Steve Hackett, an English musician, songwriter, singer and producer chats with Kevin Cooper about his first paid gig, playing harmonica on his brother John’s album, his latest studio album and his forthcoming tour of the UK with a forty-one piece orchestra.

Steve Hackett is an English musician, songwriter, singer, and producer who gained prominence as the guitarist of the progressive rock band Genesis from 1971 to 1977. He contributed to six Genesis studio albums, three live albums, seven singles and one EP before he left to pursue a solo career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Genesis in 2010.

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, Hackett co-founded the super group GTR with Steve Howe in 1986. The group released the self-titled album GTR and top twenty single When The Heart Rules The Mind. When the band disbanded in 1987, Hackett then resumed his solo career. He has released albums and toured worldwide on a regular basis since.

Whilst busy preparing for his forthcoming band and orchestra tour of the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Steve good morning, how are you?

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

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

That’s fine, it’s always a pleasure whenever I get to speak to you so thank you.

I have to ask, since we last spoke, how has life been treating you?

To be honest with you, life at the moment is very good if not very busy. We recently had our last day of rehearsal and I have to say that we have been rehearsing very hard for two weeks solid for the upcoming tours.

You mention upcoming tours and I have been looking at your tour schedule and I have to say that there are certainly no signs of you slowing down are there?

(Laughter) that’s right, I just seem to be getting busier and busier as time moves on. We have recently been playing in both North and South America, together with a Caribbean cruise with a zillion other bands, which stopped off at Belize at some point and gladly there wasn’t a revolution in full swing, and now we are back here in the UK to tour with both the band and orchestra so all in all 2018 has to date been a very interesting year.

Without giving too much away, what can we expect from the UK tour with the band and orchestra?

Well I have previously done a few shows with an orchestra from time to time but this will be the very first time that I will have toured with an orchestra. This is the very first time that I have decided ‘yes, the circus will include an orchestra’ (laughter). I will be taking a forty-one piece orchestra out on the road with me, so I really am looking forward to that.

I want to speak to you some more about the tour with the orchestra but first, if I may, I would like to take you back to last year’s tour. You and I last spoke just prior to the Genesis Revisited Tour and I just wanted to ask you if you were happy with the fans reaction to it?

Yes I was, I really was and I have to be honest and say that the response to the tour was tremendous. We recorded the Birmingham show which is now available as a DVD, and let me put it this way and be British about it rather than an American and say that “it’s phenomenal man” (laughter). I have to say that it was a very good show; the audience were fantastic, the Symphony Hall is very nice, and you can now simply listen to just the audio or if you wish you can watch the show on DVD. I remember when I was watching the show back that the energy within the show just kept going up and up and up. My mother came to the release of that and she told me that she really enjoyed it so there we are. If my mother likes it then it is usually okay (laughter).

So it is safe to say that you are happy with the DVD?

Oh yes, I really am. I am particularly pleased with the sound on this one. I am particularly pleased with the drum sound on it. I think that it does Gary (O’Toole) proud in the fact that he sounds like the demon that he really is. It brings back really great memories of that tour. However, I have to tell you that for the upcoming tour Nick Beggs will no longer be with us. With Nick it seems to be a year on then a year off; he is either working with me or Steven Wilson it would seem (laughter). The two of us seem to fill Nick’s diary. So this year Nick will be working with Steven Wilson, as last year he was working with me. It has now been like this for consecutive years so this year I will be joined by Jonas Reingold who I have to say is a legend amongst bass players.

Jonas is an incredible player, and he is probably a mixture of Jaco Pastorius and the late Chris Squire. He is phenomenal and I have loved working with him. We have been in rehearsals for the forthcoming tour for the past few weeks and I have to say that Jonas has blown me away. He really is a great player; he is very modest, more than capable, and that now means that we have two Swedes in the band (laughter). We have Nad Sylvan on vocals and Jonas on bass, which I have to say is really great.

You have briefly touched on the tour schedule; Japan, Canada, America, Brazil, Chile, Peru and the United Kingdom. There is still no sign of Steve Hackett slowing down in the immediate future (laughter).

(Laughter) yes I know, its mad isn’t it (laughter). The world is not big enough as they say. You are right, there are no signs of slowing down. If truth be told I think that I am actually getting busier (laughter). I don’t know how that is possible, or why that is even possible (laughter). I think that when offers to tour come in I automatically say yes. My wife, fortunately, loves to travel. As well as running a lot of the business, she is a historian so she is very well read. She has written the odd history book and she tells me about the places that we visit. For example, one of her family spent time in Brampton here in Norfolk which is a tiny place that only has a few lovely houses and that type of thing.

My wife informed me that two thousand years ago Brampton used to be a Roman stronghold called Bramtuna. It was in fact a Roman garrison and the tiny stream that runs through Brampton one assumes must have been a lot bigger at that time. My wife is full of facts like this so for me there really isn’t a boring place on the face of the earth. We have recently got back from India visiting temples that were carved out of whole mountains, and it is truly amazing when you see just what the Indians were able to do over a thousand years ago. It was just mind-blowing. I think that she is secretly completing my education (laughter).

You will be starting the tour here in Nottingham at The Royal Concert Hall on Monday 1st October, which is billed as being the ‘band with orchestra’ which all sounds very intriguing. Are you excited about the tour?

I am, I am very excited by it, yes. I actually think that the possibilities are endless. I hope that the tour is a huge success, because I think that certain bands who embraced the notion of working with orchestras sounded at their most exciting when they finally bit the bullet themselves. In that statement I am including The Beatles, Procol Harum, Electric Light Orchestra, and other bands who had more than a nod as to just what the trained individuals could do with their individual instruments. I think that it broadened the pallet hugely. I know that we can do a lot with tens of thousands of samples and I have personally embraced technology but then there is the aspect of manpower and elbow grease.

I have friends who work in orchestras and they very kindly point me in the right direction at times and I am thrilled whenever I meet orchestral players because I just know what they have gone through in order to achieve the level of playing that they are required to do. It is a different emphasis; we rockers have been allowed to go our own way at times whilst orchestra players have had numerous disciplines imposed upon them because the very nature of the fact that one week they will be playing Beethoven and the next they will be playing Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky. Also what you have to remember is that the orchestral programmes that they will be required to do differ greatly.

And then suddenly its ‘oh, this week we are playing Genesis’ (laughter). I have been lucky because I have been able to work with orchestras in different contexts from time to time. Sometimes I had done it as guitar and orchestra, and I have worked with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra a couple of times on different projects, and I was very happy to do that. But this time it is rock and I feel that we borrow a little from each other’s school of styles whenever we do this stuff. You have to be prepared to meet each other halfway.

From the audiences perspective it’s not just about the music, it is also about the visual effect too.

Yes it is, that it very true. There is something about it, when it works it really does catch fire. It makes you sit up and think ‘oh wow look at this, this is how it should be’ and it’s great that everyone is invited to the party. They are no longer separate schools; it’s a collision of all of the different styles that we have put together. Perhaps the symphonic nature of some of the early works by Genesis are actually taken on a stage. It’s a little like colouring in a black and white photograph and saying that it can afford to expand. Let me say that the first single that I ever bought was by The Shadows back in 1959 and the first album was in fact Ravel’s Boléro when I was twelve years old in 1962.

I would never have thought that these two kinds of music were ever going to come together and then I remembered that The Shadows played Wonderful Land and suddenly they were working with an orchestra. My first thought was ‘oh that’s interesting’ (laughter). In my opinion, music was finally becoming lush, it was The Shadows doing their thing but then there was the lushness of the orchestra. So by the time that The Beatles were performing Eleanor Rigby I thought ‘wow, these guys are taking a risk here, they are drowning their own instruments and they are using the old instruments to tell the story of the old lady at the end of her life’.

You could almost smell the dust on the old instruments and imagine the room that she spent her time in staring out of the window. And I thought that in a way you needed those instruments in order to convey that. When I was young I tended to listen exclusively to the electric guitar; I didn’t really hear the other instruments, then funnily enough by the time that I was fifteen and listening to Andrés Segovia playing Bach, I thought ‘oh my god, this guy is conjuring a whole orchestra with his fingertips here’ and then I remember reading some years later that Andrés Segovia had hoped that the guitar would be assimilated into standard repertoire perhaps so that the orchestra would include a guitar.

Of course that hasn’t happened, it still has to happen. However, I am trying to blur the edges, the distinction, and I have to say that is lovely when it happens. I have managed to do it live a few times and I have to say that it is a truly great feeling.

From your point of view is there a lot of reworking and rescoring involved in anticipation of the tour?

I am so pleased that you have asked me that, because yes there is. The Genesis stuff was never scored for orchestra; most of what we were doing and are doing was never scored for orchestra. For example, one of the tracks on the last album called El Nino had a combination of orchestra, tribal drums and rock group so there were three different atmospheres. Whilst we were in the studio our conductor Brad (Thatcher), who is also doing some of the scores, said to me “we can orchestrate one more tune, is there something that you would like to do” so I mentioned that one. So I really do hope that will work with an orchestra.

There is a certain amount of syncopation involved with that track, so all that I will say at this moment in time is that we hope to get everyone playing in time (laughter). Everyone who has worked with an orchestra says the same thing “rock groups understand the one, two, three, four, bash whilst the orchestra goes one, two, three, four and….take a breath” (laughter). That is where you get the lushness. If you can get the attack, the timing of everything tied in with the band, then that will be very interesting.

I keep my fingers crossed whenever I come to see you hoping that one day you will perform Martian Sea.

Funnily enough I have recently been working with an Indian sitar player Sheema (Mukherjee) who is a British composer and sitar player. She plays like a demon; she is an absolute virtuoso. I am currently recording a new track with her and I have to say that I find India very interesting. They play different types of drums over there in India, and rhythmically they are very sophisticated and very exciting. I find their approach to rhythm very, very exciting. During my travels I have recorded a little bit of the Indian stuff.

You have mentioned that it will be a forty-one piece orchestra, does that cause you any logistical problems?

Originally I was talking to my agent about doing just the one show in London with the orchestra, but then they told me that it was logistically feasible to do the forthcoming tour and guess what, they all want to do it. They are all prepared to take the risk so onwards and upwards (laughter). I don’t think that we will all be travelling in the one bus together, in fact I don’t think that we could get a bus big enough to hold the band, the orchestra, the crew and all of that (laughter). It won’t be like Sir Cliff in the film Summer Holiday or The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (laughter). I have enough to worry about at the moment so please don’t ask me how the orchestra are going to get there (laughter). If they fail to appear then I will assume that they are not going to show up.

The last time that you and I spoke you said, to quote, “I am on fire and I simply cannot stop writing”. In that case are there any signs of a new studio album?

Yes there are, I am actually halfway through a new studio album which has got the spirit of previous symphonic stuff, together with more of the straight ahead rock stuff. I am using some things that I have never used before, for example I am using a real Sitar this time, and I’m not just faking it (laughter). There will be some orchestral stuff on there, and I have also got some choral stuff going off which is very interesting. For me, choral is the next thing really. Maybe it The Beatles’ fault, maybe it’s Queens’s fault, I really don’t know (laughter). We want it big and we want lots of them. Sometimes I track up lots of me or lots of other people but then I sometimes feel that a real choir would be the way forward.

When are you hoping to have the album ready for release?

Well I know that the record company would love me to have it ready for this tour, but realistically I suspect because I am spending so much time on the road, that might be difficult. However, I will try and work at a greater pace. However, I find that means having to give up more sleep. I would have to be awake and out of bed very early. When I did Genesis Revisited the Japanese said that they were prepared to step-in with a rather large sum in order to allow me to do it. But that then meant that an album that I had spent eighteen months making suddenly needed to be delivered in six weeks. So from that point on I just gave up sleep.

The problem was that I was working with Roger (King) who looked at me and said “I have got nineteen different production ideas which I now have to come up with every single day”. And so at that time, we took a leaf out of The Beatles book in the fact that we mixed everything down onto eight track, we put the guitars onto two tracks, the drums were on two tracks, the orchestra were on two tracks and the vocals were also on two tracks and suddenly we had got it all. And as they say, that was that (laughter). I have to say that is a really good way of working. It limits certain things but it means that other things are possible.

Having said that we don’t work like that anymore because a while ago in the studio Roger turned to me and said “you do realise that we are now up to three hundred tracks” (laughter). Back in the old analogue days if you had a tambourine or two they would share a track with something else. However, we can now put them onto a separate track with its own programme so that is what we do. It’s just the computers that blow up now (laughter). Roger always says that it is my fault that we are using three hundred tracks and I always say that it is his fault; we constantly blame each other. I don’t think that I am being excessive (laughter).

I recently had a chat with younger brother John (Hackett) who informed me that you had played the harmonica on Never Gonna Make A Dime from his latest album We Are Not Alone. Did you enjoy that, was it an enjoyable experience?

Yes I did and yes it was, it really was. John has a band or two these days and in a way I think that he is very much like me, he moves within the same genre as I do, and we have in fact recently recorded together again. We have been something that someone said was very much in the spirt of the very first album that he and I did together, Voyage Of The Acolyte back in 1975. In other words it was classical with a lot of lead flute on it. Back in the early days I was thinking about the flute a lot because we shared our space at home. At that time I was listening to as much flute music as I was guitar music. Back in 1975 when John and I made our professional debut together John was sounding wonderful on that album especially on the track Hands Of The Priestess.

I just thought ‘wow, what a sound’. So I am very pleased that he has got a band; sometimes he is doing rock, sometimes he is doing classical, and I think that our similarities are far greater than our differences. John currently works with Nick Fletcher, who is a stunningly good guitarist, Duncan Parsons on percussion and vocals and Jeremy Richardson on bass, guitars and vocals. So I am very pleased for him. Sometimes John works with me and like me, Nick shares a love of both classical music and rock.

John told me about your first paid gig on the boat travelling over to Canada.

(Laughter) really, did he indeed. Yes I got paid by handing round the cap (laughter). I think that people started throwing money at me simply to get rid of this precocious seven year old who was annoying them by playing the harmonica (laughter). Let’s just say that I wasn’t shy (laughter). It simply had to be done.

Steve on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been absolutely delightful.

Thanks for that Kevin, you take care and I will see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.