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Hillman - The World Over
Review No: 289
Steve Hillman: Keyboards and Percussion
Iain Ballamy: Soprano and Tenor Saxophone
Gareth Davies: Flute and Alto Sax
Rain: Acoustic and electric bass, and guitars
Phil Morgan: Violin and Viola
Darrell Davison: Cello
For many years it has confused lovers of good music why Steve Hillman is not at the top of his own musical tree. Steve first came to the public’s notice in 1983 with the release of his first collection of works, ‘From Distant Shores’, which was put out on his own record label in cassette form. Steve Hillman remained an underground, unheralded musician years ahead of his time. He threw himself whole heartedly into the burgeoning electronic scene flourishing in Birmingham, England, where he found many kindred spirits in the musicians of the area, championed by Lotus Records. Steve Hillman made many tape collections for Lotus Records that were cherished by the few, but unfortunately the mainstream record buying public was unaware of his undoubted talents.
During the 1980s, Steve Hillman played live at many major rock events, always gaining favorable reviews. Every artist has their influences, and Steve’s were many, from jazz to some of rock’s more avant-garde bands such as Hawkwind, Can, Pink Floyd, and Mike Oldfield, as well as being fascinated by the works of soundtracks to movies such as the work of John Williams and John Barry. Surprising for a boy born in 1956, when Birmingham was the birthplace of such bands as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. But during the eighties Steve Hillman was able to hone his skills as not only a superb guitarist and keyboard player, but also as a very original and exciting songwriter.
In 1994 Steve Hillman’s domination of the world’s music scene was given an enormous leg up when he was signed to the progtastic record label Cyclops, run by Mr. Progressive Rock Malcolm Parker. There followed four stunning albums. The first two are ‘Matrix’ (1994) and ‘Riding The Storm’ (1996), which were basically re-recordings of all the best bits from his tape releases put out on CD. The next album was a step into the world of Progressive Rock: ‘Convergence’ (1999), where Steve Hillman put the keyboards more to the background and brought out his electric guitar. This turned Convergence into a pretty heavy affair, well appreciated by fans of the genre.
In 2002 Steve stepped back into a more electronic, synthesizer and sequencer mode to give us an album of beautiful soundscapes, although the guitar was not entirely forgotten, occasionally rearing its six stringed head to put a bit of backbone into some songs. All of Steve Hillman’s solo albums in the past have been all instrumental, and Steve has played all the instruments himself, except for some haunting flute work by his wife Linda, who also did all the imposing artwork for the albums. One reviewer said that Steve Hillman was to England what ‘Tangerine Dream’ was to Germany.
Whilst Steve Hillman was setting about recording a new
solo album he was approached by the genial Bruce Wood of Dreamfast Cinema
to make a soundtrack album with the view to being for an imaginary Secret
Agent movie. As Steve Hillman had always enjoyed the soundtracks of John
Barry, who did all the James Bond soundtracks, this was too good an opportunity
to miss. So the solo album was put on hold, and work began on the soundtrack
album without a film.
Although as usual Steve Hillman has composed and arranged all the tracks, this time he has called in some of Britain’s top musicians to play along with him. Steve Hillman limited himself to only keyboards and the occasional bit of percussion. Brought into the studio is literally the crème de la crème, Iain Ballamy on soprano and tenor sax (who many of you may be familiar with, as he used to play in the excellent ‘Bill Bruford’s Earthworks’); Rain, who plays all of the guitar parts, which must have been pretty daunting to play under the guidance of such a good guitarist as Steve Hillman himself; and Phil Morgan on the violin and viola, which he does with great aplomb, making the spooky or sexy passages of the music quite exhilarating. Darrell Davison plays the cello, whilst Gareth Davies has the unenviable job of replacing Steve’s wife Linda on all the flute parts; very well he does too, not surprising really as his day job is that of principal flautist of the London Symphony Orchestra. In fact you can safely say that all the musicians are at the top of their talents. However, the keyboard playing of Steve Hillman is the thing that stands out amongst the music, surprisingly jazzy at times, particularly in the wonderful but too short ‘Thirties Thing’.
The most exciting thing about the whole album is that you can actually imagine the film unfolding as you listen to the music. For the sake of this review I have created my own special agent Phil Simonbrook 008, who in the plot for our movie has to go in and save the heroine Lovely Deborah (no doubt a close relative to Pussy Galore), after the last 007 Daniel Craig makes a hash of things in Casino Royale. Simonbrook has to go in and save the girl and the world. The opening title sequence is aptly named ‘Fired Up’, as the mood is set up by some strident music that fairs favorably with any other Bond movie opening, leaving you in no doubt that there is plenty adventure to come. ‘Linda’s Theme’ covers the usual Bond requirements where Simonbrook is briefed by ‘M’ and then has some fun on a visit to ‘Q’.
‘Long Hot Night’ is a fully fledged action sequence which find’s Simonbrook abseiling down the side of the castle where he thinks the Lovely Debbie is held captive, only to come flying through the window to find that Lovely Debbie is gone, as she has already overpowered her captives and fled.
This is followed by the title track where Simonbrook and Lovely are reunited, and prepare to save the world from the wicked ‘Root Of All Evil’. But of course before there is time to save the world Simonbrook and Lovely have to do what hero and heroine have to do. By the sounds of some of these tracks this will be one of the steamiest secret agent stories ever told, building to several climaxes.
By the time you get to track ten, ‘Slow Down’, things are brought back under control and it is time for the film’s shattering finale. The song titles say it all: ‘What The Hell’, Regrets’, and ‘The Chase Is On’. By this time it seems pretty likely Simonbrook and Lovely have vanquished the Root Of All Evil, and the World is once again safe. Which just leaves the closing ‘Journey’s End’ to allow Phil Simonbrook and Lovely Debbie to float away into the sunset.
The music is so inspiring that I am sure whoever listens to this album will be able to make up their own storyline to it, but I assure you it will be an excellent story. Perhaps now they should make a new film and build it around the soundtrack.
A great idea by Dreamfast Cinema, excellently executed by Steve Hillman. There is more new music in the pipeline from Steve Hillman, as yet again another solo album has had to be put on the shelf as he has been enrolled in a new Progressive Rock Supergroup ‘RA’, who already have an album in the can called ‘Wake’ that will hopefully be released sometime this year. ‘RA’ features David Groves on guitar, Robert Andrews on bass, Dai Rees on drums and Steve Hillman on keyboards, so watch out for that.
But in the meantime ‘The World Over’ will
be released on August 15th 2006 and will be available through the usual
outlets including www.amazon.com. ‘The World Over’ will definitely
be Mott the Dog’s album of the year.