Back to Alma Mater, ex-GONG guitarist glides into glorious glades of his own. Teapots aren’t part of the flight.
Now an unimaginable feat, most of Steve Hillage’s albums made it into the UK’s Top 50 back in the ’70s, and his type of intellectual music found much favor with students making the axeman a perfect performer for BBC’s “Rock Goes To College” series. Appearing at the University of Kent to promote the recent “Live Herald” album, Hillage didn’t stick to its repertory, though, and opted for shorter, yet more focused, set which, on record, preserves a flow into the unknown for posterity. Available previously on a limited edition DVD, now relegated to a bonus disc and augmented with two studio videos, this concert catches Steve in quite a familiar situation – with his partner Miquette Giraudy on synthesizers and a fellow Canterbury hero, Dave Stewart, on the second guitar – veering away from prog’s patented seriousness and playing bolder than ever.
The multi-racial band might start the show with a calmly rippling buzz of “The Salmon Song” and deliver groovy, hypnogogic, much loved covers of “It’s All Too Much” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man” – announced, long before our PC times, as “Hurdy Gurdy Person” – but the FX-stricken energy surges wildly on the Chuck Berry-indebted, purely punky charge of “1988 Aktivator” and the spanky, fiery funk “Unzipping The Zype,” both to be released later in 1979. Throughout, Hillage’s guitar, often punctured with John McKenzie bass, sounds otherworldly, although not too cosmic, even less so in the light fusion of “Unidentified (Flying Being)” with its percussion fest, as opposed to two additional tracks from 1977: “Hurdy Gurdy Glissando” where a certain roughness reigns, and “Electrick Gypsies” that introduces countrified jazz to the rocky mix.
The less polished Steve Hillage’s passages, and singing, come the more brilliant they are, and this document, capturing the artist in his cerebrally poised prime, presents him in the beautifully earthly way – before the crowd-pleasing stopped.