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Hackett To Pieces

He is known as the former Genesis guitarist though since he left he has released twice as many solo records than albums with Genesis between 1971 and 1977. Many agree that he decisively influenced the sound of early Genesis, and indeed there were no guitarists like him at the time. His acoustic trademark, a kind of singing guitar note, was copied only later and the tapping technique that made guitarists like Eddie Van Halen famous could first be heard on early Genesis recordings with Hackett.

Stephen was born in London, on February 12, 1950. As a child he discovered his love for music playing melodies on the mouth organ before he could read and write. By the mid-60s he was old enough to hold his father's guitar. He was inspired by the new sounds of the beat era, Two bands influenced him more than any others: The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Steve preferred the Stones because they were closer to the blues. Rock 'n roll and electric guitars seemed to have replaced the acoustic guitar. When Steve discovered Bach interpretations by classical guitarist Segovia he decided he did not want to neglect either genre anymore. At the age of 16 he left Soane Grammar School, took a job and used every second to practise and play with his younger brother John. Advertisements in the relevant music magazines brought him into contact with bands like Sarabande and Canterbury Glass. Before he found his musical home in Genesis he and his brother were given the opportunity to play on a professional album with a band project called Quiet World. The Road, released in 1970, contained spiritual songs that fit the Flower Power era well. Its success was limited because the music was not commercial enough and lacked artistic sophistication at the same time. The formation did not record another album.

After that Steve resorted to advertisements again to find a band for himself: „Guitarist writer seeks receptive minds determinedto strive beyond existing stagnant musical forms.“ In late 1970 Genesis responded to his ad when they were looking to replace Anthony Phillips. Their ideas about music matched, he got the job, and the first thing he had to do was play lots of concerts because Genesis had work and tour hard to build up their fan base – album sales were not that high. Though he provided little song material for his first album with Genesis, Nursery Cryme (1971), his typical way of playing the guitar was already evident. The record's success abroad and the accompanying concerts bolstered his self-confidence; it is on the 1972 album Foxtrot, with which they broke through internationally, that the first real solo piece of a Genesis member appears: Horizons, a ballad for classical guitar without vocals made many fans consider the band's guitarist a serious songwriter. His other parts on the record also proved that he had found his style and made friends with it. After the 1973 live album the band also released Selling England By The Pound, an album full of Genesis classics and Steve's favourite album with the band. The all-time favourite I Know What I Like is actually based on an idea of Steve's. The band gained further recognition on their  ensuing live tour – not least because of Peter Gabriel's live performance. A year later The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway offered Steve enough room to showcase his abilities on four record sides. It also gave him the idea to record a solo album – which was the first thing he did after the extensive Lamb tour...

After their 1975 tour Genesis had to readjust and find a way to continue without their singer Peter Gabriel. Steve used this period of uncertainty to tape all his ideas. He had learned a lot about album production with the band and felt confident enough to become the first member of Genesis to release a solo album. Voyage Of The Acolyte was recorded with Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve's brother John and several other musicians and released in October 1975. The positive feedback and the start of a relationship with the artist Kim Poor, who would provide artwork for many Hackett albums made him eager for more. His main job was playing the guitar in Genesis, though, and he intended to keep that position. There was no time for a solo tour. Early 1976 saw the release of the first post-Gabriel album A Trick Of The Tail that turned out to be their most successful so far. Apart from instrumental inputs he was not involved very much in the writing process. The Trick tour brought a couple of changes: Larger audiences, Phil Collins as the singer at the front, ex-Yes-/King Crimson-member Bill Bruford behind the drums and a self-confident Steve Hackett who got rid of his guitar stool and even stepped up to the mike to introduce some songs. Steve had collected lots of ideas for the new album Wind & Wuthering (1977) but he realized that he would have liked to have more of them on the album. The band was criticized for the album; it was claimed they repeated themselves. Steve was not happy about this. When the mixing sessions forthe live album from the Wind & Wuthering tour did not work out the way he wanted it he decided to quit. The live double LP was called Seconds Out. Now he and the band went their separate ways, but Steve felt strong enough to further his solo career.

Steve was well-known enough by that time so that he could get many famous musicians to work on his next solo production. Please Don't Touch (1978) had a remarkable line-up that included Chester Thompson (Genesis' tour drummer), Woodstock legend Richie Havens, musicians from classic rock band Kansas, vocalist Randy Crawford, his brother John Hackett and others. The record did quite well and many felt that it was Steve who kept the spirit of Genesis alive. For his first solo tour he assembled a new band that made the shows a very pleasant experience for the fans. In fact, the band worked so well that they decided to record the next album with this line-up.

Some songs for the 1979 Spectral Mornings had been written and even performed on tour. The good mood is evident on the record, and many fans consider this his best. It does contain many classic songs. The band went on tour and then planned to write a new album with the same personnel. This time they had little material ready. Most songs for Defector were developed in the studio which brought frictions into the band. When the album was released in 1980 Steve toured with the band once more before he disbanded it. He only kept his keyboarder Nick Magnus, who had been working with him from early on, and his producer John Acock. Together they produced Hackett's „mainstream album“. Cured features easy-listening music, but also Steve as the only singer. It was the premiere of the revolutionary Linn drum machine. For the first time, the cover showed a photo of Steve. Hackett promoted the tour with a series of live shows with a new band; amongst them was Ian Mosley who would later drum for Marillion. After a break in 1982 fans were surprised by not one, but two Hackett albums that could not have been more different.

The first release was the edgier album Highly Strung that spawned a minor hit single called Cell 151; it was also his last album with the Virgin/Charisma label. He toured again with the 1981 tour band before he released his first acoustic album on the unknown Lamborghini label. It contains new recordings of his “unplugged” classics Horizons and Kim. In previous years Steve had tried to incorporate acoustic ideas into rock songs; now he split these elements again. In 1984 he embarked on another experiment by introducing music from his partner Kim’s home, Brazilia, into his music – at that point in time this was still kind of frowned upon. The outcome was called Till We Have Faces. It was recorded with many South American musicians in the sessions. It was never presented live, though.

Steve’s problem in the 80s was that he could not hold on to the success he had enjoyed in the 70s and now had no professional label to back him anymore either. Many people considered his big time gone. A brief burst of success came from another project. Steve Hackett and Steve Howe (Yes, Asia) teamed up, formed a kind of supergroup called GTR and enjoyed surprising success mainly in the U.S. with their mainstream rock. The single When The Heart Rules The Mind from their only studio album GTR (1986) received lots of airplay. After a couple of live shows Hackett decided to end this project – two chiefs were one too many. He went back to producing his own music, acoustic and electric. By 1988 he had completed two more albums only one of which found its way to the fans. Momentum was a less accessible follow-up to Steve’s acoustic debut Bay Of Kings. Though it featured arrangements for flute and/or orchestra only few pieces became fan favourites. The fact that Steve had not yet found a new label when this record came out it became quite difficult to get hold of the album. A first acoustic tour through Europe with his brother John made up for this, though. The album the majority of Steve’s fans had been waiting for, Feedback, did not come about. It had many guest musicians on it, amongst them singers Chris Thompson and Bonnie Tyler. The 80s therefore ended a bit unsatisfactorily for Hackett fans.

Steve’s first sign of life in the 90s was a charity he initiated. Rock Against Repatriation involved famous artists such as Mike Rutherford, Fish, Marillion, Howard Jones, Paul Carrack and others; they released a new version of Rod Steward’s Sailing to support the charity. Later that year Hackett’s new live band played a gig that was filmed for UK TV and later released on CD and VHS video; both released were called Time Lapse. Steve plays a mixture of classics and new pieces. Before he got round to doing his next “real” album his former record company released a compilation called The Unauthorized Biography with important songs up to 1983 and two new tracks.

Steve used the free time to set up both his own studio and a new management. He also set up a his own label. Guitar Noir (1993) marks his comeback. Steve presents himself much more matured, as a man who has found his way again and follows it more determinedly than ever. The album joins acoustic and electric elements in a whole new context with only few dated prog rock elements.

He then went on tour again with a new band. He had established a framework within which he could do whatever he felt like doing without anybody forcing him in any direction. As the Steve Hackett & Sonic Obsession project he produced music for the advertising campaign of a large German travelling company and later (1994) released it as a single called Timeless. He also went back to his musical roots and recorded the 1995 album Blues With A Feeling. It contains his interpretations of a couple of blues standards alongside his own ideas. While he was on the topic of “roots” Steve also went back to his time in Genesis. He felt like dusting off some of the old pieces and asked a long list of very respectable guest musicians into his studio for the new versions. The results are remarkable. Genesis Revisited (1997) does not rehash old arrangements but brings fresh ideas and a love for details to bear on the old music. Favourable feedback prompted Steve to play a couple of shows in Japan with an all-star ensemble. One show was recorded and perpetuated as the double CD The Tokyo Tapes and a VHS video of the same title. Later that year Steve turned to the acoustic guitar again. Released on the renowned EMI Classics label, A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented Steve’ musical vision of the classic comedy, inviting listeners to journey deep into the varied world of the acoustic guitar with brother John and the London Philharmony Orchestra.

1999 brought the next Hackett rock album. Darktown may well be his most personal longplayer yet. He joins different musical influences and turns them into songs that nevertheless do not sound pieced together at all, thus pointing the musical way into the new millennium. Before that came, Steve met up with his former band mates again to record a new version of the Genesis classic The Carpet Crawlers for a Genesis compilation and a single release.

The new millennium found Steve rather busy, as he was producing several albums for other artists, moved into a new studio and released another record. His label Camino Records released Sketches Of Satie in May 2000; it was labelled “John & Steve Hackett” and contains versions of music by the French pianist Eric Satie for classical guitar and flute. The 21st century began quite relaxed for Steve and his fans.

An increased interest in the Genesis history fueled by the Archive releases and the growing popularity of the Canadian Genesis clones The Musical Box turned out good news for Hackett, too. In 2000 he released the album Feedback (the one that supposed to have been released in 1986) as well as lots of live recordings from previous tours. This Live Archive series is still continued.

South American fans were ecstatic when he played a couple of shows with a new band there in 2001 and showcased some songs from his then yet unpublished album. The corresponding DVD/2CD release called Somewhere In South America came out in 2002 – followed by another DVD/2CD pack, Hungarian Horizons featuring an acoustic trio show. The central item of the years after that is the new rock album To Watch The Storms. Steve recorded it with his live band, and it turned out a fine mixture of classical and modern “Hackett sound”. The album became so popular that Steve played no less than two European tours after years of abstinence from the stage. The well-balanced setlist of the second tour can be experienced on the 2004 DVD Once Above A Time.

It was followed seamlessly by the new acoustic album Metamorpheus, recorded with a small orchestra, then an acoustic tour in 2005 and the long overdue remaster releases of the first four solo albums. 2006 saw the release of his new band album Wild Orchids that continues and expands the concept of To Watch The Storms. Fans were disappointed by the lack of a tour though Steve played some acoustric trio gigs in 2006 and 2007. During this time he also published remasters of the remaining albums from his Charisma/Virgin time and a new acoustic album. Tribute, as it is called, contains Hackett’s version of pieces by composers such as J.S.Bach and Segovia who have influenced him. Apart from all his own projects  Steve Hackett finds the time to work with other artists like John Hackett, Nick Magnus, Djabe, Simon Collins and Yes bass player Chris Squire. A new rock album with well-known guest musicians will probably come out in 2008.

by Steffen Gerlach, 2008
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

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