“Tell us about your latest projects Mr Hackett…” - TWR talks to Steve about his recent touring and recording efforts. Interview conducted at Steve’s home on 8th February 2016 by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Stuart Barnes, Nick Brailsford and Roger Salem. Memorabilia: TWR archive.
AH: Well, I guess the first thing is Steve, this’ ere tour thingy that you said to me back in 2012, and I quote your exact words : ‘I’m going to let this rule my life for twelve months and then normal service will be resumed’ did you have any idea then that it would be quite as successful as it obviously has been?
SH: I didn’t think I would be back in the old routine although the cast of characters has changed but I still feel at one with the music and I am still very proud of the music. It’s a bit like your babies, you know isn’t it? I am still proud of the brain children or shared brain children but it was lovely stuff or we wouldn’t be sitting here. I have enjoyed keeping the museum doors open but…it doesn’t go away, there are tributes to it. I don’t think people would go through the agony of learning to play that stuff if it wasn’t beautiful in the first place. But I have to say that for anyone who finds it difficult to learn it from scratch, it was equally difficult to remember it myself! It takes on average, with all the various band members I’ve had learning this stuff and getting it together, three months. It has taken three months to learn a set of Genesis that lasts anything between two and half and three hours, and it takes three months.
There were certain tunes like Can-Utility & The Coastliners where I realised that I was learning about three and a quarter albums’ worth of music when we first did the Revisited shows and I just couldn’t get the changes in my head, I can’t face another one and that guitar solo! That particular guitar solo is all over the place and on a good night I get it right but I have ballsed it up on many a night. So just to reassure you, it wasn’t just you or anyone…
GL: The next time I play it I shall say I’m only doing what Steve did…
SH: Yes, it has the ring of authenticity (laughs).
AH: Now that you have done all of that, obviously over the course of the three years you have changed the show, and brought other things in and I actually think that the tour that you did last year should have been called “The Best of Both Worlds” because that to me is what it was.
SH: Well, thank you for that.
AH: Is there anything now that has you scratching your head thinking damn, we should have done that one! Is there anything left that you think you should have given a chance to?
SH: Well, there are Genesis tunes that I haven’t done yet that I do feel that way about them but hell, none of them would be easy live. None of them are easy live, Genesis tunes. Once you start you realise that, dare I say it, that there are gems in there that have been forgotten or lost for a bit and sometimes those things exist in memory and it might just be that I remember something sounding better in rehearsal than it sounded when it was recorded in the early days and I will be thinking… if I can get that feeling into a re-record there has to be a reason for doing it and I won’t say what they are because people will be saying ’oh, I am hoping you are going to do that because that’s a lovely tune’ and I’ll be thinking ’yeah, but you should’ve heard it in rehearsal!’ And certain things sounded stronger and more vibrant.
It is sacrilege to some people and they think well I liked the version that I heard on record but unless you have BEEN there and heard what someone was capable of, the vocal team, the agony and the ecstasy and isn’t that always the way?
AH: You’ve mentioned .. Nice lead into the next question you have mentioned hidden gems, and of course lurking down there and we have your recently released Premonitions boxed set. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.
SH: Mark Powell approached me some years ago when the Hackett catalogue along with the Genesis catalogue was signed to EMI and I was talking to EMI at the time but we couldn’t quite get them to commit in time and then they were taken over by Universal and I thought I’m going to have to try and rev them up all over again with this but Mark kept up the impetus and it turns out they were interested in doing the box set of all the Charisma years stuff so it is all of the Charisma albums plus BBC sessions and three live gigs I believe in their entirety if I remember correctly. Some anomalies and some unreleased stuff. I am thrilled with it as a collection, I feel very proud of it and I will tell you why. Some albums are obviously better than others and if you hit it right and the zeitgeist and if you’ve got the team and the marketing budget and for whatever reason there is something special that happens, isn’t there? There is something special that happens with each album and you think, this one was easy; Spectral Mornings kind of wrote itself or so it seems. It was a band, we had toured live and this huge audience had interest for it at that time.
A couple of things were designed for live performance and they got slightly fleshed out more when we came to record them and other stuff was written in the old way, in the rehearsal room eyeball to eyeball and nobody regarded at that time, the rehearsal room as a totally outmoded institution and that was the phrase coined by Geoff Downes standing behind an array of keyboards… And of course, it is completely true that you don’t need to do that you can work the other way but I have found that for live work especially you do need to be in a rehearsal room at some point with the team of people that are going to play it if only to say ’My god, you’re not going to wear those trousers are you?’ (laughs) you need to communicate at some point.
AH: Back in 2005 when EMI still had the catalogue of course, they remastered all of the Charisma albums now, am I mistaken in thinking that when they were remastered, they were remastered from all of the original master tapes?
SH: No. Because some of the masters were lost. If you read the credits on Premonitions, the story is that the complete masters for Please Don’t Touch and Spectral Mornings exist in total. The other masters, sadly, were in the keeping of Charisma and then Virgin and we don’t know where they are. They are either in a vault somewhere or have been slung on to a skip, we don’t know but Steve Wilson did remixes of both of those albums and he did a lovely job on both and on the other two either side of them; Voyage Of The Acolyte and Defector, he did something which was called an “up mix” which is virtually, software that works with stereo and at the click of a button it does something to it and I have to say that when I heard that very first track of anything solo I did which was Hands Of the Priestess (Pt 1) I was absolutely thrilled and amazed with the result that had come from stereo so, I won’t say as good as because that would be sacrilege, that would negate the whole point of the art being able to spread everything tailor made, to order but I was just thrilled with the quality of that. The bell tree on repeat echo that start at the beginning …
In fact, what I ought to do is take that along with me tonight and play some of it… I am going to Charlie Dodd’s and Charlie Dodd has got a system that Steve Wilson goes over to check the bass levels on Charlie’s system in Charlie’s house! (laughs) and we all do that. I check bass levels there because he has got a number of different stereo systems and 5.1 systems and they all sound great and so I will take this there and at one point be very antisocial …
AH: One more thing about this, and this is for the anoraks and the collectors point of view… when EMI remastered the albums in 2005 and in particular, Spectral… the question that a lot of people are asking now about the Premonitions set is the amount of extras that were on the 2005 version that aren’t present on Premonitions and it begs two questions: A why were they left off and B are the 2005 EMI versions now effectively deleted from the catalogue?
SH: To my knowledge it has got most things. You see I have a different view on alternative takes; there are “bonus” tracks and there are “bogus” tracks” and there is usually a reason for a mix. Usually because it sounds better than the other one and so from alternative takes I don’t think I have heard anything that sounded better. Whatever you do, if you put a hundred tracks together someone will ask where is such and such?
AH: Where did Seven Of Cups come from?
SH: Seven Of Cups was an instrumental that was perhaps destined to become a tune. I had recorded it as an instrumental in Cherokee Studios in 1977 and I thought that compared to the other stuff that was on Please Don’t Touch it had a direction that I was perhaps less comfortable with, it sounded almost lounge jazz by comparison to everything else. It didn’t have the same level of intensity that the other things did and so I plundered part of it to use with The Virgin & The Gypsy and where the piano was doing it I did as it was originally written on the twelve string and so twelve string and harpsichord do it on the Virgin & The Gypsy which is the nearest thing to a little folk song that I did based not so much on the book and I didn’t want to read the book until I had done the song and I was thrilled to find that there were the odd words in it that Lawrence had used, synchronously, I had used the word “marigold” for instance and I feel that he used words which had colours in them because it enriched the text and I think he was a marvellous writer, not just his sexy stuff but a very descriptive writer and dark at times. Not afraid to tell it like it is.
AH: Also back slightly later than the ’05 remasters, I remember you mentioning to me a series of tapes had been found in your late father’s old garden shed. And at the time you hadn’t had the time to listen to them. Did you find anything of interest on them?
SH: Well, it was a version of Shadow Of The Hierophant which closes Voyage Of The Acolyte, the first album, and it had a great long play out which just grows and grows and grows. It actually was a monitor mix where we had the drums slightly louder. In other words it was a more modern mix and at the time we thought oh, maybe the drums are a bit loud and they make everything else seem a bit smaller and with hindsight we have realised that that was actually a better mix and should have been there in its entirety but back on the day there were issues of when you were cutting albums. For some reason to do eighteen minutes a side seemed to produce maximum bass response also it was in the early days of writing stuff and I think I barely had enough material to fill the album. Star Of Sirius was done as an afterthought because it seemed that the album needed something extra whereas I had originally intended it not to be on the album and it had this great long play out on the other thing and I think I was talked out of using the long version which was silly but thirty years later we found that original mix and welded it on to the record and I am so pleased that we found it
That was on the 2005 remasters and I think that Ben (Fenner) did a great job on those and so the remasters formed the basis because Ben was involved with supplying stuff, not the live stuff, to the next stage where other people took over and Mr Wilson .
AH: I guess the final anorak-y question concerning Premonitions is about the Oxford ’79 recording which took me by surprise. I have my theory about this one, is it the live album that Charisma wouldn’t release?
SH: Well, it had been in the vaults for a long time and I think it probably was the live album that.. Or one of the love gigs that they wouldn’t release because at the time fans were going nuts for the band live and they were saying ‘please give us a live album!’ and I was saying ’I will if I can’ and no matter how I tried, Tony Stratton-Smith wouldn’t relent on that issue, he said ’no, we don’t want alive album from you, we a want another studio album’ and I can’t remember what his reasoning was but I would have thought that it would have been a natural. It’s strange because one of the saviours of Genesis between 1972 and 1973 was the Genesis Live album and people were getting what was arguably better versions than the studio versions or should we say “alternative” versions and once a song like Watcher Of The Skies had settled into its natural live speed with a liver drum sound and a liver mellotron you get some idea of what the band was all about at that time so I was pleased we did that with Genesis but I digress…
AH: that was the big one, because obviously the other live recordings and studio session recordings are pretty self explanatory where they came from but the Oxford one wasn’t.
SH: Also its lovely to hear Reading of course, a big crowd and lovely to have a big crowd loving it. It was great, I did it a couple of years and had a great time doing it..
AH: I love the radio session from 1983 because the versions of the tracks that are on there are SO different to the album versions…
SH: They are different yes, the radio sessions were done very quickly and I think those BBC sessions …I don’t know if there are any Jeff Beck sessions from radio at that time, there probably are but I seem to remember them sounding great - a blues band doing its thing live sounds great but I think the heavily textured stuff ; something like Cell 151 without the basses and cellos for me is a glimpse backstage at the skeleton without the flesh almost. Without the makeup, my god! I haven’t got my wig! (laughs) no, its not a wig, it’s real! (laughs). There was a slightly conservative thing around I think it was the Tommy Vance session actually and I remember the engineers being much more conservative and I seem to recall saying ’can’t you put some compression on that?’ and they were going ’compression?’ there was a little bit of that but they did what I asked, you know, perhaps reluctantly which we tried to do with Genesis but the Genesis BBC sessions… I know they have surfaced on some bogus CD s but if there’s some tambourine in the left hand corner that is louder than everything else and there is stuff missing and it would be nice to release it all really because in a way it doesn’t really matter what’s missing, it’s a document of a time it is not a demonstration of current ability and technology.
AH: Well, we move on to current ability and thanks once again for a great lead in to my next question… I trained him well, folks! I hear a vicious evil rumour that there is a second documentary in progress is that correct?
SH: A documentary about me? Well there is Live In Liverpool which is due out and Ben (Fenner) is working on that with difficulty because we have been on tour and I wouldn’t dream of giving it to anyone else. Paul Gosling has done a documentary to accompany that and the stuff that I have seen from Paul Green looks really good and the Liverpool show looks great. Then there is the Matt Groom one - The Man And The Music which is already out there and which ended up being number five in the DVD charts.
AH: Are we any the wiser as to when the Liverpool show is due to be released?
SH: I don’t want to say yet and hopefully we will get it all done and dusted and so… soon and Ben has only just started on it and we are only just past Christmas and we were on tour for three and a half months which left me a little bit the worse for wear at the end of it for about a month. And either I wasn’t able to sleep or at every theatre or social engagement I managed to pass out! (laughs) so I did feel a little weird after coming back from the States after having toured like a teenager and I am going to do it all again soon. I am mad for it, I love live work, it is something I MUST do even if I fall off the mountain it must be done.
AH: These gigs that you are about to do in the States are the culmination of the Genesis Revisited/Wolflight shows?
SH: Yes but basically the idea is that there are certain territories that we didn’t get to tour, mainly West Coast and so it essentially that and then we do Japan and the 02 and then of course I am recording in the living room once again on the same table that we did the Squackett album on!
AH: I gather from your own blogs on your website that this new album is taking shape under the influence and inspiration of Iceland, so could we have an epic based around the sagas perhaps…?
SH: I am working on something that attempts to describe our extraordinary visit to Iceland which will be first of many visits to Iceland, as you know yourself as I do believe you are no stranger to those shores, it is an extraordinary place and we went at the coldest time of year and Jo and eye both had eye problems when we came back because of the wind chill factor that is EXTREME. The warmth of the people, I loved that and I do believe that Ian Anderson has got a permanent residence there. So there must be a reason why he is drawn there.
Whether Iceland will be the inspiration for the whole album or not I don’t know but certainly there seem to be enough contradictions implicit in that landscape and people it is one of the extremes of life on Earth and we went right up the volcano that scuppered my tour a few years ago and getting from Portugal to Budapest and we had to drive and trying to sleep in the back of a van.
AH: How far along are you with this new project, is it still very early days…?
SH: It is still very early days because I have been doing so much touring that I wasn’t able to do stuff so…you talked about Thick As A Brick and bricks are pertinent because I find writing both fascinating and frustrating processes in equal measures because you don’t get all the bricks at once, they come along at different times. Even John Lennon said, you get ideas and then you join them up afterwards.
AH: Do you still use your little notebooks?
SH: Oh yeah, I have hundreds of notebooks and I am very much a pen and paper man, that’s me. If it works on the page it will work over there. I like writing and I would love not to have to go through the agony of recording it. I would love to be able to jump ahead to the future and hear that NEXT great album and sit back with a spliff and go… (laughs). It has been a LONG time since I have had a spliff but that feeling of not having contributed to it, that feeling you get… when I was a teenager, let me cut to the chase, I saw bands and occasionally I was blown away of course, and I often think it would be lovely to enjoy someone else’s work to the same degree that I did before I became a professional musician, before I was aware of ever nut and bolt of what goes into making a great band, singer, guitarist you name it. And when you know nothing, you a want to know everything and something happens and the last great band I saw was King Crimson and that band in 1969 before they did In The Court Of The Crimson King where it just hits you. But once I was twenty and once I was starting to make albums and with Genesis a year later and all of that, nobody really sounded that great. I think there is some kind of cosmic deal that goes on, some deal with destiny where you will be entirely subject to the spellbinding magic of others up to a certain point in time and after hat it is up to you to make your own magic and find it within yourself and you become professional but something is lost. it’s a it like being a kid and reading those Rupert books and loving it, where is he going next? Before you realise that the next character has got a goat’s head and is a bit frightening but it is all of that stuff, the not knowing.
I love going to the theatre on the few occasions that I have had time off to do it and I know nothing about acting and that is lovely. I know nothing, isn’t that lovely? Literal ignorance and yet to see something done on stage with actors giving their all, I don’t know how they do it I don’t know how they cope with the nerves and I don’t know how they remember it. I suspect that if people were able to inhabit my skin and know exactly what went on they would say ’wow, you were THAT nervous?’ or you thought that you might forget the next phrase and you did…and it is better not to know. The reason why its an act and there would be times when you would screw it up and other times you have that thing where we were talking about earlier where you have a “visit” and someone else takes over and you can do no wrong and the crowd are loving it and it is a full house and everything you go for comes off whether you are playing your own material or the band’s material , whatever you are doing. But it is surprisingly human really, it all hangs by threads. I used to think that it was only my band that made mistakes when I was first doing professional gigs and what I hadn’t realised is that everybody ballses things up and it is better that they don’t know what they are supposed to do next it is back to the time of being about eight years old and watching the older kids, maybe about three years older doing the nativity play and thinking ’isn’t this marvellous?’the angels have taken over and the kids are just standing there and they are out of tune and they aren’t as good as they were three years ago! (laughs). Luckily the angels take over. Sometimes it is the angels of volume and it is just sheer bluster.
I remember watching a band who I thought were very precise and one of the drummers said to me ’we were playing together but we were drifting’ and I said; ’well actually you were so loud it was all powering into those low frequencies that no one heard that!’ (laughs) not my ears, you sounded tight to me! So it is very difficult isn’t it the spectacle on stage compared to out front between heaven and hell as I know from talking to Ian MacDonald from King Crimson and I said to him; ’they were marvellous those early gigs’ and he said yeah it was so hot and then he a came up with the catalogue of errors and wasn’t it a horrible sound? We the audience, I was then and I look back on it now and we are the true owners of the material, the band never gets it. No band ever gets it, no band ever knows when they are doing it right. The listener is at one with it, it affects them in a way that the performer can’t be affected by. To be quite brutal, for the band it is just another song, just another night, do you know what I am saying? It may be magic out front but when you are doing it, there are all these distractions. I do care about every note and I am not like that but I know a number of people I have worked with who are very gifted professionals and they come offstage and all they think about is what was wrong with it and how perhaps to get it better and that is the mark of a professional but in a way it is sad because you miss out
You would be surprised at the scenes in dressing rooks after gigs and it is enough to drive you up the wall but it is just how it is sometimes, leave ‘em laughing and all that. I am in love with the new stuff not because it is new but because there are areas that I haven’t touched on before and it s is still a process of freeing the spirit - sound like the Gordon’s Gin advert: free the spirit! (laughs) but it feels like that and some of the spontaneous stuff that I heard in the 1960’s and that I go on about endlessly and I wanted to get an aspect of that back into the music so hat where blues and psychedelic music joined form and construction and all that stuff and it is separate worlds of the considered and the oblivious in a way. I want more of IT on it and less of ME.. More IT and less I and a total surprise. We were talking before about equipment before and the most important piece of equipment is these fingers and these ears and the imagination of course and once you have got all of those things, obviously in terms of applying yourself to it I have been very lucky as my good friend Steve Tobin says’you don’t know how lucky you were to find Genesis. A lot of guys applied themselves as diligently as you did but were not as lucky to find that bunch of individuals’ who were bloody minded enough to push through and get towards the desired goal. Determination is only part of the picture. I think I would have got on because it is in my soul even if I had been playing to five people in a pub. It is not really about the numbers its about what music does for you as a musician I think, Anyone who plays might say ‘oh, I wish I could play like you’ and I think oh, perhaps you would get more out of music if you could play three chords like I could when I was about fourteen because when I was fourteen and had so little expectation of what I could do with playing I suddenly realised that with three chords I could do a substantial amount of stuff; Peter, Paul and Mary, a bit of The Beatles, most of The Rolling Stones and with that you are perhaps equipped with two thirds more than any Indian musician might have where chords are not important. Do I sound serious? (laughs).
And with that… we leave this fascinating chat with Steve once again. Our thanks to Steve and Jo for their hospitality and for giving up so much of their time during what must be a very busy schedule we hope you find the end result interesting.