In all my years I had never, until tonight that is, seen a show at the famous Buxton Opera House. Designed by noted architect Frank Matcham, a noted theatre designer whose work is known in many fine theatres like the Hackney Empire and the London Palladium, among others. The Opera House opened in 1903 and was subsequently renovated in the late 1970’s. It is a notably ornate building and is small inside, a capacity of 901 seats across its 4 levels making this a fairly intimate setting in which to witness such a distinguished artists that play here.
Steve Hackett’s latest tour is based around the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic 1972 Genesis album ‘Foxtrot’, which is known as one of the defining albums from the so called big six (Genesis, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, VDGG and Pink Floyd). This record is probably one of Genesis’ most famous releases and includes the classic Supper’s Ready. However, before we celebrate that achievement, we are sweetened by a wonderfully accomplished first set of Steve’s own songs, drawn from several of his solo albums, from ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ through to ‘The Surrender Of Silence’.
What a set this turns out to be! In this first part of the show we are rewarded with jaw dropping takes of Ace Of Wands, Every Day and Camino Royale among others. Again, Steve and his band rise to the challenge admirably, especially noteworthy are the ever graceful keyboards of Roger King and the woodwinds of Rob Townsend. For most of this part of the show singer Nad Sylvan is absent, appearing only for The Devil’s Cathedral and Every Day. The song A Tower Struck Down includes a bass solo from Jonas Reingold, which was certainly different as you don’t hear many of those these days!
The evergreen Shadow of the Hierophant also makes a welcome return, although this was mainly the closing section only although, to be fair, it does prove just what a talented troupe Steve leads. This mainly instrumental set also allows Steve lots of room for his elegant lyrical, eloquent soloing. Steve soars in these pieces proving, once again, that at 72 years of age, like a good wine, every year he continues to age gracefully and with a robust and often surprising bouquet. This first half ends to rapture applause and a break is taken before the main event.
Now, the concept of playing a classic album in full is not a new one, Yes, for instance, have been doing their classic albums in sequence since the early 2000’s but Steve has only being doing it for the past few tours, Covid excluded, and this time it’s ‘Foxtrot at Fifty’.
This part begins with a storming take of Watcher Of The Skies, which allows Nad’s theatrical side to emerge, and it does dramatically as he wears red flashing glasses to emphasise the sombre message of the words. Now, here’s an admission for you, until tonight I’d never heard all of ‘Foxtrot’! Yes, I knew bits but to hear it performed in sequence by this extremely talented ensemble makes me want to buy the album for myself, I will certainly rectify that omission on my part. The second track, Time Table, is new to me but what a fine song it is, very clever, it’s about Knights of old and it’s a real corker, as is Get ‘Em Out By Friday, a song about social housing and unscrupulous landlords and their tactics. Recorded in 1972, this song still sounds true today, as do the issues it speaks of. Genesis were ahead of their time and spoke about issues that concerned them, they had a good sense of the absurdities of life.
Can-Utility and the Coastliners follows, outlining the tale of King Canute and his attempts to stop the waves. Interestingly Knutsford in Cheshire tells a similar story as Canute gave his name to the town and its river crossing, although his name was anglicised to Knutsford rather than Canute’s Ford. We are then treated to a long-time Hackett favourite, Horizons, which sees Steve switching to a rather expensive and exquisite classical guitar for a flamenco influenced rethought of this short instrumental.
Then it’s the main highlight for many, Suppers Ready ,a six part suite of songs that have been highly regarded for many years. The song has a multitude of themes including social security, narcissism and words from the book of revelation in the bible. Performed tonight, it is an utter triumph and, again, it starts to make sense to me at last.
This ends the main show but we get two more songs as an encore, the always fabulous favourite Firth Of Fifth, and this features Steve’s brother John, who plays the flute soloing place of Rob Townsend, and excellent he is too. Roger King’s epic piano lines are superb, as is that fabulous guitar solo from Steve, although he does fluff the last note and looks crestfallen for doing so, although, to be fair no one minded. The final track is a medley of Myopia/Slogans/ Los Endos which sends everyone home happy and satisfied with a very special evening of great music in a truly unique setting. Personally, I await the already planned document of this tour that will probably emerge next year at some stage.