LA Forum 31.1.77 by Steve HillageRelease date: March 17, 2023
Label: Madfish Records
At the beginning of 1977, Steve Hillage was on tour, supporting the Electric Light Orchestra during that time frame. They were on the road promoting their albums; A New World Record (Jet / United Artists Records) and L (Virgin). For Steve, coming from the realms of Arzachel, Khan, and the flying teapot of Gong, he performed at the LA Forum (Kia Forum years later) in Inglewood, California on January 27th and 31st.
As L was produced by Todd Rundgren, It was Steve’s follow-up album to his 1975 solo debut, Fish Rising. With the multi-purpose indoor arena, it gave Steve an opportunity to have audiences on their feet, and a night they’ll never forget. With its mystical, surreal, and heavy arrangements, Hillage brings down the thunder at the venue. His band consisted of Miquette Giraudy on synthesiser and vocals, Jethro Tull alumni Clive Bunker on drums, Colin Bass (Camel) on bass guitar and vocals, Christian Boulé on rhythm guitar and glissando guitar, Phil Hodge on Keyboards, and Basil Brooks on synthesiser, sequencer, and vocals.
Recorded on a front-of-house desk mix on cassette, the Forum is mesmerizing with Hillage’s playing. He, along with the rhythm section, takes audiences on a meditated journey by imagining themselves being free from all the stress they had from work, and from an long day at school, whilst embarking on an ambient voyage that is out of this world.
From the galloping climbs of the ‘Hurdy Gurdy Glissando’ with Miquette creating her own nod to Gilly Smyth’s poetic whisper, it embarks on a powerful jump to light-speed with the rhythm section, walking towards a Herbie Hancock approach to the Headhunter years as if Hillage tells his band mates to make a semi-sequel to ‘Chameleon’ but adding that spaced out voyage.
Then it becomes a race to the finish line with the 10-minute punch on ‘Lunar Musick Suite’. I can tell that Hillage is doing a ‘Turkey in the Straw’ approach on his Les Paul, adding a little humour to his work as he goes up and down the stairs with his fretboard before landing on a different planet, tipping his hat to Camel’s Andy Latimer.
You can hear bits of the ‘Isle of Everywhere’ thrown in, knowing that he hasn’t forgotten his roots with Gong. It’s very laid-back, calm, and smooth in the last two minutes as you can imagine the crowd are flying in the skies, looking down at the landscape with beauty and awe.
Once he brings in the heavier compositions, that’s where the Forum gets cooking. With a mind-blowing take of Donovan’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ and the cross between Rush’s A Farewell to Kings and Yes’ Close to the Edge periods for the engines to ignite with ‘The Salmon Song’, audiences planning to be a part of the journey that Steve takes them to.
As he closes off the set with The Beatles’ ‘It’s All too Much’, the three bonus tracks recorded at London’s Rainbow Theatre on March 26, two months after the LA Forum gig, he brings out the magic for an encore to get the venue clapping along to the groove with ‘Aftaglid’ before laying down the thunder with some incredible drum patterns that Bunker creates. And Steve knows that he’s on the right track.
But once he leads the rhythm section into an Indian tribal midsection with the ‘Electrick Gypsies’, it becomes a calling to the gods as he returns back to the Flying teapot once more, paying nod to the rockabilly approach of the Buddy Holly take, ‘Not Fade Away (Glid Forever)’.
I can imagine that fans who were at those two venues in 1977, are going to be on a trip down memory lane, as they witness Hillage stealing the show each night he opened for E.L.O. And it would’ve made Jeff Lynne get his stamp of approval for Hillage, knowing that he got it down to a T. So, prepare yourselves to embark on a magical trip to the Forum and witness the Hurdy Gurdy Man, bringing the beauty, the vision, the sights, and the sounds that’ll be talked about in the years to come.