It has been more than 40 years since Steve Hackett recorded Wind and Wuthering, his last studio album as a member of Genesis.  Since then he has done more than anyone else to keep the legacy of the prog-era Genesis alive.  Oddly these efforts have gone largely unrecognised by his former band mates, although they probably welcome the additional royalties that Hackett has generated over the years.  Genesis fans old and new have, however, applauded Hackett’s reworking of the classic Genesis canon and turn out in droves whenever he tours, either in support of a new solo album or a Genesis Revisited set.

Hackett likes to mix things up a little each time he tours and this year’s twist is the addition of a 41-piece orchestra.  This is a brave move: taking a large orchestra on the road involves  considerably more coordination and rehearsal, not to mention expense,  compared to a relatively simple six-piece band.  And then there is the music.  Progressive music fans can, ironically, be somewhat reactionary when it comes to messing with the music they love.  Genesis never used an orchestra on any of their recordings and  I must admit that I was slightly worried that this would turn out to be “Symphonic Genesis” which is not something that would personally float my boat.  Fortunately, I needn’t have worried on that score.

Hackett’s usual band of Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (sax, flute, percussion), Gary O’Toole (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Nad Sylvan (lead vocals) is joined by Flower Kings bassist Jonas Reingold (bass, guitars).  Ranged behind them and slightly hidden from view is the Heart Of England Philharmonic orchestra led by Canadian conductor Bradley Thachuk.

Steve opens proceedings with the familiar chiming guitar intro to Dance On A Volcano.  The obligatory bowel-bothering bass pedals are present and correct and the orchestra bolster the sound without turning the song into some sort of neo-classical mutation.  So far, so good.

Next up is a pair of instrumentals: Out Of The Body from Hackett’s solo album, Wolflight and The Steppes from his 1980 album, Defender.  Both are highly-suited to a spot of orchestral augmentation with the album version of Out Of The Body already having a string arrangement and the Eastern influences of The Steppes benefiting from the additional orchestration.

Hackett describes touring with an orchestra as a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is  clear that it’s an opportunity that he is relishing.  Genesis classics Firth Of Fifth and Dancing With The Moonlit Knight are rendered flawlessly with the orchestra again adding some tonal depth without changing the essence of the songs.  Singer Nad Sylvan has settled into his role in the band without feeling the need to ape the theatrics and vocal style of Peter Gabriel as much as in the past.

The first half of the gig is brought to a close with a lovely Blood On The Roof Tops featuring Steve on Acoustic guitar and drummer Gary O’Toole taking lead vocal, and a rousing version of the instrumental section of Shadow Of The Hierophant from Steve’s first solo album Voyage Of The Acolyte.  “They’re loud, aren’t they?” says Steve, referring to the orchestra.  They are, but fortunately there are none of the sound balance problems that reportedly hampered the Royal Festival Hall show earlier in the week.

The second half opens with Wind and Wuthering’s …In That Quiet Earth followed, as it is on the album, by a majestic Afterglow; one of my personal favourites, providing another workout for the rumbling bass pedals.  Serpentine Song is a touching tribute to Hackett’s father and El Niño, a track from last year’s album The Night Siren brings us up to date with his solo career.  The song we have surely all been waiting for is Supper’s Ready, the 23 minute epic from Genesis’ Foxtrot album.  A complex piece that opens quietly with Steve on acoustic guitar, it slowly builds through several mood changes to become an absolute barnstormer that fully engages both band and orchestra and brings the evening to a climax.  There’s not much that can follow Supper’s Ready but the obligatory encore In is another Genesis classic The Musical Box In which Nad gets the opportunity to chew the scenery a bit and Steve shows not only why he was one of the most innovative guitarists of the 1970’s, employing tapping and tone-bending techniques years before Eddie Van Halen had even picked up a guitar, but also that he has lost none of his ability over the years.

What could have been a highly risky endeavour has turned into something of a triumph, crack band and orchestra melding into a highly persuasive musical force.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s Selling England By The Pound/Spectral Mornings tour and I can’t imagine that anyone in the audience tonight won’t be rushing out to buy a ticket.

 

 

Setlist 

Dance on a Volcano

Out of the Body

The Steppes

Firth of Fifth

Dancing With the Moonlit Knight

Blood on the Rooftops

Shadow of the Hierophant

…In That Quiet Earth

Afterglow

Serpentine Song

El Niño

Supper’s Ready

The Musical Box

John Scott

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