“You Can’t go wrong if you buy an album by Segovia, or Steve Hackett” - An interview with Steve Hackett conducted by Ted Sayers and Alan Hewitt at the Royal Centre Nottingham on Saturday 14th May 1988. Photographs by Ted Sayers.
TWR: Well, first of all, Steve we would like to thank you on behalf of ourselves and the readers of The Waiting Room for taking the time to speak to us.
SH: My pleasure, my pleasure.
TWR: It has been a while since your last solo project with GTR and your own solo stuff. In between did you choose to do a comeback with an acoustic album specifically?
SH: Well, actually I was writing a rock album at the same time as this acoustic one and since the GTR thing I was working on a rock album with Brian May, Bonnie Tyler and Nick Magnus and the guys from my regular band; my brother John, Ian Mosley is on one track and Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann) does most of the vocals on it. Meanwhile while that was being organised and being gotten together … it’s very nearly finished, all bar the running order of the songs. I did this acoustic album. In fact, I have been writing this acoustic stuff for three or four years since I had done Bay Of Kings which was the first acoustic thing that I had done. I decided to do this because it was something simple to record and simple to go on the road with and in a way after the GTR thing, it’s like saying I’m back doing what I think I do best; on my own. So there you are.
TWR: With the tour under way, how has it been going?
SH: It has been going very well.
TWR: It’s nearly finished isn’t it?
SH: Yes, we have a few more dates and then we are off to Europe.
TWR: Has it been as well received as Bay Of Kings?
SH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it has been as well received as that. Pieces are… well, the things off Momentum that I do and one or two of the other things which are in the show that aren’t on any album are probably, in the main a bit more complex than the things on Bay Of Kings.
TWR: They’re certainly longer, the overall timing on the album is certainly a lot longer…
SH: They are harder to play, but they are … I tried to push my technique a lot more on this album. I wanted the pieces to be … well a bit more intricate.
TWR: It’s a slightly different album to Bay Of Kings…
SH: Slightly different, yeah. It’s all nylon really, I have pared it down. There aren’t any steel tracks on it but that’s because I have got very dedicated to the nylon. The nylon really is the… the REAL guitar for me and that’s what it is, you know. I think the nylon is timeless, the given guitar. It’s the time-honoured form, isn’t it? It’s God’s given guitar, that’s what I think.
TWR: I notice that there ’s one track on the LP called Variation
On A Theme By Chopin. Is that because you have a particular affection for Chopin
or is it just showing the classical influence in your music in general?
SH: Probably both actually. There’s a famous Chopin piano piece that I just found myself playing the melody and taking an earlier part from it. It’s a lovely theme.
TWR: I can recognise the melody but I can’t actually place it. I can recognise it but can’t actually name it, you know what I mean…
SH: In fact, that’s one of those things that made it into, you know there are words to it, it was made into a song. It was one of those things that has been through many changes down the years. I am sure people will continue to do variations on it because it is such a lovely theme.
TWR: It’s the same with Tales Of The Riverbank - I never knew who it was by until you introduced it as being by Giuliani. I didn’t know who and I just thought it was a very old piece.
SH: And that is a variation on that again. It’s a variation, a fantasia or whatever.
TWR: Getting back to the guitar itself. Do you prefer electric or acoustic tours?
SH: I like both. I love being with a band and I love being on the road with a rock and roll circus so to speak. Because I love all the characters, all the clowns come out of the woodwork! (laughs).
TWR: That’s no reflection on the audience is it? (laughs).
SH: No. No. A lot of the best performances by people like that on the road, I tend to get natural born performers in my band. You can’t really tell on stage they don’t always let their hair down.
TWR: John Shearer?
SH: John Shearer, and guys like Pete Hicks were immensely funny and Dik Cadbury and Nick Magnus too. They all could have been born comedians. That’s not to denigrate them as musicians!
TWR: Do you know what any of them are doing at the moment?
SH: Pete is actually coming to the gig I am doing in Dartford on Monday. I haven’t seen him for a while.
TWR: We saw Nick supporting Suzanne Vega in a band called Cry no More.
SH: That’s right, with Chas Cronk in it. Roy Hill he has been doing mainly sessions Nick Has. He has worked with me on this rock album that I’ve got. He has done an amazing job on that, amazing job.
TWR: When can we expect the new album?
SH: Well, I think at the beginning of next year.
TWR: With a tour to follow?
TWR: Great! This is what we want to hear. What sort of band will you use for this?
SH: Well, I am hoping to get Chris Thompson on vocals, the guy who sang most of the vocals. I’ve got Bonnie Tyler on the album - she did a duet with Chris on a track funnily enough that I originally wrote for GTR called Prize Fighters, which we did live but it never found its way on to the album, but I felt it was a good song so I have done it with two of the best singers I felt I could find.
TWR: How did you find working with Steve Howe as opposed to some of the personalities in Genesis? Was he easier or more difficult to work with?
SH: No, I didn’t find it easier - I found it more difficult actually. I felt that somewhere down the line I got the feeling that he is a spontaneous performer. I liked his work with Yes and I found that lots of the time in rehearsal rooms we would have a great jam but by the time it found its way on to record some of the excitement was kind of ironed out of it. I wasn’t terribly pleased with the album at the end of it. There are good things on it but I found it rather difficult.
TWR: That’s one thing that strikes me - the album sounds as if it was originally in the rehearsal room, a good album but it had the life played out of it by the time it came to the vinyl.
SH: There were a lot of things that were on tape that weren’t actually used. I actually did some pretty wild guitar that didn’t end up sounding wild in the end. There were a few good moments I think but in the main. It was a digression from what I normally do.
TWR: I felt it sounded a bit like Asia.
SH: That’s probably because you have got two Asia members you’ve got Geoff Downes producing it. I think it tended to run into the usual problems that befall corporate rock. As far as I am concerned it was the erection of a dinosaur.
TWR; Going back to Chopin, what other musicians or music influences you?
SH: People that influence me? Well a lot of the classical people. I mean at the moment in the care at present we have got… I don’t know, everybody influences me. Not one person more than another. I get influenced by people that I think are strong individuals. Either strong song writers, or good arrangers, composers. Under that heading I would put Jim Webb, great song writer. Lennon and McCartney, obviously. J S Bach again good songwriter! (laughs). Great chord man, great bass player!
TWR: You would like to have him in your Band?
SH: Yeah, I don’t think you could keep him under control actually!
TWR: Like a classical version of John Shearer?
SH: Yeah, I suppose so. Guys like that I like a lot. Lots of guitarists, you can’t go wrong if you buy a Segovia album. Segovia Plays Bach is probably about the most complicated guitar album you could buy. Intricate, dedicated and a lot of those tracks were recorded in the 1920’s. Those versions are still out there and they are still definitive although the art of recording wasn’t perfected by any means it was at the point where it was salvageable.
TWR: While on the subject of the classical side of things, how did you become involved with the We Know What We Like project?
SH: David Palmer ’phoned me up, who was the one time keyboard player with Jethro Tull. He had done an album, I think it was with the LSO plays the music of Jethro Tull. He asked me if I would play on the album and I said yes. I think it was when I was finishing the GTR thing or after it was finished and it was nice to do something. I don’t always share the same vision that orchestras sound good doing pop songs. But I think that equally groups don’t always sound good showing their classical influences. The two don’t always go together and in fact, these days I try very hard to keep those two areas quite separate really. Though you know, it can be had because you do get areas where you know what’s classical, someone might do something on the tambourine at some point and that could be a classical way of playing it. Classical stuff is the basis for anything.
TWR: Were you the guitarist for the whole album or did you just guest on certain tracks?
SH: I played on the whole album.
TWR: The credits seem to indicate that you only played on particular tracks..
SH: No, I actually played on other things on the album; Horizons is where it is most exposed. Most of the time, in terms of the mix, I think it was very much biased towards the orchestra which was fair enough.
TWR: Were you pleased with the result?
SH: Well, I was pleased with Horizons, Horizons came out rather nicely.
TWR: I was astonished by Horizons, I mean you managed to take something that we are all familiar with and turn it into something new.
SH: I just played the guitar on that. But when the orchestra came in and they played the beginning of Blood On The Rooftops, that’s what it is, that’s what they are playing and I said would you like me to play guitar on that? But they said no, that’s fine. I want the orchestra to do that. When I recorded it, I just recorded the first part and recorded the second part separately. He gave me a lead in on the piano as it were.
TWR: A few people have asked about Kim. Does she listen to the album before she designs a cover or is it the other way round, or is it a bit of both?
SH: In some instance she has done it to the album but on a lot of occasions, she has had paintings of her own which I have said OK, that would be good. So, it actually works both ways. Some times originally she did paintings that were inspired by Genesis pieces as she was doing those paintings. She has been listening to music a lot of the time and she has focussed in on Genesis and then, later when I have actually got some lyrical inspiration from the paintings there is that area too.
TWR: Is there a specific example of that?
SH: Yes, in a song called Entangled. Kim had done a painting called Entangled In His Own Dream which she put in the Genesis Lyrics book and there was one other painting, I can’t remember the title of it now. There was a bit of Eleventh Earl Of Mar. I felt I was kind of looking for something lyrically that she had in this very wind blown silhouette kind of picture.
TWR: We have already remarked on the influence that classical music has had on your writing. What part does literature, not necessarily classical literature, play in your writing?
SH: It’s funny, I never had a sort of… when I was at school, I was determined to leave at an early age and I left school at sixteen. I didn’t want to go to colle4ge and all that. I really wanted to make a career in music. I really wanted to get into the music business and I knew that was what I really wanted to do. So I didn’t go to college or anything like that but for some reason, there’s a side of me that likes to read and so I started to read a lot when I left school. I hardly ever read a thing while I was at school. I thought that books were a very bad idea when I was at school because they were always recommending us to read books. I always felt that these things were being forced on to us, shoved on to us, and I never did.
It wasn’t until left that I found my own way into books, and I found that now occasionally I will buy something. For example I bought a Charles Dickens book to read on the tour - I haven’t got very far with it, not having a spare minute (laughs). I am always having to put it back in the bag and stuff. I bought The Old Curiosity Shop because I liked the Dickensian descriptions of London and the characters. The way he tends to use language to portray colours, or rather the muted sort of greys and blacks and whites and he goes on for pages and pages about the fog and this sort of thing. Some writers tend to write kind of like some painters, they become musical almost.
Certain writers have a rhythm to the writing, not that I have read masses of it. Dylan Thomas who has got rumpty, tumpty rhythm about the stuff. Under Milk Wood is lovely, rhythmic. It’s where King Crimson got their Starless And Bible Black from the opening paragraph. A lovely description of starless and bible black. D H Lawrence, who is largely known for being banned for whatever he did, writes the way he writes. There are a lot of colours in there. For instance, when I did The Virgin & The Gypsy, I hadn’t read the book and funnily enough, I didn’t WANT to read the book. I sat down with some knowledge of the story and I had a Victorian book of flowers and I thought I will try and string a lyric together using flower names. I was quite surprised and delighted to find when I did read the book later, that he had included the word “Marigold” because it is both descriptive and a flower name. It has the onomatopoeia of the fact that it has the name you know, that it conjures something.
Well, at this point we were conjured right out of time. Steve’s schedule being what it was, there simply wasn’t any more time. We would like to thank Steve and his tour manager Billy Budis and manager Caroline Schott, for making the interview possible and for extending their support to our efforts.
Editor’s Note: The new rock album Steve refers to in this interview finally saw the light of day on 2000 under the title Feedback ’86.