An incredibly prolific musician and composer, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett continues to write record and perform imaginative, evocative and inventive music that bridges many styles and genres. The native of London was part of the pioneering progressive rock group from 1971 to 1977, writing and performing on six studio albums and three live albums before his departure. He lasted two years longer than founding vocalist Peter Gabriel, while the remaining core of Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford continued on for many decades.
Hackett actually began his solo career in 1975 with his first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte, and has since released an incredible 24 more albums, including two albums of re-recorded Genesis material, and has collaborated with a number of other prog-rock titans, including both Chris Squire and Steve Howe of Yes.
The solo albums run the gamut of musical styles from classical to pop, blues, and world music. As a player and songwriter, Hackett has been cited as a key influence by a veritable who’s who of the rock guitar firmament, including the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Brian May, and Alex Lifeson. His most recent studio album was The Night Siren, released earlier this year.
On Jan. 26, Hackett will be releasing a new live DVD/Blu Ray entitled Wuthering Nights: Live in Birmingham, which marked the 40th anniversary of Genesis’ Wind & Wuthering album. In February of 2018 he will also be returning to North America for a run of dates, including a number in eastern Canada.
The tour opens Feb. 10 at Le Palais Montcalm in Quebec City, followed the next night by a show at the Place Des Arts in Montreal, before heading to the venerable Massey Hall in Toronto on Feb. 12. The Canadian shows conclude back in Quebec on Feb. 13 at Le Theatre Du Casino Lac-leamy in Gatineau. Hackett then heads south for a handful of shows on the American east and west coasts, before wrapping up the tour in Mexico and Chile.
“I think I am busier now than ever before. Some friends and colleagues are falling off the perch but I am still going. I love doing it; I love touring and I have no plans to retire. It really seems to be picking up steam. It’s been great in recent years, there has been an extraordinary level of interest in a number of things I have been up to, including revisiting Genesis and also the solo stuff and what I call my pan-genre approach to music,” Hackett said, adding that even after nearly five decades of touring, he is still hitting new markets for the first time, or the first time in a very long time.
“There are places in South America that are opening up for the first time touring wise. And also this year it was the first time to Australia and New Zealand. And this Christmas I will be heading off to India. It’s very interesting everything that’s going on. It is tremendously rewarding and validating for all the crazy ideas that I have had over the course of a lifetime. I guess it’s because music can do some things that politics fails to do and that is to get through to people and not have any prejudice. It’s allowed me to make friends everywhere and often I get to work with these people.
“On my last studio album we had 20 people play or sing on it from all over the world – Iceland, Azerbaijan, Hungary to Sweden the U.K. and the United States. It’s an ongoing thing for me to work with people from everywhere and to incorporate the instruments that I sometimes come back with. World music beckons because it’s a big place and luckily the British passport still gets me in to most countries.”
Hackett says that often the music of Genesis from his era is the entrepot to these relationships and these fan bases because the music was more focused on musicality, complexity and had elements of the fantastical to it that appealed to people across a wide spectrum of cultures.
“In the early days there were great swathes of instrumental stuff. I think we broke through in a lot of countries because there was a romantic aspect. The fact that a whole bunch of us listened to classical music and we served it up again, that influence, in a very surreal kind of way, so people were not so dependent on understanding lyrics. It wasn’t only the words that told the story, it was the music and the arrangements that helped paint the picture,” he said.
“We gave them these kinds of musical odysseys or journeys that were sometimes at an epic length and provided, as I have done with my own music, that pan-genre approach. It was also kind of like a film for the ears, so people could really get absorbed into these pieces like listening to opera. You might not grasp any words in Italian but you get the idea with opera of a big dramatic event. And that early Genesis was music that was full of surprises and as thoroughly composed as we could make it.”
Hackett offered kudos to Canada for embracing Genesis early on, and offering a foothold into the North American market.
“Around 1973 when we first started touring in the U.S. in earnest, we could barely get an audience, except on both coasts. But we loved coming to Canada. We used Canadian tours to fund or mitigate losses that we made in America at that time. So, yes, Canada was very much on the forefront of our touring plans. Without Canadian fans I don’t think we would have been able to survive those early tours economically,” he said.
A number of years ago, when Hackett began creating his Genesis revisited live shows, he brought in veteran Swedish/American vocalist/songwriter Nad Sylvan in 2012 primarily to perform the classic Genesis songs. Sylvan’s uncanny vocal similarity to Peter Gabriel and his own unique theatricality has captivated audiences worldwide and helped reintroduce the classic, more progressive version of Genesis to an entire generation of fans.
“Nad has been great for the band. He has his own take on singing the material very authentically. Genesis was the band that influenced him the most when he was growing up, so he said it was a dream come true to be asked to be the singer for this stuff. He loves it and he sings it with a passion and he is wonderfully theatrical,” Hackett said.
“He is covering material that we did with Peter Gabriel originally. He is also doing some of the stuff that Phil did. Peter and Phil have very similar voices. In fact, when I first saw Genesis before I joined the band it sounded like they were doing some sort of double track effect on Pete’s voice and it actually was Phil. And we also do a little bit of the stuff that I did with Ritchie Havens and Nad can sound remarkably like Ritchie. He has a very chameleon-like quality to his voice and does that wonderfully. There was one night we were doing it and I swear he was channelling the late great Ritchie who had this wonderfully deep voice.”
A treat for many Hackett fans on the upcoming tour will be the inclusion of the hit 1986 song When The Heart Rules the Mind from the GTR project that he did in tandem with fellow legendary prog-rock guitarist Steve Howe and vocalist Max Bacon.
“And actually I will be singing that one. I think my voice is closer to Max’s than Nad’s is. I don’t think I really have what I consider to be a Genesis voice – that’s another kind of animal. But re-recording that one and finding that I can hit the notes that are really high was a challenge, but it’s actually worked out really well. I am looking forward to doing that one,” he said, adding that for many years there had been questions regarding whether there would ever be another GTR project.
“The funny thing is the other guys in the band approached me to do it and I said I was up for that. Steve Howe has said he wasn’t really interested. But he is interested in the fact that I am going to be performing the song again live. I think he likes the fact that it’s being celebrated again. So it will be interesting to hear the response because people often ask me about GTR, especially in the media and they all say they liked the album and can’t understand why there wasn’t any follow up.”
At some point in the near future Hackett said he would like to re-introduce some of the songs he wrote and recorded with the late Chris Squire of Yes for a 2012 project called Squackett that produced an album called A Life Within A Day.
“There are certain songs that were really good that I enjoyed doing with Chris and again there’s that link between Genesis and Yes. I am happy to build those bridges and extol the virtues of the similarities rather than the differences between both those bands. And even though Chris is no longer with us [he died in 2015] I often find myself saying, ‘I wonder if Chris would have liked this.’ I know we liked talking to each other. We were pals; we liked working together and sharing stories and sometimes we did that musically together. Funnily enough, I’ve just done something with [current Yes member] Billy Sherwood on a record that is something that is a tribute to Chris Squire. I played on a piece that was a Yes moment and it’s very interesting and I was glad to be able to make a contribution,” he said.
As for new music, Hackett said he is always writing and is in fact in the midst of recording his next solo album.
“As we speak I am working on a new album downstairs with my keyboardist Roger King. In between interviews today I am working on new songs, and it’s going very quickly and very well. It’s very atmospheric music and it’s all coming together in an extraordinarily surprising fashion. I always want things to go quickly but I don’t want the standards to fall, so I want to be surprised by it,” he said.
“We’re also building a new studio. So in a few month’s time when I come back from touring, the house will be chaos because there will be an extra floor being built with a studio and everything. I am trying to get as much of the recording done credibly beforehand and that’s going very well. In terms of when it will come out, it all depends. It may come out late in 2018 but it may be that I will wait until the beginning of 2019. I think the record company would be happier if it comes out next year, but who knows. I need some non-touring time to really make that work.
“As much as I enjoy touring, and I do, I am longing to have new music. But in the meantime the Wuthering Nights: Live in Birmingham DVD will be the new product early next year and that should tide people over. It was a great band, it was a great set and it was a great night. We were able to celebrate a lot of things from Wind and Wuthering that deserved to be celebrated again.”
For more information on Hackett’s early 2018 tour of North America, the new DVD and more, visit www.hackettsongs.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.