Steve Hackett, English musician, singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, playing at The Stone Free Festival in London, his new studio album and his forthcoming tour of the UK.
Steve Hackett is an English musician, singer and songwriter. He gained prominence as lead guitarist of the English progressive rock band Genesis, which he joined in 1970 and left in 1977 to pursue a solo career after contributing to six Genesis studio albums, three live albums and seven singles.
Hackett released his first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte, while still a member of Genesis in 1975. After a series of further solo albums beginning in 1978, he co-founded the super group GTR with another progressive guitarist, Steve Howe of Yes and Asia, in 1986. When he left a year later the group disbanded leaving him to resume his solo career. He has released albums and toured the world on a regular basis since.
He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.
Whilst putting the final preparations to his Steve Hackett Classics Tour 2017 which starts in America in February, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Steve, good morning, how are you?
I’m very good Kevin, how are you?
I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s my pleasure.
And just how is life treating Steve Hackett?
Life at the moment is very good. I am currently working on a new studio album at the moment which is not unusual for a musician of course (laughter). So at the moment I am fitting in everything else in my life around that in preparations for the tour next year. I have recently been in negotiations with the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra over in the USA who I will be working with for one show only, so all appears to be going well at the moment, touch wood. Yesterday, it was all looking as though we were going to have to make some radical changes and prune in order to be able to bring it in within budget, but I think that we are all now heading in the same direction. We are all sailors under the same mast at this point. I think that the armada seems to be on track at the moment but it sometimes feels that I am in a coracle trying to row against the tide (laughter).
Just touching on last year for a moment, you released Wolflight. Were you happy with just how well it was received?
To be honest with you I am always somewhere between elation and relief. I am relieved when people like something of mine and I have always been like this. I can remember way back in the day with Genesis when we did Supper’s Ready, I thought that the game was up, no one was going to like this, so for me the game was over and I was just waiting there to be shot. However, people loved it and I was so wrong but it is all the same thing, relief. For me the first thing is always relief; ‘ah, they like it, good’. So you never really know, all music is a shot in the dark even when someone says “I knew that I had written a hit” rather grandly. That’s fine if you have that supreme belief.
However, I think that the power of song and the process where the business receives it releases it and publicises it; these are all the things that have to attend any piece of work which might be great but it can so easily go down the toilet. Back in the days of classical musicians and drunken conductors premiering works that were later regarded to be classics when they were disasters in their day, well there is a familiar ring to all of that. Not necessarily the drunkenness but all music as I say, yesterday’s disaster is todays triumph. It is all down to the Citizen Kane effect.
You are going back out on the road next year when you will be playing the Wind & Wuthering album in its entirety. I have to own up and tell you that you have just caught me listening to the album.
Really, well that’s good.
I hope that you are having as much fun revisiting the album as I am.
Absolutely, yes I am really looking forward to doing stuff off of it which I haven’t played now in a very long time.
Are you looking forward to touring the album?
Yes I am. The challenges when you are playing live and doing as much touring as we will be doing next year, including the Far East in a big way, then they are all basically physical. Yes we know that it is a memory test but in a way touring is a very subsistence level simple life. You simply have to get out there, play to the best of your ability, be nice to people, and make sure that you get enough food and sleep. You can set up all of the conditions and usually you play come rain or shine. That’s it, it’s like you put your helmet on and you do it. Funnily enough, I was speaking to Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash fame about this over dinner last night whilst we were swapping old war stories.
When you look back over the course of another musician’s life it is all pretty much the same; there is the thrill, there is the ‘how did we manage to do that’, there is the odd court case, there is unfortunately the odd fortune that had to be said goodbye to along the way, and you very soon realise that the similarities are far greater than the differences.
I recently asked Burt Bacharach the same question and he said that whilst he still absolutely loves the time spent on stage he stressed that the whole ethos of touring has changed since 9/11.
Yes it has, travelling on airlines is gruelling. Once you get through security clearance there is still a lot that can go wrong so you simply take a deep breath and see how it goes. Even the flights are a lot less reliable than they used to be.
On a lighter note, you are once again visiting us here in Nottingham on Thursday 11th May at the Royal Concert Hall. What can we expect?
Well, there will be a mixture of Genesis things; the Genesis Revisited thing has become a brand and has taken off in a way that even I couldn’t have envisaged (laughter). So I like doing that and I go at that with as much passion as I go at the solo things. I always think to myself ‘I fought hard to make this song work in the first place, and here it is again, it’s mine’ (laughter). I love to be able to share those songs with the audience. I really do love doing that. I also love doing some of my solo things because it sheds a greater or brighter light on my solo things in varying degrees. Things may have had a lot of attention because I have played them a lot live with my various band line-ups over time, but I have to say that I love doing it all.
What songs in particular are exciting you at the thought of performing them live?
Good question, well, I am looking forward to playing Watcher Of The Skies and One For The Vine which I haven’t played since 1977. I am really looking forward to playing lots of personal favourites together with lots of Genesis favourites.
Can you believe that it is now the fortieth anniversary of Wind & Wuthering?
Yes you are right, it is forty years and it doesn’t seem a day too long (laughter). Yes, it is now a mere forty years ago and I thought that I was knocking on when I was twenty-seven (laughter). That really is something isn’t it, forty years later and I am still making a noise for a living (laughter). I shouldn’t really say things like that should I, I really am not going to give away my age.
If you had a list of your top ten Genesis albums where would Wind & Wuthering sit?
Well, to be honest with you I don’t really do the whole favourite album sort of thing simply because I realise that it is a very touchy subject and you must never offend your fans. Fans relate to very important turning points in their lives by albums. They are the albums that they were listening to when these important events took place. This is a transgression that I think very successful artists do which is to say ‘I don’t like that one much’ so for me all of the past is a level playing field. If anyone ever tells me that they like something that I did whether it be with Genesis or something on my own, I will always tell them that I am glad that they liked it.
As soon as someone says to me that they like a particular song I think about it and immediately it sounds better in my mind (laughter). Their comments reinforce the reasons why we did it in the first place (laughter).
You left Genesis soon after you had recorded Wind & Wuthering. Was there any coloration between the two events?
Good grief, no, not at all. You are right when you say that I left the band soon after we had recorded Wind & Wuthering but I have to stress that it wasn’t because I didn’t like the album. On the contrary I thought that the album was supremely good.
After playing it again I have to say that I had forgotten just how good the album is.
To be honest, I personally think that the album just gets better and better as it continues. I think that’s its strength. For me the way that it builds up towards the end doesn’t really falter and there is a lot of strong band stuff and some strong solo stuff on there. I think that it’s a great album.
Do you still have a certain Nick Beggs of Kajagoogoo fame in your band?
Yes, Nick will be with the band on the forthcoming tour along with all the other guys. In fact I have to say that the guys are now playing better than ever; it is a fine band.
You have briefly touched on the new studio album, what can you tell me about it?
What can I tell you, well what I will say is that there is a tiny bit of flamenco influence on it. That’s good because it is something that I have never really played before on my own guitar. I was pleased to be able to do that; it is very exciting music; even the acoustic stuff is very exciting. There are some heady and romantic lyrical moments, some slightly more rocky things, and I have been enjoying singing on this album. Again, it is a great relief when I do a vocal that sounds good (laughter). I have to say that vocally I think that this album sounds stronger than I have managed before, especially my control of vibrato and knowing exactly how far to push it. In a way I am playing with my voice in the same way that I play with the guitar. It’s high time that I got around to that really (laughter).
Will the album be a single or a double release?
At the moment I think that it will be a single album and I have to say that I seem to be working very quickly at the moment and long may it continue. Then we will see, there may very well be a special limited edition.
Will you be releasing the album on vinyl?
Yes, the album will be released on vinyl as well as the other usual formats but not cassette (laughter).
You recently played the very first Stone Free Festival at London’s O2 Arena, how was that?
Yes I did, and I have to say that it was great fun. I enjoyed bumping into Rick Wakeman and Marillion; we have all been pals for many years now so it was good to see them all once again. It really was great fun.
On the subject of Rick I spoke to him recently and he told me that he is pleasantly surprised at just how young the audiences are now at progressive rock concerts. Would you echo that sentiment?
Yes I would. There has suddenly been a rediscovery or if you are very young then there is no re about it, you are actually discovering the guys who are out there doing it, treading the boards so to speak and Rick certainly still is and so am I.
In 2010 you were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Was it nice to feel that your work had finally been recognised by your peers?
I am currently waiting for the wax work of myself to appear in Madame Tussauds in London but sadly so far no one has offered (laughter). You always think on these occasions that you had better wear a suit on the night, just in case (laughter). It’s funny but since then I have actually got busier so please don’t stick me with the wax works, I’m far too busy.
Looking at your tour schedule together with your album biography, you are quite obviously not having any thoughts on slowing down?
No, not at all, I’m getting faster. In fact I’m burning up (laughter).
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Well funnily enough I was choking back a tear as I was working on a new song which hasn’t officially got a title as yet. There is a line in it at the end of the chorus which says ‘the way love is meant to be’ as a kind of conclusion to the song. In a way, when I sing those words which I did yesterday I feel absolutely every one of them because I am not cynical, I am a romantic and I am lucky to be married to a very lovely lady. The song is partly our story because we had a rocky start to our relationship for all manner of reasons so in a way there was that, but usually it is a moment by Tchaikovsky or it will be something written by Jimmy Webb who I think writes the best love songs that have ever been written.
There is something bittersweet about his writing but they all have an autumnal feeling and quality, looking back on the glorious summer that was. I think that he writes the best laments whether they are sung by Richard Harris with MacArthur Park or latterly Art Garfunkel but even then we are going back to the 70’s. They truly are glorious songs.
On that note Steve let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure.
Thank you so much Kevin and I will see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.