Steve Hillage at The Ritz: Live Review
Words: Anthony Firmin
It’s a bloody chilly and wet June evening as the naked bike ride trundles through Manchester but that is the sight that greets me as I head to the Ritz, more random than a random thing.
Looking back, I was in attendance during the last proper Steve Hillage tour when he played at the old Free Trade Hall, a time when the hippy, trippy sounds had given way to a funkier feel as we all unzipped the zype to the 1988 activator himself. They were lofty times and I was as surprised as anyone when he failed to tour again, only to release For To Next a few years later with little fanfare. But I am jumping ahead of myself...
Violinist Graham Clarke, some time of Gong, and keyboard/guitar man Graham Massey provide an unstructured yet improvised set to start us off, the initial trippy synths are as you’d expect as the Gong influence is huge but it drags on and on. Their extended random jamming does little for me and judging by all the talking around me it’s doing little for others too. If this was John Abercrombie and Jean Luc Ponty onstage it would be spellbinding, sadly it is just disappointing, so I head to the bar but can’t escape them. Thinking back to Hillage’s 1979 tours, the support bands were Telephone and Trevor Rabin, something along those lines would have been far more preferable and I am sure many others would be in agreement judging by the polite yet short applause at the end of their set.
The building excitement really is palpable as the expectation is, quite understandably, high, as the beer flows: - it’s been 40 years! Here comes the roly poly man and he is singing songs of love...
The Steve Hillage Band is now 7 members but it has always been a fluid concept, currently supplemented by members of Gong. Opening with a funky Talking To The Sun gets the crowd moving with a psychedelic projection in the background, an expanding experience for the mind too. It’s All Too Much, except it isn’t as Hillage still sounds just as he did 40 years ago, belting out the George Harrison penned tune before the band go swimming with the salmon. The predominantly older hippy crowd going nuts as the man punches out the riffs from his Steinberger. His voice may not be quite as good as it once was but blimey, his guitar playing and especially his solos are hitting the mark everytime.
We are treated to a deep cut, Sea Nature, only played once live, and that was yesterday, before synthesist Miquette Giraudy (also known as Mrs Steve Hillage) starts creating sound patterns with the visuals streaming laylines and pyramids in sync. Hillage then runs through his echo guitar routine, the trippy Lunar Musick Suite - it’s cosmic, man.
Palm Trees is simply divine as is the rest of the set as we continue to take a journey through the mind before we funk out again with Motivation, more cosmic encounters during the Solar Musick Suite, the Donavan anthem Hurdy Gurdy Man closes the set with another belting guitar solo.
“Me oh my there’s a light in the sky...” gets everyone singing along before The Glorious Om Riff and the memories of Deeply Vale Festival come flooding back.
A cover of The Crickets Not Fade Away keeps the party going as the Ritz’s springy floor does overtime once more and the teapots fly across the backdrop. Bloody hell, this is a great gig!
Drugs? Yep, gonna hit the Night Nurse now!