The Tramshed, Cardiff
Monday, 19th June 2023
Steve Hillage is one of those iconic artists who has eluded me previously. My interest was piqued anew by the shows over recent years by a resurgent Gong (who perform double duty as the Steve Hillage Band) and I hoped to get to one of Steve’s shows in late 2019, but couldn’t make it happen. Likewise, the run of shows earlier this year that swept through Bristol, once again missed, so I was determined to get to this recently announced Glastonbury Festival warm-up show at the Tramshed in Cardiff.
The Tramshed is a favourite venue for me, and this was once again underlined by the friendliness of the staff and the relaxed vibe. A pint outside in the warmth of the early evening before the doors opened, followed by a wander to the barrier to get a good view of the stage in time for the support slot from Gong’s Kavus Torabi, solo with only a harmonium, guitar, electronic box of tricks and the force of his personality to carry him through.
Kavus is every inch a rock star. He has taken to his centre stage role in Gong with unlimited enthusiasm, but his musical oeuvre covers a lot of other ground, and tonight’s set, typical of recent solo performances, focuses on his Hip to the Jag album, with some other good stuff thrown in. The enigmatic pull of the looping harmonium drone of the first piece leads into Kavus psychedelically intoning from the edge of the stage in a heady brew of mysticism, the like of which follows Gong around like the most vibrant of tie-dyes. The precise deployment of temple bells seals the deal.
The audience is still thin to start, but the atmosphere is engaged – despite the chat from the back – and the response encouragingly warm. Kavus, stating that this was the biggest room he’d played this music to, grows in confidence as the set goes on, taking to the guitar to augment the harmonium and electronic swirl and add new tones, if not soloing in its strictest form, deploying his trusty screwdriver for good measure.
A lengthy Slow Movements, from Hip to the Jag, is followed by the delightfully unexpected The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes, from Knifeworld’s 2014 album The Unravelling, and then a return to the solo album for the heart-wrenching sincerity of You Broke My Fall. Another very enjoyable set from a man who continues to go from strength to strength.
After a quick rubdown, Kavus is back, but this time with some support as the 14-legged Steve Hillage Band of Gong compadres, Miquette Giraudy and, of course, Mr Hillage himself stroll to their places across the Tramshed’s wide stage. With the jazz fusion strains of Fish, we’re off, Steve and Miquette adding the vocals. The band are immediately on fire, and as usual it’s drummer extraordinaire Cheb Nettles who deserves a healthy share of the plaudits. He pounds and rattles along for the entire set with inch-perfect rolls and fills that drive the music onward and upward, destination the far reaches of the galaxy.
Kavus is clearly loving it all – and well he might as Dave Sturt’s fretless bass darts and swoops. At either side of the stage we have the stately and cultured glissando of Fabio Golfetti and the sporadic bursts of sax and flute from Ian East. On Hillage’s right, Miquette coaxes strange and invigorating sounds from her rig, obviously enjoying being involved in this music, and she is often at its heart. The looks between her and Steve tell their own story; theirs has been a long road, but here they are, still with momentum, moving forward side by side. The sight of Miquette sat on her monitor in rapt awe watching Steve solo will live with me for a long time.
There is so much variety and texture on the stage that it’s often hard to know where to look, but one man draws the attention most frequently. Steve Hillage’s reputation precedes him, but at 71 he still comfortably lives up to it, fully justifying the Prog Visionary award he received in 2013. His playing is fluid and precise as he deftly deploys myriad notes from his minimalist headless guitar. It’s an object lesson in calmly going about your business whilst leading a quality band from its centre.
The set is peppered with well chosen and meaningful covers from Hillage’s past, from the Beatles’ It’s All Too Much to Soft Machine’s Why Are We Sleeping?, Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man and The Move’s I Can Hear the Grass Grow, all given new life and direction in masterful hands. Ending with Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? was spot on.
In and around all of that, Hillage’s own music weaves magical webs and the set holds together as an enthralling whole. From Fish Rising, L, Motivation Radio and Green, the show comprised an amazing slice of what Hillage does best.
And no need for a psychedelic lightshow – the music did all the talking.
I know TPA has only recently published a review of Steve live, a show from his Golden Vibe tour, which finished in early April, but tonight’s show was so special that it deserves attention. Oh to be at Glasto on Saturday night…
It’s All Too Much (The Beatles cover)
The Salmon Song
Hurdy Gurdy Glissando
Why Are We Sleeping? (Soft Machine cover)
The Fire Inside
The Dervish Riff
Hurdy Gurdy Man (Donovan cover)
I Can Hear the Grass Grow (The Move cover)
The Glorious Om Riff
Are You Experienced? (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Steve Hillage – Guitar, Vocals
Miquette Giraudy – Keyboards, Electronics, Vocals
Kavus Torabi – Guitar, Vocals
Dave Sturt – Bass
Fabio Golfetti – Guitar, Vocals
Ian East – Saxophones, Flute
Cheb Nettles – Drums, Vocals