Steve Hackett – Beyond Excellent

Live at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester 26.11.19

Words: Bernard Law

Photography: Steve Hammond

Once in a while, an artist just gets things right. Somehow, everything just falls in to place. The music, the lights, the crowd and the moment are just in the Goldilocks zone – everything is just right! But then the gig just goes somewhere else. Looking around the audience tonight, you just know that many of the good folks of Manchester will have attended plenty of gigs. Odd ones will have been poor for some reason. Many of them may have been average, but they will have seen some that were good, very good, and even excellent. Many of them will also have attended concerts that actually went beyond excellent, making it something of an exceptional occasion. Your correspondent has been to perhaps a half-dozen or so such gigs. Yes in majestic flow come to mind, King Crimson have been mesmerising, Peter Gabriel astonishing, Magma devastating. I’ve been lucky enough to see Steve himself on every one of his post-Genesis tours and have never been let down. But tonight, he took it somewhere else.

On the face of it, this could just have been a nostalgia gig. The Selling England By The Pound and Spectral Mornings anniversary gigs. But many of the thoughts and feelings expressed in those albums are, sadly, still relevant in today’s political and social worlds, as Steve himself acknowledged in an introduction. Some of the political tunes are obvious, Beasts In Our Time, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Slogans; the observations of the human condition also, The Cinema Show, The Virgin And The Gypsy. It would be hard to say, though, that Los Endos is anything but a great tune!

Although Steve may have been the centre of attention, his band are almost given equal billing in the music department. Many of the band have been with him for quite a while now. Roger King is an outstanding keyboard player around whom much seems to centre. There’s plenty of chance for him to solo, which he does with aplomb, but he also adds plenty to the rhythm section. He tackles the piano introduction to Firth of Fifth quite splendidly, which is no easy task. He also manages to throw in some interplay with saxophonist Rob Townsend. Rob himself has been with Steve for a number of years and besides some hot sax work he also plays flute, some percussion, and a keyboard from time to time. Of course, he too has plenty of opportunity for soloing given the nature of his instruments, but is more than capable of dropping back and helping with the rhythm. He is an outstanding musician who always brings something special to his performance. Often, a flat cap! Vocalist Nad Sylvan is a rare talent. It has been said that his voice is a combination of Peter Gabriel’s and Phil Collins’, but he brings more to the music than that. That he has the qualities of the former Genesis men helps with the authenticity of the songs, Nad’s voice has a broken quality that adds some emotion to his performance, almost as much as his colourful character and stage presence. The comparative new comers are drummer Craig Blundell and bassist Jonas Reingold. Craig is an experienced and well-regarded drummer, well known in the prog rock community from his work with Steven Wilson, Frost*, and Pendragon amongst others. He manages to combine great energy with complexity and gives the music the “push along” that it needs. Jonas is one of the underestimated bassists on the prog world, known to many through his work with The Flower Kings, Kaipa, and Karmakanic. He is an excellent musician, playing not only bass, but also some 12-string guitar tonight. How can you not like a musician who balances his bass guitar on his chin, hands-free, at the end of a concert. No modern Steve Hackett concert would be complete without someone guesting for a song or two. Tonight, brother John Hackett brings his brilliant flute playing along, and is as highly impressive. He joins reeds man Rob Townsend on an excellent The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere. For all the band’s talents though, what is perhaps most impressive is how their ensemble playing to great effect. Roger King and Rob Townsend share leads on The Cinema Show, and there’s often interplay between Steve and Jonas, particularly when they are both playing acoustic.

The set largely deals with Steve’s solo material in the first half, and Selling England – without a break – in the second half, which is no mean feat it should be said. Choosing highlights would be difficult, but the rarely played Virgin And The Gypsy was brilliantly performed with really effective lighting adding to the moment, and Clocks was impressive, with Craig Blundell given chance to shine during the drum solo section. The highlight for many though would have been hearing the Genesis classic Selling England By The Pound live. Many regard it as the band’s best album, and it contains some songs that are part of the Genesis legend. Tonight, the band explored the jazzy side of I Know What I Like and performed a brilliant Cinema Show. Perhaps the highlight of the evening though was Firth Of Fifth. It is probably Steve’s most famous solo and he must have performed it hundreds of times now. Tonight, though he wrung as much emotion as possible out of the tune, for which he received a well-deserved ovation.

Mention must be given to the lighting tonight. They really help create the mood and therefore the feel of the occasion. But they never over whelmed the music, as they can do in rock concerts, and always reflected the atmosphere of the tune. Poor or inappropriate lighting can kill a song – that was never an issue tonight.

Steve himself gave a sublime performance. He’s a performer who likes to let the music be the centre of attention rather than himself. But when you’re one of the best soloists on the block you will need to come to the fore and when you can do it with the emotion and feeling that Steve can and does, then that itself just adds to the occasion. Interestingly, there was no solo-acoustic section tonight, although acoustic guitars were in use. But tonight, the music won, and Steve and his magnificent band gave as good a performance as it is possible to give. Brilliant stuff!

1st Set


Under The Eye Of The Sun

Fallen Walls & Pedestals-Beasts In Our Time

The Virgin & The Gypsy


Spectral Mornings

The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere

Clocks – The Angel Of Mons

2nd Set

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight

I Know What I Like

Firth Of Fifth

More Fool Me

The Battle Of Epping Forest

After The Ordeal

The Cinema Show

Aisle Of Plenty

Deja Vu

Dance On A Volcano

Myopia-Los Endos-Slogans-Los Endos

Steve Hackett – guitar and vocals

Roger King – Keyboards

Rob Townsend – Saxophone, flute, percussion, keyboard

Craig Blundell – Drums

Jonas Reingold – Bass, guitars, and vocals

John Hackett – flute

A big doffing of the cap for Steve Hammond’s photos!

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