The Steve Hackett Story part four - from a Guitar Noir to a visit to Darktown. Photographs by Richard Mills. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
Editor's note: it has proven impossible to trace the photographer who took one of the images used in this feature. If you contact us, we shall ensure you are properly credited.
Yes folks, it has been a VERY long time hadn't it since we looked back at Steve's ever expanding career. In fact so long ago that the last time we did, TWR was still called The Waiting Room and was published in paper form! Aaah, I miss the smell of the acetone! Anyway, here in an attempt to bring things slightly more up to date, we have the next instalment…
Steve's last acoustic gig in 1988 was at a major rock festival in Tallinn Estonia at which he entertained over 100,000 people armed only with a six string acoustic guitar. Sadly, due to a variety of issues including poor organisation and advertising, the Momentum tour ended up as a financial loss for Steve and he had to take time out to reassess the situation and whether he wanted or could actually afford to continue in the music business. In fact, at this time he was considering retiring from it altogether!
Thankfully a project appeared which gave him something to sink his teeth into in the interim which was the Rock Against Repatriation recording, the background to which Steve explained to TWR when we spoke to him in 1993…
"Well, 1989 saw the beginning of our involvement in Rock Against Repatriation for the Boat People. A lot of artists were involved in making another version of 'Sailing' but what we were looking for was an emblem for the cause. A tremendous amount of people took part in the recording. We also had an auction which became more of a 'Who's Who?' of rock memorabilia…"
Steve also explained what happened to the Feedback project which reports at the time had indicated would be his return to the rock world after the legal debacle surrounding his departure from GTR…
"That album went under the title of Feedback and, basically I started recording that shortly after GTR and prior to the release of the acoustic album and I worked for a number of years on it and then we decided to take things further and to create more flexibility so we built our own recording studio and set up our own record label and all of that took a while…"
And a casualty of that period of reorganization was the Feedback album which was to remain unreleased until 2000 bit more of that later.
Indeed, the years which immediately followed the Momentum album and tour were to be deeply frustrating ones for Steve's fans - and for the man himself - as he explained the vagaries of the music business and how it differed so much from the old days..
"To get an album released these days is so much harder. At one time I could have had an album which had taken six weeks to record and I could guarantee that it would be out at a specific time. The guarantees aren't there any more, there isn't the kind of infrastructure I had with Charisma and they were happy to have an album every year…"
It is hard to believe now in this age of artists having their own recording facilities and labels and control of their own product but Steve's decision to establish his own label was to prove to be a wise one and one which was to give him the necessary flexibility and control he wanted and needed.
Steve's only appearance during those years was to be on a short lived music series called "Bedrock" recorded at Central TV Studios in Nottingham on 23rd September 1990. Featuring a new look band the performance also included several tracks which were to appear on the still as yet unrecorded rock album as well as a couple which have remained unreleased. The broadcast was subsequently released as the"Horizons" video and as part of the Time lapse live album which was initially released in 1991 by the Dutch Crisis Record label. The album merged two live performances spanning a decade and went some way to satisfying fans' demands for a live album.It was also subsequently reissued by Steve's own Camino Records imprint.
|Also at this time reports circulated that Steve was involved in preparing a filmscript and soundtrack for a biopic of Antonio Vivaldi under the title of "The Red Priest"..Newspaper reports stated that the star of The Commitments was to have the title role. Sadly, financial and other restraints meant that this project still remains unrealised although one track from it: Prayers And Dreams, subsequently appeared on the Unauthorised Biography compilation CD released by Virgin Records in 1992 as part of their tidying up loose ends as a result of taking over Charisma's back catalogue.|
Opting for the tried and tested method of taking new material on the road, Steve and his new band undertook a short tour of the USA and Canada in the autumn of 1992 which was when fans finally got their first taste of what was to come from Steve's next two projects. Playing to smaller audiences, in clubs and small theatres, Steve was back in his natural element and evidently happy to be so,if the recordings from several of these gigs are any indication.
News eventually reached the fans that the Deenew album, titled Guitar Noir was to be released in the spring of 1993 and indeed, it eventually appeared on the day of the first gig of the UK tour in support of it which just happened to be in my home town of Liverpool! I have very fond memories of that gig and several others I saw as I began what have since become regular occurrences following Steve on his travels up and down the UK and further afield.
His new band, comprising Julian Colbeck on keyboards, Hugo Degenhardt on drums, Doug Sinclair on bass and Steve's brother John on flute was every bit as tight as any he had previously graced a stage with and the emphasis was quite rightly placed firmly on the newer material along with passing mods to his back catalogue and, shock horror - a couple of tracks by... Genesis! All of this may well have been part of a cunning plan by Steve to prepare us for a project still several years away, but more of that later!
Audiences were enthusiastic for the new music and the album gathered several excellent reviews. The tour continued into the first of what would also become a regular activity for Steve; a tour of Italy, or as he affectionately calls them, his "Italian Jobs" before returning to the US for some further gigs in the autumn of 1993.
Steve's next project was one which had been acknowledged in the set for the US tour by the inclusion of the Blues standard, The Stumble and in the same interview referred to earlier, he gave his reasons for doing it ..
"I am halfway through a blues project...a blues album because I wanted to do an album where the solos were more important than the songs… It's something I'm doing for fun. It's a blues band and we are doing it for fun. It's a flexible line up. It's not a vehicle for songwriters, least of all me...it's more...I am quite happy to do covers of existing things. I don't know how it will come out,whether it will eventually be more original material than covers but to a degree it's that feeling that...its really an excuse for more aggressive playing I think…"
The album, was eventually released in the summer of 1994 under the title, Blues With A Feeling which mixed blues standards alongside new material in the various blues styles. Fans' reactions were mixed, and I think they might have been more positive had Steve been able to put together some gigs on the back of it but sadly that was not to be the case and it remains one of a handful of albums from Steve which remains untoured.
Steve went back to the"Small Orchestra" in the autumn of 1994 for some acoustic shows with Julian Colbeck and thankfully one of these shows, the gig at the Teatro Metropolitan in Palermo was subsequently released in 1995 as the There Are Many Sides To The Night album which gave fans a delightful sample of Steve's acoustic performances.
Steve had guested on a series of albums by David (now Dee) Palmer formerly of Jethro Tull which featured orchestral interpretations of the music of Pink Floyd, Queen, Genesis and Jethro Tull amongst others. The album featuring Genesis; We Know What We Like was issued by RCA back in 1987 and when Palmer decided to put together a handful of orchestral shows in various locations during the summer of 1994, Steve took part in several of them. The performances were nothing to write home about if the available recording from one of them isanything to go by, but nonetheless an interesting excursion and one which we will come back to...later!
Steve then went off the radar again for a year but when he returned he did so with an album which certainly took his fans by surprise. For most of his solo career, Steve had eschewed performing the music of his former bandmates in his live shows, wisely opting to promote the music he had created himself. The appearance of a handful of tracks from that period in his recent live shows should have been the first indication of what was to follow, but even so, the release in September 1996 of the aptly titled Genesis Revisited album took fans and critics alike totally by surprise. Steve explained the idea behind the album to TWR at the time of its release…
"You know I am always going to be remembered for those Genesis albums above all, no matter what I do. I often thought I wonder what those numbers would sound like if they were re-recorded with the technology of now, putting my own studio to good use…"
The end result was certainly surprising and the reinterpretations were in some cases perhaps a bit too radical for their own good but when they worked, such as in the case of Your Own Special Way they were truly glorious. Steve also managed to put together something of a dream team of musicians together including himself, his former Genesis bandmate, Chester Thompson, John Wetton and Julian Colbeck for a series of shows in Japan in the autumn of 1996. Thankfully they were recorded and filmed and saw the light of day under the title of The Tokyo Tapes the following year.
The release of this album was to augur the beginning of what has since become an incredibly fertile period for Steve and it was not long before he was back again with another project of an entirely different hue. Steve had always referred to the acoustic guitar as the "Small Orchestra" but now it was time to make the acquaintance of its big brother; the full orchestra. The album, based around some of the themes and characters of the Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream was released by the EMI Classics division in the autumn of 1997. Steve gave TWR the outline of what had inspired the album at the time of its release…
" The Midsummer Night's Dream thing came about as a result of a number of acoustic pieces which I had recorded and had on the back burner thinking this will probably go out on a small independent label, probably our own, at some point. There won't be any interest from a major record company. And then I found on the contrary, EMI were very interested in my instrumental activities…"
The finished album is a joy from beginning to end and was very well received by both fans and critics alike and reached the Number One spot in the Classical chart upon its release. Sadly there was no opportunity for this album to be taken on the road as touring with an orchestra was (and still is) an incredibly expensive business.
Two years were to elapse before Steve returned with another album and once again, this one was a beast of an entirely different complexion. Darktown is by any stretch of the imagination, a dark almost claustrophobic album, in many ways as Steve finally exorcised some of the demons from his own past. Visiting subjects such as drug addiction, bullying at school and many others besides, it is a dense and challenging album which in many ways is the spiritual successor to Guitar Noir. Once again, Steve outlined the ideas behind it to TWR at the time of its release…
" There are some subjects that I have avoided in songs over the years because some of them were too painful to talk about but you get to the point whereby you feel like confronting those demons perhaps…"
Steve certainly didn't shy away from dragging those demons into the light to be placed under the scrutiny of his fans. Without doubt, this is also his heaviest album with the emphasis placed firmly on rhythm on several tracks not least the instrumental workouts, Omega Metallicus and Darktown Riot.
Steve also returned to the concert stage in 2000 with a short series of shows in Italy promoting the album with another new band which was to include a couple of faces who have since gone on to be longstanding members of Steve's touring and recording team: Gary O'Toole who took up the drumstool and remained with Steve until 2018, Rob Townsend who has assumed expanding duties on a veritable gamut of wind instruments and latterly keyboards. Speaking of keyboards, Roger King also made his live debut during these gigs.
The new Millennium saw Steve up the ante with his releases, first up was a welcome return to collaborative endeavours with his brother John who had graced so many of his previous albums and shows. With John now fully recovered from the effects of the accident which put him out of action for several years, the pair produced a delightful homage to the French Impressionist composer, Erik Satie, titled Sketches Of Satie.
The Feedback project which I mentioned earlier also finally saw the light of day as Feedback 86 - a reference to when it was originally recorded. This one is pretty much in the same mould as the GTR album and is more AOR than any of Steve's other albums but don't let that put you off as there are several classic Hackett cuts in this one including Slot Machine and Cassandra which had initially been released on the US CD version of Guitar Noir many years before.
And that is where we will leave Steve's story for now. But as we all know, there is still much more to tell so, until next time...