Steve Hackett, an English musician, songwriter, singer and producer chats with Kevin Cooper about his frustration with cassettes, his fondness for Selling England By The Pound, his latest album At The Edge Of Light and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

Steve Hackett is an English musician, songwriter, singer, and producer who gained prominence as one of the guitarists 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 in 1975, and after a number of other solo releases he co-founded the super group GTR with Steve Howe in 1986. The group released the self-titled album GTR on which was their top twenty single When The Heart Rules The Mind. The group disbanded in 1987 when Hackett left.

He then returned to his solo career, releasing a total of 25 studio albums including his latest, At The Edge Of Light which was released in January 2019. Later this year Hackett will tour with a set which will see him perform Genesis’ 1973 album, Selling England By The Pound in its entirety together with some other Genesis songs, and some from his own 1979 album, Spectral Mornings to commemorate the album’s fortieth anniversary.

Whilst busy promoting his latest album and forthcoming tour, 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?

I’m very well thank you Kevin and more to the point just how has life been treating you?

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

That’s alright; as usual it’s a pleasure.

And just how is life treating you?

Life at the moment is alright. I have been very busy and as you know I am always on permanent catch-up and I simply keep on forgetting important things all of the time. But I always feel that it is far better to be busy than it is to be sitting at home twiddling your thumbs.

That is very true, and on the subject of being busy let’s talk about your latest album, At The Edge Of Light which you released in January 2019. I was listening to the album prior to today’s chat and all that I have written is ‘business as usual’.

Well what can I say to that except that I totally agree with your sentiment, it really is business as usual (laughter). Thank you so much for saying that. I like that.

I have to ask you, where did the title come from?

(Laughter) I’m so glad that you have asked that question. Funnily enough it was Jo, my wife, who suggested a title that involved light. So we kicked it around for a bit, and that is what we came up with. So it really was a partnership deal; it’s a construct, it is a shared idea.

Are you happy with the album?

To be totally honest with you I am absolutely thrilled with the album; I absolutely adore it. I think that one reviewer was saying that one track on the album titled Hungry Years, didn’t really fit in with the rest of the album because it was “more like 60s pop than rock” and I thought that was precisely the point (laughter). But this particular reviewer said “I like the track but didn’t think that it fitted in with the rest of the album” (laughter). So you could have it all complete doom and gloom on the album, and it is much easier with proggers isn’t it just to have, let’s give it a name, doom rock (laughter).

Well I have to tell you that at the moment I have got four go to tracks; Beasts In Our Time, Underground Railroad, Under The Eye Of The Sun and Hungry Years. On the last two I think that the harmonies are absolutely fantastic.

I really am glad that you like those four tracks. Regarding the harmonies that is myself and Amanda (Lehmann) singing neck and neck on those two tracks. We were attempting to paint a harmony picture.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

Well the track that I have tended to play up to now was Beasts In Our Time. That is the one that I tend to put on and listen to. However, we have recently been making a video for that track and so it has been going backwards and forwards a lot so it is no longer the Immaculate Conception (laughter). Before it has got any memories, an embryo forms and it is much easier to deal with the track before there are any politics that surround it. I don’t mean politics from the world today I just mean backstage politics in terms of ‘how do we do this’ and ‘how do we do the video that is not too contentious, and not likely to get banned’, whilst at the same time addressing some of the symbolic stuff on it (laughter).

How long did it take you to write and record the album?

Well I’m not sure about this because people are saying “well it’s been a year since you came up with the last album” so whilst I cannot remember the exact date, I personally feel that it was about eighteen months but I really am not sure. It’s been between a year and eighteen months which is how long these things usually take. Plus you have to remember that there are a whole tonne of gigs which go on in the interim so I am not working exclusively either as a recording chappie or live so I have to do things, walk away, come back, alter it, and think about it for a while. These things simply do not happen chronologically.

Having previously spoken to you, no doubt you are already writing for the next album?

(Laughter) well I am always writing things down in notebooks but you know they are just little bits of ideas; in fact they are mostly one line at a time. I find that musical ideas come along at the most annoying times, like in the middle of the night or when I am in the shower and I have to try to remember it. I suppose that I will one day have to drag myself kicking and screaming into the 21st century but I really do like working with a pen and paper (laughter). I have got masses of notebooks that are full of riffs and things that, to date, haven’t been turned into songs. Having said that occasionally one will standout and I will think to myself ‘I really have got to follow through with that idea’.

Sometimes it is just a case of interacting with the technology, trying to record something with somebody, and ideas spring from that. I think that all music is a rescue package really, where your initial doodle has to be turned into something cohesive. So the schoolmaster within really does want to work much more quickly but I have to be the slow boy who is the pupil who asks “what’s wrong with this piece of music” or “what’s wrong with this riff” and it keeps going back to the tailors for alterations, take it in, take it out, more stiches, so I can’t really tell you how the process works. What I will tell you is that it is a lot of backwards and forwards, together with a lot of corrections.

I notice that you still haven’t bit the bullet and released the album on cassette?

No, I haven’t done that so far, no (laughter). The record company still haven’t mentioned cassette to me and I just remember that people were always complaining about cassettes to me saying “my cassette is broken” and I would always reply “well what do you expect” (laughter). Many careers were built or failed on cassettes and they were simply a case of whether Dolby was in or out (laughter). Record companies would say to me “the mix is really muffled” or “the mix is really tinny” and I would shake my head and say “I bloody hate those things” simply because they would always be failing me.

For example, I had an English record company and an American record company and so I sent them both the same mix of something that I was working on at that time. Everyone failed the first mix whilst everyone praised the second mix claiming that it was so much clearer and the vocals were so much better. And of course all that had changed was that we had stuck an ending on one; they were both the same mix. Who knows, maybe something had happened with the cassette tape, we will never know. The 80s were a terrible time for the Holy Cassette of Antioch or do I really mean the Holy Mellotron of Antioch (laughter). Lots of stuff at that time that was regarded as gospel was being badly failed simply because of dodgy technology. Personally I am not a great fan of cassettes but if people want to buy them then fine, I will mention it to the record company.

Looking at your tour schedule for this year, there are still no signs of you slowing down yet?

No you are quite right, there are as yet no signs of me slowing down, and in fact it seems to be totally the opposite. I seem to be speeding up; I seem to be playing even more gigs, and in fact I think that at the last count I have already got a hundred and fifty gigs next year. And that number is still building daily. I have recently announced yet another tour of America; in fact there are a tonne of gigs coming up.

You are not playing Nottingham on the forthcoming tour; so who has upset you? (Laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right we are missing Nottingham on this tour but let me assure you, no one has upset me in any way. Unfortunately I don’t book either the dates or the venues and let me tell you, I would be more than happy to play in Nottingham once again. The simple answer is that I just let my agents get on with it. I have absolutely no prejudice against Nottingham in fact I kicked off last year’s tour with the orchestra at the Royal Concert Hall up there in Nottingham. What can I say, I am sure that it will be redressed at some point.

On the subject of the Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited 2019 tour you will be playing Selling England By The Pound in its entirety together with a selection of tracks from your most popular solo album Spectral Mornings which will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes I am, I really am. What can I say, it will be a great night with some super songs from two really great albums.

Lots of Genesis fans claim that Selling England By The Pound epitomises the very best of Genesis. Would you agree with that?

Yes I would, and I will also say that it is my favourite Genesis album. I can always remember the late John Lennon being interviewed and saying that Genesis were one of the bands that he was listening to at that time. It really is high in my selection and I think that it is most definitely the best Genesis album that I was ever involved with. I realise that with Genesis there have been lots of eras but that one encapsulates a lot of what I was trying to do at the time and ironically I wasn’t really writing that much then. Having said that I was continually coming up with riffs and telling the rest of the band “here’s a riff, here’s a riff, here’s a riff” and “see if you like this” which meant that my guitar work on that specific album came to prominence.

I personally think that it was a terrific album, and I think that when we were touring the best of that album together with the best of Foxtrot and the parts which were tourable from Nursery Cryme, I felt that we were the best band out there. What you have to remember is that we recorded that album way back in 1973 but I was immensely proud to be involved with that album together with the team. So yes you are right when you say that we will be playing the album in its entirety. In respect to Spectral Mornings we will be playing most of it, if we can, together with a few of the new songs from At The Edge Of Light that is unless At The Edge Of Light goes ballistic (laughter).

If it goes to number one then I really am in a quandary because I will have advertised one thing but I will actually be playing something else (laughter). I have to say that people really have been saying kind things about the album so, as they say, watch this space. I am proud of the new album; I love it and if I am allowed to then I will take it to the masses.

When you recorded Selling England By The Pound back in 1973 did you feel that you had created something really special?

Well I loved it, but I also remember that Charisma were not overly fond of the album first of all. However, I had that very good feeling, the same very good feeling that I had when I recorded Spectral Mornings and I told Tony Stratton-Smith who was at that time the head of Charisma that I had that same very good feeling about the album and I think, with time, Tony got to love the album. In fact, when we had the reunion concert at the National Bowl, Milton Keynes on Saturday 2nd October 1982, we all agreed that the most touching moment was when Tony Stratton-Smith sang Can You Tell Me Where My Country Lies. That really does address England doesn’t it? It is the Edwardian legacy; a lovely melody which is a variation on those age-old ideas. A kind of Land Of Hope And Glory meets Tesco (laughter).

On the subject of the forthcoming tour, will Nick Beggs be joining you this year?

No, sadly Nick is committed to other things this year so it will be Jonas Reingold on bass this time around. In fact, Jonas toured with me for most of last year. He and vocalist Nad (Sylvan) are both Swedish so they are pals who have worked together before. I have to be flexible in relation to the rhythm section because they all tend to wonder off and get themselves involved in other things in-between (laughter).

Does touring still excite you?

Oh yes, very much so. So much so that I always look forward to touring. It’s best once you have played the first few gigs and the band knows what it is doing, as opposed to just looking at the crib sheet. After about four gigs usually there is something special that happens. So I am looking forward to playing a few songs that I haven’t played in a very long while, together with some that I have never played live.

On that subject, with regard to Spectral Mornings, do you know which tracks you will be playing as yet or is that still under discussion?

To be honest with you, I don’t entirely know just yet. Funnily enough Roger (King) was recently playing something on the keyboard and I thought ‘I know that keyboard part’ and so I asked Roger “what is that from” and someone whispered in my ear “that is from Tigermoth” which as you will know is one of the tracks on Spectral Mornings. I then thought ‘that is a very interesting keyboard part’ (laughter). This happens when you haven’t looked at something for a while and then it suddenly comes back. Tigermoth was supposed to have a piano accordion accompaniment, plus we had analogue synthesisers at that time, so we took it as far as we could but I simply ran out of time.

Plus despite my efforts I simply couldn’t get in an accordion player. Back then we would be working on an album for two months which seemed like an excessive amount of time, spending an absolute fortune in going away in order to do that on food bills alone. So there is no piano accordion because we spent it all on Thai cuisine over in Holland (laughter).

On that note Steve let me once again thank you for talking the time to speak to me today, it’s been fantastic. Take care and bye for now.

Thank you Kevin, it really has been nice to speak to you once again. You take care and I hope to see you in Birmingham.