Steve Hackett Revisists His Back Catalogue With Added Orchestra

Steve Hackett Revisists His Back Catalogue With Added Orchestra

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Steve Hackett Revisists His Back Catalogue With Added Orchestra

...and while the 41-piece orchestra is underused at times, when they're utilised the results are majestic

Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin

In the August of 1968, whilst the members of Genesis were on summer break from Charterhouse, their private school in Surrey, they were surprised to hear their debut album, From Genesis To Revelation embellished and robed with orchestral arrangements they weren't expecting. Arthur Greenslade, a composer whose CV also includes arrangements for Cat Stevens, Diana Ross and Shirley Bassey, had added his touch to their debut release the previous year. Fast forward 50 years and the progressive symphonies ushering out from The Bridgewater Hall's polished stage from Steve Hackett conductor Bradley Thachuk's 41-piece orchestra, the Heart Of England Philharmonic, are little more intentional and tactful, even if somewhat underused.

While at times the string section sat frustratingly motionless at the back of the stage with the musical focus still very much on Hackett and band, when their textures did sweep in they did so with a cinematic vivacity that greatly added to the evening's career spanning set-list.     

Dance on a Volcano instantly introduced the orchestra into the band's musical landscape, changing the scenery in a complimentary rather than distractive manner. Cello's brought a smooth and soulful low end which beautifully entangled with bassist Jonas Reingold, whilst violins added celestial peaks to the song's crescendos. Out of the Body, where Hackett lets rip in the track's time signature shifting, snaking and darting centrepiece motif is brought to life by the orchestra, revitalised and reinvented, the brass and horns especially making the track more forthright, bolstering its gravity and prestige. Indeed it was the horns, of all the orchestra, that really made the biggest difference to the band's sound which is why it was disappointing to not see them utilised in the latter stages of Supper's Ready and other such moments where that grand and punching impact they offer would have worked a treat.   

Sticksman Gary O'Toole, whose jazz founded playing was both exceptional and entertaining throughout, took to the mic on Blood On The Rooftops, his warm, Motown flavoured voice capturing the crowd after a gorgeously picturesque rendition of Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.

With the second set far more focused on Hackett's Genesis days than of the expansive solo career that followed, the music on display here, still spiced by the orchestra and their animated conductor, things became more idyllic and stately. Hackett, with his peculiar knack for looking like the daddiest dad and the coolest guy in the room in the space of only a few bars, provided the fire that would occasionally burst out from the calm and swathing movements with tapping guitar licks and searing leads, the orchestra behind him propelling the songs into more emphatic and dramatic plains. His brother, John, joined for Serpentine Song, dedicating it to their father alongside singer/guitarist Amanda Lehmann, who had already guested on Shadow of the Hierophant earlier on to sing pitch perfect vocals. 

El Niño is then introduced as a track which, when recorded, Hackett had tried to replicate the sounds of an orchestra through other means. He enthuses that such mimicry is not needed tonight. The result is gigantean yet, for much of the second set, whilst a dream for Genesis purists, my mind returns to that first set - from Rob Townsend's inspiring sax solo on Out of the Body to the energy and force with which that set as a whole was ignited with. It is that set that has stuck with me and it is Hackett's solo material I am consequently more inclined to revisit than Genesis' historic work right now.  For it was those songs that best coupled with Thachuk's arrangements along with their melodies and atmospheres that have tickled my imagination more than anything.

 

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