Steve Hackett: Still Selling England By The Pound 2019 Tour
Steve Hackett: Still Selling England By The Pound 2019 Tour
Steve Hackett was the guitarist with Genesis between 1971 and 1977. Following his departure from the band Steve went into a solo career which has enjoyed highs and some lows. His solo career took an upswing when he decided to re visit his time with his former band and recorded an album entitled Genesis Revisited in 2012/. Since that time, Steve has performed regularly across the world to increasing audiences who appreciate the period of Genesis music, performed when Steve Hackett was a member of the band. To this end in November, Steve embarks on a UK tour which presents the whole of the Genesis album Selling England By The Pound as the centrepiece of the live set. He also features music from his 1979 album Spectral Mornings which celebrates its fortieth anniversary in 2019. Steve started the tour earlier in 2019 and so far, has visited Europe and America and Canada. In this interview he looks forward to the British tour and performing his favourite Genesis album, Selling England By The Pound and how the social situation that prevailed in Britain in `1973 is also strangely prevalent once more in 2019… Coming full circle Steve is still, Selling England By The Pound
JK: The Selling England By The Pound album has long been one of your favourite Genesis albums. Tell me a little bit about how that came about. For a lot of people, it’s an important album as well because it contains the first hit single Genesis had. It was where Genesis really started making inroads in a commercial sense in the UK as well, wasn’t it?
SH: Yeah, it was the first hit single. Although, the rest of the album, I think, wasn’t commercial. You know, it’s a funny word, isn’t it? What does it mean? I think it was from an era where bands just did what they liked; there was no interference from the record company. I think for the Americans it’s a very kind of esoteric album, but it’s had time to sort of justify itself. At the time, of course, we didn’t know whether that was going to catch on. But, as I’ve probably said to you before, John Lennon gave an interview and mentioned it. Or rather, what he said was that we were one of the bands that he was listening to at that time. So, it had the sanction from him, but we weren’t able to really use that news at the time. You couldn’t Tweet that. Somebody did an interview with Lennon in New York, and no one else really knew about it apart from local New Yorkers back in 1973. But I never forgot it, and it was important for me.
JK: The band at that point were actually making inroads, and it started really with Foxtrot, but then you had a bit of a breathing space with the live album. Was that a welcomed break, if you like, to give you a little bit of time to draw breath to create what became Selling England By The Pound?
SH: Yeah, the live album was never intended to be a live album. It was a stopgap, I think, because we were doing so many shows for one reason or another. Although, I look back now and it’s a little bit hazy, but we didn’t have an album ready in time to do that thing where it’s every year the band does an album, etcetera, etcetera. But we did a King Biscuit Flower Hour recording, as many people did. Funnily enough, I did the same thing with GTR, which eventually became an album. So, Genesis Live was a stopgap, but in many ways, that’s also a lot of fans’ favourite album, and it might have been their introduction to the band. But for me, Selling England By The Pound is not just a lot of fans’ favourite, it’s my favourite Genesis album. I think that it’s a very loose album; it’s very quirky, it’s very English, and not just in the title. It’s got some great tracks on it, and so I’m going to do it in its entirety.
JK: This fashion for people doing albums in their entirety, to be perfectly honest with you, was happening in the 70s with bands like Genesis, Yes, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. It was very much, if you like, of the Prog thing where bands did a whole album and played it in its entirety. And of course, it’s back in fashion now, so I guess you were current in 1973 and 1974-75 when you did The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, and now you’re doing it again! I suppose a lot of people are rediscovering it, and also a lot of people are hearing it for the first time, which for me is a little bit odd, but I guess that’s the way things go around in circles though, isn’t it?
SH: Yeah, I think we tended to play whole albums. I think the only track we weren’t playing from that was “After The Ordeal,” but then I’ve made a point of doing that in my shows before. But I’ve never done the entire album, and one track I’ve never played, although we did it as a band, was “More Fool Me.” Mike and Phil did “More Fool Me,” but what I might do is to do a slightly bigger arrangement of that because it was just acoustic guitar and voice. So, you know, virtually a folk tune in a way.
SH: It’s a funny thing when you look back on that. Of course, we did the whole of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, which was crazy really because it was a double concept album that no one had heard a note of it in the States, and that’s where we were concentrating most of our touring at that time. I mean, at one point we were doing six months a year in the States and fitting in everywhere else around it; three months in Europe. But it was a great time. It was a time where I felt very at home on stage. My personal life was in tatters at that point; my home was the stage. When I was on stage, I felt unassailable, especially when we were doing little gigs over here in the States, particularly the Roxy Club in LA. It was the first time for us in Los Angeles with raging hot summer weather – 90 in the shade – Christmas day shows. I mean, it was extraordinary, really.
JK: Can you remember the reaction? There were pockets, I mean, really big pockets for Genesis in America, and the dots hadn’t been joined up at that point, had they?
SH: No. For some reason, we couldn’t get a show. My memory is that we left New York and came straight to LA. We sat around for two weeks in LA because we couldn’t get a gig elsewhere. No one had heard this band, and so we thought, God, what’s going to happen at these shows at the Roxy? We were supposed to be doing three nights, two shows a night, but it was sold out! But nothing in between. Nothing between east coast and west coast, and that’s very strange, but we sold out. Maybe it was the same 500 people that came to each show. So, people were either dotty about it, about us, or they never heard of us.
JK: In terms of the album then, of course, in the UK, “I Know What I Like” was the first hit for the band, but you wrote that originally around the time of Foxtrot. It didn’t really get through the vetting process, which went on in Genesis. But I believe you told me that Phil picked up on it and that’s how the band kind of got behind it then. Is that the case?
SH: Well, yes. He liked the groove of it, and I kept playing it. It was a reject from Foxtrot. Mike was telling me it sounded too much like George Harrison, but Phil and I ploughed on. The band joined in, and it became the first hit. So, I’ve got a little motto, which is, “You have to be unpopular to be popular.” Sometimes you’re right about something… I see that you’re smiling…
JK: Yes! (laughs)
SH: It’s the “I’m putting people on the ‘I Told You So’ list.” So, it gives me no small pleasure to have been proved right at that time. And it’s a lovely little song. I still like it; it’s very quirky. And maybe that’s why Lennon liked some of what we did; it’s slightly Beatle-y. It’s difficult to find a more English-sounding lyric than, “There’s always been Ethel.”
JK: No! (laughs)
SH: Ethel… You know, I mean… (laughs) We weren’t going for groovy; we were going for the more obscure.
JK: You were going more Noël Coward than say Slade! (laughs)
SH: Noël Coward, or perhaps even further back, you know, turn of the century. How many people were called Ethel? You know, names that people don’t have anymore – Ethel, Maud, Elsie, two ladies in my family were called Elsie, but it is from a turn of the century world.
JK: There are a number of songs on Selling England By The Pound that you’ve covered, right from the early days of your solo career. In 1978-79 onwards the encore was “I Know What I Like.” But you’ve also done over the years and are still performing songs like “Firth Of Fifth,” “Cinema Show,” and “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight.” “The Battle Of Epping Forest” is one that I’m really looking forward to hearing you play. How are you going to approach that? That’s one where Peter really acted out the lyrics as well live when Genesis did it.
SH: He did, yeah. And I think Nad’s been listening to that and he’s saying to me that he can get all the accents and everything, but I’ve got a feeling that there might be a moment, my favourite moment, funnily enough, is when Pete did the Vicar, the Reverend, and the accent that he had on that. It was well-observed, wasn’t it?
SH: It’s only English churchmen, forgive me, who say the word it’s not just “unstained” but “unstained.” It’s the way the vowels sound, and I think that if people try and observe cockney accents and the difference between what’s a posh accent and a cockney accent, it’s a bit like you need a Hollywood voice coach to get all that. See, I’m concerned about getting that right, but I’m mostly concerned about getting the marching feet at the beginning of it. I did that with Sound On Sound. I used an Octivider, a Fuzzbox, Sound On Sound on my Echoplex, and so it marched in time. And it fed back on itself and it distorted further, so it had that sort of gravel scrunch-type thing, and we’re having an awful time recently. I wanted to get the same effect on something of marching feet, and we had a go around the houses with that to get anything like that. The technology doesn’t really exist to do that sort of thing anymore.
SH: But I want to get that well-observed. And we just did it with mellotron flutes on the front. Me and mellotron flutes. But of course, with Rob, we’ve got a real flute player or a fife player, or he does many whistles and things. So, I don’t want to make it just as authentic as that; I want to make it more authentic if that’s possible and take it a stage further.
JK: Isn’t it a little bit daunting doing an album like that though live from start to finish? There were a couple of things, like you said, one song you never did, but you have done subsequently, so that shouldn’t present a problem. But when you start to think, Right, well, we’re starting with “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” and we go right the way through it… I mean, does that present any problems, or do you foresee any problems with that?
SH: Well, I think each song you’ve got to take it a piece at a time. I do prep work with Roger, and sometimes that’s very slow. As I’ve often said, to get them good, sometimes things have to be worked out at the speed of watching paint dry, because all those little details I obsess over. I want to get them right and authentic as much as possible, but perhaps take them a stage further. As I say, I think that it was often the case that if Phil or I came up with a song in the very early days of Genesis, it tended not to get fleshed out with a big full arrangement. I’m thinking of “For Absent Friends” from Nursery Cryme for instance, or “More Fool Me.” You know, they’ll always be a Cinderella song, and that’s one of them. So, something that might have been a little bit neglected back in the day, I’ve thought to myself, Well, perhaps we should make it more romantic. Perhaps it should have strings. I don’t know. I might just try strumming along on the guitar and leave it at that and say, “Well, that’s what it is.” But one might like to take it out, dust it off, give it a new dress, and see if she scrubs up well.
JK: I like the fact that you’re not seeing things as kind of caught in amber and I think that is always the sign of good material. If it’s caught in amber and that’s it, you can’t really do much with it, can you?
SH: Well, that’s it. You know, there are diehard fans that will say to me, “When you do ‘Firth Of Fifth,’ why is it Rob doesn’t do the melody on the flute?” And I think, Well, this is a different arrangement, whereby he does it on soprano sax.
For me, it’s a more robust melody like that. It’s a melody that worked. It was originally written on piano, and it was done with piano and flute. It was never the strongest like that. It worked exceptionally well on guitar, but see, I want to play to the melody’s strengths. So, yes, I will change it; I’ll do that. That’s how it needs to be. Now, there are other things where, for instance, “After The Ordeal” originally I wrote that as an electric guitar melody, but it really didn’t swing. I don’t know. The band didn’t really manage to get behind it rhythmically. So, we broke it down and made it an acoustic arrangement. So, it’s florid piano, and it’s nylon guitar – that’s what makes the melody at first. So, the first half of the song is mine, or the tune. The second half is Mike Rutherford’s, and then right at the end, it goes into my melody again, another bit that I wrote and did it with harmony guitars and the repeated sequence. And then we were playing it live, funnily enough, a couple of years back with Roine Stolt, and Roine was filling in on bass for us because we didn’t have a bass player at that time. I used to introduce him every night and say, “I’m embarrassed to say we have this man playing bass, a job for which he is obviously over-qualified,” and it gave him a chance to play twin leads with me. We did it in harmony. Yeah, ideally, I could do with another guitarist. I could do with Roine there every night, but the reality will be that I’ll do it myself and we’ll work around that. Sometimes I do harmonies with synth, or sometimes I do it with Rob. We do that like at the end of “The Musical Box.” And of course, when we did the last British tour, not only did I have the harmonies from him, I had the whole orchestra playing the lines, and it was one of the best moments, of course.
JK: Another thing I’ve noticed, actually, and I played the album again recently, is that it’s actually very on point socially isn’t it? Forty-five plus years on and I’m thinking, Wow! The circle’s come around again, hasn’t it
SH: Well, yes. I know that it’s very difficult times for England. It’s a very divided nation at the moment, as so many places are divided. But unlike that time where we were very aware of who our friends were, at this moment in time we’re facing Brexit and what worries me is all the things that haven’t been sorted out. So, the idea of breaking away without a deal means we’re without various things. We’re not a manufacturing nation anymore. I don’t believe that the deals are out there for us to do. We don’t lead the world anymore. We need the supply chains, we need medicine, we need to be able to share security bases. At the moment we buy our trains from Germany. People forget just how interlinked we are. And all those people that voted for that – I’m sorry to say this, my wife says, “Stay off Brexit because it’s going to upset people” – I have to say, “Well, okay, what do you do in the evening?” You go out, and you buy a pizza, or you order one, well the Brits didn’t invent pizza. Oh, you want to go to a local Chinese? You want to get an Indian in? Sorry, we didn’t do any of that. The Brits came up with fish and chips and your Mum used to make apple crumble and custard if you were lucky once a week. Yeah, we did roast beef dinners, but the world has moved on. We’re integrated; we are an international nation. We’ve got all the technology out there to be able to work either face to face or remotely with people, as I’ve done with my latest album. And I read something where someone was saying that we should be celebrating the best in the world, as opposed to what is merely local. So, if there’s a brilliant doctor or a heart surgeon that happened to be born in Australia, yes! Let’s get him in! He might save your life!
JK: I just think that the album is one of those albums that doesn’t date. It’s only when you reinvestigate it that you find these things, and then you think, Goodness, this sounds very current.
SH: Yeah. I think so. I think there’s a lot of social comment on it. There’s also the pantomime aspect, there’s humour, there’s pathos, there’s a hint of a love song, which is a scene that Phil was to exploit mercilessly and was the basis of lots of the hits that he had.
JK: Yeah. You’re also performing music from Spectral Mornings, which was your third solo album. That was when I noticed that your solo career was starting to gain traction and there were a lot of people becoming very, very interested in you. You were playing sold-out gigs in theatres throughout the UK. I saw you on that tour at the Liverpool Empire, and I think people really got Spectral Mornings. And of course, it’s the 40th Anniversary. How much of that are we going to seeing on the tour?
SH: I’m going to try and do most of it. There are certain things that might not necessarily be fan favourites, you know, “The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man,” which was me doing probably a very poor version of the northern musical thing. Songs from the end of the pier and all that George Formby stuff. Whether I do that or not, who knows. It’s a bit like getting up there and having Kurt Douglas do “Maybe Because I’m A Londoner.” Perhaps it’s not the high point of his career. Bless him! (laughs) But there’s still so much about the album that resonates. The fact that I was using Chinese Koto on it, there’s a little bit of a sort of subscription to world music on that. And using Spanish nylon guitar; the idea of that. And I remember Armando Gallo wrote very sweetly to me. Having heard the album, he said for him it was a bit like a trip around the world, from Brighton beach to Hong Kong harbour, and he named it very well: The Travel Log Aspect Of Writing. And I’m still doing that and celebrating certain places in songs. I like that very much. It’s a way of getting inspiration from literally the places that you visited. Or sometimes the idea of visiting somewhere that you have not actually been, but you’re influenced by the music from it. I had yet to visit China. That was several decades down the line for me, but I have now and found myself playing that track to some Chinese people. It’s interesting that I got their applause and their sanction. People said, “Yeah, you got this dead right. This is what we do.”
JK: It’s always nice to see you out on tour, and I think the audiences are going to love this tour for many reasons. It is an opportunity to relive some of their youth. I will be doing that, and a lot of other people will as well. But it’s a nice edge that you’re going to be able to play some new material as well, which is always a good thing, I think.
SH: Well, you know, I think I want to encourage people to be part of the band. In other words, if they want to sing along with every note of that and help us out with Selling England By The Pound, so much the better. I love it! It’s great! That’s what they did at one time, and if they want to do that again, great, yeah, relive that. And it still resonates with me, as does Spectral Mornings because when I look back, there’s just something about it. I don’t know what it is about that album. I think I was riding the crest of a wave at that time. I remember we were doing sell-out shows in the UK and Europe, and I just knew that there was an audience that was so up for whatever we were going to do next. There were a couple of tracks we were already doing; test-driving them in front of audiences. So, it gave me the permission to feel a little bit like Linda McCartney. It’s like, whatever we do next, people are going to really buy it. I don’t mean they’re going to go out and necessarily with their money, but they want to celebrate it along with us. So, I was riding the crest of a very good wave, as is happening again right now. So, I think if you stay around in music long enough, that wave comes back in again
JK: Well, long may it continue, Steve! Thanks for talking to us today.
SH: Thank you! Brilliant, Jon. Cheers!
Steve Hackett starts his UK tour in the old genesis stamping ground of Aylesbury on the 2nd of November It continues cross the UK until 29th November, closing in London
Steve Hackett also has a new Live album in the shops, Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra: Live at the Royal Festival Hall.
Full details of the tour and Album cab be found at his website www.hackettsongs.com