Steve Hackett at Portsmouth Guildhall REVIEW: ' It was fantastic to dance with the moonlit knights once more'

Caterpillar Records, Exeter, Devon, circa 1987. A teenager walks into his favourite second hand music shop and buys the 1973 Genesis album Selling England by the Pound – a classic gatefold album of the progressive rock genre.

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 10:26 am
Steve Hackett Band live. Picture by Simon Lowery

There was a simple reason why. The teenager’s favourite band, Marillion, claimed a lot of their material was influenced by early Genesis in general and this album in particular.

The teenager could see why, with wonderful lyrical imagery referencing characters such as The Queen of Maybe, Old Father Thames, Mr Lewis, Liquid Len and Harold Demure (from art literature). It quickly became his favourite Genesis album too. It still is.

That teenager was me and last night – over three decades on – I finally heard the songs played live in their entirety as guitarist Steve Hackett brought his 2019 Genesis Revisited tour to Portsmouth.

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The band’s Selling England tour never came to this city (though it visited Bournemouth and Southampton), so quite possibly there were many others in a packed audience who had waited far, far longer to be taken – for a couple of hours anyway – back to their youth.

It was worth the wait. 

This was a serious crowd of music lovers. No doubt the sort who, if I was to stereotype, attend record fairs aiming to add to their large vinyl collections, drink real ale, and are liable to get misty-eyed over lengthy guitar solos and gatefold album sleeves. There is nothing wrong, by the way, with any of those things.

It was the sort of audience containing people who gave standing ovations to songs played mid-set – something I have rarely, if ever, seen in my gig-going life – and, indeed, the sort of audience who know what they like, and they like what they know...

The first half of the evening saw Hackett, now a sprightly 69-year-old, play material from two solo albums – Spectral Mornings, released 40 years ago, and At The Edge of Light, released earlier this year. They were all enthusiastically received, with Spectral’s title track the stand-out song for me.

But this cocktail of Hackett’s past and present was, in all honesty, only the hors d'oeuvres before the night’s prog feast which was Selling England and which allowed the guitarist’s band to fully showcase their talents (with a quality light show too).

Chief of which was vocalist Nad Sylvan, who saw Hackett play with Genesis in 1977 in Sweden on what proved to be the latter’s final tour with the band. Possessing an incredible voice, Sylvan gave Selling England’s songs a completely fresh sound.

I was just one of many glad, therefore, that Sylvan answered his phone in April 2012 to find Hackett on the other end asking him if he fancied a trip to London.

Last night provided a portal in a world I wished I’d been a part of – a teenager in the first half of the 1970s where the likes of Gabriel-era Genesis, Queen, T-Rex, The Sweet, Led Zep, Deep Purple and David Bowie toured UK cities and towns. For rock fans, it must have been a wonderful time.

Musical fashions have changed somewhat from the early ’70s. Progressive rock bands do not sell out on long tours anymore, and I’m not sure if anyone writes lyrics like ‘Me, I'm just a lawnmower – you can tell me by the way I walk’ in 2019.

More’s the pity really, so for one evening at least it was fantastic to dance with the moonlit knights once more.

And wonderful to know there are hundreds of other like-minded music buffs in this area who know – who will probably never forget – that William Wright made his pile on Derby night.