"Genesis Revelations" - Steve Hackett in conversation about his career with Genesis. Interview by Alan Hewitt.
Having examined Steve's solo career in depth over the last few issues of TWR, we now turn to his time in Genesis...
AH: So, Steve you joined the band in early 1971, or late 1970...?
SH: Right at the beginning of the year... I met them in 1970 and it was decided that I was going to join them at the earliest opportunity. They fulfilled contractual obligations at that moment with the existing guitarist who I think was a chap called Mick Barnard. They did two further gigs I think, with him and then I was "in" as it were, so it was early 1971.
AH: And when you actually joined what were your first impressions of them as a group of musicians?
SH: Well, it was my first professional situation. I had made an album a year earlier but I was not able to make a living and so it looked easy at a distance, but when I joined and was playing live gigs I found it more difficult. For instance, if you have been playing at home for three years or pottering about recording the thing that it doesn't school you for is the volume that a live band makes just in rehearsal. I had never worked really with a drummer who made that much noise for a start! (laughter). So, I needed to get a new amp straight away because nothing I had could cut through the wall of thunder (laughs). I had seen the band before live, once in a club and they seemed quite loud, and then at the Lyceum where it didn't seem very loud at all. Then when you are standing right next to a drummer like Phil, Bill Bruford or Ian Mosley you realise how much power is coming off those drums, and so that was quite a shock.
So, when I first joined the band I may have said this in other interviews... we were not particularly hi tech. The guitar was not mic'd up... it wasn't going through a PA. PA's in those days were little affairs - WEM ones, and if you wanted to be louder you got another WEM column and put it next to the other one. And so people were doing outdoor festivals with ninety three WEM columns about a foot across and five feet high! After gigs, people used to say "I couldn't hear a note you played tonight..." Or they would say "You were absolutely deafening tonight!" (laughter). I could never get it right! It depended because I had a stack, a HiWatt stack, which was very directional. So, if you were standing in front of it you couldn't hear anything else, or if you standing either side of it, you heard not a note of it. So, that I found rather strange. The equipment side of things was not that easy to deal with. There as some very dodgy technology. We all used to break down a lot. We all used to tune up to the organ. The organ would sometimes vary pitch during the concert (laughter) - great when you had eight twelve strings all tuned up perfectly beforehand! (laughs).
Then the next stage really... we got a Mellotron which was even less reliable and so some nights we made a really wonderful sound and some nights when we made no sound at all and had to cancel whole gigs, which is unthinkable now, but that was the reality. We all used to mount the stage very nervously. We were known as a very nervous band at this point; you know you were not only attempting difficult music; but doing so with unreliable technology. This is all pre-computer age performance. I can't tell you how difficult it was sometimes; it felt like a sham and we could only appear at our best when the equipment allowed us to do so.
Then, because the equipment wasn't particularly reliable, what tended to happen was we got more and more expert advice from our growing road crew which became an army in the end, and so that was good and things ended up; I suppose around the mid seventies we were capable of putting on a show and if one thing failed then we continued with something else. When we used to start with "Watcher Of The Skies" that was much more difficult and some nights it was great but obviously; the Mellotron was very shaky and didn't always work. We used to swap hard luck stories with King Crimson at the time..."How is your Mellotron behaving?" (laughs). It's funny because, in a way if you are watching something and it is going well when you are watching it, it is very different to when you are actually performing when you have got the responsibility of being everybody else's night out, and so the audience can watch a wonderful show that the band will never see because it never sees the full effect. It never hears how things are being mixed up front; it never sees what effect the lights have... when you are busy holding up the roof you don't have time to admire the view.
Certainly in the days of Genesis, I tended to gauge less what was going on technically and this is where I think I was different from the rest of the guys who wanted to pull it apart after every gig , you know; the post mortem. I used to gauge it by the enthusiasm of the people who were watching it, and if I could see any energy coming back I used to play off that, and I very much used to play to someone in the crowd who looked like they were loving it and that was what spurred me on and kept me going. I used to very much used to respond to a thing like that.
AH: Do you actually remember the first show you did with the band?
SH: I do. It was University College in the City of London or City of London University in Moorgate. It was a very shaky concert... not a pleasant experience. There were lots of mistakes and I had a fuzz box that I had been rehearsing with all week and suddenly they gave me a different one on the might and it was like... it was really the difference between the professional and the amateur and this fuzz box started to feed back and I played bum notes all night long and I thought; that's it; the game's up; I haven't got the gig.
And the second gig we did was in Bangor in North Wales in a teacher training college which resembled more of a classroom than anything else with three people in the audience and we... in a way it was like a rehearsal... what a gig! And I got it right that night! The next gig we were going to do was the Lyceum in London which was the prestige gig in London. There wasn't a bigger London gig you could do at that point and I was still living at home at the time and my mother said to me... "on the day of the gig your face was green..." I was extremely nervous. We did the concert; it went well and was well received and then, when it had finished I was still sitting there on my stool afterwards, and Richard MacPhail came on stage; took my arm and said... "it's finished now, Steve..." (laughter) I was that nervous after it!
AH: Can you remember any of the songs you played?
SH: Yeah, we opened the show with "Stagnation" off the "Trespass" album. The majority of the songs were songs that had been written before I joined the band and we hadn't had the time to go away and write new stuff. This was pre-"Nursery Cryme" and was two or three dates into me joining the band. So, I remember dates very well, and then we went off on a tour of town halls around the country where Charisma were doing... they were presenting the whole label: Genesis, Lindisfarne, Van Der Graaf Generator. We were the opening act, Lindisfarne were second and Van Der Graaf Generator were topping the bill.
Ironically, in terms of popularity it ended up being in completely the reverse order at the end of the day although Lindisfarne had, and still do have their own following. Genesis were like the new boys; the juniors really and Lindisfarne relaxed the audience more; the sing along and join in... Van Der Graaf were reckoned to be much more cerebral but straight away we were doing this nationwide tour so I hadn't joined the band for about more than a week. I had gone from nothing to everything and I was still very worried at this point. I still didn't know if I was the right man for the job, and Richard MacPhail said to me that that he thought that I was and John Anthony who was our producer, said I was as well. I wasn't sure at all and I think I had a similar conversation with the band that Hugo Degenhardt had with me at one point which is a very good thing. If you are nervous and you are questioning things; it shows that you care. As someone said to me, "the only difference between an amateur and a professional is that professional keeps trying..."
AH: You say that you joined the band before the "Nursery Cryme" album came out. How much material for that album had the band already written?
SH: Most of it was actually written out of rehearsal. "The Musical Box" was the only song that I think was written before I joined. Although the song was written, there was still a lot of room to make improvements. No one was making the sound of a musical box for a start; so I felt well here's me for a start! They did a few gigs without a guitarist before they had Mick (Barnard) and Tony said he was trying to play in a guitaristic kind of manner with his keyboards. So he had a Hohner Pianette going through a fuzz box, not a synthesiser; this was way before all of that stuff, and I thought that's interesting, here is a keyboard player trying to sound like a guitarist and so some of the lines I came up with on that song I wanted to sound like a keyboard.
I started doing this thing that later became known as "tapping" which enabled me to play lines in harmony with him and which you wouldn't be able to know what was what. That was an interesting thing from the band, originally when I first heard the "Trespass" album and I wasn't sure if I was hearing guitars or keyboards at times, and it turned out to be two twelve strings, and I had just bought a twelve string. We were kind of paralleling each other when I first joined and I had this Swedish Hagstrom guitar which had a lovely sound, but this slightly vicious action. That was what was interesting about the band, the fact that what am I hearing here? Am I hearing a guitar or a keyboard?
I didn't hear anything particularly powerful from the "Trespass" album, nothing that I thought couldn't be made more powerful, but the very fact that I was confused and didn't know what was playing what, I thought was a good sign. That the band had some subtlety which was good reason to join.
AH: Do you feel that with this particular album your main contribution was in terms of the sounds and the textures that you brought to it?
SH: Oh yeah, I threw myself into it completely. I wracked my brain to come up with the most interesting things and I tried to sound like a keyboard player. So I think you got this enlarged keyboard picture... or I was doing the fading-in of notes. I was eliminating lots of things and trying to play very melodically. I was trying to be the icing on a very fully formed cake. I enjoyed it, especially the allusion to Greek myths. Things like "The Fountain Of Salmacis" were often more of an odyssey than a song. I call them odysseys because you didn't really know where you were going to end up. The structure doesn't vary that much and this was very important; each song was an adventure, it was a journey.
AH: Can you remember anything about "Happy The Man" and "Twilight Alehouse"?
SH: They were really tracks from before I joined the band and I think that of the two, perhaps "Twilight Alehouse" was perhaps the better song. It had an interesting verse and a chorus that really aspired to be a Blues but I don't think the band were sufficiently prepared at that point to let their hair down... and so I didn't come up with any Blues licks for them! (Laughter). I could have played all over it. I could have played the harmonica on it and done it justice and I don't even have a copy of that song. Interestingly it is supposed to be about an alcoholic.
"Happy The Man" I think of as more of a throw away song. There is not a lot to endear itself to me. I could be wrong, it's a very simple song!
And at that point we will wrap up things, continuing next time with the first major step up for Steve and the band; the writing and recording of the "Foxtrot" album. My thanks as usual to both Steve and Billy for their time and encouragement.