Interview: Steve Hackett talking premonitions
Despite being constantly referred to as the ‘former Genesis guitarist’, Steve Hackett has forty years as a solo artist and a plethora of recorded material amassed behind him. Yet he’s not one to deny his past and his current tour which has just kicked off in Germany, celebrates not only his solo years but also his time as part of the pioneering prog rockers. Steve had literally just concluded rehearsals for the tour with the opening gig in two days time and kindly took time out to chat to Mike Ainscoe about the tour and the crop of his current releases.
SH: We start the day after tomorrow in Germany in Bochum. Funnily enough I spoke to Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, or previously of Tull, who’s playing the same dates and the same festival in Bochum – or rather we’ve been emailing each other about that – as I’ve known him for a while!
Which led into a brief chat about Anderson’s current project before getting back to the script
SH: I remember seeing Tull many years ago and they always turned in a very good show and we did the same festival in Malta at one point – a very accomplished band and Ian is very driven and very methodical and hard working – still is.
LTW: Back to talking about your gig though, there’s still a healthy Genesis content in the show you’ve promised. After touring both the ‘Genesis Revisited’ album and doing the ‘Genesis Extended’ tour, do you still feel that there’s some mileage in performing the Genesis material?
SH: Well, I’ve split it into two halves. To be honest, from the point of view of agents and promoters we did the Genesis Revisited tour for a couple of years and I think it rekindled interest in all sorts of things, the shows the back catalogue, all manner of things and so when I said I wanted to go and do a solo show and do my own stuff again it was “oh, can you do some Genesis stuff, can we include Genesis in the publicity?” so I thought why fight it? Let’s do a show of two halves so it’s really the best of both. I’m doing solo stuff and a lot of favourites and songs I haven’t done for a long time – it’s a total crowd pleaser the whole thing with numbers from way back from Genesis with ‘Foxtrot’. We’re doing ‘Get ‘Em Out By Friday’ and ‘Can Utility And The Coastliners’ from that album from ’72 which became seminal but at the time it was just another album by another young band and there’s also ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ – we do the title track and ‘Hairless Heart’, then ‘After The Ordeal’ (from 1973’s ‘Selling England By The Pound’) and there is one other which I’m trying to remember off top of my head! but as I say, it’s quite a change in the set. I’ll also be doing stuff form the latest solo album ‘Wolflight’ , five numbers from that plus solo things that I haven’t done for a very long time as well because it’s celebrating forty years of being in the business doing solo stuff. My first solo album was released in 1975 and we’re celebrating ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ as it’s actually forty years old today! It’s probably my most ambitious set in a way, trying to marry the two halves and trying to give everyone the experience of what went on with the band but also what motivated me as a solo performer.
LTW: It’s been interesting as a fan to see how the show has evolved over the past couple of years and seeing how the set and the material has been chopped and changed.
SH: Yes, we have swapped it round but as I say, this is a substantially different set and we’re doing it with surround sound – I was rehearsing this week and personally I find it very exciting and love the idea of the total immersion and the infinite perspectives that you get but it’s early days for that with us but already there’s a feeling of excitement and the WOW factor about music that tells a story and I think that perspectives are all part of that.
LTW: Talking about surround sound…it’s probably a bit naïve saying it’s just some extra speakers at the back…
SH: It is more involved than that; we have all the front speakers – four at present, and it’s interesting to see how that will all pan out from gig to gig as those things all have to be placed in the optimum position but it’s very interesting working with that as we’re using a delay so that in a rehearsal facility you get one idea of the perspective but in a venue there will be some delay so we’re compensating for that and finding out what things work best. I’ve had firm ideas about this surround thing for ages and finally we were in a position to do it this tour. I love the idea of having Genesis in surround.
LTW: Some fan’s wish lists may have wanted a totally Hackett solo set, but then again- there’s the difficulty in trying to get a good cross section from 40 plus years with fans wanting all the stage favourites with maybe a few rarities thrown in.
SH: I do appreciate that and I do try to keep people happy . the business sees it as one thing and other people see it another way – fans have been asking for the solo stuff as I’ve done the Genesis thing but then I wanted to bring back some of the Genesis things that I’m still very proud of and presenting them a different way. The idea of Genesis surround is a treat with some of the things such as ‘Cinema Show’ for instance when there’s a big moment in that when the choir kick in and that’s really lovely in surround – it’s all hands to the pump! I love the idea of doing solo stuff I haven’t done for a while – ‘Spectral Mornings’ and ‘The Steppes’ and many others that people have asked for – ‘Clocks ‘ of course and then there’s the Genesis stuff like ‘Firth Of Fifth’ because of my involvement with that and ‘Musical Box’ so it’s lovely to be able to spread it out – so it’s a very exciting time and it’s also nail bitingly exciting and nerve wracking at the same time but it’s a really ambitious set for us to do. It feels wonderful but there’s so many things on the shopping list you can imagine.
LTW: Of the songs in the set not performed before – ‘Can Utility & The Coastliners’ (an early and rarely played Genesis classic and a highlight of the ‘Revisited II’ album) is a personal favourite and some more observant fans will be looking forward to hearing singer Nad Sylvan’s phrasing on the ‘cast/past’ couplet compared with Peter Gabriel and Steven Wilson’s versions.
SH: (laughs) I think it’s closer perhaps to Pete’s pronunciation. Of course when you work with guest singers what I do is to let them interpret in their own way so certain things do change. Some things may be improved on and some things may seem less authentic but when you work with singers it’s like an acting performance, you’ve got to let someone live the songs, you’ve got to let them live with it in their own time and in their own way and Nad said it was his favourite tune from ‘Foxtrot’ so I’m pleased that we’ve managed to do that one.
LTW: Roine Stolt has joined up for this tour taking on what is quite a heavyweight role with bass/pedals/6/12 string… he has strong links with Nad through Agents Of Mercy and you’ve also played alongside him a few times. How did he come to take the vacancy?
SH: Yeah, Roine is on the tour and he’s a great guitarist in his own right and it’s very nice that he offered to help me with this as neither of the two usual guys I work with – Nick Beggs and Lee Pomeroy who I love dearly, are available as they’re involved with other stuff, but I fully expect to work with this expanded team again in the future. I like working with those guys and I like working with Roine, it’s very interesting with the way it’s taking shape. It’s a huge learning curve the whole thing. I knew Roine and met him many years ago when we were playing in Spain together and occasionally he’s involved me with stuff with Transatlantic and doing a guest spot with them when there’s been a Genesis number involved. It’s part of a family…
LTW: Almost in the way that members of folk bands tend to dip in and out of different projects and play with a variety of people…
SH:…Well yeah, I think so. I’ve never been one to distance myself from genres. I have friends in jazz, I have friends in the classical arena and I sometimes join them and it’s nice to work with people as diverse as Evelyn Glennie and the late great Richie Havens and I’ve also worked with Elizabeth Fraser and all sorts of things which are usually live guest spots but sometimes they become something on record. I find it very interesting to think of the pan-genre approach which for me is what makes sense of music, rather than it being practically tribal – you can’t do this because you’re… you know, you can’t play for Celtic if you’ve played for Rangers! Rock shoulders have got to be broad enough to take on board the whole thing – the whole wrestling match!
Steve has also played with Icelandic band Todmobile with a choir and orchestra earlier this year as well as contributing to Nad Sylvan’s new album too. Steeve does some guitar work on ‘Long Slow Crash Landing’ which turns out to be a duet with Steve playing along with Nad’s original demo idea.
LTW: It’s nice to hear the name Richie Havens – singer on ‘Icarus Ascending’ from Hackett’s 1978 ‘Please Don’t Touch’ album who also supported Genesis at Earls Court in 1977….
SH: Yes, we’re doing that number with Nad; he sang it to me and it’s a song I very much imagine as Richie Havens’ song but Nad really loved the song and wanted me to listen to him singing it and he did and it sounded beautiful. I was closing my eyes and thinking “Yes!” and feeling that the spirit is very much there and actually, the first time we performed it as a band I was very moved by it I have to say. It felt like turning the clock back and also the liberating aspect of a song that’s designed to give you wings.
LTW: As well as the imminent tour, there’s also the new DVD documentary, ‘The Man, The Music’ due shortly. Was it a work in progress or as some might possibly see it as a response to the controversial and badly balanced ‘Sum Of The Parts’ Genesis documentary?!
SH: It’s coincidence because this had been three or four years in the making and started way before that Genesis documentary, so on balance, maybe it seems apropos. I had fun doing it and there’s also a Sky Arts thing I’ve done as well but I haven’t seen the finished result so I don’t know what that’s like but there’s a whole ton of stuff out there. There’s also the ‘Premonitions’ box set which celebrates this stuff and the forty years – it’s the Charisma years 75-83, with surround sound mixes by Steven Wilson and three unreleased live gigs, different bands, different eras. It’s hugely comprehensive but still the early years and takes it up to the time when I was a mere thirty three years old! I believe they’ll have production copies by October and I think we’ll be selling it on tour on some of the UK dates.
LTW: For the ‘Premonitions’ box, whose idea was it to get Roger Dean for the cover who I believe you’ve not worked with before?
SH: No, I’ve not worked with him before although Roger apparently did the cover for GTR (a short lived one album collaboration with Steve Howe) with Steve Howe which for various political reasons had to be anonymous but he did actually do that, so yes, it’s intesting as he works in a number of styles and I think he did a lovely cover for it. As it’s something that mainly focuses on the seventies I think it also gives it an authentic kind of look. It’s an intriguing design that he came up with for it, just the background alone which I saw when it was just a tree or two originally I liked very much and then he set it on something that could have been a flying animal or a flying vehicle and a character standing on the front of that. It’s very detailed and quite lovely I think.
LTW: At first glance, what came to mind was a windsurfer!
SH: Well, there’s a sail but the sail looks a little bit like wings. He’s worked very hard on it and I spent quite a bit of time with Roger in recent years and I find him very good company, a very interesting man and interested in all sorts of things so we’ve had very long conversations about all things from the meaning of life to the shape of insect’s wings!
LTW: And it just happens to be his birthday today (31st August) which is a nice link with the 40th birthday of ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’!
SH: Is it really?! Well, if I get a moment I might give him a call!
LTW: Talking of live releases, is there any chance of more along the lines of the ‘Live Archive’ releases like the Camino Records days?
SH: The truth is that I’ve been involved with so many different aspects of music, I’m sure that we will but it hasn’t been a priority because I’ve been trying to make other dreams come true; there has been a tremendous amount of touring and I tend to want to get involved with these mixes instead of just sending it off to someone and seeing how it comes back. I take a pride in it so it will be something that is reinstated; I can’t say when but that’s a plan.
LTW: You always have something prepped so what’s in the pipeline for next year and possibly beyond . You’re touring for the rest of the year…
SH:…And for the rest of my life, but the thing is in terms of addressing that I believe that this box set ‘Premonitions’, because it has three unreleased live shows which haven’t been released in their entirety does address some of the live album things even though it’s not called ‘Live Archive’ or Live this or that, it encompasses that so for those who are interested in that era there are all sorts of curios and anomalies. At the moment though there’s much touring and next year we will be the same but I really want to prioritise some recording work, so when you’re flat out on the road it’s a little bit difficult to come up with the next big thing for the studio. I could do with a few of me running around.
‘ACOLYTE TO WOLFLIGHT WITH GENESIS REVISITED – THE TOTAL EXPERIENCE’ UK TOUR DATES
6 October – GLive, Guildford, UK
7 October – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London, UK
9 October – Derngate, Northampton, UK
10 October – St David’s Hall, Cardiff, UK
11 October – O2 Guildhall, Southampton, UK
13 October – The Anvil, Basingstoke, UK
14 October – Barbican, York, UK
16 October – Music Hall, Aberdeen, UK
17 October – The Sage, Gateshead, UK
18 October – Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, UK
20 October – Town Hall, Leeds, UK
21 October – Venue Cymru, Llandudno, UK
23 October – Philharmonic, Liverpool, UK
24 October – de Montfort Hall, Leicester, UK
25 October – The Lowry, Salford, UK
27 October – Regent Theatre, Ipswich, UK
28 October – Colston Hall, Bristol, UK
30 October – Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK
31 October – Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, UK
Steve Hackett can be found online at : www.hackettsongs.com