“The Unauthorised Biography Of A Guitar Noir” - Steve hackett in conversation
with Alan Hewitt.
Continuing our lengthy examination of Steve's solo career, we reach his Guitar Noir album and his production activities for other artists.
TWR: There have been a couple of projects you have worked on by other people; I believe you worked with Mae McKenna on her album and also some production work for the folk duo Jacquie and Bride…?
SH: Yes, although Bride is no longer with us in fact. That came from a family connection with Kim; from her college days
In the States. She became close to an American couple who were great friends with Jacquie and Bride who used to come over and stay with them and they used to play the Folk Festivals and the coffee bars. They were from a completely different era altogether. We had them in the studio for a couple of days and it was one of the most unlikely projects.
I liked them as people and they were doing ancient Folk songs; a good deal of it was traditional stuff. I had great fun working with them and we did something which was just some tapes which they were going to release themselves on their own; they pressed them up. I enjoyed every minute of it. It was nice working with them because the tended to record everything live as a Folk duo would. They had a bass player with them and I am trying to remember his name… but he said; "This is the best album they've done; the best produced album they've done…" and I was pleased that they were pleased with it.
I realised that Bride was not in good shape and I think it was the last thing she ever recorded. It is more my grandmother's era with that style of music. We would have to wake Bride up from time to time (laughs). It was completely different; it was one of those two day projects. Then Billy and I spent some time mixing and we thought we would try and make it sound as good as possible for them. I think they were quite impressed with the facilities and the studio. It was an extension of friendship shall we say…
TWR: And the other project which you previously mentioned that was just getting started is The Red Priest…
SH: That is a film script which is still doing the rounds and interest is there one moment and then it tails off and I don't know how long it takes to get a feature film made. There are a million and one things that I have got on the go and it is one of a number of budding projects.
You mentioned the problems with persuading Charisma to release a live album and now we have the belated release of TimeLapse…
It has been released in some territories and not in others. Basically it was the result of doing the Central TV thing and there were a number of spin-offs from that. There was a spin-off which became that album and that became an American tour and the spin-off from that was what became the Guitar Noir album. We decided we couldn't take things any further without first starting our own studio and secondly starting our own company. At times you are forced into a corner but it is possible to fight your way out of that corner which is what I am always trying to prove.
TWR: Was the decision to combine parts of two shows from two different periods together deliberate?
SH: It wasn't an indication o anything current but it was certainly a family snapshot album of two groups of people. The Central TV people wanted a more backward looking show; they wanted older numbers and more stage favourites a sort of "Best of" …and I felt that when the idea of the TV show came along I wanted to try material that was new and untested but they felt there might be so much discrepancy between the periods.
That kind of album I think could have come along many years earlier but the co-operation from the record companies wasn't there. I think back over it and there seem like there are gaps in between touring. However, I like to think that I have sacrificed continuity in favour of content because I have tried to keep going and obviously the things that I do are so diveregent that they don't always fire up the same teams of businessmen.
I mean, my walking into Atlantic Records and trying to sell them an acoustic album and they will tell you … "Steve we thought you committed professional suicide in '77 and we always said you were crazy. Now we KNOW you are crazy!" Whereas when someone buys something it ceases to be an archive and becomes current. When someone applauds that particular venture and you are talking of a career of some twenty two years then that is a good feeling.
TWR: There were quite a few tracks that were played at the TV show that haven't emerged on Guitar Noir...
SH: Yes, Wonderpatch was originally a link. Theatre of Sleep was another and In The Heart of The City was another. There was one more which was a straightforward instrumental; Jazz Jam basically that facilitated the capabilities of the musicians I was working with at the time and they seemed to warm to that . It's available on the video! (laughter) If you want those tracks then they are available on that. I know it is not the same as being available on the record but I try and be selective and if there are things that aren't on the album that people like; then I apologise. In The Heart of The City was recorded several times I think with different line-ups and I am sure there are three or four mixes of it and there are several versions of it. As I had been working on it for such a long time I wasn't sure whether to put it on the album because I wasn't sure if it was current anymore but I felt that the band enjoyed playing it live so much so it could be current if it was approached in the right way. There is also the element of the abstract that I like which seems to be creeping into the music I am doing. I like the collage aspect that appears at the end; things that aren’t specifically musical often appeal.
TWR: I hadn't heard Guitar Noir more than twice before I first saw you in Liverpool and the thing that surprised me and a lot of the fans was your harmonica playing and the Jazz and Blues elements of the show which surprised traditional fans; myself included. With this album you have gone into new territory after the two picture postcards of what was… if you like… with both TimeLapse and The Unauthorised Biography and the new album seems to have married ALL the elements together which you hadn't done previously…
SH: I tried to marry the acoustic influences; in other words the acoustic guitar was incorporated into songs which it hadn't done before; it was either electric or acoustic and the two areas didn't seem to speak to each other and now I tend to see all music as terribly similar; I see opposites as similar . The other night I was in an Indian restaurant and there was some sitar music in the background and I thought;" There's all your Blues phrases and they are on the opposite side of the globe…" as it were. Ragga and Blues seem to be very similar and there are certain things; a shuffle in Blues is a Jig in Folk music, and you have the minimalism creeping into Classical music with things like Gorecki and that is becoming mainstream. The percussive elements of stuff you associate with ethnic things being done by Steve Reich and so you have avante garde on one hand and the percussive on the other and they all seem so similar to me.
I think all the boundaries have been crossed. It is as if all those elements which have been isolated on Please Don't Touch and so on have been brought together; it's like a family reunion. I think it would be difficult to do another album like this one which is why I am doing a Blues album at the moment. I considered the Blues album to be the group album rather than a solo album obviously whatever I release again as ME I will have to consider. Obviously circumstances will colour that because the album has only just been released in the States so it is very current for them there, and yet they heard most of the material off it before we did it. It took time to find the right sympathetic record company. It is on Viceroy in the States.
The British tour was a great tour and it was great to play in front of an English audience again and there has been a gap it was along time but I did enjoy it. I would like to be able to wave a magic wand and to be able to say … "Yes I will continue to tour everywhere in the globe every year from now until whenever.." but it is not like that; life is much more complicated than that. If you want to get involved in interesting things sometimes those things will have funding and sometimes they won't and it is by no means clear whether the Blues things will be toured. We are going to be touring the States in a months' time (October 1993) at least that's clear for at least a month. I hope to play here again at some point. We have been talking at some point about doing a Hammersmith show.
TWR: Will there be any European shows? We have heard rumours about several shows being organised by less than scrupulous promoters and yet no definite details have been announced…
SH: Funnily enough, I have just done a show in Rotterdam and funnily enough a journalist there said; "I hear you are doing some shows which have been cancelled…" and I said; "It's the first I have heard of it… " and it was true because Billy had spoken to some Dutch promoter and the possibility of doing some shows and get back to them about it. Instead of doing that they actually put shows on sale to see what the reaction was like and we had agreed nothing with them and it has to make sense on paper. Unfortunately the record business is full of disreputable people or people who do business in a way that leaves a lot to be desired. Nobody wants to let down the fans; least of all me. So the next tour is of America.
TWR: Is there any timetable for the Blues album or is that still very much up in the air?
SH: That's very much up in the air because I have a few tracks still to finish off and it has taken much longer than I had wanted to. One reason for that was that I finished Guitar Noir after I had started the Blues album and we found that we had a market for that shall we say things don't always run chronologically with me and things get released when the whole package becomes cohesive.
TWR: From the fans' point of view it is great to know that you are working all the time because it gives them something to expect…
SH: I AM working all the time and I think if it was up to me I would probably be releasing several albums a year and I would be touring more regularly but I think it s this thing of wanting to do things that are surprising. If I had settled for an easy comfortable ride and maybe stayed with Genesis you know, one could have the benefit of major investment; advertising; production and all of that. I think that something is lost. I don't think I could have released an album like Guitar Noir on a major label and had them understand it; I don't feel that would have been possible. It is an album that took a long time to do, it was very carefully crafted. I am pleased that it has been well received. It has taken a long time but because of that we had a chance to choose the best of all the styles. I like to think that it is better then , for instance the unreleased album (Feedback),the production is stronger; the songs are more personal and I think it is a more lyric intensive album where so many of the lyrics were written prior to the music so that the words had some sort of musicality. When you are hearing words and music; you are never quite sure if the images are coming from the music or the words, and I wanted to make sure that the text has sufficient imagery; fire; colour. I wanted to make the best album ever.
And with that, we round off this look at Steve's solo career until the next time, when we look at Steve's Blues album and the acoustic live album. It only remains again for me to extend my thanks to Steve and Billy for giving up so much of their time on our behalf.