Friday, 17 May 2013

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited - Symphony Hall, Birmingham 16th May 2013

I do not indulge in watching cover bands as a rule, as I find them pointless and they act to restrict access to audiences by current bands making new music by diverting the funds of us hard-pressed gig goers in these economically bleak times. In fact, the last cover band I saw was The Australian Pink Floyd, way back in 1993.

So, what, you may rightly ask am I doing here, then? Well, firstly Mr Hackett had a major part in crafting the best songs of that most quintessentially English of all the original prog bands, Genesis; so if anyone has a right to play that music again, it's him. The fact that Rutherford and Banks choose not to play the old songs, and Collins has been struck down by illness and so could not indulge in pastures old, even if he wanted to, is neither here nor there. And yes, it may well be correct that Gabriel has resisted the urge purely for artistic reasons, and therefore retains his integrity, but who did he go running to when WOMAD almost bankrupted him in the 80s, eh? Needs must, and all that.

The reason for this long rambling intro (it's not over yet!) is the review I read in The Guardian  that not so much made me see red, as a slight wan shade of pink. After all it's not worth getting too hot under the collar about!

Reading Ian Gittins' review I get the impression he wasn't born when these classics, for that's what they are, first saw the light of day and so his sense of context is somewhat skewed. He quotes Mike Rutherford as saying "I find it strange, going back and playing these songs … I'd rather do something new" which made me laugh, considering Rutherford took part in that huge Genesis reunion tour in 2007, or was that a mirage? And pray tell me, what "new" music has come from Rutherford that even begins to compare with what Steve Hackett has produced recently? Also of course, Rutherford, Banks and Collins all made vastly more dosh from Genesis than Hackett as they quite eagerly jettisoned any artistic integrity for the pop $ in the 80s, by which time Hackett had already left. Hackett, like anyone else of his age has to provide for his retirement and you cannot blame him for it.

Gittins also berates Hackett for spending "the latter part of his career obsessively rerecording and tweaking (the Genesis) repertoire". OK if two Genesis Revisited albums separated by 16 years, in which time he released 10 albums of new work is "obsessively rerecording" then fair enough! Gittins claims there are three rehash albums, but I've no idea what the third one was. However, in Gittins' defence I do agree that studio rehashes are ultimately pointless as I wrote for DPRP last year.

Mr Gittins described the London gig from a few days before last night's shenanigans as being "a dispiritingly redundant evening", so I thought I just had to do a review in order to see how little or even how much of that statement is true.

And now for the gig...

Squarely aimed at the now comfortably off generation who witnessed Gabriel's Genesis first hand, one has to remember that this is entertainment, not art. Most of the audience look like they are about to or have recently retired on fat pensions, and the prices at the merch stall reflect that this is the first group of retirees who will be better off than their sons and daughters since the 19th century. £20 for a tee-shirt, £35 for a hoodie, even the programme cost £12. As if to prove my point there was more than one "Cruise To The Edge" tee-shirt wearer on show, that ultimate exercise in parting the musically conservative from their wallets.

Steve Hackett or his label miss no tricks in extracting the cash either, as there has recently been a truncated single CD version of the Genesis Revisited II double CD issued that contains tracks not on the original album. This is not the first time that this cynical ploy has been used on his punters either, although his label are by far from the first or only label to use this ruse.

"Yes, alright stop moaning and tell us about the music" you ask...

Despite the ticket claiming "no support", the show started at 7:15 with a half-hour set from Anne-Marie Helder, who was all a bit too "wow" and "amazing" for my liking.

The rather downbeat interval music over the PA was Midlake's dreary one-paced The Courage Of Others, a rather odd choice if you ask me!

The mighty Watcher Of The Skies opened proceedings, just as it used to for Genesis 316 years ago, but I'm afraid the modern synthetic organ sound supplied by long-time Steve Hackett Band ivory tinkler Roger King just does not have the same primitive visceral impact of Tony Banks' thunderous Hammond of days long gone by. Nad Sylvan's daft theatrics aside, a decent opening nonetheless, and it got a rowdy reception from the audience.

Nik Kershaw comes in for an acerbic put-down in Gittins' review, a pen-lashing that was embarrassingly wide of the mark when one considers that Kershaw was the only respite from the Gabriel clones on Genesis Revisited II and for that reason provided the album highlight in my opinion. Unfortunately Nik wasn't with the band for this gig; instead we had the Gabriel/Collins affectations of Nad Sylvan, rock star threads and all. In an act of probably manufactured synchronicity with Hackett's erstwhile prog behemoths, the second vocalist was inevitably the drummer Gary O'Toole, who in my opinion was the better singer of the two as he did not try to impersonate, he simply sang in his own voice.

For my money there are two ways to approach covering another vocalist's material, especially one as idiosyncratic as Peter Gabriel; you can do it straight and in your own voice with no affectations, or you can go the whole hog, costumes and all, like the guy in The Watch. Sylvan fell between those two stools, and when he did actually let go a bit and sang in what was obviously his own voice he was much better for it than when attempting an out-and-out impersonation, as on Watcher Of The Skies. And I have to mention that his thankfully mostly low key attempts at Gabriel-like theatrics, carried out without the slightest hint of irony, made me laugh more than once!

Gary O'Toole, another long serving member of Steve's band took the lead for Broadway Melody 1974 and a damn fine job he did too, all the while keeping down the less than obvious time signature. His only nod in the direction of Phil Collins was his choice of cheeky titfer. That's cockney rhyming slang for hat, for all of you not familiar with the vernacular!

As Nik Kershaw was absent it fell to Nad to sing The Lamia, and by now he was finding his own voice and growing in confidence although I did notice an occasional slight wavering from the note, but that might be a curse of having perfect pitch, as it didn't seem to bother anyone else in our vicinity. The song segues into Silent Sorrow..., which included a great soprano sax and guitar trade off between Rob Townsend (another Steve Hackett Band stalwart), and Steve.

Things were building nicely and by now I had largely overcome my earlier reservations. The summit of the gig was a storming charge through Musical Box that sent shivers up my spine. This song reminded one of a time when Genesis rocked. In my 'umble opinion they never sounded as primal as on the first live album, and this song is firmly rooted in that glorious era. Quite rightly Musical Box got a standing ovation from the crowd.

The gig never quite reached those heights again, and even an extended funk workout in the middle of I Know What I Like, including much syncopated larking about from the band never resonated with the emotions quite like the Nursery Cryme favourite.

Entangled featured a really on the button four-part vocal harmony and I maintain my assertion from the DPRP GRII review that even the original of Eleventh Earl Of Mar cannot hold a candle to the earlier epics, so it passed me by I'm afraid. Like I Know What I Like, Supper's Ready provided the chance for a mass singalong, but came over a tad perfunctory. I did enjoy beating out the 9/8 rhythm of Apocalypse... on the bald pate of the punter seated in front of me though...I jest, for it was actually on the arm of chair I was sat in. :) 

The show ended with Steve's guitar-shred rearrangement of Los Endos, a rare moment of true improvisation on a well-worn theme.

While this show was all about entertainment and not art, and I much prefer the latter in my aural pursuits, I am brought back to Ian Gittins' summation that he experienced "a dispiritingly redundant evening" in London. That is a comment that goes far beyond any criticisms I have, as there were moments of real joy last night, but after Steve and his band had played for nearly two and a half hours, meaning we'd been in the venue for an hour longer than that, I was flagging a bit. The "no support" line of the ticket should have been adhered to and the main attraction should have come on earlier and had an interval.

One final thing; it wasn't quite loud enough, perhaps in deference to the delicate shell-likes of all the retired teachers and accountants in the audience, who knows? I can recall seeing Genesis in the 70s and being pinned to the floor by Watcher's organ swell!

Unless the Insolvency Service comes knocking at Peter Gabriel's door in the near future, there will never be a proper Genesis reunion gig again, so this almost-but-not-quite tribute band will have to do. While I write this I'm playing The Great Lost Live Album to remind myself how good the originals actually were.

Oh, and Birmingham is nowhere near as grim as I remember it, and is actually a really nice place. There, I can stop moaning if I put my mind to it!


Watcher of the Skies
The Chamber of 32 Doors
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974
The Lamia
Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats
The Musical Box
Blood on the Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers...
...In That Quiet Earth
I Know What I Like
Dance on a Volcano
Eleventh Earl of Mar
Supper's Ready

Firth of Fifth
Los Endos


  1. I really enjoyed Anne-Marie's set, but I'm already a big fan. She's more used to playing to audiences of 200-300 fronting a full band.

  2. Hi Tim, and thanks for reading.
    I rarely go to any great lengths describing support acts unless they are really good or truly awful! Anne-Marie was neither. I'm aware of her background, and I'll admit that Mostly Autumn and their neo-prog ilk are far removed from my particular cup of tea, music-wise, so I thought it best to say as little as possible!

  3. It's actually Panic Room (Who I wouldn't describe as neo-prog) that Anne-Marie fronts.

    Her role in Mostly Autumn has been backing vocals, flute and keys, thought she's not playing with them for the rest of this year (bar one gig) because of clashing commitments.

  4. Fair enough - I can't imagine Panic Room will float my boat, but I'll investigate in the interests of fairness and let you know what I think.

  5. Hi Roger,

    After seeing the excellent Steve Hackett "Genesis Revisited" gig in Hamburg, I began reading reviews of the UK shows, to see how the show was being received there and whether the setlist was changing as the tour progressed, when I came across the prejudiced and negative "review" in The Guardian, to which your review was an honest, informed and thoughtful response.

    I might be able to explain why the piece in The Guardian refers to three albums of Genesis songs released by Hackett. There are two "Genesis Revisited" albums - the single CD released in 1996, and the double-CD released in 2012. Both contain mostly Genesis material with some Hackett solo material, though there is no overlap of songs between them. However, a double-CD album called "The Genesis Files" was released in 2002: this contained all of the tracks from the first GR album (except that "Los Endos" was replaced with a live version from Hackett's "The Tokyo Tapes"), plus some of Hackett's solo stuff; is this the mystery third album referred to in The Guardian? And the new "Selection" album contains some of the tracks from the second GR album, and only one new track - "Carpet Crawlers" featuring Ray Wilson - which will also be available singly for download, so I don't see a problem for people who already have GR II.

    As the review in the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper rightly said: "Genesis lives - in Steve Hackett!"

  6. Anon - Thanks for putting me straight about the mystery third GR album.

  7. Is there any point, artistically, in orchestras - who had nothing to do with the original compositions - performing music by the likes of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, which is hundreds of years old?
    I saw the show last night at Birmingham Symphony Hall, where such classical pieces are more likely to be heard.
    I loved it.

  8. El Mystico - thanks for reading what was, after all is said and done, just my opinion. I am glad you enjoyed your visit to the same venue.
    Making a comparison to classical music is like comparing a Vauxhall Zafira to Apollo 11 - both modes of transport but utterly different in construction and intent.
    Although what Steve Hackett does is enjoyable enough, it does take up the entertainment budget of the likes of you and I, who might otherwise have spent the money on seeing current bands. Without support innovative new music will die out, and then all we will be left with is Mumford & Sons, god help us! :)


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