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An Interview with Steve Hackett

Please note: Steve Hackett's 2020 tour has now been postponed: he is now scheduled to play the New Theatre Oxford on 19th October 2021

Legendary solo- and ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett is planning a world tour, due to arrive in Oxford in October 2021r, when he’ll play the New Theatre on November 18th. He’s also recently completed his autobiography, ‘A Genesis In My Bed’, which is going on sale on July 24th. Our guest interviewer Ella K Clarke chatted with him about - among other things - musical inspiration, autonomy, and touring post-pandemic…

Ella K Clarke: Thanks again for talking with us, it’s a real pleasure to be speaking with you about your new World Tour Genesis Revisited, celebrating your fourth solo album Defector’s 40th birthday.

In a Rolling Stones interview you once mentioned you wanted to give the fans the full picture of the Genesis catalogue, “not just crumbs from the table”, giving the people what you think they want. How will you present that in your current World Tour and why did you choose the 1977 live album Seconds Out for this particular tour?
Steve Hackett: On my last solo tour, I had done Selling England by the Pound and Spectral Mornings and a fair amount of Wind and Wuthering so I thought, “well, now, the rabbit to bring out of the hat is Seconds Out”, as it was a very popular live compilation album from the band at the time, the other one being Genesis Live. Seconds Out as a double album seemed to speak to people in a way that perhaps earlier albums didn’t. I think the band sounded best live, and this original album had no over-dubs; it was absolutely honest; from the days when not everyone was making honest live albums. And I don’t see why progressive music’s shoulders can’t be broad enough to be able to encompass things we think of as ‘world music’ and various other genres that sit as a hybrid.

EKC: You’ve spoken often of the still-existing rivalry in the band, and how if they were ever to reform they might not have you back, wanting someone “more controllable”. You even mentioned that you felt “edited-out” of the Genesis BBC documentary in 2014. Do you think getting out in 1977, before the group’s ‘Top of The Pops’ phase was still the best decision you made? You say in your new autobiography (set for release this July) you “wondered if you had done the right thing”...
SH: It was the best decision for me, yes. I don’t know if it was the best decision for them, but then others would argue that you don’t need a game-changer, you don’t need all sorts of things that might question the need to stay in one genre or another. I think by the time I left the band, I was using instruments like the Kalimba (African thumb piano) and Psaltery (Greek harp) which weren’t credited on the album because I thought it looked like I was doing too much, I’d be sticking my head above the parapet and I was already in enough hot water. I’m very pleased that I left the band, though I never left the music - that’s the important thing, I think that to have autonomy is so important. We all have to take that leap of faith at some point, otherwise we’d never leave the home.

EKC: You’ve said before “there must be an excess of compassion fatigue” in today’s social climate and that your anxiety around that has spurred you into making music in the past. Is this still the case for you?
SH: I think that I was talking about that back in the days of Rock Against Repatriation for the Vietnamese boat people when I was very concerned about the way the British government were handling refugees arriving from Vietnam, and half the music business was involved giving either their time or their artefacts and that was extraordinary. I was inspired by the musicians who were also involved in it, including Brian May and Mike Rutherford. I think we can’t afford to have compassion fatigue today or we’re all going to get wiped out - that’s no good. I’ve been doing these short YouTube videos of ‘track-chats’ from home, of Genesis and solo album tracks. I think I did about ten of them today – I changed my shirt each time to make it look like it’s another day, otherwise I might get comments like “you’ve been wearing that shirt now for the best part of a month” and that’s not good! I’m getting better at them as I’ve realised that I shouldn’t look away from the camera too much but engage with the audience and allow myself to laugh along with it and be moved by the music all over again. I know it sounds self-serving but, in a way, if I don’t, who’s going to do that, who’s going to remember that stuff, who’s going to celebrate it?

EKC: Your celebrated guitar solo in ‘Firth of Fifth’, a song which often reminds me of Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig in The Sky’, has been touted as one of Genesis’s greatest moments and indeed of progressive pop, which must have defined your voice as a musician greatly. My favourite solo track of yours is from Spectral Mornings, ‘The Virgin and The Gypsy’ - what were your influences while writing that?
SH: Well, lyrically there was a book that was very popular in the 1970’s called The Victorian Book of Flowers and one night over - I think - two glasses of white wine, I was looking at this book and thinking “I wonder if I could construct a lyric that was entirely threaded together via flower names”. I tried not to be too influenced by the book of the same name by D H Lawrence, but I really liked the way he used colour, as he was also a painter. It developed into a folk song with antiphonal harmonies, 12 strings, a bit of harmonica and two harpsichords. My brother was marvellous on that track as he did two separate flute tracks. They were both completely improvised and it sounded like two lovers, with this sense of urgency, kind of folk/jazz in a way. I’ve just started playing it again live this past year and it’s been working really well, using guitar synth rather than heavyweight keyboards.

EKC: Your last solo tour was your most successful yet, selling over 30,000 tickets for all your 2019 UK shows – How do you think this World Tour will compare?
SH: Funny that, we were really packing the shows in. At the time, we were virus free but then I had to cut it short because venues were being closed either individually or collectively by the government. We were half way through an American tour and it ended abruptly, so I got the last flight back from Philadelphia with my wife. That was extraordinary. I had never cancelled a tour, or never had one cancelled for me as a result of a pandemic - it really is a brave new world isn’t it? But I can’t wait to get out there again and be doing it, meanwhile I tend to make lots of videos from home to keep the home fires burning and to keep the interest going.

Are you looking forward to playing Oxford? How do Oxford audiences compare?
SH: Of course, I love Oxford, our hopes are pinned on Oxford at the moment, as we hope there’s going to be a cure [for Covid-19]. I was invited many years ago to The Kilns, C S Lewis’ home, to have the most fantastic high tea. There’s no such thing as an audience that sticks from a place, especially with the turnover of people who go in and out of Oxford who might think “Ooh yeah I think I’ve heard of him, he plays guitar, I might go along” or “I like Genesis…” so I don’t know what kind of audience that will be, and it will have changed because it’s a very young town, but other than that, all I can say is that they’ve always been very enthusiastic!

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