The Steve Hillage Band: The Ritz, Manchester – live review

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THE STEVE HILLAGE  BAND

THE RITZ, MANCHESTER

7 June 2019

A grand night of nostalgia as some of us tripping  (in more ways than one)  back down memory lane to hear Steve Hillage and the Gong gang playing music from his revered Seventies albums, L, Green, Fish Rising and Motivation Radio.

Being a major city, there was plenty of competition (or not) in town with Noel Gallagher n Heaton Park setting up the Parklife weekend. Perhaps not an alternative many of those heading for the Ritz would have considered, especially with the added bonus of possibly catching the spectacle of the naked bike riders streaming down Oxford Road around the time that doors were opening.  However, instead of wallowing in the mud that surely would have been part and parcel of the Parklife experience, we were off to do some wallowing of a different kind.

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Meanwhile…back in 2013, Steve Hillage was the recipient of the ‘Visionary’  award from PROG magazine. Now, whether or not the term takes into account any form of nostalgic looking back which this tour most certainly does, there’s no denying his visionary pedigree and you can’t possibly quibble over the fact that an absolutely rammed Ritz was happy to look back with Steve.  An introductory set from the pairing of Grahams Massey and Clark might have puzzled a few people. On the one hand, it may have puzzled the unenlightened and uninitiated for whom it may have appeared as two blokes making some musical noise with an array of instruments from violin to guitar to wind and keyboards, all held together with some electronics and beats. Those more in the know would tell of experimental happenings and improvisations of quality in their fifty-minute set.

Even at this stage, the Ritz was absolutely rammed, extremely hot and a testament to the fact that Hillage is still highly regarded and a hot ticket of a concert draw. So much so that the three dates, of which Manchester was a part, have been swiftly (and thankfully) added to later in the year when the current incarnation of Gong will be playing their own set instead of joining Hillage’s partner  Miquette Giraudy in backing our unlikely hero.

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It may have been a three guitar line up , but with Fabio Golfetti adding some striking glissando guitar embellishments and Ian East (described by Torabi as the factor that adds the ingredient that makes the band sound like Gong) almost forgotten in the wings, you couldn’t deny that this was a line up that was going to do justice to the legacy. Kavus Torabi, in particular, is a perfect foil for Hillage with his big white expensive guitar and with such an appreciation and knowledge of the music, that he’s probably more Hillage than Hillage himself.

A lengthy intro tape of some celestial sounds gave way the six-piece to the grooving immediately on Talking To The Sun with the projections beginning their constant evolution of swirling cosmic backdrops to induce a psychedelic ambience. The sheer joy as they riffed out on George Harrison’s It’s All Too Much and we were in glorious abandon and the almost expected progression through Salmon Song and the combo of the Lunar Musick and Solar Music Suites. There may well have been a number of veterans of Deeply Vale in attendance who will have been closing their eyes and just imagining that archetypal Hillage image of Jesus hairstyle and beard with the flared sleeves although, like me, there may be some who still can’t quite get used to the sight of the Steinberger guitar.

The toes in the water test by a rejuvenated Hillage and Gong might well see them being acclaimed in some circles as a second coming.  Whatever – Manchester was indeed a  revelation. Unashamed nostalgia on a sensational scale. They’re ready to take the plunge and November can’t come soon enough.

Steve Hillage online: website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

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All words and live photography (do not use without permission) by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive. He can be found on Facebook and is currently revamping his website…

 

 

 

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6 comments on “The Steve Hillage Band: The Ritz, Manchester – live review”

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  1. David Griffiths

    Oh Dear – Someone was wearing Rose Coloured Specs methinks!

    My Partner and I are Hillage/Gong veterans buying the original recordings when first released and attending Hillage/Gong?System 7 gigs over the years.

    Having looked forward to this concert since purchasing our tickets at the start of the year our expectations where high.

    We found the opening act unworthy of the Gig and a waste of 45 minutes or so of valuable “Hillage” time (And we DO have a very extensive collection of avant garde music so we do GET IT they just didn’t DO IT) – how on earth can you cram the best of the classic 4 Albums being show pieced into 1 1/4 hours or so it didn’t make sense.

    Frankly we were so fed up with the whole Gig that we left midway through the Hillage set – To us this wasn’t a Steve Hillage Gig that we recognised.

    As an aside we felt that the venue was overly full – We attend the Ritz regularly and cannot remember so many people being crammed inside !?

    David & Jan

    • Well, you’re entitled to your opinion of course, but as yours is the only dissenting voice, it’s quite possible that yours as the brown-coloured spectacles. Everyone is raving about the shows on the Gong forums. You should have stuck around, the OM riff was awesome.

    • You weren’t missed and the other 1500 or so people had a great night.

    • I have to say well said! saw the so called Gong a couple of weeks ago and left early due to the bad sound, up them self band, venue over crowding and the very poor renditions of of the few Gong classics played like you can’t kill me and master builder. Im a great believer that if you can’t do a song justice then don’t do it and these guys just don’t cut it for me. looking forward to hearing Hillage live in November but I am having second thoughts after reading your review. thanks for posting though and all is defo not Rosie here.

  2. David & Jan,

    I first saw Hillage in November 1979 at Birmingham Odeon and then in 2009 when doing a supporting set for Gong.

    It is a pity you left half-way through. Despite advertising a 10pm curfew, the band left the stage at around 10:30. I too had been concerned that we were going to have a 75 minute run through with a Hillage start time of 08:45 but we certainly got a full and worthy performance.

    I think my ears are getting old but the sound certainly started to become muddy during the second half and Steve’s bottom E string distorted throughout the gig disproportionately to the other strings. Buck Dharma of BOC had a similar issue earlier in the year also with a Steinberger I think.

    The support avant-garde was just that and not to my particular taste. The pre-show sound was from 1978’s Rainbow Dome Musick and the opening backdrop sequence should have had sound attached if the panic at the mixing desk was anything to go by.

    I could not have programmed a better first 45 minutes of the set – genuinely outstanding and I was particularly thrilled to hear Sea Nature and Ether Ships.

    A great gig with an appreciative crowd. One guy, who I had never met before, came up to me afterwards and said he was thrilled to have heard things live that he thought had passed him by – he said he just had to speak to someone! Like most of us, he was probably wondering why we have all had to wait so many years.

  3. I didn’t go to the Manchester show, but did attend the Shepherd’s Bush one on the following evening. Assuming they were not too dissimilar, I am puzzled by the negative review of David & Jan. On a pedantic point, the Manchester venue can’t have been overly crowded, because there will be regulations that ensure it wouldn’t be. So it is an odd complaint to make, and one hardly to do with the act on stage.
    But on a more important point, Steve Hillage was fantastic. He said in advance of these shows that he would be rehearsing the material properly, and his efforts bore fruit. The intricate shifting music was played without flaw, and the beefy sound of three guitars gave it a punch his live performances seemed to lack back in the day, at least on the evidence of Live Herald and YouTube footage.
    Stand outs? Salmon Song was throbbing, groovy, and exciting, and the Glorious Om Riff almighty. A lot of people in the audience must have been like me, waiting to hear this stuff played live by Steve and Miquette for 40 years. So, it was powerful to be there and hear it at full volume on physical, nostalgic, and emotional levels.
    I’d urge Hillage fans to go see the shows in November. I bet you’ll skip out of the venue feeling years younger.

    Nils

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