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Richard Macphail Ma Book Of Genesis
Steve Hackett Orchester 2018

Steve Hackett live with Band and Orchestra

Apocalypse in 4/8


Apocalypse literally means "unveiling" or "disclosure", and, in a Christian context, also "revelation". It was nothing less than a musical revelation of the genius in the musicians and the music when I got to see four of the eight shows Steve Hackett played with an orchestra in October 2018. Starting with the third show of the tour, which took place at the Royal Festival Hall London (a comprehensive review can be found here) I travelled north by train (without delays!) to Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow.

1The Royal Festival Hall in London is rather more impressive from the inside than from the outside, but the intrinsic values are what counts – I had a seat in the first row on the balcony with an excellent view of the stage. Since this was the third show with the orchestra I was hoping to hear an ensemble that are finely attuned to each other. I did not really feel that was the case when the first notes of Dance On A Volcano rang out, for they sounded a bit uncoordinated. After a few seconds everybody had found the common beat, but with so many instruments playing together they are all bound to fight a bit for their place in the mix. I usually suspect that the orchestra cannot be heard enough with the regular rock band drowning them out. Gary O'Toole, the drummer, had confirmed that the orchestra does not change anything in what he drums. The concept was also different from, say, Peter Gabriel's New Blood tour with its "no drums, no guitar &c." approach in that it would have everything. Except for a choir, that is. When I asked Steve before the shows whether he would have a choir he explained that that was not possible for financial reasons. The tickets for the orchestra shows cost exactly the same as the "regular" Hackett shows in the UK (40 to 50 pounds). Most shows were more or less sold out. It is hard to say whether the audience would have accepted slightly higher prices in return for the inclusion of a choir, particularly since they would not have been aware of this connection. You can hear here how Supper's Ready sounds with an orchestra and a choir. I was there and I was completely blown away when the choir performed the mellotron choir parts. That was another step towards music heaven. Todmobile, the band Steve played with in Iceland, wrote some of the orchestra score that was used here.

2Even without a choir we could hear more than just the rock band. With everybody playing full blast you cannot, admittedly, hear the violins as such, but they added their part to the overall sound. The brass winds were very audible, as they could rise effortlessly over all other instruments. In quiet parts the violins offered some new parts and melodies that are not in the original song but variations of themes that make out the song.

The special thing about the London show were the guest performers from the family, i.e. Amanda Lehman on vocals and guitar in the first part of Shadow Of The Hierophant and Brother John with his special flute in Serpentine Song. He could be heard, but it was difficult to pick him out with the competition from Rob Townsend and the flutes of the orchestra. The most spectacular bit of the show was the Hierophant where everybody plays fortissimo towards the end – it is the loudest part of the show though it is placed at the end of the first set. After the encore of The Musical Box the audience were ecstatic. The show was recorded by six cameras from the rear of the venue and at least six other cameras in the stage area. After the show I attended the after show party that took place in a backstage bar (with the first drink on the house). It was rather crowded with the band, their friends and relatives (e.g. Steve's mother). This London show was almost sold out (in a 2,900 seater), as was the show at the much smaller Palladium the week after, which had been announced much later than the first six shows.

3The next day I travelled to the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. It is located in a complex with a congress centre and a luxury hotel in an area with many bars and restaurants. At 2,200 seats it is a bit smaller. I had a seat on the side balcony, a bit closer to the stage than in London. The setlist was the same on all eight shows. The only change was that only the instrumental part of Hierophant was performed. All in all I felt that they all played together much better. Steve asked Helen Fitzgerald to come to the front for the band introduction before the encores. Ms Fitzgerald plays the violin and coordinated the orchestra for the performances.

While I was waiting for the Birmingham shows I noticed flyers for The Musical Box. They would play there the next day. I would travel to Newcastle only two days later and I had no other plans and there were still tickets available so I bought some though I am going to see the show in Essen in November again. I sat in the third row, albeit on the very outside. Though I knew about the three-part concept of the show I was surprised by the performance, particularly by the fact that they play only excerpts from most of the Trick and Wuthering songs. A fresh approach by our favourite Canadians!

4Back to our favourite guitarist, though, and on to Gateshead near Newcastle. The venue, called The Sage, is very impressive from the outside, very modern and round, and it is very chic and round on the inside, and a bit smaller again with a capacity of 1,600. My seat was slightly elevated right behind the mixing desk, bang in the centre. The perfect seat, and the sound could not have been better – straight from the front and without any echoes, absolutely spot-on! As far as I know the show was sold out and people were ecstatic. There seemed to be a few wobbles in Roger King's introduction to Firth Of Fifth, though.

5The last show I saw was at the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, another venue geared towards classical music with a capacity of 2,500. The Firth Of Fifth intro was not played that night; they just counted in a few bars and went straight into the main song. Roger King may have had some nerves after the problems he had with the intro on the day before. Well, don't we know that from Tony Banks, so Roger is in excellent company!

These four shows with an orchestra have been a fantastic experience. I could see and hear the songs I have known and loved for so long become even more intense by "classical" means. The shows have made maximum use of the orchestral qualities many Genesis songs have. Well, apart from using a choir, that is.

6It seems unlikely that Steve Hackett is going to set up a similar tour with an orchestra in other countries, but I, for one, would not rule out one-off performances next year. Wuppertal, for example, has the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra and the Kantorei Barmen Gemarke choir, and those have played two or three nights with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson and Procul Harum in the Stadthalle Wuppertal – with a choir, too. Steve knows that – let's hope it will happen!

Author & Photos: Volker Warncke, English by Martin Klinkhardt


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