"I owe it all to the Richmond Hill tuna Sandwiches!" - Steve Hackett in conversation about his latest albums and his fixation for tuna fish! Interview conducted by Alan Hewitt at the Richmond Hill Hotel on Saturday 28th May 1995.

Well, Steve… we shall start with your latest projects; especially the Blues With A Feeling album…

Haven’t we talked about that already?

No, you said it was being recorded but at the time it hadn't been released.

So….it has been a while, hasn't it?

The album drew on your Blues roots, did you feel almost under a compulsion to do a Blues album after the ones by Clapton and Moore?

Good question. Because, to answer it fully… Eric Clapton and others of his ilk were so influential when they were first on the scene, so you have to admit to an influence from Eric , but I Must say for many years when I first joined Genesis; when I was auditioning for them; I ran through a number of things I was able to do; a number of party tricks; one of which was the Blues harp and that drew a titter from the band at that point. And I felt… "Oh, Blues isn't cool… oh dear me… right…" and I forgot all about that for many years. Because with this band there's not going to be any sort of… and then I couldn’t help noticing on one of their albums there was an impression of a Blues harmonica going on, on the keyboard and we felt …well you could have had the real thing but… and so, to answer the question fully…I had wanted to do something in the Blues style so far back; as the Sixties and really at the end of the Sixties; beginning of the Seventies; the Blues boom that was died on everybody including me and that kind of music was no longer finding an outlet. You might even say that with the death of Hendrix it died with him; that style of music which was based on improvisation; was not big on chords; was all about raw energy; anger and spontaneity and you were asking me about the Eric and Gary Moore albums …and I don’t know at what point Blues began to be fashionable again, but I think it had something to do with the freeing up of the airwaves over here; the advent of Jazz FM and more local radio coming into play here in ways that it had already done in the rest of the world; as it were. And after years of doing very carefully crafted albums even if they were just acoustic albums, they were still very carefully worked out. Together with an awful lot of thought.
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Meanwhile in my bedroom, I would still be practising my Blues vibratos and thinking …"when can we use this..?" So ,I felt that it was time to come out of the closet and say… "Yes, you can do this stuff and you can be proud of it and you can really enjoy it… " And so many people I know; other musicians say they love that kind of stuff but don’t actually get around to doing it; like for instance Steve Howe. I remember us doing interviews together when we were in GTR and they asked Steve.. "What is your favourite kind of music?" and he said… "The Blues" and I thought… Steve is like me, he will always have the progressive tag and there's nothing to indicate that he likes that kind of stuff which we had done in rehearsal purely for fun.

So we had this thing about the Blues it is the kind of thing that musicians keep under wraps and do in rehearsals just for fun as we sometimes used to do in Genesis you know where everyone had run out of ideas and for a thrash and a bit of a joke everyone liked to play Blues. So, with my band; the band that had been involved with at least half of Guitar Noir; I realised that some of those guys had never really played the Blues. It is a very strange thing but hat you find is a lot of keyboard players are very gifted and very fluent with chord changes and what have you… and when it comes to sitting in with a band and just playing a few twelve bars; they might find that very difficult. Nick Magnus is someone in question who said… "I don't really understand this music.." and there's nothing to understand in a way and yet he appeared on an album by Johnny Marrs; a really wonderful Blues harmonica player and I thought; strange choice, because he is not really at one with that kind of stuff.

Julian Colbeck was fully acquainted with that kind of stuff and Doug Sinclair as well had played that kind of stuff.. Hugo I don't think had had ever played that kind of stuff at that point and he has now gone off and done various things with Blues people like Jack Bruce. So, I was saying to Hugo … "It’s like this.. you do it like this for a while and when it comes to the solo you open out…" The solo is the big thing, and the singer is neglected to the background; singing is nothing and the solo is everything and that is the way really that most of the singing was done; at the end of the evening and a bit of a laugh really and it was not at all precious. It was just something I did in order to have the maximum amount of fun and al this Blues stuff I had been practising for years and which was considered to be I bad taste at one time. And if you look at it from one school's point of view; I was allowed to be as gauche as possible; but as honest as possible in another. Great fun; but the twain will never meet; all of the intellectualising of music and all that…

Is that why you didn’t tour for the album?

Well, frankly I wasn't sure whether fans would appreciate that and embrace it as much as I might. So, in a way it is like acting out of character and another reason is that I didn't want to go out and disappoint fans by not playing anything for which I was known. I felt that I would be hamstrung between wanting to give an authentic Blues show and not giving them anything more in relation to being accepted in the past. I thought I would give it time and see how it goes and this doesn't mean that I will never be on the road again… I did it as an album I didn’t want to compromise it as a stage show. I didn't feel I had to deliver this live and I think it would be quite difficult to do physically…to do everything I did on the album live as well as play the guitar; harmonica and sing…the all singing, dancing; balancing act! (laughter)

It would be possible with a larger band obviously, with someone to take over the harmonica chores or guitar or strap a G Clamp to my head and try and try and perform all three! (laughter) I would probably need oxygen! (laughter). This is actually the first feedback I have had from the fans and I must say I did the album; it was released and I must say it has been the least panned album by the critics; strangely enough...because you usually liken an album to a coconut in a coconut shy waiting to get knocked down and when you put yourself before the critics you must expect the barbs, and I am very happy that it has been well received. I didn't feel ready to take that in front of people who would be expecting tracks from way back.

I notice when looking through the album credits that you have mixed Blues standards with new, self-penned tracks. How easy did you find it to write new material for such an established repertoire…?

Well, I think the Blues purists tend to feel that everything has got to be written way back when, and to be a Blues band means by definition, that you do cover standards, but then I noticed that this means, of course, that the Blues could be falling into the same trap as Classical music where a certain amount of writers perform wondrous works and we just repeat them endlessly. Although there is a marvellous repertoire there, I want to feel as though it is changing, and at least Progressive enough to embrace new numbers on an album where people say their favourites are the originals which means I have either done a very bad rendition of the standards or I have actually struck upon something. So, that is nice to know. In the period of the Sixties Blues revival with bands like Fleetwood Mac doing originals, people didn’t seem to mind as much, maybe the word "purist" wasn't bandied around as much then… it can be very limiting.
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And now we go from one contrast to another with the proposed acoustic live album. What was the rationale behind it?

Well.. every time I play in Italy there is usually a bootleg album (Laughter) there is normally at least one that gets made from the concert or concerts whatever, and we didn’t think that the quality of bootleg albums is terribly wonderful and so in a way; on one level you can look at it more as a document than as an album, whereas on another level you can say… here it is.. it's live ..it's honest and there are some other things included on it and it is slightly different to anything that has been done before. There is a large amount of re-arranged material with Julian playing piano; different versions of songs but I would say it is something for the committed fans rather than something that I would suggest as a kind of introduction to the material I had done.

Is it all taken from one show or… ?

It is mainly from one show ..a couple of shows… a show in Sicily and a show in Rome; I can't remember if it is Catania or Palermo. We recorded a number of shows and I think it is basically one of them. Anyway, I can’t really describe it; there are things on it that are… most of it is original stuff and there are versions of things on it. I don’t know if Billy has spoken to you about it but there are things on it which were written by other people: a Vivaldi piece and a film piece from Cinema Paradiso… there might be others as well.
There are two new tracks as well: Beja Flor and End Of Day; were they written specifically for this project?
No, they weren't written for this, they were existing acoustic pieces and they are on this, so that is the answer really.

I was surprised to hear you were doing the Concerto In D by Vivaldi, because only a few weeks ago I heard Steve Howe play that in concert…

I know, I think it is a favourite piece for guitarists.

Was it originally written for guitar?

It was originally for… now I can't remember if it was for… I think it was originally for mandolin and violins but it suits guitar. The mandolin tends to be much faster but it is a lovely melody; very simple; it is almost a twelve bar! (laughter) and in a way I think because it is very simple it is almost Classical New Age because there is very little harmonic movement within it. Nonetheless, it is quite a difficult piece to commit to memory because there are a number of pieces that sound very simple but there are subtle variations going on throughout the piece the whole time and it is very easy to make a mistake.

When is the album likely to be released?

(Billy Budis) Well, there has been a slight setback ,but I should have product by next week. We have got a lot of orders already because Bill Brink (Hi Bill... fame at last!) has put it out on the Internet for us. It is not a release as such, it is really more a direct fan thing… a bootleg alternative really.

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