Music Steve Hackett: "I like to think I've tried to keep the spirit of those tunes alive"

Steve Hackett

Picture Tina Korhonen
Steve Hackett Picture Tina Korhonen

The former Genesis guitarist on securing their legacy, why John Lennon was a fan and what he really thinks of the group's current line-up.

It has been almost 50 years since Steve Hackett left progressive rock titans Genesis but the 72-year-old guitarist is still carrying the torch for their now legendary 70s era.

Between 1971 to 1977, he helped create some of Britain's most expansive and eccentric music before the band transformed into the Phil Collins-fronted soft rock outfit we know today.

Through his current live shows, Hackett does more than just pay tribute to that period. He brings it up to date for a new audience.

"We change things," he explains, at home for a few days before jetting off back to Europe for more shows. "It evolves. There are extra things that go on with the music that were not there originally. I don't want to slavishly do it. I just want to be authentic without it being exactly the same."

Hackett, whose polite manner hides a steely determination, launched his Genesis Revisited project just over a decade ago with the aim of securing the music of the group's classic line-up, which also included singer Peter Gabriel, bassist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks and drummer Phil Collins.

In September, he begins a 25-date UK tour marking 50 years since the release of Foxtrot, one of their best loved albums.

"I sweated blood to write those songs and try and force the band to get a lightshow or a synthesiser and all these other things that were unpopular ideas at the time within the band," he recalls.

"I had this philosophy that you have to make yourself unpopular to be popular.

"I had to be bloody-minded enough to try and get some of these ideas across, otherwise the band stuff was just going to sound eccentric and English and wasn't going to communicate to the Americans."

After helping create classic tracks such as Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, The Musical Box and the 23-minute epic Supper's Ready, Hackett left Genesis in 1977 in search of greater autonomy.

The band then entered its most commercially successful era with Collins at the helm. Hackett describes the music Genesis made in the 1980s as its "MTV-approved stuff" - as opposed to the "sonic odysseys" of his era.

Now through his live shows, he caters to audiences in search of their more experimental fare.

"It seemed as if there were two types of Genesis fans," he offers.

"The ones who felt disenfranchised by what the band had become and then the new lot who only really knew the Invisible Touch years and the Phil Collins-driven stuff.

"I thought that we had worked bloody hard sweating blood to get that stuff together.

"Why don't I reclaim it? I don't want it to be lost.

"It influenced a few people to go and revisit their pasts as well."

Hackett is not wrong.

His venture encouraged fellow prog pioneer Robert Fripp to revisit the songs of his group, King Crimson.

And in 2018 Pink Floyd co-founder and drummer Nick Mason formed Saucerful of Secrets to play his band's older material.

Clearly, demand remains for the more experimental side of the 70s.

Hackett left Genesis shortly after punk exploded in the UK.

Popular history will tell you the arrival of the Sex Pistols and their primal rock heralded the end of the excesses of prog, but the truth is a little different.

"People will say that punk came along and devastated all of that," he says with a wry smile.

"It was a new broom that swept clean, and all the old guys at that time were swept away.

"The new school came in and said, 'Yah boo sucks to all of that'.

"But then I think about 1974.

"We were doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

"Its about a Puerto Rican punk on the streets of New York.

"It's a bit of a stretch of the imagination, it always was, to have an English team personifying that with the young Peter Gabriel.

"But we had a foot in, arguably, then and I think quite lot of those guys had albums by Yes and Genesis. It was just publicly they were trashing us."

Genesis were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 but impressing one John Lennon still remains one of Hackett's proudest moments.

He tells me there is an interview in which the former Beatle says 'There were two bands that were true sons of the Beatles and one of them is ELO and the other one is Genesis'.

"He used to get all the Genesis albums sent to him from Nursery Cryme onwards in New York," Hackett says.

"And of course I had no idea that he was listening to us then."

Genesis material features heavily in Hackett's current sets, of course. But they also take in his newer solo material, orchestral moments and classical guitar played on nylon strings for a mellower sound.

He wrote and recorded two albums during lockdown, the acoustic Under A Mediterranean Sky and the brash, rocking and sometimes political Surrender Of Silence.

The former album emerged after his wife Jo encouraged him to look outside his usual Romantic and Baroque influences.

"I had a think about that and I thought it could be a very good idea if we could come up with a title that is poetic enough and sends people on a virtual journey. Pure escapism because all the inhabitants of the 'people's prison' that we were in at the time needed to have a virtual journey somewhere else of the imagination."

Collins continued to play with Banks and Rutherford as Genesis until March this year, when they wrapped their farewell The Last Domino? Tour of UK stadiums.

Would Hackett ever collaborate with the band's most recent iteration?

"I think it's unlikely that that will happen," he admits.

"I've said both privately and publicly that I'm interested if they wanted to do that.

"I tend to find that if they do interviews I tend to get edited out and all that.

"I think the die is cast.

"The writing's on the wall for all that.

"It is a very different band, or was a very different band because we are now talking about the demise once again of that.

"So although it's current, it looks as if they are saying that there won't be any more.

"All I do is I try and honour the work internal politics free, the best work of Genesis as I see it.

"From a time when I think the band was at its creative peak.

"I am very happy to revisit 1972 or 73 or things that went after that.

"I like to think I've tried to keep the spirit of those tunes alive."

Instead, Hackett has further musical aspirations.

"Peter Gabriel used to call me a colourist," he tells me, laughing warmly.

"If I could make the jump from colourist to composer, I'll be doing alright.

"By the time I pop my clogs if they think of me as that rather than some oik with an electric guitar, that's job done."

- The UK Foxtrot At Fifty Tour, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, September 23. Genesis Revisited Live: Seconds Out And More is released on September 2.