Archive for the ‘Utopia Strong’ Category

Steve Hillage Newcastle University 23 March 2023

hillage tix1 is, in his own quiet way, a guitar innovator. His pedigree is strong and impressive and last night, reminded me just what a great guitarist the man is. As usual, and no apologies, the night brought back many memories of the man himself and of the venue. Steve Hillage currently has two identities (in fact, probably more): (1) as a reborn trance hero in the band System 7 and (2) he is now out on the road fronting a new Steve Hillage band, drawing from his classic mid – 1970s albums, such as my favourite L.

hillage adFirstly, memories of the venue came flooding back partly as I tried to work out in my head where Newcastle University Students Union Ballroom (or equivalent) might be these days. The last time I frequented said venue was during the 1980s witnessing great performances by bands such as Rip, Rig and Panic (featuring a fledgling Neneh Cherry, who had just left the Slits, and sometimes her father Don), Haircut 100 and The Cure. All of those concerts took place in the larger upstairs ballroom; a venue where I witnessed some great punk gigs during the 1970s including the Clash White Riot tour. (Tour advert from Steves site)

hillage picSome of the concerts including Sandie Shaw (rejuvenated by a collaboration with Morrissey at the time as I recall), Punishment of Luxury and the Au Pairs took place in a lower, smaller, hall named “The Canteen” (because that is exactly what it was during the day!). I was told that wheelchair access was via a lift through the students union building and the Co-op shop! Actually, those directions worked well and some helpful students directed me and my carer Jackie towards a lift which took us downstairs to the venue; I half recognised the hall, it may have been what I once knew as the Canteen. Anyway, sorry for going around the houses to say that we managed to get to the concert okay. However, by the time we arrived the hall was full and the best vantage point we could find was at the side of the stage. (picture of Steve from my ticket)

hillage 4Secondly, Steve Hillage, psychedelic guitar wizard and inventor of the “glissando guitar” as exemplified by Steve’s wonderful soloing on his reinvention of the Donovan classic “Hurdy-Gurdy Glissando”. I have seen Steve Hillage several times over the years and he always strikes me as a quiet unassuming guy, and yet he has in his own quiet way achieved so much and forged a rich career along the way. I first came across Steve Hillage when he was a member of Khan, an early psychedelic band who I think I saw supporting Caravan in the early 1970s. I then saw him as a member of Gong and as part of Kevin Ayres band.

He soon ventured out on his own and released a clutch of great albums including the aforementioned L. During this period, I saw him headlining Newcastle City Hall on a couple of occasions, supporting Queen at their free concert in Hyde Park and somewhat bizarrely, joining Sham 69 on stage at the Reading Festival, a concert that was marred by fights in the crowd, although Steve’s performance with Jimmy Pursey of Sham was meant to signify that progressive rock and punk/skinhead music can stand together (“If the Kids Are United”).

hillage 3Roll forward to the Steve Hillage band 2023 in concert. Shortly after we arrived the band took to the stage, with lots of colourful lighting, wailing saxophone and electronica/psych keyboard wizardry courtesy of Steve’s long-term partner Miquette Giraudy. I am unsure who the rest of the band were, but I suspect they consisted of some current members of Gong, who continue to perform without any original members but with the blessing of Hillage and founder member, the late great Daevid Allen. After some wonderful twirling, swirling sounds the music soon took shape and morphed into Steve’s cover of the Beatles “It’s All Too Much” from L.

hillage blueAn excellent start to an evening of great music mixing tracks from throughout the band leader’s career. Some I recognised, several not, but they all featured great guitar dexterity from Mr Hillage. One he introduced as a Kevin Ayres song, in tribute to his former band leader. I suspect there was also a Gong track or two in the mix. Steve stood quietly centre stage sporting a short haircut (very unlike the 1970s proto-hippie Hillage we all know and love) and an intriguing looking guitar with no top stock. Soon we were at the end which featured further excellent guitar on “Hurdy-Gurdy Glissando”. The first encore started with some techno psych leading into The Move’s “I Can Hear the Grass Grow”.

hillage 5As we left, the band came back for a second encore (I think from reports of other shows on the tour this may have been Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?”). The lift we came down on didn’t seem to work anymore, however a friendly guy soon took us to another much smaller lift, which we squeezed into, arriving at a different part of the University. We followed a few ramps and soon found our taxi, waiting to take us home.

Support came from Utopia Strong featuring none other than Steve Davis snooker star (thanks to Terriersfan for pointing this out to me: see comment below)