Martin Hudson asks Steve Hackett 6 questions.
Steve Hackett is a rock superstar that is no stranger to the Classic Rock Society stage be it as a performer, awards night presenter or simply as a member of the audience. He is a nice guy that when stood in the crowd is always willing to chat and sign an autograph. He accompanied me and my family along with his wife Jo to Rotherham Hospice to hand over a cheque on my behalf, the profits of my book Rotherham Rocked. All such things cannot be said of all such rock luminaries. His career has always intrigued his followers mainly due to him turning his back on a band that were a top band of their day and as history shows went on to even more success be it not in a style that appealed to all their fans.
Steve Hackett, as with Peter Gabriel, not only left Genesis but has been successful in his musical aims ever since producing quality albums and touring extensively. It’s not all been plain sailing in his private life, but that’s life as they say and he has come through it all and now happily married to his wife Jo. The fans now get the chance to learn about the life of Steve Hackett in his own words with the release of the autobiography ‘A Genesis In My Bed’. I took the opportunity to include a chat with Steve within this new series asking just six questions for The Spirit of Progressive Rock website.
I can remember Alan Hewitt’s book in 2009, Sketches of Hackett, that did a pretty good job of telling the story of your life, so is ‘A Genesis In My Bed’ to clarify matters or to both clarify and update the fans since that book and how long has the book been in the making?
This is at least twelve years on and is also my own take on things which is more personal than a biography and includes more about feelings and personal experiences. It answers several questions too regarding my relationship with Genesis, including the differences between us and what we shared as well as why I eventually left. It shows the pattern of my life journey and how things have impacted on me over the years.
Most of the book was done in the last couple of years. Jo suggested it to me many years ago basically but there’s been so much touring and a lot of albums so it was difficult to find a spare three months or more to write a book. I think this was the right time to release the book. You reach a certain age and that has a bearing on things. In my head I’m thinking of William Blake, I’m thinking of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, I think you can translate that to words. It’s no secret how old I am and so if I’m not ready to do a book now I never will be. Let’s put it this way my fingers still work, my brain still works, so everything’s still working.
Both books do a good job of describing your first memories of life in a world not too dissimilar to the one I remember. Descriptions are to my mind all black and white back in those days, sort of simple and even sepia where colours don’t really appear till teenage. Considering everything do you conclude that those years were pleasant generally where even the bad days now don’t seem so bad? For instance I enjoyed school but can remember some hard times.
I always say, schooldays were never the best times of my life! It wasn’t always all bad but I didn’t enjoy school and even retrospectively I can’t see it in a softer light. There were moments of joy though in my childhood, like experiencing Battersea Funfair and the big adventure Canada. It’s very easy to recall impressions but I might not be great on dates and when it comes to touring I have to look things up and I’m sure everyone else is the same. When you spend a large part of your life gigging you’re not going to remember every single gig. I have revisited Canada and the last time I went I took Jo down to the house and it looks very different. It had been painted white and it was green before but what I didn’t remember was that Jericho beach was only about thirty seconds walk from the front door. When you look back things look smaller and I thought it had been more like ten minute walk. So we lived just around the corner from this fantastic beach and it’s no wonder I spent a lot of time there with my mum. I liked that very much. My dad was out working. So you remember some things and not others. Obviously we all remember school days and the endless watching the clock so the day would be over. Unless of course you were a particularly brilliant academic or big and tough and then maybe you could make it. As for Battersea Funfair and music, I think the first time I went there on my own it was ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and Bill Haley and The Comets which gave way to lots of other things in the early 60s. I got to work there when I was twelve and at that time guitar bands reigned supreme, so at that time it would have been Runaway by Del Shannon and even early Manfred Mann.
The most asked question you have been asked since leaving Genesis (and I myself can remember asking you when we first met), by media and fans alike are either, Why did you leave Genesis? or, Do you regret leaving Genesis? Do you believe the fog has been cleared once and for all for such questions as a result of this book? The first time we met I remember you saying that maybe Genesis had too many genius’ in one band?
The book explains why I left Genesis in short, it was my need for autonomy, but there was a story behind that and a reason why eventually I couldn’t stay on in the band. No, I don’t regret leaving Genesis. It was a hard road after leaving with a lot of uncertainty and loads of challenges, but it was my journey and I needed to follow my own path and develop my music. This book does throw light on how and why these things happened. I remember Tony Smith coming round with a copy of ‘Then There Were Three’ and we did still talk. I would talk with Mike (Rutherford) quite often and I remember complimenting him on ‘Smallcreeps Day’ and so we were saying nice things about each other’s stuff. He said nice things about ‘Spectral Mornings’ but it was a very competitive band and sometimes someone would let their guard down and say ‘I really like that’ and ‘that was really good’ and ‘well done’.
(Steve laughed when he commented on ‘too many genius’ in one band!)
That probably sounds alright when you’re saying it out loud after a drink and can be seen as a compliment or a put down. I probably said too many people thought they were genius’ but it was a very creative band and everyone could write. I think that in a band if there are leaders and followers it’s perhaps easier. I think it is tough when everyone feels that they should have their creative say. I joined the band on the understanding that we were a songwriters co-op and that’s the way Pete sold the band to me. I would water the genius comment down these days and say there was a lot of talent and I don’t think there were any passengers.
Publicly I believe you come across as a quiet man, not demonstrative, that portrays himself through his music. However, there’s a lot more styles to Steve Hackett musically be it blues, prog rock, jazz or classical. So I think you have done a really honest job in this autobiography where you admit to certain emotions and other sides of yourself. Your references to dabbling in drugs may take some by surprise.
Yes, I do have many sides which are attracted to many kinds of music! One minute I’m playing Baroque music on acoustic guitar and the next, something heavy and dissonant on electric … I can be very cautious but as the book shows, I’ve taken big risks that at times have been foolhardy, like the point I went hang gliding off the top of a mountain. I was never heavily into drugs, but there were some strange experiences over the years. There were some strange paranormal occurrences and it is an area of lifelong interest.
I was fascinated by that quite early on and I remember meeting Michael Bentine and read his book ‘A Door Marked Summer’ and he said that was written in answer to those that wanted to learn more about his experiences with the paranormal and his family. That was an interesting read and I think I got in to that a little in this book, but if I went too far down that route in this kind of book which is an autobiography people might think I was very cosmic indeed. The more I talk to people I realise many people have their equivalent of this so it’s very common. (Steve laughs) It’s not as if I sit around all day doing Tarot cards; you might get that impression from the album in 1975. I prefer to get on with life but every now and again I have the feeling that there is something beyond everything that we know and beyond things that science is currently able to explain. The latest book I read on this was ‘The Lazarus Effect’ by Dr. Sam Parnia. It’s interesting as it’s about erasing the boundaries between life and death. I’ve read a few of these things over the years and there is a lot of scientific information and rather less evidence that one would have wanted. There is more from the pen of Dr. Raymond Moody, an American doctor that started writing about this in the mid-70s and did a book called ‘Life After Life’ and variations on that.
I remember years ago at a Classic Rock Society awards night the late great Peter Banks asked me to ask you if you would join him to jam on stage at the end of the main bands set. You make reference to some stage fright in the book and I remember you being reluctant to join Peter at first but we talked you in to it. Was this because you did not have any of your guitars with you or was there a touch of the stage fright that night. In the end you did a great job by borrowing Jadis guitarist Gary Chandler’s guitar. I think he was thrilled you’d played on it too! The CRS shows were small fry up against some of the large shows you do these days. Have you a preference?
No I remember that occasion and it wasn’t linked to stage fright. I like to use my own guitars. I play on light gauge strings which many others don’t. The stage fright situation was brought on by that feeling of being exposed on my own in front of an audience with just an acoustic guitar, having to unexpectedly do something unrehearsed.
It was a borrowed guitar that I didn’t know how to crank up at all. The gesture was everything and whenever you have a jam and you happen to be playing your own equipment you can do something else. That is especially with guitars, it’s like where’s the gears on this bike. Of course Pete has passed away now, but he was a demon guitarist. I didn’t think of those as small shows at the time, I just remembered them as having a very enthusiastic audience and I remember, funnily enough, guesting with John Wetton and he said we’ll do ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and he got me in to the habit of doing that. I did it quite a few times with him, once or twice it was recorded and the last time we did that was with John and Chris Squire on stage at Cruise To The Edge.
The COVID situation has blown everyone’s diaries to pieces and I spoke to Rick Wakeman recently and he described his diary as being full one day and empty the next day as lockdown became reality. You were in mid tour abroad at the time this kicked off but managed to get home thankfully. Now the show will go on in September / October 2021 for us Brits with the Genesis Revisited tour. Dates are selling out fast with extra dates added but sadly missing Sheffield, something I and brother John are disappointed about I’m sure. Does this incredible surge of interest over the last few years in to your music and that of the what I call the ‘classic’ Genesis music surprise you at all? And finally I asked Steve if he saw a time when he and Jo would walk off in to the sunset and say enough is enough?
I was lucky to get back to the UK on the last flight out of Philadelphia after my USA tour was stopped half way through. Yes, it feels weird seeing the parallel universe going on in the diary … all those shows and countries I would have been in! I’m very relieved that shows are being rescheduled rather than cancelled, so at least they will still happen. I don’t organise the dates so it’s not my decision not to do the Sheffield date! I’m very much looking forward to the extended UK tour. I’m thrilled at the response to my Genesis Revisited shows. I’ve always loved the music of that era and it’s wonderful to be able to share that with so many people. I don’t think it will be ever enough and we seem more productive. We’ve been working on an orchestral acoustic album and that’s done and then as of yesterday we moved on to another rock one. So there’s the book, there’s another live album, there’s an acoustic one and they all sound just wonderful and I’m not being big headed here. I don’t mind sharing the writing be it with Jo, with Roger, the ball gets passed around. Sometimes I just have a glimmer of an idea and I know how I want it to sound and then Roger will run with the ball so one phrase became four and all the rest. There’s an amazing level of technology now and I do work with soloists, so I’m going to remain busy Martin. I get very excited about all that. It would be nice to have more time off but what the hell! We’ll be making up for lost time next year and we’ll deliver the whole of ‘Seconds Out’ then.
Steve and I could have talked for an age on that paranormal subject but anyone that might be interested does now have some reference points.