Steve Hackett, Bernard Szajner
Southend Cliffs Pavilion
May 3rd 1983
Battling against poor acoustics Steve Hackett and band played a mixture of old favourites and new material from the 'Highly Strung' album to a responsive audience. On his first major tour for 18 months, Steve bravely handled all lead vocals and guitar, backed competently by his band which comprised Nick Magnus (keyboards), brother John Hackett (flute, rhythm guitar, bass pedals), Chas Cronk (bass, vocals) and Ian Mosley (drums).
Against a large Kim Poor designed backcloth of Steve's visage, the band opened with a brief instrumental intro then thundered into 'Camino Royale', a rocky riff and pumping bass underpinning the rather precarious and poorly mixed vocals. Nick Magnus pounded away at his Korg CX3 organ whilst Steve displayed his skills with the E-bow, using a bottleneck on his little finger to produce long glissando notes. The backing from fellow members wasn't quite tight enough giving the impression that they were still feeling their way a bit as a unit. An excellent rendition of 'Funny Feeling' featuring synthesiser and guitar harmonies, quickly dispelled the latter impression but the vocals seemed somewhat strained.
Highly reverberated drums opened 'Weightless', a song about Steve's recent hang-gliding experiences in Brazil, which employed chime-like runs on the RMI piano and soaring strings from the Jupiter 8. The song segued cleverly into an instrumental section based on parts of the jazz-rock 'Group Therapy' and the powerful African-influenced rhythms of the aptly titled 'Hackett to Pieces'. This gave Ian Mosley a chance to stretch himself on his Yamaha kit, which was dramatically illuminated from below.
The unusual time signatures and jazzy playing continued on 'Slogans', a track from 'Defector' with Steve going overboard on the guitar histrionics and incorporating a brief lick or two from Genesis 'Dancing Out With The Moonlit Knight', whilst Nick Magnus interjected vocoded sounds between his Memorymoog brass work.
The best vocal performance of the night undoubtedly came on 'Give It Away', which had a very American feel and a strong hookline, featuring massive brass and organ chords with strong, cutting bass playing by Chas Cronk. The song was tight, clear and concise and judging by the audience reception would make an excellent single.
The mood shifted dramatically to the atmospheric textures of 'Spectral Mornings'. Deeply echoed, heavily effected guitar and heavenly choir voices blending to form the characteristic Hackett 'sound'. Of particular note was the lighting which produced a spectacular conical spectrum around the silhouetted Hackett, enhanced by the ubiquitous dry ice. Richly chorused broken arpeggios from John Hackett on rhythm guitar held the song together, adding spice to the keyboard laden sound mix.
The band left the stage for the start of Steve's solo spot on acoustic guitar. The opening harmonics of 'Horizons' elicited an overwhelming cheer from the audience as Steve, bathed in a pool of saffron light, showed his classical talents to the full on the Ovation Nylon acoustic. The music projected well, the audience hanging on to his every note and replying with the loudest cheer of the evening. Nick Magnus and John Hackett joined Steve on stage as we were treated to a tender performance of 'Kim'; a flute and guitar instrumental reminiscent of Satie's 'Gymnopedie No. 3'. The lilting flute melody was superbly played and enhanced by an airy string backing from the Jupiter 8.
The pace picked up as the band ran through versions of 'Overnight Sleeper' and the Zeppelin-like 'Cell 151' which contained a lengthy pitch bend solo by Magnus on his Moog Source, and another mesmerising solo by Steve; a masterful exponent of E-bow technique. 'Please Don't Touch' featured the Roland GR500 guitar synthesiser treated with chorus and echo effects, and Steve produced sustained drones on the bottom E-string whilst playing chord shapes on the upper strings. The eerie sound this produced sent shivers down your spine. A driving 'Everyday' ended the set with powerful vocal harmonies by Steve and Chas Cronk. Chunky organ and choir sounds provided a suitable backing for a lengthy guitar solo on an Ovation UK II that just oozed melody.
The audience brought the band back for four well deserved encores — 'Walking Through Walls', 'The Show', and a blitzkrieg version of 'Clocks' with John Hackett pounding at his Taurus bass pedals, whilst Ian Mosley drummed maniacally and Steve screamed away on guitar. Finally, a raunchy 12 bar blues ended the gig, with each member taking a solo spot. The audience went home satisfied in the knowledge that they had been part of an evening of well-crafted entertainment.
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
May 15th 1983
Szajner, as he is now known after dumping the cognomen 'Zed' used for 'Visions of Dune', remains something of an enigma. Although he was originally a laserist, one of the first to take part in live concerts in France in the early 70's, he's making a name for himself as a musician while at the same time exuding a visual appeal which can never be transferred to vinyl. 'Visions' was the top-selling independent synth album in 1979/80, and yet is simplistic to the point almost of naivety. Its sparse Oberheim digital sequencer lines have a certain elegance, but only really come to life when overlaid by Colin Swinburne's guitar or the voices of Klaus Blasquiz and Annanka Raghel - or pushed along by Clement Bailly's drums and Hanny Rowe's bass. Little of the 'Visions' set was detectable in this, Szajner's first UK concert.
Neglecting the rather indulgent 'Superficial Music', a collection of reversed and slowed out-takes from 'Visions', his second album 'Some Deaths Take Forever' gives a better indication of the current style. More confident musically, Szajner felt able to explore an abstract theme rather than trying to conjure up the imagery of the planet Dune. Political imprisonment proved a rather heavy subject for many listeners, although the harsh edge it brought to Szajner's sequencer runs and jazzy melodies was welcomed by some. Lyrics were introduced for the first time (by Michael Quartermain, who worked on the Yamashta/Shrieve/Schulze project 'Go') and helped to give direction to the heavy intent behind the music. A longish break saw Szajner continuing with his laser work (building a laser harp for Jean-Michel Jarre's China Concerts for instance) and collaborating, secretly at first, on the politically-influenced Hypothetical Prophets releases 'Wallenberg' and 'Back to the Burner.'
While working on his new album, 'Brute Reason', Szajner secured the services of ex-Magazine vocalist Howard Devoto. This increased media interest in his work, but resulted in the case of the Hammersmith concert in many Szajner fans being unable to get tickets because of the number of Devoto fans who had turned out to see him stroll through two or three songs. Most of the audience found Devoto's colourless vocals to be the definite low-light of the evening.
Most of the music was definitely high-energy, however. Szajner's band comprised about half of Magma, with Bernard Paganotti (seen over here with Richard Pinhas last year) on bass, Colin Swinburne on guitar and Guy Khalifa on keyboards. Paganotti's roaring bass sound in particular combined with forceful drumming from Clement Bailly to define the overall sound as jazz-rock, although Szajner's electronics really transcended any simple musical category. Szajner played three main instruments — The Snark, The Oestre, and The Laser Harp. Each one was custom-built and visually quite bizarre. The Snark is a tubular instrument around four-and-a-half feet long, covered in key tabs and switches and played at the diagonal to the body as a bassoon would be. It's rather more versatile than a bassoon however, because its onboard microprocessor interfaces it to a PPG Wave 2.
Szajner's Wave sounds are not unusual for the machine, but were highly effective in this context. Slow harmonic movement within each chordal sweep gave a distinctly uneasy feeling in contrast to the simpler, forceful jazz backing. Saxophone lines from a young musician named Pascal were answered either by Swinburne's growling guitar or by Szajner's odd harmonic sweeps, while drums, bass and detuned sequencers powered along in the background. Sudden changes to gentle, breathy chords on the Snark did little to reduce the tension in the music.
More sinister atmospherics were produced by sequences of reverse-tape sounds overlaid by mumbled vocal noises, with each instrumentalist coming in to build up the volume of the piece. Bernard Paganotti alternated between driving bass figures and solos played in his unique, vibrato-laden style, punctuating the sequencer line of 'Welcome' with catchy riffs and growls. The laser display up to this point had been fairly plain, with just a couple of horizontal beams piercing the coloured spots. All that changed as Guy Khalifa played a simple, atmospheric Fender piano piece, and Szajner passed a hand over his Laser Harp control. Unfolding like a huge flower, it revealed a bank of illuminated perspex cylinders — just like something out of Space: 1999 — which apparently gave him control over the voice and pitch parameters of the harp itself. Each laser 'string' represented a pitch, so that arpeggios could be easily produced and re-tuned to a new key to accompany the simple sequencer line which Szajner activated under his harp solo. It was only later that we discovered that this wonder of visual technology was interfaced to what Szajner described as 'a very vulgar Pro-One!'
Harmonised PPG sounds ended the solo passage, which was followed by a gently expressive sax solo over PPG backing. Guy Khalifa then moved to the Emulator to produce some startling cello sounds, almost in the style of a classical string quartet, which were then used to back a heavier jazz piece. Szajner by this time had switched to the Oestre, a slightly smaller tubular instrument illuminated by a laser tube which projected a beam from stage level to the ceiling. It's output was quantised to a chromatic scale, allowing him to play fast runs affecting both pitch and filter settings. The laser display was hotting up by this stage, with two downward-pointing beams circling around the stage and others casting fan shapes in front of the performers, and there was a good supply of smoke and coloured lighting.
A round of applause greeted Howard Devoto, who sang a bizarre love song over off-beat drums and bass. The vocal sound was pretty clear, in fact the JBL-loaded PA performed extremely well throughout the evening. The next song was slower, with an almost military beat and symphonic Emulator effects.
Heavy metal time next, with a crashing five-chord pattern and screaming vocal sounds, followed by a return to the jazz mode with stabbed Fender chords and Paganotti's bass. The Fender sound recurred two or three songs later, playing an odd Christmas carol theme giving an impression of falling snow. Sure enough, it began to snow on stage. All the musicians stood upstage, staring blankly at the audience as the snow fell, and Devoto's narration described a deserted village suffocated by snow. From the ceiling descended a huge baby, perhaps twelve feet long, which hung suspended as the snow fell. The musicians wandered off — the baby disappeared — the audience sat bemused. After a long pause it became clear that the show was over.
Heartfelt applause dragged Szajner back onto the stage to introduce the band, who then churned through the sequencer-laden 'Brute Reason', the title track of the new album. Clement Bailly's drums were particularly forceful here, producing stunning Simmons effects on a quite conventional kit, and Colin Swinburne's guitar screamed and groaned in counterpoint with the drastically harmonised sounds of Szajner's electronics. It all came to an abrupt end — Szajner had claimed that they hadn't rehearsed the track, but that didn't seem likely because the sound, as for the rest of the evening, was very tight.
A spectacular and thought-provoking event then. For a non-musician Szajner produces some incredible musical effects, yet undoubtedly the visual aspects are as important as the aural and the talents of his backing musicians are certainly needed on vinyl to sustain interest. Interest in Szajner himself is bound to increase, however, with 'Brute Reason' out on Island (their answer to Polydor's Vangelis and Virgin's Tangerine Dream), the Hypothetical Prophets LP 'Around the World' transferring from Initial to CBS Epic in June, and a single 'Person to Person' already on release on Epic. Recently Szajner appeared on TV with the laser harp, and certainly his unusual instrument designs contribute greatly to his mystique. However, he says that he won't be doing any designing in the immediate future: "first, I have to learn to play!"