Steve Hackett talks Strings, Sitars, Shakespeare and Squire
Andy Rawll spoke to the guitar master craftsman on the eve of his departure for the US leg of his phenomenally-successful world tour, that celebrates the twin career high-points of his iconic solo album ‘Spectral Mornings’ and the beloved Genesis album ‘Selling England by the Pound’.
With his most recent studio album ‘At the Edge of Light’ charting in twelve countries earlier this year, Hackett is preparing to release a full audiovisual memento of the 2018 tour dates, when he and his band performed alongside a full orchestra, adding depth, drive and dynamics to already sumptuous songs like ‘Shadow of the Hierophant’ and ‘Supper’s Ready’.
‘Genesis Revisited: Band & Orchestra - Live at the Royal Festival Hall’ is being released as a Special Edition 2CD + Blu-Ray Digipak and a standard 2CD + DVD via InsideOut on 25th October 2019.
The show was recorded on 5th October 2018 in London and fulfilled a long-held ambition of Steve’s: to perform the music of Genesis with a live orchestra. The concert featured Steve’s regular touring band of Roger King (keyboards), Gary O’Toole (drums/percussion), Rob Townsend (saxes/flutes) with Nad Sylvan on vocals and Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings) on bass, together with special guests John Hackett and Amanda Lehmann, and augmented by the 41-piece Heart Of England Orchestra conducted by Bradley Thachuk.
Following ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’, the second preview video release is the beautifully brooding: 'The Steppes' - Live at the Royal Festival Hall.
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE HACKETT with Andy Rawll:
Q: The new live album is released on 25th October and is a recording of last year's show at London's Royal Festival Hall, when your band was backed by a full orchestra.
A: Yes, it's a year after the event and it's extraordinary watching the thing back. When you've got 50 or so people on stage, once you've added the band, the orchestra and the technicians, it's incredible to see the level of precision. I'm extremely relieved that it all went so well and I'm very proud of the product.
Q: During the past few years, you've been particularly prolific in releasing new solo albums, at a consistent rate of around one every two years for the past 20 years. The timing of the Orchestral tour was a few months before the release of your current album 'At the Edge of Light'. As such, the two tracks in the set from your recent releases were: 'Out of the body' from 2015's 'Wolflight' and 'El Nino' from 2017's 'The Night Siren'?
A: I'd done a couple of shows in Iceland with an orchestra helped by the guys from a band called Todmobile, who'd done some extraordinary stuff with Jon Anderson. So we had already had charts for some songs and then we were talking to Bradley Thachuk and his brother Steve because we'd also worked with the Buffalo Philharmonic and they came up with arrangements for other stuff. We looked at the material that was the most orchestra-friendly. 'Out of the body' was one of those, that functioned like a mini-overture, so decided to do that one.
Q: After you played that run of dates, your most recent studio album 'At the edge of light' came out. Although they were obviously not part of the live set on the new album, the DVD includes videos for three tracks from that album: 'Beasts in our Time', 'Under the Eye of the Sun' and 'Peace'
A: That's right, you get a mixture of all of the live show from the Royal Festival Hall plus those tracks, some of which have got an orchestral feeling to them, which is a characteristic of the new album. I seem to orientate towards that marriage between the edge that a group brings and that feeling of infinite size and space that an orchestra adds.
Q: The touring line-up for that slow, included Gary O'Toole, who's now moved on. Your next round of touring starts shortly over the US and you land back in the UK in November for about twenty dates
A: Yes, that takes us all the way up to Christmas and we've got Craig Blundell, who has worked with Steven Wilson and David Cross (from King Crimson) amongst others - he's a drummer's drummer. Drummers love what he does, he's extraordinary. We still have Jonas Reingold (from The Flower Kings) on bass, who's a joy to work with, so we have a real powerhouse rhythm section.
Q: As Gary also used to sing lead vocals on certain tracks, does that means that different band members will be singing?
A: The set that we're now doing is the entire 'Selling England by the Pound', so most of that goes to our lead vocalist Nad Sylvan because he has the nearest thing to that 'Genesis' voice. Sometimes, I have to turn round to double-check who I'm listening to, which is extraordinary in its own right.
Q: In line with the format for most of the Genesis Revisited shows that you've done, you always balance that magical musical box with plenty of songs from your solo career.
A: This time, as it's the 40th anniversary this year, we're playing most of 'Spectral Mornings' and share out the vocal duties on that. We do some stuff from 'At the Edge of Light' too, such as 'Beasts in our Time', 'Under the Eye of the Sun' and one or two others. It's quite a long show - about three hours long, with a break in the middle. First half solo stuff, second half Genesis stuff.
Q: When we last spoke, you had mentioned the possibility of adding a 'Selling England' era song, called 'Déjà Vu’ song that was never recorded.
A: Yes, that was something that Peter wanted us to do in 1973 and it was potentially a really glorious number, as his vocals sounded wonderful and it had an intriguing string part that was played on the Mellotron. Unfortunately, it was never to be, so many years later I said to Peter "how do you feel about me finishing that track ?" and he said "go ahead", so it was with his blessing and the track is credited 50:50 between us. Now that I am now able to include that track live, it's like being able to look back at what was going on in 1973, but with the experience, sensibility and production techniques of now. It's a very personal song. It's been going down very well with audiences so far on this tour in Europe and Scandinavia, It's got an instrumental feature in it which gives me a chance to do a kind of extension to whatever 'Firth of Fifth' was, which became the most well-known Genesis guitar solo. This has similar aspects of that. It's like doing a director’s cut and adding-back a deleted scene. The full 'Selling England', plus the missing piece that I always felt should have been part of it.
Q: By performing the album in its entirety, including seldom performed songs like 'The Battle of Epping Forest', did that fill you with trepidation?
A: We did play it for a short while back in 1973, but it kind of fell on stony ground. Epping Forest didn't mean a lot to the American audiences and it was full of very British characterisations, almost like a prog pantomime. Nad Sylvan said it took him three months to just learn that song, as English isn't his first language, but he does do a great job on it. He passes with flying colours on that one and makes it his own, which is wonderful.
Q: Following the experience of playing with an orchestra on the previous tour, how does it feel going back to the standard set-up with your band? Did it require any adjustment, when you first got together for rehearsals?
A: Doing the thing with the orchestra was like bringing a very large rabbit out of a hat and you can't really top that. So as another alternative big event, the idea of doing 'Spectral Mornings' in its entirety was something that appealed to me. It was something that both much-beloved by the band that did it at the time, but also fans of that era. I also found out recently that Bowie was a big fan of the album, although I've no way of confirming or denying that. It's similar to when John Lennon said in 1973 that Genesis was a band that he was currently listening to, at the time of 'Selling England by the Pound'. To get the sanction of both of them feels very good. I thought that if I could do both of those albums in their entirety then that would have a great appeal to those that hadn't heard them in quite a while. What we've ended up with is all of 'Selling England' plus that deleted scene, plus most of 'Spectral Mornings'. We do 'Every Day', 'Virgin and the Gypsy', 'The Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere', 'Clocks', the title track and an instrumental version of 'Tiger Moth'. We don't do every single track so that we have time to do some new songs from 'At the Edge of Light'. At the end of the set, we tend to do a couple of Genesis ones, like 'Dance on a Volcano' and 'Los Endos', so something from 'Trick of the Tail' era in 1976.
Q: Those provide the classic coda for a Steve Hackett show
A: Yes, it's hard to beat 'Los Endos' as a closer, because it's got that all-out thrash aspect of "tearing down the home-straight" always feel like a complete blast.
Q: Looking at your schedule, you come to the UK on 2nd November and have a very extensive tour of twenty shows.
A: Things seem to be on the grow for me. It's an action-packed touring year for me and I'm very happy about that. We're also doing lots of dates in the States and in Canada and we've done a whole ton of them in Europe and went back to do some more. At least half of this year has been spent on the road and long may it continue, as far as I'm concerned.
Q: Looking into next year, you're back on the 'Cruise to the Edge' with your good friends in the band 'Yes'. I remember that you had previously mentioned that there's a parallel universe, in which you became a Yes band member.
A: Chris Squire did ask me to join Yes at one point, because we had started to work together and we shared a love of all sorts of things in rock, including a love of classical music. Chris was a great friend, a marvellous musician and tremendous character. He originally trained as a choir boy. I remember complimenting him on the Yes album that they had recorded with an orchestra (2001's 'Magnification'), which I thought was a fine product. He said ‘you're the only guitarist that I've spoken to and worked with that likes working with orchestras’. I suspect that if he and I had carried on working together, if he'd lived on, no doubt we would have founded an orchestra together, in some shape or form.
Q: As 'At the Edge of Light' came out at the beginning of this year are you already gestating ideas for new material?
A: Yes, I've been recording already in the few days that I've had off. I can resist, I have to get ideas down, while they're fresh. There are already a few things that promise to be really good that are taking shape. They're a little bit beyond the blueprint stage. As I add humans 'to taste' to computer sketches, so it takes on proportions that I've only dreamt of. As Shakespeare's Hamlet once said about rock ‘n’ roll: "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".
Q: In general terms, is the style of music continue the thread of your recent albums, being influenced by your travels and world music?
A: All the time. I expect that by the time the album is completed, it will have that aspect of audio travelogue. I've long been influenced by all those places that we've visited. I always say, bring it on, the more the merrier. As long as my phone book keeps growing, although I guess that's a little 'old-speak'. For example, we worked with a fabulous sitar player on the last album, Sheema Mukherjee, who was extraordinary. I keep meeting people who play unlikely instruments for rock ‘n’ roll and I think ‘there must be space for that’.
Q: Just to remind everyone: 'Genesis Revisited: Band and Orchestra', the live recording from the show at London's Royal Festival Hall last year is out on the 22nd October via InsideOut Records. The ongoing tour arrives in the UK in November with twenty dates covering the length and breadth of the country.
Pre-orders for ‘Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra: Live’ are live now:
Band store: https://store.hackettsongs.com/
InsideOutMusic store: http://bit.ly/HackettIOMshop
Buy / Stream / Download: https://stevehackett.lnk.to/GenesisRevisitedBandOrchestraLiveID
Dance On A Volcano
Out Of The Body
Firth Of Fifth
Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
Blood On The Rooftops
Shadow Of The Hierophant
In That Quiet Earth
The Musical Box
The Blu-Ray also includes a behind the scenes documentary plus promotional videos for ‘Under the Eye of the Sun’, ‘Beasts in our Time’ and ‘Peace’ from the ‘At the Edge of Light’ album. Please click here for the Promo Trailer
FULL TOUR DATES: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
Including the following UK DATES:
2 November - Waterside Aylesbury, UK
3 November - Leas Cliff Hall Folkestone, UK
5 November - City Hall Sheffield, UK
6 November - Corn Exchange Cambridge, UK
8 November - De Montford Hall Leicester, UK
9 November - St. David's Hall Cardiff, UK
11 November - Philharmonic Liverpool, UK
12 November - Dome Brighton, UK
13 November - Guildhall Portsmouth, UK
15 November - City Hall Salisbury, UK
16 November - Hexagon Reading, UK
18 November - Symphony Hall Birmingham, UK
19 November - Barbican York, UK
20 November - Forum Bath, UK
22 November - Victoria Theatre Halifax, UK
23 November - The Sage Gateshead, UK
25 November - Usher Hall Edinburgh, UK
26 November - Bridgewater Hall Manchester, UK
27 November - Cliffs Pavilion Southend, UK
29 November - Hammersmith Eventim Apollo London, UK