I spent a few very enjoyable hours in Hammersmith last Saturday night. The entertainment was provided by Steve Hackett on his Genesis Extended tour, ably prefaced by Bryan Josh and Olivia Sparnenn, husband and wife team and 2/7ths of Mostly Autumn. The first time I’d seen Hackett live was at the Hammersmith Odeon in May 1983 for a tour to promote Highly Strung when the only Genesis song in the set was Horizons. Despite the inclusion of the most recognisable acoustic song performed by Hackett, Saturday night could hardly have been more different.
The genesis of this event was back in 2012 when I didn’t get tickets for Hackett’s Genesis Revisited performance at Hammersmith in 2013, having to settle for a trip to Dublin to see him instead. To avoid disappointment, tickets for the show were bought two weeks shy of a year in advance, so that some of my family and friends who had also expressed an interest, had forgotten that they’d signed up in the first place.
I worked down the road from Hammersmith at Charing Cross Hospital on the Fulham Palace Road from 1986-1988 and it’s fair to say that the area has changed... ...just a little bit. The West London Hospital where my son Daryl was born in 1989 is long gone and the shopping centre where I’d occasionally go to browse the albums in Our Price has been replaced by a huge mall with a multitude of exits from the underground. This monument to consumerism exerts an adverse effect on GPS so that it was impossible to use it to navigate to The Dartmouth Castle on Glenthorne Road, the chosen venue for pre-gig food and drink. Once located, the pub proved to be a very good choice, serving excellent food and boasting a good range of beer.
The event kicked off on time at 7.30pm and the reduced Mostly Autumn performed a competent 30 minute acoustic set that was politely applauded by the audience. Sparnenn played some flute which enhanced the music but it was more folk than prog folk and really didn’t grab my attention. Hackett and band appeared on stage at 8.15, opening with an energetic Dance on a Volcano. The band saw the return of Nick Beggs and the set was changed from the one for the Genesis Revisited tour, eschewing the entire Wind and Wuthering album. Hackett’s comments to the audience following Dance hinted at the gulf that appeared to have opened up between him and some of his former band mates following the airing of the Genesis documentary, suggesting that the “museum was still open” and that he was dusting off some real gems.
The relative stability of the band, Roger King on Keyboards, Rob Townsend on flute, sax, bass pedals, keyboard and sundry percussion, Gary O’Toole on drums and vocals, vocalist Nad Sylvan and the inimitable Nick Beggs (unavailable in 2013 due to touring commitments with Steven Wilson) on bass, guitar and Chapman stick, meant that the material was really well performed. Sylvan, an unknown quantity when I last saw the band, somehow unconsciously managed to sound like Phil Collins for the opening song and for Squonk, the second number but then sounded like himself for the rest of the evening. Dancing with the Moonlit Knight and the Lamb mini-medley of Fly on a Windshield and Broadway Melody of 1974 were followed by a large slice of Nursery Cryme, The Return of the Giant Hogweed (a favourite of mine having studied Botany), the Fountain of Salmacis (possibly the first Genesis song I ever heard), and The Musical Box. At the start of Fountain, Sylvan appeared to be finding it difficult to find the right key and later on in the set he seemed to have difficulty singing for a few bars, as though he was suffering from a throat infection; I can only believe this was an acute problem because his performance in Dublin last year was faultless.
Perennial favourite Firth of Fifth (Firth of Firth in the tour programme!) featured Steve’s brother John Hackett on flute and Jakko Jakszyk on vocals. Jakszyk had tweeted his involvement beforehand and made an appearance in the crowd before the performance started, as though he was looking for his seat. It looked like he was reading the song words from notes at his feet, but he still managed to get a couple of lines wrong. This song embodies the culmination of melodic Genesis, the piano overture, the instrumental development and Hackett’s sublime guitar. Though very different from the multi-part Supper’s Ready (another highlight of the evening) Firth of Fifth was possibly the greatest treasure dusted off from custodian Hackett’s Museum of Prog (still open.) Lilywhite Lilith fitted in a little awkwardly. I had thought that the band might append The Waiting Room and stretch out into an evil jam but the song ended abruptly and the audience didn’t get to applaud properly; Sylvan theatrically raised a sword and the band ploughed into The Knife.
The encore consisted of Watcher of the Skies and Los Endos (suffused with Slogans from his solo album Defector) and brought the evening to a triumphant climax.
Always understated, Hackett may be more communicative than he was in his Genesis days but he does the sensible thing and lets this wonderful music speak for itself, orchestrated by a really tight band. There was even a stage invasion by a lone fan right at the end, something that none of the performers can have expected, which was resolved without force as the band and special guests took a well-deserved bow.