Nick Fletcher, British classical and electric guitarist, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with John Hackett, the fate of the music industry post Covid-19, seeing Fleetwood Mac in 1974 and the release of his latest solo album Cycles Of Behaviour.

Nick Fletcher is an English guitarist, playing both classical and electric guitars. He took up playing the guitar after being inspired by guitarists such as Steve Hackett and Steve Howe. He studied classical guitar for three years with David Taplin at the Huddersfield School of Music and by the mid 1990’s he decided that playing the solo classical guitar was to become his main focus.

He has recorded three highly acclaimed solo CDs for Kingsway Music and recorded an album of lullabies for Dorling Kindersley. Writing music for the classical guitar became his consuming passion out of which his CD Cathedral Of Dreams was born.

In 2012 he released Shadow Lands which was followed up by his 2014 release for the Hacktrax label, A Moment Of Stars. He also released his Blue Horizon album in 2017.

Since 2012 he has worked with John Hackett and in 2015 he was invited to join the John Hackett Band where he took up performing and recording with the electric guitar. The band has performed regularly and in 2017 released an album called We Are Not Alone. He has also toured and recorded with John Hackett as a duo, which has seen them release Overnight Snow and Hills Of Andelucia.

Nick Fletcher has received numerous great reviews of his writing and playing in the Progressive Rock genre, as well as his continuing career as a classical musician. He has also worked with Steve Hackett.

Whilst preparing for the release of his latest album, Cycles Of Behaviour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Nick good morning. How are you?

I’m very well thanks Kevin, how are you?

All is good thank you, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you in these strange and troubled times?

Well, let’s just say that things could be better (laughter). As you have probably noticed, there aren’t that many gigs around at the moment (laughter). Having said that though I have been busy with a lot of different stuff. I have been writing and recording a few sessions for different people so, yes, I have managed to keep myself busy. As I said, there are no gigs at the moment but hopefully that will all change towards the end of the year.

We must talk about your latest album, Cycles Of Behaviour.

That’s right, we must (laughter).

Well I have to tell you that I have been playing it now for a couple of weeks and I have got to say that I think that it is a great piece of work.

Thank you very much; that’s great to hear.

Are you happy with it?

Yes, I am very happy with it, yes absolutely.

You have a release date of the 26th March. Is that still good or will it be pushed back?

No, the 26th March is the official release date, and I can’t see there being any problems with that. I have to say that I am currently selling the album from my own website which is if anyone is interested.

I’m old school but I have to ask, what about all of the various downloads and everything else that goes with it in this day and age (laughter).

(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean (laughter). At the moment it is just a physical CD but I am expecting the album to come on stream sometime in April for downloading but, for now, it is just the physical CD that is available. I’m old school too, I like to put on an album, put my feet up and have a good listen.

At the minute I have four go to tracks; they are Heat Is Rising, Hope In Your Eyes, Interconnected and Philosopher King. I think that those four tracks are brilliant.

Well that’s good to know, thank you.

Do you have a personal favourite track on the album?

I have to say that I like the opening track, Cycles Of Behaviour. That was an interesting one to write because initially it was going to be a song, but then, over time, it developed into an instrumental. And I really do like the direction that particular track took. Also, one of my favourite tracks is one of the heavier numbers, Tyrant And Knave, which as you know has a very long guitar feature, which I thoroughly enjoyed making.

You have almost answered my next question (laughter).

Really, have I (laughter). What was it?

I was going to ask you if you intentionally set out to write an instrumental piece or is it dependent upon the direction that the piece takes?

That’s a really good question because with this particular project, in the initial stages I was working with John Hackett, who was helping me put a few pieces together. I asked john if he could contribute some lyrics for some of the tracks because I felt that some of the pieces needed some words. There was only one track, Hope In Your Eyes, which I actually had some words for, whilst the others didn’t. So, John very kindly got involved in writing the lyrics for those other tracks. I didn’t set out to write an instrumental or a song-based album; it simply came about that way. Actually the last album that I made, Beyond The Stars, was a joint project with John, and that was mainly song-based.

There was only one instrumental on it. The new album evolved, and it came about that when I took a step back and looked at it, I thought ‘hang on a minute, half of the album is instrumental and half of it is songs’. I thought, ‘that’s alright, that will do’ (laughter). It came about by accident rather than anything else. Some tracks felt as though they needed some words, whilst other tracks felt like they could work on their own without words.

I was going to ask you if the ones which eventually became instrumental tracks were the ones which John had written the lyrics for and they had found their way into Room 101(laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) now then (laughter). I have to say that all of it worked out by accident, which is how the album evolved. The thing is that I like instrumental music a lot, and I also like songs. If you are a guitar player, whenever you make an album, most people are expecting it to be all guitar based with loads of instrumentals and what have you. However, as well as enjoying good guitar playing, I enjoy listening to well crafted songs. I think that it gives the listener a bit of a break and it opens up the album a little bit more to more people rather than just to loads of guitar aficionados who want to buy it. I personally like to broaden it a little bit and encompass more people into the album rather that just those who just might like guitar music.

As I have been listening to the album, I have been making notes and what I have written down is, Al Stewart, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Jon Lord.

Well, what can I say, that’s an interesting combination isn’t it (laughter)? To be totally honest with you, I don’t mind any of those. Al Stewart is a fine singer songwriter, and I always find it interesting that John’s vocals remind me of a couple of people and one of those is in fact, Al Stewart. He also reminds me of Justin Heyward (The Moody Blues). He has that sound and tone to his voice. So, that all kind of fits especially with the songs that you mentioned earlier. With regard to Jon Lord, I have always been a massive fan of Deep Purple, and a Pink Floyd fan and Genesis of course; that goes without saying. Anyone of my generation, and presumably yours, will accept that Genesis are such a great band.

Was Cycles Of Behaviour always going to be the title of the album?

No, it wasn’t actually, in fact we had about three working titles. Heat Is Rising was actually the initial thought behind the album. The whole album has a slight concept to it in that it was written at a time when the world is going through a massive upheaval with one thing and another, especially politically. So, I wanted the songs on the album to reflect what was happening in the world today so Heat Is Rising was a track that was not only about the rising temperature politically but also about global warming. But then John wrote the words to it, and it was suddenly about the heat rising because he had met a nice girl, which is fine (laughter).

That took it away slightly from the original meaning of the song and what the album was about. That is one of the reasons why I changed the title to Cycles Of Behaviour which is still in-line with the theme in that what you see happening around the world, you look back and see that history is repeating itself; so Cycles Of Behaviour seemed like an appropriate title to reflect that.

People, quite rightly, often refer to you as a classical guitar player. However, when you first started out playing the guitar you originally started playing rock guitar. When did the crossover to classical come about?

I can see that you have done your homework. As you correctly point out, interestingly I started out many years ago as a rock guitar player and I started out playing the electric guitar, something which I did for many years. However, I later got into playing the classical guitar, partly through hearing Steve (Hackett) playing with Genesis. He got me into that kind of music. The interesting thing is, when I finished at music college, what happened was, it was a bit like a scorched earth as Punk had taken over and there was no place for Progressive Rock anymore. So, it was like, ‘what the hell do I do now’ (laughter). So, I developed the classical side of my work because I was able to get concerts playing solo stuff doing that, and I also found myself becoming a bit of a session player.

I got a lot of work playing at recording sessions, playing both electric and classical. It broadened my area of musical expertise, I suppose. I got a lot of sessions out of being able to play both things really and I carried on doing that for many years. However, before too long, sessions began to dry up, record production moved into people’s bedrooms rather than the studio, with the development of technology, so I found myself out of work again with that. I carried on doing a bit of teaching and a bit on the classical side of things, which I have to say developed. But then I met John, which would be about eleven years ago now. We got playing together; we played some duets of flute and guitar, and it was at that point that John informed me that he wanted to start a band in order to promote an album that he had just released.

John asked me if I would be interested in joining the band playing electric guitar, which surprised me because I hadn’t played any electric guitar live for well over twenty-five years which is a very long time (laughter). However, I thought that it would be great to get back into it, and it is a nice break from all the stress of being a solo artist.

When I spoke to John, he told me that he had heard you playing classical guitar in the cathedrals, which he said was fantastic.

That’s right, that’s how we met.

He went on to say that when he was selecting a few tracks to play live when promoting his Another Life album, he was totally blown away as he had never heard you playing the electric guitar.

(Laughter) that’s very true. It was a strange situation because we had known each other for quite a while and we had worked together for a while, and, of course, he knew that I was a huge Genesis fan and that I loved his brother Steve’s work. Through that I have met Steve several times which is great. However, they had never heard me play any electrical guitar. John was sat at the piano and he said, “this is one of the tracks that I am thinking of playing at the album launch” and I said, “that sounds really good John” to which he replied, “but I have to admit that I am feeling really nervous about it, going in there on my own as a solo artist, singing and playing the piano really isn’t my thing” (laughter).

So, I said, “let me see if I can play along with a bit of it” to which John replied, “are you going to play some electric” and I said “yes”. So, we plugged in and I played some stuff and it was at that point that John turned to me and said, “I didn’t know that you could play the electric guitar like that” (laughter). And from that point I have been a member of the John Hackett Band (laughter). John co-opted me into the project then and we have been working together ever since with the band which has been great.

So, I have to ask, is Cycles Of Behaviour the rock album that you have been wanting to make for the past few years?

Yes, it is. As I said earlier, I made an album with John back in 2018 called Beyond The Stars which was very much a Progressive Rock album, for which John did a hell of a lot of writing. So that really was the first main outing that I have done for many years under my own name. So, on the back of that, this music that I am presenting on the new album came out of that really. I felt that it was about time that I actually did something under my own name, because I hadn’t done that before. I had only been working with the likes of John or doing session work for other people. So, it felt like the timing was right for me to do it.

Putting you firmly on the spot, Folk, Jazz, Classical, Rock, do you have a preference?

I haven’t really, no. However, that’s a bit of a cop-out answer isn’t it (laughter). They are all different disciplines in music and there is a real musical reward in whatever you do. Having said that, some of them are quite different. Classical is much more focused and requires much more concentration whenever you are playing on your own, in order to keep the audience’s attention into what you are doing. It is a real challenge simply because it is just the one instrument, so from that point of view it is fantastic because it really ups your game as a musician. However, the downside of that is that you are not really being that creative with other people.

So, working in the band, playing electric guitar is fantastic. Ift is a much different way in which to express your inner feelings and also you are doing it with other people. So, there is a joint, communal experience together and with the audience. To be totally honest, I get something out of all of it, and it is really difficult for me to say which one I prefer. It depends what mood I’m in I suppose. If I’m well stressed out then I prefer playing in the band (laughter). Even that’s not easy as we do play some difficult music; it’s just the sense in that you know that you have got the support of the rest of the band. It really is a team effort, and if I make a mistake then I have got a volume pedal (laughter). When you play acoustically you haven’t got that luxury.

You say that you enjoy playing together in the band. It is great just how well the four of you have gelled. Would you agree?

Yes, I would totally agree with you on that front. As you know, Duncan Parsons plays drums, and Jeremy Richardson plays bass in the John Hackett Band and we are all good mates. That always helps, and it really does come across whenever you are playing live, when you are mates and not just work colleagues. We really are good friends.

You have been doing the duet concerts with John now since 2012, and they go down really well.

Yes, I have, I have played lots of duets with John over the years. I really do enjoy playing those with him; it’s been really good.

Putting you on the spot once again, writing, performing, teaching, which one gives you the greatest pleasure?

Writing, it’s that simple. Performing, at times, can be a little bit stressful, like I said earlier, whenever you are out there playing on your own the stress is that the focus is all centred on you, which I personally find quite difficult. However, whenever you are playing in a band, the stress that you face is usually about whether we are all going to make it to the end of the song together (laughter). It just takes one slip of concentration, although you can usually get out of it together. However, when you are alone working with equipment there have been many times when the gear has just packed up. So that is always there at the back of your mind.

So, I would have to say that I always get a little bit anxious whenever I am performing alone. I enjoy teaching but it is not what I originally set out to do; I basically wanted to create. So, if I am left alone in a room to write, then that is where I get the most pleasure out of music really.

You have taught many students. Has there ever been anyone who you have thought is something special?

One or two, but not many to be honest. I have taught many, many people over the years but it is very difficult to quantify that ingredient which makes a musician stand out I think, and for me to think, ‘not only is this person good they also have something to say which is well worth hearing’. And, being totally honest with you, in my case that is really rare.

We have both mentioned John, you have mentioned Steve, and you have worked with them both. Are there any noticeable similarities or differences between how the two of them work?

Wow, that’s a good question. Are there any differences between John and Steve; I have to say that I don’t think that there is a massive amount. Having said that, they are similar characters in some respects. I think that Steve, obviously, within the rock world, has a huge amount of experience, more so than John has had. They are both really mellow guys; they deal with everything very well when they are on stage. I would have to say that to be honest with you; I don’t think that there is an awful lot of difference between the two of them.

I would like to read you a couple of quotes from the great man himself, Steve Hackett, who says, “Nick Fletcher is probably the best jazz rock guitarist in the country” and “I consider Nick Fletcher to be an absolute star”. Just how did you feel when you read those kind comments?

What can I say; it’s very flattering, especially when it comes from somebody whose music you have grown up with and someone who I have admired greatly over the years. I have derived so much pleasure and enjoyment over the years from Steve’s music. So, for him to say those extremely kind things about me is very kind and extremely gratifying. To be honest with you it knocked me sideways when he wrote that. I sent Steve a copy of the album with a note saying, ‘please listen to this Steve, see what you think and let me know what you think’. A little while later Steve wrote back and said that he had been blown away with the album. He thought that it was fantastic, which was lovely to hear and asked me if I would like a quote for the album. I said that would be very kind and that was the quote that he gave me, and I was very thrilled by it. It was very kind of Steve to be so gracious really.

Who has musically inspired you?

In the early days it would have been some of the great rock guitar players, people like (Jimmy) Page and (Jeff) Beck, David Gilmore; I was a huge Andy Powell fan of Wishbone Ash; they were my formative influences in the early days. Then I got into other players as I got more interested in music. First of all it was Steve (Hackett) of course who turned me onto the more classical side of things as well as his rock playing, and then there were people like the late Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, and David Gilmore of course from Pink Floyd. All of those players influenced me in some way during my formative years really.

Do you feel that Progressive Rock here in the UK is currently in a good place; will it ever go away?

Well, I think that as long as there are people like me around, and as long as there are people who are a bit older than me like Steve doing it, then I’m sure that Progressive Rock won’t go away. I know that there is an audience of people who really like it. So, at the moment, I would say that it is in a quite healthy place really. It’s great when you hear that younger kids are enjoying the artistry of Progressive Rock. It is a difficult type of music to play, so you really do need to be on top of your game as a musician to be able to play the music, so as a listener you really do need to give it some attention. It’s like you were saying to me earlier, that you have listened to this album of mine several times now over the period of a couple of weeks.

This music needs that kind of time span, and engagement with it in order to get something out of it that you probably wouldn’t get if you put it on and glossed over it. That is another reason why I am not totally happy about the whole digital realm because it becomes a pick and mix of music and your work becomes valueless; whereas a CD and an album do have some intrinsic value. You have paid your money out for it, and so I will damn well listen to it and get something from it, so it engages you more with the music. And for Progressive Rock you really do need that.

The more time that you invest in it, the more you get out of it.

Exactly, because that is how it is written. Whenever we are writing this type of music, and most certainly when I write it, you come up with your initial ideas, and then you develop those ideas within production. And as the production evolves, you get more and more little ideas coming in, which are not always at the forefront of the mix. So, as you are listening to it, one day you will listen to it and say, “hang on a minute, I like that, what’s that, I haven’t heard that before”’ (laughter). That’s what happens, or it certainly is whenever I listen to things, and I’m sure it does for most other people as well.

You will have to tie John down because now that he has got on top of his drum machine there will be no stopping him (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) funnily enough, whenever I record stuff, I will often put down a rhythm track for a drummer to play to, and then I would get a real drummer into the studio to play it. I much prefer that for this type of music. If you think about John’s latest solo album, it is much more song based, whereas my latest album is much more about interaction between instrumentalists. So, it is important to drive the music forward, giving it the energy and the momentum, and so it is vital that you have a real drummer. This album of mine would never have worked with those kinds of drums; they needed a really good player to get on top of it and move the music forward.

The last time that I spoke to John he said that you and he were busy working on a classical Bach album, Goldfinch. Are you still working on it or is it good to go?

I’m pleased to say that is all finished and ready to go. It will be getting released sometime early in May. We recorded that prior to the lockdown, which was rather fortunate, and it has been put together during the second lockdown. So, yes, it is all ready to go. As you rightly say, it is called Goldfinch after a concerto by Vivaldi which John and I do a version of.

Do you think that the UK music industry will ever recover from the effects of Covid-19?

To be totally honest, that is a really difficult question to answer. I personally don’t think that it will. I know that sounds a bit negative, but I feel that Covid-19 will change the nature of a lot of things. I fear that a lot of grassroots venues will simply close and disappear. They won’t be able to afford to re-open, even if they are still viable now, I think they are really going to struggle. The problem is that once grassroots venues dry up, then it is going to be difficult for any artist to come through and do their stuff. I also think that unless the Government sort out the situation with European travel, unless they get that sorted, it is going to be a massive blow to the music scene.

It is already becoming extremely difficult for artists to make any financial return from the work that they create and put out there, purely and simply because of downloading and streaming. At the moment, there are no gigs to sell any products at. So, that has all gone as well. So, if all that you have got as an artist is the revenue from streaming and downloads, well you may as well simply forget it. You simply cannot survive. I think that a combination of things has been set in motion within the whole digital domain of getting music, the situation for European touring for grassroots musicians and also the venues now, because of the virus. Iit has created an almost Perfect Storm to make it all very difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, the music Industry will continue. People like me will continue performing, if the opportunity is there. People will do it; we have no plans to retire early. But I think that for younger bands coming through, it is becoming more difficult. They haven’t got the financial capacity to weather it all. And with all of the Working Men’s Clubs no longer being with us, that is, as they say another nail in the preverbal coffin.

Testing your memory, what was the first record that you bought?

Oh, right then, I can tell you exactly what the first album that I ever bought was. The first album that I bought was Led Zeppelin IV. I can remember it as plain as day because my elder brother got me into Zeppelin. I loved Zeppelin II and Zeppelin III and of course Zeppelin IV came out and I hastily went off to the local record shop and bought it. When I got home, I put it on and, of course, the opening track is Black Dog, which includes some very strange violin bowing from Jimmy Page which gives it a really eerie intro. (Robert) Plant comes in screaming some vocals, the late John Bonham hits you right between the whatever it is, and there you are. You get this huge track called Black Dog which, I have to say, had a massive impact on me. I was like, ‘wow, so this is rock music, this is the business; I want to play this’ (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That was Fleetwood Mac way back in 1974 and I can tell you a little story behind it. I went to see them in the Sheffield City Hall, and I thought it would be fantastic having heard all of the singles and all of the great songs that they had done and I was really looking forward to experiencing this great band. However, when I got to the venue, the only thing that was open was the stalls. The balcony and the circle were all shut and I thought ‘what’s going on here, there will only be half an audience’ (laughter). Anyway, the chap standing next to me said, “they can’t fill it anymore; people are simply not interested in their music anymore”.

I can’t remember exactly what the line-up was, but Bob Welch was still in the band together with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Christine McVie. Two months later, after I saw that gig, they disappeared from the scene and they went over to America. You most probably know what’s coming next (laughter). Some eighteen months later, they were back with the platinum selling Rumours album. Whilst they were in America, they completely re-invented themselves; they had a new lease of life and they became this mega band that is still with us today. So, I saw the tail end of that original blues rock band that they were, and they were great; it was a great gig. I enjoyed it thoroughly; it really was fantastic.

What was interesting was the fact that they were obviously on the demise, but then they went to America, and re-invented themselves. I always find that interesting. So, the next time that I saw them, they were not a stadium band (laughter). So, it’s true, the phoenix really does rise from the ashes sometimes (laughter). They really did have a very magical line-up. The chemistry really was spot on.

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

Oh blimey, oh my goodness, that’s a great question. Music is such a powerful thing, and it can certainly catch you unawares sometimes. Without realising, you might be feeling something and then you might just hear something which triggers an emotional response. When was the last time that it happened, well that is hard for me to say as it happens all of the time with me. There are so many things that I listen to, but there are certain guitar players who I listen to, who can get me that way. As I mentioned to you earlier, my influences are quite diverse. I like all different types of music but one of the common threads that runs through all of the different players that I have been influenced by is an emotion attachment to the music that they convey, which I have to say I find really special.

There are thousands and thousands of great guitar players around the world, but there aren’t that many players that I listen to who can actually move me in a way with a phrase or a couple of notes. There really are not that many who can do that. But those who do are the people who I have always found have been my influences really. That’s one of the things that I like to be able to do myself whenever I play; I like to be able to express something that is quite deep within me. For me, it’s not how many notes you play, it’s what you say with those notes that is important. That really does mean something to me.

What next for Nick Fletcher?

Fingers crossed, gigs. I will be working on some new music, for a few new projects, and hopefully a follow-up album to Cycles Of Behaviour. There is already music ongoing for that project. Hopefully there will be some more work with the John Hackett Band, and John and I are planning to do a few duets concerts later in the year to promote the latest duo album.

Nick, on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been fantastic.

Thank you, Kevin, it’s been a pleasure. You take care and I’m sure that you and I will bump into one another sometime soon.