"Talking Hackett" - Steve Hackett, John Hackett and Roger King in conversation with Alan about the current tour and other things. Interview conducted backstage at The Stables Milton Keynes Thursday 14th April 2005. Sound effects and noises "ON" by B Budis and R Matthews.
TWR: I am going to start with what might seem like a stupid question, but I am going to ask it anyway. You are out on tour this time with an acoustic trio after just releasing a fully orchestral album. Did you just decide to scratch the acoustic "itch" again this time or…?
SH: Well, this is a tricky one, isn't it because often acoustic albums fly in the face of certain commercial wisdoms. Obviously with the size of production that Metamorpheus has much as it would be nice to take a hundred people away on the road that would be tricky. So, we were thinking about doing some.. this is with Billy (Budis, Steve's manager) basically, we had been talking about doing some acoustic shows anyway it just so happened that the album was nearing completion when the possibility of some trio shows came up. So, in a sense it is a tour to support that although not specifically because we are not playing much of that stuff. Anyway it gave me an excuse for a family outing (laughs).
TWR: That's the thing, how does it feel for you John, to be back out on the road with Big Brother after all these years?
JH: Well its terrific I am enjoying it very much I am a little bit heavier than I was twenty odd years ago (laughs) and so they have had to reinforce the stage at a couple of places (laughs) but it has been absolutely brilliant. I am always pleased to share the stage with Steve even if this time it is with Roger too.
TWR: Well, there's always that cross to bear
RK: Ganging up on me already, eh?
TWR: No, well get your own back then; what has it been like for you so far, Mr King?
RK: Utter misery to be out on tour with these reprobates.
TWR: I have never had the opportunity to ask some of these questions before so I am going to fire them away. How did you first get involved with his nibs because you seem to have been ensconced with him for quite a while?
RK: Yes…I was sectioned (laughs) My then manager sent out a mass mail-out of CVs to different companies because she had found in Music Week a management company only about two minutes' walk from my front door and it just happened to be Billy and they just happened to need a bit of work doing on I can't remember what and it needed an engineer-cum-programmer
BB: (as an aside) Cheap… he was very cheap (laughter)
RK: I could remember all the details of that story if you really want me to.
SH: the thing is we only work with people from Twickenham anyway.
TWR: I see, it’s the Twickenham Mafia is it?
RK: It was some pan pipe thing, wasn't it? They wanted to do a pan pipe version of I can't remember what.
SH: A German pan pipe chappie but I can’t remember toomuch about it but I came up with a couple of melodies that were written for something else and eventually these melodies have cropped up in other forms … it ended up on This World or Miss World as we liked to call it. The melody bit of that but it was done in a more oompah style originally.
RK: It was then a fairly natural progression as I recall from this faintly ridiculous stuff to mixing The Genesis Files … not The Genesis Files, what's the other one… Genesis Revisited a similarly small-scale job as you can imagine (Roger says with distinct sarcasm).
SH: Ah yes, just a walk in the park that one (laughs)
TWR: Once again the dulcet tones belie a whole world of sarcasm.
BB: It was eight track that, wasn't it?
RK: yeah but I think we roped in about one hundred and twenty.
SH: There were 120 tracks on Watcher Of The Skies probably as I remember now the point was I thought that if Roger could do that, he could do anything.
BB: And he often does do "anything" apart from work (laughs).
RK: Right that's it, I'm off! (laughs)
SH: I think you better sit down and join in, Billy.
TWR: So, the first album you worked on from the start would have been… Darktown?
RK: The first proper album was Genesis Revisited
SH: Darktown was already started some years earlier back in the Dark Ages (laughs) before I had my own record company, so some of it was that old. Some of it went back a very long way.
TWR: So back to this tour, obviously it’s a completely different ball game to the last two years' tours with the Rock & Roll beast what does it feel like now when there's just the three of you? Music without your "props"?
RK: Its exactly that you are much more exposed and your mistakes are louder (laughs) it is much more difficult.
TWR: And how do you go about actually deciding what material you are going to play, do you all throw ideas into the pot? Is it stuff that you all have personal favourites from the catalogue or anything?
RK: At the moment it is only the stuff that makes it as a cut down arrangement really and that's why we are not doing anything substantial from Metamorpheus a large scale orchestral work that doesn't really work with just three people unless one of them has about twelve fingers and immensely capable keyboards.
TWR: Oh, have you got a stunt double then? (laughs).
RK: I am getting it from all sides (laughs) much of the rock stuff doesn't make it either.
TWR: Yeah, I didn’t see your first acoustic tour unfortunately but we won't go into that because it still hurts and I am still a very bitter and twisted man…
SH: Why? What happened?
TWR: Because I found out about the Liverpool gig in 1983 three days AFTER the gig had taken place so I wasn't very happy.
SH: Ah, well..
JH: That sounds very unlike you, Alan.
TWR: I must admit you're right John, you know what I am like when it comes to Hackett gigs… Don’t answer that, Billy (laughs).
JH: The bush wire is much more effective these days, isn't it?
SH: Often it wasn't the case was it and you turn up and someone says… "If my brother had known, he would have come and he would have brought his …"
BB: Where was that Liverpool gig?
TWR: The Mountford Hall; Liverpool University. And I actually walked past a poster advertising it three days after it had happened and I just looked at it in complete horror and disbelief and thought …"Noooo!!!" So I have made sure of my place on Hackett acoustic tours ever since.
SH: You certainly have, for services to industry.
TWR: It is fascinating for me watching the contrast between the 1988 shows and these ones, ok you have done this show pretty much already in Europe over the last few years but it is great to actually finally see it here in the UK and it is great to see that you are still road testing new material. You don’t seem to be playing much off Momentum this time round?
SH: It's funny that, isn't it. I used to play Cavalcanti; I used to play The Sleeping Sea we used to do Munich. I would have to go piece and try and find a glib answer for you. The thing about Cavalcanti is it needs a pay-off at the end; it needs these two guys to weigh in and I always had that feeling doing a full arrangement that it is an awful lot of time for these guys to hang around for that moment when you finally join in at the end. So the reason why I am opening with acoustic guitar on my own in a sense is because it means they don't have to stand there and wait for me to do things but we used to divide it up with these acoustic shows where there would be a band number; a solo number. I think it was less satisfactory that way because you had hands on deck but with spare time and I had the impression I better hurry up.
TWR: Well, this show seems to have a certain flow to it. I always remember the 1988 shows and the tracks that were thrown in as the encores one of which as far as I know has still never been recorded; which I wish it had; it was the wonderful The Carrot That Killed My Sister….I still think that was a great way to end a gig with this up tempo number… Do you start off with a core nucleus of tracks…
JH: One of the things is pacing the show because you want to keep the energy up and it is a very relaxing show to some degree and you have to pace it between fast pieces and slow pieces and then it flows and that is a big factor and it was perhaps one of the reasons why we dropped Munich. Munich is a tough one on me.
TWR: And you are still puling out some of the Genesis surprises; After The Ordeal obviously everybody has remarked about that one…
SH: Yeah, as I said on stage it was a contentious little number in its day but of course we breeze through it now and you wonder what all the hoohah was about it is another thing you can play when you have a certain amount of people.
RK: Well you selected it because you didn't think I could play it! (laughs)
SH: I never doubted you for a minute Roger.
TWR: I don’t know about previous tours but were there any songs that you rehearsed that have not made it to the final set?
RK: Not on this tour, I don’t think.
SH: No, I don't think so. The set has always been an updateable set rather than the idea we will now go out and play you the new album whatever it is and the same holds true with rock shows you can add or subtract rather than think I am going to force the entire new work down your throat whatever it happens to be. I don't see any point in doing that.
RK: And that principle doesn’t work that much these days anyway; it works for some bands but some albums are made as studio albums and the forces of the production that are available are not a practical proposition on stage and the studio recording is that much further removed from potential live performance than it used to be. So every time there is a new album to potentially select new material from there is a bit of a battle to make it work with three or five people whatever it might be with the sonic resources I have on stage.
TWR: Are there any other songs from your repertoire that you considered for this tour?
SH: You can argue the case about leaving numbers out but there comes a moment in the rehearsal room when you look at each other and say "Yeah, this is possible". The other aspect is that modern technology will afford you the ability to play practically anything but we do like to keep it as live as possible. It is nice that we can deliver what we do without it being sequenced … mimed (laughs).
TWR: There are still certain tracks which you would think that after the number of times I have heard them live over the years or the number of times I have listened to them on CD/LP that come on… you must be bored by that one by now? But every time you get on that stage and play The Red Flower of Taichi Blooms Everywhere, that's it .. it still does it for me.
SH: It is still one of my favourites from Spectral Mornings and I like the slightly open arrangement.
JH: It’s the new arrangement on this tour which keeps it fresh for me too on the flute.
TWR: Give us a bit of the technical information about your flutes, John…
JH: I studied flute for years but I use two flutes on stage at the moment; there is one which has got a very unusual head joint and that was made for me a few years ago by a guy called Mike Howard and basically that was because I have a problem with my neck after an injury in a car accident a few years ago and that has been a complete life saver for me because it has enable me to go back to doing this sort of thing and that has been fantastic. That's that flute but it sounds just like a normal flute but it is a different design and the other one is the alto flute which is deeper pitched and you hear it on all sorts of film scores and usually it is buried in among a lot of other stuff and the great thing with this show is there are times like The Red Flower… and you can adjust that flute and it gives it space to breathe and you can really hear the sound and it is a beautiful instrument in its own right. The alto is silver plated actually and very well made.
TWR: We have heard vicious evil rumours…
JH: What? About Roger? (laughs).
TWR: No… well I shall swap you some evil rumours about him later (laughs)
TM (Tigger): I haven't told you a thing!
RK: The ones I spread are the truth!
TWR: Oh, right… so they are not rumours then, are they? About you possibly doing something on the live stage yourself?
JH: Oh with Checking Out Of London you mean? Well we are just in the initial stages of thinking about that before something concrete is going to happen. The intention is there.
TWR: It is always great to see you both on tour and Roger does bring an additional… depth ..
TWR: And grumpiness and narkiness and sarkiness etc… It is difficult to describe to someone who has never seen a acoustic show just what it can be like but it has always fascinated me because each show is always different.
JH: I have to say from my point of view having these two guys all the humour on stage helps a lot. It helps me a lot because it relaxes me.
TWR: It is really obvious that you are enjoying yourselves and it is like Hinge & Bracket between you two (Steve and Roger) and I am not saying which one is which! Or Stadtler and Waldorf!
SH: Well, it is obviously hard for us to say in front of everyone how we really feel (laughs)…
RK: You bastard! (Laughs).
SH: I do actually love working with these guys and they are going to throw up in the middle of the room but it is great although we go on with a paucity of instruments it is all about less is more and we make a lot from what we have got now that doesn't mean I don't miss the next gear you can go into with a rock band but there is less bluster. I have spent years trying to get to this position where you can have a two-pronged attack and all those things but I love the nylon guitar and it hasn't always been an easy path to follow and sometimes you feel that you have got quite a lot to fight against because there was an initial resistance from Charisma Records years and years ago when I started coming up with this stuff but at that time that was before the advent of Classic FM and the whole Unplugged philosophy but in some ways I am glad that we got in on the ground with this sort of stuff and I figure I have spent more time investing in this type of music than my peers.
TWR: It begs the one remaining question, what is next for Stephen Hackett esquire?
SH: Well… (rustling sound effect courtesy of Tigger helping himself to a hot cross bun) there is some stuff that Roger and I have worked on and it has been a busy time; first of all finishing up Metamorpheus and going on tour with this and I can't be in two places at once so I am having to say to people "It will be done when it is done" the next rock thing for want of a better word and I hope there will be some orchestral moments on it we have got a little bit so far since we have discovered the great team as it were. I think it is a rock thing next but I don't know. When it is finished up I would like to go away and have some time to dream some more.
JH: A Skiffle album (laughs)
SH: There is all this stuff that Roger listens to which is amazing well I won't be releasing an album of Stravinsky but there's an aspect of it that permeates through and you have only got to listen to his mobile 'phone (laughs).
I should think that we shall work with the same team (Terry, Gary and Rob) I don't like to limit it and say that it will definitely be a band album with these people because already there are other players who have been playing on some of the orchestral moments and I am trying to keep it as real as possible. An expanded band you see if I was to go right back to the days of Genesis I remember this philosophy the band when it was in existence as a five piece that we felt it would be good if all the music was played by all the people in the band and that you weren't going to bring in any outsiders. In some ways that was difficult for me because when I had been involved with Quiet World there had been moments when John had been involved and I suppose I felt that you could have a core nucleus of a band and why not be able to incorporate others… That was the difference between The Beatles and Genesis really, at the end of the day the group would attempt to do everything and it might be 80% successful but what about that other 20%?
It is funny that. I don't think you ever really feel that you have got to the top. Music is not quite like that.
RK: That’s why you roll the boulder half way up.
TWR: Finally, I know you have recorded the Queen Elizabeth Hall show is that all sorted out for the next Live Archive?
SH: Yeah, basically I think that will be the next Live Archive and it is being mixed as we sit here doing another live show. So, if Ben (Fenner) comes up with … and Roger is a big fan of Ben's work (laughs). That is the only gig we have recorded and it felt like a good gig I think.
TWR: A lot of people have asked as well and I think I know what the answer to this one will be but why wasn't that gig filmed as well for a DVD like the Hungarian Horizon and I suspect that the answer to that one is in the question… it would be very similar to that release, I suppose?
SH: That's a very good answer - thanks for that! (Laughs).
And that's about it for this one, folks. As you can tell, the guys were in
fine spirits during this interview and my thanks again to Billy for organising
it, and to Steve, John, Roger and Tigger for their patience and good humour!