| || |
A Short Bio:
Steve Hillage is certainly, of all the musicians who began their career on the 'Canterbury' scene, the most commercially successful. Now well established both as a producer and the leader of his techno/ambient band System 7 (with longtime partner Miquette Giraudy), Hillage has definitely turned his back on his early days as guitarist and singer in such bands as Uriel/Arzachel, Khan and Gong, not to mention his successful solo career and many live tours during the second half of the seventies.
Stephen Simpson Hillage was born in London in 1951, and raised in Epping. Influenced by blues guitar players, he bought his first guitar at age nine, learning the instrument attempting to imitate his favourite players' licks. Sax hero John Coltrane was an early influence, but it was mostly Jimi Hendrix who, from 1966 on, helped him find his way around the six strings (Hillage saw one of his earliest London gigs when aged 15). At the time, Hillage went to the City of London School and discovered common musical aspirations in his neighbour during maths lessons, one Dave Stewart, also an aspiring guitarist. With the help of fellow schoolboy Mont Campbell and the recruitment of East-Ender drummer Clive Brooks thanks to a Melody Maker ad, Uriel was formed.
Uriel's greatest achievement was a residency at the Ryde Castle Hotel on the Isle of Wight (immortalised on Egg's later song, "A Visit To Newport Hospital") but with a repertoire consisting almost exclusively of cover version and few perpectives of commercial success, Hillage thought it wiser to leave at the end of the Summer of 1968 to resume his studies, eventually going to university in Canterbury to study philosophy and history. There he befriended members of local bands such as Spirogyra (with lead singer Barbara Gaskin, later one of Hatfield and the North's Northettes) and Caravan (in particular cousins David and Richard Sinclair), who through their manager Terry King eventually got him a solo deal with Deram. In the meantime, Hillage had played (under a pseudonym) on the legendary Arzachel album with his ex-Uriel colleagues, now known as Egg.
In early 1971, Hillage quit university to go back to London and form his own band, christened Khan, with Dick Heninghem (organ), Nick Greenwood (bass and vocals) and Eric Peachey (drums, replacing original drummer Pip Pyle). The band's repertoire was made up of songs Hillage had written while at university. In late 1971 and early 1972, the Space Shanty album was recorded, but due to an instability in the keyboard department, Hillage asked Dave Stewart to play the keyboard parts on the album. The result was a classic of the progressive rock style, full of complex time signatures and constantly changing themes.
Unfortunately, Khan didn't get the commercial success it deserved. After the break-up of Egg, Stewart joined as permanent member while a new bass player, Nigel Griggs, was recruited. But things kept getting worse. "I felt very pressured, didn't enjoy it very much", he now remembers. "I was only twenty at the time, I wanted to play with other people". So when the opportunity came to join Kevin Ayers' band (Decadence) for a European tour in late 1972, he dissolved the band. During the Ayers tour in France, Gong saxophone player Didier Malherbe jammed with the band, and as a result Hillage was immediately asked to join Gong as their lead guitarist, which he did.
Hillage was undeniably instrumental in the classic incarnation of Gong's success. His impressive and innovative skills as guitarist made him one of that era's most notable guitar heroes. He contributed to the writing and played on the albums Flying Teapot, Angels Egg and You, and went on countless tours around Europe. He finally left in December 1975 to go solo, having contributed briefly to Shamal which was released two months after his departure. Whilst in Gong, Hillage had recorded a solo album, Fish Rising, with assistance from group colleagues and others (including Dave Stewart and Henry Cow bassoonist Lindsay Cooper), and had performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Scottish National Orchestra in concerts featuring Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge. Brilliantly arranged and performed, Fish Rising was an excellent debut, including material that dated back to the last days of Khan.
In early 1976, Hillage briefly joined National Health for rehearsals and a couple of live and radio appearances. In May he flew to America to record his second solo album, L, produced by Todd Rundgren and accompanied by Rundgren's band Utopia. The album became a major chart success in England and Hillage toured the UK with his newly formed group featuring Clive Bunker (drums, ex-Jethro Tull), Colin Bass (bass), Christian Boulé (guitar), Phil Hodge (keyboards), Basil Brooks (synthesizer) and Miquette Giraudy (synthesizer, vocals). Early in 1977, he toured with Electric Light Orchestra on a six-week blitz of America, earned impressive reviews and saw L enjoy a run on the US charts.
After a brief hiatus in England, Hillage returned to Los Angeles to record his third solo album, Motivation Radio, under the supervision of Malcolm Cecil, of synthesizer pioneer group Tonto's Expanding Headband, and co-producer of Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers. Then in the latter of part of 1977 and early 1978, he continued touring with a new band of American session players - Joe Blocker (drums) and Curtis Robertson Jr (bass), plus Miquette Giraudy. The same group performed on the album Green which Hillage produced with Pink Floyd's Nick Mason (whom he'd worked with on Gong's Shamal) for UK release in April 1978. The remainder of the year was spent touring (including a spring tour with National Health supporting) and assembling live recordings of the various Hillage bands for release on a double album, Live Herald, together with new studio material.
Live Herald featured one side of new studio material which developed a funkier feel, an avenue that was explored further on Open in 1979. Rainbow Dome Musick was an instrumental experiment in ambient atmospherics. In the 80s, Hillage moved into production work, including albums by Robyn Hitchcock and Simple Minds. In 1991 Hillage returned to recording and live performance as the leader of System 7, a loose aggregation of luminaries including disc jockey Paul Oakenfield, Alex Paterson of the Orb and Mick MacNeil of Simple Minds. As the line-up would suggest, System 7 produce ambient dance music, combining house beats with progressive guitar riffs and healthy bursts of soul and disco.
Following the reunion concert by the classic Trilogy line-up at the Gong Unconvention in Amsterdam in 2006, Hillage has renewed his collaboration with Daevid Allen, which is to result in a new studio album, 2032, to be released in September 2009. The Uncon also saw Hillage performing a set of his own material as the Steve Hillage Band (since released on DVD), and more performances are expected in tandem with Gong's.
There is a chronology of Steve Hillage's solo career on this website.