"Catching The Last Train To Twickenham" - Steve Hackett in conversation about his new album and other projects. Interview conducted by Alan Hewitt at Steve's home on Saturday 13th June 2009. Photographs: Alan Hewitt/Hackettsongs.com/Joanna Lehmann.

It does seem like Groundhog Day at the moment. Here we are, speaking to Steve who was one of the first two members of the band kind enough to grant us interviews back in the heady days of 1988! Things have moved on considerably since then and here we are talking to Steve about Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth his new album: his nineteenth to date - and Anthony Phillips features on it too - confused? Good , so am I but you knew that already, didn’t you, folks?!

I arrived just in time to witness Steve checking a few things out on a sitar and after a few minutes waiting while he gently probed his instrument(!) we got down to the interview….

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"Have sitar, will travel"
Pic: A Hewitt

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TWR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, Steve. Before we go on to the new album obviously, people have asked a lot at the moment about the Genesis remastered live albums. I gather they are all finished now according to Nick…

SH: You mean the live ones? Have you heard any? I haven’t even spoken to Nick Davis about those yet, I’ve been so bloody busy that I haven’t had a chance to say what a fine job I feel he did on those. Unfortunately of course, it will be released at the same time as my album! (laughs) the same sort of time frame as ever. I don’t think I have ever released an album that hasn’t clashed with something by Genesis either Pete has released something or Mike or Phil with a prodigiously productive band like that even in retrospect it’s impossible to not be on, not necessarily a collision course but perhaps two halves of the same coin in a way except that I love that stuff but that is a glorious retrospective. Whereas when people have been talking about reformations to me recently and I have had to say that I am far too busy with my own stuff and obviously I am working with guys like Nick Beggs and Gary (O’Toole) who make a terrific rhythm section.

Also I will be working with Dik Cadbury again for some shows, we don’t know how many yet but I am looking forward to playing in Las Palmas with him. So you are asking me specifically about the Genesis stuff? I think there are no surprises, everyone knows the material backwards but what is re-affirmed is what great performances a lot of them were. Supper’s Ready for instance, that is really good. I can’t remember what gig features what material because I know that the Watcher Of The Skies version that was on the Rainbow show seems to have been replaced by something else. To be honest, I can’t remember what’s on it because obviously to the fans that might be a priority but to my mind because life has been so busy I couldn’t swear that I could tell you where everything comes from. I don’t have my eye on the Genesis ball in that way. I do in another way where there is a team which is doing the occasional thing that Genesis didn’t do live like Blood On The Rooftops, obviously. That was a Genesis tune on record which wasn’t responded to well at the time because no one was able to play that sort of thing live at the time.

Let’s put it this way; acoustic nylon guitar live, at that time wasn’t really an option for a band that were playing stadiums. In the same way that acoustic piano for a band playing live in the Seventies wasn’t an option until the technology caught up with the dreams. So, these days of course there is no reason why anyone can’t go out and make the sound of a real steam piano.

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Ben Fenner
Pic: A Hewitt

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Steve Burton
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TWR: The problem I have is, you know that I am a fan myself, have been for over thirty years, but I am not unrealistic and some of the expectations from the fans as to what these recordings will actually be. …Fundamentally, if they are the same albums as they were done originally but done in the same way as the studio albums were done, then I will be happy…

SH: But there is also live stuff such as the Rainbow and the Shrine in LA. There is additional material that I find at least as interesting if not more so because I remember being at certain shows that were milestones for the band. The Rainbow show, the first one we did (9th February 1973) was memorable in terms of Richard MacPhail after the gig, saying to us, Richard was mixing the gigs and he said; ’from the opening strains of the Mellotron somebody in the audience shouted out Genesis are the best band in the world! And Richard said, at that point you all were. It might sound like a strange thing but when you are playing on stage and whatever someone shouts out you haven’t really got time to take on board what they are saying because you are too busy doing it. But at that time the band was still in many ways struggling. This is well before the stadiums and it was in 1973 and it was before we caught alight in America and the band were not an international act at that point. Although by the time it happened and the world started to embrace the dream that was Genesis it was already a very fully formed mythology and plenty of tunes and plenty of strong ideas that found favour.

TWR: To put it in a nutshell, because I don’t want to dwell too much on Genesis. The band have been going through all the old soundboard and mixing desk tapes and may have found something slightly different…?

SH: I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you and it may well be that Carol (Willis, the band’s PA) has said ’Oh, there’s going to be a DVD of such and such’ and I will be thinking there are a zillion things I am thinking of at the moment and so I am afraid I can’t throw any more light on it. I will let you know next time I get to speak to Carol. They sound really good. I have suggested one or two things that could be changed in the mix and one or two things I would change but in the main they sound very good.

TWR: Right, moving swiftly on through the ages, to the main purpose of today’s interrogation, the alleged new Steve Hackett album….? So, give us the low down on the new Steve Hackett album….

SH: Explain yourself! Explain yourself soldier, damn your eyes! (Laughs) Write an essay on a golf ball in less than a hundred words! (laughs) Interesting the things they throw at you in school isn’t it? Yeah, golf balls in particular! (laughs) I want you all to write an essay on a chair, it can be any kind of chair (laughs) as long as it’s not a Rennie Macintosh or a Chippendale because my dear grandmother died in one (laughs) And if I catch any boys writing on one they will be severely flogged! (laughs)

TWR: Please be serious, this is turning into an Anthony Phillips interview - him and his bloody Pythonisms! (laughs)

SH: I have worked with Anthony as you know, now that you have got on to the subject Ant is on two of the tracks you have heard this very day. He is on Emerald And Ash and he is also on (All The) Sleepers (Send Their Dreams). He hasn’t heard them yet. I am hoping to steer him towards a pizza parlour and play them to him at some point.

TWR: I think the first thing to do is clarify some things. We know that without going into too much detail; that you have had a lot of legal hassles recently. How has that actually affected or delayed the production of this album?

SH: Well, it has slowed down the writing and recording and release date of this album. Nonetheless, I think that it colours it in a way because I suspect that when you have to fight harder for it, it becomes more personal and I will use an American word: “meaningful”…

TWR: So given the delays and everything else, when did you actually start work proper on the project that we now know will be the new Steve Hackett album, because obviously there is another project which has been delayed for other reasons….

SH: It has been about… I am going to guess, it has been about eight months that’s not bad. It was my second attempt…my THIRD attempt actually to finish an album because of various reasons which I can’t go into. Basically I realised that I had a short window of opportunity to write and record very much on the run this album that probably has more electric guitar on it than any other album that I have done…

TWR: It certainly is the most electric guitar heavy album since Darktown…

SH: I think it is MORE guitar heavy since then. I think since I did Tribute which was an album that featured at least six pieces of Bach in a way that got the acoustic … I scratched that itch and I thought it was time to be that hooligan again (laughs). The thing about the electric guitar … I started buying electric guitar tracks when I was about nine years old which was a very long time ago as I am now… (laughs). Let’s just say it was fifty years ago that I started buying singles and in those days I used to buy electric guitar records usually with the thought that I am buying this because it is the most exciting sound around but the sound still isn’t right and I was looking for something even more exciting than The Shadows.

TWR: It really wasn’t until The Stones did I Wanna Be Your Man and the electric guitar solo blazed; Brian Jones’ bottleneck solo just blazed on that for me and it was just like seeing him ride a Harley Davidson for the first time the thrill was just monumental. It was just the most fully electric sound I had ever heard at that point. Had my record collection perhaps been full of the black artists that inspired them I would have realised that Little Walter was ripping away since 1954 but it took a little time to get exposed to some of those great singers and players.

TWR: Speaking of people who were ripping away, before you give us a precis of the album, track by track, you have got a few new players this time round so tell us about who they are and what they done and when they dunnit…

SH: That’s a very good idea. Well, there’s Chris Squire who is on a couple of tracks on bass. There’s Nick Beggs who shares bass chores with Chris on one of the tracks. The first track; Fire On The Moon features Chris on bass. The second track; Nomads has got both Chris and Nick playing together. We are talking about other players specifically here? Obviously Roger (King) is all over it as he has both recorded, engineered, mixed and played on it and written a lot of it. Often he made the tea (laughs) His tea making isn’t quite as good as mine you know, for a master keyboard player he doesn’t make a bad cup of tea but he refuses to put sugar in it for me he’s probably trying to keep me alive longer that way! (Laughs)

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Rob Townsend
Pic: A Hewitt
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Gary O'Toole
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Steve with Joanna Lehmann
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We’ve got my brother, John on Last Train To Istanbul, we’ve got Rob (Townsend) playing soprano sax. We’ve got Ferenc Kovacs (from Djabe) he is on violin. We’ve got Christine Townsend on violin and viola and Dick Driver on double bass. We’ve got some girl singers on it; Manda Lehmann and Jo Lehmann and we’ve got Lauren King (Roger’s daughter) so we have got three girl singers who sing harmonies and do the twin lead thing on the chorus of Emerald And Ash. Who have I left out? Probably squillions of people but I am not looking at my crib sheet at the moment.

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"Don't tell Voiceprint I'm moonlighting!
Pic: A Hewitt

TWR: I suppose for Genesis fans the most intriguing person as you mentioned in the preamble is Mr Phillips on tuned warthog and whatever…

SH: There we are, that’s a thing I printed at the top of the page when I was doing the blurb recently… “Anthony Phillips on twelve string”

TWR: It is a fair assemblage of talent and a lot of people have asked in particular about how you got Ant, Nick (Beggs) and Chris involved in the album…?

SH: I had to sleep with them all of course! (laughs) I had to sleep with them all for several nights and I’m so sore! (laughs) But it was worth it! You’ve got to get ahead haven’t you? (laughs) It has been a hard life which is why I have had to pour cold water on it for so many years (laughs).

TWR: People are naturally curious about the likes of Nick, were you familiar with his work before you got him involved?

SH: Yes I was. The thing about Nick is although people think of him as a reformed pop star if I can use that word mentioning no names with The Goo but he has worked with so many different people who have worked in so many different areas of music. From John Paul Jones which tells you that he is a bass player’s bass player; also a great Stick player. He is immensely nice and incredibly clever

TWR: What impressed me was when he told me that he had gone away and learned all the bass parts for the tour before he even set foot in the rehearsal room so that he didn’t hold anybody up…

SH: He did. The lovely thing was he was sending me stuff to listen to on the Internet and to play back on computer and it was a bit like in each case he had found the bass parts or the bass sounds that everyone had used on the original and had found the exact sound and was doing the same mixes but with the bass much louder and he had doubled it and he had been absolutely spot on. It was marvellous he basically wrote all the parts out, learned them all and he was spot on by the time we got to rehearse together.

TWR: He strikes me as being very similar to Chris Squire in as much as he is a very musical bass player, he isn’t prepared to sit back and let the bass underpin everything but rather is prepared to go out and say, the bass can actually speak…

SH: He is a fabulous lead player as well as a bass player which means that when he is playing the Stick it leaves me wondering how the hell did he do that? Which is marvellous of course. I met him, seriously now. A few years back when he was working with Belinda Carlisle and he was the MD of Belinda Carlisle’s band and I met him when I was signed to EMI for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So I was playing the occasional acoustic piece at that time in front of an audience made up entirely of people from EMI. They had hired a hotel, I think it was in Birmingham. They had hired this sort of ballroom and I met all sorts of interesting people at the time and Nick was one of the and the other one was The Sky At Night presenter… Patrick Moore. I spoke to Patrick Moore at length and I got to meet Nigel Kennedy and the marvellous thing was and the vast amount of the artists were all playing in front of the company and they were saying; EMI were saying basically these are the acts we are going to give priority to in the forthcoming year and they did. EMI had immense power at that time and so something that could have been quite depressing; lets’ get together and play in front of the reps. It wasn’t like that at all; it was very buzzy and the atmosphere was really charged and there were a lot of people who had a lot of respect for each other and people that were immensely interesting so it was over the course of a weekend I think and that’s how I got to meet Nick. He said “hello” to me first of all; he said; ’Hi, I’m Nick Beggs, I’ve always liked your stuff and it’s very nice to meet you and I’m with Belinda’s band…’ And he was terrific he does it all with such joy and that is the thing he communicates something that is quite rare live I think. He’s so energetic so that was really great and it was lovely to meet him.
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"Roger, how does this one go?"

Then we spent a little bit of time together and he played me some stuff he had recorded, mainly on the Stick I think and I thought it was tremendous and I thought this guy is obviously tremendously creative and he will probably spend the rest of his life trying to prove to people that he is not just an Eighties pop star but he is a first class player and a bass player’s bass player. I have heard this from a lot of guys who have worked with him. He has been absolutely wonderful to me with this album. He did it all for love, there was no … no money exchanged hands and I said to him; ’I owe you at least a whole album for this somewhere down the line’. we have been pals since the word go.

When we were about to do these dates in Italy in March 2009, Ben Fenner said to me; ’have you considered Nick Beggs?’ and I said; ’Funnily enough he… we had spent time together so many years ago and he had wanted to do something with me and I didn’t really have anything for him’ so it had all gone on the back burner and I thought well maybe he would like to do this? He said ’yeah I’ll do it’ straight away and he has been a lot of fun to work with. He has put a smile on everyone’s face. He’s very good value.

It was lovely working with Chris Squire as well in another way. You see Chris is also someone who works on enthusiasm and loves music. He makes no secret of the fact that he likes a drink but he is great fun to spend time with. He is a great player; very melodic. When you are working with either of them there is something about it when you are working with people who happen to play the bass but who are really lead players who happen to play with bigger strings than you do. They know each other and I love them both dearly and I hope to get to work with Chris more in the future.

The other people who are on the album who you were asking about weren’t you…?

TWR: I suppose the one who is going to throw the most speculation out is… Anthony Phillips…

SH: Ant Phillips. Let me tell you about Ant. I had been trying to get Ant to play on a track I had done for an unreleased album that I have at the moment; the one that is in litigious difficulties shall we say - because it is an unfinished album. At the time he didn’t quite do that and over the course of a couple of years or so he and I would get together for the odd soiree and I think on the day that he came in and recorded he said; ’Oh I thought we were just going to rehearse this?’ And I said; ’Well, I’ve got somebody here if you want to put something down’ and I said; ’Look, the best thing is if I go out of the room because the last thing you need is another guitarist breathing down your neck while you are doing this’. And he said; ’that’s a good idea’ and he recorded this chorus on Emeralds And Ash and I said; ‘look this one’s not in a guitar friendly key; it’s in B flat’ and he immediately said; ’well, what I’ll do is I will tune down a tone which means that when I am playing … I am trying to work this out… when I am playing C it will be B flat and I’m not even sure if that’s right… It must have been more than a tone. Anyway, whatever it was, he tuned down … I can’t work it out! (laughs) So B flat he was playing C and I said; ’that sounds good’ even though I play twelve string the lovely thing is the twelve string sounds great when somebody else is playing it but when I am playing it, it’s such hard work (laughs) although I love it, I can’t be objective and I said; ’but that sounds great’ and he said; ’it’s because it’s open strings’ he had tuned down to C and the resonance of it was lovely.

So, he went and did that track and he said; ’come and have a listen’ so I came down from upstairs and I said; ’well it sounds great; it sounds lovely’ he had recorded two tracks of twelve string and I already had two tracks of electric that were arpeggiated and for the train spotters out there it was put through a rotary effect; a simulation of a Lesley cabinet and I had done my part in octaves. So, what sounds like one glorious guitar is about four and it sounded so nice on that chorus that I said to Roger; ’why don’t we create some extra bars of that so that we have that guitar feature happening on its own’ And it really did have that early Genesis sound and Roger also put an organ part with the repeat of the same pattern and it really had…

When I say this, it’s funny because I have often felt threatened when people have said; ’Oh, that sounds like Genesis’ Oh God, I’ve been trying so hard to do something different but with that I felt; it’s twelve string it’s gonna sound like Genesis because multi layered twelve strings IS early Genesis! I think Ant and Mike were the proponents of that. It wasn’t as if I was trying for an early Genesis feel, it just happened naturally. I just wanted to get the two of us working on something together and see whether it could happen. I remember bumping into Ant years ago on a bridge over the Thames I was probably on my way to the Hungarian Cultural Centre for some Jazz stuff and I saw Anthony and he said ’Hello’ and I said to him; ’You know, Ant I think if we’d been in the band together at the same time there would have been no problems’ and he laughed at that and years later here we are doing something whereby I gave him the space to do what he thought was right for this thing.

You see, this is the way Genesis used to be; Pete didn’t want anyone there when he was doing vocals now I understand that totally. Really you don’t need an audience, you are trying to connect with the music, and Ant played beautifully and I am not just saying that because it is politically expedient for me to do so, because he happens to be on the album. He played and it was GORGEOUS, just wonderful and it is one of my, if not the favourite moments on the album. In a way it is the honest simplicity of the sound of the twelve string that reminds me of, and this might sound strange; the early Marianne Faithful tracks that I absolutely loved; Come And Stay With Me for instance, that song and the twelve string work on that is just gorgeous. She used to go out with a couple of twelve string players and I never ever saw that show but my pal Jock Greenaway did and he said; ’she had two twelve string players’ and that would have sounded like early Genesis with an angel on vocals, the songbird that she was at that time before she became Marlene Dietrich on vocals (laughs) the sound of that and the early arrangements on her early hits were absolutely beautiful.

So I am coming back to this one track; Emerald And Ash the sound of that on that chorus of these two guitarists just doing what’s right for the song gives it that bit of gold dust in a way. Every bit of that is a bit of gold, so for me when people say to me that this music gets to me and makes me feel like the sun has just come out, that moment on that song for me the sunshine has arrived and it was a sunny day when he recorded that and he said; ’this is nice’ recording in my living room. Because there’s a thing about early Genesis, they didn’t want to record in studios; anywhere but. They wanted to record in gardens, sheds (laughs) you name it. As long as it wasn’t a studio so this was perfect for him, the home grown setting.

Well, his own set up is exactly that anyway!

This is an album that was done in the living room. In fact I think it was done in a series of people’s living rooms (laughs) but in the main it was done in here. The funny thing is, it has made the album sound so great. It gives it a different dynamic; it gives you the honesty of thinking this isn’t going to be received in a grand studio, heard in 3D wrap-around whatever . It is going to be heard in people’s living rooms so it was designed in living rooms to be heard in living rooms if not in bedrooms, kitchens; parlours where ere ye listen but everywhere but in a studio so I think that coloured it and made it sound bigger because we had to work harder. When you’ve got something coming back at you in glorious Technicolor because music is colour to me. It has been a bloody hard road getting there but the light is at the end of the tunnel which brings me to the title of the album which is Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth.

Let’s see… the other tracks; there’s Fire On The Moon, Nomads, which really is a homage to Flamenco and the gypsies and the Spanish guitar. Then we have got the electric guitar taking it on to another level and I think the drumming on it is phenomenal. Roger has done all the drumming and Gary is not on those apart from the special edition which will have real drumming on it. They are all programmed, you probably didn’t realise that! They are absolutely stomping, the drums on this. Don’t get me wrong, Gary is a fabulous drummer but so is Roger. It’s a bit like Chris is a fabulous bass player but so is Nick. So, I have been spoiled for choice on this.

The fact that I was, as you know, forced to record this at home on a shoestring has not affected its quality one jot. I think quite the opposite. I don’t really know how to credit the drums but just to have drums and drum programming doesn’t really say it because that’s not the way we’ve gone. They are programmed on Fire On The Moon but I think they were Simon Phillips’ samples in the first place on that. Of course, we worked with Simon on the unreleased album that we can’t release and I re-recorded Fire On The Moon for anyone who wants to sue me, I re-recorded Fire On The Moon, I re-recorded every note including the same guitar solo note for note whereas I did it with a Marshall in the studio. I recorded it with a simulation of an amp roaring but the amp that was used is the size of a Walkman.

Nomads has all of that and all of that incredible Flamenco hand clapping stomps and castanets is all programmed. Some of the percussion is on the guitar so you have got multi layered nylons on that.

TWR: All credit to Roger then, he is obviously in the same mould as Nick Magnus. I would never have known that that was programmed…!


SH: I don’t even know if a drummer would know. I remember Chester, funnily enough on the album that got called Feedback ’86. Nick Magnus was playing drums or programmes with sticks from an octopad and Chester said to me; ’Who’s the drummer?’ So that was a testament to his ability at that time. I think this album is a testament to Roger’s ability where on Nomads for instance, you have got two drummers either side and that is not the only track where you have got two drummers playing at once. You have got two drummers in stereo and at least one case where we have got on Ghost In The Glass we have got Nick Beggs’ fretless bass two takes either side of the stereo wide which is against all the perceived wisdom. It was something that Nick suggested. So we had that.

Emerald And Ash, I have talked about, haven’t I? Tubehead, is really based on myself on Roger. You remember you bought me that book about the railways, the writer talked about not wanting to be perceived as a total tube head in other words someone who was addicted to the subway and I felt in a way, another interpretation of Tubehead was somebody who could be addicted to tubes, valves and Marshall amps and I am the big fan of that so in a way that was what I was talking about. Something that is very guitar-y

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“Err… Steve, how does this one go?!”
Pic: A Hewitt

TWR: I obviously thought that it was something to do with the railways because the analogy was there…

SH: There is a rail theme that is going through that. There is a picture on the front of me walking through steam from a literal steam train; driven by Neil Marshal who played drums in John’s band and also works in several Progressive bands and also teaches at Charterhouse. A fine musician himself.

The next track which is called Sleepers that came from a text… I haven’t spoken about who did the lyrics have I? For the first time here we are talking about Sleepers and Nick Clabburn sent me a text while he was in Italy and he was with a bunch of people and he was up early and they were all still asleep and he sent me a text which said… ’all the sleepers send you their dreams’ which was wonderfully poetic and I thought I had got to include that so the whole song was built around that idea. A track that went through lots of changes of texture and tempo and sentiment. It is an entire dreamscape, several dreamscapes in fact lyrically. Some of it refers to dreams I’ve had, some of it refers to dreams Jo has had as we have written the lyric together. So much of what I have done I have written with Roger and with Jo and I am yet to work out how the credits are going to run. So Sleepers is, I think, a combination of four different writers.

TWR: I suppose once again you could say that there is a railway analogy there, of course, railway sleepers…

SH: Of course. Then Ghost In The Glass …. Yes Sleepers, sorry the end of Emerald And Ash is written with myself and John and Roger did a bit at the end there. Tubehead was another combined thing and Sleepers again I think was the three of us or perhaps the two of us, I’ll have to talk to Roger about that, I’m not sure. Ghost In The Glass was very much myself and Roger and it was his suggested title for something and I thought it was a nice title. He said; ’I don’t know what it means’ maybe it’s the alliteration of it and then when we talked more about it we came to the conclusion that maybe what it meant was looking in the mirror and seeing something else and we have something in the sleeve notes about potentially the ghosts of the past or the ghosts of the future. Essentially it is a Jazz piece and what people used to call “Fusion” a melody that I think you would normally hear played on the sax but here it is played on the guitar its where I think Jazz becomes soulful for me… (hums the tune) and it’s almost an aspect of Glen Miller in there so there is a Glen Miller influence. There’s an influence of Gary Husband who I had worked with a few days earlier. And the influence of listening to a lot of Jazz and just listening to the string arrangements. There are times when Jazz has got the feeling of night clubs but there are certain moments when you see a blue sky in it and that’s where I see a blue sky in it.

TWR: This album is very much a continuation of the last… three rock albums. It’s you in miniature. Not quite thirteen bungalows, each with a different frontage which is how I described To Watch The Storms but a continuation of that idea, you have continued to mix and match things. It’s a portrait of you; you are not a one-dimensional thinker. Most people have more than one dimension to them but they don’t always show it but your music always does reflect the fact that you are a bit of this, you’re a bit of that…

SH: Well, the writers in rock that I have really admired, obviously Lennon and McCartney obviously if you have half an ear for music you are aware that they brought something very special to music. Actually all of them, it’s not fair to mention them in probably every interview its probably not fair not to mention Harrison and George Martin and whatever Ringo brought to it, frankly it’s….

TWR: You always seem to have surrounded yourself with players who are not prepared to… like Nick who said that he wasn’t prepared to be the one that held everybody back and he wanted to be in there from the get go and contribute.

SH: when you think about… when I think about Jimmy Webb of course, which was one of Genesis’ favourite writers and Richard Harris said about him having recorded an album which included the original version of Macarthur Park and he said; ’ this guy is like a one man Beatles’ and that in a way was always where you should aim to be as fluent and conversant in all these different styles of music even if you don’t understand them. Like in any language you start to understand it by practicing it and your own version of it and I have no musical theory it has all been done on the run and every now and then I will learn the proper name of the chord that I have been playing all my life (laughs) and that’s a flattened fifth and that’s a ninth. I still get them mixed up. I can do you an F sharp minor seventh but I am digressing…

TWR: Still Waters… is that perhaps a tribute to the late great Muddy Waters…?

SH: Well, I wasn’t thinking it was a tribute to Muddy Waters I think lets put it this way, by all means include Muddy Waters in there but don’t forget the great guys that he worked with. Don’t forget Howlin’ Wolf and the great guys he worked with. You know, without that there would perhaps be no Chuck Berry, there would be no Rolling Stones, there would be no Beatles. So, the torch seems to have been handed on. Blues for me is all one song whether it is fast or slow. In the limitation of those notes and in the limitation of the chords is the beauty of it because anyone can sit in on a blues even if you get a chord wrong, it isn’t the end of the world. In any blues jam you are going to hear some howlers and it didn’t really matter. It really is spontaneous music. I think it is more spontaneous than Jazz unless you are talking about Jazz at its most atonal.

TWR: That’s why blues is responsible for Rock 'n Roll because it allows anything to come into it; it is INCLUSIVE rather than exclusive….

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Steve and Jo
Pic: A Hewitt
SH: Jo (Lehmann) actually wrote the verses of that and they are very chauvinist but she said; ’I wrote it from the point of view of you writing a blues tune and the sort of things you would say yourself’. Because she knew I was fascinated with New Orleans and my visits there and she based it around that. The lyric is largely hers and the chorus I think we wrote together and it is strange that she was able to write it from the point of view of a bloke who is supposed to be a rampant bull really (laughs) he’s shafting everyone in sight, the guy in this song but that’s really because she has understood the nature of… Blues is all raw sex, it’s not about love. It’s either about relationships gone wrong … my woman done left me, its either the cry in that way or it’s the cry in the other way… the gimme, gimme, gimme aspect. That’s the thing about the blues its honesty; its immediate excitement yeah, as the forerunner of Rock as you said. So it is all of those things and we have girls on the chorus so we have three girls on the chorus. It’s mainly Jo’s sister; Manda’s voice that is predominant. I am singing as well so we have almost got a choir on the chorus. A little bit of a Gospel vibe to it…? A little bit of a Gospel vibe to it yeah, I’m glad you mentioned Gospel because Gospel and Blues don’t often go together but when they do you are there and it’s a big beautiful thing. Seeing Paul Butterfield’s band this mixed race band playing and oh my God! So I am always looking for that same feeling that I got in 1966.
Now I don’t know whether I can do that to people or not; all I know is that the guitar is all out on it and I took the attitude that the best blues has humour in it and you get that from Buddy Guy who would sometimes stand there on stage and play one note and stare at everyone and when he gets up there with The Stones and you think that Keith doesn’t give a shit about what he’s playing. When you watch Buddy Guy (laughs) it’s like just the thrill of getting up there on stage and just playing one note and not looking at the guitar all night (laughs) and going ’yeah, you guys are playing it for laughs, but watch ME!’ Talking about blues heroes and the wonderful tunes of Willie Dixon the fabulous harmonica playing of Sonny Boy Williamson, the fabulous playing of Paul Butterfield of course. The marvellous blues guitar playing of Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop and I noticed in the most recent Dylan interview that I read he said that he really misses Mike Bloomfield, now Mike Bloomfield was in Dylan’s band at the time of Highway 61 and he had such energy, it’s fabulous and it was interesting that he was a foil for Dylan and I think his band just sounded great at a time when it all fell into place for Dylan and of course he misses that; he knows that it was special. I didn’t realise what a fan of Neil Young Dylan was. Dylan thinks the world of Neil Young and goes along and wants to see Young’s old bedroom and the railway tracks he walked along…

TWR: So we go from the blues to another travelogue, the Orient…

SH: Last Train To Istanbul. Now, I have never been to Turkey but when I was in Sarajevo it was the second time I heard tantalisingly good Turkish music. It was Turkish orchestral music that I head in each case where it is so busy that you can’t tell what’s going on. it’s the whirling dervishes, its all the improv you could want and all the form you could want and the swoops on the strings and there’s one phrase on this; it’s the string answer with flute on the first line of the third verse that has got entirely that feel (hums the tune) that you have got a flute fast phrase, a cadenza over that and you get all that sort of trickling thing and the strings are bending as well and it’s a whole harem of delights, that’s how I see it.

TWR: It’s a continuation of The Silk Road, it’s a vision of another persona; another place; another time. It’s all of those things…

SH: It’s all those things. It’s Omar Khayam whether he was legit or not. It’s glimpses of those things. It’s the minarets I saw at Sarajevo. Sarajevo was fascinating because you have got the church, the synagogue and the mosque all practically in the same town square facing each other and they had gotten on for hundreds of years fine until the recent time of troubles and if it can happen there, then it can happen here! If you look to history there is all of that and it was also the place that embraced the Jews escaping from persecution in Spain in the fourteenth century. I have gone there and of course I wouldn’t have been to Sarajevo had it not been for playing there with Djabe. It was actually a very good Djabe gig that very nearly didn’t happen. We wondered if the whole thing was going to come off because of certain difficulties and it actually turned out to be a really good gig. A really responsive crowd.

I encountered a lot of things; a guy who was from Iran a man giving a concert from the land where music is banned! Now, if this isn’t important; I don’t know what is. Music really has been my passport to the world and it has led me to areas where you start off with this parochial thinking that I had as a kid in Pimlico and at the time I was the kid that didn’t want to go on the school journeys because, because, because… and yet I was led because of music and I have always danced to music’s tune and it led me to all sorts of places and it is still leading me to exotic places..

TWR: If it is doing that for you, I think to a certain extent it is doing it even more for your audience because you take them in their minds to places that they may NEVER see, they may never want to visit or may never be able to visit.

SH: There may be some Turkish gigs coming up, they may be offered which is very interesting that that would follow from having done that. It’s a little like me doing the Virgin & The Gypsy before I read the book but then I have always done things arse about face! (laughs) That’s me. I didn’t want to read the book and be influenced by it. I just wanted to write the song. Maybe the ghost of the book entered the song because the world ”marigold”comes up and the interesting thing about Lawrence was … excuse my butterfly mind, that because he painted he also used words that were rich in colour as well so one of the better tunes that I have written.

TWR: So, the album is essentially finished. Obviously you have mentioned that there may be a special edition that may include some live stuff…

SH: Yes, that’s right. I have got some live stuff and some extra stuff that I have done with Djabe and other things that I have done with them, anklung stuff that you will see on the DVD of that CD I gave you. That is wonderful, they are like wooden bells and it goes down so well with the audience because it is almost like back to the roots it is practically like the bone orchestra (laughs). I hope it will be out in September and I’ve got a tour coming up.. Well I have shows all the time at the moment and they are sort of sporadic but it sort of hots up in July with the second Italian Job in July.

TWR: Will we actually see much of the new album in the show because I know you mentioned the difficulties of playing the stuff from Wild Orchids in the live context…

SH: Well we will have to rehearse with the team and it all depends on the amount of time that I can spend in rehearsal with everybody. That depends but we have a set that works and there are some additions and subtractions that I would like to make and whether they are all ideally formed or not I don’t know. Sometimes you might think the most unlikely things are possible like Last Train To Istanbul. I would be thinking how the bloody hell can you do that? You’ve got a whole harem of sounds how can you do that? And that is precisely the kind of track that might work because essentially it is based on the idea of improvisation, I had to go for sure fire bets for the recent Italian shows because at that time we had to rehearse everyone very quickly and come to some very quick conclusions. It might be that I can incoprorate some of this stuff but you have got to suck it and see what works. I have never worked on, and I don’t think Genesis ever worked on stuff that was easy to do it was always a struggle. In those days the music of that time the music grew up in rehearsal rooms.

And there we leave this interesting look behind the scenes of Steve’s new album. Once again, my thanks to both Steve and Joanna for giving up so much of their time when they had so much on their plates. I hope you find the end result interesting.