In conversation… Alan Hewitt talks to Steve Hackett about the Genesis box sets and his current projects. Interview conducted at Map Studios, Twickenham on Sunday 23rd June 2007. Photos by Stuart Barnes.

What better way to celebrate TWR’s 20th anniversary than with a chat with the first member of the band to grant us an interview? Yes, TWR is in conversation with Mr Stepehn Hackett. Over to you Steve…

TWR: The first thing to talk about is the re-masters and your involvement with those…

SH: The Genesis re-masters? I took the stance of… after I heard one or two mixes which I realised were very carefully considered on the part of Nick Davis, I thought he had done a very very good job and I took the attitude that unless something was a glaring error, in general I felt that it was done proud.

I think when you look back at how the early albums were made, it was a sense of doing things on the run; touring schedules, someone else’s studio. It’s a different proposition when you get something under the microscope in a very condensed way and you are not watching the clock, plus technology and experience count, obviously. With the passing of time things only improve. So I was very pleased with what I heard. Particularly pleased with Wind And Wuthering. I felt that it sounded fab and if anything it is perhaps slightly more guitar prominent than the original mixes. It’s nice to hear things with clarity and also, the surround mixes I thought were very good. I can’t sing it’s praises highly enough.
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I figure everything is subject to change until it is finally out there. Anyone can turn round and say “I don’t like that”. I would rather take the attitude that it is more important that it HAPPENS rather than coming in and fighting your corner and I think one has to take a broad strokes attitude towards it. It has obviously been done with a lot of love and care and you could argue that these mixes are more careful that the original mixes. I certainly like hearing A Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering with a more modern compressed drum sound that seems to tighten it up.

Short of being able to go back to it and play it all in time and in tune (laughs), if technology would grant you that if you wanted to go that far. It’s the fact that I can listen to Sergeant Pepper and realise that things are out of time and out of tune and that it doesn’t ruin its enjoyment for me. It’s all part of the charm. It’s only the perception that I’ve got to live with it for eternity (laughs) and I think you have to accept that musicians are always trying to get the maximum out of available technology but we have been there and talked about that.

TWR: What thoughts do you have about the current reunion?

SH: Well, as you know I was approached, along with Pete. The plan was to do The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, and I said “yes”. Pete said “no” after we had all met up. Obviously with an album like that, it would be important to do it with the original team, for my money.

Again, I am talking in the past tense now because an idea that seemed like it was a go-er is not. It has been put on hold, at the very best it has been put on hold, if not completely dismissed. I don’t know why Pete didn’t want to do that. It was certainly very much his baby lyrically, the storyline. Everyone’s baby musically. Perhaps there are pressures he feels that the rest of might not and the idea of literally depicting a teenage punk when you are…er, we all are in our dotage (laughs) has its problems.

I have probably said this in other interviews and maybe with you, but it seems to me if one took a more broad view of the band’s history, it would be easier to take things from various periods and various times even if you concentrated on the so-called “classic” Seventies period. I think that would have been easier for Pete but I am only guessing, perhaps he feels that having spent a long time establishing a solo career that now is not the time to become the singer in your old band again. Albeit it is hardly down at The Dog And Duck! (laughs). I don’t know, apart from being positive about a potential reunion and having given it my blessing, I feel I can do no more. I feel a bit like the Pope (laughs)…I have given it my blessing. It’s not my fault there are so many sinners out there! (laughs)

TWR: Last time we spoke you said you had a new acoustic album on the go…

SH: Yeah, a new acoustic album which concentrates on Classical music this time. Six pieces of Bach, one of… well, various other composers. It is all exciting repertoire and very proud of it I am too. It is finished but, as ever, before anything is out there, there are a few things that need to be negotiated. I haven’t got an album sleeve in my hand and a date. I can’t say that (laughs). I was hoping it was going to be released by the summer.

We have a title, but it has been made somewhat contentious recently and there is a certain amount of politics surrounding it which is all I can say, but I am very, very proud of it. I would be very happy for it to go out there tomorrow really. I can’t remember how many tracks are on it off the top of my head. The tribute to Segovia is on it. I can be objective about it. I think when you are doing an album of your latest songs, you are putting it out and you want everyone to go “we really like it. We really like you because of what you do and your ideas”. This is different. This is like joining the ranks of all those who have played Hamlet, all those who have played Bach, you know? The source material is unassailable. The very great players who have wrestled with that because it is the equivalent of climbing Everest for any musician. There is no more material that is harder to play but that is not why you embrace it. It’s because at the very least it is technically demanding, but beyond all that there is a beauty and simplicity, because Bach was the most fluent chordsmith.

I mention Bach above all the others because I am a bit of a fan, you know. Back mania! I am first hoping for Bach mania, and I will be fine (laughs). It’s a far cry from Rock ‘n’ Roll. It all sounds very dry when you talk about it but this is music that stirred me when I was fifteen years old and I fell in love with it from the word go. It is music that has stood the test of time and the antithesis of the large show and one school of minimalism at work, it relies on nothing but the music – music without props.

When the story of that music unfolds as you are listening to it, it gets more yielding and after it has been through all the frustration and anger, although the most constructive forms of those emotions you could have because unlike someone where you are stepping out with a rock guitar and pouring your heart and soul into that and screaming and wailing away and having a rant. That music deals with those issues and tries to resolve them in a minor key and then after six minutes in a minor key you think that the piece is finished and then it goes into a major key for however long… these things are flexible and everyone interprets it differently. It’s a lifetime in a piece of music, it is that complete a journey. I don’t think you can talk about it too much, there is a lot said about it in the poetic sense; the nylon guitar. All I can do is talk about it honestly. The moment I get on board with the classical stuff is where Segovia came on board, even though he had his predecessors.

TWR: I hear that you have another rock album in the pipeline. How far advanced is that?

SH: I do, yes. I am several tracks in. I am less far down the line than I would like to be but there have been other events that are going on in life and I have to put my recording schedule on hold for personal things that are taking place. I should be back in the saddle next week from about Tuesday and I am looking forward to getting on with some things that are purely musical. I have done some tracks that I think, funnily enough it is probably an album that is more song based than some of my things. The lyrics have been very important and they have driven a lot of the songs in a way that lyrics have seldom driven things in the past with me.

I think it is quite a good thing when you start with a lyric and then you get a rough idea of how you would like the song to go and I find that a very useful way because then you are dealing with the poetry and trying to find the music within the poetry. Sometimes you get the music first, sometimes the lyric. Then you are a young upstart starting out, you may think that a formula is best but you will soon bore yourself with that approach. You have to allow things to reach you. It is far better to have bits of the jigsaw and have them fit together eventually rather than think “I must have this song finished by Thursday because you have all this hammering that you are doing, and songs should be loved and the character of the song should speak back to you and it is good to keep your ears open to that.

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Photo: S Barnes/TWR

And there we leave Steve’s musing. Hopefully we shall catch up with him again when his new projects are ready for our aural delectation. My thanks once again to Steve for giving up so much time for us when he had so much on his plate to deal with.