Selling England By The Pound and Spectral Mornings: Live At Hammersmith Album review by Chris High
Any of us fortunate enough to have experienced a live show – any live show – by the guitar legend that is Steve Hackett, will be unsurprised to learn that this album is an absolute master class in performance artistry.
Let’s face it, even thinking of combining the whole of Selling England by the Pound, most of Spectral Mornings and highlights from At the Edge of Light is no mean feat. However thanks to some superb production, magnificent musicianship and an adoring audience, the feat in and of itself has been captured beautifully in this twin CD / DVD / Blu Ray formatted extravaganza.
Steeped in grandiose musicianship, consummate vocals and a sense of awe and wonder that transcends the decades like a colossus, both Selling England by the Pound (first released in 1973) and Spectral Mornings (released in 1979) hold a special place in the hearts of nearly all Progressive Rock fans.
Here both have been dusted off and given an extra splash of varnish, yet still hold true the values with which each had originally been created. Not only that, but some actually sound ‘fresher’ and more relevant than they did way back when.
One such example is Under the Eye of the Sun. The keyboards of Roger King positively shine on this track and throughout, with Hackett’s fret board gymnastics merely limbering up for those which are to follow.
Clocks – The Angel of Mons from Spectral Mornings has transformed itself in the live arena into being a powerhouse of hyperbole made simple, with its multi-faceted barrages of tone, darkness and light all culminating in a cacophonously splendid drum solo provided by Craig Blundell.
Also from the At the Edge of the Light album is the luxuriously complex Fallen Walls and Pedestals which bleeds nicely into a nigh on perfect version of Beasts in Our Time. Two songs that set the bar high early on, yes, but not insurmountably so.
When Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, critics said they were done. When Hackett left a year later, leaving the band as a three piece, it refused to die and – some might argue – moved on to greater success, if on account of their becoming a more commercial, MTV-centric act and, as such, a mere shadow of their former selves.
To those steeped in the band’s history, though, Steve Hackett’s departure meant a shift away entirely from the very culture of the band’s ethos – that they were quite literally selling out their sound by the pound – and so was born a division between the new and old guard.
Hackett has never appeared bitter about this. Instead he simply carries on doing what he does best and occasionally revives those songs with which he is most connected. And why not? There are some incredible pieces to revive and not one – bar, arguably, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) – could ever be classed as being commercially focused.
What truly comes across here is that those on stage are enjoying themselves as much as those in the seats and it is this pleasure which illuminates the whole package. Oh, and we’re not even at Selling England by the Pound yet.
So when Nad Sylvan’s superb, almost carbon copied Gabriel vocalisations begin to truly sparkle on Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, the stage becomes alive with all things mythical and magical. Keys moan, flutes trill and drums clatter in percussive syncopation causing ethereality to abound.
It’s odd then that, following a faultless delivery of I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) – a song made all the better for the inclusion of sumptuous sax and flute solos by Rob Townsend and a fabulous guitar riff jamboree given by Hackett – CD I ends and a change of disc is needed, just as things are – in truth – really beginning to cook. An odd decision, but hey, a minor quibble when all is said and done.
The Selling England section is rounded off grandly with what Hackett has described as being ‘the deleted scene’ from the album: Déjà vu. If anything underlines the belief that business partners are for now but friends are for life then this appearing in any form anywhere is it.
Peter Gabriel never completed the track. It wasn’t included on the album as a result. Steve Hackett did, however, and then contacted Gabriel so that it might make a debut appearance on Hackett’s Genesis Revisited live capture of 2019. The former frontman and colleague gladly agreed.
On behalf of those listening, thanks Peter. You’re a ledge although you have to wonder if Phil Collins might be quite so accommodating.
With Dance On A Volcano and Los Endos – both tracks taken from 1975s A Trick of the Tail – bringing proceedings to an extravagant and elegant conclusion, so ends a veritable feast of all that is, was and remains great about Genesis in its founder years and all in one wonderful bundle.
What it also demonstrates is that Steve Hackett is a master in his field who, sadly, may only be truly recognised as being the genuine musical genius he is only once he has passed. A good few years left in the tank, it must be hoped, and on that note I’m off to secure tickets to see more of the same at The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in November 2021.
2. Every Day
3. Under The Eye of The Sun
4. Fallen Walls And Pedestals
5. Beasts Of Our Time
6. The Virgin And The Gypsy
8. Spectral Mornings
9. The Red Flower Of Tai Chi Blooms Everywhere
10. Clocks – Angel of Mons
11. Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
12. I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
1. Firth Of Fifth
2. More Fool Me
3. The Battle Of Epping Forest
4. After The Ordeal
5. The Cinema Show
6. Aisle of Plenty
7. Deja Vu
8. Dance on a Volcano
9. Los Endos
You can find out more about the album here: https://www.totalntertainment.com/music/selling-england-by-the-pound-spectral-mornings/