“Taking a little trip back…” - John Hackett talks to TWR about his most recent album and other activities. Photographs by Mark Comish, David Kennedy.
TWR: You have been a very busy boy lately with the recent release of Another Life. Tell us about how you came to work on the new album…
JH: Checking Out of London had turned out much better than I had expected, especially considering it was my first stab at being a singer. But it had taken a long time to record, a year or more and so I wasn’t ready to plunge straight into another large scale project. Also, although I had a good reaction to my vocals I knew I still had an awful lot to learn. I struggled particularly when it came to singing live - I wanted to take more time. I had some more singing lessons which helped me especially when it came to going for those high notes. I learned a lot from Tony Patterson who did such a great job not only on harmonies but on the tracks where he had the edge that the lead vocal needed. I am thinking especially of Ego And Id and Whispers. So doing a smaller scale project just with flutes and acoustic guitars seemed an attractive proposition in terms of keeping the creative juices flowing.
TWR: How far do your musical influences affect your writing and how difficult do you find it to be original?
|JH: Like all my own music it is very eclectic in terms of influences, the title track, Prelude To Summer is influenced by Bach’s Sicilliana from the E Flat flute sonata in terms of its 6/8 lilt but then it goes into a kind of waltz in the middle which takes it away from the Baroque style. Nippy Tune is a piece that I wrote in my twenties and was used as a BBC signature tune for “Get By In German”. Duende has a definite Spanish flavour which given the nature of the classical guitar is inevitable. Le Chat Noir is the club in Paris where Erik Satie used to play piano - it was a magnet for all kinds of poets and artists hence the lively, quirky nature of the music. Probably the track I am most proud of is Six-Eight For Starters, so called because it starts off in that time signature but then soon goes on a bit of a journey with fives and all sorts in a bar. I was really chuffed when Paul Baker played it on his radio show and said it was definitely a piece of Prog! I could go on for ever about the influences such as Sibelius in Twilight Forest but hopefully when you have put it all together you have something that is original. I’m not a great believer in spontaneous generation in music, I think we are all influenced by what has gone before - after all, it is a language. It was certainly a joy to work with Chris Glassfield who played the guitar with such a full singing tone and Steve contributed an enormous amount with his exquisite playing.|
TWR: The album has a definite Spanish feel to it, was this a conscious decision or …
JH: Growing up with Steve in London we would often listen to recordings by Segovia, Julian Bream was often on TV in those days (how often do you see a solo guitarist on TV these days?). So inevitably we heard a lot of Spanish music which somehow sank into our bones.
TWR: You use a rather unusual flute, tell us a bit about it and how you came to be using it rather than the more traditional model. And also tell us a but about the guitars you use…
JH: I use a vertical flute because it is so much easier on my neck than a transverse flute. This is due to an injury that I had in 1983 which has caused me no end of problems ever since. It is a cover hole Murumatsu solid silver flute with a few modifications to the key work by a brilliant flute maker; William Simmons in Liverpool, just off Penny Lane. The head joint is silver with a gold lip plate made by Mike Allen. It has been an absolute life saver. In terms of the sound there is no real difference that I can perceive other than as a player you hear the sound better balanced ( not just mainly in your right ear!) and you can also watch your fingers which can be a help.
Guitar wise I used an Admira classical guitar on Prelude To Summer and Moonspinner. As for the electric guitar, I have a trust old Telecaster that does everything I need. Like a Strat, it’s good for arpeggios, strumming chords and lead work if necessary. But Christmas is coming….
TWR: How did you meet Chris Glassfield?
JH: I was introduced to Chris by Clive Williamson of Symbiosis. I listened to some of his solo albums like Amembo which I liked very much and thought we could work well together, It took a lot of the pressure off me to have to do so much guitar playing as well as all the flute work and I think added a great deal to the overall feel of the album.
TWR: There seem to be several character portraits on the album two, tell us a bit about those…
JH: Yes, Two Daughters was certainly written with our girls in mind, Actually Red Hair is not about my wife, but Vivaldi who was nicknamed The Red Priest because of his red hair. I called it that because the piece nips about with lots of arpeggios very much in that rhythmic Baroque style that he hade his own though I have added a touch of Gypsy Kings to bring it into somewhere a bit more modern.
You would have to ask about The Prince of Morimont. We did a gig for Genesis France in Morimont, Alsace. There was this lively little dog where we stayed who everyone loved and I had him in mind when I wrote that piece. My friend Max came up with the title The Great Including which I wanted to have a feeling of everyone belonging in this world. We actually do a rocked up version of Red Hair as e an encore with the John Hackett band!
TWR: On Overnight Snow did you use existing arrangements or did you come up with your own…?
JH: For the most part the arrangements were taken from the flute repertoire and readily available either from music publishers or on the Internet. The Handel sonata for example, is very skilfully done and transfers very convincingly to guitar from the original keyboard. Debussy’s La Fille Aux Cheveux De Lin is published arrangement where the key has been changed to a more guitar friendly G major than the original. |
For my own two pieces Freefall and Overnight Snow, Nick Fletcher made his own guitar arrangements and of course, the final Three Mediterranean Sketches grew from improvisations by Nick and my brother Steve o they are as yet unpublished in manuscript form. I was particularly pleased with how these atmospheric pieces turned out and how they added originality to the whole project.
TWR: How did you first meet Nick?
JH: I first met Nick in Sheffield Cathedral where he was giving a solo classical guitar recital. I was bowled over by his combination of flawless technique combined with a very expressive style of playing. I then found out he had taken up classical guitar after hearing one Steve Hackett! Nick has recorded several fine solo albums and has worked a a record producer so he brings a great deal of experience to our work together.
TWR: Moving on to your next rock album, Another Life, there seems to be a certain amount of autobiographical content to the lyrics but is that your story or Mr Clabburn’s? Tell us a bit about the background behind some of the tracks…
JH: I think that is a question for Mr Clabburn himself. I always hesitate to say Nick meant this or that when he wrote a certain line - if I do, I usually end up getting the wrong end of the stick! I just put music to the lyrics he sends me without asking for explanations - it seems to work best like this when I just make my own interpretations. I approach it as if I am an actor trying to get into a role. After all, when Freddie Mercury sang that he had killed a man, people didn’t immediately ‘phone the police!
Burnt Down Trees is clearly about the London riots that took place a few years back, but as for Poison Town I would have to refer you to my initial statement. I have always taken it in a more generic sense - there are plenty of towns and cities across the world where people feel disenfranchised and alienated for whatever reason (even more so in the light of recent events - AH).
TWR: You also drafted in another old cohort from your days with Steve, Nick Magnus, what did he bring to the project? You also drafted on Anthony Phillips, how did that come about?
JH: I have never heard Nick Magnus called an old cohort before! It doesn’t sound like a term of endearment… (it IS John, honest! AH) But seriously it was great working with Nick again. He fulfilled very much the same role as with Checking Out Of London where he was responsible for music of the arranging of the music as well as production, not forgetting the keyboard playing of course! With both albums I wrote the music with the original Steve Hackett band in my imagination so Nick knew exactly where I was coming from. But there were some tracks where he changed the instrumentation of my original demos very much for the better - Poison Town being a perfect example.
Of course, Steve did a fantastic job with the lead guitar work. The solo on White Lines for example, was his improvisation on the day, In fact he was on fire on that session so we extended the end of the song to give him more scope to let rip. At other times, such as on Actors, there was a guitar part that I wanted played exactly as I had written it so Steve obliged note for note with that lovely singing sustained sound of his.
As for Ant. He kind of came to the rescue with that song (Satellite). I had attempted various versions of it in the past and had not been completely happy with any of them. It was only when I tried a folk picking arpeggio part, as on the beginning of Cuckoo Cocoon that it started to come to life. But what Ant did really made the difference because he added a rhythmic figure that gives the arrangement the forward movement it had always lacked. It was Nick (Clabburn’s) idea to ask Ant and I am very glad he did! Oh, and he put some fab harpsichord on as well. Having Steve play harmonica on that track was also Mr Clabburn’s idea and it worked a treat. In fact, it cracked me up when he started to play harmonica that day because our dad used to play.
TWR: You have guested frequently with Steve during his Genesis Revisited shows, what do you think about him revisiting this stuff?
JH: Of course it is always a great feeling to be onstage with Steve. We have done so many concerts together over the years that you always feel at home. But if I am perfectly honest, it can be nerve wracking waiting backstage for an hour or so and then just walking on as if it is the most natural thing in the world when the rest of the band are warmed up and steaming away! I would always much rather play a whole concert than do one walk-on spot.
As regards Genesis Revisited, it is great to see Steve getting the recognition he deserves and still playing at the very top of his game. I have certainly enjoyed immensely the shows that I have seen. The band are great, Nad has managed to bring something original to his role which is no easy thing. And for me to have the chance to record some of Peter’s flue parts was a great pleasure. I have often said that I don’t think people appreciate what terrific flute parts Peter Gabriel wrote back then. Have a listen r to the really early stuff such as Let Us Now Make Love - it really is wonderful flute writing!
TWR: And you have begun to perform under your own steam again, how does that feel and now did you get the other musicians together to form the band?
JH: Yes, we formed the second incarnation of the John Hackett Band by chance really. I agreed to sing a few songs with me at the piano at the launch of Another Life in London last September. As the date got nearer I wondered if it was such a good idea … Nick Fletcher was round at my house so I sang one of the songs to hear what he thought. He picked up the guitar and started playing along which instantly felt better. Duncan Parsons added some percussion so we started off as a trio for the launch.
The obvious next question was, “well, where’s the bass player? We could form a band”. So Jeremy Richardson, an old school friend of Duncan’s, joined us on bass and vocals and lo - the four piece that is the Sheffield based John Hackett Band was formed. It has been a real learning curve for me because I have never played keyboards in a band live before. Obviously I am no Nick Magnus or Tony Banks but as long as I remember all the chords to my songs I can get by and frankly I enjoy it! It is quite liberating after years of whizzing up and down flute scales to do something so different.
Recently I have even acquired a Mellotron in a box - so I am like a kid with a new toy. Steve was round the other day and I think he was quite taken with it! But it has taken a lot of work to get my keyboard skills up to scratch. I have even achieved a lifetime ambition and played piano for some services at our local church. Some of those old hymns can sound easy but when they are in three flats and chords changing every beat it can be a real challenge. But I am slowly improving.
As for the band, we have played at the Classic Rock Society twice now, The Musician in Leicester (thanks to Danny Mayo) oh, and we opened for Mama at the Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton among other outings. Just this weekend we played the Trinity Theatre in Tonbridge Wells. The reaction so far has been great so we are booking into next year now and are always on the look out for new venues and promoters.
The great thing about the band is that all four of us are strong writers. The set is mostly my own songs and instrumentals but the other guys contribute a lot of terrific material which means it is never a question of what shall we play but what shall we leave out? Jeremy is an excellent singer, so he sings lead vocals on quite a few songs, which makes a good contrast to my voice. Nick Fletcher is awesome on electric guitar and deserves to be recognised in all of those guitar polls (come on, guys!!) And thankfully, as well as being a terrific drummer, Duncan Parsons isn’t shy of the microphone so somehow he always manages to shoehorn in the answers to last week’s quiz…which never existed!
TWR: When did you actually start working on the follow to Checking Out Of London?
JH: Some of the songs from Another Life were written around the time of Checking Out Of London. White Lines, Look Up and Magazine for example. Also the title track, Another Life which Tony Patterson used to perform so well with the first band. It was probably about five years ago that we started recording in earnest. We then realised that we needed a few more songs so there was quite a break before we finished recording in 2015. I saw ‘we’ because, as well as Nick Magnus, Nick Clabburn has been very much part of the team and his role on both albums went far beyond that of your average lyricist.
TWR: Tell us a little bit about your latest album, Hills of Andalucia....
JH: Hills of Andalucia is very much a follow up to Overnight Snow it is the result of a lot of concerts that Nick Fletcher and I have played round the country as a flute and guitar duo. It takes time to develop the kind of rapport we have and I think this shows on the new album. Most of the tracks have a Spanish or Latin American flavour with a few French pieces like Ibert’s Entr’acte which I have been playing since I was seventeen (so about fifteen years…) But we always like to do something original, so we included a new suite: Las Aves De Seville (The Birds Of Seville for you who don’t habla Espagnol folks - AH) which grew out of improvisations we had done/
We rehearse together regularly. We often start with an arrangement of a Bach Trio sonata for organ in E flat that is an absolute killer - basically if you can play that you can play almost anything! We often record rehearsals so Hills… was born out of hose sessions. We also have a complete baroque album in the can as it were, including Vivaldi’s Goldfinch Concerto where Nick plays all the orchestral parts on the guitar!
TWR: How do you feel about today's music business?
JH: Well, Hacktrax, which is my own record label, still survives in a market where so much music is available for free. In recent years we have released solo albums by Nick Fletcher such as Moment Of Stars and Blue Horizon and an album by my Italian friends; Playing The History. I was pleased, however, to have Another Life released by Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red) as they are able to reach a much wider audience. The John Hackett Band have alive recording which I am very pleased with, so we shall release that next year along with a new album written mostly by me with several contributions from the band. It is all in demo form and contains I think some of the strongest material I have ever written. It is great playing this new material live as the guys bring their own ideas to the arrangements. I am often surprised by the way they can sometimes turn what I might envisage as a slow ballad into something that rocks.
And there is another Playing The History album which I have contributed to, it is nearly finished and again features David Jackson on sax, as well as my brother. Other than that, I continue to play concerts whether as a solo flute player with Nick, with the organist Marco Lo Muscio or with the John Hackett Band. I also continue to teach the flute - I think it is very important to pas son the skill. Here is a distinct danger that we are moving into a period where classical instruments are mostly forgotten. Some people may not think this is important but when you consider the huge influence of classical music on progressive rock and its exponents, it has huge implications for the future.
Meanwhile, having spent 95% of my musical life practicing the flute, I am concentrating much more these days on improving my guitar and keyboard playing and singing, as well as writing much more music than in the past. So, the only problem for me is not what shall I do today, but where do I start?
Where indeed? Whatever John does next, we at TWR will be waiting. Thanks again to John, his good lady Katrin for their generosity and support, and to Nick C, Nick M , Duncan and Jeremy for their kindness and musical excellence