Steve Hackett tells Ed Power why it’s unlikely he’ll be getting back with his ex-bandmates any time soon
THE summer of Genesis is nearly upon us. Phil Collins, the group’s sometime singer, has come out of retirement and will headline the Aviva Stadium in June. On the support bill is his old bandmate Mike Rutherford, with his Mike and the Mechanics project.
Next month, meanwhile, Genesis ex-guitarist Steve Hackett marks the 40th anniversary of the band’s Wind and Wuthering album — and of his departure from the ranks — with a concert at Dublin’s Vicar Street. For fans of 1970s progressive rock these are heady days indeed.
“Will there ever be a Genesis reformation?” wonders Hackett (67). “I very much doubt it. I’m up for it — but only if I was guaranteed a genuine voice. Even if I was Jimi Hendrix, I’m sure they would want someone more controllable. I have no doubt they are trying to talk to Phil into it. They are probably twisting his arm right now”
Hackett and his former bandmates are on cordial but not exactly effusive terms. He left in 1977 after concluding he could better express his musical ideas as a solo artist. Having joined in 1970 as replacement for original guitarist Anthony Phillips, he had seen Genesis’ first singer, Peter Gabriel, walk away and enjoy a successful stand-alone career. What was to stop him doing likewise?
“I had never had the self-esteem to record as a solo chappie,” he says. “But then I made my own album [1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte] and it was warmly received. I loved the process of no longer being hidebound by committee. It was a great joy.”
He is proud of his achievements with Genesis but regrets the group’s transition from arch-wizards of progressive rock to the 1980s pop juggernauts responsible for hits such as ‘Invisible Touch’ and ‘I Can’t Dance’.
“I loved working with Genesis,” he says. “ A hugely talented team — I don’t think you could find a more talented group of musicians within one band. However, the level of competition was extreme and we weren’t always co-operating with one another fully. We managed to collectively sell 140 million albums worldwide — and yet, I think we might have gotten more out of it if the early communication hadn’t been replaced by silence.”
His exit closed one chapter in the life of the group and opened another. With Gabriel already out and replaced by Phil Collins, Genesis were feeling their way towards a more commercial sound. Without Hackett’s nuanced guitar lines the band became a full fledged chart group. Hackett is glad he had already stepped away. He would have hated to have been around for Genesis’s Top of the Pop years.
“I don’t think I would have been comfortable with that. The devil is in the detail. As they became less detailed the songs grew shorter and were obviously appendages to videos. They were no longer making albums, they were making collections of potential singles. Which is fine if you take the competitive view of trying to corner the market place. It was was very slick, well-oiled machine.
In 2014, the original members of Genesis reunited for a BBC documentary, Together and Apart. They got on, sort of, though it was clear old tensions still simmered. Afterward, Hackett complained that his post-Genesis accomplishments had been glossed over.
“I didn’t enjoy being edited out of it,” he says. “It is unfortunate – there is the competitive edge which is at the centre of Genesis. All I can say is that I worked with what I considered the best of the group, when it was free of the politics.”
Hackett will perform selections from Genesis’ 1970s incarnation on his latest tour, which includes a stop off at Vicar Street on April 26. There will be a particular focus on Wind and Wuthering, the 1976 LP considered by many to be the group’s opus and the last studio collection with which he was involved (he quit 12 months later).
But if Wind and Wuthering is treasured among diehards the recording was anything but straightforward. Hackett and keyboardist Tony Banks were at loggerheads throughout. The latter wanted to move away from the “fantastical” elements of the Gabriel years. However Hackett, on a high after the success of Voyage of the Acolyte, pressed for more of his material to be incorporated. An irresistible object had met an immovable force.
“Hackett, having already released a solo album, enjoyed the greater amount of control over the recording process that working within a group could not provide,” wrote Joshua Kay Schaeffer in Take A Look At Us Now, his biopic of Phil Collins, “He felt his songs... were rejected from them final track order in favour of material that Banks in material had put forward.”
However, Hackett is determined not to dwell entirely in the past and on his latest tour is also showcasing songs from his recent solo LP, The Night Siren. The record is a concept piece about the dangers of intolerance, with several tracks inspired by the refugee crisis.
“I am a musical migrant. I like the idea of working with people from all over the world. I wish I didn’t have to visit them to do that. I’d like them to come through our front door. I came from a refugee family not so long ago, as did my wife’s family. It seems as relevant today as 100 years ago. The difference is that they were allowed in 100 years ago. The idea of trying to celebrate multicultural diversity through music is symbol of everything that should be in possible, in every walk of life and industry.”
With the current rush towards extremism and nationalism, he feels humanity in a bad place — anxieties he pours into the new project.
“It seems we are teetering on the brink. We know Hitler would be elected today. You would think that, with all the television channels that are on, we would have the ability to watch what Nazi Germany did any day of the week… It seems to be me there must be an excess of compassion fatigue and it is leading the world to the brink once more. Back to the caves — here we go.”
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