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I began my chat with Steve Hackett by promising not to ask whether Genesis would be reforming, it’s a question he gets asked a lot and I wasn’t going to go down that road. But inevitably we began by talking about Genesis.
I think if Genesis was reforming everyone would know about it! If it is then I know nothing about it! Although I have been involved with the music of Genesis for years, I have not actually been a part of the band for a very long time. I love the idea of not participating in the idea of composition by committee and group decisions and all of those things that take three years to end up with a grey cover on an album sleeve, it’s such an unwieldy process.
And especially with a group that were, indeed still are as big as Genesis. You have got a fan base with very high expectations.
There is that. Yeah, I think as I say, I tried to deliver that with my team, to live up to that and do faithful enlargements the originals. We recorded many of these pieces and if I can afford to add an orchestra any one particular time, I usually do so the first “Revisited” I did was with the Royal Philharmonic, groups and orchestras I think I’ll go very well together. I was rather hoping that Genesis might become an orchestra in the days when I joined but the group tended to get smaller and smaller rather than use larger and larger forces. I rather hoped that it would go the root of George Martin with the Beatles and Procol Harum with the extraordinary classical influences and leanings.
When we start out our ambitions are different aren’t they? When you start out young staring in shop windows hoping to be able to afford the guitar and an amp. Ambitions change once you’ve acquired that and then acquired a group Etc and expectations tend to grow up over time, I think and once you’ve cracked a certain level of success if you start to expand as a writer you will naturally start heading beyond guitar bass and drums. Just ask John Barry who isn’t around anymore sadly, but who started off with that kind of sound and then branched out into other things.
This could be heretical. I don’t know. I read it on the internet so it must be true but you ended up joining Genesis through an ad in Melody Maker.
That’s right. Yeah.
In that ad you said you were determined to strive beyond existing stagnant music forms. This is the sixties and seventies some people think that was the most exciting time for music.
Yeah. Well, I think that at the time much of what was around… I think 1970 was still very much in the throes of blues-based music of the 1960s. Once I’ve been that blues revival and we were all trying to be Blues guitarists. The blues boom died on a number of us. You might think luckily, because it meant that the music itself became more fully immersive. Music was starting to embrace different genres. jazz was welcome, hard rock was welcome, songs of pathos, lots of stuff you could you could do it that time without being accused of being pompous or any one of a number of criticisms that you could throw at music that’s arguably fusion, collision… different schools and approaches.
Trying to rewrite the rule book can always get you into trouble. There are those who think that rock should be kept very simple. It should be no more than three chords, many people have made a very good living out of that and might consider it to be sacrilege to add as much as a saxophone! But I don’t perceive any threat from the fact that other people might be able to do things that I can’t do and I love violins and cellos and the sound that they make together and spending time with orchestras over the years you get to appreciate even the tiniest little instrument – even the triangle has its place – they can add some sparkle.
I do tend to listen to all those little details if I can as well as the vocal harmonies, which I simply adore. It’s a very slow process of putting all this stuff together into album form, I find – or dare I do a reuse know, I’ve got to change that reuse in the you can use perhaps a rhythmic idea, but it might be a good idea if you if you change it slightly and all music is that of course, it’s all the same song slightly altered.
Going back to the pre-Genesis days and you your background in music, do you come from a musical family?
Yes, my father was musical, not professionally musical, but he was able to play a number of instruments. He was very clever man. He was able to do twenty things that I can’t. He could make things and be an artist and jump out of airplanes and have extraordinary IQ and anything he turned his hand to he seemed to be able to do so angry.
He was able to do a bit of bugle, a bit of trumpet, clarinet, harmonica, which was important for me as a young kid. I was trying to be like him from the age of two onwards. I was struggling with musical instruments from two onwards and that is the absolute truth.
He wasn’t one of these parents who suggest that you might try getting a proper job?
No, they didn’t say that. They were very progressive in that they let me lead my life exactly as I wanted to. They let me smoke and drink at a very early age just suggested that I didn’t get anyone pregnant, other than that it was very hands off and letting me get on with it and very encouraging.
It’s funny how in life these twists and turns occur and you can end up doing things that you wouldn’t have imagined you could. I find that interesting, but music allows me to include social comment songs and the idea of globalization as evidenced upon my last album with twenty people on it from all around the world just as nationalism is being touted as the answer to the world’s problems. I thought well, why not stay international with this, I’ve been investing in Europe since 1971 ever since we started touring there.
I love working with people around the world and I think it’s a natural consequence of making friends with the people, I don’t demonize the foreigner. I’m interested in people skills, if there is a drummer from Iceland who does a rhythm that I’ve never heard before he’s in. That’s how it works for me
Where did your classical influence come from as a matter of interest?
I first was aware of classical music one day when I was told by a group of friends that I should listen to a piece of music that this boy had. The boy had polio and he had a wind-up gramophone, he was in a wheelchair and he couldn’t walk without the aid of crutches. I remember on the day that we visited him that I was seeing the size of his legs and they were like matchsticks, he put on this piece of music, Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto in B flat minor – I had never heard that melody before and I was just blown away by it. I was emotionally laid bare by it, because I think I somehow realised in my young mind that there was tremendous inequality in the world, but somehow music could heal the divide.
I thought of it subsequently is the idea there were some people in that room most people could walk but one couldn’t but when we all listen to this piece of music – I’ve romance this – I think that we flew with the angels at that point and that’s the power of music. I think that it has a healing property. It’s an ambassador for all sorts of things. It’s an ambassador for peace. Yes, it’s harmony but it’s medicine. It’s all sorts of things, it’s physically healing, psychologically very, very powerful.
I know this having read the books of Oliver Sacks who has only recently passed on. He was describing a woman who couldn’t move, she become physically frozen until she heard a piece of music that moved her emotionally and then she was able to move physically – so seem to me that there is a direct correlation. It’s also the reason guys whistle in bathrooms to help them to pee!
It’s a strange thing, music is as insubstantial as dreams. You can’t really describe music you just have to listen for the duration of the song, if it engages you, and then it’s gone. And no one knows why it works.
All of this philosophical talk about music is wonderful but what we have yet to speak about is the tour which is yourself, your band and forty-one-piece Orchestra. That’s gonna take one big tour bus!
I don’t know how we’re going to cram them in the mini, but we’ll try. A very long tandem is the answer! You know, I’d never toured with an orchestra. I’ve toured with trucks and toured with vans but I have never been on the road with an orchestra. I’ve occasionally played live with an orchestra – that becomes less daunting with time! The first time you do it you think all these people are trained and you’re committing everything to memory. That can be quite intimidating, but you’ve got to fight through that. I think that I’m an orchestral groupie really, I follow orchestras around and go track them down. I know that they can do things that rock players can’t, classical music floats, rock music pounds, if you reduce it to its constituent parts, its basics, but somehow when they fuse together something magical that can be born.
I think that the early Genesis music that we did and was very often quite classical in spirit, influenced by classical stuff and by folk stuff – all those jingling 12 strings sounding a little bit like a chamber orchestra of harpsichords at times and that was part of the appeal of early Genesis.
And of course you’ve got Bradley in front of the orchestra controlling it all.
Yes. That’s right. We got Bradley Thachuk who is Canadian. We did a show with him in Buffalo and that was terrific and he was great. He was great at pulling everyone together. I’ve worked with some conductors who can set a furious pace and that can be a little bit difficult for rock musicians, but he said I’ll just follow you guys!
So the drummer does the count in whoever does that in the course of a song and it’s very nice to not fall apart at the first hurdle when the idea of who does who does one two, three four because that’s how it’s different from orchestras, the baton comes down and everyone is in, whereas it doesn’t work that way with rock players, but there’s something magical about it when it happens and it goes right.
It is extraordinary ambitious and many things that could go wrong, but you’ve got to jump in with both feet with this sort of stuff. With live music pretty much anything that can go wrong will, at some point
What can Genesis fans expect from this tour?
Well, I think you can expect authentic renditions of those early tunes, so it will be all the early detail plus the occasional extended solo and the enlargement of seeing the stuff that was originally written on either guitars or pianos and then handed over to mellotrons and synthesizes. Now we go the whole hog, and we include everything, so you will get those things plus an orchestra. So yeah, a mellotron at one point and attempted to impersonate an orchestra and that’s all very well and wonderful instrument that it is, but the sound of an orchestra doing that first hand it can be really great. It can be really rich and wonderful.
Funnily enough I’d seen my pals Merillion playing at the Albert Hall not that long ago and they had some classical players in and it worked very well, it was enriched by it. It was it was great to see them.
This is going to sound like a really idiotic question from a non-musician, but in terms of rehearsing with an orchestra, how on earth do you sort the logistics of getting everybody in the same room to rehearse or do you get that opportunity?
Normally to get a whole Orchestra rehearsing ahead of time I think is one way to become bankrupt. Basically, the way it works is the following we have charts and if possible on the day of first show – and I hope to do what we managed to pull off in Buffalo. In Buffalo we were doing a show in the evening but we started rehearsing with the orchestra from ten in the morning. That gives you some idea of the way that can work, the idea of getting them on a separate day is basically prohibitive.
Call me mad, call me crazy, but you’ve got to do it once in your life – go on tour with an orchestra! I keep remembering all the stories of people that have worked with orchestras and why that didn’t work or indeed why it did, and everyone’s got their own take on this. We’re using the same band, we will use the same orchestra and it’s going to be interesting working with those same people and seeing them down the path afterwards and saying “How was it for you darling?”
I think I grew up listening as much to Segovia as I did Jimi Hendrix and those two separate schools of thought, those separate kinds of music, the classical music was a guilty pleasure for me, but now of course, I’m prepared to say, yeah. Well, you know, I can listen to The Sex Pistols and I can also listen to the London Symphony Orchestra all the Berlin Philharmonic and enjoy that for the different energies. I don’t want to have any prejudice in music.
There are people who love orchestras or wouldn’t touch a group of the barge pole. I remember talking to a young friend of mine back in the day and he said: “I don’t like orchestras, oh but the one thing I do like is Ravel’s Bolero”. Yep the first album I ever bought was Ravel’s Bolero and In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg, and as far as he was concerned for the other orchestral things that have ever been done were just not interesting, but I guess what he was interested in was the crescendo aspect and the timeless elemental quality that the orchestras possess.
Steve, it has been a genuine pleasure talking to you, thank you for giving us your time.
With three of the dates on his tour already a sell out we suggest you get your tickets quickly before the Regent date sells out.
Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited – Band with Orchestra
Monday 1 October – Royal Concert Hall Nottingham, UK
Wednesday 3 October – Bridgewater Hall Manchester, UK – * SOLD OUT *
Thursday 4 October – Royal Festival Hall London, UK – * SOLD OUT *
Friday 5 October – Symphony Hall Birmingham, UK – * SOLD OUT *
Sunday 7 October – The Sage 1 Gateshead, UK
Monday 8 October – Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, UK
Thursday 11 October – Palladium London, UK