Steve Hackett has become one of the UK's best-known guitar players. As an early member of progressive rock band Genesis, Steve brought with him a unique style and several techniques including two handed tapping which would influence further generations of guitar players including Eddie Van Halen. He released his first solo album Voyage Of The Acolyte (1975) before leaving Genesis in 1977 to embark on a solo career and took time out to formed the supergroup GTR with Yes guitarist Steve Howe. To date, he has released 24 solo albums with the most recent being the acclaimed Wolflight in 2015. His latest work is a live DVD, The Total Experience Live In Liverpool. Photogroupie caught up with Steve before his set at The Stone Free Festival to find out more.
PHOTOGROUPIE (PG): SO STEVE, SOME WOULD SAY YOU'RE A BIT OF A GUITAR LEGEND
STEVE HACKETT (SH): I make a noise for a living, that's what I say to people.
PG: DO YOU PLUG YOUR GUITAR IN AND TURN IT UP TO 11?
SH: I used to do that when I was very young, 14,15,16. I had an amplifier at home and we lived in a flat near Ebury bridge in Victoria. Sometimes I used to play You Really Got Me by The Kinks (Steve makes the sound of the songs opening riff) and stop to see if there were any complaints from the neighbours. Then 30 seconds later (riff again) and then my Dad came home one day and said 'I heard you when I was coming over the bridge.'
PG: IT'S ONE OF THOSE SONGS YOU HAVE TO PLAY LOUD.
SH: Oh yes, it's got that bar ratio.
PG: THE SORT OF SOUND THAT MAKES THE PLASTER COME DOWN OFF THE WALLS.
SH: It does. I remember Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson) saying to me... I thought he was going to quote all sorts of complicated jazz, and he said 'when he was young I really liked You Really Got Me because it left room for the snare (he does the riff again followed by a drum beat.) No one did that in those days, no one thought 'oh let's leave room for the drums', but The Kinks did.
PG: THE KINKS WERE A GREAT BAND. RAY DAVIS IS A TREMENDOUS SONGWRITER.
SH: I like the really basic stuff, You Really Got Me, Till The End Of The Day. They came up with a lot of very nice things. Sunny Afternoon, Dead End Street. They had something very interesting.
PG: YOU HAVE A NEW DVD CALLED, THE TOTAL EXPERIENCE LIVE IN LIVERPOOL. TELL US A BIT ABOUT IT.
SH: It's two sets, it's very long - nearly three hours. The first set is solo stuff, the second set is Genesis stuff. It also has interviews and a documentary which is very well done, very well made. We had a great night in Liverpool. I sometimes joke that Liverpool never had any decent bands. I say that for the crowd to go (grumbles 'what about The Beatles'.) I'm really a huge Beatles fan, so I do it just to needle them a bit.
PG: IS THAT WHY YOU CHOSE TO FILM IT IN LIVERPOOL, BECAUSE OF THE BEATLES CONNECTION?
SH: I'm not sure, Inside Out wanted to film a show on this tour and we'd already done three DVD's from London. First we thought maybe Birmingham because it's got a wonderful hall, but then the Liverpool Philharmonic is a glorious hall. It was Alan Hewitt who first introduced me to that hall, or reacquainted me with it. I think I played there with Genesis and on my own. My memory is so awful (in a joking American voice) it's probably the drugs doctor! He took me there to see the Hall, so my wife, Jo and I went up to Liverpool to visit with him and thought this was a very interesting hall. What I didn't realise was that it's very live on stage. So when you're playing there it sounds like there's another band playing along with you, and you're thinking 'what band am I playing with?' In terms of timing I had to steer very much towards the band on stage, or what I thought was the band on stage. I was hearing a lot of slap back even the guys that were using in-ear monitors were hearing a lot of slap back.
PG: SO QUITE STRANGE ACOUSTICS THEN.
SH: Strange acoustics, but very live acoustics, so the gig sounds very live and that's exactly what it was.
PG: IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE A LIVE RECORD OF THE SHOWS YOU DO?
SH: I like to have a record. It's a funny thing when you look back, I did a festival many many years ago called Musikladen, back in the 70s when I first started doing solo gigs. At the time I remember looking at it and thinking 'it doesn't look that great, it's only got strip lighting.' Then you look at the same thing, twenty, thirty years later and you think 'yes, but I look so young' and on the night I was thinking 'I'm looking a bit old.' When you look back at how young everyone was on that stage you think 'never mind how it sounds, look how young, they are.'
PG: DO YOU NOTICE A SHIFT IN HOW YOU PERFORM LIVE THROUGHOUT THE DECADES.
SH: Yes there is a shift, if you look at the Genesis live albums, I did two – Genesis Live and Seconds Out, every note you heard was absolutely honest, nothing fixed, the only samples you are hearing is live Mellotron. That's an oxymoron, of course, I thought that was an unethical idea when I first heard it – 'what do you mean you can have a live orchestra at your fingertips?' Once I'd seen it and heard the beast live, I was sold on the idea. Perceptions shift over time, there's a lot that editing can do. We can move things around, to some extent we can fix timing and tuning if there's a godawful car crash you can fix it, or leave it. It's live, it doesn't have to Shakespeare or Bach.
PG: THIS IS A CAREER SPANNING DVD, IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR ALBUM YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
SH: Well I think the album that resonates most fully with fans is Spectral Mornings. I think Spectral was interesting because for the first time with a solo album it had a vocal sound to it. The vocal sound it had was three singers all doing harmonies. The first two tracks on Spectral Mornings feature harmonies is a big way. I only ever did Virgin and The Gypsey a couple of times live, it was quite complicated. It was a very difficult track to record, some tracks are like natural childbirth and some are like breach birth and arrive kicking and screaming. With The Virgin and The Gypsey, I recorded twelve different twelve string tracks and it didn't work, it still didn't quite fit together. Then we stuck on a couple of harpsichords doubling the twelve string parts. To get it sounding exactly the way I wanted was a combination of twelve string and keyboard – that Genesis combination, but this time it was harpsichord, two wooden flutes that my brother (John Hackett) played. That album sounds rather extraordinary, I'm very proud of it. Another rock album I'm very proud of is the latest one, Wolflight. It seems to have been accepted by fans as much as Spectral Mornings. In terms of other albums, the Tribute album where I did 6 pieces of Bach, the seriously difficult stuff, that I'm proud of because it shows what the guitar can do, I'm a big Bach fan and Segovia fan. I never had guitar lessons, but it's something that came naturally to me that I realise other people had to struggle for.
PG: YOU'VE MENTIONED YOUR CLASSICAL INFLUENCES, AND ON YOUR LATEST ALBUM THERE'S A FLAMENCO GUITAR TOO. DO YOU FIND THAT YOUR SOLO CAREER HAS OFFERED YOU MORE CREATIVE FREEDOM THAT YOUR BAND WORK?
SH: Composition by committee can be frustrating at times. You should have heard some of the stuff that was on the cutting room floor from Genesis back in the day, so much of that still resonates with me. I think we never did that tune, I might as well take that idea. It's much the same as the I ching idea; the chap prefers to work on that which has been spoilt. Music is perfect for that, anything that is potentially good and has been spoilt in some way can be evolved. You can always do it again, you can always do it live. We didn't do Can-Utility and the Coastliners back in the day, we played it a few times in Italy, but we didn't really give it a chance. Now, my band does it live, we've been doing that, Cinema Show and various things other things from Selling England By The Pound.