Extraordinary guitarist Steve Hackett has a new live album available featuring the Genesis Revisited Band alongside Orchestra recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2018. It features both Genesis and Steve’s own solo works performed alongside the 42-piece East of England Orchestra conducted by Bradley Thachuk. It is available as a 2CD & Blu-Ray digipak including stereo and 5.1 surround mix, behind the scenes footage, and 3 promo videos from ‘At the Edge of Light’ as well as digital album. Genesis Revisited Band and Orchestra: Live at the Royal Festival Hall is available from 25th October.
Here, Spirit of Progressive Rock contributors and former Classic Rock Society Directors David Pearson and Bernard Law give their thoughts on the album.
For any uninitiated out there, Steve Hackett is an immensely talented and innovative rock musician. Disclaimer – the knowledge that he was patron of the Classic Rock Society, is now patron of Spirit Rocks, and would appear regularly at CRS events is not influencing this review. Facts are facts. The top bloke was lead guitarist with Genesis during their classic line up with Gabriel, Collins, Banks and Rutherford, producing arguably the band’s most acclaimed albums “Selling England by the Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”. Then, with Gabriel gone, he and fellow band members remained to prove critics wrong with top albums ‘A Trick of the Tail’ and ‘Wind and Wuthering’. His extensive solo career has seen him display his extraordinary versatility in both electric and acoustic guitar playing, a compositional style that encompasses and integrates influences from many genres, including Classical, Jazz, World Music and Blues, whilst remaining determinedly progressive. Despite his prolific solo output over the decades, he’s also become key in promoting the aforementioned classic Genesis era, presenting their epic tracks live to great acclaim. So “Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra: Live” is a showcase for his last tour, recorded in October 2018 at London’s Royal Festival Hall with the 42-piece Heart of England Philharmonic Orchestra.
And I, like thousands of others, was at one of those tour gigs. Nottingham. And may I say that I left that gig with mixed emotions? Ecstatic at having heard tracks either not heard live before, or ones I thought I’d never see live again. But also left wondering if I’d had a dodgy seat, thinking that the set list was an excellent choice to utilise an orchestra – but said orchestra being barely audible throughout. And furthermore, just wondering if the orchestra had been some kind of ‘add-on’ to a full band performance. So does this release redeem that disappointment?
Yes. You can hear the orchestra for a start.
So, do I do a track by track review? Not sure there’s a readership looking for that, as most songs (see below) are known in the greatest detail by most people reading this. So let’s try taking a different view:
Does the orchestra add value? Well, I suppose so. It beefs up the sound at times, enhancing the dynamic (Out of the Body, the Steppes and in particular El Niño) and atmospheric (Serpentine Song, Blood on the Rooftops) although at other times you wonder whether it was worth it as there’s so little space left in the song by the band (Dance on a Volcano, Musical Box). There’s a suggestion that Hackett’s solo material lends itself better to orchestration, either by nature of the existing dynamics, the style of music, or simply the space he left in the songs originally. Or perhaps Tony Banks was the ultimate surrogate orchestra for Genesis? That said……..?
Does the orchestra make an impact? Well I reckon this is one of the most powerful recordings I’ve heard of Hackett live, and the usual band play out of their proverbial skins. So, if their performances are as a result of the orchestral elements – nice one! While the orchestra doesn’t exactly steal the show (you’d be hard pressed to beat the superb performance of Mr Hackett) there are some excellent snippets and sections where their presence is felt: Firth of Fifth, Suppers Ready, In that Quiet Earth. But backing or main feature…….?
Does the orchestra feature? Well, only in a supporting role, as you’d expect. There’s little in terms of re-arrangement. The nearest to that comes where there’s an occasional additional string line, or woodwind flutter. But there are some excellent elements in some songs which clearly feature parts of the orchestra: strings, very occasional woodwind unsurprising with Rob Townsend in the band) and my favourites being the crescendos, piercing tones or volume-enhancing brass section. So all well and good……?
Does the orchestra (and band) miss any opportunities? Well, yes in my opinion. There are odd occasions where the orchestra adds great volume and depth (Dancing with the Moonlit Knight) but for me one opportunity was to really drive Shadow of the Hierophant. In the band format Gary O’Toole excels at developing the drums and gradually and effectively soloing over the top of the driving rhythms. However, with all the opportunities within an orchestra for tonal and volume development, I think their subtleties remain buried beneath those drums. But don’t get me wrong, it remains a cracking track. Similarly Afterglow, for me, lacked that final orchestral push after the last vocals. So…….
So – final question: Does the orchestra make a difference?
Answer: in places it does. In other places the orchestra seems superfluous, a ‘nice to have’.
Final answer?: taken overall, yes. The orchestra makes a difference. And for me it delivers the added bonus of hearing the performance how I should have heard it that night in Nottingham.
And let’s not forget, this is yet another superb showcase for Steve Hackett the talented guitarist, band leader, live performer, songwriter and torchbearer for classic Genesis. And it goes without saying that the DVD is an excellent watch.
Progressive Rock is possibly made to cross the boundaries between different musical genres, and the music of Genesis perhaps amongst those most suited to orchestral accompaniment. Steve’s tour with orchestra in autumn 2018 was one to look forward to. Sadly, at the Manchester date (and I am reliably informed the Birmingham date too), the power of the band overwhelmed the orchestra so much so that for the most part the orchestra might well have been playing to themselves. Sat at the concert itself, you wondered that if the orchestra wasn’t there would the overall sound change at all? The orchestra may have been adding something that might be missed, and they were certainly beavering away pretty much all the time.
So, on hearing the album that is the obvious point – yes, you can hear the orchestra. In fact, there is a very good balance between the orchestra and the rock band that goes beyond the usual band accompanied by lush string orchestration. The horn section is quite prominent, as, at times, is the percussion section. Some of the interplay between the band and the orchestra is actually quite intricate, particularly on Out of The Body/The Steppes where Rob Townsend’s reed work is quite classy to say the least.
The band themselves are, for the most part, in splendid form. Steve’s guitar playing is quite exceptional, Gary O’Toole’s drumming is spot on as is his vocal lead on Blood on The Rooftops. It’s great to hear Jonas Reingold bring his superb bass playing (surely one of the most underrated bassists around) to the party, and Nad Sylvan has surely nailed both Peter Gabriel’s and Phil Collins’ vocals down, whilst introducing his own personality, which every musician should be allowed to do. Oddly enough, it is Roger King who possibly has more of his thunder stolen by the orchestra. His piano playing is brilliant, particularly on the introduction to Firth of Fifth, but not limited to that. But he has to contend more with the strings, as on the original songs the string element is taken up by the keyboard player. Amanda Lehmann brings her guitar and really fitting voice to Shadow of the Hierophant, whilst Steve’s brother John brings along his class as a flute player on Serpentine Song, a tribute of sorts to the pairs father.
So, does all this bring anything new to the music? For the most part, you’d have to say yes. The orchestra expands the sound palette and creates new tensions and dramatic climaxes and it broadens the sound too. This is especially true of Shadow of The Hierophant, which builds to a quite stunning conclusion. Elsewhere, it is the pieces that already have spaces within them that benefit the best, as on Selling England By the Pound, Firth of Fifth, and The Musical Box. The second half of Suppers’ Ready is taken to a more grandiloquent and impressive place. But there are places where the music doesn’t benefit too much from having the orchestra onboard. These ears find the winds on Dance on A Volcano more than a little jarring, and on In That Quiet Earth it sounds like an American marching band is playing the tune at a sport’s event. That might not be a bad thing, of course, as it may be to your taste.
The production on this release is excellent. Steve’s guitar playing is showcased, of course, but not at the expense of the songs themselves nor indeed the other musicians. The orchestra sounds colourful and assured, and most importantly, portrays musicians enjoying themselves, which isn’t always the case when rock bands play alongside orchestras. The video element of the release is top notch too, with crystal clear visuals and equal coverage for all the band rather than just Steve. The Blu-Ray digipak also includes a behind the scenes documentary plus promotional videos for Under the Eye of The Sun, Beasts in Our Time and Peace.
Overall then, this is an excellent release, with a few reservations remaining though. It remains uncertain whether the added orchestra brings something to every track. What you lose on Dance on A Volcano you gain on First of Fifth!
1. Dance on a Volcano
2. Out of the Body
3. The Steppes
4. Firth of Fifth
5. Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
6. Blood on the Rooftops
7. Shadow of the Hierophant
1. In That Quiet Earth
3. Serpentine Song
4. El Nino
5. Supper’s Ready
6. The Musical Box
Hackett / guitars, vocals
Roger King / keyboards
Gary O’Toole / drums, percussion
Rob Townsend / saxes
Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings) / bass
Nad Sylvan / vocals
John Hackett / flute
Amanda Lehmann / guitar, vocals
with the 41-piece Heart of England Orchestra conducted by Bradley Thachuk
Label: InsideOut Music
Format: 2CD + Blu-Ray
Release date: October 25, 2019
Watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsPYRMwOW-s&feature=youtu.be
Video of The Steppes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxDSBKNl54I
Here is a YouTube link to Peace from Steve’s current album At The Edge of Light – which is included in the bonus tracks on the Band and Orchestra album: https://youtu.be/yyD-TguLf58
02/11/19: Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
03/11/19: Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone
05/11/19: City & Memorial Hall, Sheffield
06/11/19: Corn Exchange, Cambridge
08/11/19: De Montfort Hall, Leicester
09/11/19: St. David’s Hall, Cardiff
11/11/19: Philharmonic, Liverpool
12/11/19: Dome, Brighton
13/11/19: Guildhall, Portsmouth
15/11/19: City Hall, Salisbury
16/11/19: The Hexagon, Reading
18/11/19: Symphony Hall Birmingham
19/11/19: Barbican Centre, York
20/11/19: The Forum, Bath
22/11/19: Victoria Theatre, Halifax
23/11/19: Sage, Gateshead
25/11/19: Usher Hall, Edinburgh
26/11/19: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
27/11/19: Cliffs Pavilion, Southend
29/11/19: Hammersmith Eventim Apollo, London