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Steve Hackett: from Genesis to guitar legend

Submitted by on June 12, 2017 – 11:50 amNo Comment
The multi-talented Steve Hackett (picture Tina Kohonen)

The multi-talented Steve Hackett (picture: Tina Kohonen)

The phone rings just before 9am. Former Genesis guitarist and rock legend Steve Hackett is on the line to talk about his new album and his gig at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. He sounds lively and alert despite the relatively early hour; it’s not exactly what you expect from a rock ‘n’ roller.

Steve agrees that he is the antithesis of what most people think of when you mention the phrase “rock star”.

“I’ve been up since half six,” he points out. “I’ve completely reversed my hours from those I kept in my early 20s, that’s for sure.

“I don’t think I’ve embraced the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for quite some time. It’s a young man’s game, partying all night. It’s all gone now – I like early nights if I can. I like to go to bed with a book.”

One of the reasons for that could be that Steve and his wife Jo look after his business affairs; he does not have a manager, preferring to keep it all in-house. It means he is incredibly busy.

“The days are filled with all sorts of things that have to be addressed – not just music but business things. People assume you have all that taken care of but in fact the only way to make sure that everything stays solvent is to be hands-on. Jo works very hard at doing that. We’re a kind of mutual support team for each other.

“Of course I spend a lot of time writing, recording and touring which takes up a lot of our lives, particularly this year, travelling to more places further afield than usual. There’s a lot going on.”

It’s 40 years since Steve left Genesis, just after the band released their Wind And Wuthering album. He is playing some of the tracks from that LP on his current tour.

“It was an album I felt very comfortable with and I liked very much. It had probably more social comment on it than Genesis normally addressed. But I knew that I had to work on my own so I left the band.

“I’m very proud of the material that we did together. But having a parallel solo career wasn’t on offer at that time. And rather than constantly fall foul of band politics I decided it would be more constructive to go and work with some other extraordinarily talented people, which I did.”

Steve's latest album The Night Siren

              Steve’s latest album The Night Siren

That has led to Steve releasing 25 solo studio albums including his latest, The Night Siren.

“I’m a bit of a musical migrant travelling the world and working with pals from everywhere, which is what we’ve got on the new album.”

There are 20 musicians from all over the globe – Israel, Palestine, Iceland, Hungary, Sweden, America and Azerbaijan playing together on The Night Siren.

He also has a core of musicians who go with him on tour. Their popularity seems to be spreading.

“Since I started doing Genesis stuff again,” says Steve, “I’ve found that it’s taken us to all sorts of places we wouldn’t have done before, for instance Australia, New Zealand, Jakarta, Hong Kong and Singapore.

“My wife also likes to travel. She’s very much a world traveller. We tend to look at places on the map and think ‘which places can we visit?’ and ‘which places are we likely to get our heads cut off?’ and take it from there,” he jokes.

Stephen Richard Hackett was born on 12 February 1950 in Pimlico, central London. He developed an interest in the guitar when he was 12.

His musical influences include Johann Sebastian Bach, opera singer Mario Lanza, former Fleetwood Mac blues guitarist Peter Green, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and King Crimson.

Steve Hackett 2He played with four bands before putting an advert in Melody Maker looking for musicians “determined to strive beyond existing stagnant music forms”.

Genesis were looking for a replacement for guitarist Anthony Phillips and replied to the advert. They auditioned Steve and he was accepted into the band which also contained vocalist Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks on keyboards, bass player Mike Rutherford and drummer Phil Collins.

Steve had little on-stage experience but he soon settled into the role. Wearing thick glasses and sitting in a hunched position over his guitar, he was a real contrast to Gabriel with his extravagant costumes and dramatic storytelling.

Steve’s first recording with the band was the album Nursery Cryme which was released in 1971. Genesis went on tour to promote the record, stopping off at the King’s Hall in Derby.

I saw that gig, with Genesis the support act. They blew Van der Graaf Generator, who had a dodgy PA, off the stage – but Steve sympathises and modestly thinks he has the answer for that.

“Equipment in those days wasn’t that reliable. It was an exciting but nerve-racking time.”

Steve was determined to get on in the business and spent many evenings in the Speakeasy Club on London’s Margaret Street. It was a late-night meeting place for anyone in the music industry.

“There was no such thing as a school of rock at that time – you had to make your own mistakes.

Guitar hero (picture Armando Gallo)

Guitar hero (picture :Armando Gallo)

“I met lots of people, some of whom I’m still friends with today and many who’ve passed on like the great John Whetton who became a big pal of mine.”

Whetton, who was born in Willington, died in January. He played with some huge bands including Family, King Crimson and Roxy Music.

In those days Genesis were playing in front of 20,000 people a night – but earned only £100 a week. However, that was because the band reinvested in the show.

“We had the biggest light show on the road at that time. It meant there was lots of money coming in – but lots of money going out. We had truck loads of stuff, armies of people on the road. I certainly don’t feel stitched up or naïve (about earning so little).”

Steve admits he used to smoke far too much but stopped many years ago. He was never a heavy drinker. He is fit enough to go on a gruelling tour that some younger musicians might find difficult to pull off.

His show Genesis Revisited With Classic Hackett is due at the Royal Concert Hall on Thursday 11 May. Anyone who buys a ticket will hear three songs from the Night Siren album which Steve feels has a different emphasis from his previous work.

“There are two songs that have a peace theme to them. The first track, Behind The Smoke, addresses the subject of refugees and the penultimate track West To East addresses the subject of potential world peace – the distant dream that it is.

“I’m more interested that the message comes across than I am in yet another album’s performance in the market place.

“If I was honest I’d say it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever done, if not THE best. I always say that because I put absolutely everything into every album I do.”

Steve with his band (picture: Rick Pauline)

Steve with his band (picture: Rick Pauline)

Steve will also play some of his older material including tracks from the Darktown, Defector and To Watch The Storms albums as well as a Genesis set.

“One of the songs that I find hard to leave out is Firth of Fifth from Selling England By The Pound. It’s a cracking song and I still love playing it live. Whenever we start it I always think ‘this is the one that people remember most of all from my time with Genesis’.”

Steve will also have a week’s tour in Hungary, Austria and Slovakia with “the number one jazz/world fusion band in Hungary” Djabe who have undertaken concerts with him for the past ten years.

“We’ve just recorded some live stuff together in Sardinia and I think it’s really quite lovely. It’s jazz; I hate to use the word chilled but it’s very ambient and very relaxing to listen to. I’m proud to have taken part in that.”

It appears that globe-trotting Steve who has made friends all over the world through his musicianship will not be hanging up his guitar soon. “The idea is to keep on until I completely fall apart.

“Playing live is the oxygen that I breathe”

“(Blues singer) B B King was still doing it when he was in a wheelchair. (Godfather of British blues) John Mayall said to me once ‘next week I’m going to be 80 and I’ll be doing a gig on my birthday’. So I’m a mere stripling compared with these guys – a young whippersnapper.

“It’s a great privilege still to be doing it, frankly, and I hope there’ll be many more years of it. I’m looking forward to it tremendously.

“Playing live is the oxygen that I breathe – but I also breathe a sigh of relief afterwards when it’s gone well.”

* This article appeared in the May 2017 edition of Country Images magazine

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