Steve Hackett, an English musician, songwriter, singer, and producer chats with Kevin Cooper about how he kept busy during lockdown, his friendship with Peter Gabriel, his latest album Surrender Of Silence and his extensive tour of the UK.

Steve Hackett is an English musician, songwriter, singer and producer who gained prominence as one of the guitarists in 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.

He released his first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte in 1975 and since then he has been prolific with his releases, having released a further twenty six studio albums, the last being Surrender Of Silence which was released earlier this year.

He is currently embarking upon a thirty date tour of the UK which will see him perform Genesis’ 1977 album Seconds Out in its entirety.

Taking some time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, this is what he had to say.

Steve, good morning. How are you?

I’m fine thank you Kevin. How are you today?

Well, I could complain but who would listen (laughter).

(Laughter) I know exactly what you are saying.

Well, we had better leave our ailments behind as I firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure Kevin, it is always fun whenever you and I get to chat.

Just how is life treating you in these strange times?

I have to say that in my opinion Covid really has been a great leveller. People have either been stuck indoors, or they have gone out and they have caught it. Having said that, I have to say that for me personally, it has been a productive time overall. I managed to get my latest album, Surrender Of Silence written and recorded during lockdown, which I thought was pretty amazing. What is also nice is that we have played a few live shows so far and I am very happy with just how well the tour has gone so far. It really has been fantastic for us to be able to play live in front of people once again. For us to be allowed out really has been wonderful.

Where there any nerves at all when you finally stepped out onto the stage after eighteen months or so?

I have to be totally honest with you and say yes, there was a hell of a lot of nerves. Within the set which we are playing on this current tour, we play some solo stuff; some of it from the recent album Surrender Of Silence, which I am lucky enough to say went straight into the charts at number sixteen which really was great vindication of that. Playing shows was a little nerve-racking at first because it is a very long set. It is about three hours long and for us to try and get the whole history of things, including the solo stuff, the whole of the Seconds Out album in the Genesis set, which I have to say is extensive. It is even longer than the original double album as we play full length versions of all of those things.

All of the guys are saying to me afterwards that they are all finding it a really tough set, but the shows have been getting steadily stronger as things get tweaked, and all things start to happen; a little bit of a tweak on my distortion unit, in order for me to get the maximum out of it. Not everything is turned up to eleven; some things are actually turned down in order to give us a better sound being honest with you (laughter). It has been a great tour so far, and I am really looking forward to being back in Nottingham on the 2nd October when we will once again be found playing the Royal Concert Hall. And I have to say that I am really looking forward to that. It is a thirty-date tour, and it is the most extensive tour that I have ever done here in the UK, both with Genesis and also my solo stuff. Thankfully, so far, it has been amazing.

This coming from a man who once told me that he was going to start slowing down (laughter).

(Laughter) ah well you see, let’s put it this way, Covid retired us all for a while, and at some point, I thought, ‘well, I can’t be in front of people as things have been cancelled and rescheduled, so what can I do. I could record more, I could make some more videos, I could even do track chats to people’ so I actually did around sixty lock down videos. Some of which were playing to camera, some of it was me talking about people’s favourite tracks from the past, solo stuff, Genesis stuff, you name it I would talk about it (laughter). We were almost like a regular TV channel at that point. Then I thought ‘well, let’s get going with recording as much live stuff as was possible.’ So I recorded an acoustic album; there was a live album, there was the autobiography, plus a new rock album.

Two weeks after I had finished the acoustic album, Under A Mediterranean Sky, we were onto the rock album, Surrender Of Silence. The acoustic album seemed to perform in the marketplace like a rock album; I was lucky in the fact that that one charted. I wasn’t expecting it to do that. I just wanted to do something in an attempt to calm everyone down and which was different from Surrender Of Silence, which I have to say is a much more intense album.

Having listened to the album a few times now, it would appear that there is more social comment on there, more so than any previous Steve Hackett albums. Would you agree with that?

Yes, I would totally agree with that observation; thank you for saying that. The latest album Surrender Of Silence really relates to the fact that there are a number of things which I have stayed quiet about lyrically until recently. We were addressing climate change; we were addressing the inequalities in wealth, one half of the world locked up like a prison camp whilst the other half of the world was in charge of the keys. I really do get worried about that aspect of the world being divided into haves and have nots. So, there are tracks on the album which deal with that together with social comment change.

The Russian inspired track Natalia, the track which borrows heavily from the style of the Russian ballet composers, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, that one was really more about Natalia, who is really a Russian type of everywoman. In each verse Natalia finds herself being executed by the Russian authorities, over a thousand-year period. So, as you will find as you play the track, there are four different Natalia’s. We had visited Russia and our reactions to it were I have to say, very mixed. We met some wonderful people, and the audiences were great, but there were always those little things like why our emails weren’t working, and all this kind of stuff so, I don’t know. I can’t help thinking about Alexei Navalny, the man who they tried to do away with is a bit like a modern-day Rasputin. That really does go on with the Russians.

On a lighter note, there is some world music on the album, Wingbeats for example.

(Laughter) you have done it again. You never cease to amaze me. Yes, that’s right, after we had enjoyed a visit to Ethiopia, we had fallen in love with the place and so we decided to do an African themed thing together with an Oriental styled piece; Shanghai to Samarkand with a few instruments that I have not used before. The rest of the album, I think, is very full on. Some people have been calling it Metal Macabre whilst others just say, “it is a heavier album than you have made before” (laughter). Whilst I would never pigeonhole the album, I would have to say that it is not escapist nor is it romantic. The acoustic album was much more of that, more gentle and more romantic.

I would never attempt to tell anyone that Surrender Of Silence is romantic in that sense of the word. It is very much a rock album, with a few added things which I like to think sets it aside and makes it subtly different from other peoples view of what Rock and Roll should contain.

Personally, if I had to label the album, (which I never would) I would say that it is more industrial than your previous work. Does that make any sense?

Yes, it does, more industrial, yes. It’s funny, my great friend the late John Wetton would often say, whenever they asked him about his style of music, he would say that it was Post-Industrial. So, I have to say that I like your expression, that’s good; I will take it that you think that the album is more industrial. I like that.

Normally, at this stage, I would be saying to you, “I like this track” or “I like that track” but after the third play of the album, I just wrote one thing, ‘this is Steve Hackett doing what Steve Hackett does best, playing a lot of different styles’. Would you agree with that?

(Laughter) once again your observation is absolutely correct. Yes, on this album I have tried out a lot of different styles, and whenever I have tried to write something in one style, apart from acoustic, I find that I want to do the equivalent of albums which started to appear back in the late 1960s, things like the CBS Sampler Albums. Those were the albums where you would get Leonard Cohen next to the Grateful Dead next to Simon and Garfunkel next to Roy Harper. People would put these albums on at parties and people used to stop what they were doing to listen to what was going on because at that time, there was a lot of great song writing going on. Having spent time growing up in the 1960s I was a little bit too young to be a professional at that point. I always used to think that that kind of diversity together with the multicultural thing as well was uppermost in my mind.

Ever since I was writing stuff like Please Don’t Touch! and Spectral Mornings ages ago, which were things that I had done as soon as I had left Genesis, people were starting to use the word travelogue about it. It was photographer Armando Gallo who had worked with Genesis back in the early days, and who is now a great mate of mine, who once said, “thanks for the album Spectral Mornings. You have taken me from the shores of Brighton Beach to Hong Kong Harbour on this one” and I thought to myself, ‘ah, I see’. In other words, that was something which I had done naturally. I didn’t sit down and think, ‘I will try and do that’, it just came out that way.

Are you happy with the album?

Yes, I am. I am very happy with the album. As you know, I basically just keep going. As soon as I have recorded one album, I usually start another one and I fall in love with different things every time. I fall in love with this riff, and I fall in love with this guitar which I have just acquired. There will be favourites but on the other hand, it is the song and story itself that drives me. I write with my wife Jo and we often discuss what the tracks are going to be about. Sometimes she will come up with a lyric for something and I will scratch my head and be puzzled for a few months and then I will think, ‘how can I bring this one to life’ (laughter). That was the case with Natalie. Once I had hit on the idea to go Russian on the music, as it was a Russian story, I thought ‘yes, we can do that, we can make it consciously referential and deferential to those composers I have spent a lot of time listening to’.

That is where the strange harmonies come from; they come from Prokofiev and he seems to bridge the gap, I think, between the romantics and the modern. Tchaikovsky is the great romantic, with his heart wrenching stuff such as Swan Lake. So, there is more than a nod in there, and Stravinsky who nails his colours to the mast with dissonance and all the rest. Basically, it is a sort of percussion driven thing, and I honestly feel that Stravinsky was heading more towards rock, so you then take it a stage further and it heads into the cinematic experimental aspect. He certainly influenced film music which in turn influences me.

I am getting to know you a little better now and I have to say that you made me laugh when you mentioned that you are always working. So, my question to you is when will we be seeing the new album because I know that you would have started working on it as soon as Surrender Of Silence was finished (laughter).

(Laughter) well, it’s a funny thing that you asked me that, and I have to be totally honest with you and tell you that I have currently got three tracks on the go; two of them could go just as they are whilst the third one is more complicated. This challenge is one where you think, ‘just how can I blend rock, folk, orchestral, and fairground grotesque. How can I make all of that work together?’ That is the big challenge at the moment. It’s a bit like having a notice board pinned up and thinking, ‘I have got pins in this bit but over there, there is this bit as well which has pins in that side too’ (laughter). I need to flesh out the orchestral section and make that good. But I have loved working in orchestral styles and shoehorning them into rock.

I think that Surrender Of Silence will probably get dressed as that, in the fullest sense that we have ever done. My cohort with the orchestrations, Roger King, is someone whom I personally feel should be conducting the Berlin Philharmonic actually. He has got those capabilities as well as being a rocker too; he is a hell of a player and a good all rounder. As is the rest of the band. We used the touring band on the album, but we have now extended it into a United Nations collective. We have people from Azerbaijan, America, Tajikistan, Sweden, Denmark; the list simply goes on. I love bringing different people in. So, with each album, there is an invisible map in my mind, and I will be thinking, ‘yes, where can we go where we haven’t gone before’ (laughter).

I saw this guy playing this marvellous instrument. I had absolutely no idea what it was; I was watching him on the internet, and I heard that he was playing a thing called the Dutar which hails from Tajikistan. His name was Sodirkhon Ubaidulloev, and I had him playing the Dutar on Shanghai To Samarkand. He was recommended to me by a guy I’d worked with before from Azerbaijan called Malik Mansurov who played the Tar. Those two instruments, the Dutar and the Tar are both related to the guitar. I would describe his playing as a cross between Ravi Shankar and John McLaughlin. He has got those sorts of chops; he is a fantastic virtuoso, who I have worked with on a number of things, and I have to say that the whole experience is totally wonderful. I like working with people who are as driven on their instrument as I am on mine. They are all as mad as I am (laughter).

I always ask you so I don’t see why this time should be any different, where did the album title come from?

I thought that Surrender Of Silence was something that might address the fact that there are certain aspects of social comment where I wouldn’t normally be sticking my neck out. I figured that the world is in a hell of a mess right now, and I think perhaps that all of the aspects of profit versus poverty versus climate change versus the pandemic are actually all linked. They all have the same thing which drives them. It is the limitations of the profit motif, so I am sorry if I sound like I am on my soapbox here but, I do feel that it is time for, let’s put it this way, I’m very happy to record a protest song if the subject matter moves me. I realise that I am an entertainer first and foremost, but that is what I do.

I am a player, I am an entertainer, and I make a noise for a living. But, whilst I have got an audience who are prepared to accept changes from me, I think that people have had more time at home to consider all manner of things, then perhaps the work that I have been doing gives them the chance of a virtual journey to other places, if not a physical one. We got into that big time with Under A Mediterranean Sky, where with that album what I was basically trying to do was tracks that were based on the various countries around the Mediterranean so there is a Spanish sounding track on it called Andalusian Heart. There is also a Geek sounding track called The Memory Of Myth, and so on and so forth.

So, the idea there was that we tried to take the listener all around the Mediterranean so in a way I have continued that thread. There are three specifically which are very deliberately un-British. There is Russian, African, and Oriental; there is certainly all of that. I was working with a Vietnamese stringed instrument called a Dan Tranh; I was getting to grips with that and trying to play that. I love the way that it sounded. What you also have to take into consideration is the fact that I was trying to get people to play in an Oriental style which, I have to say, was good fun (laughter).

I personally feel that you are keeping Rock music alive and very well here in the UK.

(Laughter) really, well let me see, so far I feel that the music is alive. I like to think that I live for the music and the music lives in me. It is kind of what I am all about and I am very lucky to have the people that I work with around me. They really are an extraordinary team and also my wife Jo. Jo and I really do write as one with these things.

Well, I currently have two tracks which I keep going back to; one that you have previously mentioned, and that is Wingbeats. I think that is fantastic…

I’m so glad that you like it…

And the second being Relaxation Music For Sharks (Featuring Feeding Frenzy) which I have to say, I think is brilliant.

Thank you for saying that and I have to say that I’m so pleased that you like Wingbeats. The story behind that particular track is that we happened to be in Ethiopia and as you will probably know, there are four videos which go with the song; much of which we shot whilst we were away. As for Relaxation Music For Sharks, we had a visit to the London Aquarium at one point, and these sharks were circling very slowly and at that time there was a guy in the tank with the sharks who I think was feeding them. I thought to myself, ‘he’s got some bottle this guy’ and my thought then was that of the idea of the bubbles circling, rising to the surface and all of that. Starting the track slowly and having an imaginary shark or two operating as if by stealth, heading for prey, and the fish that were being consumed.

As the sharks go through shoals of fish, they form themselves into large bait balls. It is literally a circle according to Sir David Attenborough, whose book I have just read. It really is extraordinary. They get picked off by the sharks, plus if they are lucky enough to find their way to the surface, they also get picked off by birds as well. Anyway, I felt that we were kind of doing music for an imaginary movie. For your information, I have never done a movie for sharks but there are four other movies which go with this album (laughter). It’s been great for me doing all of that, and I feel that sharks go through all of that business by stealth which is the point at which I got into orchestral power and then it moves into full rock, once Nick D’Virgilio kicks in with those drums.

Nick is a fantastic player, and he is no stranger to Genesis himself. On the subject of drums, we also have Craig Blundell who is working with us live, showing his chops, and I have to say that Craig is a fabulous player. I have seen him on TV and I have to say that he really is extraordinary. I proudly said to Craig, “I have made four albums during the lockdown” to which he replied, “really, I have just played on fourteen” (laughter). So, if I ever thought that I was a workaholic, I really do need to take stock (laughter). I was trying to make up for lost time and lost gigs. However, we are now reclaiming the streets. I am playing thirty dates, the most extensive tour of the UK that I have ever done, and we are playing up and down the country, and I have to say that it has been great; in fact it has been absolutely wonderful.

Putting you on the spot, do you have a favourite track on the album?

For me, I would have to say that it would be the track that was the flagship when we first started the album, and that was Natalia. I think that was the second track that we worked on. I had already recorded Scorched Earth, which I have to say is a lot of people’s favourite. Then, once the album was done, I thought of doing this gentle acoustic piece which became Esperanza right at the end of the album; Esperanza being the Spanish word for hope. Once we put strings on it, I said to Roger, “I think at this point, this is my favourite track”. Having said all of that, I find it hard to show complete loyalty and to be completely faithful to one track over another. I think what happens is as soon as someone says that they like one of the tracks, I tend to go, ’ah yes, that’s my favourite too’ (laughter). Yes, it’s true; I’m as changeable as the weather (laughter).

You have mentioned your autobiography, A Genesis In My Bed, briefly, which you released on 24th July 2020. Were you happy with the reaction the book received?

I have to be totally honest with you and say yes, I was. It is now also available in paperback which has an addendum to it, so it has been updated. So, yes, the reaction to the book has been very good, in fact I seem to have gotten away with being an author at this point, which is awfully nice (laughter).

Have you received any feedback from any of your previous work colleagues?

(Laughter) the simple answer to that is no. However, the Genesis tradition is usually to avoid that. It’s the way they were raised, I think.

On the subject of Genesis, shall we attempt to get the elephant in the room discussed and put to bed?

Elephant in the room, and yes there is of course and fire away, bring the elephant right in here by all means (laughter).

Now that they are finally taking to the stage once again, The Genesis Last Domino? tour has reared its head once again. How does it really feel, not being invited along; it must hurt?

Let’s put it this way, the last time that I was invited along was back in 2005, along with Peter Gabriel. To me, at that time there simply didn’t appear to be enough common ground in order to pull that off. I was approached, however. I never expected to be approached for this. I have always said that if it was a serious and sincere offer, then yes, of course I would be up for it. Let’s put it this way, my tour was booked first, and I have got these thirty dates so I couldn’t possibly even do a walk-on. I figured that, how many people they were playing to throughout the UK, I am probably playing to a similar number with all of the dates that I am doing.

I’m playing in the theatres, and I have to say that I am very happy with the fact that they will prioritise the music from the 80s whereas I will celebrate the music from the 70s. I will be celebrating the classic line-up of the band and if people want to get an idea of what Genesis was like in pretty much all of its incarnations, then I would say by all means go and see both shows. I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled with the attendances at these shows of mine; many of which have sold-out. It has been selling really well considering the competition up the road; the elephant in the room (laughter). It really is extraordinary. I wish Phil (Collins) and the rest of the guys all the very best, because despite everything we still remain pals. I wish them the best with everything, in particular Phil and his health.

Have you and Peter (Gabriel) every considered going out on the road together?

What a wonderful idea. I have to say that I have never suggested that to Peter. I have always regarded him as a mate, and I think that he would feel that it was a favour which he would be doing for me. However, Peter has shown an interest in the Genesis stuff that I have been doing. Peter is a very sweet guy; he is totally non-competitive; he just wants everyone in the world to do well. That’s obvious I think with the nature of the music that he has done, together with the social issues which he has addressed. Peter is a very nice guy, and he knows that he can count on me anytime, for something, should he wish.

You will be playing Seconds Out in its entirety, which was your last album with Genesis…

…It certainly was, yes

does it get emotional whenever you are playing it?

I will tell you what, I love the words to Afterglow and whenever we are playing that, there is a big moment when the lights come up in just the way that they did. We are using the aircraft landing lights in order to have that big moment, and it is during Afterglow and as I said, it is the big moment which is, ‘I would give anything just to hear you call’. And at that moment, I always feel that the loved ones that I have known, my family; I feel that I am singing to them, the ones that have passed on and I personally feel that it is a clarion call to spirit. It is a beautiful song, and I have to say that we have been playing it on previous tours, but it has never sounded so wonderful as it has sounded on this tour. It sounds so good that I have to say that it is quite possibly my favourite, of the Genesis things.

Back in the day, live albums were generally very good or awful. Where do you think Seconds Out sits as a live album which was recorded back in 1976?

I think that in the choice of songs, it is very good indeed. However, I think in terms of production, because you have to remember that it was recorded eons ago, I personally think that it could have sounded better. Having said that, it’s not about the performances, it’s all about the equipment. For me, I understand why people love it, but I’m doing it and we are going to film it on this tour, and there will be a live version of not just that, but also my stuff as well. So, I am really thrilled that it has all been very well received. I am signing so many of the albums every night, that has now become my other job and they keep selling off the stands at gigs.

I keep asking, “you can’t possibly have sold all of those already” (laughter). I have even signed more of everything, and that includes even more of the solo stuff, and funnily enough it hasn’t been as many as Seconds Out. It is a thrill for me that we get to do that.

Where would it sit in your favourite Genesis albums?

I would have to say that I think that Selling England By The Pound is my overall favourite. But again, I think that there were some things that were very good on it, but there are other things that were, again because of the equipment, and also not just because of recording techniques, equipment, and technology, but also the ability to play oneself. I just think that I know that I am a more rounded player now. I can now do things that I couldn’t do back then. There has been a lot more time spent on the nylon guitar, on orchestration, on Flamenco moves, on classical things, on Jazz phrases, on Blues things, you name it. I claim not to be an expert in anything, but I sketch in a number of styles which sometimes blunders into a full portrait, and I am always thrilled whenever things do that.

Taking on board everything that you have said regarding technology, ability, and everything else, do you think that Seconds Out is a true reflection of just where the band were at that moment in time?

I think that the band was always capable of great things. However, there is not a version of Watcher Of The Skies on the album, and there is not a version of The Fountain Of Salmacis on the album, and these were great things which the band touched on in the early days. Also, there is not a live version on the album of Dancing With The Moonlight Knight which I think is another great extravaganza, but, there is a live version of Firth Of Fifth where the guitar is not buried in the mix, because what would be the point (laughter). I like playing the album; I like playing it live and I like the guitar parts being heard. What’s the point of hiding a Stradivarius in the broom closet (laughter).

You tour is entitled Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited – Seconds Out & More, just what can we expect from the ‘more’ section of the show?

You can expect some of my solo stuff. There is a solo set before we do that, and I have to warn you that it is a very long show. Having said that, there is a thirty-minute break in order for you to recover. We have been required to do that by order of the venues. The band would prefer to have a fifteen-minute break. They are not happy at getting warmed up and then being forced to cool down and then going back out on stage once again. Maybe it is tougher on the memory in the muscles. But, you know, I don’t mind (laughter). I just go back to the dressing room and say, “well they liked the first half so they are going to love the second” and I will have a cup of tea (laughter). By the time that I have done that it is time to go back on, so I sign a few more albums and we are back on.

I recently spoke to Joe Brown who told me that he loves the break in proceedings as it gives him time to relax, have a cup of tea and take his wig off (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) so far, I don’t have to take my wig off, it is all my own hair, but I would be boasting then wouldn’t I (laughter). I love the idea that Joe Brown wears a wig and I have always said that when I lose my hair, nobody will really know, other than the person who is running the crematorium. I’m a very firm believer in wigs, in fact wigs for all I say. If it makes you feel good, then why not, nobody has to go bald. I had a German friend who I had known for years, and I heard that when he was a kid his mother had given him some medicine and all of his hair fell out when he was a child. Apparently, he had some horrendous reaction to his mother’s treatment.

Apparently, he had three wigs, which were all different lengths so it would look like he had had his hair cut. I think that is fantastic. Long live me and Ena Sharples (laughter). You have got to do whatever it takes. I spend a whole lot of my life dieting. I was quite proud at the last gig when I looked down, I didn’t see the great mound, and I found that really nice. I must be heading the right way, which is good. So, again, those who say, “ah okay, I have gone to seed now, I have given up” I say, “why, if you want longevity, if you have got something to do, if you are passionate about what you do, and you want to get the best out of yourself for as long as possible then you have to take a leaf out of my uncles book”.

My uncle lived until he was 108 and he was actually the oldest serving solider still alive from the First World War. His name was Jack Davies, and he was from my mother’s side of the family. So, I am hoping that the candle gets passed down or at least it is in the genes, from that great old boy.

I have to tell you that I have been listening recently to Innocence And Illusion the recent album by Amanda Lehmann, and I have to say that firstly I think that it is a great piece of work, and secondly, there is some great harmonica on there by a certain Steve Hackett.

(Laughter) I am so pleased that not only you have heard of the album, but I am so pleased that you have enjoyed it. Her album is really wonderful, it’s great. The reaction to it has been fantastic. She has had a positive write up in The Prog Magazine, so she has been thrown in at the deep end with that. Amanda does appear on stage with us at some of the shows and would that she be on all of them. She really is fantastic, and she really is a great writer now. I’m so pleased that you have heard the album, and I hope that you like it as much as I do.

I have been looking at the players on there and I feel that you will all have had a great time working on the album together?

Yes, we did, it is a very good album, and as you say she has got some great people on it, people such as Nick Magnus, Rob Townsend, myself, Roger King; we have all helped out basically, but I do have to say that the album is all her. It is all down to her hard work. Amanda is very creative; and I personally think that she is the new British talent.

At the minute I keep going back to Tinkerbell, I think that’s brilliant.

That’s lovely, Tinkerbell is such a brilliant track. It is a lot of people’s favourite track, and it is such a poignant song. It is so lovely.

On that note Steve, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure as usual. You take care and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.

It’s been nice talking to you again Kevin, thank you so much and I will see you up there in Nottingham.