Interview with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett

Steve Hackett performing with Nad Sylvan. Picture by Gene Steinman.

Steve Hackett performing with Nad Sylvan. Picture by Gene Steinman.

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Steve Hackett, ex-guitarist of Genesis, has said that “music is a marathon and a test of time” ahead of a landmark anniversary of his solo debut.

40 years since his 1975 solo debut Voyage of the Acolyte, he’s embarking on an anniversary UK tour, which will stop in Northampton. Acolyte to Wolflight With a Sprinkling of Genesis is a retrospective of Hackett’s long career, from his Genesis days through to his latest solo record, Wolflight.

Steve Hackett.

Steve Hackett.

“It’s a sort of celebration of that time,” Hackett tells me over the phone in a hotel reception in Germany, “The idea is to give people the total experience, to give people a show I haven’t toured, that they haven’t seen before... I don’t want the entire show to be a touring museum.”

Hackett will bring the show to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate Theatre on Friday, October 9. He’s visited the town many times in his career. “We love to go traveling, and discover the history of places.”

The show is split into two sets; the first of which consisting of solo material, particularly cuts from his newest record, and the second of Genesis material, the rarer cuts of which Hackett will play for the first time since the 70s. It promises to be cinematic, offering “magical surround sound”.

“I think of it as a film for the ear rather than the eye,” Hackett said, “I’m interested in the placing of sound and the use of perspective - infinite perspectives - which I find fascinating. Back in the 80s, when I was working on Till We Have Faces, we scratched the surface of it. I think it helps to tell a story.”

“The power of music to thrill, to entertain, to heal - it has great power, and I still want to honour that.”

Since the late 1970s, Hackett’s discography has been increasingly experimental, moving away from traditional progressive rock into world and classical music. I ask his opinion on modern prog-rock, whether it still inspires him as it did in the genre’s prime.

“I believe that music shouldn’t fit into a mold. I enjoy long-form songs that tell a story, songs that borrow from genres such as classical,” Hackett said, “There are purists of rock and roll that may think the genre has gone downhill since the 70s and 80s, that interest waned in progressive rock back then, but I beg to differ - now the shackles are off; music can’t be shoehorned into a genre anymore.”

He cites Muse and Elbow as contemporary prog-rock bands that haven’t been afraid to experiment.

“Since the Beatles onwards, music has allowed more for the element of surprise. I like to think of it like guerrilla warfare - you’re expecting the Spanish inquisition and you get something else entirely.”

Despite a lengthy solo career, Hackett’s legacy in Genesis lives on in his previous tours Genesis Revisited I & II and in reissues including 2014 R-Kive. He recorded six studio albums in his seven years with the band, between 1970 and 1977. Back in 2010, Hackett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even now, his time in Genesis leaves an impression.

“I’d say there’s no difference [in what I’m trying to achieve]. There aren’t any rules anymore - any two songs can link if they’re strong enough, regardless of if they’re sonically different.”

“Back in the 60s, CBS released a compilation called The Rock Machine Turns You On with all sorts of different artists, from Bob Dylan to Simon & Garfunkel. It was like an eclectic radio show. If that can be done then, then I figure it can be done now.”

The music industry has undergone a paradigm shift since Hackett started out in the late 60s. Vinyl records were replaced by CDs, then swiftly by MP3s, and now streaming music has become the norm. With royalties for artists shrinking year by year, can artists like Hackett survive in the modern industry?

“I believe if you make a package interesting enough and you invest enough of yourself emotionally, people will buy the physical product,” Hackett replied, “Today, feedback from fans is immediate, but back then it was slower. Genesis was quite a slow burn, but if you invest yourself enough into a record, over time people will come to appreciate it. Music’s a marathon, it’s a test of time.”

During Acolyte to Wolflight With a Sprinkling of Genesis, Hackett wishes to pay tribute to late artists that left their mark on his work, such as Richie Havens who appeared on the song ‘Icarus Ascending’.

“In the late 70s I got to work with Richie, who is probably one of the world’s greatest singers. He had such depth and projection. We played three nights at Earls Court back in ‘77, and he was a tremendous performer, the embodiment of so many things. He’s someone who used a whole room as an amplifier... so we’re going to dedicate that song to him.”

Steve Hackett’s Acolyte to Wolflight With a Sprinkling of Genesis comes to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate Theatre on Friday, October 9. Tickets are available now from £27.50 and can be booked by calling the box office on 01601 624811, or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.