|We formed a classical flute and guitar duo, did some concerts together and made the album Overnight Snow. Then in 2015 I made the rock album Another Life (released on Cherry Red Records) and maybe rather optimistically, I agreed to do a short set at the album launch. It was just going to be me, sat at a keyboard, warbling away and as the time approached, I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew…Nick was round so I sang him a couple of the songs just to check I could perform to an audience. He picked up my son’s stratocaster and started playing along, no chord sheets or anything just immediately slotting in with what I was doing. I’d no idea he was such a fab electric guitarist. The rest is history as they say. We teamed up with Duncan Parsons on percussion and as a trio we played at the album launch. Anthony Phillips came along that evening and was very complimentary about Mr. Fletcher.|
Afterwards Nick said , “Where’s the bass player? We could form a band.” So with the addition of Duncan’s old school friend Jeremy Richardson we formed what became the second incarnation of the John Hackett Band.
Since then we have gigged in the UK, recorded two classical albums (a third on the way), a band rock album plus Nick and I brought out Beyond the Stars as a duo rock album. And we had just dipped our toes in Europe, with more gigs lined up, when covid hit. The latest venture is the release of Nick’s solo album Cycles of Behaviour to which I made a writing, performing and engineering contribution-I’ve been really pleased for Nick that it’s had such rave reviews and quite deservedly so!
TWR: You have worked on several acoustic guitar/flute projects including transcriptions of existing repertoire. How difficult is it to actually transcribe music written for one instrument to another?
|JH: A lot depends on the repertoire and of course, the skill of the arranger. We’ve recorded quite a bit of baroque music which can be transcribed very successfully. When you think that the Handel sonatas for example where written for harpsichord with a figured bass (ie basic chords), it’s not a million miles away from the similarly plucked sound of a classical guitar with relatively straight forward harmony. For the flute it’s usually clear what will work and what won’t, as you are only dealing with a single melodic top line. But with the Bach Organ Trio which is on our next release, the Goldfinch, for example, the guitar has to play a much more polyphonic role where the strands of music are interwoven and quite complex. So in that case the transcription is from E flat major, which any guitarist knows is always problematic, to a much more guitar friendly A major. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be able to use published transcriptions whereas in other cases, you have to do some more serious rearranging to make the harmony work which was the case with the Faure Sicilienne. It was the same with the Satie album flute part to the Gymnopedie no 1 where I felt I needed to change the flute part from what is usually played in most off the shelf arrangements.|
TWR: Do you have any pieces you thought about transcribing but then changed your mind?
JH: I did once consider arranging the Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as a flute duet… but then thought better of it.
TWR: New album, written under Lockdown conditions, what problems did these throw up and how did you overcome them?
JH:The biggest problem was not having a drummer. Over the years I’ve worked with Nick Magnus who is brilliant at programming drum parts or with drummers like Duncan Parsons in JHB or Wayne Proctor for Beyond the Stars . For that album I had programmed a rough drum part for the demo which Wayne then expanded on and made his own. So that was the first big stumbling block with the Piper Plays His Tune. But as the material for the album took shape, I realised it was going to more song-based and less reliant on the virtuosity you would need for say a jazz-rock album so programmed drums were a practical solution.
|The other main problem was the computing and technical side as I’m so used to relying on other people to tweak the buttons – I’m usually the guy sat at the back of the studio saying, “ Do you think you could turn the flute up a bit?” But thankfully with expert guidance from Duncan Parsons, my wife who is terrific with technology and my daughter Laura who stepped in a few times, I got through. But I did get a sense of satisfaction about doing the whole job myself. Ultimately I am a musician so I have a vision of what any album should sound like- it was a question of just keeping plugging away until that moment when it starts to sound right. I hadn’t realised that for years with my own very basic recording set up, I was missing out on all the nice toys that are available which give you the right reverbs and compression that can really transform your tracks.|
What wasn’t a problem was playing and singing all the parts myself. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect . Obviously there are better keyboard players etc out there but the point was that at that particular time, I was the only performer available so I was able to get on with the job and not have to wait around for the pandemic to end. I learned an enormous amount about the whole process of making an album and I don’t regret that time spent at all.
TWR: The album in many ways is a continuation of Checking Out Of London, the same sense of it being almost an audio diary. Is that a fair comment?
JH: What I have come to realise is how nostalgic Piper is. It really hadn’t struck me at the time but I guess reaching the ripe old age of 66, it is inevitable that a certain amount of autobiography may creep in. But as for an audio diary, I’m not so sure. I think you have to be wary of reading too much into lyrics especially with someone like me who’s spent most of his life whizzing up and down flute scales and not contemplating a new role as poet laureate. It is true that Checking Out of London was recorded under the shadow of the Iraq war and that does come through in some places. Also with Checking Out the lyrics were written by my old school friend Nick Clabburn so there may be some personal allusions but pure autobiography it is not.
But you are right that with Piper there are some diary elements, probably more so than Checking Out. The first track is based on a dream I’ve often had of being back at school in Victoria and all the emotions that brings back…And the last track is all about how my wife and I met in an orchestra. There is a harpsichord, flute and bassoon freak-out in the middle which is my little joke recalling how our harpsichord player Laurie Stras used to move her iron-framed instrument (it weighed a ton!) into the middle of the orchestra by getting underneath it and crawling with it on her back like a beetle. But as for track three In Love which speaks of bondage on a desert island..I don’t remember too much of that growing up in Pimlico.
TWR: What did you learn from having to handle everything yourself?
|JH: There is a quote from Rachmaninov which I heard the American composer John Williams mention on the radio last year:” Music is enough for a lifetime but a lifetime is not enough for music.” You could spend your whole life specialising in just one aspect of music whether it’s playing the piano, the guitar, composing, being an engineer or music producer and so on. Each of these roles has their own set of skills that can take a lifetime to master. In my own case, I’ve spent most of my time in trying to be the best possible flute player that I can. Since turning 60 what with the Another Life album launch and me being by default the keyboard player in my own band, I have tried to develop in other directions apart from the flute. So I started playing piano for services at our local church and I took some singing lessons . It has been a very interesting and absorbing journey that I feel I have only just started and wish I had some spare lifetimes on this earth …my biggest regret being not taking piano playing seriously enough when I was younger.|
But despite taking on all these roles myself and of course, falling short of world domination in every area at times, I have been surprised to get probably the best reviews for this album than others I have done, certainly in the rock field. And I think that’s probably because I made the album to please myself and not try to aim it at any one particular type of audience, hence the mixture of prog , classical and Motown styles. That is how I hear music-not in terms of genres but in terms of chords and harmonies-after all a C major chord has the same notes in it whether it is Mozart or Motown.
TWR: Tell us a little bit about the ideas behind the tracks.
JH: I’ve talked about the first track and my (mostly) unhappy time at school which was partly due to having a brother five years older who always let me hang out with him and his friends . So when it came to being treated like a child by some, though not all, teachers at school and finding it difficult to relate to some kids my own age, the twelve year old me wanted to grow up fast.
Track two Broken is about a broken relationship. I tried to make those lyrics universal so that they are not specific to any one relationship and hopefully others can relate to the emotion. Really the whole style of the song is inspired by Art Garfunkel and those fab recordings he made in the seventies in the days before digital perfection crept into the recording process.
In Love is a prog romp-the lyrics are a bit of fun and to be honest, I was in stitches when I wrote it. Funnily enough it is the track that has had the most airplay so presumably I should write more of that kind of thing…
Crying Shame is also prog influenced with the arpeggio organ at the start, the twelve string guitar and the flute passages which I am delighted to say have been compared to King Crimson’s early recordings which is where my flute journey began thanks to the wonderful Ian McDonald. It is a song about the environment and I was chuffed to bits when Amy Birks sent me a cover version she had done , though I don’t know what she intends to do with it.
This is followed by Broken Glass which was a song I wrote before lockdown but I only had the one verse . I then needed a second verse and once lockdown arrived, it seemed ridiculous to be singing about walking down busy streets so these turned into empty streets and hey presto, verse two was born. It is a lament for the lack of time that some people feel in their busy lives with no time to reflect on the more important things in life.
Probably my favourite track on the album is Julia. I have Duncan Parsons to thank for not letting me ditch that song years ago (and my wife always liked it too). Although much of the album was written in late 2019 and 2020 that song has hung around for years, looking for a home. I have always been a great Beatles fan. Their music was wonderful and the lyrics were often moving but with a light touch. Eleanor Rigby, Here There and Everywhere – it doesn’t get much better than that. So this is my stab at that sixties vibe with a jangly electric guitar and staccato piano chords.
TWR: Future plans?
JH: The most important thing to me is to become a better musician. I remember when I was about 24 being on tour in the States when someone came up to me and said how surprised he was that I was so young. I looked at him quizzically so he explained that having heard my flute playing on Hands of the Priestess from Steve’s Voyage of the Acolyte, he said he had imagined it was played by an old man ( I think it was a compliment). Well, I am certainly mature in years these days but I am definitely still learning . I’m excited more than ever about the different aspects of music which I dabble in-some days it’s difficult to know where best to start.
But in practical terms we have the release of Nick’s album Cycles of Behaviour which deserves to bring Nick great success. After that my own label Hacktrax will release The Goldfinch which is an album by Nick and myself of music by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Scarlatti arranged for flute and guitar. There are gigs on the books with Amy Birks-I played flute on her first album All That I Am & All That I Was which has deservedly received wonderful reviews. I have also played on her next album so it will be a pleasure help her share these songs with an audience-she is a huge talent, an example of a musician who writes both wonderful melodies and wonderful lyrics , the perfect combination.
And of course with the John Hackett Band we have our first post lockdown gig lined up in Southampton at 1865 club on 1 August. We live in hope that this will be the first of many more to come!