Steve Hillage - Searching For The Spark album review
Steve Hillage’s full Omty, from Fish Rising to System 7 with bells, whistles, books – and a badge too
It seems ‘you’re talking bollocks’ bizarre now, but at the beginning of 1975 when the Rolling Stones were casting their net to find a guitarist to replace Mick Taylor, one of Britain’s big three music weeklies profiled the handful of contenders who might conceivably land the job. And among them was Steve Hillage. A joke? Unlikely; you didn’t get that kind of humour in music papers back then. But you had to laugh at the idea of the bobble-hatted, hippier-than-most Hillage, of Flying Teapot/Radio Gnome fame, on stage as Keith Richards’ sidekick, his Strat now slung several strap notches lower, chugga-lugging the likes of Street Fighting Man, Brown Sugar and Gimme Shelter. Stranger things have happened in rock’n’roll, of course. But not many.
On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t so daft a notion. By 1975 Steve Hillage had made quite a name for himself – albeit mostly on the ‘underground’ scene – as a talented guitarist of repute via his band Khan’s still-wonderful-after-all-these-years Space Shanty album, his solo debut Fish Rising and nods of appreciation and approval (and invitations to play guitar for them) from, among others, Kevin Ayers and Mike Oldfield.
Thankfully Mick and Keith didn’t come a-knocking. Instead he continued to paddle his own canoe, and that early promise was not misplaced. Over the next 40 years he delivered guitar heroics that put many so-called guitar heroes to shame, beautifully crafted songs draped with gorgeous melodies and peppered with shit-kicking riffs such as on The Salmon Song and the aptly named The Glorious Om Riff, on a raft of gem-studded solo albums. Right from the beginning he hit a purple patch that went from Fish Rising in 1975 to the particularly melodic and entrancing Green in ’78. And sandwiched in between was the magnificent L. Great covers of George Harrison’s It’s All Too Much and Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man notwithstanding, L was a perhaps a surprise UK Top 10 hit at a time when the No.1 spot was changing hands between Rock Follies, ABBA’s Greatest Hits and The Best Of The Stylistics. In fact more hits would very likely have followed had Hillage decided to put commercial concerns above musical integrity, and enter the mainstream rather than continue to oxygenate underground watercourses. Thankfully he didn’t.