Manchester? Well sorted...

Steve Hackett at the Bridgewater Hall, 5th May 2017

A trip to the wannabe London of the North was called for as Steve Hackett and his crew of the good ship "Night Siren" were due to dock on the evening of 5th May at the Bridgewater Hall for an evening of musical entertainment and general merriment as part of his 2017 Tour. As a fan of many, many years standing it was not an evening I wanted to miss, that and the chance to meet Steve and Jo again for an all too brief chat before the gig itself. I wasn't the only one happy to head into Manchester as the concert had been billed, quite rightly, as a Sell Out by both the venue itself and by this very website.

The show itself turned out to one of surprises in many ways. I don't mean in terms of musical excellence, as with any thing the Steve Hackett band does tends to push the excellence bar that much higher each time they play, but in terms of content and the interaction between the man himself and the crowd. It was a different and more political Steve Hackett this time out and make no mistake. Perhaps the events of the past year or so have affected not only his writing but also his demeanour too, and as the evening unfolded it became abundantly clear that he has rarely felt so strongly about world issues as he does today.

The gig itself was split into two sections, the first being dedicated to three offerings from "The Night Siren" itself ("El Nino" , "In the Skeleton Gallery" and the wonderfully powerful "Behind the Smoke") and Classic Hackett offerings from the man's huge solo career. "Everyday" kicked off the evening and as the band eased into the set list it was clear that they were on full form and as tight as ever. Steve wasted little time in involving the audience - "Fuck Britexit, that's all I'll say. Who needs it?". Yes, he does feel that strongly about the thorny issue that has so divided not only our own green and pleasant isle but other nations too. (Roger King, the Mekon Lord of the Ivories turned out to be wearing a nifty black t-shirt bearing the same, though abbreviated, sentiment). A story of the background to "Serpentine Song", about his late father selling paintings in Hyde Park, and a further impassioned plea for openness before "Behind the Smoke" further showed Steve involving his audience in open and personal manner. The closing section of "Shadow of the Hierophant" was brilliantly delivered, as one of the musical surprises of the evening, "Rise Again" from Steve's album "Darktown".

The second set was a celebration of "Wind and Wuthering", one of the best albums Genesis made and certainly the last of their true Prog Rock offerings, but also selected works from the bands entire catalogue. Enter Nad Sylvan for vocal duties and an added touch of showmanship and flamboyance. "Eleventh Earl of Mar" , "One for the Vine", "Blood on the Rooftops" (complete with a wonderful agnostic guitar prelude from Steve), "Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers... In that quiet Earth" and the magnificent "Afterglow" reminded fans (as if they needed it) what a wonderful, and now forty years young, album it was, the music being as powerful and fresh today as it was then. The rarely played "Inside and Out", a track that would have appeared on the album had the technology been available, made a very welcome return to the stage and the audience gave it an exceptionally warm greeting as it ended. "Firth of Fifth", complete with that solo, turned up the musical heat even more, Steve really going to town and enjoying himself a great deal into the bargain. "Musical Box" was delivered with all it's creepy venom and menace of old, Sylvan wringing every ounce of drama from the lyrics with a highly polished delivery (apparently he'd been suffering from a rather nasty head cold during the tour, but I must say I couldn't see any signs of illness making his life a misery here. Like the rest of the band he was on full form). Standing ovations were the norm by now and the audience were in the palm of the collective hand of the band for the encore of "Slogans" meshed with the show stopper of all show stoppers, "Los Endos".

So an other Steve Hackett show drew to a close. Two and a half hours of musical brilliance to be filed away in the memories of those lucky enough to have got tickets. With the UK tour still in full swing and dates planned into the summer, including jaunts to 'Stralia and the Land of the All Blacks still to come it looks like a very busy time for the man himself and his merry band of troubadours and minstrels.

"But what of said troubadours ?" I hear you ask, "What of their minstelry ?" (I know you didn't ask but I'm going to pretend you did... and I don't know if minstelry is even spelt correctly or even a word. Again, I'm pretending it is). Titan of the Drums, stickman extraordinarious* Gary O'Toole was as powerful, rock steady and inventive as I've seen him, quite happy to stick in licks and improvised fills as and when he felt the need, never losing his firm grip on the vital role of anchorman to the band. His vocals were on top form too, sometimes unnoticed when he was hidden behind his kit but certainly appreciated in his solo outing during "Blood on the Rooftops", a slightly bluesy feel to his delivery being all the more noticeable this time out.

The Mekon Lord of the Ivories, Roger King, once again proved what a sublimely gifted ivory tinkler he is. There doesn't seem to be anything he can't play and often play better than the original. What's infuriating is he makes it look so damned easy - so easy that he actually smiled a good few times during the show! Yes, I know, Roger isn't famed for his smiles but I kiddeth you not, smile he did - and often. Intros, blistering solos, delicate washes of sonic brilliance are as meat and drink to the man. I think it's safe to say there is probably not a more genuinely talented keyboard maestro on the planet. He even filled in with some nifty bass pedal work when the astounding Mr Beggs was otherwise engaged. Damn it, the man is GOOD!

Windy Wotnot Professor Rob Townsend not only tootled merrily away all evening, he'd been given some new toys to play with too in the form of a Syn drum and keyboard with which to add even more depth to the music being played. Awesome clarinet, sax work, flute, assorted whistles and shaky things and now keyboards and percussion - is there no end to the man's talents? He even collects dust as a hobby for God's sake! Not a man to take lightly! He also enjoys himself immensely every time he goes on stage and it shows, transmitting itself to the audience in everything he plays. Terrific performance once again from Rob and his wooden kitchen spoons with the smiley faces.

Nad Sylvan. The sartorial Swedish Vamp Pirate, vocalist and showman. To put it mildly of all the musicians on show it's been Nad who probably had the most difficult of jobs to do, namely taking on the vocal duties that were once the realms of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Not an easy task I think you would agree. Yet here was the man belting out classics like he had not a care in the world. He has certainly grown into the role as Steve's lead songster and he now handles it with an assured confidence that is as remarkable as it is pleasing. He has also built an excellent relationship with a very demanding set of fans and has added to their enjoyment of great music with a style all of his own. He isn't Gabriel or Collins, and nor did he set out to be, but he is one very, very talented vocalist in his own right. An other towering performance.

Lord of the bass and general bassy mayhem... Nick Beggs. Bass pedals, bass, fretless bass, six string, double neck bass and twelve string, vocals. Again it's safe to say young Nick brings quite a musical armoury to the show. He's always a joy to watch but I was blown away by his overall performance that Friday night. Astonishing fluidity on his basses, caressing notes seemingly out of nowhere, hammering bass pedals with his fists during "Hierophant", adding fills and often playing his bass like it was a lead guitar, it was a blistering performance from the blond one... Minus kilt he may have been, but the lack of plaid did nothing to still his energy and sheer exuberance. He had, it's fairly obvious to say, a ball. At the end of "Los Endos" his bass was upside down over the back of his neck and still the instrument thundered out note perfectly as the power of the song threatened to rip the roof off the hall. That was a performance for the ages and no mistake. As our Colonial Cousins in the USA would say, "Man, you rock!"

And what of the Captain ? To say that Steve Hackett is a great guitarist is like saying Trump is a disaster as a President - it's kinda obvious. The trouble any writer has in describing just how good he is is that the words don't exist, or if they do they still don't hit the mark accurately enough. Genius and legendary are often over used in this day and age, and therefore devalued somewhat, however in the case of Steve Hackett both words sit comfortably and yet still leave room for additional description. Beautiful, evocative, joyous, thoughtful, uplifting, provocative, introspective, approachable, distant, magical... I could go on and on in a vain attempt to describe his playing. It's not possible. You have to experience a live show to truly appreciate just what a musician Steve is. Suffice to say he was on majestic form once again in Manchester. Once more he raised the bar just when you think it can't get any higher. Steve arrived in Manchester "Well up for it" and left it "Well sorted". Magnificent doesn't come close.

So, dear readers, if you have yet to see this tour you have a treat in store and no mistake. For those of you still wondering about getting tickets, do so and do it now. You'll kick yourselves if you don't.

Martin Jones, May 2017