STEVE HILLAGE: RAINBOW 1977

(GONZO MULTIMEDIA; 2014)

5060230863771

I gotta be honest: I wasn’t into the whole Canterbury scene (odd, jazzy pop groups like Caravan, Soft Machine and Gong, the band Steve Hillage was in immediately prior to launching his solo career with 1975’s FISH RISING) or anything (other than Frank Zappa) that sounded even remotely like THAT kind of music. For a couple of years there (probably about 1975 through 1978 or so), I was all about one thing musically: Hard rock with screaming guitars, heavy rhythms and – above all – absolutely no keyboards (unless they were provided by people named Hensley, Emerson or Lord) or horns; to be blunt, I was an idjit. Once I finally got all of that “musical snobbery” out of my system, I started to realize that I had missed some amazing music along the way. I was still a few years removed from “discovering” Steve Hillage, via his 1982 double release, FOR TO NEXT/AND NOT OR, so I was totally unfamiliar with the music here, aside from the two covers. Of the eleven tracks, six are from the just-released MOTIVATION RADIO (the album Hillage was touring behind); I certainly remember seeing the record in the bins back in ’77 but, being totally unimpressed with the cover, I didn’t give it a second thought (more idjitry). Thankfully, most of the music I overlooked (for whatever dumb reason) through the years tends to be reissued on a fairly regular basis. Likewise, stuff like RAINBOW 1977 crops up upon occasion.

Steve Hillage during his time in Gong (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage during his time in Gong (uncredited photo)

Before we get into the particulars of this release, let’s get into a little bit of history about the band, the show and how RAINBOW 1977 came to be. Steve and long-time partner, Miquette Giraudy, went bare bones for this tour, using only bassist Curtis Robertson and drummer Joe Blocker (both coming from the jazz funk group Karma… Blocker was also in the final version of Love for the REEL TO REAL album) to augment their sound, rather than additional guitar and keyboard players. The decidedly funky American rhythm section gives the music a much heavier bottom-end than Hillage bands had offered before (or after, for that matter). The Rainbow show was the final date of the MOTIVATION RADIO TOUR on November 3. Some of the show had appeared on a bootleg called GGGONG-GO-LONG which, after hearing it, prompted Hillage to find the original tapes and release the full concert – or as much of it as was usable, at least (more about that later).

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

The set opens with “Octave Doctors,” an instrumental intro with a funky bass groove and powerful drumming underpinning the layers of synthesized textures and an awesome, phased guitar solo from Hillage. The track leads directly into an absolutely stunning version of George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much,” which is fueled by what can only be called “majestic” keyboard work from Giraudy. A couple more MOTIVATION RADIO tracks are up next (“Octave Doctors” being the first). A weird, psychedelic introduction from Steve leads into “Light In the Sky,” a weird, psychedelic number with sci-fi lyrics and a spacey Hawkwind vibe. The song features another in a long line of great Hillage solos, as well as an odd, little kids voice (it’s either Miquette or Hillage) reciting the line, “Oh, me! Oh, my!/There’s a light in the sky.” “Radio” is a mostly instrumental piece, with a nice Hillage solo guitar (sounds like a hollow body, kinda like Steve Howe, but with more balls) over a funky bottom by Blocker and Robertson. The minimal lyrics are about – incredibly – radio. They’re really rather unnecessary, but rather unobtrusive.

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Steve Hillage, unknown date (uncredited photo)

Electrick Gypsies,” from the Todd Rundgren produced L, is probably the purest example of rock ‘n’ roll here. The synthesizer embellishment adds the prerequisite spacey feel, while everybody else gets funky, including a funked-up guitar from Steve. The tune segues into a movement from “The Salmon Song,” which features a cool sounding solo from Hillage and the return of that little kid voice. The piece moves into another FISH RISING number, listed as “Solar Musick Suite (Part 2).” If I’m reading things correctly, that would be the section of the song sub-titled “Canterbury Sunrise.” The tune features Robertson’s three-minute-plus bass solo, with guitar and synth adding some echoey texture before the drums kick things into overdrive.

Steve Hillage, Rockpalast 1977 (video still)

Steve Hillage, Rockpalast 1977 (video still)

And, so, we’re back to the final three songs from MOTIVATION… , starting with “Motivation,” which features more groove-oriented guitar. The tune has probably the best vocal performance of the entire set; Hillage’s voice was made for this funkier style. Of course, better lyrics help, too. There’s a crazed solo at the end of the song, while the drums are particularly impressive. The vibe and music of “Saucer Surfing” reminds me more of Hawkwind than anything else, with lyrics like: “We’re real reality gypsies/Surfing on vibrations with our minds.” Miquette has a heavily processed spoken word section toward the end, sounding vaguely like a computer (which, obviously, was the intent). Things remain trippy and spacey on “Searching For the Spark,” which is highlighted by a long solo from Joe Blocker. With his jazz background, Blocker’s solo is anything but boring. The final number is an impressive cover of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” This version features ethereal keyboard and vocal work. Now… remember when I mentioned that I had my doubts about this being the entire concert? Here’s where that question comes to mind; just about every live Hillage version I’ve heard of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” has a long guitar solo. This one doesn’t. I can’t tell if the solo has been edited out or if, for some reason, Steve just didn’t play one at the Rainbow that night. It really doesn’t matter… it’s a minor complaint; RAINBOW 1977 is one of those records that grows on you with each listen, never sounding boring or pretentious.