He hasn’t even finished his current tour of Foxtrot at Fifty, but Steve Hackett has already announced his next tour, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the controversial concept album that was the last to feature Peter Gabriel. Steve Hackett spoke to Basil Francis about what to expect from the upcoming tour, some Genesis beef from 2005 and his thoughts on Wikipedia, amongst other things.
Hello Steve, how are you?
Pretty good thanks.
You’ve just announced your latest tour, Genesis Greats, Lamb Highlights & Solo. That’s got to be very exciting for you.
It’s going to be October, not this year but next. I’m off to the States on Saturday (30th September) doing a two-month tour there to perform Foxtrot stuff.
So you’re still in the middle of another tour?
Yes, and the live album of that from Brighton has gone to number 2 in the rock charts and the metal charts. I’m very pleased about that considering that it’s absolutely vintage material. It’s good that it’s still going.
It’s funny to me that artists have to announce their tours so far in advance. Your new tour is something to be excited about but it’s also so far away.
I’ll be celebrating The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a Genesis album from 1974, so next year will be its 50th anniversary. I’ll be doing a fair amount of that. I won’t be doing the whole thing because there’s so many other things to celebrate, including a new album of mine. So I’m looking forward to doing some of those as well.
I understand that, since it’s a 95-minute album, it would be rather a lot to perform live. I was wondering if there were any other reasons that you didn’t want to portray the whole thing, as I’m aware there were disagreements during the recording.
Well we were losing our lead singer and it was his swansong with Genesis. It was a very difficult time, but in retrospect I think there’s a lot of very good stuff on that album. I’m still mates with Peter Gabriel, there’s no doubt about that. He’s the last member of Genesis I ever spoke to. We practically share birthdays, mine’s a day before his.
Ah yes, I actually read this about you yesterday.
Yeah, 12th and 13th February.
And the same year, too!
Yes, we all beamed down from somewhere together.
You were meant to work together! Are the Lamb parts you’re planning to perform your favourite bits, or are they the fans’ favourite bits? How are you choosing what you select from that album?
Well, I’ll probably choose the bits that have got some decent guitar work on, other than, you know, rather than things that celebrate all the other stuff. Obviously, it was very much a celebration of Peter Gabriel’s performances and ideas and also of keyboard work. So you had some very busy virtuosic keyboard work where both Pete and Tony were sort of vying for position with each other. They would play or sing across each other and I always felt as if the rest of us were left holding the pieces, trying to hold it together. So I think that The Lamb comes in for a fair amount of criticism because of that. But you could say, “Well actually that creates counterpoint, doesn’t it?” There can be more than one thing going on at the same time. Classical music has managed to do that.
At one time it was noted that it might become a musical. Last time we all actually met up and talked about doing something together. But that was 2005. It’s almost 20 years ago. We’re talking about the last time that the Genesis ever thought they could do something together again. What were they thinking? Hell no! It was never good, it was never going to fly.
That is a shame.
I had a fan criticising me the other day, saying, “You were the one who wouldn’t join them on that!” I thought, “You’ve got this so wrong.” At the time, I said “Yes, I will. Call me when and if you need me with this.” And I wasn’t surprised when the phone call never came because they wanted to do something with the five-man team.
From what I read – and I based my knowledge on Wikipedia… I don’t know how accurate that is as a source…
Very inaccurate! And they won’t let me correct things! I’ve put in corrections and they say “We won’t take this from the horses’ mouth, what we want is something that’s as robust as the National Enquirer! Yes, aliens, have landed and that is one of them.”
That’s insane to me. Wikipedia seemed to suggest that there were two instances of the five of you reconvening. And then Peter Gabriel would say “No, I don’t want to do it.” And then you would also say “No” because if he wouldn’t do it, then you wouldn’t. Is that accurate?
I’ll tell you exactly what happened. We all met up in Glasgow in 2005 where Phil was doing a solo gig. And what was on the table was the possibility of doing gigs, of doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. That looked like it wasn’t going to be contentious. And Pete’s idea was, “Why don’t we follow the Cream model where we do a couple of shows in London and a couple of shows in in New York and just keep it to that?” And then the idea was also on the table of doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as a musical. Tony Banks immediately said “It’s too complicated. It won’t work as a musical.”
And then there was stony silence after that. I think Pete lost interest. And that was it, you know, everyone just retired to their corner. And I did say I would be interested, if it came to it, of doing the four-man team of Genesis, because we did a couple of great albums with A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering. Sadly that was not to be. So Tony would say “We want you for Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, we want you for Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” and I thought “No, you’ve just covered that, that isn’t going to happen.”
So all I can say is, I honour the early work, politics-free. I sometimes cherry-pick the best work from ’70s Genesis, and other times I will do full albums, as I’ve done with Foxtrot, Selling England and Seconds Out. That’s what I do, this is why I love being a solo performer, because I know that I’ve got a band who have played the balls off this stuff and they grew up listening to a lot of it, so there’s not a problem. They’ll play that, they’ll play the solo stuff. They all get to shine playing their improvised muscular bits and what have you. And it’s so much easier.
The Mexican standoff that prevents bands reconvening are legendary, of course. We all know that’s what inhibits bands such as Pink Floyd. I’m not knocking them because we know that they’re capable of great work. We know that Genesis is capable of great work. But then there are other issues that have taken over with Genesis to stop them from reconvening in a certain form, not too long ago. They made no bones about the fact and said “That’s it, end of Genesis forever!”
Well, for me, the story isn’t over. The dream doesn’t have to end. I can celebrate that. I can celebrate those tunes in the same way that McCartney will celebrate Beatles tunes. Why not? The template is there. And I can also do solo things. I think it’s so much easier to do that when when you’re solo. I don’t have to deal with the issues of the band politics, all the mishmash that that goes with all of that. All of the issues you have in a band that were formed in some shape or form when they were 11 years old on the playing fields of Charterhouse.
There’s all of that, but I shouldn’t dwell on it. It makes all this sound too much like a negative. I’m thrilled to still be doing it. I love doing it, whether it’s me or the Genesis stuff, and frankly whether it’s rock or classical or world music or any one of a number of other genres that I’ve got going on. I’m happy to still be playing.
So how do you think gigging has changed since the ’70s? What’s changed for you?
What’s changed for me is that, as a young player, I was struggling to play a lot of this stuff. Now, as an older player, I can get my hands around it. I think technically I’m a better player now than I was then.
The thing is that, you know, you get celebrated for something that you did at a certain time. Some people say that musicians start off with passion and they end up with proficiency. I like to think that it’s possible that you can do both. It’s got to be possible to still be fiery and to play with extra panache and and capability. Unlike sportsmen, I think that you can achieve something as a more mature player that you couldn’t do when you were a kid. I mean, just to be able to do new techniques, incorporate your right hand… It’s compared to being able to fly. It’s that different. I’ve got so much more confidence that I can play pretty much with anybody in almost in any genre. But I used to be very, very fearful of that in the early days.
There’s a conception I’ve seen from more and more fans and I wanted to gauge how you feel about it. People seem to think that you feel like you need to play the Genesis stuff in order to get bums on seats and that you might prefer it if you were just playing your solo material. That’s not my personal view, but I wanted to know what you thought about it.
There’s a certain amount of compromise, you’re quite right. But those early songs are songs that I sweated blood for and managed to write with Genesis and take it around the world back then. I still feel passionately about those tunes. I love playing stuff like Watcher of the Skies, Firth of Fifth, Dancing With the Moonlit Knight off Selling England by the Pound. So I don’t mind doing that.
You’re quite right that bums on seats are what agents and promoters want from me. They’re infinitely going to prefer to have something advertised with a certain amount of Genesis in it than if it’s just me: “Here’s Steve Hackett, and he’s going to do freeform jazz all night for you.” Or indeed celebrating solo stuff; I’ve had solo albums, particularly recently, that have charted, and so they’ve been successes in their own right. I might play one or two things from a chart success album, but in no way does that compete with the popularity of Genesis. It’s a bit like shadow boxing. In no way can I compete with the 150 million Genesis albums that have been sold over time. It’s a bit like George Lucas: “Yes, we’ve heard of Star Wars. Have we heard of anything else that you’ve done?” The man with the tricorne hat, you know, that film. [I have no idea which film Steve’s talking about, unless he means Hook, which was directed by Steven Spielberg.]
It’s sort of great, but it’s like Frankenstein’s monster, isn’t it? The be-all myth that is Genesis, the monolith of that. And so I suspect every Beatle who ever lived has also got to be able to withstand “Yes, loved your latest album, but what about all that Fab stuff?” Yeah, you’re not going to win that argument. You know, either you didn’t do well as a young guy or you did… It’s the Tubular Bells effect isn’t it, you know…
Where you don’t become known for anything else you did?
That’s it. But, luckily, I’m still in shape, I can get up there, I can do it. It gives me great pleasure to see the audience going nuts over The Devil’s Cathedral from Surrender of Silence (2021). It gives me great pleasure when they receive it in the right spirit, as if it were from a Genesis album. It was something that I deliberately created in the Genesis style. Fast and furious, yes, I guess it’s the template. The closest would be Dancing With the Moonlit Knight: there would be that something that starts fairly quietly, although not as quiet as the Genesis things, but then hurdles into action in the instrumental section to go do its virtuosic best and get the whole ensemble playing. Stuff that would normally be difficult for a soloist to do.
But to get the whole band to play at that virtuoso level is incredible. We all listened to certain bands. We listened to King Crimson. We listened to John Coltrane. We listened to Mahavishnu Orchestra. We incorporated the freedom of free jazz and the precision of Crimson. Yeah, you know, the other stuff that was possible as well. It’s a great band and I’m thankful to be supported by so many wonderful musicians.
Just a few quick questions before you go. Will you present the Lamb highlights as a suite of continuous music, or will you spread them out throughout the concert?
The Lamb highlights will most likely be performed together.
I decided to wear my Fruupp shirt to this interview today, as I’m aware that they supported Genesis many times in the 1970s, and they are close to my heart. I wondered if you had any memories of them.
I’m sorry but I didn’t really know the Fruupp members.
Another band that is close to my heart are Dream Theater. As a drummer I was especially influenced by Mike Portnoy and I was dazzled when I got to see you collaborate with Transatlantic in 2010 at the High Voltage Festival, playing The Return of the Giant Hogweed. What was it like to collaborate with him?
He’s not short on either ability or confidence and he was very upbeat both personally and in his playing. I enjoyed playing with him and he’s a larger than life personality.
Lastly, do you listen to any modern progressive rock bands?
Yes, I like Big Big Train and Mostly Autumn, both of which have a melodic thread running through their music. I also like Muse and Elbow. Both of those bands have been influenced by progressive music.
Thank you for speaking to me, Steve. All the best on your upcoming tour.
Thank you, it’s been lovely talking to you too. Cheers.