Voiceprint 2007 / Repertoire 2014 / MiG Music 2021
Testament to the start of a solo flight for most cosmic of progressively inspired six-string masters – captured in concert in aural and visual form.
Steve Hillage has long been an enigma and an open book at the same time, which made him relevant for any of the periods he chose to be creative in, from the late ’60s on, yet it wasn’t until the guitarist abdicated the temporary leader’s position in GONG that the Englishman truly spread his wings and took off. When the veteran graced the stage in Bensberg, Germany, on March 20th, 1977 to be greeted by mostly teenage audience, there were no less than two records to base a show on, and he did so with gusto, playing most of the then-promoted “L” album, scattering bits of “Fish Rising” here and there, and presenting a composition from the still-to-be-out “Motivation Radio” as a finale. All this happened to be televised – and is issued now not only on DVD but also on CD, allowing connoisseurs to concentrate on tiny sonic details built into the artist’s music.
It’s a riveting experience. After a brief build-up via a filigree flurry of notes, Steve releases tension by delving deep into “Salmon Song” through unhurried fluid lines that induce effects-stricken suspense, his loose white attire and blissful smile stressing spiritual aspect of the music, before pre-CAMEL Colin Bass and post-TULL Clive Bunker lay down a heavy groove to create an entrancing throb which synthesizers wrap in cosmic buzz. Not the greatest vocalist around, Hillage – whom wife Miquette Giraudy aides and abets – supplies the piece with a few infectious stanzas and gets back to aural floating where an insistent riff will be gradually formed again and a wild solo let in the open. The results are very nuanced, so when Tibetan bells and sequencer waves signal the beginning of “Hurdy Gurdy Glissando” – a precursor to “Hurdy Gurdy Man” – the atmosphere is prepared for meditative strum, sending the seagulls-like sounds, bolstered thanks to Christian Boulé’s guitar, and mesmeric voices beyond the bass-spanked pale, the horizon this septet attempt to grasp.
As close-ups of Steve’s wide-open eyes point to the otherworldly plane his melodies offer the listeners, the rhythm may seem to meander, yet Phil Hodge and Basil Brooks’ keyboards expand the sonic space for Hillage to soar further and tighten the chant whence the aforementioned Donovan classic finds its increasingly fervent development. There’s a singer-songwriter vibe to “Solar Musick Suite” – only its initially ethereal psychedelia soon gives way to muscular fusion with the massive, if delicate, involvement of ivories, all three sets of them, and Steve, eyes closed now, delving into a reverie or feverish nightmare. Further on, logically, the blues kicking off “Lunar Musick Suite” is compromised with extraterrestrial exotica and impish deportment from the players unleashing a furious attack on the ever-sophisticated flow of tunes – an epically harmonic endeavor in live environment, with lyrics delivered almost unexpectedly in the later half of the piece – and leaving Steve on his own to toy with magnificent delay at the end.
The Fabs’ “It’s All Too Much” could have been fashioned especially for this ensemble – it’s so perfect for their performing manner, Hillage having to change Gibson for Fender due to a broken string and to do it faithfully but go off on a frenzied tangent as the number rolls on. Not included on the CD, the hefty “Aftaglid Pt. I” is fittingly flitting towards the hectic folk of “Electrick Gypsies” that’s informed with fusion, too. Yet the Diddley beat of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away (Glid Forever)” crystallizes into a different sort of trance, the futuristic one, and slips into “I Never Glid Before” from the GONG repertoire to connect the present to the past once more.
In the year of punk triumph, Steve Hillage gloriously ploughed his individual furrow – and this document of his valiancy and perseverance is a master class in how always being yourself pays off and makes one timeless.