Interview with JOHN HACKETT

April 2004

jhack1This may sound a bit unusual but you have to tune your ears to the fact that the name of Hackett isn’t necessarily a synonim with “guitar”. There’s another Hackett on the scene: John Hackett. A brilliant flautist, he’s related to Steve Hackett though, being the great guitarist’s younger brother – but a musician of distinction in his own right. Still, it’s only now that John comes up with his first solo album, “Velvet Afternoon“, and it’s about time to catch up with the music teacher.

– Usually, young brothers tend to do what the older sibling does, so how did it come that you didn’t become a rocker?

It is quite true that since the Eighties, I have concentrated on the more classical side, but like Jekyll and Hyde, I assure you, there is still a rocker inside me who wants to break out! My new rock album may surprise a few people – so far, there is no flute on it at all. Certainly, when I look back on how I got interested in music, it was through blues guitar playing – brother Steve was still living at home and we would spend hours listening to players like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and playing guitar together, taking turns to swap solos. Clearly, I was following in his footsteps – we even both bought the exact same black corduroy jackets at one time. It was around 1969, when I was about fourteen, that I got interested in the flute. In retrospect, I think it was a way of choosing my own path in life. Incidentally, as for being a rocker – I did hit the bass pedals pretty hard on Steve’s early solo tours – as those in the front row during “Clocks” may remember!

– There’s a picture of you with guitar. How often do you play it on-stage these days?

Not at all at the moment – however, I have recently got back into guitar playing – mostly electric for the rock album. I have a neck problem that can make playing difficult. I now have a Stratocaster that is nice and light – I love the way you can switch with ease from an acoustic jangly sound to a ripping lead sound.

– What other instruments do you play?

Apart from flute and guitar, I play basic keyboards – very basic… Also bass pedals, of course – with my hands. This took years of practice and self-denial and had nothing to do with fear of looking a complete idiot, prancing up and down trying to play Steve’s intricate bass patterns with my feet. Recently I have started singing, which I love – I would swap all the flute technique in the world for a voice like Ben E. King’s.

– It was KING CRIMSON’s Ian McDonald who inspired you to learn the flute, and you surely met Ian, whose album is released by Steve’s label. Did he have anything to say about your playing?

Yes, I have met Ian on a couple of occasions and he was complimentary about my playing; but I still think “I Talk To The Wind” is the best rock flute solo ever recorded.

jhack2– Did you ever want to build a career like McDonald’s – or even Ian Anderson‘s?

In the early days when I was touring with Steve, yes. But then I wanted to develop my tone and technique and the only way I could work on that at the time, I felt, was in the classical world.

– How did you get involved with Anthony Phillips‘ album? Ant hadn’t played with Steve in GENESIS…

It was Mike Rutherford who phoned me to ask if I would play on what I took to be a joint project between him and Ant. It was perfect timing for me, as I had just given up studying modern languages at Cambridge to be a musician instead; so I took it as a sign. Ant was really nice to work with – on one session he handed me a flute part with a mass of black notes in every combination of sevens, nines and elevens at the extremes of the instrument. He saw the look of horror on my face as I realised there was no way I could play it – “Don’t worry”, he said, taking it back and producing another sheet, “it’s a joke – here’s the real part!”

– Is there any other musician you’d like to work with?

Hundreds, there isn’t enough space for me to list them all – mostly rock musicians as they tend to be more creative.

– You played with Steve’s electric and acoustic bands: which format you find more interesting?

They are both interesting in different ways. In the rock band I had a varied role, swapping between flute, guitar and bass pedals, which kept me occupied. The acoustic tours for “Bay Of Kings” and “Momentum” with just Steve and me and later the trio with Roger King on keyboards, of course, have given much more prominence to my solo flute playing.

jhack3– Is it difficult to translate guitar parts – like that of “Firth Of Fifth” – for flute?

Given that you only have one note at a time on the flute, it is usually clear quite quickly whether or not a guitar part will translate well. “Firth OF Fifth” actually is easy to adapt as it uses a typical baroque pattern of returning to the same note – B C A C G C F# C etcetera – Bach’s B minor Suite for Flute and Strings is a good example.

– These days, there are more classical and jazz leanings in Steve’s music. Does this make working with him even more interesting to you? Can the older brother still surprise you?

Yes, I agree Steve’s music is always interesting – if he gives me a lift anywhere he is as likely to put on Tchaikovsky in the car as rock or jazz. His eclectic tastes are definitely reflected in his writing – in this respect I think we have a lot in common. I think I’d be more surprised if he stuck to just one style of music – disco pop for example?! (Laughs.)

– Was it just for publicity reason that Steve’s name had been placed alongside yours on the Satie album? I mean, it was your album…

I don’t think it was just for publicity reasons – the guitar parts are as important as the flute parts. It is very much a duo. But, yes, it certainly did not harm sales putting Steve’s name on it… I can’t deny I enjoyed walking into my local record store and seeing my own name on a section.

– How could you describe your new album – and the next one that’s in the works now?

My new album, “Velvet Afternoon”, is very much in a classical style, but with a contemporary feel. It is for flute and piano – played by Sally Goodworth – Sally used to play flute herself, which gives her a wonderful understanding of how flute players phrase and need time to breathe! The big difference with “Velvet” is that the pieces are all my own compositions ranging in style from baroque anf classical through to the more Satie-like title track “Velvet Afternoon” itself.

jhack4The rock album I’m currently working on is totally different in format – lots of drums, electric guitar and singing, but I hope the listener will feel “drawn-in” by the song-writing. The lyrics are mostly by a guy called Nick Clabburn – very melancholic, hence a lot of minor key songs – but with a lot of warmth. And no, the album will not be called “Hackett Minor” – which was my nickname in Steve’s first band. So far we have Tony Patterson of RE-GENESIS doing solo and backing vocals, and Nick Magnus on keyboards. Oh, and a certain well-known prog-rock guitarist has also offered his services. As for the material, there are so many influences on my style that I think you can hear echoes of GENESIS, PINK FLOYD, MOODY BLUES and even Joni Mitchell. Hmmm – perhaps that list in your earlier question of people I would like to work with should start with her…

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