Steve Hackett – Premonitions Box Set

Review by Tim D

Universal have just released the 14-disc Super Deluxe box set Steve Hackett ‘Premonitions – The Charisma Years 1975/1983’. Here’s my initial thoughts and observations.

Covering Steve’s first six solo albums, ‘Premonitions’ represents what many people consider to be his most creative period. Spread across ten cds and four dvd-a discs, and housed in a truly deluxe package, ‘Premonitions’ appears to be a definitive representation of this era.

Firstly, the package itself is a well thought out design. Three inserts fit into a sturdy outer case. One a hard-backed book, another contains discs 1-6 and the last houses discs 7-14. The 70-page book is a high quality journey through the Charisma albums with stories about the recording of each one. There’s plenty of previously unpublished images from the time, including many by Armando Gallo – who photographed Genesis extensively in the 70s. The cover sleeve image is a nice new painting by Roger Dean, who has also designed a new logo for Steve. Strangely, no lyrics are included in the book – or anywhere else in the box.

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So what about the music? The box set is a mix of studio cds, live cds, new 5.1 mixes, new pseudo surround upmixes and new stereo mixes.

The six albums kick off with  1975’s Tarot card influenced ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’, recorded when Steve was still a member of Genesis. The band had just finished ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ Tour and were coming to terms with Peter Gabriel’s  departure. Featuring  Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, and brother John Hackett amongst others, ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ was close in sound and texture to Genesis. Incidentally, ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ was originally going to be titled ‘Premonitions’.

1978’s eclectic ‘Please Don’t Touch’ was recorded after Steve had quit the band. The influences and musicians on this album were more diverse, Richie Havens’ appearance proving a highlight.

For a lot of fans 1979’s sublime ‘Spectral Mornings’ is among Steve’s best. ‘Every Day’, ‘Clocks’ and ‘Spectral Mornings’ standing out in particular.  Steve’s band line up was becoming more stable and 1980’s Cold War influenced ‘Defector’ quickly followed suit.

1981’s lighter sounding ‘Cured’ saw Steve taking full vocal responsibilities for the first time and 1983’s ‘Highly Strung’ book ends the Charisma years. Musically there are so many gems on these albums we all know and love so well.

The Charisma albums are the only ones in Steve’s sizeable back catalogue that he does not own the full rights to, and I wonder if this might explain the strange – and frankly baffling decision – to cram the existing stereo six cd versions onto the first four cds.  Some of the extra tracks on the currently available back catalogue cds have been omitted – these could have made an ‘Extras’ cd. There is one brand ‘new’ offering – ‘Seven Of Cups’ – which is an out take from the ‘Please Don’t Touch’ sessions, but hints at the forthcoming ‘The Virgin And The Gypsy’ which would appear on ‘Spectral Mornings’ a year later.

Steven Wilson has worked his customary magic with new stereo mixes and 5.1 mixes of ‘Please Don’t Touch’ and ‘Spectral Mornings’ but the multi-track masters for ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ and ‘Defector’ are apparently missing, presumed lost. As a result, Ben Fenner (audio engineer of the existing latest cd versions) has created ‘upmixed’ pseudo-surround mixes for these two. There are no surround versions of ‘Cured’ or ‘Highly Strung’.

The Wilson mixes sound vibrant and fresh, the warmth and depth of the bass pedals a highlight for me throughout.The upmixes are good enough, but it seems inexcusable that the multi-track masters have been misplaced by the record company.

The four live cds are welcome additions to the set and accurately document the live shows from the Charisma years. The chosen recordings will be familiar to most fans, but it’s always nice to get officially remastered versions of the best live shows of the time.

So all in all, the quality of the music is beyond reproach with Steve at his creative peak, especially on the first four albums – however the compilation of the material chosen for this box set is slightly confusing. In an ideal world we would have six new stereo and six new 5.1 mixes, a cd of extra tracks and a few live cds. Overall though this is a really beautiful box set and good value for money.

Track List – Disc 1 [CD]:
01.    Ace Of Wands
02.    Hands Of The Priestess – Part One
03.    A Tower Struck Down
04.    Hands Of The Priestess – Part Two
05.    The Hermit
06.    Star Of Sirius
07.    The Lovers
08.    Shadow Of The Heirophant [extended version]
09.    Narnia
10.    Carry On Up The Vicarage
11.    Racing In A
12.    Kim
13.    How Can I?
14.    Seven Of Cups * Previously Unreleased Track *

Track List – Disc 2 [CD]:
01.    Hoping Love Will Last
02.    Land Of A Thousand Autumns
03.    Please Don’t Touch
04.    Voice Of Necam
05.    Icarus Ascending
06.    Every Day
07.    The Virgin And The Gypsy
08.    The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
09.    Clocks – The Angel Of Mons
10.    The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man
11.    Lost Time In Cordoba
12.    Tigermoth
13.    Spectral Mornings
14.    The Steppes
15.    Time To Get Out
16.    Slogans
17.    Leaving
18.    Two Vamps As Guests

Track List – Disc 3 [CD]:
01.    Jacuzzi
02.    Hammer In The Sand
03.    The Toast
04.    The Show
05.    Sentimental Institution
06.    Hercules Unchained
07.    Hope I Don’t Wake
08.    Picture Postcard
09.    Can’t Let Go
10.    Air Conditioned Nightmare
11.    Funny Feeling
12.    Cradle Of Swans
13.    Overnight Sleeper
14.    Turn Back Time
15.    Tales Of The Riverbank
16.    Second Chance

Track List – Disc 4 [CD]:
01.    Camino Royale
02.    Cell 151
03.    Always Somewhere Else
04.    Walk Through Walls
05.    Give It Away
06.    Weightless
07.    Group Therapy
08.    India Rubber Man
09.    Hackett To Pieces
10.    Guitar Boogie
11.    Time Lapse At Milton Keynes
12.    Walking Through Walls [12″ single version]
13.    Cell 151
14.    Walking Through Walls
15.    Hackett To Pieces
16.    Please Don’t Touch

Track List – Disc 5  Live Oxford 1979 [CD]:
01.    Please Don’t Touch
02.    Tigermoth
03.    Every Day
04.    Narnia
05.    Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
06.    Ace Of Wands
07.    Carry On Up The Vicarage
08.    Acoustic Medley: Etude In A Minor / Blood On The Rooftops / Horizons / Kim

Track List – Disc 6 Live Oxford 1979 [CD]:
01.    Optigan / Tower Struck Down
02.    Spectral Mornings
03.    Star Of Sirius
04.    Shadow Of The Heirophant
05.    Clocks
06.    I Know What I Like {In Your Wardrobe}
07.    Racing In A

Track List – Disc 7  Live Drury Lane London 1979 [CD]:
01.    Please Don’t Touch
02.    Tigermoth
03.    Every Day
04.    Ace Of Wands
05.    Sentimental Institution
06.    Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
07.    Spectral Mornings
08.    Clocks
09.    Acoustic Medley: Etude In A Minor / Blood On The Rooftops / Horizons / Kim

Track List – Disc 8 Live Reading Festival 1981 [CD]:
01.    Air Conditioned Nightmare
02.    Every Day
03.    Ace Of Wands
04.    Funny Feeling
05.    The Steppes
06.    Overnight Sleeper
07.    Slogans
08.    A Tower Struck Down
09.    Spectral Mornings
10.    The Show
11.    Clocks

Track List – Disc 9 [CD – ‘Please Don’t Touch’ – New Stereo mix by Steven Wilson]:
01.    Narnia
02.    Carry On Up The Vicarage
03.    Racing In A
04.    Kim
05.    How Can I?
06.    Hoping Love Will Last
07.    Land Of A Thousand Autumns
08.    Please Don’t Touch
09.    Voice Of Necam
10.    Icarus Ascending

Track List – Disc 10 [CD – ‘Spectral Mornings’ – New Stereo mix by Steven Wilson]:
01.    Every Day
02.    The Virgin And The Gypsy
03.    The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
04.    Clocks – The Angel Of Mons
05.    The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man
06.    Lost Time In Cordoba
07.    Tigermoth
08.    Spectral Mornings

Track List – Disc 11 [DVD – ‘Please Don’t Touch’ – New 5.1 Surround Sound mix by Steven Wilson]:
01.    Narnia
02.    Carry On Up The Vicarage
03.    Racing In A
04.    Kim
05.    How Can I?
06.    Hoping Love Will Last
07.    Land Of A Thousand Autumns
08.    Please Don’t Touch
09.    Voice Of Necam
10.    Icarus Ascending
11.    How Can I? [1977 Charisma Promotional Film] * Bonus Video Track *

Track List – Disc 12 [DVD – ‘Spectral Mornings’ – New 5.1 Surround Sound mix by Steven Wilson]:
01.    Every Day
02.    The Virgin And The Gypsy
03.    The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
04.    Clocks – The Angel Of Mons
05.    The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man
06.    Lost Time In Cordoba
07.    Tigermoth
08.    Spectral Mornings
09.    Clocks [1979 Charisma Promotional Film] * Bonus Video Track *

Track List – Disc 13 [DVD – ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ – New pseudo 5.1 upmix by Ben Fenner]:
01.    Ace Of Wands
02.    Hands Of The Priestess – Part One
03.    A Tower Struck Down
04.    Hands Of The Priestess – Part Two
05.    The Hermit
06.    Star Of Sirius
07.    The Lovers
08.    Shadow Of The Heirophant [extended version]

Track List – Disc 14 [DVD – ‘Defector’ – New pseudo 5.1 upmix by Ben Fenner]:
01.    The Steppes
02.    Time To Get Out
03.    Slogans
04.    Leaving
05.    Two Vamps As Guests
06.    Jacuzzi
07.    Hammer In The Sand
08.    The Toast
09.    The Show
10.    Sentimental Institution

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