"The memoirs of an inveterate dreamer" - Steve Hackett in conversation with Alan Hewitt and Kevin Fearn about his forthcoming and as yet untitled new rock album. Interview conducted at MAP Studios Twickenham on Sunday 2nd April 2006.
TWR: So, Steve we have just heard your new effort and so we are trying to find out a little bit about it so; I suppose the logical place to start is when did you actually start working on this one, because you don't seem to have been off the treadmill for a while…?
SH: No, I haven't really no. the factory fires have been burning for quite some time. I can't remember when I started it but it has got to have been at least a couple of years ago and it is probably more.
TWR: Your projects do have a habit of overlapping one another anyway usually.
SH: That's the reason why; you answered it right there. Of course there was the last nylon guitar effort that appeared first and that was an overlap from other things as well. I can say with my hand on my heart that there isn't any more in the can at the moment that you haven't heard (laughs) other than the briefest glimmer of a start on one other track that might appear on one of these versions of this album. I will try and explain; there may be a special edition or maybe it will be an album of the length of what we used to call a double album.
TWR: The great thing at the moment is that you have so many tracks to choose from (twenty in all so far, folks) that the difficult thing is deciding which ones really do make the grade on the album and having heard all of the ones that you have currently got at your beck and call it is going to be a difficult job, because they ALL make the grade as far as I am concerned.
SH: Thank you for that! Your cheque is in the post! (laughs) He remembered his lines very well there!
TWR: Obviously some of these tracks are older than others; which are the older ones?
SH: Well, A Dark Night In Toytown first appeared on the Live Archive 04 from a couple if years back but I wanted the studio version to be the definitive version frankly, although I know that you get something else from a live thing; you get the energy from the crowd etc, etc but you know me; as a detail freak I like to have it with all the bells and whistles; and all the hands on deck that I can muster which is hard to do even with as good a five pieces band as I had. It's nice to have; how can I put it… the kitchen sink in there.
TWR: Is it the same players who were used on the live version?
SH: It is some of the same people; he said holding his cards tightly to his chest and basically what I have got on this album is; I have got players but I have also got the same orchestra that appeared on Metamorpheus and I am going to bill them as such - and I am sure they are going to bill me in the near future! (laughs). Its fun. I like working with bands and I like working with orchestras. Funnily enough; the other day Christine Townsend; Dick Driver and Richard Stewart our string section, heard all of this stuff that you have just heard today, and I was saying to them, "this album is Rock and there's the rest" and why don't you call it "Rock And The Rest" so there's a working title suggestion there. That says it all for me in a way, I like lots of different styles of music.
TWR: Well, if you work in different areas, you can't be pigeonholed which is no bad thing, these days. No one can point the finger and say: 'That's where he fits' because you don't.
SH: I try not to. People think they know what you can do but not even I know what I can do until I pick up a guitar. By the time I snuff it if I can look back at the time and there will just come a day when the factory closes down and there are so many different kinds of music about today for instance in an average day if I am driving about and there's Grieg on; The Holberg Suite and I have a version of that by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and it is absolutely glorious; but then the next minute I might stick on something by Howlin' Wolf and I will be thinking; 'What a glorious voice this man has' you know the voice that has lived. And all musicians, the way they tell their story is the same; they all pour their hearts out that's the way it goes and you can't say; 'That's no good; that's Bourgeois middle class; that's from the academy, I don't like all that stuff' and these guys are illiterate you can't have the idea of never the twain shall meet is an awful shame and I hope that in some ways they all meet up in me and my broad tastes. I have my heroes, so… At one time I had a very tough time in the industry by trying to establish this two pronged thing saying this is the nylon guitar and it is just as valid as the electric and the more I break down those prejudices within myself the more I find it is translated into an accepting crowd and so I have been very proud of that in a way and I have led people into areas which they might not have considered…
TWR: well, a Hackett album with at least one acoustic track on it is just unthinkable really, because people …one thing… you don’t like being predictable but that is one area where it isn't predictable but it is an area of your music that people WANT to hear anyway. You led us down the garden path until you got to Bay Of Kings and ever since then you have explored so many different avenues and it is the same with this album. Remember I described To Watch The Storms as "A Tale Of Thirteen Bungalows"; I think this one marries the sombreness of Darktown and the up nature of To Watch The Storms and you have the Garden Of Paradise overlooking The Gates Of Hell almost….
SH: He is very eloquent, isn't he? Yes, I think in life they are side by side and people tend to think in terms of the abstractions of those things. I changed the title of A Dark Night In Toytown because I thought it was a better title. I didn't use it because I thought it was too close to Darktown and then one or two people said that it was shame because A Dark Night In Toytown is a good title. But of course, by the time I finished I don’t think it really matters if something is cut from the same cloth … it doesn't really matter. There are going to be certain thins that I am drawn to and it will be a certain title and it may have something to do with the geography more than the relationship that goes on between the third parties in those songs but the idea of toytown and things going slightly wrong appeals to me greatly.
TWR: What is the actual story behind that song; it seems to be about somebody on the ghost train to Hell, literally as if their life is going down the toilet in a very major way…
SH: I think it is in one way it is beauty and the beast; innocence and experience and if you take it at a very literal level it is about a girl who has met a very bad character who is leading her astray and she is heading for a sticky end. I think that women are drawn to that very much. More and more I hear about women that aren't just in abusive relationships but the idea of men that aren't particularly interesting to them unless they are a little bit dangerous. Without wanting to say that this is every woman's story; it is obviously not but it is really a fantasy that borrows a little bit again from Greek myth; the idea of "blood on your white sheets" which is something from one of the Greek plays although I can't remember which one it is specifically but I am very gannet like with my appropriation of other people's ideas (laughs). It is every book I read; every newspaper I glance at; every hoarding; everything everyone ever says.
In some ways I tend to … I try not to come up with things consciously; I wait for them to strike me and then if they have bubbled up from my own dark recesses that's fine. If it is something that I have misappropriated from somewhere else then that is also fine and fair game and it works like that in music as well. You would think that all the juxtapositions of all the styles have already been done and I will think 'I haven't heard anything new for two years' and then suddenly I will hear something from somewhere and I will go; 'Ah, that's interesting… maybe I can take that idea further' and two things that shouldn't really belong together and so the unlikely constructions usually start with some kind of accident; if it happens in the studio if something that is switched on which shouldn't be switched on and there will be some noise from outside which will spark something else off. I wait until I hear it before I translate it and I rely more on my instincts more and more and less on intellect. Of course, the masses of people that will take entirely the other view but I have got to have heard it already within myself either to have dreamt it and I have got to be moved in order to move forward for me to get a framework, that is. Once there is a framework I can colour it in an d then I can go firing off a few rounds within it as a guitarist.
TWR: The thing is once again, after thirty years you are still taking us down a different path every time ; that's absolutely amazing. You would think that after that amount of time you would run out of things to say …..
SH: Sometimes for instance, Rob (Townsend) was in working on the second track and I think practically everything of his we used; we reversed and sometimes we twinned it with other instruments and suddenly that changes the geography and there was one phrase that he played that sounded like American Jazz and I recognised and I said; 'It's very good, isn't it? What's it like if we reverse it?' and suddenly it sounded like India or somewhere exotic. So, we have that track with the sitar sound and the Indian instrument sounds and so I am pleased that every time an experiment like that works. I wouldn't say we audition every note backwards but if something seems interesting but needs something else then we will try it. You make take a descending phrase, for instance and reverse it and it becomes a fanfare all out of similar sounding phrases.
TWR: So, run us through this jigsaw then; obviously now we shall go through it track by track so starting off with Transylvanian Express which repeats some of the themes from A Dark Night In Toytown…
SH: I didn’t want it to become a kind of overture and it will probably be called On The Transylvanian Express. I wonder if I should be talking about these titles because by the time this album finally gets out there; there may be twenty bands out there with tracks called "On The Transylvanian Express"! (laughs) but that's showbiz . it is one of my musical "rides" really, it was written with Roger, it is a ride.
TWR: I think one of the common themes that comes through in a lot of your music is travel …its always mobile and motion…
SH: Yeah, I have written several train songs in my time and this is one of them and it is an imaginary train in the realm of the fantastic but having actually visited Transylvania and played there (Steve played an acoustic show in Brasov back in 1994 - AH) in a way it was both like what you expected and unlike what you expected but if you were to take that title and translate it into everyone's dream of that place then it is as much to do with Grimm's Fairytales as it is to do with Count Dracula and Vlad The Impaler and you have got the possibility of getting the reality and the fantasy of it. So, it’s a ride in my…once again back to my imaginary theme park … another nightmare ride from all of that so it is definitely all part of that. In a sense I kept thinking that there was an aspect of a cartoon there which is part of that. It is the child in me that has never really grown up; perhaps I travel on rollercoasters a little less than I used to (laughs) but there is still a side of me that wants to give everyone on a rock album all the thrills and spills of the rollercoaster and all the fun of the fair really.
TWR: Now to the second track; Waters of The Wild, I love the way you have blended the Indian influences on there as well, it is almost like a travelogue…
SH: Yeah, it harks back to a psychedelic era and again it is a journey through weird and wonderful instruments that in some ways we crafted those but with recording techniques of now so you have both the psychedelic sounds and the Indian instruments and things that sound like them and things that purport to be them and you get the compressed drums of now so it is one foot in the Sixties and the other in the Noughties.
TWR: Sometimes I just pick up on individual lines and in this one the line… "acid rain" even though it is an actual physical thing; just the words conjure up the images of the Sixties and the "acid trip" …
SH: Sure, all of that and lyrically the first verse if from W B Yeats; The Waters Of The Wild which also crops up in the film Artificial Intelligence and verse two and three are my own. Again it is that idea of beckoning someone ; the journey and so perhaps there is a pied piper aspect to all of this stuff; taking people on a journey and I suppose it is the romance of places and I am back to all of that.
TWR: One song that I do want to delve into quite deeply is Set Your Compass because ever since you played that to me last December that tune has continued to reverberate around my head. I don't know if you have seen the film Pirates of The Caribbean but there are certain images from that; the idea of the ship of the dead partly inhabiting this world and partly inhabiting another…
SH: interesting that you would say that indeed. I was reading some poetry or indeed songs that were written that talk about some remote parts of the Scottish islands and the dangers of crossing the very waters and again we are back to the "waters" that element of things; and I took one or two lines from those things; never having heard the original songs or indeed knowing if they were poems or plainsong but they were very bleak lines such as "Oarsmen pull to cleave the brine" and something about "Faces set like gravestones" because these people that travelled to and from these very dangerous places realised that each journey might be their last. I found that very powerful and yet at the same time the whole song is inhabited from the point of view of the dream world; imagining that we are in those situations and so it was "Set Your Compass By Your Dreams" which is really the title.
TWR: That's the injunction isn't it? Live your life by YOUR instincts, set your MORAL compass by your instincts…
SH: Absolutely right and it means live life by your passions and if I were to quote the guy who said… "Follow Your Bliss" it will come to me later… Joseph Campbell… that whole idea.
TWR: Once again you have recycled in the actual tune itself a bit of Ace Of Wands …
SH: The end bit of Ace Of Wands? Yeah that was a moment from the live Ace Of Wands which was something that John wrote and we used to use it in the live version of that and so I am crediting him with having co-written the song with me with myself and Gary (O'Toole) on vocals and Roger, of course. Its about more than that because it is about the people who experienced all of that and so there are many more people who should be credited. All of the idea of reading about sheep that have managed to fall off the edge and sometimes it is people who have done that and not just then; it is now and that is something that will always happen. Its hymnal and its in the tradition of Genesis and we mentioned the sheep once or twice before, haven't we (laughs).
TWR: Then you go from that to, once again dear old Mr Olivier on yet another acid trip…
SH: Yeah, Down Street. There was an actual Tube station called Down Street which existed in Covent Garden at one time and that was removed but Down Street became the station by which Churchill would have escaped in the war and so it is that idea. It crops up in one of the James Bond movies with Piece Brosnan. Having done it, in a way I was thinking what is the overriding influence here because I have read several things about London and the Underground and all that sort of stuff and I thought that in a way there was an influence of Dickens there; leading you through the rather ramshackle remnants of London. There's a train or two mentioned in there; there's the Necropolis Railway which crops up and that’s from Stephen King so it is the influence of two authors getting in here. It is a London that I have never visited but just skimmed the surface of having been a Londoner all my life, the more you read the more you realise that there is an underground river which feeds the fountain in Sloane Square for example, and one which feeds The Serpentine and there are rivers which have been paved over and so again I borrowed from authors all the best lines I could find from them so that our master of ceremonies; this cracked demented character; the further adventures of the guy who first turned up on The Devil Is An Englishman he comes back again. So, the idea again of somebody at the beginning wandering into a shop and the influence of Stephen King and "Needful Things" and the idea of the William Gaunt character that is in that and the idea of someone who you KNOW is going to come to a sticky end from the very word go. I have a tendency to finish off my characters! (laughs). That is all part of the dastardly plot, isn't it?
TWR: I just get another image from it of the guy who walks into a shop and he is then GONE; especially the line "And to think people really LIVE down there…" and all of a sudden he realises that he IS there…
SH: Yes, exactly he is in his own Twilight Zone and he thinks he is going to be served and actually he is going to be served up as it were. So, we are back to that ironic approach but all my spooks are not supposed to be taken seriously they are more to do with the haunted house than they are with the… again it is back in the fairground really. So, it is all of those things; yes it's Pinocchio it is all those things. It is all awful stuff really, children are far too young to be read them you are going to make them wet the bed (laughs) but hopefully, when they are grown up its like watching The Wizard Of Oz when you are a grown up. Also, again it is one of those kind of travelogue tracks because not only does it take you through, hopefully, the Victorian London of then it also takes you through the multi-cultural London of now and when I have my sort of brass band section in it; it is really harking back to the Forties and there is an aspect of the war in there so if you had access to all the Londons that there have been you would have something like what I have attempted in that song.
TWR: It seems to be a historical or maybe "hysterical" microcosm of London really .. Ye Olde Worlde and Not So Olde Worlde London, it’s the layers…
SH: It’s the fact that Christopher Wren built his cathedral on what was originally a temple to the sun and he was interested in the archaeology and wanted to know what was on the site and what had gone before he built it so and even though it supposed to be a Christian building; when you gaze down from that vantage point and you see the floor you see the sun. I am trying to honour all the ancestors. It is very detailed and funnily enough, at one point Roger turned to me and said; 'You realise you have got a ridiculous amount of detail on this track? You have got 212 tracks that I am staring at right now' but it wasn't done with the idea let's sling as much as we can on to something it just worked out that way because I will lead him somewhere and then he will lead me somewhere else. We have stuff that is recorded in real time and then we have access to the vast libraries and wardrobes for the other bits and pieces that we use as well. It is very multi layered and I think this album is more so than anything else and it might be too dense for some people who like their music simple and direct.
TWR: I suppose that is the case, that you have this and then the next track; A Girl Called Linda which is…
SH: You mentioned candy floss earlier and this is really candy floss relief compared to all of that. It is all about an imaginary girl called Linda and again it is something that I put together in the tradition of my "list" songs. I took all the evocative places names that adults were recommended to take children to visit because my niece Julia was in London a couple of years back and we wanted to know where to take her so; there's the zoo here and there's that and as you read them you realise that a lot of these names of certain shops are very evocative. There is one in Richmond called "The Toy Station" for instance and so I mentioned that "climbing the Wall Of China Outside The Old Toy Station" because kids can do that, you know in their imaginations, can't they? I'm the man on the moon from one moment to the next (laughs) and then they have fallen over and waah! That's it; you are a plane; you ARE Superman; you can fly and that is the lovely thing about childhood and that's why childhood gets revisited as a sort of plausible ruse that means that I can access worlds that I can inhabit or write about. I guess it is revisiting childhood through the toys of now which are the ones I can listen to; films for the ears. I loved it when I first met Genesis and Peter Gabriel and he was explaining about what the band did and he said; 'It is very difficult to create good narrative in song' and what he said to me at that point was way over my head - good narrative in song? I have hardly written any songs let alone my narrative! (laughs) I tried to take forward the idea of the tradition that Genesis were plugged into and working towards and were to become in the affection of the fans and so I fond myself still living that same dream that was Genesis then. I never consciously sit down and say 'Lets see if I can sit down and write a story today' it just comes out that way and I am led that way. I visit a place and for the muse to call and I wait for my characters to lead me in much the same way that writers say that their ideas come to them. I must admit I don't find it that easy to write love songs and I would really like to but as soon as I attempt that people usually say; 'This is a bit sentimental for you, isn't it?!" (laughs) it is very difficult and so in a song like The Man in the Long Black Coat which is one of Bob Dylan's of course, but that isn't a straight love song either - hardly! Again it is someone being led off by someone dangerous.
TWR: We are up to To A Close which with a title like that reminds me of End Of Day and is really the end of the album sort of area in the title…
SH: Yeah, musically I dreamt it. I dreamt it; it was one of those dreams where you are on stage and you are off at the same time and I remember looking down on to the stage in this sort of sloped auditorium and looking down on this band who are playing this song and it is a little bit like the Everley brothers it is almost saccharine sweet, the melody but the difference between this band who are doing it and the Everley brothers is that there is a little bit of cello a bit of flute and of violin and they are heading towards the orchestra. It’s a little bit Palm Court and it is all those things and it made me think of the British coastline they way it can look abandoned in winter. Lots of these places are like forgotten girlfriends a little bit run down and it made me think of the idea of in fantasy; of a forgotten woman and so it became the idea of a debuttante who had fallen on hard times with men no longer calling on her because her father's money had run out; they were only interested in her money all of her old swains and when he ends up bankrupt she ends up going on the game ("the game" = becoming a prostitute - AH) and that is where the discreet Mayfair madam comes in, and the allusion to "Belle Du Jour" very pretty and she wants to be kept in the same style to which she has become accustomed which is why, right at the end, she kills herself and the character found at the Ritz and so I finished her off, but at the end the full orchestra kick in as if everything she ever wanted comes to her and it becomes symphonic right at the end up till then it has been Palm Court and so I hold her in some affection.
Later in the album there is an instrumental version, in fact what we did was we did two versions of the song; one with full orchestra with me singing along with that and the idea of harmony vocals and full orchestra seemed too much and they both subtracted from each other and so we did a stripped down version where we used just a few instruments so that you can hear the harmonies and the idea of less is more and the full orchestral version is so sumptuous that the backing track works as a complete track in itself and so that appears later in the album under a different title.
TWR: Right. Now we come to the first of your covers this time round and a cover of one of your younger brother's opuses… Ego And Id….
SH: Ego And Id, well I liked the tune very much and I liked the lyric very much and John said 'I wonder what this would sound like with real drums?' and I got such joy out of playing guitar on it because John was encouraging me to do what I am often discouraged from doing which was to just blow away in a Bluesy sort of way and I didn't have to worry about the form of the song; the song was already done and I said to him; 'How do you feel about me doing a version of this?' and he and Nick (Clabburn) want to be known as writers and I shall be joining John on his dates or as many of them as I can do and I can jam along with them on this one. I had such joy just firing off a few rounds on it and John just encouraged me to do more and more sort of hooligan (laughs) sort of playing there isn't very much that's very musical from me on it but it really comes out as Heavy Metal.
It has an intriguing lyric and it also ties in with the idea of the monsters of the ID factor that is there on the other song; A Dark Night In Toytown which is the same sort of thing.
I am delighted that John is stepping out with his own band. I saw them in rehearsal the other week and I thought they were very, very good together.
TWR: So that was a surprise and then next to it you have the other cover; The Man In The Long Black Coat. Now that instantly suggested the Devil to me…
SH: We... you see now I didn't write the lyrics so you would have to interview Dylan about that one. All I know is that at one point he was interviewed and one of the most intriguing lyrics is 'People don't die, they just float' and they asked him why did he say that and he said 'I was probably looking for something that rhymed with coat' (laughs) typical Dylan really. And yet it is intriguing and what may have been a throwaway for him Dylanologists will ponder for centuries. Reading his biography; "Chronicles" which is an excellent book he mentions an Indian that he meets and I think that is the preacher he is talking about. Then there is the stuff about 'everyone's conscience is vile and depraved' and that whole idea.
It is an intriguing lyric and I really loved the imagery of the old dance hall on the outskirts of town now that to me… my own version of that was Eel Pie Island and that is exactly what that place was. That is great because in places like that all sorts of things can happen, the pressure is of for everybody. That was a place I escaped to at the time when it was illicit for me; I was an under age drinker in a place where I am hearing wonderful music. I know I have gone on about it in probably every interview I do; watching the young Peter Green blow me away and the Paul Butterfield band and so I combined the two of them in that song Fire Island but that is another era and another time.
It was the lyrics that appealed to me and the fact that it was setting itself up for a guitar solo and on my version there is a guitar solo and my playing on his is in the style of early Peter Green and I doff my cap to Peter Green. I heard that he was recording this stuff it may have been during the Daniel Lanois period and done in New Orleans and so right at the beginning we have put; 'We're takin' you to the swamps' at the front and that is why you have got those noises to try and conjure the place and the setting. Again, there is an aspect of Johnny Cash delivery in there; I couldn't possibly sound like Dylan! So there is an aspect of Country there; an aspect of the South and it does take a bit of a leap of faith to suspend your disbelief that the boy from Pimlico can do this.
We didn’t use the squeeze box on it but we used a backwards reverb and repeat echo on the guitar and so that ended up sounding like that when you reverse it, it starts to sound like that and that's the strummy stuff on it. It gives it both a production sound and a lilt to it and so the song is always in the process of becoming because it is… there is the continuous backwards thing and a little bit of harmonica at the front. A little bit of the influence of Paul Butterfield with his acoustic harmonica. I didn't mention the harmonica but we have got sort of Indian style harmonica on Down Street too and it crops up on a few tracks. I don't do enough harmonica because I don't know if there are enough afficionados of it out there particularly in my field of endeavours. On an album of this nature; an eclectic thing I hope that we haven’t overused anything but for some people we will and for others … I have given up expecting that idea that anyone will produce an album that will appeal to everyone. It simply is not the case and that is why there is so much variety out there. All music making, all writing it is all a shot in the dark, you hope it is going to fly and you hope it is going to work for people. It has got to please the people who are doing it first and I think they have got to be in love with it first. If you are not, then you are not really doing your job or you are denying yourself. If you write from the point of view of what you THINK people want to hear I think you are doing the music a disservice in itself.
I try and make it as personal as possible these days. I think in the early days you write from the inside out because you have got the confidence of youth and then you re-learn that and you come full cycle and you say; yes I am using this because I think it is a glorious sound and sod the fact that someone might think it is a 1930's chord change; why have you done that? It doesn't really matter all times; past, present and future it is all up for grabs.
TWR: Wolfwork… title? Explain please…
SH: It's from Robert Graves it’s a quite again from something after the Greeks and I can’t remember who the character was but I think it was some people were trying to poison a particular king and he says ; 'Ah, I sense wolfwork here' and so that was that. The lyric is… what's the word… ambiguous there is no story to be told. Its just its all carnage really. From a bed of nails to scavengers in paradise to… bits from different people; different writers; the odd phrase from something that I will twin with something else. The grey porridge skies of the mind and wall of corpses were I think from Sylvia Plath and Robert Graves with the title. The title could be from I Claudius or Claudius The God or it might be from his other book ; The White Goddess which I have only ever dipped into. In a sense that is a reference book but he is operating in a tradition.
TWR: And we go from that and once again the sort of mental and physical carnage to Why…. Another trip to the Forties…
SH: It's my chance to use the Optigan again. I kept it very short originally it was that length and then I wrote some extra verses and recorded them and tried to sing them in the kitchen laughing my head off and there is a version of that where I can't control myself and I can't stop laughing so much and I was going to tack them on but I thought there might be the odd thing that might be offensive to some people and so I think the only time I have been offensive is to say that 'cremation, won't be long' (quiet chuckles) it is a very short song. We could go on about it endlessly (laughs) but it is a very short song for obvious reasons. It is "End Of The Pier" stuff material which is why right at the end of it you have the wind blowing as if it is on the seafront or the pier and you hear the odd creak of the pier…
TWR: She Moves In Memories… what a wonderful title!
SH: The title once again it is taken from Rilke who I borrowed some verses from for Metamorpheus. Rainer Maria Rilke, it’s a good title. Again it is the same piece of music that To A Close has the vocal version of. I found that as we were doing the orchestration; as we were layering up more and more things and as we were doing it Roger was coming up with more and more ideas for woodwind and what was supposed to be a little throwaway section a little bit of glue between one bit and another and it was becoming symphonic. The opening, funnily enough talking about melodies and where they come from (hums the melody) I was having a Genesis dream one day; dreaming that I was back in the old band as I do from time to time; and it was the beginning of Watcher Of The Skies on the Mellotron and I was thinking; I'm getting bored with this and then the band went into (hums the melody again) and it became that and I woke up and I remembered it was in 4/4 but I changed it to 3/4 and made it a waltz; a very slow waltz and so that is how this song was born out of that idea from a dream. This was a piece of music that was annexed to another piece of music it is all the afterthoughts became something else. It is wearing a piece of music in different clothes if you like - orchestral dress.
TWR: You have mentioned over the years in many of our conversations, that a lot of this stuff is influenced by dreams. Is it physically the case that you get an idea in your head and you wake up and write it down or record it?
SH: Yeah, I do. You see way back … the first musical dream that I had that was like that was Camino Royale the track that has become the title of the record company never mind anything else. There is a moment in that again, that I dreamt that I was back in the old band and again it was this thing about sitting offstage and on at the same time and round about 1973 I think it was when we first got our own light show; Genesis I was very concerned with making sure that the band both looked and sounded great and so I used to go out the front during rehearsals in the place that became known as the Astoria in Brixton which is where we used to rehearse; and so I had a chance to see what it was like onstage and off at the same time and see the band from the front and I was very concerned that everything; the Mellotron should sound right and the stage should look right with the lights and everything. So, I had a dream of New Orleans and being back in the old band and there was this glorious thing that Tony was playing on brass and organ and doing that thing which was like the band both swinging and at the same time it had this hymn-like Classical form about it which was part of the appeal and which was part Gospel; part this and part that. Its English but part of it has aspects of the old South about it and it was all those things and bugger me, I didn't remember what the melody was that was being played but I wrote something that was like it and ever since then, luckily if I am in a dream and something happens, my senses kick in and I remember to write it down immediately I wake up or sing it into a tape recorder and I have had maybe six or seven instances of this and it is always an absolute gift, isn't it from the world of dreams; the world of the subconscious or whatever you call it.
On journeys too, when you are travelling it often throws up ideas and I still work with a pen …quill and parchment (laughs) rather than computer and I like the tactile sense of the pen on paper and being able to read my own scrawl (laughs) I like that very much and so I have got bits and pieces everywhere. I need time and space to dream. That's a good title for an epitaph: "I need to go and dream some more" and I think that applies for all of us.
TWR: once in a while you come up with tracks that simply throw me… The Fundamentals Of Brainwashing… that to me should have been a line in… Mechanical Bride….
SH: That could have been alternative title. It’s the idea, don't be hoodwinked by "experts" have some kind of political opinion even if you can't take in all the detail. In a way it is a song that clamours for peace. It is a protest song… its that I think and too many horrors have been perpetrated in the name of patriotism and religion and so that’s it. It is really a song in two halves; the second part; the instrumental we had this amplifier downstairs this 50 watt Marshall and I think it might have been the first thing I recorded with this particular amp and I stood in front of it and you hear how loud it is because the amp is squealing at the beginning it is very, very loud. I don't think I have ever made a guitar sound more tortured or tortuous than this, it really does howl and shriek. It is not the most musical playing that I have done it is a combination of a moment when a guitar sounds really searing and this pedal board that Pete Cornish built for me and so we have gone back to a bit of old technology here; Marshall amplifier turned up very loud with treble boosters as well and they really went out of fashion for a bit these treble boosters and now guitarists want them again. So, the track is called Howl from the poem by Alan Ginsberg and so it is a nod to him and so the influence of a few wordsmiths.
I think no one stands alone whatever they do, they are all part of a long of evolution of this, that and the other and none of us can be totally original. If you are talking about Jimmy Webb as an American; he talked about the influence of Vaughan Williams on him and so you can't have MacArthur Park without Ralph Vaughan Williams and you can't have Vaughan Williams without the influence of English hymns and Folk Music and so it is funny how it all works, isn't it? That's all anyone ever does really, at the end of the day, even the greatest composers of old they are really building on something that they have heard themselves. To take the time to do it the artist has still got to be in love with colour and so for me, sound still is the medium which speaks most fully.
In a way it is pictures, and that is what drives me on with these things. I will see a little bit of sunshine while a cymbal is being struck and people speak in terms of each little cymbal being a drop of gold and so there is sunshine in that.
TWR: St Brandon's Isle… is that a place?
SH: Well, it is something that is mentioned in The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley and I also took The End Of Nowhere which crops up in Waters Of The Wild and that is another from Charles Kingsley. In a way it alludes to The Beatles as well and Nowhere Man and stuff like that. There is plenty of that in there which I am sure you have heard. You can hear your townsmen at work in there, the influence, you know! I don't know if it is a real place or if it is a mis-spelling in the book or if it is a fantasy place, that's the title at the moment I don’t think I am going to change it because maybe someone will inform me what that is all about.
I think that when I first started hearing a lot of this Bach stuff that Segovia did you hear things in it that are melodies that became other tunes and I am sure there is a bit that became "The Ugly Duckling" and you hear that in Bach and when you hear this stuff it makes you think of nature and when you think of nature you think of travel within it and it is as if you are in Heaven and you are going round with all these things. Its one of those moments when it all comes together; that perfect day and perfect sunshine and don't those ducks look fine and look at that glorious tree and the sky is blue and there are those glorious little hillocks and you meet your friends there and everyone is happy. So, the green, green grass of home is there. Acoustic music is that for me it is a glance at a more perfect world and it is a chance to cherish the one that we are in and so once again there is the whole kind of Orpheus thing there where he is not just describing nature; nature is listening to him and there is a sort of symbiotic relationship between the musician and his inspirations. Where does one stop and where does one start? It is this circle of life, really. It was a plan to do that and so maybe that is the logical end to it. There really is a lot on this one and it depends on how long should an album be? The reason why it is at the end is because it is a winding down in a sense. I think if you keep going from this moment to that moment with these densely populated ideas and regions I think it is a bit like ending the day by going for a paddle perhaps rather than being off on yet another heroic adventure somehow. Maybe it is that moment of Rupert having to head back after he has visited China and Santa Claus's castle all in one afternoon and he is back home in bed with his cocoa. Tucked up in bed where he can't come to any harm and so it is a sweet resolution really.
Obviously there might be extended editions and so we don't know quite how that is going to pan out but it works for me as an album in that way and we now have to decide on what is due to become the special edition which has produced more and more conjecture and so I have played you the other stuff as well and then there is the Chaconne which is really for another project; there is some Bach stuff and that obviously is a labour of love…
The Eruption thing is actually called something else.. it is called Pupilla and then the second bit is called Tommy I think and then Pupilla again. I think I have to credit two or three separate writers on that. I have taken the bit that I go away with and I think is classic of that time. I remember Jan Akkerman playing it and because Genesis and Focus were doing the same circuit as I recall in the early Seventies. We played together on the odd festival. It is a piece that if it has been forgotten for a while then I think it deserves to be a classic and lets just say that I think it transcends its progressive roots; it is a guitar classic basically. It works as a guitar tune. I have heard the sax version and that works too and it is a classic melody and it is a great tune. Focus did a great version of it and again it is me making… it is a guitar and a Marshall amp at full cry! It is turned up to eleven and it is spitting fire and yet it is a beautiful melody; there is romance in it and it is not just death by a thousand cuts (laughs) it is a romantic melody.
The re-do of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare is pretty much note for note but it is recorded with the technology of "now" in order to create the feeling of the brutality of "then" (laughs) and we have gone for pretty much the same instrumentation. You try and move away from this sort of stuff and come up with another solo in it but that sounded wrong and so I didn't use it. This isn't working, lets go back to what we know and love and so I have managed to explore Jazz leanings on other tracks like the one that is titled Blue Child which is at least fifty per cent improvised that one and it wouldn't worry me if I did another version of that and became less precious at some point and it wouldn't worry me the fact that it has moved away and it is really about the chord shapes on that one and so it is already a blow, it doesn’t matter somehow.
TWR: Does the album actually have a title yet?
SH: It has gone through one or two and I don't want to say which is my favourite contender at the moment because it may change. It looks like we have got a sleeve and it looks like we have got that.
TWR: it is probably far too early to ask when this opus will be in the shops?
SH: I just don't know because we are still recording material as I said because there are a number of versions that have been under discussion.
TWR: And once it is available, I guess there will be some live performances, perhaps…?
SH: you never know, you never know. I couldn't possibly comment at this stage it all depends live work and all that and reunions and all that stuff… I can't deliver anything there, I can't reunite everybody all I can do is turn up at the meetings and say; "yeah that's it, that will be great and if you are up for it then I am up for it" and if it doesn’t happen it won’t be my fault….
And at that point we terminated the interview to come up for air and refreshments. Once again my thanks to Steve for giving up so much of his time on a Sunday to speak to Kevin and I and for giving us this wonderful sneak peek at the forthcoming album which, we can assure you folks, is yet another Hackett masterpiece! My thanks also to Kevin for undertaking the lengthy driving task when public transport let me down!