John Hackett, (seen here on the left), singer songwriter and flautist with the John Hackett Band, chats with Kevin Cooper about his brother Steve, working with his band, their latest album We Are Not Alone and their tour of the UK.

John Hackett is a British flautist, a member of the John Hackett Band and is the younger brother of guitarist Steve Hackett. Although his primary instrument is the flute, he also plays guitar, bass, bass pedals and keyboards.

John comes from both classical and rock backgrounds. His early career was mostly as part of his brother’s band, appearing on many early albums and touring until 1983, though he had already made guest contributions to other albums.

Since 2004, he has been regularly releasing solo albums, taking in classical, folk, and rock stylings. In 2005, Checking Out Of London was released, a rock album produced with Nick Magnus, and with the majority of the lyrics by Nick Clabburn. This was followed up in 2015 with a second rock album, Another Life, also with the involvement of Magnus and Clabburn.

To support the release of that album, a trio was formed with John (guitars, keys, vocals), Nick Fletcher (lead guitar) and Duncan Parsons (percussion, vocals), which was soon expanded to a full band with the addition of Jeremy Richardson (bass, guitars, vocals) and Duncan moving to full drum kit.

The band started public performances as the John Hackett Band in 2016, with their debut album We Are Not Alone being released later this year.

Whilst currently touring the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

John good afternoon, how are you today?

Hi Kevin I’m very well indeed, how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you, and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No it’s a great pleasure, thank you very much.

And just how is life treating you?

Pretty good actually. It’s great having a band, its great having an album coming out on Friday 29th September so yes, all is good thank you.

Well I have to tell you that I have been playing the album, We Are Not Alone for the past couple of weeks now and I think that it is a great piece of work.

Do you really, well that is very kind of you. You are a very kind man.

However the burning question is, are you happy with it?

I am extremely happy with it. It’s the culmination really of years of work together with a lot of influences that go into the album because it starts off with the piece Take Control which comes pretty much under the progressive rock umbrella you would say, although at ten minutes long it is quite a modest length really for a progressive rock piece (laughter). But then some of the other pieces on the album move into all manner of different styles; Castles for example has got quite a blues influence which is where I started off in music when I was playing the guitar. So yes I am very pleased with it and for me it is great having a band to work on the songs with. Everyone has made a tremendous contribution to the album.

Where did the title come from?

The title is actually taken from a line in the opening track Take Control. There are no hidden agendas; there is nothing smart or weird, I just took the title from the second part of Take Control (laughter).

I know that favourite tracks change daily but at this moment in time I have to tell you that I love Summer Lightning.

Good, well thank you. Whilst I do the majority of the vocals on the album, we also have Jeremy Richardson with us and I have to say that he is an excellent singer. He handles the vocals on Jericho and also does some harmony vocals but I am actually doing the lead vocal on Summer Lightning. That song is more of a ballad really but it has got some very powerful and raunchy electric guitar playing. That is all down to Nick Fletcher who is playing on that track and he does some wonderful playing.

You have mentioned Nick and Jeremy but add Duncan (Parsons) and your good self into the mix, it is a band with a pedigree.

Nick has a fantastic amount of experience, and like myself he started out in rock and also moved into classical playing which he continues to do. In recent years he has played with a lot of people like Martyn Joseph, Dave Bainbridge and people like that. He is great to work with and he is very quick to pick up what style it is. Jeremy is a terrific vocalist and bass player and is also a very strong writer as well and the same with Duncan. With me Duncan is the drummer but he also records his own solo albums and again, he is a very strong writer and I think that is the strength of the album that everybody is very creative, including Nick of course who has recorded albums in his own right. So whenever we come together to work on something you can immediately tell if the guys like it, and we can run with it very quickly if it works.

And I suppose that we should mention the up and coming youngster who you have playing harmonica on Never Gonna Make A Dime hadn’t we?

(Laughter) yes I suppose that we had. There is this young man called Steve Hackett making a small guest appearance on there. That song is fundamentally about the family trip to Canada back in the 1950’s.

Listening to the sentiment of the song, were things really that bad for you and the family once you arrived in Canada?

From what I have been told, yes it was. Back in 1957 we as a family emigrated over to Canada. Our dad had gone on ahead and the rest of us travelled over on the ship; my mum, my auntie Betty, Steve who at that time was seven years old and me who was two. I don’t remember it because I was only two years old at the time but apparently we only stayed in Canada for four months and I think that was because my mum really missed London so much and the fact that we had a decent life here in London. Apparently a neighbour showed mum a cine film of London with some red buses and everything and it bought a tear to her eye. It’s nothing against Canada; I just think mum was very homesick. We came back while dad stayed on for a further three months, and he arrived back with this great big black box which contained a guitar and that’s really what started Steve off as a guitarist and eventually got us all into music.

Didn’t Steve have his first paid gig on the boat heading out to Canada?

(Laughter) yes that’s right, he did. Apparently Steve would disappear for long periods of time on a regular basis and he would return with money. Mum asked him what was going on and where he had got the money from and he told her that he had been playing his harmonica to the crew and passengers who had given him their spare cash. So I think that you could say that was his first start in the music business and he has never looked back since.

I finally managed to see Steve in concert earlier this year.

Really, where was that?

It was at the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Thursday 11th May and I have to say it was a fantastic evening.

That’s good, I’m pleased that you have finally manged to catch Steve live and even more pleased that you actually enjoyed the gig.

I really did enjoy both watching and listening to Nick Beggs on the bass.

I know exactly what you mean, Nick is great, and he is a fantastic player isn’t he.

However, I do feel for him a little when people still keep referring to his days spent in Kajagoogoo. Give him a break that was over forty years ago now.

Really, well they were a good pop band but as you say Nick has moved on. He is a fabulous player and a great showman as well of course which brings a lot to whatever Steve is doing.

A showman Nick is especially for the first three rows in the theatre when he keeps wearing his kilt (laughter).

(Laughter) well I couldn’t possibly comment (laughter).

In 2015 you released Another Life which was seen by many as being a change in direction for you, a real rock album. Were you pleased with how well that album was received?

Yes I was and it was another album that I had made with progressive rock legend Nick Magnus. It was great working closely with Nick and of course Steve did a lot of guitar playing on that album. The difference with that album was that Nick Clabburn who is an old school mate of mine had written all of the lyrics on there. When we recorded Another Life back in 2015 it had been ten years since I had made a rock album. There had been a ten year gap basically because I wanted to work on my singing. I had made the album Checking Out Of London in 2005 and it was the first time that I had ever sung; in fact I didn’t start singing until I was fifty.

Whilst the album was well received I wasn’t at all happy with my singing so I went away and worked on it for a long time. So Another Life was me making another rock album and getting more comfortable with my singing. And what has been great with the John Hackett Band is that I am a lot more experienced now at singing live and I am a lot more comfortable with it.

The tour has recently kicked off in Tunbridge Wells, how did it go?

It was okay, it was very enjoyable. We had a fantastic light show which the guys there provided. So yes it went very well thank you.

Well I will warn you that at The Bodega you will either like red or blue, you will have no choice (laughter).

Oh really, in that case I will dress accordingly (laughter).

However, the good news is that they sell a mean Pilsner lager in there for a mere two pounds per pint.

Do they really. Well I must confess that I do occasionally enjoy a little tipple so if you do manage to get down to see us I may even stand you a pint, especially at those prices dear boy (laughter).

I have to ask you, why did you take the decision to put the live album with the new album and put it out as a 2 CD set? The reason I am asking is that I think that the live album has legs of its own and could have been sold as a separate CD.

Do you really, well it is very kind of you to say that. We did think about it and we did in fact put it to the record company but they thought that as a package the discs would complement each other. Also I think that the guys were very keen to get the live album out there as soon as possible. So the decision was to put the two together. I’m very pleased because the live album contains some songs from my first album Checking Out Of London and songs from Another Life and so with the latest album We Are Not Alone I think that it does make a nice package. But that is very kind of you to say that you think that it stands alone. We were very pleased with the way it turned out because that was just one performance at the Classic Rock Society last year.

Putting you on the spot, is progressive rock alive and well here in the UK?

Well I have to say that I think it is, plus I think that there is a tremendous interest here in the UK. It is always difficult to start making definitions of different types of music but that is one thing that progressive rock can do, it can cover many styles and it can go into hard rock, and at times jazz based or even classical. There is plenty of scope for people to be creative within that. You just have to look at the number of Genesis tribute bands that are out there together with other bands of that kind. There is a quality to that style of music because it is very melodic; the harmonies are very interesting, the rhythm is very interesting, and it is long lasting in the same way as some of the old Motown songs. A good song is going to last forever isn’t it. I think that there is something about the style of progressive rock which makes it long lasting.

You mention the Genesis cover bands, I was going to be flippant and say that I like the one that has Phil Collins in it.

(Hysterical laughter) you could say that but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Swiftly moving on, I have to ask you what is musically different between the traditional flute and the vertical flute.

I have to come clean and say that there is not a lot of difference in the sound really. With a traditional flute you are getting an awful lot of sound blasting away in your right ear because you are holding it up whereas with a vertical flute you are looking straight down in front of you. You can also look at your fingers whilst you are playing it. So in some ways a vertical flute helps.

All of the things that you have done over the years I am going to put you on the spot and ask if you prefer working alone or working with the band?

That’s easy, I prefer working with a band. There is nothing like actually working with other people and going out and gigging. For example, I haven’t written anything for months. It was the summer and I was hoping to get lots of writing done and hoping to be creative but what with one thing and another it simply didn’t get done. However, this morning I woke up and I just had an idea for a song so I sat down at the piano and I wrote a song. The great thing is that with a band I will be able to play this to the guys when we get together either to rehearse or to play the next gig and we will be able to try it out. That is a fantastic feeling; for me to have their contribution towards what we are doing.

Was it always going to be a career in music?

Originally I went to University to study languages and I packed it in after the first term and decided that I wanted to be a musician. It was at that point that I got a call from Mike Rutherford from Genesis who at that time was working on an album with Anthony Phillips which eventually became The Geese And The Ghost and they asked me if I would play some flute on the album. At that time I took it as a bit of a sign, because people had thought that I had been a bit crazy chucking in the degree that I was embarking upon. That for me was the turning point. I worked with Steve for a few years and studied music.

Whenever you and Steve get together, is it fun; is it enjoyable?

Oh absolutely, yes. It is often over musical times because I have guested on some of his tours and he has done a few sessions for me. It is always great. Steve has been great and he has always included me in his musical adventures from the very early days before he joined Genesis. Even when Steve had his audition for Genesis it was a very informal thing. Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel came over to our flat and Steve and I did some flute and guitar playing together in our little bedroom there (laughter). That was Steve’s audition. It’s great that he has always included me in what has been going on.

I see that you have mentioned that there will be some more tour dates after the New Year. Do you have anything definite as yet?

We do have a few that are definite which will shortly be appearing on our website. We have dates in Brighton, Scotland and here in Sheffield at The Greystones on 5th May 2018. So we will be out and about over the next year.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s an interesting question, and I would to say that probably playing at The Palladium in London very recently with Steve and his band. We played the Serpentine Song and I went on and I just felt completely relaxed out there on the stage. In fact I have never felt so relaxed and I think that it has something to do with me getting passed sixty (laughter). Sometimes you go on and you are a bit nervous but I just felt completely relaxed. I think that it helped with it being a family thing because mum was there too so I would have to say that was a great night. It was lovely to be on stage with Steve and to just feel so relaxed about it.

What was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) that was The Young Ones by Cliff Richard. The reason that I remember that is because I was eight years old at the time and I went into the record shop and I can’t remember which record I actually wanted to buy but they didn’t have it. The lady behind the counter said “we haven’t got that one but we have got The Young Ones by Cliff Richard” so that is what I came out with (laughter). It cost me six shillings and six pence at the time.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

I’m not sure but I have a feeling that it would have been King Crimson. I think that it must have been because that is the reason why I decided to take up the flute when I saw King Crimson at The Marquee Club in London. I was fourteen years old and Ian McDonald was playing the flute. That was what really sparked things off for me.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I was watching Carole King performing Tapestry at Hyde Park the other night on TV and she sang Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and that just bought a tear to my eye because I just thought she is still out there doing it and what a fabulous song. I would give anything to be able to write a song as fantastic as that because it has just stood the test of time.

John on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a pleasure and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.

Thank you very much Kevin, it’s been a great pleasure for me and I hope to see you there and we will most definitely get that pint or two maybe. Thank you so much and bye for now.