Special Guest: Steve Hill
New Brighton Floral Pavilion
International Guitar Festival of Great Britain
November 2, 2017
As sung by The Four Seasons: “Oh what a night”. Not that 70s Soul has anything to do with the output of either Steve Hill or Wishbone Ash, but the sentiment remains the same.
From first bar to last, this was an evening of powerhouse rock at its very finest, with Montreal based, one-man-band Steve Hill performing on these shores for the very first time and cutting a yet deeper vein of popularity into the bargain.
Man can this guy play! In fact, during the Ballad of Johnny Wabo – a song he describes as being “as Canadian as you can get” – there’s a genuine fear he along with his plethora of guitars, drums and cymbals might spontaneously combust. The energy and drive of this consummate musician is simply incredible, all of which is underpinned with a deep, gravel-fuelled voice that would soothe the most rampant of bears out in the deepest of backwoods.
Dangerous, the debut single from his latest album Solo Recordings Volume 3, lends even more grist to the mill in the live arena; its sass, angst filled lyric being revved up to the max by yet more furious musicianship.
Damned kicked things off a pace, only for things to grow ever stronger with the audience on its feet by the end and a goodly queue forming at the Merch desk outside. A stunning thirty minute set that can only lead to one simple wish. Come back soon Mr. Hill and please, next time, make the set a whole lot longer. Hill is fast becoming the worst kept secret Canada ever had. Thank the Lord then that after nine albums in total and twenty-seven years of hard graft, he’s finally breaking through.
So, Wishbone Ash. Is there anything left to be said about this band that’s not been said before? Well, with newcomer Mark Abrahams on guitar, yes there’s quite a lot as it goes. Boy-oh-boy, has Andy Powell found a star in the making in this young man. After a somewhat cautious start, it is with the chilled Way Down South, along with Powell’s superlative-as-always playing, that Abrahams really comes into his own.
Argus is given its rightful place amongst the set list obviously, with Warrior, Blowin Free and an acoustic Leaf and Stream taking centre stage. As magnificent as these were, however, it is Phoenix- from the band’s eponymous debut album released all the way back in 1970 – that shall forever remain burned in the memory as one of the great live experiences to have ever been performed at this or any other festival. It may be 47 years old but, wow, tonight, it felt as fresh as last Tuesday’s pumpkin pie.
With Bob Skeat’s imperious bass playing and Joe Crabtree’s metronomic drums providing the depth and breadth of this magnificent opus, it is left to Powell and Abrahams to drive it home from the front, which they do to almost universal adoration from the gathered.
This was an electrifying set, performed by four true masters of their craft who’s name in the pantheon of rock greats burns forever brightly up alongside the very best around.
So the fifteenth International Guitar Festival of Great Britain is underway with a bang, a flash and two pretty damn hard acts to follow. Bring on the rest. I can hardly wait!
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