“What a carry on…” – TWR celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the release of Steve Hackett’s Please Don’t Touch album. Memorabilia: TWR Archive. Photos by Nick Brailsford and Roger Salem.
It is frightening to think that so much time has elapsed since the departure of Steve from Genesis (examined elsewhere in this edition) and the release of his first proper solo album : Please Don’t Touch and his first touring foray in the UK and Europe. Steve’s story has been an amazing one which TWR has chronicled in detail but, to paraphrase one of his old beat combo’s lyrics, let us take a little trip back, not with Father Tiresias, but with Mr Stephen Richard Hackett….
Steve had taken a long time deliberating on his decision to leave Genesis. It was certainly not something that he rushed in to. In fact, he had considered leaving the band during the run up to Foxtrot, not considering himself able to contribute enough to the band’s music but fortunately for us, them and Steve, the rest of the band managed to persuade him to stay. Having completed his first solo album during the immediate aftermath of Peter Gabriel’s departure from the band, it was here that the first seed was sown in his mind. After all, it must have been difficult to return to a band where his input was not given as free a rein as certain others, as he clearly stated in an interview given to American music magazine, Circus in June 1978...
“The real telling point for me came with Wind & Wuthering when I had a full album’s worth written but eventually only ended up being credited on four tracks. So, when the next album came round, I had the choice of having most of my work discarded or making a separate album. What’s the point of working in such a situation? The only reason I stuck with Genesis as long as I did was to prove to myself, in fact, that without Peter Gabriel, Genesis could still survive…”
Having said that, and of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, if Steve had stood his ground more the situation may have been completely different . Someone who saw the situation from a different perspective was Brian Gibbon who was then Financial Director of Charisma Records and here is what he has to say on the subject of Steve’s departure…
There was this undercurrent that would push them (the other band members) to find another excuse but I don’t ever believe that they wanted Steve to leave - ever, and neither did Smithy (Tony Smith). I tried to talk him out of it but it was a bit different to the Peter Gabriel scenario, because Peter wanted to leave because they were going in different directions artistically. Steve wasn’t going in a different direction, he just wanted to do what he wanted to do….
The Steve thing wasn’t am entirely artistic thing which was created by this situation but then it fed into other things . To an excuse to say you’re not having that because they knew that would upset him and start him thinking if I haven’t got a future here… I don’t know if Steve would ever acknowledge but he should have never left Genesis and he could have done both … which I told him! I asked him what was stopping him having a solo career and the answer was nothing, if you looked at it logically. It might have been a case of you can’t do your tour if Genesis are doing a tour and so on but that was only logistics…”
Steve shared Gibbon’s sentiment that to an extent he was pushed rather than quit and he made this emphatically clear in the same American magazine interview referred to above…
“Although Genesis was purportedly a democracy what tended to happen was that one had separate camps within the group. Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford were set on keeping the band’s music as it was. I’d beg to disagree: I preferred to change it constantly.
I know that Peter left the band because of Tony and I’d say that I did too. Genesis will probably end up as only Tony Banks. But Peter’s just as bad. He’s a little rat. I was very pissed off at the way The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was going. I told Peter so and he said ‘I don’t give a f*ck’…”
Sadly, the fallout from this interview was to have lasting repercussions for Steve’s relationships with the rest of the band that have lasted right up to the present day.
Interestingly enough, some of the material which eventually surfaced on the album HAD been worked out whilst Steve was still in Genesis, as he explains…
“The title track was originally rehearsed with Genesis . It was originally linked to the music which became Wot Gorilla? I had written the introduction to Narnia even before joining Genesis. I wrote Hoping Love Will Last when I was still in Genesis sometime in the first half of 1977 but the catalyst for me leaving the band at the time was the need to bring the project to fruition…”
It would indeed be fascinating to hear what those rehearsals sounded like if they even still exist!
Without the benefit of being able to use the likes of Phil and Mike on this one, Steve set about broadening the musical palette by instead looking over the water to America for musicians with a different slant on things and for this he engaged to services of among others, Woodstock veteran Richie Havens and Phil Ehart and Steve Walsh members of Kansas who had recently had a major hit with Carry On Wayward Son. Here are Steve’s reasons for his choices…
“Richie Havens’ voice was monumental, I had been a fan of that voice since hearing him sing on the Woodstock film and then live at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970. I was incredibly proud to have him on the album he gave it so much, Steve Walsh’s voice was terrific, he had this extraordinary range with a bell-like clarity Phil Ehart was the driving force behind Kansas, a brilliant band and I felt he was a fabulous drummer. And Chester Thompson was an amazing drummer and a very sweet guy too. He was an incredibly dynamic drummer and I had enjoyed working with him in Genesis…”
Ehart also remembers the sessions with fondness…
“We hit it off so well - and because we play in much the same style, there was really no musical conflict when we got together. Racing In A was a first take!”
Steve was evidently aiming at broadening his musical horizons on this one which is evident by the subject matter and some of the instrumentation on it as he tells TWR…
“I was trying to create variety between tracks. There are many styles employed. I also wanted to create an Anglo-American hybrid… Narnia was influenced by C S Lewis’ s book; The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. I loved his invention of magical worlds . Ian MacDonald (King Crimson/Foreigner) suggested I use my acoustic guitar as an introduction to that one.
Carry On Up The Vicarage was again, influenced by an author, this time Agatha Christie . it’s a musical who-dunnit? Eventually the local vicar is unmasked. Racing In A originally had different words but I went with Steve Walsh’s changes to make it more interesting for him to sing. We used the Motown trick of doubling the snare drum with a handclap and tambourine.
Kim originally had a working title of Quatre Gymnopedie because it alluded to the instumental work of Erik Satie. How Can I? was written with Richie Havens in mind and he sang it beautifully. I used guitar synth on it and played two twelve strings in separate octaves whilst Richie played percussion.
Hoping Love Will Last I wrote in an Aretha Franklin style, which Randy Crawford sang beautifully before her career took off as an international singing star. Land Of A Thousand Autumns was influenced by a spooky Japanese film called Oni Baba. I was intrigued by the soundtrack which involved shrill bird cries.
Please Don’t Touch is a rhythmically urgent variation of my theme from Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers whilst The Voice Of Necam came from the mixing desk at De Lane Lea studios which featured the NECAM computer system. We fed my own vocal tape loops into the computer and made up chords on the desk faders which produced the chords which became the backdrop of this atmospheric piece.
Icarus Ascending again features Richie Havens… a tour de force from that voice which combined a mixture of velvet and leather . For me, Richie embodied the spirit of Woodstock and so much more…
I used wind chimes to make the three guitars on the album’s start sound even more sparkling. A pipe organ was used on several tracks which was resident at the Record Plant studio in Los Angeles. I believe that remarkable instrument which had a life of its own, was subsequently destroyed by fire.
The Roland GR-500 is on most of the tracks. It’s a guitar synth which enabled the guitar to sound like a keyboard but with the bonus of being able to bend notes. I started out subsequent gigs with my first band playing this synth solo.
I used violin and cello on a couple of tracks. I had seen Graham Smith , the violinist working with another Charisma band - String Driven Thing and realised he had a superb sound. We tracked him up along with cellist Hugh Malloy to sound like an entire orchestra..
NECAM was a computer recall system for mixing. Unfortunately it had the annoying habit of forgetting everything you programmed in to it at the eleventh hour! But it all worked out in the end….”
With two record companies to please (Charisma in the UK and Chrysalis in the USA) there were also competing pressures from them as to the direction the project should take as Steve remembers…
“They were largely at odds with each other which was difficult. Chrysalis wanted something that could work on American FM which is partly why I originally recorded the album in the States so I could make them feel involved and to give it a partly American feel. Both record companies were delighted in the end, so it was all resolved."
|However, record company interference of another sort precluded the release of the Narnia single featuring the Steve Walsh vocal as his record company would not allow it. A promo version was pressed up in limited quantities however. Steve even ventured into the world of promotional videos at last when it came to the release of the How Can I? single which featured the marvellous duet between him and Richie Havens, Sadly no similar item was made for Narnia which is a shame given the fun that could have been had with that subject but the reasons for this were quite simple, as Steve explains…” There was no budget for two videos so when Charisma suggested doing How Can I? I went for that one…”|
With the album now in the cans, it was time to face the music (pun intended) of reaction from fans and critics. Remember also that at the time this album was released, the UK was in the grips of the New Wave and all that was associated with “Prog” was in for a hard time critically. Thankfully as the reviews included in this article show, Steve was given some degree of latitude which others were not so fortunate to receive! Fan reaction was universally favourable and of course, there was now the vexed question of to tour or not to tour and Steve’s brother John sums up Steve’s attitude to this best… “Steve is never happier than when he is on stage. I think he loves being on stage and he is at his happiest when he is up there onstage playing his guitar. So, I think to just release studio albums for Steve would never be enough…”
Given the incessant rounds of touring that Steve undertakes these days, it does seem strange that he himself had not even thought of the possibility of touring at the time of the album’s release…
"I was talking to someone at MAM (a promotions agency), Ian Wright who said; ‘you know, you can do some shows’ and it hadn’t dawned on me. I said: ‘How am I going to do shows? I haven’t got a band, I Haven’t got a lineup. I had this guest and that guest ..’ And he said: ‘ well, you could put together a band’ and the concept hadn’t even dawned on me! (laughs) I was trying to make albums that were hits and that happens only to the very lucky few . Please Don’t Touch had done substantially less well than the first album and I wondered why that was because I liked it just as much. People said: ‘Perhaps you need to promote it, perhaps you need to get out there and start doing it…’ “
|That said, it was never going to be possible for Steve to use the cast he had assembled to record the album and indeed, by the time the album was released, Genesis were back on the road themselves with Chester Thompson and so Steve had to go about finding a new band with which to present his music… “I auditioned people and if I liked them I hired them on the spot. The band was full of great characters including Nick Magnus whom I am still great pals with to this day. Nick was one of the first I saw. He was playing away in the living room of the house he shared with probably ninety seven other people! And I asked him: ‘You can’t do the sound of a church organ can you?‘ thinking he will never be able to do it with the two keyboards he’s got and he said: ‘ It just so happens I can because I have hooked up these oscillators…‘ in true boffin style he played something and it was just glorious and I thought, ‘Yeah, this guy is thinking along the right lines’. It was wonderful to work with my brother John who has always been an incredible flute player…”|
Confusingly enough, Steve’s first gig was not in France as you would think from the name of the venue - Chateau Neuf, but was in fact in Oslo in Norway on 4th October 1978 and this was followed by a series of shows in Europe with his British debut taking place a few weeks later at Cardiff University on 23rd October. I finally caught Steve in the act live the following day at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester, a day which was to be the start of an ongoing love affair with Steve’s music which is now celebrating forty years.
The new live show featured a healthy selection of tracks from the new album ( seven out of nine were played) along with a fair few from its predecessor, Voyage Of The Acolyte and the beginnings of what has remained a regular staple of Steve’s performances, the road testing of as yet unrecorded material with several tracks from what would be his third album barely a year later. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves there, eh folks?!
The album has remained a consistently popular item in Steve’s catalogue and it is difficult to believe that so much time has passed since its release but here we are with the fortieth anniversary almost upon us. It is only right that the final words on the album and the upcoming tour come from Mr Hackett himself…
“I am proud of much of it. It felt good to stretch myself . It was as if I was using a number of masks and I think I was successful at genre hopping on this album. I will be playing a couple of numbers from the album on the upcoming tour…”
And there you have it folks, the story not only of an album but also the story of the beginnings of my own story with Steve. Once again, my thanks to Steve and Jo for their unstinting support and kindness not only to me but also to the many fans whom they have made happy and no doubt, will continue to do so for a long time to come…