I caught up with Steve Hackett in Quebec City before the first of his three Canadian shows last weekend. Below is a transcript of our conversation, where Steve answered questions on the current ‘Acolyte to Wolflight’ tour, the recent ‘Premonitions’ box set, his days in Genesis, and other stuff. Special thanks to Jo Hackett for helping to arrange the interview and of course to Steve for being so generous with his time.
I began by welcoming Steve back to Canada…..
Steve Hackett: Thank you. Thank you.
Tim Darbyshire: It was a real surprise that you came back to Canada so soon because we just saw you in Ontario in November last year.
Steve: That’s right. Yes
Tim: Why so soon?
Steve: Why so soon … well, I think we left it long enough and it’s time to come back and do it again. I’m very pleased to be back here because we were doing other parts of Canada before so it’s very nice to be back here in Quebec. Usually we leave it about two years at a time.
Tim: We saw the shows in Lindsay and Oakville last year. So are we expecting any set changes this time around?
Steve: No, it’s basically the same show.
Steve: Same show, same personnel, same show because as I say we are doing places that we didn’t do with that show last time.
Tim: I guess we are running out of Genesis songs you want to perform now?
Steve: Well, I don’t know about that, it’s funny, there’s a lot of stuff from the Genesis canon that I never thought I’d be doing again including stuff in the set at the moment.. Yeah you know some of the favourites, I wouldn’t say they’ve been done to death but they’ve certainly been exploited thoroughly…Supper’s Ready first and foremost. I’m also answering the call of fans for certain songs which they wanted to hear such as Cinema Show.
Tim: I’m pretty surprised that you played Cinema Show last time around.
Steve: Yes well I think that it has got something – there’s a nostalgic feeling to it. The first part of it is a love song, and the second part is a work out and I think it works very well live, people like it very much.
Steve: Then we go straight into Lamb Lies Down On Broadway … and keep it coming into Musical Box, so in many ways they are all favourites of various factions of the audience, … I’m sorry if I sound a little bunged up I’ve got a cold at the moment I’m struggling with.
Tim: Snap, me too.
Steve: Yes it’s really taken over in the past 24 hours, it’s gone ballistic.
Tim: I hope you’re okay to perform anyway.
Steve: Well yes I mean many a time I stood there with a cold, yes that’s par for the course.
Tim: The show must go on.
Steve: The show must go on indeed. The show is the most important thing.
Tim: It seems like the first few shows you’ve hit the ground running. You and the band seem on top form from what I’ve read.
Steve: Yes the band have been doing very well – the response has been terrific to this stuff. Many of the areas we haven’t played before with the band have received it with open arms, you know, sold out, it’s done very well.
Tim: That’s great.
Steve: And of course, here in French Canada – you know a long term supporter of this genre and all the other genres …..so no problem with that.
Tim: Rob, Roger, and Gary have been with you so long now as well.
Steve: They have. They have.
Tim: Team Hackett seems like a well-oiled machine.
Steve: Well you know there are times when the people that inhabit it.…that team… sometimes they are stretched to the limit to make it all happen. There are various things that we do, sometimes conditions have to be made in order to keep trucking … that’s part of the game too.
Tim: So future tours then, have you thought about doing whole albums? That seems to be quite in vogue at the moment.
Steve: Well it has been suggested to me, I know it’s in vogue, but I’m inclined not to follow the crowd. I tend to think that to cherry-pick and do the best of available things creates more of an element of surprise. And I do think that to do an entire album from start to finish, even though that’s possible – you are embracing the entirely predictable and so far I haven’t done that. I won’t say that I’ll never do that. I am tempted with certain albums but I think that variety is what drives me with this stuff and I also like doing the solo stuff as well – it’s nice to be doing solo stuff again rather than just Genesis stuff which is tried and tested. I was out there as you know for many years with solo stuff that was also tried and tested and did very well, but you know I wanted to make people’s dreams come true with this Genesis Revisited thing and I did nothing but that for about three years.
Tim: Well you are the only one keeping that dream alive – and thank you for that.
Steve: Well that’s right I am keeping that dream alive I think it was hard fought for back in the day and I think that music always needs to be hard fought for – it’s got to be what you believe in and I believe in that stuff – music that meanders takes its time and allows itself to breathe. And back in the day when I was first doing those Genesis selections it felt like much more vulnerable because they weren’t yet regarded as classics but with the passing of time people will indulge in quieter moments whereas at one time with Genesis every time we would go quieter we would get heckled … and that doesn’t happen in general these days unless we’ve got an audience that’s shared with someone else, but in the main … people will accept ..they will accept things that they wouldn’t accept way back in the day.
Tim: So I mean you must be pleased how people are taking to the Wolflight material as well.
Steve: Yes that was a surprise because I hadn’t recorded any solo material for a while and the nice thing is it’s done as well as the Genesis re-recordings did – it validated itself. I guess the Genesis stuff has created a bridge to the past but also a door to the future in terms of saying – I am at one with the spirit of the great music that we once did and here’s my version of it.
Tim: It’s good like you said it’s a bridge between the old and the new – is there going to be a new album, is that what you are working on after this tour?
Steve: I am working on a new album and that’s taking shape very nicely. We are I think about two and a half songs into that at the moment and it’s going very well.
Tim: The creative juices are flowing.
Steve: Yes it’s all still going on and I’m very happy that the fingers are working and the imagination is working and I don’t think any musician can ask for anything more.
Tim: That’s great. Can we talk about the Premonitions Box Set and the reissues?
Tim: Are there any plans for Highly Strung and Cured to get the 5.1 treatment?
Steve: Well at the moment we don’t have the source material for that. In the case of Defector and Acolyte the upmix is something that is created by the push of a button. Having said that, they actually sound very good – those surrounds that were done from the remasters – the L1 Stereo widening remasters that were done a few years ago.
Tim: By Ben Fenner?
Steve: By Ben Fenner that’s right, and created the basis for those upmixes and I find there’s some extraordinary things that happened within that and I think that technology works in a way that makes it very creative so I am thrilled with the level of surprise that that brings.
Tim: And the new Steven Wilson mixes … are you happy with those? They sound good to me.
Steve: Yes, very happy with those – I particularly enjoyed the Spectral Mornings remix, the surround version of that. The albums you mentioned Highly Strung and what was the other one?
Steve: Cured, yes – it’s entirely possible that we can do something similar but it will have to be an upmix rather than anything from the masters unless those masters present themselves.
Tim: So this is the record company that actually lost the masters? Is that correct?
Steve: Well back in the day I gave them all to Charisma for their safe keeping.
Tim: Or not so safe keeping.
Steve: Not so safe keeping in that the ownership of that stuff ended up going – at least for 25 years – from Charisma to Virgin to EMI and all around the houses – and a lot of the stuff has been lost.
Tim: So these are the only albums not under your control then, the first six?
Steve: Well they aren’t under my control until about 5 years time – probably 4 years by now actually – and then they will be under my control. So I might do something with them.
Tim: It’s a lovely box set.
Steve: Good I’m glad you like it. Thank you. I was very proud of the box – I thought that it worked very well. And it’s a proud moment for me to have a box set.
Tim: And there’s three cds coming out standalone aren’t there very soon?
Steve: Yes there’s going to be some more stuff coming and there’s also supposed to be a vinyl box set …
Tim: I know a lot of people still love it.
Steve: Exactly. Yes there are many people who love their vinyl – we try to please.
Tim: I love holding it and touching it but I like the blu-rays and the 5.1 stuff now.
Steve: Sure of course. I think you find most artists prefer the cleanliness, compactness, and all that. I do like to hold something physical I must admit – I don’t get off greatly on the idea of something that’s streamed from another planet.
Tim: I think we’re a different generation.
Steve: I think so. It’s as close as owning the music as you can and I think anyone who owns the record owns the music. The true owners of course, are never the artists. It’s always the audience. It’s always the listeners. And the listener is the true owner.
Tim: Do you have a few moments to chat about the Genesis days?
Steve: Sure. I’m probably okay for about 5 minutes because I have to get my stuff ready to go to the show soundcheck.
Tim: So you joined in 1970/71 – I think the albums got better ; Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – which would you say is your favourite?
Steve: Purely in terms of the material – I think Selling England By The Pound, that takes some beating….but whether those are the definitive performances or not doesn’t really matter – be it live versions or whatever, they change over time, I’ve done revisits to this stuff but I think it’s the thinking that went with that material at that time. I think all of the albums have got something to offer – they all have something extraordinary to offer – all of those albums that I was involved with with Peter Gabriel and the subsequent two albums with Phil – for me they are all extraordinarily imaginative.
Tim: Absolutely, I think people used to ask ‘do you like Gabriel Genesis or Collins Genesis?’ but now for me anyway, I like Hackett Genesis … Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering are great albums too.
Steve: It’s nice that it survived and it certainly feels good to me.
Tim: Were you aware you were in a special band at the time or did it just become obvious afterwards?
Steve: I was aware I was in a band that…..how can I best put it ? In 1973 when we were touring America for the first time, and John Lennon mentioned that we were one of the bands that he was listening to, it reinforced my opinion, at the time, that we were probably the most exciting band on the planet when we were doing the best of Selling England, the best of Foxtrot, and the best of Nursery Cryme, doing that live, you know those three albums we were drawing on, it felt like the band was mighty – even though we were only playing to 500 people a night. It still felt that the band had transcended it, perhaps the limits of the audience.
Tim: Yes, I listened to tapes from back then and there’s a certain energy in the room, definitely.
Steve: Yes, that’s right. I know that there have been a lot of bootlegs from that era which personally I would sanction, and release ourselves, but yes there’s lot’s of good stuff, especially from the Roxy in LA in 73, good stuff, very good stuff…
Tim: There’s some great Lamb soundboards out there as well.
Steve: Yes, there’s a whole bunch of Lamb ones that hit the streets.
Tim: It seems amazing that you finished the Selling England tour in May 1974 and by November – six months later The Lamb was out and you were playing it – four sides of new music to American audiences … It just seemed so quick.
Steve: I know yes, there was a healthy output at that time. But we even felt it was slow at that time that we weren’t managing to write as quickly as we needed to but .. we were going it some, back in the day.
Tim: What was Headley Grange like then? Was it really as spooky as they say?
Steve: Yes, it was kind of run down and spooky and dangerous – all sorts of things. I nearly lost my life there.
Tim: With the wine glass was it?
Steve: It wasn’t that, no, I was in a bathroom and I had just washed my hands at the sink and then I walked back to the door and the whole of the floor gave way. I could have been standing there. We had to tape that off. Whether you put that down to anything malevolently supernatural or whether it was just extremely dilapidated we’ll never know.
Tim: But you were staying there, weren’t you, sleeping there?
Steve: Yes, we were staying there. There were weird sounds at night that would keep me awake night after night. It was probably the rats.
Tim: It just sounds like it was a tricky time anyway, for a lot of you personally as well. Peter had well documented issues and I know you were in a difficult time as well, I mean, the whole period seems crazy that The Lamb came out of it.
Steve: Yes, that’s right it was a difficult time, no doubt about it.
Tim: Difficult birth but it certainly flourished.
Steve: Yes, fraught with problems but then anyone who hears it, is not necessarily aware of what we were going through individually.
Tim: It’s an incredible piece anyhow. Thanks very much for your time Steve.
Steve: It was a good talk, all the best.