By Steve Newton
Twenty years ago today–on Monday, November 8, 1993–guitarist Steve Hackett of Genesis fame played the Town Pump in Vancouver. Man, just saying the words “Town Pump” brings back warm, fuzzy memories of seeing countless wicked shows there back in the day.
Anyway, in advance of that Gastown gig Hackett called from upstate New York and chatted about his latest album, his old band Genesis, and his longtime love of Queen. Here’s my story as it appeared in the Nov. 5-12 issue of the Georgia Straight.
Whatever happened to Steve Hackett? Good question. Considering how visible all four of his former bandmates in Genesis have been, Hackett has been conspicuously absent from the music scene. Or at least it seems that way here in North America.
But in actual fact, the 43-year-old guitar great has been more active than ever.
“This year’s been very busy,” says Hackett, calling from upstate New York. He’s done a lot of touring, released a new solo album, Guitar Noir, has been working on a blues-related project, and did some music for his wife Kim’s art show in London. “So there’s lots of music that I’ve been involved with. I think probably that’s the byproduct of having a studio at home.”
Hackett recorded and mixed Guitar Noir in his basement studio, and songs from the CD will form the basis for his band’s show at the Town Pump on Monday (November 8). The North American version of the disc includes a bonus track, “Cassandra”, which features former Queen guitarist Brian May, an old friend.
“We’d come across each other’s work in the very early days,” Hackett explains. “Genesis had a deal with Charisma just before Queen had their first record take off, and I remember hearing the demos that they had done. Our then-producer brought these tapes in and said, ‘Check these guys out.’ We were all very impressed, and I remember saying to Kenny Stratton Smith, the label boss, ‘Watch out for this band. Why don’t you sign them up?’
“Well, the short story is that they didn’t sign with Charisma, but many years later I met Brian and told him that I’d heard those tapes, and he said, strangely enough, that he remembered a very early track that we’d done, and he complimented me on the guitar work–the end section had some guitar harmonies on it. So ‘Cassandra’ realizes a shared enthusiasm for the twin-lead approach.”
Since leaving Genesis in ’77, Hackett has released about 10 solo albums, but he believes that Guitar Noir is quite a bit different from his previous efforts.
“I’d tended to specialize in albums which were exclusively electric or exclusively acoustic, and this one mixes the two,” he says. More exclusively acoustic–and a career highlight–was Hackett’s 1992 collaboration with the London Chamber Orchestra on a performance of Vivaldi’s Guitar Concerto.
“I’m a classical groupie, really,” the guitarist says. “I follow orchestras around. I’m not classically trained; I’m just a tremendous fan.”
Although Hackett’s current set usually includes at least one instrumental piece from his Genesis days, he claims that he has no desire to rejoin Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford.
“There’s normally one track that I think is really, really good,” he says of recent Genesis albums, “and then the other tracks, ah… I prefer their individual solo work more than what they do as a band, ’cause I think when people work alone, they have to stretch themselves and re-examine their motives.”
“But I must say that everyone I ever played with in Genesis has managed to write at least one incredible song,” adds Hackett, who points to Peter Gabriel’s “No Self Control”, Collins’s “Take a Look at Me Now”, Rutherford’s “At the End of the Day”, and Banks’s melody from “Firth of Fifth” as pieces that are “pretty fab”.