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German Genesis Fanclub: 25th anniversary

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Q: I'd suggest that we kindly welcome Mr Steve Hackett.

Steve Hackett: Hello. Guten abend. Dankeschön.


Q: Let's start with a question regarding fans and fanclubs. You know you are here among the core of the fans in Germany and Europe. Last year you attended the convention in Italy and probably others, too. What does it mean to you to be here on such a day?

Steve: It's funny, you know. I'm going to try and answer this question in different way to the way I might have answered that question thirty years ago like the films you saw. You become a different person over time. In the old days I used to get very nervous when I was on stage and you might think, when you see these films: „A young, confident guy“. But inwardly during the early days of Genesis I would be on stage and my legs were shaking. It's true. I used to think: Is this going to work? Is that going to work? I learned that the secret of enjoying yourself on stage and not being so fearful is it is important to feel the same onstage as offstage because everyone is really the same inside. Everyone is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Everyone has an extraordinary view of life. So there is no separation between the stage and everything. Everyone in the room is friends, so everyone is invited to ask questions. Whatever it is, I don't mind. I am completely open to that.

But it is very very touching to come here and – for starters, I have seen more pictures of myself tonight and albums that I had no recollection that I worked on. It's absolutely true, and I am looking at that one thinking: Looks vaguely familiar. Who was that? I worked with that person. Over the course of a lifetime if you were all asked to account you'd realize that you forget so many things, so many extraordinary days with ... people, some of who are here tonight, of course, and will be here tomorrow. People like John, my brother, and Nick Magnus, and many old friends that I may not even be aware of that they are waiting in the wings. It's great to be here, absolutely wonderful. I am in danger of talking too much. When I was a kid I didn't stay in school beyond the age of about 16. There was one overriding reason and that was because when you were in sixth form, maybe 17 or 18, and you were still in school you would be required to get on the stage and read a passage out from the Bible. Now this absolutely terrified my more than the prospect of not being educated. So it is quite strange all these years later to be relaxed in front of everyone when I was so terrified of public speaking in those days. - I'll shut up and let you ask me questions. Anything, and I'll try to be honest.


Q: Now for a question that was posted in our forum. Obviously not everybody could be here today so the posted their questions there. It relates more to the human side of your music: Do you think people appreciate you enough as a guitarist?

Steve: I don't know. I mean we are looking at a room full of people... People have their own motives for coming. Some may be interested in guitar work. I don't know if I am appreciated as a guitarist or not. I am involved in music. Part of what I do is playing guitar, but there are many other aspects to it: Writing music, jamming with other people. It's a dialogue between musicians and non-musicians. I am very happy when people like my guitar work, but it's not critical to me. The idea of guitar heroes – when I was young, again, I thought „ to be a guitar hero, it must be wonderful to be someone like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Andre Segovia“- but now I think in many ways it is a limitation because you think that is what they do, they play guitar. You might forget that people might write wonderful songs, you don't think of them as extraordinary men which they all are in their own ways: Poets, writers, role models, so many things.


Q: Umm....

Steve: It's a difficult question. It's so bloody long, isn't it? It would be easier to say: Who doesn't speak English? If you all speak English... my German is terrible.

Steve Hackett Interview 1

Q: How do you feel about critics? How do you deal with it as a musician when you put out an album and receive good reviews by some and bad reviews by others?

Steve: It is a very funny thing because during the time of punk whatever I did was completely flying in the face of that. It was completely opposite, so there was a time when it was impossible to get a good review of what you did. And I accepted that this was just going to be the case for anyone who played music like I did, who was of my age, who had hair in a certain way, if you didn't have a safety pin through your nose or something, all the things that might qualify you to be fashionable and a new face on the block. It doesn't worry me. I'm 59 now, I don't give a shit, it doesn't matter. But I remember Spectral Mornings. We were very proud of it – Nick's here, John's here, and we were very proud of the album, and I used to look at the reviews – ha! [laughs] There was one, a very short one in an English paper called New Musical Express, and they said: „I am surprised anyone listens to this kind of rubbish anymore.“ It's funny, but the critical critic becomes more famous than all the rest with their excessive praise. It's still building mythology in a different way. If you are a journalist and you want to complain about everything it is a very good career, I think.


Q: Going back to the 70s and the time between Genesis and your solo career. Well, there was an overlap, obviously. There is some confusion about the Spot The Pigeon EP on which there are three tracks. You were involved in at least one, Inside And Out, but what about Match Of The Day and Pigeons?

Steve: Yes, I'm on both of those. I'm on Match Of The Day, I'm on Pigeons. I don't know if I can throw much light on that. Obviously, the outstanding track is Inside And Out which was really a jam. I seem to remember that Phil wrote the lyrics which was quite rare for him in those days. It sounds unthinkable now. But it was mainly a jam. The thing about Pigeons was that it was possible for the band to play a whole note for a whole thing: ding-ding-ding-ding... And that was unvarying whilst the keyboard changed and Tony tried to do as many different chords as possible. It was obviously a send-up and it was trying to sound like an English musical performer called George Formby. The sound of the guitar was just a little bit like a banjo or a banjolele. Out of these three songs two of them were jokes, although they're pretty obscure. I did like Inside And Out, and I am very happy that all of them resurfaced roundabout the time Wind & Wuthering was rereleased recently with the new mixes in 5.1 because these songs were recorded as part of the Wind & Wuthering sessions. In those days we couldn't include it on the album even if we wanted to because you could only get a certain amount of needle-time when it was on vinyl. So I am very pleased that it has all been restored for all its strengths and weaknesses as the album that it is. For my money the new mixes of Wind & Wuthering, particularly the 5.1 if you are lucky enough to have a system that plays it back, sounds really good.


Q: [to the audience] Now it's your turn. ... I'll pick one if you don't volunteer! [laughter] – Are you going to play concerts in Holland again? You haven't played there for quite some time now.

Steve: Well, I hope to be. I know I am supposed to be doing something with Djabe, the Hungarian band, in Holland soon, and I'm making no secret about the fact that I am trying to do as many gigs in as many places as it is possible to organize this year. I do miss playing in Holland because I always loved being there. I'm not just saying it – it's true. I hope there will be dates there. I've got a guy called Brian Coles who is putting together dates for me and agents and promoters are calling him, so I can probably give you his details later on. If there's an offer from anybody I'd be happy to do it because it has been a long time. I miss it. Yeah, great place.


Q: Speaking of touring, how did you get Nick Beggs into your touring band?

Steve: Nick Beggs, that's extraordinary, you know? Nick Beggs I met about, uh, 1996 at an EMI convention. It was either Sheffield or Birmingham, can't remember which city it was? I was signed to EMI for one album, which was A Midsummer Night's Dream. They wanted lots of people on the label to come and play in front of the company. The company was so huge at that time that they took over a whole hotel. Various people were playing. He was playing with Belinda Carlisle, you know her, the singer. He came and said hello. He said „I'm Nick Beggs“, he was very very nice to me, very open. I heard him playing with her and it sounded very good, very enthusiastic. And then he came over to my house to play me some things. He sounded absolutely fabulous. Not just as a bass player but as a stick player as well. Very gifted, very good, and a very good soloist, too. Sounds like lead guitar being played. He told me he was working also with John Paul Jones, who was an extraordinarily well-known bass player with Led Zeppelin et cetera. He was required when he was working with John Paul Jones to sometimes be a bass player, sometimes be a guitarist, but he was supposed to cover all the things that John wasn't playing at the time. I got to work with John as well, and I phoned him up recently because we were looking for... I was trying to put together a band to start doing electric shows again, and he immediately said he'd do it. He said he was a fan, he had been at early gigs, maybe even at some of the ones you've seen. He'd actually been there in the audience, and he must have been very young at the time. It's great to be working with him, he's very very enthusiastic, very very talented, and he was the singer with Kajagoogoo, the immensely popular pop band. Beyond that he is, basically, a virtuoso player, and he has worked with many people. It was great to be on tour with him. We've done four dates so far but we're gonna do lots more, I think. And meanwhile he is on tour with Kim Wilde. He is the kind of guy who will end up working with everybody in the business in the end.


Q: The band The Musical Box have surprised many people, you probably included, with their enormous success in recent years dealing mainly with the 70s. How would you explain that the music of the 1970s, particularly the music of Genesis, has reached this incredible cult status and survived to this day?

Steve: It is a very pleasant surprise for me. When we were doing many of the very early albums they were not particularly successful. I know that that sounds unbelievable now because you think of history and you think success is immediate, but it wasn't. When we were touring as a band in the early 70s – 1971 there was Nursery Cryme, 1972 Foxtrot, '73 Selling England By The Pound, '74, if I remember correctly, and it might have been released in '75 because my memory is not so good anymore, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway – At that point in time we were on tour for nine months solid, and at the end of it the band had made a tremendous loss. We toured for nine months straight, and I was feeling absolutely dead. We owed a quarter of a million pounds. I don't mean to talk about money because it's boring but what I'm trying to say is to get it in perspective. You think of a band as always having been a success. Many bands tell the same story. You are either bankrupt, it seems, or you're doing wonderfully. I'm currently crawling towards bankruptcy but having a great time. Interesting times. But I am very glad you liked – I think you mentioned Selling England By The Pound. All things seemed to lead to that with Genesis because I think of it as the most definitive Genesis guitar album. It was an album where I didn't actually write many of the tunes at all, just guitar riffs, which was the best way to work with Genesis at the time. Am I going to fast to translate? - But it's great that that stuff is a success, and the reason for it I don't know. I don't have the magic formula. All I can say is that I think that the appeal of any music whoever does it – it's all in the details of it, so if you're working away in your bedroom and you think „no one is going to listen to this song but I like it“ that's the most important thing because you'll be keen on the details of it sound good. Somebody said to me years ago about another musician I admired: „He doesn't waste a single note.“ and I thought „How is it possible not to waste a note?“ In time I realized that what it means is he enjoys what he does so much that there's something about it. It's got something within it. Love is the most important thing, of course, in all walks of life, and definitely in music. The Genesis albums you're talking about, I did love them and tried to give them everything. Sometimes that worked and other times I was frustrated that I couldn't give it more. But everybody gave it everything they could at the time.


Q: It seems there will be no Genesis reunion of the classic line-up with you and Peter since Peter announced that he was not interested because he has young children and so on. Could you outline why it won't happen? Also, are you sick of these questions? [big laughter]

Steve: As you said that was the latest from Peter. I was approached by the band, and they asked if I would be part of re-forming to do The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, so I said „okay, sure“. I waited to hear from Pete and there was nothing for a long time. An ominous silence. I don't know if that will ever happen. I always feel I am apologizing for other people. All I can say is it Pete wants me to do it, if Tony wants me to do it, if Mike wants me to do it, if Phil wants me to do it, not to mention Chester and all the rest, yeah, I'm very happy to do that, but meanwhile rather than dealing with a retrospective my thoughts are always working on something else that I hope will sound as good, if not better than The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and also the band that I'm working with. If the call comes, yes, of course I'd be very happy to work with Pete again. Whether The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway would be the best thing to do I don't know. I made no secret I was talking to the guys about this thing. I think it's a big pressure for Pete to have to do The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. So maybe a net should be cast wider over the whole Genesis history to do whatever it takes to get all these guys up on stage again. I'm probably the most flexible member of Genesis when it comes to it. But you can't force anybody. It'll have its own time. If it happens, great, but there are no guarantees in life, as you know. You can only try your best.


Steve Hackett in Remscheid

Q: Is it one of the questions you can't stand anymore?

Steve: No, I understand it because every interview that I do orientates towards the same thing: Are you guys going to reform, and I always say the same thing, which is maybe... I always felt sorry for George Harrison answering questions about the Beatles, if they ever reformed. He said he'd do it, and I heard him say that for about thirty years. I thought: Poor guy – and now I get the same sort of questions. In any attempt to recreate the past – and it is very difficult because, obviously, musicians always feel the need to move on and an audience always feels the need to turn the clock back, quite naturally – it's almost impossible, but with the show I am doing at the moment we decided to do a full-length version with Roger King, Nick Beggs, Rob Townsend and Gary O'Toole of Firth Of Fifth rather than just the guitar solo.

It is arguably Genesis' best-known guitar tune, and it is a damn good song there that isn't heard. I don't think even Genesis do that anymore, and maybe they never will. I do enjoy a lot of these songs in their entirety. The fact that I left the band doesn't mean to say that I am not, in spirit at least, one with many of those tunes. I still love them, for what its worth. Songs like Firth Of Fifth, Watcher Of The Skies, they've got an amazing broad sweep, and I'm sure it's the reason why a lot of you are here enjoying that kind of symphonic feeling that some bands were able to get. We touched on that at the time and that's something that the band did at one time – the link to classical music that I have invested in heavily, of course. Uhm, I'm in danger of making my answers too long for you, but I try to be informative. I'll shut up.


Q: It is interesting that you mention Chester when you mentioned the others. That would also mean Daryl, which leads to another question...

Steve: I would be very happy to stand there with Chester and Daryl. If that was the price of getting everyone onto the same stage it is important not to be seen as the difficult one, you know? „He's the difficult one, he's the reason it didn't happen because he would stand there on stage and play the rhythm guitar. Difficult character.“ It's not true. I am very easy-going. I just like it to sound good.


Q: Speaking of Daryl ...

Steve: Daryl? A fine guitarist.


Q: ...and Firth Of Fifth. Now I am very curious to know what you think of Daryl's version of your solo because he plays it amazingly fast in contrast to you. You play it amazingly...

Steve: ...slow. I play it as a deathly slow speed. Funereal speed. As a colonial guitarist it's different for Daryl. Seriously, to play someone else's part is almost impossible. I understand his need to play it differently. It is very difficult to play exactly the same notes as someone else. In fact, when I joined the band I used to play The Knife, and of course Anthony Phillips had played on that. I know Anthony, he's a friend and very very nice guy, and I thought he had come up with a really good guitar part for that tune. I couldn't play it exactly the same so I had to change it. But luckily I am not being accused of changing his guitar part. I think these things for musicians are not sacred. Somebody has always to give them something of themselves.


Q: Maybe you could do Guitar Wars with Daryl? Could you tell us about that?

Steve: Guitar Wars.... Yes, Guitar Wars was very interesting. It's funny, you're talking about guitar speeds. That was guitar Olympics, that stuff. I think you can choose to be a fast guitarist for a living, and if that's what you do it's like being a thoroughbred race horse. I see it as music as sport. You've got the stopwatch and you've got a certain number of seconds and you're out to beat the world record to be the fastest gun in the West. It's highly entertaining, but it's a different sensibility, I think. I don't think I want to spend the rest of my life trying to be the fastest guitarist on the planet. However, I think speed has got its place. I used to think one fast run in the middle of a whole song was an absolute peak and, in some ways, the crescendo or the epitome, the peak of that particular solo. I think jazz people understand this very well, but rock guitarists... Obviously there is this feeling that you've got this machine gun in your hands and you're going to massacre everyone with it. I tend to prefer a more lyrical approach where there is sometimes less speed, but a lot of the time there is a lot of other things that the guitar can do. If the guitar could be a violin I'd be very happy but it's not that. It's something else. It's close to a voice, it's all sorts of things. When I was really young, when I was first hearing electric guitarists doing things, when I was fourteen or fifteen I was hearing so many incredible sounds others were doing that were all just about five years older than me – that seems to be the demographic. Musicians that were five years are able to work miracles whilst you struggle to get your fingers around the basics. Um... ask me another.


Q: Between writing and playing, what is more important to you? What do you prefer?

Steve: Is writing more important than playing? They are both important, aren't they? I mean think about the Beatles. Most musicians, of my generation anyway, worship The Beatles for their writing if not their playing where you have an extraordinary level of creativity on one level and on another you've got a rudimentary approach but it works really well, so ideas always seem to be more important, I think, than technique. As regards the guitar being out front or with other things and there is ensemble playing... When I was working with Genesis there was a very strong personality in terms of Tony and his playing, so you couldn't always do heroic guitar playing with that band. So I used to try, particularly in the days before we had the synthesizer, to try and get as many different sounds out of the guitar and work in a subtle way like The Musical Box, the first track that I worked on with the band and I realized that nobody was making the sound of a musical box, so I tried to make the guitar sound like that. A little short fast phrase. Very often I would try and work very hard with all the keyboard players I've worked with to see if you can make a third sound out of the two, a kind of marriage where the instruments start to sound a little bit similar to each other. Before I joined the band they were doing some shows where keyboard was taking the place of the guitar, so Tony was trying to make his keyboards sound like a guitar. He was using a Hohner pianet put through a fuzz-box, and that's the sound you hear on the solo in The Musical Box. You've got a keyboard player who's trying to sound like a guitarist, you've got a guitarist who's trying to sound like a keyboard player, everybody trying to emulate each other, and particularly with the sound of the twelve-strings, lots of twelve-strings all playing at once, one of them through the Leslie cabinets normally the keyboards would go through, so you weren't really sure whether you were listening to a harpsichord or twelve-string guitars or harps. They were interesting texturally and I think that's where musicians are still interested in. Maybe that's the reason why I might listen to orchestrations, why Maurice Ravel is so interesting: Because the use of the orchestra is so unlimited. I'm not saying the band was full of geniuses like Ravel. Ravel was a genius as far as I am concerned. The idea of attention to detail – I keep hammering about that – the detail of music seems to be what drives me. I'm always interested in what other instruments are doing – vocal harmonies, there aren't many bands who do vocal harmonies these days, that's what made the Beatles extraordinary, a combination of that and the brain of a George Martin who was coming at it from the perspective of an orchestrator. I think bands are always better when people work together towards an end result and hopefully not competing with each other. That sounds like a utopia because that's why bands are formed and break up all the time.


Q: Where do you get your inspiration from? How do you get to the music, to these songs?

A: It's a funny thing. If I knew I would tell you the secret and I would be able to write a new song every day, but I have to wait for inspiration. You can only do a certain amount from playing because you are playing the familiar the whole time and something has to happen where you switch off a bit and something new starts to permeate despite your desire to always play the same thing. Sometimes a great idea will come along when I'm supposed to be doing something else, just on the way out the door. I like to write on the run with a pen, that's very good. Sometimes an idea will come from reading a book or a magazine or something somebody says. People can be extraordinarily poetic when they aren't trying to be profound, and everybody comes up with extraordinary things when they're just relaxed in company. It's a bit like a collage, I'm taking from everybody all the time and I'm no longer worried about originality. I'm just interested in authenticity, something that moves me. I know not everybody has that approach. You can have a far more scientific or logical, mathematical approach and insist that music should have new information in it, but that isn't my approach. It's always got to be some kind of dream of love, of something. It has always got to touch me, even if it's angry it has got to be real in some sort of way. I think the melodies that I have apparently written – I don't actually write, I just hear them from somewhere. Crossing the street someday when I was off to Japan with +Ian McDonald+ and John Wetton, just as a carried a bag of vegetables, an idea for a riff [appeared] that became a song that was Darktown, which is a very dark, ponderous kind of melody. But it was me thinking subliminally: I'm going to Japan. I wonder what kind of melodies I will hear in Japan. And this melody popped into my head. We did it in a non-familiar way, but it's a kind of melody you could have heard on a +koto+ or a +shamizan+ or something that oriental. It depends on how it's served up.


Q: How did your cooperation with Gandalf come about?

Steve: I seem to remember he phoned up. This might have been before the days of e-mails, even, so it was a chance to go to Austria, which I've never done. I found it very lovely, a different kind of culture, very laid-back... Are there Austrians here? Maybe all those cakes and cups of tea, all those tea houses – Apfelstrudel, that's the stuff! Noch einen Apfelstudel, bitte! That was a lot of fun, working with him. And I also played with him once or twice. We did concerts in Austria, so that's been my excuse to go and I hope to go back at some point. I may be going back there with Djabe, I don't know. Djabe, I should explain, are a Hungarian world-fusion outfit who never play the same song once, never mind twice. It's great working with them, it's completely free. So that's how I met Gandalf and his family. I met his kids, they're all grown up now, probably all grandmothers now.


Q: I'd like you to ask about cover versions. What do you think about the fact many not only cover Genesis songs you've been involved in but from your solo work as well? And also, I have recently found a trance version by a Canadian DJ who based it on When The Heart Moves The Mind.

Steve: I haven't heard that one. I would be interested to hear that. I even heard a – might have been a trance version of Fountain Of Salmacis, which was very weird with all the ... sorry? - This man knows it, it's called Sacred Cycles. For all I know maybe you did it, sir. [laughs] Oh, by Pete Lazonby. So you see, music has legs and sometimes all sorts of things you don't expect. I'm very happy that is still survives in some form.


Q: I recently had an experience that showed my how very difficult in fact your Firth Of Fifth solo is without the help of the e-bow. How did you do that without any safety nets thirty years ago?

Steve: It's all very human. I think the same thing when I used to see Eric Clapton doing a solo on something. He had several Marshall stacks and he used to lean on them virtually to get the feedback. What I used to do was – in rehearsals I found out that there was one note on the guitar which was a high F sharp that would feed back reliably and I never thought that in another setting it would do it. But I used to sit very close to the amp in those days. And I used to find that in, I would say, nine out of ten shows it worked. But there was always going to be that tenth show that it wasn't always going to do it, and all you had to do was to hit that note and stay still, not as still as a statue. Because I was seated it would work. And indeed I used to use the e-bow when it was invented, whatever year it was, '76 or '77. Now I use Fernandez sustainer, and provided you don't brush the string, and there's always the chance that you will, then it will do it in 99 percent. When you listen to those early 60s solos by the guitar heroes that I listen to – someone said to me it was always very hit and miss. There was a version of Montreux of The Steppes. Obviously I've got the guitar a little bit too loud and it's feeding back and it's playing the wrong note. I used to go walk to the amps and try to get it to do what I wanted. It's a little bit loud in the later part of the song and it's giving me a note I don't need. Feedback can be wonderful when it's under control, and when it's playing the wrong note it's hell...


Q: Tells us a bit about the Steve behind the music. What do you do in your free time?

Steve: I'll tell you. I really used to like running. But the last time I went running I ran about 30 seconds and my 59-year-old knees went aaargh. So sport is great for other people. I did it for as long as I could but... uh, you know. I nice slow walk is good. So that's what I do. I think you know that I like books. It's a nice passport without having to travel, reading a book. And I enjoy all the other things that you do.


Q: Thank you for answering all these questions!

Steve: Thank you very much. Dankeschön!


transcribed by Martin Klinkhardt

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