Richard Nevin ventures afar to catch Steve Hackett.
There’s always a strong parochial attitude to our capital city from those of us that live outside. After all, London gets all the money and attention, the best shows, the Olympics, the big football finals and the rest. In fact, I remember a weather forecaster using the phrase “more importantly” when describing the arrival of rain in London when compared with the rest of the country. So we get sniffy, take the hump and adopt a dismissive attitude. At least I did, or used to. Maybe it’s age but I now relish a trip to the smoke to experience the bright lights, excitement and being ignored on the Tube.
A late September day, unusually clement, saw me alight the underground at Oxford Circus and head for Argyle Street and an appointment, not for the first time, to see ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett in concert. I have reviewed Hackett before, so won’t concentrate too much on the gig itself, safe to say we had the standard combination of solo material and classic Genesis, the latter being a complete rendition of Hackett’s last work with the band, the live album Second’s Out from 1977.
But as thrilling a prospect that the concert was, the fact that it was at the London Palladium gave it extra gravitas. Live music is a thrill in itself but when you attend a gig at at venue such as the Palladium with its rich and varied history, the excitement doubles. Indeed the last time I saw this particular artist was pre-Covid at the Hammersmith Odeon (or Apollo as it’s now known) so from a legendary rock venue to an iconic theatrical venue, my last and first gigs either side of the pandemic were extra special along with symmetry of the artist in question.
Along with an apparent propensity in comparison to Birmingham, many pubs in London have a certain look. Generally marked by traditional décor, topped off with plentiful foliage in the form of colourful hanging baskets, the trade mark of a certain pub company and very much in keeping with how I believe hostelries should dress themselves.
The Argyle Arms, a few hundred yards from the Palladium is one such pub. Inside was a pastiche of the opulence of the Palladium with plenty of reminders as to its proximity and links to its grander friend up the road. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to take all this in as I wanted, jostling with middle-aged, balding Genesis freaks for a place at the bar took precedence in search of refreshment but all the time the air was thick with atmosphere. We were in London, we were amongst historic surroundings and we were paying more than five pounds a pint.
Twice postponed for obvious reasons, access to the gig was far from simple as we experienced the oddity of showing an e ticket in exchange for a paper one, perhaps in keeping with the nostalgic theme of the evening. Rarely is queuing a pleasure but it allowed time to take in the magnificent Corinthian façade of the Palladium, all white pillars, white lights, a glorious canopy and rooftop statues.
Once inside the whole place appears to be fitted with deep pile red carpet, including the foyer and bars. I presume the Cinderella Bar closed before midnight, there is a grand staircase that more than lives up to its name and throughout you can feel the history. In venues such as this it lives and breathes through the structure, echoes through the corridors. Tommy Cooper, Brucie and Tarby are bought to mind for those of us of a certain vintage but outside of televised variety, legends such as Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr and Johnny Cash have graced the stage, not to mention the Beatles and the Stones.
Polite and friendly staff man the doors to the auditorium itself, as ever it looks smaller than on the the TV but no less impressive. Our seats in the Grand Circle provide an excellent vantage point not only for the stage below but also the stunning architecture above and around. Some may feel that it’s too rich, too fussy and busy but for me the intricacies of the design are fascinating, the deep red of the seating, the white of the plaster work and warm lighting. Of course it’s a matter of taste, as is the music.
At exactly the same time, 120 miles north in our city, Genesis themselves were performing the second night of their tour at the NIA and the parallel nature of these shows, and indeed tours, gives an insight into the apparent division between ‘old’ and ‘new’ fans. I’d rather watch Hackett and his band of hired musicians perform The Cinema Show or Suppers Ready as opposed to the originals running through Invisible Touch or “ Can’t Dance. It’s gratifying that there is room for both but given Phil Collins’ declining health it was likely to be the last opportunity to see Genesis live.
As the band took their bows and the cheers died away we filed slowly out of the London Palladium and I left a more complete person if only that when the venue is bought up in conversation I can proudly say “I’ve been there”. And so has my mate Seamus.