Concert Preview — Steve Hackett Recreating Vintage Genesis At RPH
By John Voket
There are millions of architects all over the world — and many are trend setters — but few are recognized by name when someone points at one of their creations.
When it comes to the architecture of music that immediately signals to millions of listeners all over the world that it is something from the Progressive Rock genre, chances are that Steve Hackett either created it, or had some influence on it.
For the second time in recent years, Hackett rang up The Newtown Bee for an interview ahead of what is now a sold out Ridgefield Playhouse show September 26 after playing the night before at New York's comparatively palatial Beacon Theater.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former lead guitarist for Genesis, is returning to The Playhouse with the "Genesis Revisited Tour," performing the band’s seminal album Selling England By the Pound in its entirety with his band. The show will also feature a special Spectral Mornings 40th Anniversary Celebration, along with other material.
Possibly Genesis’ finest album, Selling England By the Pound, will showcase Hackett's unmistakably progressive and unique guitar work — described in an advance as the fulcrum on which this tour's challenging and exhilarating show is balanced.
He put his highly recognizable stamp on what many fans consider as Genesis' foundational albums along with former bandmates Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford — and has since gone on to compose and perform music that has also influenced many other genres including Jazz, World Music, Blues, and Classical.
He has released more than 30 solo albums, including seven with Genesis, and worked alongside Steve Howe of YES in the super group GTR, which produced a MTV-era hit "When the Heart Rules the Mind," and the classic rock radio favorite, "The Hunter."
The prolific guitarist has long professed a love of Selling England By The Pound, and his tour marks the 45th anniversary of the band’s first hit single “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” from that album.
"I’m thrilled to be performing the whole of my favorite Genesis album, which caught the attention of John Lennon in 1973," he said, adding that at the time of its release, "I felt that I was now playing guitar in the world’s best band, and everything was opening up for us."
Hackett is also highlighting the 40th anniversary of Spectral Mornings — his third solo album — released in May 1979 and at that time his highest charting album reaching number 22 in the album charts in the UK, as well as charting in Sweden and the US.
If you have to miss the show, consider checking out his upcoming live release Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra: Live out on October 25. The recording from The Royal Festival Hall in London during the 2018 Genesis Revisited Tour, fulfilled a long held ambition of Hackett's to perform and record the music of Genesis with a live orchestra.
The accommodating and well-spoken artist dove into talking about that latest project straight away.
Newtown Bee: Did I get it right that Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra: Live is your first time recording early Genesis material with an orchestra?
Steve Hackett: Yes, and it was also the first time I toured with an orchestra — it was quite extraordinary. That recording was the finale of last year's tour. We were going to do only six shows on that tour, but the London show and one other filled up so quickly we were able to add two more. We brought in a Canadian conductor we had worked with before in Buffalo, New York, Brett Thatcher. I have to tell you there were a couple of sleepless nights wondering if we could make it work with the added expense of touring with an orchestra, but it worked and made possible thanks to the fans. It was really a creative and economic miracle — the gods were smiling on us. It came out just peachy.
The Bee: Can you talk about some of the lead-up to the recording session in terms of the preparation you had to do to get the orchestra to best compliment the numbers?
Hackett: I was invited to work with two orchestras in Iceland and they did some work with Jon Anderson of YES, and I heard some of that. And the orchestral arrangements were so beautiful. Then the orchestra asked me if I wanted to come and do some Genesis stuff with them. So I said yes, and they put together these stunning arrangements. Then Thatcher approached me when we were playing a tiny little theater and he said he had an orchestra and would I like to play with them? I thought he was joking at first, but about a year later, there we were doing a show. We actually ended up doing some other material we hadn't done in Iceland. So then we were called by someone in the UK about putting an orchestra together for a UK tour, so we configured a 40-piece ensemble. So with the band we numbered about 50 on stage. Some might describe it as an ego run riot, but I was being egged on by my agent and promoters, and it ended up all selling out.
The Bee: Your last release — At The Edge Of Light — included an amazing song called "Underground Railroad," which has the feel of a Queen number with its driving rhythms and that layered chorus effect on the vocals. What's the story behind that song?
Hackett: I guess the link with Queen happens as soon as someone introduces choral elements into rock, because Queen was so well known for those multi-layered harmonies. I had worked with [Queen guitarist] Brian May a few times over the years, but the idea came from a visit to Wilmington [Delaware] and the name Harriett Tubman came up because she helped other slaves escape, I believe in the days before the Civil War. So I thought hearing stories about her that there has to be a song in there somewhere. A couple of years later, I was visiting the Slave Museum in Liverpool, and thought about it again. I said if I'm going to do a song about that era, I wanted to lend some authenticity to it, so I got in touch with the Broom Sisters who had worked with Pink Floyd and the Stones. And they thought the idea of doing a song was very timely, and their own family had been through it a few generations back. So we turned the Broom Sisters along with my sister-in-law who is a great singer into a choir. I joined in too. It was a complex song that incorporated Blues, Country, and Gospel. And it has a feel like a train ride with that rhythm.
The Bee: Let's flash back 40 years to Spectral Mornings, which you will be celebrating on this tour. Does technology available today make it any easier for you to to replicate live versions of songs from that album, or are you using the same equipment today as you did back in the late '80s?
Hackett: I don't use the same equipment, we try and honor the spirit of the original recordings. For example I used a lot of 12-string guitars on that album to do the chiming stuff. We'll have one, or even two 12-strings along with keyboards, sometimes a harpsichord. It's about creating this huge sparkling sound by having all those strings and instruments jangling together. We also used a lot of that effect that I think was a big part of that early Genesis sound — almost making you think we were using harps. Whether it's a Rickenbacker 12-string with its immediately recognizable sound, with Genesis, we used acoustic 12-strings.
The Bee: This tour will also feature the complete Selling England By the Pound album played front to back. Are there any songs from that album that fans probably never heard live before?
Hackett: Indeed. There is an extra tune that didn't make it onto the album. Peter Gabriel had an idea for a song which was really wonderful but it didn't get finished — an unfinished gem really. So a few years ago I reached out to him and asked if I couldn't try finishing it up. And he said we could split credit right down the middle if I did. It's called "Deja Vu," and it's a very emotional and full of dynamic changes. It's very English, but that's another one with a choral effect to it, along with some deeply personal lyrics for me.
The Bee: Have you decided to add any other classic Genesis tunes for this tour that have been off the setlist for some time?
Hackett: We do two tunes from Trick of the Tail, "Dance On A Volcano," and "Los Endos." That one really takes off with the band — kind of goes ballistic. I know the audience, especially fands of that album will be ecstatic when they hear it.
Check out Steve Hackett performing "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" Live at the Royal Festival Hall, London: