, if he would also come, and after only a short time Armando also joined. So I changed my hotel reservation and found us an apartment with enough room for the three of us, also in the central part of the city, having a positive effect on our individual hotel bills as well.

About two weeks before the concert suddenly a second date was announced for the 17th, but not at the same venue, but way up in the North of Iceland, in Akureyri! There also is an appropriate concert hall. Of course we couldn't miss out on this so booked an additional inland flight, with a duration of only about 45 minutes, and another apartment for one night. And I had to move my flight home a day back, to Monday. All in all not so cheap, but you've got to spoil yourself sometimes...

Steve Hackett Island 2

So we arrived at Keflavík International Airport Thursday afternoon, Keflavik is another 45 Minutes by taxi or bus to Reykjavik. Our apartment was top notch and even had a record player and a small assortment of Icelandic records! That is part of the landlord's concept, he is a member of the local music collective, which organizes concerts in small clubs for Icelandic bands. Armando came back almost directly from the Golden Globes, where he had of course taken a lot of photographs; he is a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is the jury who awards the Golden Globes.

We had contacted Steve and Jo beforehand and met with them early in the evening in a rehearsal room of the Harpa building, in the odeon of which the concert would take place the following day. Steve had just finished rehearsals and we talked a bit to the folks of Todmobile, all were very nice and you could notice how honored they felt by Steve's presence. Orchestra and choir were not yet there. After that we had dinner in a nearby Mexican restaurant with the Hacketts and Ben Fenner, who is usually Steve's soundman but accompanies him on these kind of "solo trips" as his guitar tech.

Steve Hackett Island 3Friday before noon Jack and Armando went bathing at the famous Blue Lagoon while I took a small city tour, taking photographs. In the afternoon there was a dress rehearsal by band and orchestra, which we did not attend though. Steve was a bit nervous because he was supposed to play not only on the Genesis songs but also some songs by Todmobile, and after these rehearsals, when were eating with him at the Harpa complex he seemed a bit tense, hoping for everything to go well.


The doors opened a bit late but shortly after 7:30 we went into the great hall, which has about 1200 seats and was mostly filled; only the seats behind the stage were covered by an almost Pink Floyd-like backdrop. I took my place in the middle of the front row and sat so close to the stage, that I couldn't even stretch out my legs completely.

Steve Hackett Island 3Todmobile are a fully grown rock band, with guitarist and (backing) singer (and band leader), lead singer, bassist, keyboard player, drummer and two female backing singers, one of them takes the lead now and again. The lead singer with his long blond hair looks like a proper viking and has a very convincing voice, not a problem with the higher notes and sounding clean and forceful all the time. Occasional insecurities regarding the lyrics of the Genesis songs can perhaps be forgiven, he had not performed these before. His performance tended to sound a bit like musical at time, which of course is a matter of personal taste, but he never overdid it. He could probably sing musicals just as well as typical heavy metal tenor vocals.

The show was divided in 2 parts, with a 20 minute break in between. The band opened both sets on their own and was joined by orchestra, choir and finally Steve on stage. During the first set he was only present for the last two songs, but these were Dance On A Volcano and Supper's Ready complete! During the Genesis Revisited shows he extended the solo at the end of Supper's Ready more and more, as if he just couldn't part with it - the Iceland shows went in a similar direction, but the band closed it down a bit earlier, so the end came in a more direct way.

Steve Hackett Island 3The show continued after the break again without Steve and the orchestra. For one of the songs one of the female singers of Todmobile took the lead vocal, the lead part, so to speak, at times she turned like a figure from a musical box, which reminded of another song, which came up partly later! With all of the nearly 70 people on stage, Steve also returned and the show went on with Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Blood On The Rooftops and Firth Of Fifth; he also played on the song Midnight Sun from Todmobile's new Album Úlfur ("Wolf"). The band had asked Steve to guest on this track, so he can be heard on the album as well. The album was released with a bonus DVD containing a 2013 performance of the same line up with Jon Anderson. Midnight Sun was also included as a bonus track on Steve's album Wolflight.

Steve Hackett Island 3Steve played lead guitar on 1 or 2 more Todmobile songs before they closed the regular set with The Lamb Lies Down On Broady / The Musical Box (closing section), with the famous segue between the two songs. Lamb did not have a proper keyboard intro though, with the whole band coming in at once. This was perhaps the only Genesis song of the evening not to profit from the orchestra so much. The 2 encores were Todmobile songs, but Steve played with them again.

They played for 2 hours and 45 minutes, the audience was pretty excited, and though the Icelandic people are not so passionate there still was a lot of applause, at some point the people also rose from their seats.

After the show we were invited backstage and mingled with the musicians for some time, Steve and Jo also stayed for quite a while and were in high spirits, as everything had gone well, a huge success. There also was a nice cake with a fitting icing, though the confectionist had funnily gotten Todmobile's band name wrong. It didn't matter though as the Genesis albums looked about right!

Steve Hackett Island 3The next day we went to the inland airport of Reykjavik which is on the edge of town. The Hacketts and the band had taken an earlier flight to Akureyri, but there are several flights every day between Reykjavik and Akureyi. There are small propeller-driven planes holding around 50 passengers. You collect your boarding ticket from the counter but there are no security checks, you just walk through a door onto the airfield and get on the plane. We were lucky concerning the weather and could enjoy the flight under a blue sky, looking onto endless white landscapes. Although there was a active volcano (Bárðarbunga) we couldn't see it, it probably would have been hard to distinguish from the clouds in the distance anyway, as it apparently was only mildy active. Akureyri is located at a long-dawn-out fjord, we landed there shortly after sunset. While there was only a bit of snow in Reykjavik there was considerably more snow here in the far North and it was cold, about five degrees below zero, but not quite as windy as in Reykjvaik. After the landing we shortly entered our apartment, which was even roomier than the one in Reykjavik, then we went to the concert hall, which was just around the corner, as it is a rather small town. The hall, called court, seats about 500 spectators, but is highly modern and very well equipped. After having diner with the Hacketts in the foyer we accompanied them into the hall for a final soundcheck. I had scored a seat in the second row, but far on the outside. But there were some empty seats further back, more to the center, where I sat down and enjoyed the even better sound (compared to the day before). The setlist was exactly the same as the first time, as was the line up, but choir and orchestra partly consisted of different musicians from Akureyri.

Steve Hackett Island 3The sound mix of concerts like these is a real challenge, bringing together rock band and orchestra, and in this case also a choir in a way the orchestra doesn't get more or less drowned out. This was succesful through most parts of the show, of course you couldn't really hear the numerous violins with the band playing at full volume, but during Blood On The Rooftops for example you could make out the string section clearly even during the louder segments. I was also very impressed with the bits in which the choir could be heard very well, for example in Moonlit Knight, where the choir singers took the part of the mellotron, where the choir sound was used in the original, or a moment in Supper's Ready, when the female backing vocals was continued seamlessly by the trumpets and horns, what a magic moment! Not only was the Firth Of Fifth intro on the grand piano flawlessly executed, it also contained some subtle tempo variations. Steve played his parts basically in his well known style, only being sometimes a bit louder in the mix, compared to his own shows. During the second show the orchestra often was a bit louder in the mix, definitely suiting my preferences. Just as the 2013 Jon Anderson collaboration is documented on film, there are plans for a DVD of this year's Reykjavik show as well, this show was filmed with about 14 cameras, which, due to logistical reasons, wasn't possible for the Akureyri show. Steve said afterwards that he delivered his parts better in Akureyri, without the mistakes he had made in Reykjavik.

Steve Hackett Island 3After the show a line of tables was set up in the foyer, with the band and Steve sitting down for autographs and a bit of conversation with the audience, as they had done in Reykjavik, although it seemed to last longer here despite the smaller venue, the atmosphere was a bit more familiar. There wasn't a proper backstage party this time, but soon the foyer more or less turned into one, until the musicians and their friends left shortly after midnight.

We flew back to Reykjavik with the Hacketts and several other musicians the next morning. There we had Sunday afternoon off, so to speak. Steve and Jo had been to the famous geysir and the biggest waterfall of Iceland, Gullfoss, before we arrived, but not to a volcano. So we did that on Sunday and drove in two cars close to the Eyjafjallajökull, which became famous in 2010 when its ashes massively interfered with the European air traffic. Below the glacier, directly on the south coast there is a farm which was trapped under ashes back during the eruption, but could be cleaned and repaired a while later. There is now a small visitor centre where we watched a film about the eruption the local farmers had made, so you could see just how narrowly they escaped. Back then they could see the eruption directly from underneath, nowadays only the silhouette of the snow covered crater can be seen more or less clearly. On our way back we stopped at a waterfall, which we could not approach as closely as in summer, when you can even get into the water.

Steve Hackett Island 3Back in the apartment late Sunday night we found out that most flights scheduled the following day had been cancelled due to a storm! Armando had to go to London, but he could catch a later flight on Monday, the same flight the Hacketts had also booked - it was the first flight to go after the predicted storm. Jack's flight home was not affected but my flight back to Frankfurt early on Monday morning was cancelled, after calling Icelandair I was transferred to a flight to Frankfurt with changing planes in Oslo, but that flight left exactly one day later. So I had one more day in Reykjavik; luckily the apartment had not been rented to anyone else yet so I could stay there, the landlord even gave me a discount for the additional night.The weather on Monday morning was a bit rainy and pretty windy, but not a lot more than usual. And around noon the sun came out for a while.

Steve Hackett Island 3Harpa hall offers a daily guided tour behind the scenes and a 360° film about Iceland, which we had not yet found time for. That was how I spent the afternoon after I had lunch with the Hacketts for the last time, as their flight was scheduled only for the afternoon. Steve mentioned once again, how dissatisfied he was with the Sum of the Parts affair and that he thinks of any kind of future collaboration with the guys as unlikely.

The next morning it rained again but everything went well with the flight home and I landed in Frankfurt safe and sound on Tuesday afternoon.

The whole thing was more expensive than I had thought and took longer than planned - but it was worth it in any aspect - musically, touristically, humanly. Our favourite pieces have rarely been heard so orchestral, yes, even "fat"!

Text & Photos by Volker Warncke

Translation Andreas Uffelmann