Steve Hillage

Stephen Simpson Hillage was born in Walthamstow, Greater London, in 1951.

"I was born in Walthamstow, which is the next borough further in to Central London. My parents moved to Chingford when I was 2 years old. My parents were college educated and saw themselves as intellectuals – my father was an economist and my mother worked in the social services. I would say I had a fairly comfortable middle class upbringing."
"My mother was musical, and I connect this to her Celtic roots. Her father was Scottish and her mother was Irish, and she grew up in Wales. I learned piano from age 4 but then got a strong desire to learn guitar. I pestered my parents to get me a guitar and I got my first guitar at the age of 9. After starting to get the hang of it I practiced every day and started to get get quite good when I was 13-14. It was then that I got my first electric guitar – after that there was no holding me back."
"In my very early years I used to listen to “Childrens’ Favourites” on the BBC Light Programme – a mixture of pop hits and novelty records. Of the novelties I used to particularly like “The Ying Tong Song” by The Goons and “Sparky’s Magic Piano”. I used to particularly like the strummy guitar on records by the English Skiffle & Blue Grass star Lonnie Donnegan, and that was one of the the things that made me want to play the guitar. Around the age of 10, I became a fan of The Shadows and that got me more and more into the electric guitar. At this time the elder brother of a friend of mine was a bit of a record collector, and he was really into Buddy Holly, who was also an early influence. I also started
listening to Radio Luxembourg around this time on a little transistor radio. And then, when I started going to senior school in Central London from the age of 11, my continued musical awakening coincided with the coming of The Beatles. I consider myself quite lucky to have passed my teen years in the 60s, which as we all know was a period of a massive musical revolution."

Steve’s first band was called Uriel.
"My first band was the band Uriel, that we formed at City of London School. This was a natural
development from the shared excitement we felt about the rapidly developing musical revolution. From early 1966 onwards my musical friends and I started going to gigs to see live bands. The first well known band I saw was The Who. The school was not far from the Marquee Club, and we used to go after school to see bands there. I saw Jimi Hendrix twice at the Marquee, which was a total mindblower.
We saw many other bands there, and sometimes it was their first ever London show. Bands included The Cream, The Nice, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall. We also saw
the Pink Floyd quite a few times at other venues, and went to some of the big psychedelic events. Seeing the Floyd, with Syd Barrett, for the first time in early 1967, at a college venue, was another mind-blower for me."
"I found myself in the same class as Dave Stewart and Mont Campbell, and after a while we mutually discovered that we could play instruments a bit. We gravitated together, and grew musically together until the point where we felt we could form a band. We started getting offers for paid gigs and that’s when we decided to recruit a great drummer, and we were very lucky to find Clive. We played a whole range of covers, plus some early beginnings of our own compositions. Covers included some Cream
and Hendrix songs, and some blues tracks. We also played long jams and improvisations – it was a lot of fun. Getting gigs in 1968 at Middle Earth, which had taken over from UFO as London’s leading psychedelic club, was a real step up. The night we supported Captain Beefheart was an absolute personal high point for me. I got to meet the great man, and he used our microphone!"

Steve left music for a while to continue with his studies, but ended up immersed in the Canterbury music scene.
"My parents were very supportive of my musical development, and my father helped me buy my first top level instrument:- my Fender Stratocaster and a Vox AC30 amp. But they were very keen for me to follow their footsteps by going to university. In the summer of 1968 Dave and Mont wanted to leave the school and make the band professional, but I was unwilling to follow them and so I left Uriel and stayed on at school. Things were made worse soon after that when, being an avid teenage pot smoker, I got caught up in a large bust in the school. The police weren’t called in – it was dealt with internally in the school – but along with quite a few other boys I was severely punished, and this obviously caused
great distress to my parents. So out of respect to them I was absolutely obliged to go to university, and ended up at Canterbury. When I arrived at the university, with my guitar and amp of course, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. But very quickly I became immersed in the Canterbury music scene, and after around 6 months it became clear to me that I simply had to do music as a career. It was now or never. I left the university on a sabbatical leave, so that I had the option to go back if things didn’t work out. My parents found this arrangement satisfactory, and from that point on they gave me strong support for my professional musical adventure."
"I left the university and got a management deal with Caravan’s management. This quickly led to a record deal with Deram, part of the Decca group of labels (which is now Universal). Although it was a solo deal, based around songs that I had written at Canterbury, the plan was that we should form a band [Khan], and this is what led to me working with Nick [Heninghem] and Eric [Peachey]. We had another keyboard player, but he left before we went into the studio to record the album, so I asked Dave [Stewart] to guest on the album – which was a good move actually because his playing was great. In the 1971-72 period we played 40-50 gigs, some of them supporting Caravan, and we had quite a lot of fun. Gigging was hard work in those days, because you often had to bring your own front-of-house sound system with you. The album release achieve somewhat disappointing results, and this lineup dissolved in June 72, when Nick Greenwood left."

June Campbell Cramer, better known as Lady June, was an important personality for many of the Canterbury musicians.
"The meeting place was at another flat, in Maida Vale, and area near Notting Hill, that was owned by a poetess named Lady June. It was a large apartment and Kevin rented rooms there. It was there that I first met Daevid Allen, and also where I first met Richard Branson who was starting Virgin Records. I had formed a second Khan lineup after Nick Greenwood left, and Dave Stewart became a permanent member, as Egg had also broken up. I wrote some great new music, and the Khan Mk II was sounding great, but due to a decline of support from the record company I felt that at the age of just 21 I needed to have a break from the burden of having my own project, and I wanted to work with other people. It so happened that the very day after I broke up Khan Mk II Kevin called me and asked me to join his band. Within a few days I was touring with Kevin."

Steve offers his perspective on the baby boomer generation and their times.
"There was such an explosion of new musical sounds and techniques and many rock musicians felt the urge to take it all a lot further than just pop songs, blues riffs and simple beats, and link up with something a bit more akin to classical music. But there was experimentation all around. Things weren’t so divided up into fixed genres. Who can deny the influence of tracks like The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “A Day in the Life”, or Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis Bold as Love” or “1983 a Merman I Shall Be”. And there was also an upsurge of electronic jazz, much of it centred round Miles Davis, and culminating in The Mahavishnu Orchestra. All these things helped to drive progressive music. It was certainly a very creative time."
"I don’t think we were in any way special as people. Indeed the “baby boomer” generation has produced some uniquely vile individuals, like Donald Trump for example. But it was a pretty unique time historically, with the coming of age of the first post-war generation, that was also the first generation since the atom bomb and all that implied. This was allied to a period of economic optimism as post war austerity faded away, that was tempered by conflicts such as Vietnam and the civil rights struggles
in America. When you mix that with rapid technological development and an explosion of new musical sounds and attitudes, yes the times were rather special – and I feel I was quite lucky to grow up when I did."