Upon his return from taking his Genesis Revisited project to Europe and North America, Steve Hackett spoke to TPA’s John Wenlock-Smith to talk about the tour, future projects and more. Read on for Steve’s reflections on his current band and recent touring.
Hello again Steve, good to talk with you again.
Hello John, nice to talk to you again too.
So how are you and what have you been up to?
I’m good. We got back from the states yesterday, we’ve been touring the U.S.A. and Canada, and we’ve also done a European tour and we start the U.K. tour in a weeks’ time.
You must have loads of frequent flier points.
Yes, there’s a few clocked up yes!
Enough to get you anywhere exciting?
We’re going to Egypt at Christmas and of course next year we’re touring Australia and New Zealand, Japan as well as the States and other places as well.
Excellent, so how’s the tour going?
Very good, the band are phenomenal. Wonderful, very good, they sound bloody marvellous.
With Gary O’Toole departing, you now have Craig Blundell on drums?
Yes. He’s fantastic, wonderful, as are the rest of the band. We have Jonas Reingold on bass. They’re incendiary, extraordinary.
So who’s singing Blood on the Rooftops?
Well we’re not doing that on this tour, we did that last time and Gary did indeed do a wonderful version of that, I have done it with Nad [Sylvan] singing and he actually sounds a bit closer to the Phil Collins original version. Gary decided that he wanted to spend more time at home and with his drum school so we had to make a decision about that, but I still love him of course. But Craig has been phenomenal, I’ve been lucky to work with really great extraordinary players.
You seem to find them.
Yes I do, word of mouth tends to work really well and you can usually see someone in action on YouTube and that tells me pretty much all I need to know, whereas you used to get people in for auditions in the strangely outdated place called the rehearsal room. But I think there are so many ways of doing it, whether it be from your programming suite, in your bedroom, the rehearsal room or wherever, you’ve got to have the dream, the goal in mind.
So has anything stood out recently?
Well it’s all been a bit of a blur, we’ve been so many places recently. It’s been phenomenally well-received everywhere, and the funny thing is that the Americans seem to have really taken to Selling England by the Pound. It’s taken them a lot of time but now they seem to have taken to it in a big way. Battle of Epping Forest, where what that is is a civil war, but it’s good that they finally get what we were on about. We’ve also been in and out of Canada a bit too, being asked at the border [puts on a Canadian accent] “Have you got any drugs, Sir?” Of course now that’s all decriminalised over there, stuff that would have you in jail 30 years ago is now totally legal. I bet the Canadian economy is booming as a result, mind you Trudeau likes a smoke I believe. I bet Donald Trump is looking at them thinking “I need to get in on this action, I could make a stack of cash there.”
He could sell Trump weed.
Yes he could, he has fingers in enough pies.
Future plans, any lined up?
Yes, we have Australia, New Zealand and Japan lined up, probably more Europe, more U.K. probably, the odd cruise or two, a visit to Egypt, a visit to Borneo. I’ve got to get a new passport, I’m running out of pages. Got to fit in some album recordings, I’d like to work with new people in places I’ve not worked before. I’d like it to be outrageously good, I’d like to make the maddest album of my career.
The Beatles became more interesting the madder they got, sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t, but it became interesting and I want it to be like that if I can, nothing being off limits, it’s important to embrace it all. In the Beatles case it was end of the pier meets new Delhi. Or Bombay, that’s the challenge, to do something on a world scale and not have any prejudice, trying to find some genres that haven’t been worked with before, like comedy, Prog can be a bit po-faced at times, I’m really not that interested in how fast people can play, show me your chops and stuff, I think people really want a song nowadays, that virtuosity trip has been done to death now. I feel people want more than that nowadays.
I think it was Pete Townsend who said ultimately it comes down to whether you can write a good song or not, and I agree with him.
I was talking with a friend of yours recently, Steve Rothery of Marillion.
Yes, he is a friend of mine, he is a very fine chap indeed, we have of course worked together over the years, both on record and live. I’m sure we will again, it’s a natural extension of our friendship and Marillion are a great band.
We see Marillion in a couple of weeks’ times, and we are seeing Big Big Train next week.
Yes, another great band and I’ve worked with a couple of the guys and there is a crossover with Magenta, Rob Reed, etc. Many of these bands work together and they stray into each other’s bands and I think that’s a healthy thing.
Another thing I like about these bands is that somehow they keep their ticket prices down. Nowadays most arena shows cost about £100 a ticket, but yours are a lot less than that, which is far better really.
I like to keep it accessible to people, we’ve been doing meet and greets in the States and I think they are some of the cheapest around, but the important thing is to make touring feasible. I’d rather play to a full house because we have a fair touring policy.
I’m always amazed by how accessible to people you are.
When Jo and I got together she encouraged me to do social media, so if someone wants to meet me they can, not everyday, but we can try and work something out.
We’re hopefully coming to see you in Manchester so we’ll try to see you at the end as we’ll stick around. It would be great to meet you and say hello in person, I know my wife would like to meet you too.
It’s not rock and roll I know, but an extended life in music and I’d like to be able to do it for a few years yet, so generally it’s a cup of tea and off to bed and then ever onwards.
The rest of the band are often off doing other things in between, Jonas is off with the Flower Kings, Craig Blundell is usually on the cover of three magazines at a time and is always busy, he’s the man of the moment on the drums at the moment, Rob Townsend is jetting between Denmark and the U.K. doing his jazz professorship stuff. I can’t quite bring myself to read a book before bedtime, though I prefer to read during the day if I can. But if you love what you do, it’s not work really.
Talking of books, how’s yours coming along?
It’s going well, although I need several lifetimes to complete it with all the tours, albums and people I’d like to work with and all the things I’d like to do.
You have a new album out too?
Yes, with the orchestra is out this week, of all the live albums I’ve done I’m very proud of this one. We did this extraordinary tour last year, originally we were doing six dates with the Heart of England orchestra but added several more when the original ones sold out, it was a great experience to be able to pull this out of the bag. I feel the orchestra added extra dimensions to the songs, it takes them into other areas. I’m very proud of it, I hope to work with them again possibly on record if not live.
Steve also discussed his new live album and the current ‘Selling England’ tour with Geoff Ford.
It’s been another busy year for Steve Hackett. Following the success of last autumn’s Genesis Revisited tour with an orchestra, Steve has released his 25th studio album At The Edge of Light, taken his band on a tour of the U.S. and Canada and put the finishing touches to the Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra: Live at the Royal Festival Hall CD/DVD, released on 25th October.
As he prepares to tour the U.K. throughout November Steve took a few moments out of his busy schedule to chat to me about the live album and the tour which will feature the classic Genesis album Selling England By The Pound in full.
“Ooh, it’s been phenomenally busy!” he said. “It’s been extraordinary this year with tons of gigs. I’ve just come off the back of a two-month tour of the U.S. and Canada, which went very well. We seem to have doubled the audience since last time, which is great, and doing many of the venues that we’d done with Genesis so it’s been really good.
I put it to him that this shows the enduring love for the music of the early Genesis and his own music now.
“I think that’s the point, isn’t it? Yes, whatever it was, whatever it is and whatever it will be in the future, it’s got to do with all of those times. The calling card is probably whatever is oldest because it was the success early on. Beyond that, the new stuff seems to sell just as well and is as well received. It’s lovely to be able to do Under the Eye of the Sun, for instance, because that really comes to life live and sort of hurls through. I’m so proud of it.”
However, Steve revealed that he was a little nervous ahead of last year’s tour with the 41-piece Heart of England Orchestra joining the band. “When we first had the idea of doing the orchestral tour I had a few sleepless nights thinking ‘Am I going to founder on the rock of ambition here?’ It worked out fine and nobody lost their shirt on it.
“It was wonderful. The orchestra was great, it was well-received and it was enthusiastic on stage and in the audience. It was rather extraordinary and, I have to say, the product from it, which is largely nostalgic material, is one of the best DVDs I’ve done. The sheer power and precision of a very large band is something I have been dreaming about for a very long time.”
I wondered how the experience was for Steve, on stage, was he able to appreciate the majesty of the band and orchestra performing these classic Genesis tracks, or did it come from listening back to the recordings afterwards?
“There is an element of that, because when you’re on stage you can’t hear all those people absolutely clearly. Even when you have a rock band you’re only getting a sense of it. What you tend to do is to monitor to prioritise what you’re hearing yourself because you need to be able to play in time and in tune, to concentrate on your own part. Ideally you should be hearing that above everything else. I could hear some of what was going on but hearing it back is a whole different ball-game, something like they will have heard out front.
“I was told by various people how extraordinarily powerful and loud it was, and I can only guess at that. I worried that if it gets too loud at the front, the orchestral players won’t be able to hear themselves acoustically on stage. They were set back behind the band, drums screened off, as is the way, so that the orchestra is not being killed by the sound of the drums acoustically.
“I am very proud of it,” he adds, “it was a very big bunny to bring out of the hat.”
The live CD and DVD includes I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) and Firth of Fifth from Selling England by the Pound, and Steve is to celebrate it by performing the album in its entirety on his U.K. tour in November.
“The tour we’re doing this year is different, the whole of Selling England by the Pound and most of Spectral Mornings and some of (his latest studio album) At The Edge of Light. It’s the 40th anniversary of Spectral Mornings but why Selling England? It’s just my favourite Genesis album! Plus there’s an additional track that didn’t make it onto Selling England but was rehearsed at the time.”
Steve went on to shed a little light on the making of Selling England.
“We were writing in a house in Chessington, writing from scratch. That lasted about a week before the neighbours complained and we had to move out, the usual thing for Genesis!” he laughed. “Then we were in Shepherd’s Bush at Una Billings’ dance school rehearsing in the basement. We were still rehearsing there when Bill Bruford joined us in ‘76 for the Trick Of The Tail tour.
“I remember when we worked there things tended to get written very quickly. I remember writing and rehearsing the whole of (the 23-minutes long) Supper’s Ready (from the previous album Foxtrot) there. We’d written Supper’s Ready in two weeks there but in the Selling England sessions, we were doing what became Dancing With the Moonlit Knight and Cinema Show. Originally those two pieces were joined together, heading towards another kind of Supper’s Ready. I was worried that the blueprint of having very long pieces was going to become a little bit stale, so I was very glad that we separated them out into digestible chunks.
“I think Selling England, as an album, doesn’t really falter, I don’t think there’s a bad moment on the album. It goes it’s own way, even some of the more shyer tracks, somehow there is a surety about it. Genesis’ music was full of digressions and breakdown sections where you take away everything and produce things that are tinkly and rely less on bluster, such as More Fool Me and After the Ordeal, those pallet cleansers between the epics. They serve their purpose because you don’t always want to hear conjoined epics.
“I’m not knocking conjoined epics by any means. At that time the average time for a Genesis song seemed to be about 11-minutes long, we wouldn’t be seen dead doing anything less than nine minutes! But this was an era before radio play for the band. Ironically, Selling England spawned the first hit single and I love doing I Know What I Like live because we get off on a bender with the instrumental section which we take into jazz-rock and it seems to work really well for audiences. There’s something about the energy of playing that again. You get the friendly song but then you get the work out in the middle of it. I’m really pleased with the way that’s developed.
“And After the Ordeal, we take that further, too. We also get to do Deja Vu, which was rehearsed up, a song by Peter (Gabriel). It wasn’t finished but the band and I finished it years later with his blessing. Live, you get a sense of what it was then and what it is now.”