Friday, May 24, 2024

Steve Hillage Live at the Bataclan, Paris 79

Stevie ‘Hillside ‘Hillage has an awe-inspiring track record. He’s loosely connected to the much vaunted ‘Canterbury Scene,’ given he studied at Kent University for a while, and played in bands like Khan and Arzachal, but it was with 1970’s cosmonauts Gong where he made his name, playing his glissando guitar licks on their three best-known early-mid 70’s albums, the Flying Teapot trilogy. Since leaving Gong in ’76 he’s been a solo act, and Bataclan.. catches him and his band at a time when they were still hot from regular gigging, and when Hillage was probably at the peak of his popularity, due to his previous association with Gong. There was also his ‘underground’ cred though and as the 80s progressed, he became more immersed in the burgeoning Trance/electronica scene with system7 and, apart from the occasional link-up with Gong, he’d largely left rock behind.

Bataclan showcases a gig from recently rediscovered tapes, which have been cleaned up and given a first-ever release. The sound quality is good and, as Hillage himself says, “The level of musical performance is pretty astonishing, and my lead guitar performance is definitely at a peak”. This was made so because Hillage had surrounded himself with a bunch of top-notch musicians who were able to interpret some pretty complex music and make it appear effortless. 

Most of what’s performed on these discs came from the three solo albums released prior to this gig, Motivation Radio, Green and Open, with a few covers thrown into the mix, though surprisingly stage favourites such as ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’, ‘Lunar Musik Suite’ and ‘Electric Gypsies’ weren’t performed, and the album’s mood flows fluidly between ethereal distorted spacey effects, with spacy synths bubbling away alongside some fairly heavy rock featuring spectacular runs on the guitar. Quite why Hillage rarely even rates a mention when lists of top axemen are compiled is bewildering as his ability to combine speed playing with ‘feel’ and ‘empathy’ stands him apart from those guitarists who can play at the speed of light but sound soulless.

The show opens with the only known live rendition of ‘Earthrise’ before Hillage and the band take us on a fast-moving interstellar voyage, and if you weren’t aware Hillage had played in Gong in a past life, tracks like ‘Healing Feeling’, ‘Activation Meditation’ and ‘The Glorious Om Riff’, with their out there cosmic effects, will make it clear to you. The eight-minute Hawkwind-like ‘Searching For The Spark’, along with ‘Saucer Surfing’ and ‘Palm Trees (Love Guitar)’ all see Hillage ripping out some fabulous runs on his guitar, while ‘1988 Aktivator’ and ‘Getting In Tune’ are almost cosmic punk, with Hillage inadvertently sounding like Johnny Rotten on the latter song. A sparkling set winds down with George Harrison’s ‘It’s All Too Much’ and ‘The Salmon Song’ before finishing with ‘Unidentified Flying Being’.

Bataclan will be compared to any other live album Steve Hillage has ever been associated with. On this album, he demonstrates his full skill set, as a band leader, composer and stellar musician and after having endured an excruciating System7 gig in 2023, it was a sheer delight to hear Stevie ‘Hillside Village’ playing real music again.

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

twenty − 16 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

RAMzine is proud to support The Mike James Rock Show!

Latest Articles

Stevie ‘Hillside 'Hillage has an awe-inspiring track record. He’s loosely connected to the much vaunted ‘Canterbury Scene,’ given he studied at Kent University for a while, and played in bands like Khan and Arzachal, but it was with 1970’s cosmonauts Gong where he made...Steve Hillage Live at the Bataclan, Paris 79