3D Great Rock Bible
Steve Hillage iTunes Tracks

Steve Hillage

From one of space/prog-rock’s most innovative guitar heroes (of KHAN, GONG and several solo sets), to his to his latter-day, post-ORB techno/trance act SYSTEM 7, gifted all-rounder STEVE HILLAGE has been at the core of the musical rainbow since emerging in the late 60s. While one can’t help think that the musician peaked with his post-GONG solo debut, `Fish Rising’ (way back in the meditative mid-70s), halcyon hippie HILLAGE has since been on the fringes of the rock elite, and as a renowned producer.
Born Stephen Simpson Hillage, 2 August 1951, Chingford in London, his initial port of call (while still at school) was with the short-lived Uriel; for six months from early 1968; an album was released a few years later under pseudonymous monikers (and billing ARZACHEL) to avoid contractual problems with concurrent combos: Steve had formed KHAN on leaving university, while the remaining musicians – including Dave Stewart – formed EGG.
Comprising composer/guitarist Hillage (also vocals), the aforementioned keyboardist Stewart (a replacement for Dick Henningham), bassist Nick Greenwood (ex-Crazy World of ARTHUR BROWN) and drummer Eric Peachey, KHAN delivered only one set, `Space Shanty’ (1972). Buried deep within the Canterbury scene due to Hillage and Stewart’s musical heritage/family tree (the latter would duly form HATFIELD + THE NORTH; Steve would briefly join the KEVIN AYERS band on tour), the record’s quasi-cosmic connotations were pitted between meditative and mystical.
Although Steve’s star might’ve chose a number of planets to rest his weary head upon, his inspired choice was to merge his unique talents with French-based uber-hippies GONG; he was still only 21 when he hooked up with the communal space cadets, helping to focus their freaky meanderings over the course of three volumes: `Flying Teapot’ (1973), `Angels Egg’ (1973) and `You’ (1974) – from “The Radio Gnome Invisible” album series.
When GONG splintered and imploded into other directions (mainly jazz-rock), STEVE HILLAGE took the solo route, augmented by his girlfriend/co-writer Miquette Giraudy, while enlisting assorted GONG alumni (mainly drummer Pierre Moerlen, bassist Mike Howlett and saxophonist Didier Malherbe) for his Top 40, Virgin Records debut, FISH RISING (1975) {*8}. A long-time fan of the Fab Four (the mystical GEORGE HARRISON in particular), the oceanic opening opus `Solar Musick Suite’ (nigh-on 17 minutes and in I-IV parts) pitted the one-time pot-headed pixie in a gliss-bliss. Side two, meanwhile, hosted the subliminal `The Salmon Song’, a tapestry of tripped-out new age surf-rock alongside another fret-friendly expedition to cosmic Canterbury, by way of the mind-bending `Aftaglid’.
The New York-cut/TODD RUNDGREN-produced follow-up, L (1976) {*7}, was a consummate development of HILLAGE’s quasi-psychedelic guitar ambience and “new age” musings; its ad hoc/improv feel sonically tested on the 6-minute crystalline cover of DONOVAN’S `Hurdy Gurdy Man’, which extended to a further 9 complementary of the explorative `Hurdy Gurdy Glissando’. Todd and his UTOPIA act had formerly taken acolytes to another world with ‘75’s `Initiation’, so now with guest jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, the pyramid-pushing `Electrick Gypsies’, the sprightly `Lunar Musick Suite’ (at 12 minutes), trad mantra `Om Nama Shivaya’, and the concluding GEORGE HARRISON’s `It’s All Too Much’, HILLAGE had stepped beyond the pale.
From the Top 10 to only Top 30, 1977’s Californian sunshine-laden MOTIVATION RADIO {*8} saw the “glissando” guitarist work with synth innovator Malcolm Cecil (ex-TONTO’S EXPANDING HEAD BAND). While punk-rock was signalling to the youth of the day there was “no future”, or at least a rather unpleasant one, HILLAGE was bravely pushing on with the hippy tenets of love, peace and transmigration a la `Light In The Sky’, `Radio’, `Searching For The Spark’, and a “Glid Forever” sub-take of BUDDY HOLLY’s `Not Fade Away’ – all not a million light years from “the dark side of the GONG”.
Coincidentally produced and engineered by PINK FLOYD’s Nick Mason (who’d previously knocked out a DAMNED set!), the fishy and symbolic GREEN (1978) {*6} was pyramidal Steve’s low point so far in his career. A quirky attempt to latch on to something accessible and commercial (the gloopy `U.F.O. Over Paris’ and `Unidentified (Flying Being)’ a funk too much!), his final Top 30 record was saved by the GONG-coined `The Glorious Om Riff’ – the reason for the absence of Steve’s re-take of The BEATLES’ `Getting Better’ was not crystal clear.
In 1979, HILLAGE delivered no less than three minor-placed chart sets to a bewildered public. First on the agenda, the double LIVE HERALD {*7} examined his best concert work so far (adding a “studio Herald” side!), while the interplanetary-crafted, pre-ORB-like RAINBOW DOME MUSICK {*8} – a dreamy spectrum of sequential ambience in two elongated pieces (`Garden Of Paradise’ and `Four Ever Rainbow’) – had psychedelic fans in rapture. Meanwhile, unveiled that September, OPEN {*5} collated OLDFIELD/CAMEL-type collisions (plus the awol `Getting Better’ and flop 45 `Don’t Dither Do It’), struck a lost chord for rising fish fans; incidentally, the studio Herald was suffixed onto the subsequent CD re-issue of this album, HILLAGE’s punk-y `1988 Aktivator’ intact.
This clutch of trippy, ambient rock albums was his last for some time; a man happy to have a given a helping hand to the revival of the Glastonbury Fayre, now just plain old Glastonbury. Throughout the early 80s and beyond, HILLAGE was an in-house producer for Branson’s new wave-biased Virgin Records, working with the likes of SIMPLE MINDS and ROBYN HITCHCOCK, having previously worked with The SKIDS and others.
1983’s sort-of comeback set, FOR TO NEXT {*5} – complete with freebie 12-inch “And Not Or” – was guru HILLAGE back in the Top 50, although in its executive electro-pop, post-NUMAN nuances, such attendant single `Kamikaze Eyes’ and the dour `Frame By Frame’ were better left to the cutting floor, not the new wave dance-floor.
HILLAGE subsequently teamed up with Alex Paterson of The ORB when the dance scene was in its optimistic infancy in ‘89. This meeting led to the formation of SYSTEM 7, a laid back collective with Steve and wife Miquette as its prime movers. The pair enlisted the aid of respected players like the aforementioned Paterson and PAUL OAKENFOLD along the way. SYSTEM 7’s self-titled debut was a tentative step toward their new ambient-techno sound, more fully realised on the relatively successful `777’ set of 1993. The act were perfect for the neo-psychedelic clubs which were emerging, becoming a live favourite at Club Dog and Whirly-Gig events.
Like JAM & SPOON’s `Tripomatic Fairytales’, SYSTEM 7’s next album, `Point 3’, was released in two halves: `The Fire Album’, which was a rhythmic trance opus and `The Water Album’, an ambient version of the same tracks. Things had come full circle, and HILLAGE was back in his element producing soundtracks for people to lose themselves within, chemically or otherwise. A new generation of pseudo-hippies were spiritually re-born.
On the soundtrack front itself, HILLAGE released the French-only B.O.F. L’ENFANT LION (1993) {*5}, but basically this was down to the artist Salif Keita.
Indirectly, 1996’s `Power Of Seven’ saw SYSTEM 7 work with DERRICK MAY on a harder set of Detroit-influenced techno, while `Golden Section’ followed in ‘97. As his synth reconstruction combo centred on a raft of further works, Steve was back in collaborative form with Evan Marc on the limited-CD of DREAMTIME SUBMERSIBLE (2008) {*5}.
In November 2006, at the Melkweg, Amsterdam, The STEVE HILLAGE BAND (with Mike Howlett – bass, Chris Taylor – drums, Miquette – synths, vocals, and Basil Brooks – synths)
reconvened to celebrate the work of GONG that also highlighted the best of his solo material, released in 2012 as LIVE AT THE GONG FAMILY UNCONVENTION {*6}; a bonus disc added tracks dating back to a gig at Sonesta Koepelkerk, Amsterdam, on 14th December 1979, plus a performance of `Solar Musick Suite’ with GONG at Hammersmith Palais, London, on 6th October 1974. In the meantime, SYSTEM 7 (and a brief off-shoot Mirror System) continued onwards with several post-millennium sets from `Seventh Wave’ (2001) to `X-Port’ (2015).
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2015

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