BBC Radio Hallam interview with Steve Hackett and Kim Poor, May 5, 1978.
INT: If we can go back to the beginning, pre-Genesis even. What were your early days playing music?
SH: Well, I started off playing harmonica at the age of four and God knows what kind of sounds came out at that age. Then I started playing guitar at fourteen and switched from a single line instrument to chords, you know? That opened up a whole new vista. I didn't join a professional band until I joined Genesis, which was in... 1970/71 it was just as the year was changing; I joined them at about Christmas.
INT: And were they your first professional band?
INT: You said that Genesis weren't quite so famous then as they later became...
SH: Oh we didn't have two pennies to rub together in them day, oh no... (Laughter)
INT: What was it really like in those days? Things have changed since then and I booked Genesis, a short while before you joined the band in fact I was a Social Sec and I had Genesis at the Medway...
SH: Oh yeah, you're the guy who didn't pay! (Laughter)
INT: I did pay, I did pay! You weren't with the band at the time and I booked Genesis in I think it would have been the summer if 1970 and they were the most expensive band of the year they cost me £60. Had things changed at all by the time you joined?
SH: Well, I don't know. When I first joined the band we literally didn't have two pennies to rub together (laughter) and people don't believe that these days. It was a case of if I broke a guitar string we used to have to save up or auction something whatever. Yeah, things were very different obviously and it was very much a shoestring operation when I first joined the band..
INT: The first album that you recorded with Genesis was Nursery Cryme, which I think was around 1971 and from that things looked up and now, of course, it is regarded as one of the classic albums by Genesis. Looking back on it now all those years later; how does it sound to you?
SH: It was an album that I was very, very happy with at the time I'd done it... I'd dome some session work beforehand but nothing really that I felt was "me" and made a decent contribution to so I was very happy with the album. I was ecstatic in fact. It took quite a long time to put together really; because we had just put together the new band with Phil,; there was Phil and myself were new members at that particular time and we went out into the country to do it; you know the usual bit complete seclusion and then we recorded for three weeks I think. I think that was how long it took to put the album together, something like that. It was a nice start really.
INT: Steve, we've just heard a real bit of vintage Genesis there; The Musical Box from Nursery Cryme your first album with the band what sort of memories does that bring back for you now?
SH: It reminds me of the days when we used to drive up and down theM1; the Blue Boar, Newport Pagnell; all the services. It reminds me of being absolutely smashed out of my mind at about four o'clock in the morning and suddenly coming into somewhere for beans on toast, it was really the salt of the earth, basic memories you know.
INT: Well, those were the days, as we said as we said before Genesis became superstars and for our younger listeners who don't know what it was like, it might be interesting to find out what it was like at that time?
SH: It was terrible up to my neck in muck and bullets, it was awful! (laughter).
INT: We're going to skip on a couple of years now to 1973 and another successful album; well I think successful anyway: Selling England By The Pound. What was happening within the band at that sort of time what was the attitude and so on?
SH: It was a rather strange album because we were rehearsing in this house near Chessington Zoo and I wasn't sure what was more of a really; the rehearsal room or the... we used to get these irate neighbours who used to come over and say "you're playing too loud! What do you think you are doing, you are disturbing the livestock!" (laughter). It was one of those sort of things basically full of interruptions really. It was a very weird album it's one of my favourite albums if not my favourite album from my Genesis period.
INT: From that time, a couple of years on, what was the gig situation like? Were you still storming up and down the motorway?
SH: No we were.. we'd moved on to Europe and the States, we were on our third tour of the States and I remember it as being a very creative period and it was the days when we started getting into instrumentals really it was starting to branch out away from a total bias towards vocals and it was still very much in full flight, experimentally.
INT: One thing I notice on the composer credits is "All tracks by all" was it really very much a co-operative that you all sat down and thrashed out the numbers...?
SH: Yeah, very much so it was more the day of the rehearsal room rather than the actual writer who would go away and bring in new ideas. Most things were done co-operatively but there were exceptions to the rule where someone would bring in a song that they had written from the outside and try and do that. I think the band was working more as a unit shall we say, it was much less diffracted.
INT: Once again Steve, we're going to jump on a couple of years because you have to leave us at nine o'clock to go down to London to go to Germany tomorrow and so we are rushing things slightly more than we usually would. So rushing on slightly to 1975 and not a Genesis album this time, but your own first solo album; Voyage Of The Acolyte. As I said, you were still with Genesis what prompted you to venture on the start of a solo career with the album?
SH: I would say that when we were doing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, although it was a double album I think that creatively speaking, everybody had surplus material and it was a case of... the album took so long and in a way we had kind of narrowed down the field of what material we were going to use but what I found was that I was still writing material but I didn't have an album to put it on. I felt at that time, there was a lot of things on The Lamb... which didn't particularly meet with my approval and there was a very kind of claustrophobic kind of sound about The Lamb... and a haphazard thing. We had a lot of jam sessions and things which turned into numbers and in a way
It kind of lacked the discipline and accuracy which I was after in music so.... With the start of the first solo album from me I think the first track is quite representative really and its a track called Ace Of Wands which tied in with another interest of mine which was Tarot cards and I was drawing a parallel between Tarot cards and the characters which they represent and the type of music I was working on at the time and so the card means the start of a new venture; Ace Of Wands which would be apt for an opening track shall we say.
INT: When you made the Voyage Of The Acolyte album, had you actually thought about leaving Genesis and going on a solo career?
SH: Well, things were very strange at that time. We'd just toured with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway for six months continuously and everyone was very tired. Peter had told us at the beginning of the tour that he was going to leave and it really was touch and go as to whether there was going to be any band at all. So in the case of myself I had all this material which I was dying to do and I was going to make the album anyway with a possible view of at that time if... if we'd tried to pick it up from there and it hadn't worked then I definitely would have picked up the lead from there and even form a band at that stage possibly and play it. Subsequently I feel happy that I'd left it rather than as a stage show. It's a kind of philosophy that I've had that you end up compromising one for the other an awful lot of the time and it was an album that wasn't compromised at all by a stage show so I was able to do things which were very gentle and very quiet without dealing with cat calls from the gallery and that sort of thing you know that you have to sort of stomp it up to come across.
INT: What was the feeling of the other members of the band at the time about your making a solo album? Because I notice that one or two of them joined in on the album?
SH: Well, everybody at that time... Phil had done millions of sessions and Mike was working with Anthony Phillips on his album and basically it was a very exciting period and it was a stage where everybody had taken a break from the band and reaped the rewards shall we say of our hard earned labour and we were able to start messing around with other things. It was very productive.
INT: It was possibly that period which gave Genesis a new lease of life?
SH: I think so, yeah.
INT: Well, the last studio album that you appeared on was Wind & Wuthering which was 1976 a couple of years ago getting on that way now. Why did you decide to leave the band after that?
SH: Well, it was quite some time afterwards really but what I found was that since I'd done the first solo album and I'd had to push myself to do it and to get the material together... I'd increased my output and so once I'd turned the tap on I wasn't able to turn it off particularly and what I found was that going in to A Trick Of The Tail straight after I'd done my own album.. there was probably only about a day in between so I suffered from a surfeit of material shall we say, or a glut of material. I didn't have that many ideas at that time and what we found was that we were writing the album as a kind of rehearsal room album because everyone's ideas apart from Tony's had been working on other things. What I found was... I got several tracks on to that one but when I moved on to Wind & Wuthering when I had a whole backlog of material which I had built up there was only one track difference so for the addition of input from my end I wasn't getting that much more out of it. I wasn't getting the proportional representation that I felt I deserved. So, it was a case of a choice and it had been coming for quite some time and I really felt that to a large degree that if it wasn't for the fact that the band was going on and playing the "Golden Oldies" an awful lot of the time that we were resting on our laurels a little bit and it had kind of ceased to be the experimental band that I knew and loved really so my heart... I tried a new outlet with a solo career.
INT: So, on to your new album Please Don't Touch which has been in the shops for a couple of weeks now and has been getting quite a lot of play I hear on Radio Hallam. Since Voyage Of The Acolyte, a couple of years have gone by before you started work on the new one. How did you approach the business? Did you have a backlog of songs or did you decide to sit down and write a whole load of material for the album?
SH: Most of it was current material and shall we say that I re-wrote a lot of the material several times! (laughter). It was an album that I had wanted to do for quite some time and it had proved very difficult to do it whilst I remained a member of the band and I've been through all that earlier and it was a lot of fun to do.
INT: What about the actual choice of songs, how you go about writing songs and the first one we are going to here is inspired by a book, do you get a lot of inspiration from those sort of things?
SH: Yeah, there's a book called The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe which is by a guy called CS Lewis and he wrote the books based on the adventures of a group of children in a land called Narnia which is a land covered by snow dominated by a white queen so it's perpetually winter and so what I was trying to conjure up was the sort of feeling of Christmas bells and reindeer and sleighs so its very pretty, pretty you know?
INT: How did you go about choosing the people who were going to play on the album? Last time you managed to recruit a couple of your colleagues from Genesis, how did you approach the business this time round?
SH: I was working with a bunch of strangers most of the time. Well, we had the nucleus which did Acolyte... which I considered to be myself and brother John, and John Acock and we just used other people. The only other person I had worked with beforehand was Chester; Chester Thompson and we'd gigged up and down the country with Genesis for some time and I really enjoyed Chester's drumming and it always felt very comfortable so I wanted to use him. I had people like Ritchie Havens who has been one of my favourites for quite a long time.
INT: How did you actually manage to get him in on the act?
SH: Well, it was quite strange really because I'd written a song for Ritchie and this was probably because subconsciously I'd known we were going to play with him and we were going a gig at Earls Court in London and he was on the bill and I'd written this song and I was singing along in his kind of voice and it was the kind of song that either he does it or nobody does it kind of thing. So, we got together and made friends and he was the first person to suggest that we start working together and I 'phoned him up a couple of months later and said; "look, I've got this song which I've written..." and he agreed straight off to do it and one song turned into two and the album was put together in that sort of fashion like this that we did rhythm section and vocals in Los Angeles then the rest back over here two weeks in American and three and a half months back here! (laughter) to do all the overdubbing and stuff.
INT: Steve; when I first heard Carry On Up The Vicarage, I remember thinking; I don't really know what that one is all about and who is this Hackett person and things like that. What about Carry On Up The Vicarage; a great fun track but what is it all about?
SH: Well, basically the lyrics were basically a conglomerate of every Agatha Christie type situation you could imagine and you have got various murders that are going on and people are being bumped off and then eventually a culprit at the end. I do think that you need a copy of the lyrics in front of you because of the sort of characterisation with the Mickey Mouse voice and you don't really hear half of it. We recorded it at half speed and also the sounds at the beginning we did almost like a film going out on location with a microphone and recorded some stuff at Santa Monica Pier and at a place called Jack Donovan's and at a shop in Portobello Road in London which sells mechanicals and dolls and music boxes and all sorts of strange paraphernalia very eerie and so it was like a collage of all those sounds.
INT: It is a very busy track. The next one is short and very sweet; Kim. Can I be very naughty and ask the lady concerned; Kim how do you feel about having a track on the album dedicated to you?
KP: Well, it was a surprise. No, I told him that if he didn't give me that track I'd leave him! (laughter)
INT: You were playing acoustic guitar there and accompanied on the flute by your brother John who could well be listening to the programme at the moment because he is currently resident in Sheffield?
SH: Yes, that's right, he's at music college here.
INT: He worked on Voyage Of The Acolyte as well with you...
SH: Yes, very much so on both albums.
INT: Do you think you will be keeping up the association with him?
SH: I sincerely hope so for future projects. I know that John has a classical career planned at the moment and more power to his elbow; the more he spreads things between the classical world and the pop world...
INT: The next track features Ritchie Havens on vocals and it is also the one that is going to go out as a single...
SH: Yeah, it's going to go out as a co-operative shall we say and it was a track that I enjoyed doing very much. It was a very spontaneous track it came together in the studio and we had a small audience or a panel that were going away whistling it and that night I just couldn't switch off the tapes in my mind and it kept me awake all night and it was a song that just stuck and most people seem to agree with me that that one should be the single certainly over here anyway.
INT: Steve, your erstwhile colleagues, Genesis are having a great deal of success, single wise do you have ambitions yourself, in that direction?
SH: Singles, yeah it has always been an ambition of mine to have a hit single and when I was a member of the band we had one with I Know What I Like and I was very pleased with that. It's always nice to know that you are not just appealing to an album buying audience. The things that were my early introductions to music were singles so I still think that the singles market is a very important market and if you can crack it; great.
INT: That's the one that's being released as a single over here but not in America though?
SH: No well, I think we are going to go with another track; Narnia in America. It's mainly because... I don't know it's a thing like where even something like Mull Of Kintyre which has done maybe two or three million copies here it won't be released in the States because it won't fit in to whatever format they tend to have for the charts it's very, rhythmic shall we say? Singalong, so there is a very big difference between the kind of things that will make it as singles over here and what is going to make it in the States.
INT: Side Two opens with Hoping Love Will Last, an again is there anything you would like to tell us about this song in particular, for instance who is the vocalist on this one?
SH: The vocalist is a lady called randy Crawford who I first saw one very drunken evening in a nightclub in Chicago and I just caught the end of her act. We'd just played a gig that night and I was knocked out, it was basically one song I saw and I thought she's great and I'd already written the song and I just thought she's got to be right for it I've just got to have her voice. It is the kind of thing whereby, everything on the album was like that almost like getting actors really, for different roles in a film rather than an album and she kindly consented.
INT: Two tracks there from Steve Hackett's new album, in fact the whole of side two runs consecutively so we are going to break it up a little bit for obvious reasons; so that we can talk a little bit. So, we cut in there after the second track the instrumental Land Of A Thousand Autumns, which was rather an unusual sound, Steve...
SH: It was kind of based on Japanese music; you know Japanese koto and so forth. There was a film called Oni Baba which translated means "The Hole" it was one of those strange films with the rice fields, the paddy fields and various murders going on and God knows what else a very strange story. I feel like we are in a goldfish bowl here, we are being looked at... (A studio tour was in progress whilst this interview was being conducted apparently).
INT: Well now we are on to the title track; Please Don't Touch which has a very interesting note written under it which I will just read... " For maximum effect this track should be listened to as loudly as possible with as much treble and bass as your system can muster - Not to be played to people with heart conditions or those in severely hallucinogenic states of mind..." Why that note on the sleeve and what is so special about the track that it requires those conditions?
SH: It is very much like a live gig, you know a live track you know it was done all in one... well almost all in one give or take a few million overdubs.. The best thing is to take your granny out of the room unless she likes loud music and crank up your sets and have a listen.
INT: Two more tracks there from the new album from Steve Hackett; the first the title track Please Don't Touch, listened to LOUDLY, and that was followed by The Voice Of NECAM. Who or what is or was NECAM?
SH: NECAM? Yes, NECAM was the computer which we mixed the album on although it wasn't all done by machines but really what NECAM did was provide a kind of extra human memory so it's a case of when you are in a studio you can do your mix on a computer or you commit it to tape and that has the advantage of being able to update it as you go along. For instance if you want to bring up the vocals ; you've got everything else dead right and you want to bring up the vocals, you can do that and you can adjust everything to the nth degree. It is just a wider degree of flexibility and I thought it would be rather nice because I'd felt that the computer had contributed so much that we named a track after it.
INT: It's quite a clever track and also a historic one in a way because the pipe organ we hear on it no longer exists?
SH: That's true, yes. That's the pipe organ which we used on several tracks most noticeably on Carry On Up The Vicarage and this track. It was destroyed by fire; they had a fire at The Record Plant in Los Angeles and so unfortunately it went and it was rather strange because the organ had this very stately home feel about it; it just looked like one of those antiquities that were just totally anachronistic. It was a thing that was built in the 1930's and it was supposed to be the forerunner of the modern synthesiser and it was supposed to represent the sound of other instruments; trumpet bells and everything else. It was a fantastic instrument but it's just gone.
INT: We still have one more track from the album to hear and its another where you are joined by Ritchie Havens...
SH: Yeah, this was one which was written specifically with Ritchie's voice in mind and it's a very eerie chilling kind of performance from his voice.
INT: Well now for the predictable question, Steve; future plans although of course, we know your immediate plans, you're shooting off to Germany, which is why you have got to leave us a little bit earlier than usual. Why are you actually going to Germany?
SH: It's a promotional visit, to do interviews and so forth. I've beaten the world record for interviews I think, actually! (laughter) I did 120 in America would you believe, in about two weeks... "Hello; how do you do? Goodbye" (laughter). It's pretty much the same thing but as I designed the album as an album not a stage show, it's a way of explaining to people why things were done in that fashion and I don't have any live shows planned at present. The future remains to be seen.
INT: Surely at some time you will get the bug to get back out on stage with the lights and the crowd...?
SH: I'm bound to get itchy fingers, yes Possibly after the next album which I shall put together with a slightly more self sufficient band of musicians rather than with people who have very separate careers like on this one and I shall have three albums' worth of material to draw from and put together the kind of stage show which I would like to do.
INT: Do you think that there will be, at some stage, for want of a better working title; "The Steve Hackett Band"?
SH: I don't know if I would go out as the Steve Hackett Band or as.... Possibly under an entirely different name but I have got other plans at the moment. I feel that after doing seven years of gigging solidly, I am hoping to work in some new areas; producing one or two other artists perhaps some involvement with a filmmaker; I would like to do some film music.
INT: Have you done any film work?
SH: I've done a jingle! It was for cement and I was very pleased to do it. It is a totally different discipline than rock music, you know they wanted something to be exactly thirty seconds and one and a half seconds so that they could go "And really folks, this is where it's at..." and it was like that, a lot of fun to do.
INT: You really have got quite a reputation in the business as a talent spotter you have picked up on one or two artists before record companies...
SH: Yeah, it's always fun with bands like The Tubes and Devo and even Queen, there were some tapes around Charisma when we were already signed and they were saying "shall we sign them?"
INT: So, on your production side will you be looking for new talent or will you be signing established artists?
SH: I mean, it's always fun to come up with new people that's where the future lies so obviously I am very keen to work with as many people as possible. The nice thing about producing is that you come across groups which are like pools of musicians which you can draw from whatever and it is a case of getting to grips with people's capabilities in a working environment and possibly you would find out more about somebody by working with them in a studio than you would by watching them on stage. Yeah, I am very interested in working with as many different people as possible and in as many different ways.
Yet another interesting look at another aspect of Steve's career. My thanks to Jonathan Dann for providing the recording of this interview to us here at TWR.