Steve Hillage is one of
those very very few artists to be awarded both the Friars Aylesbury Cup
(1977) and a Friars Heroes Award (2012) for his positive effects on
Friars Aylesbury and mesmerising performances. We caught up with Steve
in London in March 2012 to discuss Gong, his solo work and life before
and after in the music business. Today Steve plays (still with Miquette
Giraudy who played on all Steve's solo work and tours) as System 7 and
is still producing and working with a variety of acts.
Friars 1976 (photo Geoff Tyrell)
Hello Steve and thank you for talking to the Friars website. Thank you
for accepting the Friars Heroes Award, very well deserved.
It's wonderful and beautiful.
As we'll see,
you're linked in with a lot of Friars history. Although you achieved
legend status in Aylesbury as a solo artist, your first appearance was
with Gong at Friars Phase 2 in 1973. That must have been an interesting
time, especially with you becoming de facto leader following Daevid
Allen's departure from the band?
I never liked the idea of being de
facto leader. I always thought of Gong as more of a collective.
Obviously Daevid had an pre-eminent role as the band's founder. After he
left, we tried to make a go of it but it never felt quite right without
Daevid and we left ourselves after six months.
Did you feel it was
a creativity issue?
It never really felt like Gong. There were
all these music press articles about me being the new 'leader' of Gong
and it made me feel rather awkward.
You'd done your
first solo album, Fish Rising, by the time Gong finished?
Fish Rising was coming out and the
were proclaiming me as the new leader of Gong and it looked as if I had done a coup d'etat. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The actual
ructions which had led to Daevid and Tim Blake leaving the band, I
wasn't even around, I was in the studio finishing Fish Rising and it all
went pear shaped in my absence. I was trying to hold it all together. It
was a long time ago but Gong was, of course, a pretty chaotic project. It was always a
turbulent and chaotic project and it still is. That's one of its charms
In terms of your
solo career, it really did get your name out there and Fish Rising is a
fantastic album. Presumably you were happier being under your own name
rather than that of a band?
Well I started off with a band name
before I joined Gong, my first record was under the moniker of Khan. By
the time I left Gong and returned to my solo career which is effectively
what I did, I think I had enough name recognition for people to identify
That's fair enough,
I recently saw the Tubular Bells live performance by Mike Oldfield from
1973 which you played on. Presumably Oldfield asked you personally to
He selected a large posse of people
including Pierre Moerlen who was also in Gong. I had contacts with Mike
as I had effectively replaced him in Kevin Ayers' group.
That was Decadence?
Yes. After I stopped Khan, I worked
with Kevin Ayers whose guitarist went off to make a solo record.....that
was Mike Oldfield and Tubular Bells. When I started full time with Gong
doing the Flying Teapot album at Manor Studios, Mike Oldfield was there
finishing off Tubular Bells in our studio down time so we were aware of
it as a project and ongoing thing and I'd already met him a few times.
So playing guitar for him felt quite natural when he did it live.
We caught you at
such the right time in 1976 when you brought out the L album and made
such a huge impression on the place. How did you get to be working with
Todd Rundgren producing? Obviously this led to Utopia playing on the
album. (for my money your version of It's All Too Much is the greatest
Beatles cover I have heard)
I heard through the grapevine after I'd
left Gong when I wasn't sure what my next move might be, that he'd heard of
me and was interested in producing a record. I thought "wow!" The deal
was I would go to his studio in New York and use his musicians. I thought
'fantastic, let's do it!'
I don't blame you
Well I was a bit of a fan of Todd Rundgren, I had been aware of him since 1972 and the Something/Anything?
album. I saw him and Utopia play in 1975 on their UK tour, so I thought
it was a great idea! I didn't necessarily see it as a long term relationship.
It was a great
idea, with Rundgren and Utopia on board this can only have helped raise
your profile. Whilst we caught you at the right time so to speak, you
played Friars on the 1977 Motivation Radio tour, you were huge and sold out
instantly with tickets changing hands for £20 outside the venue which in
context, the tickets were £1.99!
I remember the Green gig more as it
had been a blur up to then with making the L album with Todd Rundgren,
to going to America, to forming the band, doing the tour, supporting
Queen at Hyde Park. It was very intense. That 1977 tour, I used a guitar
synthesiser which was complicated to set up.
Having seen footage
from the time, I think you are the only guitarist I have seen with not
only foot pedals but equipment and pedals at waist height....
I had a whole table of kit.
At that 1977 gig,
you became part of a very select group of people when David Stopps
presented you with the Friars Aylesbury Cup..
Yes the FA Cup...I gave it to my late
mother and it's still with her belongings. She was very proud to have
As I mentioned, you
made a huge impression on the Aylesbury audience and came back in 1978
on the Green album. You then brought out Rainbow Dome Musick
in 1979 which has directly or indirectly led you to where you are today,
but I'll come back to that in a minute.
You then became a
record producer in the 1980s with various bands, how did that come
around, you worked with a wide range of interesting artists.
I'd always wanted to do it and in the
70s I was working as an artist with some fantastic producers which was a
great experience and it gave you a training in the reverse role. I'd
watched great producers on my stuff so I knew what it was like to be an
artist being produced. It gave me an empathy when I produced the artist.
You worked with
That was my first major project. I
went to see their Roundhouse show a couple of weeks back where they did
stuff from their early albums including stuff I worked on, it was great.
As an aside one of my favourite
Simple Minds songs is still Love Song which was your production.
Yes and they are gravitating towards
their earlier sound at the moment. They are really proud of their early
You also worked
with the likes of It Bites.
That was later on, I did their second
album, Once Around The World. Francis Dunnery was really good when he
was in the band.
Having seen them
live, I know they were a fantastic band. Thought it strange they
reformed and "forgot" to ask Francis Dunnery along....
(laughs) Bands, bands, bands!
you well know!
So where you are
now in the underground/techno scene as System 7 with Miquette, I can
connect the dots with the music through your career, but it was hearing
The Orb doing Rainbow Dome Musick that influenced you more in this
Well, we always had an interest in
electronics in the 1970s, with what Tim Blake was doing and the stuff we
did later in The Steve Hillage Band...and listening to the likes of Kraftwerk,
Neu and other German groups like Can. That was also a connection with
Simple Minds who were also very interested in that German sound. They were
intrigued by the dark sounds. As the 1980s developed there was a whole
new dance scene springing
up around us and we realised we'd found a new musical home. I still play
guitar, do some production and also work with Arab musicians. We also toured
again with Gong and made the new 2032 album.
Yes, you did the
Gong 40th anniversary shows not so long back didn't you?
We didn't call it a 40th anniversary
tour but we did tour in 2009 and a smaller tour in 2010. We did some
shows under The Steve Hillage Band name as well.
effectively supporting yourselves at those shows!
It wasn't a standalone band, it was
Miquette and myself and the drummer and bass player of Gong and did some
Steve Hilage Band tracks. It was
useful supporting Gong as we had the same technical set up.
What about the
future aside from System 7?
We might get a standalone Steve Hillage Band out
after 2013. There's one other project we are also doing which is interesting
called Phoenix Rising which is a collaboration between System 7 and a Japanese
rock band called Rovo. That's interesting as they do live versions of System
7 tunes and we do versions of their tunes back to back. It's quite
original and we toured Japan with them last autumn which was a massive
success. We're looking at
doing a Phoenix Rising album and hopefully we'll tour the UK in 2013.
We're off to Japan next week to do a festival show as System 7. We'll be
working on a new System 7 album before too long as well
That's going to be
interesting to say the least! You're very busy! You've had a long and
distinguished career and you are still enjoying it which is great to
If we didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be
talking to you now. You have to that hunger and pleasure.
Steve, it's been a
pleasure to talk to you and thanks also to Miquette for the chat we had
last week. It's been great to capture some of your history for the
This interview and its
content are © 2012 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.