Progressive rock royalty, Steve Hackett is one of the genre’s most revered figures. Having first come to prominence as a member of Genesis during their experimental heyday, the multi-instrumentalist has since forged a successful solo career, and collaborated with the likes of Randy Crawford, Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Currently with a number of projects on the horizon, we caught up with Steve at the Stone Free Festival in London to follow up on our previous discussion, and found ourselves digging deep into his musical past. Taking the voyage of the Acolyte: Eamon O’Neill.
How are you today, Steve?
I actually feel very well. Yesterday I woke up at four in the morning; I think it’s because we’ve been all over the world, and we’ve been on so many different time zones. Just recently, in the past three weeks, I kid you not, we were in; Japan, China, Sardinia and England, and next week I’m in Miami. I’m tempted to say that my life is like James Bond, only more glamorous!
Do you still enjoy touring?
I never intended to travel as much, but yes I do enjoy it. I think I’m making up for lost time, both as a child, and recent years where I was not as nomadic. I think my natural state is nomadic, and I find myself talking to people and finding a common language with everybody, just about everywhere on earth. That is what it’s all about.
Where in the world do you find the most hard core Steve Hackett fans?
Well, it’s all over. In the early days when I was with Genesis we were searching in desperate need for an audience, as every young band is, and I think because our music was a tad more complicated than most people’s at that time, people used to just wander off to the bar in the middle of things, and I thought; this is never really going to fly – they’re never going to get it. And then, the audience’s ability to digest it caught up with our ability to be able to cook it, and so it all worked out wonderfully, eventually. That’s that thing about success and failure; the albums that sold millions for Genesis first of all didn’t sell that much, and were considered to be failures.
Which Genesis albums were considered failures?
Well, ‘Nursery Crime’, for instance, and ‘Foxtrot’. The record company considered them to be failures, and we were lucky that we had a very loyal company in Charisma Records. But that’s the past, and ever since then, I’ve been in harness ever since.
The last time we spoke, you said that Genesis in the eighties was a well-oiled machine, and that it was a difficult period for you.
What did I say? Nothing they can sue me for?! I had one hit single and a couple of near misses, but Genesis were a machine that were able to go from success to success, and of course, Pete [former Genesis front man Peter Gabriel] said much the same thing to me years ago, he said; “I can’t take a piss these days in a restaurant without listening to Phil Collins”, and I had got the same thing; that was how Pete was feeling, and we were commiserating perhaps, with each other. But it all evens out; if you want to stay in the game, keep producing records. If you want to retire to your yacht, do it.
So you were commiserating each other about the fact that you were in this band, and now it was massive?
Well, we were in this band, and you know, Pete spearheaded it, he was the prime hustler, and I think that without Pete’s early efforts there wouldn’t have been the massive monster that it became. But you know, we’re talking history, because Genesis is dysfunctional; it does not function as a band anymore, therefore we’re talking about past glories. There was a Roman Empire; there are no more Romans. There are some of us that still speak Latin, and I’m one of them purveying the spoils of that empire which are these songs that I’m still proud of.
You’re doing the Genesis Revisited side of things alongside your solo material.
I’m doing both because I don’t really want to retire into being just a museum piece. In fact, I don’t want to just keep the museum doors open for the faithful.
Were you surprised by the success that Peter Gabriel achieved with ‘So’ when it was released in the mid-1980s?
No, I remember exactly what Pete said to me at the time, because I was making the GTR [1986 project with Steve Howe] album in the same studio. He was in mastering ‘So’, which was at the Townhouse, Virgin’s studio, and he said; “oh I’ve got brass on this track”, and he was playing me ‘Sledgehammer’, and he said; “I’ll probably got a lot of flack from the press for using brass because they’ll probably say I’m copying Phil”. At another point in the conversation, he’d said to me; “I’m the one who gave Phil his drum set, and all of this stuff I can never say in a Genesis interview, because it all gets edited out”. It’s all on the cutting room floor; all the interesting stuff’s on the cutting room floor! Yes, you know, without Pete, you wouldn’t have had that, and Genesis without any of the individuals, who knows if it had of done what it did? Everybody in a band plays their part.
There aren’t many bands that have had such a creative force, with as many key writers.
I think you had guys who were ambitious, who were dedicated in their own ways, and I think most of that is positive; one shouldn’t dwell on negatives. You just have to roll with the punches with that sort of stuff, really.
You have, or course, had an incredible career with an incredible body of work.
Probably the album that I’m proudest of is called ‘Tribute’, and I did six pieces of Bach on it, and it was just wonderful to be able to do that work that had been attacked by the greats such as; Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams. It’s a bit like Shakespeare for an actor, so I quite see why someone who, having done blockbusters would just want to go and act Hamlet, do you know what I mean? It’s lovely to be able to do things that are out of character - there is no such thing as ‘Steve Hackett’; what there is, is an awful lot of music and influences that he assimilated over many, many years, and now I’m in the position to be a sufficiently plausible character actor, to wander in and out of these various schools.
With such a long and illustrious career, have you thought about writing a book?
I am writing a book. I’m writing it very slowly, because I spend so much time in music. Is it my autobiography? Yes, an auto, that’s it.
Moving on to the present day, and lasst years’ ‘Premonitions’ box set been nominated for a Prog Award.
Yes, it’s ironic isn’t it, because the album sleeve, I had to pay [artist] Roger Dean myself to do this because Universal Records weren’t prepared to pay for it. And now it’s up for an award! So if you want something done, do it yourself. So, Universal, I think that they’ve been going their own sweet way, and whilst I’m very pleased with the box set, they’ve done this limited run on it, and you have fans clamouring for it. It’s very difficult when record companies get that big and powerful. I was just looking in hmv, and all the things that are in there are all the albums I did originally for Charisma that got handed on to Virgin and EMI, and Universal.
It must be frustrating then, that you don’t actually own those titles.
No I don’t own them, and the problem is that they don’t really understand their own market. They don’t really know what they’ve got. It was the same with Genesis. It’s young people who take over and they don’t really know what the history is. But it’s okay, I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much.
Finally, have you any plans to follow up 2015’s ‘Wolflight’?
Yes, I’m about four tracks into it now, and I’m doing a lot of other things for other people; some favours, and a thing for Harmony For Elephants, the elephant charity. Ant Phillips and I have been working on that, on something together. We did work once together before. Anthony was my predecessor in Genesis, and he’s a fabulous writer and player. But that’s an extra!
So you’re very busy at the minute.
I’ve also been working on some Chopin material for an extra thing for something else. Chopin keeps coming up for some reason. And next week I’m off to do a tribute to Keith Emmerson. It’s going to be in Miami and I’m playing with Carl Palmers band. I’m doing a couple of things; ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’, and ‘Nut Rocker’, which is originally based on Tchaikovsky – B. Bumble & The Stingers. I can just imagine Keith having done that, because it was a very interesting track when it first came out when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. So I’m looking forward to that - winging it! I don’t know what I’m going to play!
It will be all right on the night!
That’s the weird thing, sometimes it’s not about rehearsal. I had this with Evelyn Glennie when I worked with her; she didn’t want to rehearse at all, and yet we came up with things together that were like telepathy. It’s extraordinary. We went for things as if people were pulling our strings – the same puppeteer. The first gig we ever did was bloody marvellous!
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