It’s a brisk Monday evening in Melbourne but on the other side of the globe, Steve Hackett is enjoying his early morning as he sits down to receive my call with intent to discuss his upcoming Australian tour. The tour will see him doing three distinctly diverse types of shows. There will be a broad ‘Genesis revisited’ show where he will perform classic genesis material alongside some of his more recent solo work. There will be a ‘Wind and Wuthering’ exclusive show in Melbourne, which will feature songs from his last album with the band to celebrate its 40th anniversary. As well as a more laid back acoustic trio show.
Right from the beginning he enthusiastically exclaims how excited he is by the idea,
“I feel very good about coming to Australia, finally! After all these years! For all sorts of reasons, it feels like a natural progression.” He goes on to discuss the exclusive Wind and Wuthering show and says,
“I very much enjoy celebrating Wind and Wuthering, as I think it was the last great Genesis album. It’s the 40th anniversary but it doesn’t seem like that long ago, it feels more like 20 years rather than 40, but you know, that’s the passing of time, but something that’s classic somehow remains timeless. I think it still runs high in the affection of fans as so much of that early genesis work that I know influenced so many musicians, drummers, keyboard players, guitarists, singers, writers…And I keep meeting people all the time that say they were influenced by that stuff.”
On the topic of the exclusive show, Steve elaborates upon his logic as to why he included it, “The logic is it would be nice if we could have different shows in different places so, I’m trying to address that need so that we can have a concentration of different eras and numbers with the Genesis stuff. Of course, there is a stress on the Genesis stuff, even though I’ve had a hit album with the rest of world with the most recent one that I’ve done, the introduction to Australia, and I hope it is an introduction and not a one-off, is a concentration on the early Genesis stuff.”
Reflecting further still on the aforementioned past Genesis material, Steve goes into great detail about his thoughts,
“I think Genesis became something else but there was an era when we were playing to 60,000 people in London, for instance in 1997, when I decided to leave because of Autonomy and I needed to have all of that. But at that time, I think all of those fans who had enjoyed what the band was in a pre-video era before it became very firmly pop music, they felt disenfranchised by the direction that the band took.
The earlier era of the band that started with Peter Gabriel, the storytelling aspect, many different styles. I think all of that was central to the bands appeal. At that time, we had a very charismatic lead singer. Phil Collins inherited very large shoes, but managed to do it extraordinarily well and in his own style. It’s a very short word, isn’t it? ‘Genesis’ but it covers an awful lot of things. Several incarnations of a band that was always interesting.”
Changing topic back to his latest solo album The Night Siren, Steve graciously enlightens us as to what the album means to him personally.
“It’s a very divided time, society is very divided. Politicians have been dividing people. Nationalism seems to be the new answer to the world’s problems and I think unfortunately none of this is really healing. Now music of course need have no borders. So, I have 20 people on the new album, scattered all over the world. It was a natural consequence of working with people who were friends who said to me they would like to do something. The idea was unity in a time of strife and some of the tracks address that lyrically. There are no borders for musicians, we take on influences from everywhere.”
The conversation flows into more philosophical territory rather swiftly as Steve muses,
“Music is its own currency, it produces things other than money. It produces energy, enthusiasm, honesty, all sorts of things in the healing quality of it. So, I’m a huge fan of music itself of course. And I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand what the full potential of music is!”
Soon after Steve swings back to relatedly reflecting on his past again,
“Back in the days when I did 5 days of office jobs, worked for a surveyor, running up and down doing all sorts of things. I got a pretty good idea for what was out there. I’d worked for the government. I’d done a pretty good smattering of possibilities and I thought what a HUGE privilege it would be to do music as a living. So, no matter how tired I am, no matter what goes on, it’s still a huge thrill to leave an audience standing, going ‘Tonight our lives have been transformed. We’ve forgotten about everything other than music’s ability to bring people together.’ The healing quality of that is a great ambassador for so many things where politics often fail and medicine disappoints. Music unifies. So, I’m still the same idealist as I always was with this. It’s still a great thrill to just pick up the guitar and be able to do things I couldn’t do yesterday.”
Whilst Steve reflects on songwriting and composition, we learn a few interesting pieces of information,
“Genesis were a team of songwriters first and foremost. That’s how they presented themselves to me and they wanted me on board for my songwriting as much as anything else. Each one of the guys was capable of writing a song that could move you to tears, make you laugh, or thrill you. Each one of them. So, it was a powerful mixture. I doubt that it will ever reconvene as they five-piece that it was from 1971 to 1975. But the music lives on.”
Continuing his verbal trip down memory lane, the discussion moves the other renowned artists Steve has worked with over his long and prolific career. Singling out a few individuals who have impacted him the most as an artist, such as Richie Havens and Evelyn Glennie.
“We were huge fans of Richie Havens. We sometimes used to play his stuff on the way to shows and gigs. Everybody loved him. Some of us got the work with him. He supported us in our London shows after we supported him in America. I befriended him at that point and he agreed to work with me, he was the one suggested it actually. He’s the kind of guy who could learn a song in five minutes and sound like he’s been singing it all his life.
There was also Evelyn Glennie, a Scottish percussionist. She’s hearing impaired and yet she’s a percussion virtuoso. I worked with her and London and we did some shows together. That was very interesting and completely different of course. Because it was all about the art of the spontaneous. How people respond to each other. To walk on the stage with her and have about 2 notes pre-agreed. It can show you these different schools of approach.”
We continue to discuss some of the other musicians and interactions Steve has had through the course of his career until eventually the conversation comes to a point where he finds himself describing how he interpersonally in the early days of his career, “I was vocally almost mute in those early days. I used to put my songs forward to the band tentatively. Gradually over time, when Peter left nobody knew if that would continue. I did my first solo album and it was a bit like turning on the tap. It had been drip feed up until then but suddenly the faucet is turned and it’s full on. I found it very hard to turn it off by that point.”
I decide at this it’s time to put an end to one of the greatest myths to ever plague the mind of guitar players. Who invented the technique we now know as ‘tapping.’ I ask Steve if he takes credit for it and he had this to say,
“I certainly do on electric guitar, because I hadn’t heard anyone do it other than that. Now there are people who say it was done on acoustic guitar before that, but I have no way of verifying that. The very first album I recorded with Genesis, Nursery Cryme, on that first track there’s tapping. And I know that guitarists have said they were influenced by that. Eddie Van Halen and Brian May. And I got to work with Brian on one or two projects over the years and he said it was an influence on him.”
To finish up, as is customary. The incredibly wise Steve Hackett imparted upon us his most important piece of advice,
“I think there is only one lesson really with all of this. I’ve worked with classical musicians, jazz musicians, rock, pop and I think the one thing that drives them all is love of what they do. I think that’s the only qualification. If you love it, this is the most important thing. When people apologize for only being able to play 2 or 3 chords, I always remind them that, when I could only play 2 or 3 chords, that’s when I got precisely the most joy out of playing. Because if you’ve got that you can do thousands of songs. It’s not about how many notes or how technically gifted you are. It’s what you get out of it. And if there’s love for it. You can go everywhere with that. Then it’s whatever agenda you choose to set yourself. I think what separates the men from the boys is love for it. But I don’t that can be taught, it’s either in the blood or isn’t. You either have a complete need to do it, it’s the oxygen that feeds your soul. Or it’s not. If you’ve got a passion for it, then no one’s gonna kill it dead for you. Don’t be put off by anyone else. It’s hard enough having your own internal invalidator onboard thinking ‘oh I’m not good enough.’ We’ve all been through that, and there’ll be times when you won’t be good enough, but hopefully tomorrow you will. So just stick with it. Love it. And see how it treats you.”