“Revealing The Shrouded Horizon” - Steve Hackett in conversation about his new album and current activities. Interview conducted at Steve’s home by Alan Hewitt on 13th August 2011. Photographs: Alan Hewitt/Hackett’s Attic.
TWR: So Steve, we are here to talk about your new album, when did you start working on it…?
|S H: Oh God, I started it much earlier, normal work on an album starts about a year before it is released but this one started much earlier because of other projects that followed it. I was in the middle of the time of troubles (laughs) and I recorded this stuff then put it to one side. There was a whole album and then I started plundering bits of it for this project I was working on with Chris Squire (see interview in previous edition) and so it has been backwards and forwards. Now, Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth was my THIRD attempt at doing an album so its predecessor was out and that probably was about a year after I had started work on it but because there have been so many other events that have gone on around it and so you can’t really say when this album began it has been more a series of accumulated canvasses if you like which I have been working on simultaneously and so there is a painting over there and there’s one over there and a buried easel over there (laughs). It has been a lot of archaeology and a lot of dusting off and sprucing up. Yeah, there has been a lot of stuff surrounding it so it has had along history.|
TWR: Even by your standards it has had a long evolution.
S H: Yes it has, and there is a special edition which brings it up to nearly ninety minutes long. The standard edition is nearly an hour and with the extra stuff it comes up not far short of ninety minutes which is what we used to call in old speak a double album (laughs). So I have been a busy boy.
TWR: You certainly have! It’s sometimes hard to think of the first question but this time round where did the title come from because it is such a stunning one?
S H: Ah, well, again that had been round the houses a bit and I think I was looking in a yachting magazine and I don’t normally read yachting magazines, I don’t own a yacht (laughs) but it is one of those sort of Horse & Hound moments where I will read that because no one will expect me to do that and it will throw up something and it was a different kind of language, the language of the sea so it wasn’t a direct lift, it was an altered title one that we decided to work on in our own way and we kicked it around a LOT, backwards and forwards but I am glad you like the title.
TWR: A lot of people have said that the title reminds them of Spectral Mornings and then with the artwork, is that a painting or a photograph?
S H: It’s a photograph, and it is something that Harry Pearce did when he was in Bali now he has actually written a little bit of blurb about this which we are in the process of sticking up on the web site so he can tell you his impressions of the place. It was very early in the morning apparently, just as the light was coming up and also I gather it was very cold which was something I wasn’t aware of (laughs) looking at it you don’t know that and it is intriguing and it was a temple apparently but I know very little about it. He had done a whole bunch of shots with this new camera of his and we thought it was an amazing picture and already reaction to it seems to be very strong.
The music is, I like to think, rich and varied. I am having a hard time describing this album. Normally I can come up with a few quotes. I think it is densely packed more so than usual. There is a lot of music on it and it varies. I think it might be better in some ways if someone hears This Island Earth in isolation, the last track. That was originally going to be the first track because it was very long, it was an opus type length. It is pretty long and with the idea of having that first there was the odd comment “oh God, people are going to have to wade through that before the you hear the rest of it” you know, cant you have a few hors d’oeuvres before the main course? (laughs). It’s not that precious to me you know, the lining up of songs on an album. Whatever becomes sacred in memory cannot be like that when you are putting it together it’s like a football that has been passed from player to player. The input of writer to writer, where people are frank with their views, “I think that’s a terrible idea!” (laughs) and someone else will think it’s a great idea and if you can get a consensus that’s great. At the end of the day I like to think that I am still sufficiently bloody minded that if I believe in something I will push it through anyway at the end of the day I have got the power of veto at the very least. I can’t begin to describe this album, I really can’t it is so personal that I couldn’t possibly say, here’s a commercial product. So for the first time ever I am not going to say “Here it is guys, truly wonderful and one size fits all and hit’s the parts other beers don’t”. I am not going to say that, I am going to say that I have lived each of these songs as they have been put together and now each of them seem like a separate lifetime of mine though I stand back from them and see them as exhibits in a museum.
TWR: Like an audio diary perhaps?
S H: Yeah, that is a very good way of putting it. I was playing it to my pal Peter Pallow, the guy who taught me history at school and he became a DJ and he is Mr Hungarian Jazz and he said “you’re basically a romantic, aren’t you?” and here’s me thinking I have produced a rock album! Maybe that’s because of the lyrics, there are a fair amount of love songs on it not all of the variety of I love you but on the subject of , something I might have skirted in previous years., this repressed Englishman vibe thing (laughs). It does deal with relationships, it doesn’t skirt them and there is the odd character portrait and one of them in particular has been through an awful lot of titles and I think the last title we came up with was Looking For Fantasy, sorry to be long-winded. The full chorus is “she’s only looking for fantasy” and I have played that to a few people and already they are asking who is it about? It really is a composite of a lot of girls and women who are part flower child, and its all lost innocence and a part reflection on a gentler world That one is one of the best melodies and the best lyrics and it doesn’t happen until much later in the album.
People are going to laugh at me when I say that I had a dream where Jimi Hendrix was playing this melody but he WAS (Laughs) and he was singing a song which was really remorseful, more like The Wind Cries Mary than anything else and that oh, I wish I hadn’t topped myself type vibe, so the melody is his and the chorus I came up with in a moment where I was very relaxed and I feel that it really wrote itself and then the idea of the characterisation came along and I thought it could be that person and it could be that person. It’s about so many people and what they believed in and what they followed and what they were after and they were always looking for something that they were never quite going to find. Whether it was a film star or whether they were going to subscribe to the Reverend Sun Moon, whether it was drugs, whether it was this or that. Whatever the level of fantasy was and there’s even a bit in there where my mother was talking about years ago when the Kennedys were in London and they drove through King’s Road in an open topped car sitting up on the… hood as they call it, the boot over here and my mother said “oh they looked wonderful, he was tanned and everything..” And I remember another event, another time in King’s Road where my mother was crossing the road and Jimi Hendrix stopped and he took his hat off to here and she was still a very pretty girl, blond, dolly bird, mini skirt (laughs) this is my mum I am talking about here! (laughs)
TWR: Some things haven’t changed …
S H: Yeah, some things haven’t changed, the skirt has probably got shorter! And I kind of put the two things together and she was watching the Kennedy’s and she swears that Jack gives her the eye and all that so my mother recognised herself in that, slightly altered, there is a lot of artistic licence. It is a very nostalgic piece but it has got a lot of love in it for all those girls that I knew or heard about a kind of lost generation of flower girls. That kind of philosophy was never going to sustain itself but it was sweet for a time where we thought that love and peace might reign forever and change the world and all those ideas that preceded the recent riots that we are experiencing but we were young and idealistic as if everyone, including The Beatles thought that would be a very good idea in your private life to help old ladies across the road, whether they want you to or not! (laughs). So it was just one of those songs.
TWR: Well, before we go on to try and talk about some more of the tracks, who has been involved in the album with you?
|S H: The band, that is Roger King, Nick Beggs, Rob Townsend, Gary O’Toole, Amanda Lehmann, I have written things with Jo as well and written things with Roger we’ve pasted it together. There’s also Chris Squire and Simon Phillips and there’s also the string players; Dick Driver, Richard Stewart, and Christine Townsend and I may have left several hundred people out (laughs) but that is the core of it along with the three women in a bedroom in 1953 which became the samples for the Mellotron, we had some Chamberlain samples, sounds form everywhere. We had thousands of people on the album its just that these are the ones I mentioned which appeared in real time but thousands of them were in the dream of it. When I say the album is densely packed I mean it feels like a cast of thousands so whenever I listen to it I am usually completely exhausted by the end of it (laughs). I don’t know if I have managed to listen to it all the way through, it would be a bit like having a day with the White album really, wouldn’t it?|
TWR: One thing from my observations anyway is that there are always themes and one which seems to be a constant is, travel and I notice the first four tracks on the second album; Four Winds. Now that to me harks back to your latter days with Genesis …
S H: Yes it is, I was working on the idea of four winds then and it ended up as Wind & Wuthering so in a way it was that. There was no song called The Four Winds and on this album they are four separate instrumental pieces, all very different in nature so I agree with you.
TWR: Even some of the song titles, we have talked about Prairie Angel before, how much has that developed since I last heard it? It wasn’t a finished idea last time we spoke…
S H: No, it wasn’t a finished idea but Prairie Angel became a song that continued some of the same themes but I felt that some people might be more interested in the song, and others might be more interested in the instrumental aspect so I banded them as two separate things so it became Prairie Angel and A Place Called Freedom so there are themes that go throughout the album. There is one theme that was a riff that we had around about the time of GTR, Steve Howe and Jonathon Mover and I have credited them on it and it was something that I liked a lot but we didn’t get to develop with GTR but I have certainly developed it on this album not just as a rock thing which is how it started but also as.. it becomes an orchestral exercise and starts using whole tones and has the orchestra doing weird and wonderful things.
TWR: Which track is this that you are referring to?
S H: There are two of them, one is Prairie Angel and the other one is This Island Earth which recapitulates the same, it’s a riff that becomes a theme.
TWR: This Island Earth, anything to do with the Sci Fi classic?
S H: Oh absolutely. I was sitting in Starbucks one day and sharing a capuccino with Jo and the idea of imagery came about, we were staring at the table and seeing one thing after another and things started to grow and the song doesn’t follow the story line of This Island Earth and I would love to know what the origins of the title are and really it is a trip around the universe.
TWR: Hackett’s version of Lost In Space?
S H: Yeah, absolutely lost in space, it is completely escapist, it is pure fantasy but it addresses some of those same issues I suspect that we did in Watcher Of The Skies, we have got the space theme, it’s of Earth but it’s not … there is no one overriding theme it keeps on switching from Earth to a view of Earth from somewhere else, from the moon for instance and there is dream imagery involved with all of that but there are also the rings of Saturn which when I was looking through a telescope at one point and I could see Saturn with its rings and I thought it was hoax (laughs) I thought someone had stuck a jewel on the end of the telescope and I was going “you’re having me on” but when you can see the thing it is this jewel and it is the most incredible thing. I gather there is a space probe that is intending to go through the rings to try and find out if Saturn is solid or gaseous or liquid, we don’t really know at this point in time which is incredible really, isn’t it? I’m no astronomer, no scientist, you better ask Brian May, Professor May, sir! (laughs).
TWR: Another one that intrigues me is The Two Faces of Cairo…
|S H: Now, Jo and I visited Egypt and I was so excited about the possibility of seeing, the remote possibility because we were only there for a day believe it or not and we were charging around like crazy and in that one day we saw the Pyramids, the Sphinx, we had a trip up the Nile and saw the whirling Dervishes, AND some of what they don’t really want you to see there and so while I was there I was scribbling away furiously in a notebook because I was getting so many phrases and it is the most exotic place on Earth and I was standing there right next to the Sphinx on a sunny day just like it is supposed to be on the postcards and you’ve got no sun hat! (laughs). And it seemed as if music was coming off this thing as if it was a huge amplifier and I was hearing all this stuff and writing it all down. Phrases were coming to mind and we went to the Cairo museum and saw the mummies and all that and no one was looking it was as if we had the place to ourselves.|
A little later in the day after we had been wined and dined and feted and what have you, we were driving past this area where the tour guide was saying oh these are people who live in the tombs. The authorities have tried moving them but they like living there and what you could see was twilight and unlike any other street where you would see a lot of people, there were no street lights, so you saw these shadowy forms moving around and I only saw a glimpse of this but the image of it was so strong and I really thought, yeah, Cairo really has got two faces. It has got the majestic past and the most amazing statues that anyone will ever see in their lives if they are lucky enough to go to it and on the other hand this extraordinary poverty and a mindset that seems to think that the poor are poor because it is their own fault and they live there because they are intransigent and it seemed incredible to me that there were people functioning at night with no lights. How did that work? What goes on there? So that’s the title because it’s the Egypt that everyone romances and it is also the Egypt which has had its troubles, they’ve had their riots and I am not surprised.
TWR: Then you go from the exotica of Cairo to dear old Loch Lomond, you are back to sconny botland again…
S H: Yes, Loch Lomond starts it off so in a way we were talking about This Island Earth at the end of the standard edition and it is almost as if Loch Lomond is your coracle and the other end is your space ship, your mother ship and it is kind of what vehicle do you prefer if you are immersing yourself in this travelogue or audio dairy as you have put it and that is a very good way of describing it. I know people have used the terms before and travelogue has been…
TWR: I think that travelogue has been used a bit too much and audio diary is a bit more accurate especially in the way that you write than a travelogue. It is observed, it isn’t as if you are writing for a TV travel programme, it is written for you and then served up to a wider audience and it is personal to you and then your audience takes it to whatever perception they want to have of it.
S H: Exactly, and I think here’s a bit of a theory here. I don’t think that artists, writers, musicians etc own the material, they do something, they let it go and they forget it but if something really takes off then it is in the heart of the listeners. I have spoken to people in the past whose work I have loved and you know what? They don’t love it and yet I will speak to other fans of the same work and they will go yeah! And we are all in agreement, we’ve got the picture, we listeners that own it, you can’t ever own a song
TWR: I suppose the big difference is that we haven’t had to sweat blood to do that, we haven’t had the angst, we have the ecstasy so in that respect we can take it more on board because we haven’t had to sit there thinking what chord should I play next?
S H: Yeah, there is no pressure an audience are volunteers that come willingly to it .
TWR: I suppose the ironic thing is that this music is the soundtrack to all our lives because you wrote it and it is the soundtrack to my life because I listen to it.
S H: But I think it is more a soundtrack for the listener because when you have grown up this thing, you do know where it has come from, you know its influences, you have all that and suspending your disbelief is much harder. Having said that within that there is an area of magic that I will marvel at and I will be going “I wonder how that works? I mean, I know all the constituent parts but why does that affect me emotionally?” I don’t know why. I don’t know why I will get off on Loch Lomond from what I consider to be the main riff which hits me like a ton of bricks and galvanises me and tells me that this is the beginning of the journey, this is the engine and now we are going to take you to lots of different places on this glorious ocean liner that is a luxurious sound field so it’s the Queen Mary to me, doing a ton (laughs) so I love Loch Lomond for what it does and also I broke that down into two pieces because there were two separate pieces of music that were written with the same rhythmic feel and I put them both together and the bass note is basically one note it doesn’t vary and I renamed that The Phoenix Flown. Now there’s a false ending it’s almost like Strawberry Fields Forever, it fades out but it doesn’t fade out completely and it stops and you get a frozen reverb that stops for a moment like a film that becomes a snapshot of that freeze frame and then something else creeps up and then it is at that moment that the same theme represents itself and the guitar comes in and if I could describe to you what I feel emotionally when I hear THAT particular guitar moment. It’s funny, I had the idea of maybe two phrases that’s all at first. I will try to get this across but the more emotional it is the harder it is to describe it. I plugged the guitar in and it sounded better than ever and I played down the bottom, first fret, and the sound of it has lots of upper harmonics in it so it sounded like you were in two places at once and it was low and full it sounded high as well then you have that little miracle that is going on there and I couldn’t work out how I had managed to achieve the tone but I just went with it.
What we found out was that there was a wah-wah pedal in the line but it was fixed in a position that was fairly close to full bass and it just had this effect where it was whiney but also like a rich ruby red wine as well, very full, very sanguine and I can’t even remember what the word means. It sounded royal almost. I felt, right, here’s where it really takes off from because here I am I have the guitar in my hands and the sound of it is absolutely bloody marvellous. I tell you who I had seen, I had seen Joe Bonamassa at one of his gigs and there was a moment where he was blasting away and then the guitar goes up and that sounded really good and that was on a Fernandes guitar and you can’t always get that because they have got all this sustain on them for which you sacrifice tone control. So there was this wah wah back in the line and suddenly it had got all this thickness to it and I felt “Yep, this is the reason I am on Earth, my feet are plugged in the ground, my head is in the clouds and I am away. No one does this quite like me” Because and I am not being immodest here. There are plenty of faster guitarists, younger, faster, thinner whatever, because no one else does this. I am thinking if you were writing this for orchestra what phrases would work for instance for Borodin, Ravel or any of these characters who have got this sort of Moorish, the Eastern thing. So I have got two chords going and I am trying to explain the process and it is unfolding to me and I have done the thing and I think it is bloody marvellous.
Then I have done the bloody thing, I have shot my bolt on it and I ended up playing it to Maurizio Viccidomine and he said, fantastic but I think it could go on longer and I was thinking exactly the same thing. It would keep on haunting me while I was doing the washing up or something so I have got to, and in the end I made it twice as long again and turned it into a separate track separately banded . For me The Phoenix Flown is all sorts of things, it’s romantic. It is all the things I would love to be able to say in conversation but I can’t which is why I am giving it this long-winded explanation but it was everything I wanted to be able to say on rock guitar and in the main the phrases are slow so I suppose it is typically me but there is a fast one at the end. It isn’t really about proving yourself, you know, its that voyage of discovery, finding out what you can do with those phrases and Jo kicked in with a couple of phrases as well, she sang something and I said I don’t know if that will work over the chords but I found that they could all work under the same bass chord and I could change key and make that work as well. It was a little bit like the phrases from the guy who we both love, the guy who wrote the music for Ben Hur, Miklos Rosza. You know it was this strange thing it’s the ancient world, it’s Arabic, it’s Jewish it’s Roman and it is all those heroic things and it’s still modern.
We also used, Roger has got some string glissandos, it’s an orchestra playing different string glissandos and the funny thing is they sound like guitar or synth or something yet they are the old instruments so we have flown them in as well to get this feeling as this thing charges along like a world turning and I am leading you through what I feel and this might be a rare moment where I feel that I OWN the track at the moment but pretty soon it is going to other people.
TWR: You have just mentioned Jo there, has she been very much involved lyrically with this one?
S H: Yes she has, very much so. We have written things together, we have shared things but there have been things I have done on my own as well but I am always open to the possibility of working with a writing partnership because I don’t care how brilliant you are, you get tired, you get exhausted and even the best fall back on other people.
TWR: What kind of input have the rest of the band brought to a process like this?
S H: Roger will always bring something to it that I hadn’t thought of. Sometimes he will fight me on issues but I like to think we take on board each other’s point of view and I think that is a necessary thing because I think well what will transform it for him? It might be like at the end of The Phoenix Flown I think it is the drums that make it for him, ok. The drum breaks on it are mighty and it’s like an army arriving every time I hear it and that’s what makes it for him.
TWR: You have mentioned the likes of Simon Phillips so are the majority of the drums in real time or are they programmed or are they a combination of the two?
S H: They are real drums and they are in real time. We went backwards and forwards quite a few times but I think I am correct in saying that most of what you hear is real apart from the odd edit which we do. We do lots of editing but you want the input of the man as well so I am thrilled to have two great drummers on this one plus Roger’s drum sensibility as well so you have got a lot of drum heads on this one. So yeah, the drums sound fantastic, powerful.
TWR: That was the thing with the last album where it was impossible to realise that all of that had been programmed which is obviously credit to Roger. Just moving on to the special edition, you have mentioned that the Four Winds are instrumental, is the rest of that album instrumental?
S H: No, I think one of the tracks is vocal, Enter the Night which is a variation of Riding The Colossus but with vocals that’s why it is on the special edition as opposed to the standard one.
TWR: I suppose it’s a great idea because people have said that there is never enough instrumental music on your albums, as oppose to an extended solo as part of a song.
S H: Yeah, I think you find that there is more than enough on the special edition. The special edition is much more guitar heroic if that’s the way of describing it but I don’t think that the guitar needs heroics to sing and be memorable. Heroics? Does that mean speed? Funnily enough, most of what Hendrix did wasn’t particularly fast by today’s standards. Whatever it takes to make the thing come alive. It could take along time to describe this couldn’t it? What fires me up is the tone, the sound
TWR: That has to be what inspires you when you are writing a piece of music, the sound of it…
S H: That’s right it’s the sound. It’s the first time you hear that sound. Perhaps for me it is more that than the notes in a way. So everyone has got that available to them, everyone’s got the kit! (laughs). You know, the early Stones had a lot of excitement and it’s note really about… well it is about the notes of course, and I am thinking of Keith Richards’ solo on Route 66, guitar solos don’t come much more exciting than that ever. And Brian Jones’ solo on I Wanna Be Your Man. You don’t need a degree for either of those solos it’s pure emotion.
TWR: After all these albums, plus your time with Genesis, how do you keep it fresh for yourself?
S H: Well, the album starts out with a couple of guitar notes that are bluesy with a guitar feeding back on itself sustain and pickup. So you think oh, it’s a blues album. We shaved the top off it as well so it sounds quite roomy and distant but then there are chords that appear with it that give it a melodic feel. The chords are really orchestral, they are samples they are real strings but they’re not in real time but they sound very nice and they give it a character almost a lament. I can’t put a word to it but you get this idea that it’s one thing and then something else comes along and both of those are the decoy (laughs) and then the riff proper comes in just as you are trying to figure that and it is almost back to the rhythmic sound of (Cell) 151, you’ve got bowed basses and cellos. It’s a composite sound and I can’t even remember what was used, we used part guitar, we may have used part bass pedal, you would have to ask Roger what was used in there and he might not remember unless he goes back to the menu.
There’s all kinds of things in there and then the riff comes blazing in and actually it is de-tuned guitar and digi tech whammy pedal that allows you to basically change the tuning of the guitar to an octave above or an octave below and various harmonies. It’s almost like a brass section when it comes in, it’s guitars in harmony with each other. I had great joy tracking those up and Roger doubled them up with strings as well which I often forget about and it starts heading towards the kind of music that’s in Dr Who and Torchwood, slightly distorted orchestras and that’s an area that I have been interested in for along time. What happens when you start distorting a cello is that it starts to sound a bit like a guitar and when they start to sound like each other then it really has come full circle.
The things that turn me on might not necessarily turn everybody else on. I am interested in the kit that creates that sound but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, music either hits you full blast and you get the emotion of it or it leaves you cold and you go off and make a cup of tea.
TWR: There has never been an album of yours, and I have heard them all, once or twice, where if you don’t like that one, wait a minute and you will like this one. There is always something and you have mentioned strings and cellos, are there any acoustic moments on the album?
S H: Yes, there are many acoustic moments on it. After this heavyweight introduction as it were, the track goes acoustic and I am using a six string steel with three octaves arpeggiating and the melody is almost folky really. It’s very gentle and that comes up again after you get The Phoenix Flown you get Wanderlust which is nylon guitar which sounds very big. I wrote it as a conduit between the end of The Phoenix Eyes and the beginning of Till These Eyes because I wanted to be able to get from one key to the other but I also wanted to be able to reflect the phrases that happen towards the end of The Phoenix Flown, the ones that I think are most like Borodin’s Prince Igor type ones. So when that comes back on nylon guitar we used a lot of reverb with it which most people will think is echo and it is a cavernous sound but I used one of the guitars that doesn’t have a lot of bass sound on it so that it doesn’t gather on itself too much so it is clean. I played it very lightly and I took a long time to mix it by taking the top out of it so that it would be very gentle. The sound that I had been looking for for a LONG time, and you might say that I finally got it on this short track. Then it goes into Till These Eyes and that is string orchestra, six string steel guitar and it is very English and very much a love song.
TWR: It is obvious from your descriptions that this album is very much from a happy place.
S H: Yes, it is. That one, Till These Eyes is very much love lost and found if you like and the chorus and refrain is “Till these eyes have seen enough” and you are thinking that he can’t wait to die but the refrain changes at the end to “Till these eyes have seen love” so until you have found the genuine article. Originally it was an idea of doing something around the story of Dorian Gray, Chris Squire and I were thinking of doing that but I just came back with this one song and there are no intentions to do a musical at this stage (laughs) so it was written from that point of view. It was written from the point of view of somebody who is very jaded. Unlike the character in the book and the movie I was working along the lines of somebody who had survived but who had had enough, more like the Flying Dutchman who wants to depart. So the album has phoenixes which have flown. There are lots of highs and there are lots of lows in it.
TWR: The album is out on 26th September and then you go out on the Breaking Waves tour, when does that start?
S H: I think that is in November, the gigs in October might be the old set and then the set in November is where the new stuff might get brought in but I don’t know yet without consulting the almanac! I am so busy making albums and DVDs at the moment that the live thing is a little bit down the line (laughs).
TWR: Nice lead into the next subject then, how far are things progressing with the documentary and the live recording from Shepherds Bush?
S H: We are about to start mixing the thing, the live DVD. I am looking forward to doing that. There’s a lot of work that goes into making a DVD and this one has been a lot of work already, getting hold of a 5.1 system, doing this , that and the other and we used to hire one in in the past but I don’t want to do that, I want to own it. It is long overdue but sometimes you have to wait until you have got enough pocket money to be able to do all the things you would like. There are so many things I want to do and I will get around to them all eventually. I will build another Earth for you but it will take a while! (laughs). I am looking forward to that but the more you want something the more frustrating it is.
TWR: The expectation, unrealistic as it may be is that the DVD might be available in time for the tour in October/November…?
S H: I am not even going to use the word intention because I think I am not going to say that because it will be unlucky, I HOPE so, I want it to be but things have taken much longer than I wanted and I can’t do anything about that. I thought we were going to be working with the 5.1 system this week and then I found out that it has got to be ordered so let’s hope that they get it in a week and all the rest. It all takes forever, doesn’t it?
TWR: The live DVDs have always been good but from the rushes which I have seen I think that this one really catches the spark of the show.
S H: Yes, I think it has caught that. I can’t wait until it is all done so that it can blast away at you really.
TWR: And the documentary? I have given Matt probably far more stuff than he actually needed…
S H: Yes, there is that and he is in charge of it and I have given him input and we have done a little bit of playing and so much footage gets shot that I forget what is actually there.
TWR: Has he spoken to many of the protagonists for it?
S H: He has certainly spoken to some but where that will end up, I don’t know. it will be out by the time I am a hundred! (laughs).
TWR: We talked at length last time about Squackett, what is the current situation with that?
S H: As far as I know there are a number of record companies that are interested in it. I gave it my sanction ages ago and hoped it would have materialised by now so really the ball is in Chris’s court and also the guy that he has brought in to manage it, John Brewer and I am hoping that we have a deal for it soon. I know it has been a long time. I think that Chris wanted to get the new Yes album out first of all and I can understand that and at some point something will materialise. Meanwhile, a lot of the things that could have gone on a joint project have gone on this album and he is on quite a few tracks on it. He is on This Island Earth, Looking For Fantasy, he’s on Catwalk which is a blues thing, a blues trio with myself, Simon and Chris so you get an idea what that trio might sound like. Scary yeah, it’s quite brutal in a basic bluesy way but I am proud of it because I have been nudging at blues stiff for a long time and I have never managed to get it quite THAT brutal (laughs). It’s quite a thrash.
TWR: I catch things on the grapevine and I hear that you have done some stuff with Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and Rob Reed (Magenta)…?
S H: I have, yes. Steve Wilson, his album I believe is going to be out at the same time as mine and Rob Reed, I don’t know when that is coming out but they are all amazing projects. I have worked with John Mclaughlin again, not face to face but I am on an album with Gary Husband and this one is already out and it is called Dirty & Beautiful and it has got masses of guitarists on it and I am one of them! (laughs). It has Alan Holdsworth and Robin Trower, John McLaughlin and it’s got me so that’s nice company to be amongst, isn’t it? Joey Goodman is on that album too sounding wonderful.
TWR: Is there anyone else you might have worked with recently who I might not be aware of?
S H: I am supposed to be working on a variety of people’s projects. Nothing has happened yet with the project with Joe Bonamassa. I have met Joe a few times and he has said that we should do something together, we should play together now whether that means a jam or something more organised I don’t know. I would love to do something with Joe because I think he is terrific and Black Country Communion are a fantastic band. I had an interesting conversation with Jason Bonham and I was talking to him about him doing the 02 thing with Zeppelin and he said he had done Dance On A Volcano and other stuff that I was not aware of and Phil had been a bit of a mentor to him apparently.
I find it very interesting, my overview is at the moment is that there is lots of wonderful stuff in music happening out there. There are lots of great bands and lots of great players and music seems to have got rid of the shackles that were holding it back. I think it is a great time for music, there is a lot of great stuff out there. I was at the Mojo Awards the other day and loads of people were getting awards and they all sounded great (laughs) and suddenly from nothing firing me up, there’s loads of stuff and it is like the Sixties again with people coking up with great songs and great sounds.
TWR: A lot of fans have discussed the special editions and Japanese editions of your albums, have you ever considered putting together a warts and all sort of compilation? I know a lot of the B sides etc have ended up on the various remastered albums….
S H: Funnily enough, quite a few of the tracks from the Japanese came up for, I used quite a lot of things that had been released in Japan on the special edition. Those things weren’t available in the rest of the world so I have tried to make this extra CD not just any old tat but stuff that I like. You have heard of the term “bonus tracks”? Or the term “bogus tracks” (laughs) you know where you have a bit of a hi hat going or “alternative mix” where you go “one, two three, four” (in best Spike Milligan voice) so we haven’t done that we have given … then I did a version of Tommy from Moving Waves by Focus because I liked the slow melody on that. There is a lot of stuff out there but my job is to keep it going really. I am not ready to retire, I can’t stand behind that one, “ready to retire, my dear, when you reach my age!” (laughs). I have to say I do feel older, you do and there are days when I am VERY slow but other days when I am quite chipper.
It’s how far forward you do something each time. Do you do something retro or do you do something that is trying to blaze a trail? There will be moments like when Peter did his orchestral version of other songs…
TWR: Do you think that could be a go-er for you?
S H: I don’t think I would want to do a whole album of songs with an orchestra that I had done before. I don’t think so, Pete has done that. But I can see moments where I might have intended the spare orchestra to go on something and there might be a way of incorporating that in the future but I was always nudging at orchestras really, even before Genesis. The first album I did, with Quiet World; they gave us the LSO! No one has ever seen fit to give me the LSO ever since, thank you very much! (laughs). And I was having this conversation with Phil Henderson he had never even arranged the strings for that one and he said to me, you do realise they gave us the LSO for that one? And I said, no I didn’t realise that and I thought they were a bunch of session players. In those days it would have been LSO? Who are they? Spectral Mornings was very big sounding, just the sound of the keyboards alone on the title track when Nick Magnus did the pipe organ thing, which he created himself on a Vox String Thing and he hooked up the octaves on it and it was an amazing sound, wonderful. We had Mellotron strings and the size of the sound of those things together was absolutely bloody monumental. It did sound like a whole orchestra and it was a whole world of sound. I had a wonderful time doing that album at Hilversum.
Anyway, as you say, with an orchestra it isn’t the amount of bodies you have got it is the size of the sound. Like King Crimson on In The Court Of The Crimson King now that’s an orchestra and a choir; that’s what it is and that’s what we did with Genesis. A friend of mine said to me awhile ago, and this is no reflection on Pete, he’s a genius and I love him dearly, but my friend said the only difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional keeps trying. And I keep coming back to that one because no, I don’t play perfectly (laughs) I don’t always make the right decisions but I DO keep trying and as long as I get back on the horse, so to speak.
I don’t think of it as , how can I put it… When I start I don’t think, oh I will make a progressive album, it just happens naturally. If you did something good and I have managed to do something with this energy but this other thing also relates to it and you may have something played on the electric guitar but I am always aware as on something like The Phoenix Flown for instance, equally, strings could do that! Maybe one day they will.
Organic is a good description because ideas don’t happen simultaneously not even as I say for the greatest. John Lennon was saying this, I picked up an old book about The Beatles by Hunter Davies, and he was asking John about writing songs and he said well, you have all these bits and you join them up later. Now that is how I work but I wish someone had told me that ages ago! (laughs). I wish John Lennon had told me in 1964 when we were thinking, oh they produce all these songs fully finished, how do they do that? No, because if they weren’t fully finished, they would go back to the drawing board and start again and do this and have another bit of an idea there.
The wonderful and the annoying thing about music is you get an idea and sometimes it comes along too late for you to use it the way that it should be within the piece in question. If you are lucky and it is like playing a solo live, an improvised one, every time I do an improvised one I think you could have done that, you could have done this and the difference between improvisation and writing is that when you write you CAN do that and on the same album. So this album is one that has been put together over a four year period basically so there has been plenty of time where I could go, yeah, I will stick that one in so in a way it is the most complete, fully formed album I have done. Whether it is too densely packed for everybody and whether it has become my Lamb Lies Down On Broadway because of that I can’t help that, it’s just that there were all these ideas and it happened and it’s bloody long and I’m sorry! (laughs). Bu taken in part like so many of those songs on The Lamb… you can go, yeah, there are some good songs, I rather like that one, that’s quite pithy, you know. Other ones you go, take it or leave it, you know. It isn’t my Lamb… there was never an intention to do that but in a way I get that same sense of exhaustion if I am trying to listen to it (laughs) because there are so many ideas on it and it doesn’t want for an idea. It goes from gentle songs to ones where I am really screaming and I think I am really singing on this album for the first time. There has been singing on other albums but I have tended to make the singing more restrained in the past and it has been the guitar that has really gone for the throat but on this on something like Catwalk, it is flat out, the singing is rock singing and it isn’t particularly pretty but I wouldn’t describe Rod Stewart’s singing as particularly pretty but it resonates for me and it works for me. It works for me but it might not work for everybody. There were a lot of things on the album that I didn’t think I would be able to sing at first. I didn’t think I would be able to sing with edge AND vibrato and be able to change tone during a note in order to do all of that so it has only taken a hundred and three years (laughs).
And there you have it. My thanks to Steve for giving up not quite a hundred
and three years of his time to us. I hope you find it interesting.