In the rock guitarists world few are musicians as respected as Steve Hackett, who, for many, still remains a player of classic GENESIS line up – although he left the band in 1977. Steve’s solo career has every possible style – he played art rock, classical music, blues… It was a long-cherished dream, to talk to the man, and at last it came true. Scheduling took about a week and then I called Steve’s London office. It was him, who picked up. Chat started from the very end, from guitarist’s latest work.
– Let’s begin with your last project, "Sketches Of Satie". Why Satie?
It’s the certain reason. My brother and I used to be the big fans of Erik Satie. When my brother was learning to play a flute, in the very early days we had an album of Erik Satie played by London Camerata. And there was a very famous captivate flute player called William Bennet, the one who did bring a big influence on John. So really a connection is by my brother.
– So it’s basically your brother’s album, not yours.
To be honest, I wanted it to be my brother’s album rather than mine. You know, I’ve done many albums of my own and originally I wanted it to be a John Hackett solo album. But I could picture I did to the pressures of the end of the tragedy extent went by. And we stated between us that it’s my brother, my manager Billy and myself, that it would have a better chance of being displaying in the shops if I had my name on it as well, on the front. So we did it as a joint project but really it’s an album which features the flute.
– Yes, you played solo only on three pieces.
I think, it’s three or four pieces but they’re very short. I think, it’s five pieces, actually, but it seems like three because some of them are the same, very very short pieces.
– There’s a piece called “Gymnopedie #1”. Have you heard a version of it made by Annie Haslam of RENAISSANCE?
Oh really? I’ve never heard that, I must say. Had she turned it to a song, singing it?
– Yes, she had an album in mid-Eighties called “Still Life” with classic pieces turned into songs.
I didn’t know that! But there you are, it’s funny how it seems to… Where people were really involved in modern music it seems to be crossover material, I think, so many people did. BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS did the version of “Gymnopedie #1” on their first or second album.
– Talking about Annie Haslam, there were rumours of you planning to work together or something like this…
What’s really happened so far, I don’t know, I wouldn’t bring about in the future but she came to a show of mine many many years ago, of my show with a band. When I was touring in the early Nineties in the States she came to one of my shows and we set up an open track but I haven’t seen her or heard from her since. I think, people have been trying to get us to play something together but, so far, anything happened.
– Now let’s get to “Feedback '86“. You had many stars on that album but how did you get in touch with Brian May you even co-wrote a song with?
Brian and I, actually, have met for the first time in Brazil, would you believe, when QUEEN were playing there. He said to me, he was aware of the early GENESIS material, in particular, “Musical Box”, which was on the album “Nursery Cryme”. And I played there a harmony guitar solo on the end of that, and he said to me that I had influenced him. I was completely out of way with this because I always thought that his harmony guitar style was something which he really came up with and pioneered it. But I used to do a thing like that from time to time. I kept it’s a case GENESIS was on the scene a little bit before QUEEN, so that’s probably why.
– There was a band called QUIET WORLD that you were in.
That’s right, yes, very early on. The first band that I made the album with. It was on the Dawn label of the Pye label. They had all sorts of people on that label including John McLaughlin firmly enough in the early day.
– And what’s the thing about some spirit talking to you? Was that a joke?
No, not the spirit talking to me, but the people who were writing the album at that time, their father was a medium. I think, they were getting the ideas very much from the stuff that he was coming up with. So he was influential in that way.
– But when the band was over, you immediately got into GENESIS or there were other offers?
No, I didn’t have any other offers in-between. I think, I started advertising at the ad page of “Melody Maker” again. You know, which I did for five years really after I left school, five years of ad in the back of a music magazine, and then I had a call from Peter Gabriel.
– You’d left the band quite a long ago, so do you like the fact you’re always mentioned in connection with GENESIS?
I take it as a compliment because if not the fact of me being in that band, I guess, no one would mention me.
– But you have very many albums of your own.
Yes, I do. But the thing that irks me is the fact that I’ve always been referred to as a solo performer. How can I put it? I think, I have always been parted solo, if you know what I mean, when this ought to be a band. But many times that worked – even if I work with an orchestra, they still call it a solo album in the end of the day. Sometimes it’s solo album but many times I worked with other people on it, there’s no such thing as solo.
– There’s one piece by GENESIS that, I think, is very dear to your heart as you played it many times – I mean, “Horizons”. What’s so special about that one?
I think, it’s the first thing I actually wrote on my own and I performed it with the band. We used to credit everything to all the members in GENESIS at the time but it’s something that I wrote specifically and it was originally influenced by the piece of Bach, to be honest. It’s a very short piece, about ninety seconds long, very very short. But it was the first piece that I really wrote for a solo guitar, completely solo.
– How did it come that you, being a guitar player, introduced mellotron to the GENESIS sound?
Mellotron? That’s right. I thought it was the very interesting sounding instrument so I was very concerned that we ought to get one. Although I was a guitarist, I was interested in the other instruments as well and, in particular, in the keyboards. I still think that a combination of keyboards and a guitar together was really great as a kind of an orchestra for us.
– How did you come up with idea of not a solo career then, but solo album? – I mean, “Voyage Of The Acolyte“.
When you work with people you always have to audition your ideas to the others, so you need everyone giving you a permission in order to get anything done at all. And eventually it becomes tiresome. You feel the need to express yourself freely without any form of a censorship or approval, so it’s a natural consequence of everlasting music, I think.
– What was a concept of the album? It’s a conceptual one, isn’t it?
It was at the time, many years ago – we’re talking of twenty five years ago now. The concept was very based on Tarot cards idea, I was trying to explain musically what features a card meant.
– You have very pleasant singing voice but I was really amazed to hear you on “Till We Have Faces“.
I still sing, you know. I did an album called "Darktown" which was released not so long ago. But I was never really happy with the sound of my own voice. The singing is always a major hurdle for me, it’s always a challenge.
– But on "Faces" you sounded just like Robert Plant!
I think, it’s because I was singing very high in those days. I always thought in the early days that my voice sounded best in the upper register but in later years I’ve been exploring the lower ranges, too.
– Once you got into Brazilian music, have you ever thought about playing together with Patrick Moraz, who also explored world music and Brazilian music?
Patrick and I used to know each other. But then he was in a band and I was in a band so we have never actually got to doing anything together. You’ll never know – one day it’s possible.
– Then there was GTR. Have you heard the Max Bacon’s solo album?
I don’t think so. No.
– When I talked to John Young, he told me Bacon used some of GTR material illegally. How could you comment on the situation?
I haven’t heard it so I don’t know, to be honest, I don’t really know.
– There were rumours of GTR re-union…
I don’t think there are any plans for a re-union, not at this point. I’m not sure that Steve Howe and I would be talking about it. But there is a live GTR album on the King Biscuit Flower Hour which is around, that one gives you some idea what we sounded like live, not so pretty live, because neither Steve nor I did any changes to the sound. But pretty much had been done, as I guess.
– Could you name your favourite Steve Howe’s composition? Solo, YES…
That’s interesting, isn’t it? I’d be talking about his guitar playing, to be honest, but I don’t know whether he wrote or not. I think, the guitar work on “Yours Is No Disgrace” is very good.
– Talking about guitar… It was amazing to hear you playing the blues. Your immediately recognizable harmony guitar and blues. How did you come up with idea of playing the blues in this arrangement, not changing anything, not turning to acoustic guitar blues?
The kind of blues that I always enjoyed, it’s been Chicago’s town blues. I always enjoyed the electric blues more than acoustic. With acoustic music, I tend to be more interested in classical music. I just like the sound of bottleneck steel when it’s electric more than acoustic, I must say. I know it’s a very worthy form and very expressive.
– There was a man on that album called Dave Ball. Is it the same Dave Ball that used to be in BEDLAM?
I’m not sure. David is a bass player so he may have played in the band called BEDLAM. I’m not that familiar with Dave’s background, to be honest, but Dave played on two albums of mine, he played on some of the blues and also some of the "Guitar Noir" album, he did a couple of things with me. He may have very well played with BEDLAM, that sounds like him.
– Who’s you favourite bass player to work together?
You know, there are many different schools of bass playing. I worked with some of the great bass players in my time but I think my two favourites would really be somewhere between John Entwistle of THE WHO and Jaco Pastorius. I think, Jaco Pastorius was the first bass player that was fabulous. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us.
– Your work with orchestra, “A Midsummer Night's Dream“, was it a challenge to write a concert for guitar and orchestra?
Yes, very much. But I enjoyed that very much and I’m working on a follow-up to an album in that style.
– You’re working with the scores and recording together?
I’m involved with every aspect of it, with working with an orchestra. I do as much as I can myself, I’m trying to negotiate every note.
No, I think, it was recorded after – maybe after or maybe during. I’m not sure whether it was finished then, I think it was afterwards.
– "Genesis Revisited" was released, I think, in 1998 while the tour was recorded in 1996.
I can’t remember off the top of my head but I think that the album might well have been in certain territories, that was the case. I can’t remember what the actual date was but I know that it was finished first, before "The Tokyo Tapes".
– How did you gather that great line up for the Tokyo shows?
It was very difficult because everyone lived in different parts of the world. Most of the band lived in America and none of them lived in the same place in America so we had a relationship by telephone in those days and then by post – and then rehearsed already in Japan. Unfortunately, that band only did four dates but it was an interesting line up.
– Who decided on the singers for the "Genesis Revisited", on who would be singing a certain song?
I made the decision at the end of the day. Let’s put it this way, I was happy for John Wetton to sing and I was happy for Paul Carrack to sing. The other singers… Originally I thought I would have many more singers that each song would be a different singer but the things weren’t quite worked out that way so I ended up singing quite a little bit myself but that wasn’t the original intention. I intended for it to be less of a solo album and more of a project album.
– Have you covered all the songs you wanted?
You mean of GENESIS? The early stuff? Sometimes I think about a song that I did with the band I might look at again. What is difficult is that many of the songs were very well recorded, the ones that I played on well myself and the others did very well, like the songs with strong guitar parts as “Dancing With A Moonlit Knight” off “Selling England By The Pound” and “Blood On The Rooftops” from “Wind And Wuthering”. But the thing is, normally all those songs are strong in terms of the guitar parts and with many performances from other people that would be hard to do versions that were as good as the original, to be honest. I mean, it’s possible one day to do it but, I think, that would be remembered as my point of looking back to the GENESIS’ era. As you probably know there’s a new box set out at the moment with me involved with about two or three tracks on it.
– Yes, that’s why I haven’t bought it, I don’t like GENESIS without you.
Seriously, it’s always nice of people to say that to me. Thank you very much.
– How did your work with John Wetton originate? From the Peter Banks’ album?
Peter Banks’ album took place many many many years ago – we’re talking nearly thirty years ago now. Really, it was the jam, the last thing at night, about three in the morning. It must have been the first thing I played on, which I did with other session men, with John, that ever got released, perhaps. I have done other things on the Pye label, I don’t know whatever happened to all of these things. I did some blues stuff on Pye, which was never released. It would probably sound terrible if I heard it today.
I met John Wetton at the Speakeasy club after I’d seen him at the the gig that we used to be in in the old days. Funny enough, I went down with Phil Collins and Peter Banks and we were watching KING CRIMSON playing the “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” material at that time, when they had Jamie Muir in the band, it was Bill Bruford and David Cross, and then I think it might had been late in the same night that I saw John at the Speakeasy and the next day I said how much I had enjoyed his performance with the band and that he was very strong. We struck up a lifelong friendship at that point. So I think we’ve always enjoyed the things we’d done separately and sometimes together.
– You played on the new Wetton's album, as I heard.
I was working on one at the moment but I don’t think it’s actually released yet.
– It is, in Japan.
When John was working on some thing, he wrote a song with Ringo Starr and he offered me to play harmonica on it, so I just played some harmonica. I did play on the “ArkAngel” album, I’m on two or three of the tracks, some guitar and some harmonica.
– You also played on two albums with orchestra – I mean, PINK FLOYD and GENESIS orchestrated music.
I did, that’s right, with David Palmer, I played on a couple of those, yes.
– It’s hard to hear you on the PINK FLOYD one.
You know, that’s something that I was involved with as a guest but not on musical director’s terms, it’s a little bit different.
– What about your work with Ian Anderson on the GENESIS orchestral music album?
Oh yeah, that’s right, he played on the same album, that’s indeed. I think, he plays flute on one of the tracks. We didn’t work at the same time, no. David Palmer used to be in JETHRO TULL, that’s why Ian Anderson was there, I think.
– I really enjoy your wife’s painting…
– …She illustrated many of your and GENESIS lyrics. But was there any painting that inspired you to write a certain song?
Yes, and it still happens from time to time. She did a painting called “Entangled”, elysian dream, so I wrote a song about it which was turned into a GENESIS song.
– Do you think, are there any guitarists influenced by you?
Others influenced by me? From the most famous it has to be Brian May – I was telling you in the beginning that he said he liked my guitar work on “Musical Box”. He said he was influenced by… right at the end of that track, the harmony guitar solo. He tells me that he was influenced by that so he would be the most famous person that I influenced as far as I can tell. I don’t know, I think that often what happens that you’ve no idea of the influence that you did have on the other people. And I’m sure, other people have no idea of the influence they had on me, but, you know, there are hundreds of guitarists that effect my style.
– So what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on an album, which is nylon guitar with orchestra, a little bit in the style of “A Midsummer Night's Dream“, the same kind of instrumentation. Also I’m working on many different projects – I’m working on rock material and I’m working on some material, which is blues, and some material, which is, I guess you would have to say, is jazz and humorous material – many different styles all at once.
– I guess, the next one should be really great.
I hope so, thank you.
Many thanks for the interview arrangement to Mr. Adam Baruch of JAZZIS Records