Steve Hackett – Interview – 2016

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On Sunday 21st February 2016 The Evil Jam had an opportunity to interview Steve Hackett. We were welcomed into his home and we were met by Jo and Steve Hackett. We caught up and had a brief chat before pressing on with business. Steve began the interview by apologising for his heavy cold and persistent cough, although he was in otherwise good spirits.

As always with Steve we ended up starting the interview before we realised and so the conversation on the dictaphone cuts into a brief chat about the sound at the start of Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth. 

SH: It’s what I call a Frozen Reverb…

TEJ: Well the way it starts, it’s like somebody pressed play and record on a cassette or tape that already had a sound on it.

SH: It’s a strange haunted sound isn’t it?

TEJ: It’s a jolt, even if you were a little bit tired and if you were playing at the end of the evening – it’s a jolt; pulls you in to the start of album.

SH: Well it’s songs from the haunted nursery – that’s how I see those little things. It goes right back to Nursery Cryme and had I been more experienced at the time I would have tried to get more of that into the song. Because it really doesn’t have a tremendous amount of that not on the original version any way it has lots of other little things.

Our cup’s of tea arrive with a bountiful plate of biscuits (thank you Jo). We change direction and get into subjects we have pre planned.

TEJ: We saw the last tour four times…

SH: Oh did you really, oh good.

TEJ: Well, one of us saw two, one of us saw four. We really thought that Northampton was our favourite night because we had the best seats in the house, when you have the best seat in the house and there’s nobody walking past – especially being dead centre. So the show after was Leicester’s De Montfort Hall, where you’re doing the talk (university talk) at shortly (4th March). It’s a venue you’ve had a lot of history with and it was nice to see you there again. The Symphony Hall in Birmingham was a lovely venue to see you at again as well and of course Southend was the last night of the UK tour. You all seemed to have fun and play up to the fact it was Halloween.

Laughter

SH: Good, I like touring.

TEJ: We think you’re very good at it, you’ve had a few years to hone that skill.

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Steve in a witch’s hat at Southend

SH: It’s a funny thing, you’re always standing there trying to get it right. Just to demystify it, I think the mechanics of performance are such that you are concerned with the nuts and bolts and you’re trying to create heaven, but you’re dealing with shovelling coal into or out of hell. It can be quite different; the experience on stage from out front; and when it’s all going perfectly well, that’s marvellous. Nobody likes to do screwups but the reality is it was a set that was very demanding for me, a lot of different new tunes for instance. And to combine the Genesis and solo stuff again I didn’t know how that was going to be taken. It was very interesting seeing the way the band worked with it and the way audiences responded, and the idea of trying to give people the complete picture as much as you can – which you can’t, there’s far too many albums, you can’t give the complete picture. But the idea that it’s not just Genesis it’s this as well. Yeah it felt good to get back to doing that and doing ‘me’.

TEJ: It was refreshing to see you doing ‘you’ this time. Because that’s the right balance. You can very easily go too far one way or the other. I remember when I saw for the first time in 2003 there was probably about 3 or 4 Genesis songs in the whole set, there was an acoustic set in the middle that sort of bookend the closing of the first set and opened the second set.

TEJ: Personally we really enjoyed the pacing of the set. It was incredibly enjoyable and it gave the band a chance to stretch out in other ways. Rather than Nad strictly imitating Phil or Pete he instead worked hard to replicate incredibly difficult parts that Richie Haven’s was able to do so fluently, and then without much of breathe do the incredibly high parts Phil was doing with Star of Sirius, and yet retain an individual identity. Nad really shined this tour, not to say he kept anything back previously, but it his range of abilities has became more apparent.

SH: He has got a great range, and he’s got a very chameleon like approach. He was sometimes when we were mucking around backstage doing a really extraordinary kind of blues voice as well. So we were doing that, he was doing a good versions of Richie Havens. And obviously he was doing other stuff, he was doing Pete’s stuff, he was doing Phil’s stuff. But as of course he’s done his own album that has attracted attention which I’m only too pleased to be apart of that and bringing him in front of the public frankly I’m very pleased for him, that it’s all going well.

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Nad singing in the second set at Northampton 2015

TEJ: We’ve not had a chance to hear it yet but we’ve caught the odd interview online where he seems very excited in his life where he’s able to do this and with people that were not only his heroes from when he resided on the Genesis forums but have now gone on to become very good friends.

SH: Well there’s a lot of camaraderie, there’s a lot of love there. I like to work with people who are friends, that’s it. I don’t feel like I’ve got to laud it in any sort of way. In terms of musical ambitions, in one sense they’ve all been fulfilled; on another level you always want to push yourself and do things you haven’t done before, which we’re working on as we speak.

TEJ: As you were saying Nad has this bluesy voice which he was practicing in rehearsals, is that something to expect on the new album?

SH: Not necessarily, I draw the distinction between what’s solo and what are his capabilities. It might be in the future I might play some harmonica on something he’s doing, I don’t know how it’s all going to pan out in future.

TEJ: We guess it boils down to what you’re both naturally in tune with what you’re both doing.

SH: I’m not saying he’s going to be doing blues, it’s just from one moment to the next he can do a very deep kind of baritone thing and also he’s got quite a range up there. So yeah he’s able to do that thing. I find it very interesting all of that, the way a number of people can have a number of different voices.

TEJ: Almost as though they are different characters.

SH: That’s the thing about the voice, it doesn’t sit still, it’s not a fixed thing. It changes from day to day, minute to minute. You sing and something happens. I’ve recorded vocals when I’ve had colds and coughs at various times. I did a version of Ego and Id, John’s (Steve’s Brother) song, on the same album…

TEJ: I think it was on Wild Orchids…

SH: Very low and gravely and everything. Not a sound I normally go for, world weary… there are times where you work with what you’ve got. Great to be fit, A1, 20/20 vision and all the rest, the reality is what are you going to do when it’s not all working perfectly.

TEJ: Are you going to sit idle or make the most it.

SH: I like to make the most of it, like we’re doing here. You know we’ve got the setup in the living room because I’m planning to do a studio in the garden, but until that’s sorted here it is, I’m working with Roger in here.

TEJ: It will be part of the front room album series. A trilogy perhaps

laughter

SH: Well part of it yeah. Well I did some stuff with Chris, in the front room… Chris Squire god bless him. And as I said, ‘Sorry Chris we’re recording in the living room at the moment because…’ there were problems with the studio. Chris said ‘You’re recording in the living room because you can.’ And that was a positive.

TEJ: You found a way of doing.

SH: That’s right because you can.

TEJ: Instead of sticking your head in your hands going, what are am I going to do, you actually went down the route with Roger of we can do this, let’s try it.

SH: We did several things that way. Some were done at Map Studios. Some were done at the living room. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a bit like doing a movie, you can do some stuff at the studio or some stuff on location. This is on location;Universal studios; or on location it’s the dream… of course the best bit of equipment is the brain, the imagination. The rest… I can interface with all sorts of situations and equipment… the fingers, are the best bit of gear I’ve got.

TEJ: Aside from real acoustic drums we’re now in the realm of everything is pretty believable, you would honestly believe you had an orchestra performing in that room.

SH: Yeah, often.

TEJ: And not really be in a position to question because it sounds like it.

SH: Well real time and dream time I like to think of as both possibilities. It’s wonderful to work with an orchestra when you have the budget and the orchestra come in and, in one go, it all comes to life and they’re reading it off the page and it sounds great from the word go. Other times you’re building it up layer by layer. But it’s no less astounding seeing what Enya did with one voice to watching a 200 piece choir at the Royal Albert Hall with Bryn Terfel at the front sounding as loud as the rest combined.

TEJ: Yeah it’s interesting because she (Enya) has got to sync in with herself, so you either have a thousand brains syncing with each other in unison or one brain syncing with itself over time.

SH: Yeah and of course Queen were the masters of harmony.

TEJ: If you watch the documentary for Bohemian Rhapsody and Brian May is pulling it apart and explaining it all to you there is so much going on in that one song. And then you’re in the middle of it in the surround sound environment, it’s a very immersive experience. But previously if you listen to it in the car it just sounds like a very nice rock song but when you’re immersed in it you can almost go this is an orchestra made up of 4 people.

SH: That’s it, multiples, multiplicity… and they were very good. Brian is marvellous as a guitarist with a unique sound and the ability to create orchestras out of guitar. Having a woodwind tone and a vocal tone and things that sound a bit like violins and brass. Guitars are very good at impersonating other things, so they are natural synthesizers in a way.

TEJ: The guitar in a way hasn’t changed.

SH: The guitar?

TEJ: (Michael) I’d say the guitar has changed in various ways but maybe the fundamentals have always remained.

SH: I tell you what I thought was a huge leap forward for me was the sustainer pickup, that the Fernandes have. The ability to eliminate percussion and decay means you’ve got something in the middle that’s close to the voice or the violin, or the theremin or however you interpret it.

TEJ: Taking that natural decay and making it fluid, it is yours to control forever.

SH: It’s become legato, with the quantum leap from the sound of what the Bonanza soundtrack possessed to the present day. Although, I find myself often thinking there’s an aspect of that, of guitars that went ‘twang’ that didn’t sustain that is also interesting. So I want to use that, I want to use early guitar sounds as well as the latest.

TEJ: Of course that can open up a whole world of things like lutes with gut strings and really early acoustic instruments.

SH: I’ve got an Iranian Oud in fact, and it’s quite lovely I like working with that. It’s a beautiful sounding early instrument, nothing wrong with early instruments.

TEJ: I think it’s interesting how even in pop music people are delving into this very old technology to bring it into the new.

SH: What you were saying early about recording a traditional setup in perhaps a non traditional way, no reason why not. It was very much in the spirit of what the Beatles were doing, using acoustic instruments but miking them up in unusual ways, using distortion, saturation. There’s so many different ways of working with an instrument

TEJ: You also had George (Harrison) bring in an early version of the sitar in because that was what he was being influenced by at the time with the Beatles. And suddenly their music goes from love songs with guitar bass drums to something else. George obviously brought in the tabla because he started to fall in love with Indian side of things, whilst at the same time you’ve got Paul and others exploring the Mellotron as it was just coming in.  With that in mind it’s funny how now that wouldn’t be seen as such a magical thing because they’ve already covered it.

SH: I think that idea of Musique Concrétre or ‘found music’, taking a brass band and sticking it on… cutting in up onto Yellow Submarine. It’s weird I would have thought the Beatles would have been able to afford their own band, but isn’t it interesting how it was cut up into a tune which I dare say was unrecognisable from its original format. See that’s very inventive, the art of the edit of course with George Martin who was Beatle number 5 of course.

TEJ: Well obviously that has influenced you with your own music because it sounds like you have done the same. Like you have had a brass band on tap and gone play this for 2 minutes and then cut it up and then thrown it and done something with it, and you can still point back to the brass band. But it has got this ‘Steve Hackett’ use without sounding cliché.

SH: I think you can collect data and assimilate it into an existing picture. Because someone sits down and plays an instrument in a room doesn’t mean it has to sound like that. You’ve got the ability, even in the 1960s to varispeed, half speed, double speed, forwards, backwards, phased, unphased. We’re still talking 1960’s, when it was all analogue. A lot of it came out of comedy when George Martin was recording the various voices of Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe too doing various operatic parts… signal to noise.

TEJ: Think he did a bit of the Goon’s too. He also did work with Michael Bentine and Spike Milligan as well as a plethora of people in the late 50’s including helping The BBC Radiophonic workshop with the song “Time Beat” which sounds similar to the Dr Who theme song, so with that in mind it obviously gave him the idea of ‘oh these boys want to try something different.

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Steve as we discussed things

SH: To experiment yes, bangers and mash. The same guy (George Martin) thought he was going to be writing music like the Warsaw concerto that is a personal favourite of mine, but later down the line he’s doing a string arrangement for Eleanor Rigby that was using the music to Psycho as a model. If you listen back to the marcato strings on the soundtrack of Psycho you realise they are recorded incredibly hot, they’re distorted. But we do that as a matter of course now sometimes if we want to, if we want to have time marked out with strings and make them more percussive we often use distortion with it. So we engender that rather than using the ascendant of film scores that perhaps didn’t know any better that distortion was a given. But I often find myself saying to Roger something like ‘Remember the way brass used to distort like crazy on those old black and white movies, can we get an aspect of that into something a brass section and screw it up.

SH: So again, you get that… in a sense it’s carrying on the same tradition as The Beatles. I think and I suspect how those guys lived and had they inevitably reformed you may have had a sense of coming back to the same place and knowing it for the first time. By the time you’ve spoken to enough people about what they like about what you personally do, or what one personally does, you suddenly start to realise ‘ah, that’s why that works.’ There was someone who wrote to me recently talking about Pink Floyd and talking about their favourite records. One of them was Genesis, one of them was Pink Floyd, various other artists mentioned. He’s an Italian guy, I think he’s a bass player about 22 years old – and he said the somnambulist (sleepwalker) approach of Pink Floyd. I thought what a great way to describe this slow unconscious use of rhythm that is not so much to drive the music forward but kind of compound it.

TEJ: Would that be something like Us & Them?

SH: Oh I think so and maybe the slow rhythms that they’ve adopted. I personally am quite a fan of slow rhythm. Just because you have a slow rhythm doesn’t mean you have to play slowly over it. You can play slowly or can play very fast. Right back to the day of slow blues’ where the guitarist decides to go off on a bender with a flurry of notes. Cadenza on top of all that slow stuff, very soulful.

TEJ: You have done that before as well.

SH: I have *laughter* and I’ll do it again in future.

Laughter

TEJ: It’s really enjoyable, it’s one of those thing where you can go ‘Ah, that’s the nice bit’… well they’re all nice bits but listening to a song or an album is like going on a journey you don’t just sit there thinking and this is London and this how we need to get there, you start planning waypoints and landmarks. It’s more than that. You can start looking out the window and you think that’s a lovely pleasant field and now we’re in this lovely story about two people falling in love. Waterloo Sunset is a great example.

SH: It’s a romance of time and place. You know those two people at that time… Waterloo, 1960’s again. It’s painting a picture, I think that’s what I try to do. My Dad was a painter, he painted that marvellous painting *points to corner of the room* there of the Fairy Glen in Wales, Betws-y-Coed. I’ve just gotten a frame for it, the most expensive frame I’ve bought.

TEJ: The frame is very important.

SH: The frame is very important. I digress but in a way, it is painting scenes, and it is journeying. You’ve got a film for the mind, for the ear, not necessarily for the eye but sometimes the eye might follow, for a video which I’ve been several doing of recently.

TEJ: Freddie Mercury was once quoted of saying that he didn’t like making music video’s or he didn’t like Queen doing videos because in his mind when people heard an album they themselves imagined what the song was about, who was in it, what landscape it took place in. And so for him it robbed people of that journey and that sense. An album and writing music is a lot like painting in the sense you are seeing what everyone else is seeing, processing and putting it back out into the world as your own. That’s not a gift many people have, they get stuck on the processing bit of it, they can say I saw this picture Betws-y-Coed for example but to paint it how they saw it. Perhaps it goes back to your use of the world ‘interfacing’.

SH: Well that’s we do. That’s what the human body is capable of doing. We’re this great big computer that walks around and does a billion things a second. We are part of the landscape. I don’t see myself divorced from it in the way that I use to, here I am a complete solo act. But we’re not, none of us are individuals that stand supremely alone. I feel like I’m very much twinned with Jo in a huge sense of the word where we finish off each others thoughts and sentences. I tend to think will she like this bit that I’m about to do and if I’m stuck on something she’ll often suggest something like why don’t you do something like this and she’s completely right. Sometimes creating the flow from section to the next, the bridge passages, it’s quite a challenge; particularly if you want to go from one time signature to another, or a different speed – a different BPM, how do you do that? Well I remember somebody, a guitarist who I think had lessons with (Andre) Segovia, that said Segovia had the ability to bend rhythm I found that very interesting because that is something that rock drummers in the main are required not to do. The idea of being a slave to the rhythm is a perfectly marketable concept, but to be a master of the rhythm you have to be able to bend. and that’s not what’s on offer in terms of click track based music. I think to abandon the click track whenever I’ve got a nylon in my hand because I want to be able to linger over or caress, or beat the hell of it if I’m doing flamenco stuff which I’ve been doing recently. So I’m using it as a kind of as link and I realise it can be extremely percussive and extremely urgent. Just as urgent as any rock music, it’s just the different schools of approach, how do you see it. The masculine energy, the urgency of it of flamenco versus the rather more feminine approach of Segovia.

TEJ: Is that something you’ve played with recently then, putting down a basic guitar track and aligning everything to it, a rather inverted way of recording.

SH: Well I tell you what I was doing recently, I was putting down the idea of the acoustic guitar as a drum and using it as percussion. Being a drummer with it first of all, and then putting stuff over the top of it. I’ve been doing that and it’s been surprisingly successful in personal terms. Whatever it does in the market place… I’ve been amazed with the amount of drive it can with the amount of drive it can with one of the guitars it can have that’s got the least volume but I’m getting the maximum amount of volume out of it. I’m using one where the strings happens to be very low slung, very light gauge so they really snap when you tear into them.

TEJ: A bit snarey?

SH: It’s very snarey, exactly. That’s been a deliberate choice on one section of something I’m working on.

TEJ: You did that percussive thing very well on Cedars of Lebanon.

SH: Oh right…

TEJ: You did track it up a bit because the guitar was playing against itself rhythm wise.

SH: Yeah I did a rhythm…

TEJ: It was really nice, it was a very good tool because it took you there very quickly. Rather than a long expansive thing, you were there, which you have used before to great effect.

SH: You’re probably right, it’s a good colour. In fact what we did was I was basically slapping and tapping the guitar just to get a rhythm. We took that and processed it an octave down and then suddenly it starts to sound like drums but not a drum that everyone has got, so it’s no longer generic. I’d advise anyone who wants to get any kind of unique sound to not always use the tools to hand but use unlikely things and mess around with them like that. It’s not the first time I’ve used a guitar as drum, I’ve used it on Dreaming With Open Eyes as well, and particularly recently. In fact I’ll play you a quick snippet, to give you an idea.

Steve plays a clip that starts with a couple acoustic guitar body taps followed by a gentle ‘mysterious’ roll that leads into full flamenco style before returning back to the body taps. It is very percussive and has a back and forth on the melody entwined in the chords.

SH: Eventually it becomes a song… anyway there you go!

TEJ: It’s got a sort of castanet quality to it.

SH: Of course it’s not a castanet, it’s all on one guitar. Not all in one go.

TEJ: There’s a low end percussion that sounds like a hand slap and then there’s the high end that sounds like fingernails snap.

SH: It’s not fingernails, it’s just the pads of the fingers, close mic’d…

TEJ: Going back to the sense of urgency, you can certainly feel that.

SH: It’s got a sort of certain tension to it.

TEJ: The first thing you’re seeing depending on how well traveled you are, is somebody dancing.

SH: Right it’s got that aspect of it. It’s very much dance music.

TEJ: It could be for someone else that’s part of a hurrying journey theme wise.

SH: Yeah, the baion rhythm is endemic to so many cultures: African, South American, Indian, and Spanish. You get all of that where there is the soul – and it’s a rhythm that mixes very well with rock. It’s not a rock rhythm but you can make it work with rock, you can involve it with rock.

TEJ: There’s a very good band I like called Viza that tend to take those rhythms and stick a driving heavy metal sound behind it.

SH: Sure, well that’s the thing. Eventually that track is going to end up as something else. I’ve got something else where track is heading to is electric. It’s heading to electric guitar that has a more legato thing. Let me see if I can find it… I just had a rough version, because we were mixing the other show.

TEJ: The Liverpool show? (DVD to be released early summer)

SH: The Liverpool show! Whilst I was working on that I thought it would be nice that when I started to start with something new. Out of the stuff I found, we’ve got this other thing.

*Steve plays a second track that has a 60s vibe with soaring Cliffs of Dover (Eric Johnson) guitar on top. It was like a train rhythmically with a soaring guitar weaving its way through the drum pattern *

SH: Early stages of this. *track continues to play* I wanted to get that free kind of 60s feeling about it.

TEJ: It’s got that kind of breathy catching up rhythm with itself within the drums.

SH: Minimum of chords, minimum of form… 2 chords… I mean in a sense it’s retro but it is very freeing if you know what I mean. Anyway…

TEJ: That sounds nice, it’s very different compared to the previous album.

SH: Yeah I think it’s a different style. It’s what I grew up listening to, guys who sounded like that, but now it’s more under control. I don’t have to deafen anyone to do that, the guitar feeds back of its own accord, there’s no tyranny of volume with it. At one time if you wanted to do that sort of sound you’d have to turn up loud to do that, but I don’t, it’s in the box… the virtual world.

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Steve’s studio in the front room, whilst he noodles on his Gibson LP.

TEJ: Going back to that idea of being contained within the house, would you say the environment is influencing the new material?

SH: I think so, I think the idea of what you can do with less. Doing more with less, perhaps. I don’t want to be too high bound by equation driven music, in other words impenetrable time signatures. It’s that find the clue thing I’m very worried about, I find it people don’t find it easy to digest. The challenge for me is to be able to get things to point where I can get one thing work against another and have a conduit that’s interesting enough. In a sense they will run together, but not necessarily with that bit (1 track) bolted onto the other. There will be other way stations on the way. You talked about the journey of music, the journey ends up… In fact that might not be the ending. But it might go somewhere else after that.

TEJ: That’s the magic… Obviously I think you’re doing what our tutors are telling me at college, which is to write something to compare and contrast. Which is really nice because obviously you are at a stage in your career where that comes far easier than someone who is just starting out in their career because of this bank of skills.

SH: I think if you want to do music that sounds very technical, you can record a note at a time. Technique really shouldn’t be any drawback. As I say I know it is possible with the art of the edit and click and all of that. It’s all fair game at the end of the day. It’s a bit like making a movie. I don’t for one minute expect that it’s really the hero who’s the expert swordsman that jumps over backwards and this that and the other. It doesn’t really matter, as you’re making the equivalent of a film for the ear and get there by fair means or foul, but the end product is the thing we’re aiming at. If people think you’re a virtuoso in the end of then fine. But if you’re making an album it’s all fair game. I don’t think technique for technique’s sake is worth striving for. I think there as to be at some point there has to be a real song in there.

TEJ: A song should be a transportation device, it shouldn’t be a showcase for somebody’s to show off their talents in that regard.

SH: Well Jazz is of course and classical music.

TEJ: Sometimes it can feel as though it’s been constructed just to show off an example would be “I can play this really fast”, but as a musician you’re not taking me anywhere or building up a story or theme of sorts. It can sound more like you’re playing an audition piece rather than conveying the message, the emotion and the moment. I think the real art is the ability to balance that without the ego playing such a major part, the power to pick and choose.

SH: The influence of Spain comes in, watching gypsies in Granada dancing and playing this stuff. I was talking to one of the guitarists there and asking and showing me how he did one of the moves and the penny didn’t drop for several months afterwards. I was looking at this guitar going, this thing’s not really working. And then one day, the penny drop. Ah, it’s the rhythm isn’t, da-da-da-daaa da-da-da -da daaa. And it’s getting faster and faster. And once I understood the rhythm rather than the blur of notes then it made things a lot easier, just breaking it down, starting slowly.

TEJ: This goes back to the bending of the rhythm.

SH: It’s important to bend the rhythm and to bend the rules. To change people’s ideas of their own prejudice. Reverse it and say ‘Well you may have been into punk but you happen to love Beethoven’s such and such symphony and you don’t know why.’ They’ve both done their job haven’t they. Jonny Rotten has done his job and so has Beethoven. But these things are vastly contrasting. The point to get any potential audience is the point they are able to take music without prejudice. ‘Oh I don’t like country music, but I really love the sound of KD Lang or Roy Orbison, or Elvis’s early stuff. There’s country music there isn’t there, Marty Robbins. see it’s all there. Or the way the voice sounds, pitched a bit lower to tell a story. What do you take from country? You might just decide to take that.

TEJ: You could. Johnny Cash for example, you feel like he isn’t really singing you feel like he’s almost narrating the context of the story. And that’s what you need from that. I think if he tried to sing it would spoil the illusion, you’d feel disconnected. Whereas if you listen to Tammy Wynette she is singing, it might not be everybody’s taste but you’re connected to the story because she is singing it rather than narrating. I think it’s odd that people are blinkered to the journey from one genre to another it’s the snobbish attitude though, everyone is guilty of it.

SH: Yeah where does taste begin and prejudice end. It’s a tough one isn’t it. I like this but as soon as you say ‘I don’t like that…’ you’ve got a bit of a problem, you need to be brought back to the plot which is take ego out of this.

TEJ: I’ve met people who love the Beatles until it starts to get to the experimental stuff and they lose the interest, yet Michael is the other way around Revolver is just a brilliant album.

SH: It is a brilliant album and the stuff that follows is also brilliant. But they were also brilliant as, I hate to use the word ‘simple songsmiths’ but simpler songs. They also happened to be brilliant at that as well.

TEJ: Come Together, In comparison to Sgt Pepper is a straightforward bluesy type song with them considering less rather than more, in an unobtrusive but complex in a way with the placement of Hi Hat here and then something else in a different part of the soundscape.

SH: I marvelled at it the Beatles. I know we’ve all spoken volumes on the subject of the fab four. I remember several times where I would hear a Beatles tune and not know who it was. Within You Without You was such a case in question, and also I Am A Walrus. Listened from the begin to the end and missed the name check at the beginning and wondered what was that marvellous band.

TEJ: That was a Technicolor journey.

SH: It was a wonderful arrangement and a marvellously imaginative disney-esque, cartoon like. It seems to be peopled with characters that pop up.

TEJ: Yeah the lyric ‘sitting on a cornflake…’ and you wonder what would have influenced that.

SH: In a way you pick up on the lyrics latterly. It’s the sound of the piece.

TEJ: There is a lot of trickery in there, there’s a lot of stereo panning, with plenty of trickery on the vocals. I think the world is a better place for it.

SH: It’s a number of people’s favourite Beatles’ song. And I can see why.

TEJ:  The Beatles legacy lives on, the interpretation of All You Need Is Love during the wedding scene in Love Actually is beautiful and emotive, but if you hark back to the original version what used to set me off emotionally was the small snippet of Greensleeves that George Martin snuck into the piece. Your use of Greensleeves has not gone unnoticed by me.

SH: On the front of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (Genesis Revisited 2) ?

TEJ: More so on Turn This Island Earth, where it brought a touching sense of reality and humanity to the storyline, and later on when you used it on the front of DWTMK on Genesis Revisited 2 where it brought a sense of a decay of history to the piece.

SH: I’m glad you liked it and that it works, it’s a lovely tune, funny enough my aunt brought me a CD right at the beginning funny enough it’s got Greensleeves the Ralph Vaughan Williams version on it which then goes into Scheherazade (The Arabian Nights) by Rimsky-Korsakov it’s a lovely recording of it, the orchestra are very wet there is a lot of reverb on it which suddenly made sense to me it’s delightfully orchestral Eastern. I get a sense of these Russian guys with their boarders on the east looking in that direction for Exotica in their way in same way we do now.

TEJ: With everyone else looking back that way and thinking, Tchaikovsky…

SH: He had that in droves.

Steve hands us a compilation CD from Classic FM

SH: It’s an interesting combination of things they seem to work well back to back because they are essentially the same rhythm it’s a kind of Waltz.

TEJ: The CD is an eclectic mix of composers.

SH: Yeah, it is an eclectic mix, it’s a nice way to start the day.

TEJ: The sequencing of music is an art form in itself, which was something we mentioned to you at Northampton about the show because each half was very well sequenced.

SH: Funnily enough people were saying that they enjoyed this set more than others because of the way things appeared, but like I have often said in the past if anyone thinks I have any mastery over that I do not. The way it works for me is that all music is a complete shot in the dark if it find it finds it mark en masse it’s by accident, I just do what makes sense to me and sequencing a live show I can often be lead to the plot by others who make suggestions that I hadn’t thought of.

TEJ: Could that be the band or Ben on the sound?

SH: It can be anyone and everyone, “Why don’t you start off with so and so, why don’t  you do this or that…” I’ll be thinking, oh I don’t know about that, and I might resist the idea for years and then suddenly realise that they were absolutely right. I hadn’t played Spectral Mornings for years Nick Beggs was saying to be you’ve gotta have that in its iconic and I thought, mmmm you know that it feels like something I did a long time ago. But that’s precisely why I would do it now because things that are that much older function in a different way because it’s a bit like taking something out of the wardrobe that you have not worn for a long time and you think here’s something antiquated so why not.

TEJ: On the tour this time around having heard the charity single version of Spectral Mornings, I was imagining the lyrics whilst you were all playing it live and it did not make it any less enjoyable but I found myself comparing the two versions. The way in which it explodes in a flash of light at the early part of the set was memorable, it’s just that at my second show of the tour it still managed to surprise me because I had forgotten the lighting cue owing to being out with guests and concentrating hard on making sure they had a great night out at the show in Leicester.

TEJ: So Corycian Fire starts and Richard Buckland comes on stage and plugs your guitar lead in and that done he walks off and I sat there thinking oh I wonder whats going to happen next, then a huge crash of the cymbals and a blinding flash, Spectral Mornings began which grabbed everyone’s attention.

SH: There was something about that when we did the original with Nick Magnus happened to have a very convincing Pipe organ sound from his Vox String Thing because he had hooked up the various Octaves to play together and of course ironically now we are using something that sounds similar but it’s there is a real Pipe organ in there sampled nonetheless, as Rick Wakeman says quite honestly that the samples are often better than the real thing very often he finds.

TEJ: Far easier to transport on tour.

SH: Well there is that, part of the attraction when we first did it was that I was drawn to the sound of the keyboards as I was the sound of the guitar which was just a massive sound of keyboards in the days when I was a fan of the organ back in the days before I joined Genesis I was talking to Tony and I said I really enjoy Classical Organ, Church Organ and he was using a Hammond Organ in a very classical way; Church like; and I loved that. What he did not possess at the time was “with another key we could do this” or sound like this and back in the day the keyboard arsenal was something I was very keen to build because keyboards had a wider range of tones it was a more colourful palette and with the addition of the Mellotron MK2 there was a tremendous amount of things you could suddenly be transported by the use of a certain sound or a certain tone.

TEJ: Keyboards are surprisingly one of the more dominant instruments on all of your albums is surprising when you consider that you’re a guitarist, the assumption often given to albums by guitarists is that ego can sometimes overpower the balance of sound on an album or it can be dominated by just one instrument the guitar. The remarkable difference with all of your work is that the guitar is almost having a mutual conversation with the keyboards throughout your career and long may it reign.

SH: I’ve always loved the fact that whatever you do on guitar there comes a moment where you defer to keyboards to solve a puzzle or riddle. How do we achieve a harmonic progression that I can take so far on guitar. I like to think I use as complex harmonies as you can in one go on a guitar but nonethelesss the fact that a keyboard functions like a set of open strings you don’t have to retune a keyboard to get what you need to with a DADGAD (Celtic tuning) or the regular (EADGBE) tuning in a sense they are all open strings more than that of course its at the flick of a switch you can be in front of a string section or flute section or a number of things, I know it’s an interpretation of that and it’s not the same as having real players and I want to stress that there is always a place for the real player. There is no sense in which I would think you’ll never need a violin again or you’ll never need a drummer again, it’s nonsense. But I’d like to think that there might be a violinist out there who will cast an ear to the Mellotron and go that’s interesting because I don’t think I can quite make that sound on my on my own and it’s an interpretation of strings

TEJ: You could imagine that one day soon a violinist might play or record their violin through a guitar effects pedal or chain of pedals, whereas with the Mellotron you can do all of that with the press of a key potentially removing the process of going through the pain and suffering of learning the violin and finessing that skill.

SH: You see my dreams changed when I kid I used to think that anyone who had a Gibson Les Paul and a Marshall Stack had already made it and when I joined Genesis I suddenly had that because suddenly we had a patron in the shape of Charisma Records. We didn’t have a Mellotron for the first six months and I was mad keen to get one, but it’s amazing how ambitions change you know when you’re very young to play three chords on a guitar and be able to play a harmonica simultaneously. Suddenly it was the world of music opening up it was extraordinary for me I could do Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Donovan, and all sorts of things were possible and yet it’s an endless quest.

TEJ: Almost an eternal one.

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Steve playing with his band in Northampton (9th October 2015)

SH: Yeah you go I’ll acquire that and I’ll acquire this but there comes a point where you start to go back and think well. I’ve seen things done in South America where perhaps a man cannot afford a whole drum kit but he can afford one drum and he’ll get as many sounds as he possibly can out of this one drum and one drum stick the repinique and do a rhythm on it and it will change your whole notion of what drums are all about.

TEJ: Born out of necessity.

SH: Yes, certainly

TEJ: Adapting and being creative it reaches back to that whole interfacing thing.

SH: Yes!

TEJ: You work with what you have, whilst you still lust after that grand drum kit. The real magic would be in seeing how that South American would make the most out of 4 or 5 extra drums, or in the case of a guitarist who has started out on a real cheap guitar for them to suddenly move into owning something like a Gibson must be a be a moment of achievement.

SH: It’s one of the joys to start off with a really bad guitar with punishing action and heavy strings and have wounds on your fingers that don’t heal for the first six months whilst you’re thinking the callouses are going to come, when are they going to come never! then to suddenly pick up a Nylon guitar the feeling under your fingers is almost like sensuous silk as opposed to barbed wire was quite a revelation for me I used to think this is too easy it’s cheating, now of course I struggle with nylon to be able to make it as fluent as possible. But those early discoveries are like quantum leaps forward and I think it’s at the early stage in music where you’ll get the most joy out of little tiny things. It’s important not to listen to someone and to be put off and to think “Oh I’ll never have that technique” or ” I’ll never be able to do that how’s he done that?” It doesn’t work like that almost to the point you capitulate, you resist certain things. I resisted playing with the nails no I want to play with the plectrum, you can’t do that all with the plectrum you gotta use the nails if you want to do certain things. Then once you start it’s very tricky, nails what length do I polish them or buff them.

TEJ: A minefield of possibilities any of which could determine the technique or sound

SH: Well yeah then you got to have the right nail files, then the right polisher ,and I am not trying to put anyone off, to smooth them down then oh buffers, so if I get a buffer that means they won’t catch you know get a woman to show you how to buff the nails that’s it.

TEJ: These are all important steps on that journey whether it’s a career or a hobby, you have to invest time and keep an open mind for learning but its all a journey.

SH: That’s it, the other thing to realise on this journey you might actually record or do something and your hearts really in it and it seems absolutely perfect and then it falls flat in the market place and you have got to realise it’s not about the performance of any one particular record out there it’s time may not be now it’s time maybe down the line, it’s technique what it teaches you the fact you can go back to it at some point. I’m always going back to ideas that I had back in the sixties or that friends had or that I listened to and I’m thinking that’s really got something and it’s been haunting me for decades this thing. I think I’ve got to do it I’ve got to use something I’ve got to steal and I feel bad about it but I can’t just sit there like a stillborn thing nagging away at you, you have just got to do it I feel compelled to do all sorts things and I don’t really understand the reason why I’ve just got to do it.

TEJ: Well hopefully you will get an opportunity to exorcise these ideas…

SH: Demons…

(Laughter)

SH: Exercise or exorcise and there can be a fine line between the two if you don’t there is always the danger that they will fester, there is nothing wrong with doing something that has got a Sixties feel or even a Fifties feel or Forties feel, Thirties feel or even an 1830’s feel and why not!

(Laughter)

TEJ: Which one of these is the most nagging at the moment in terms of ideas?

SH: Well for a long time I used to go and see Blues bands I was aware in the main that although I loved the Blues personally, most women that I knew we’re bored silly by it because they would say “Oh it just goes round and round and around” and “It’s man blues, man music” and “It’s not really going anywhere”. Of course all of these sonic developments were happening with the guitar: Distortion, Finger Vibrato, Feedback, and all of those marvellous things for someone who is an obsessed addict like myself. I thought well how do you take an aspect of that and bring it back to the present day what was it that guitarists could do in the sixties that they can no longer do now, that’s why when I played you that Electric track (earlier) it’s something that’s just two chords it was what music was evolving to when it was cusping from blues to psychedelia to progressive and all of that free workout something that linked Indian music and Raga’s how do you take people forward who have a prejudice against a lack of harmonic progression.

SH: So that’s the challenge for me are they going to like it, will there be a romance in that. Everything that’s still alive from the guitarists who were playing that stuff in the sixties they’ve rejected all that. But now I’m on board ah well actually that’s really good because now there is just two chords and it goes ” Der diddle der der der dah dah ” because you feel it and it doesn’t matter that you repeat the notes and you can play slow, you can play fast it doesn’t really matter. It’s just pure feeling and I just love that I don’t think Jazz quite has that unless it’s free Jazz then people are completely atonal and then you have got the prejudice of people who usually  say things like “It sounds like spiders crawling up the wall…” or “It’s in all directions at once” and again there is no real harmony to it and you think well certain people did that very well and I’ve heard stuff like that but I am not going to listen to it everyday of the week.

TEJ: It can be palette cleansing at times, Bitches Brew (Miles Davis) is an album I like but it’s palette cleansing.

SH: Yes and Black Beauty or Live Evil, those albums at that time obviously everyone has fabulous technique so if these guys cannot pull off atonal then no one can.

TEJ: I recall a former colleague describing what his friend thought of the Thelonious Monk album Machine Gun, his friend suggested that it sounded as though the band had thrown their instruments down a set of concrete stairs and then dived after them. I think he missed the point personally and not entirely descriptive perhaps Jazz wasn’t his thing.

SH: The subjective view is only part of the story.

TEJ: Indeed, back to the sixties with things like looping with that kind of back and forth thing it was very much a kind of thing that the Afrobeat world was into with the rhythm especially with instruments like a bass guitar playing a repetitive riff of Du du dum dum dum for twelve minutes but obviously useful if not for everybody.

SH: Yes certainly things like Paul Butterfield with East West at 12 minutes and longer. I was in 1966 at Eel Pie Island watching them play and I knew I had to go to work the next day and I had a journey that required several bus journeys and tube journeys, I had to leave them when they were in the middle of East West that long workout and for me I never really left that stage if you know what I mean, I was riveted because they were breaking the rules there and they were heading towards that atonal thing with harmonica in the wrong key and all the rest with Indian stuff. They were hardly a Blues band at that point it was something else.

(The gig is rumoured to have taken place on the 15th November 1966, The Paul Butterfield Blues band had completed a UK tour with Georgie Fame, whilst they were free of this touring commitment they toured clubs etc around London – information supplied by –  Michael Bloomfield).

But as I left Mike Bloomfield was off on one they played fabulously well that night I don’t think I have ever seen players quite that urgently with three lead players playing very urgently. They were all tremendously on form that night, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, and Elvin Bishop. They were all playing to the standard of masters each one of them was stunning that night I think that gig was just for me there was only about twenty people in the audience.

TEJ: That’s criminal.

SH: It was criminal, it’s also criminal that Butterfield never really achieved anything in his lifetime the level of recognition, devotion and all the rest. But I have noticed that they have been inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in most cases. I am pleased that America has a sensibility of that, over here we never got it. I know (Eric) Clapton feels that it was a crime he said “I don’t see how a band like that could fail”. Of course I am all too aware of how a band can fail you know without publicity. Although I do believe they (Butterfield) did a Ready Steady Go, I don’t know if they played live or if it was pre record. I guess you know at Six o’clock on a Friday night when RSG started up you would see anyone from The Beatles to wandering on to the Stones and everyone at the height of their powers or so it seemed to me.

(“Ready, Steady, Go,” BBC; London, England; Aired November 18, 1966 this performance was recorded November 15 and lip-synced. Some sources suggest the tune performed may have been “I’m Droppin’ Out on You,” also known as “Droppin’ Out.” The Four Tops were also the show. Thanks again to Michael Bloomfield).

I remember Keith Richards going into a solo right at the end of something an amazing solo it seemed all power with his legs astride fully revved and then FADE, end of programme fading out on the guitar solo. Once again fade outs on important guitar solos have always been the clarion call to me, ok Steve lets see what you can do. So I follow my hero’s and Keith was one of those, Brian Jones, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, too mention but a few Segovia certainly and they were all so influential I just watched the guitar do magic things in their hands. I realise Segovia stands apart of course this is not a guy who plugs in and plays.

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Steve’s former studio (map) in Twickenham, note the Andre Segovia album on the mixing desk (December 2003).

Laughter

SH: He’s slightly different and this does take slightly longer to get together, But nonetheless it’s no less stunning so it all comes out in the wash.

TEJ: The interesting thing is whilst you’re able to cite all of these people as inspiration or motivation for you taking up the guitar, you’re not dogged by only being able to pay tribute to them. You are very much your own man with your own style.

SH: I’m not stuck, I like to think I’m not but occasionally somebody might say “oh that sounds like such and such.”

TEJ: For some they cannot get past the Hero worship when they take up an instrument and it’s a shame they seem unable to come up with original material and to utilise the skills they would have learnt emulating their hero.

SH: Oh sure I can understand Hero worship and how that works, you want to be able to do what the Master did and that’s the thing, but it might take you a very long time, it took me a very long time to get finger vibrato decades in fact. But there were other things thankfully I learned along the way and it’s a great technique finger vibrato.

TEJ: You do it horizontally as opposed to vertically

SH: No I do both, I’ll show you

Steve wonders off to his study and he returns with his 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, he proceeds to demonstrate his finger vibrato and other techniques

SH: If its Nylon guitar its side to side vibrato.

We then discuss a technique that requires the use of thumbs to make use of the bass note:

SH: I had an accident and I can’t do that anymore I lost the use of the Flexor Pollicis Longus a while ago if I could do that I would use it and you see old footage of Hendrix doing that and he doing this, but in the main I have to do it like this, the classical position. That’s it for me the other way is unreliable because that (thumb) doesn’t work anymore. It also means when I’m bending (a note) that I cannot get the level of support from the thumb so I have to rely on that so I had to relearn the sort of positioning of that but where there’s a will…

TEJ: That’s an interesting adaptation.

SH playing IMG_0942

Steve continues to noodle with that Gibson LP Goldtop, here he demonstrates a finger vibrato.

Steve still has his Gibson out and he is continuing to strum and play

SH: I saw Clapton doing this sort of up and down it’s quite interesting you know and no thumb, I thought interesting for lots of people it’s like this, so I tend to do this or down or might go up or bend down or free standing.

A conversation ensues about guitar techniques and a technique recently discovered by one of the interviewer’s involving the E and B strings being bended etc Steve then enquires if it’s a good sound whilst he starts to play it.

We break for a quick refreshing cup of tea and when we return Steve is eager to noodle with his Les Paul Goldtop

TEJ: Is that the original Goldtop from your time in Genesis

SH: Oh yes this is

TEJ: When did you acquire this one

SH: Oh it was either ’72 or ’73

TEJ: We only ask because before then you had a couple of Black Les Paul Customs and a Gibson Melody Maker

SH: Yeah I had a Gibson melody maker, then I got a couple of (Les Paul) Customs which were black and which were both stolen within two weeks of each other and I had a Sunburst for a short time and that was also stolen and then I acquired this (Goldtop) in the States.

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Steve Hackett with his Gibson LP Goldtop (lighting makes it look red) at the Drury Lane Theatre – January 1974 © Robert Ellis

(We think it was during the 1973 North American / Canadian leg of the Selling England By The Pound tour from November 7th to 20th December 1973, this is because Steve can be seen in photos at Drury Lane in London middle of January 1974 with a Gibson LP Goldtop – thanks to Robert Ellis for help here).

TEJ: What year is the one you’re noodling with

SH: ’57 It’s old this one!

TEJ: Is this the one with the neck repair?

SH: Yes, it was knocked off a guitar stand in Sittard, Holland (very close to the German boarder the date is believed to be 16th November 1980 – thanks to George German for help here), I wasn’t on stage at the time, they had an Agricultural show on in the afternoon in the same building with Tractors and things, so the crew set up very quickly for the show in the Evening and yeah this thing took a dive it was very upsetting at the time.

We change tact to lighten the mood, we recall in a previous interview that had we conducted in 2009 before the show in Bilston, that Steve had talked to us about him experimenting with fake blood and snow on stage.

TEJ: We recall that this guitar might be stained with a blood bomb on it?

SH: Well I used to use fake blood at one point and it got stuff all over it on some of the American shows, at the time I used to do a sort of Hendrix thing and then I would bash my head against it and then put the guitar down with blood showing and three rows at the front recoiled thinking “He’s completely gone”

Laughter

SH: I gave up doing that, well in fact I used to wear a white t shirt to make it more obvious!

More laughter

SH: I’ve stopped doing that now I’ve calmed down now.

TEJ: What are the chances of a small revival?

SH: A small revival (laughter)

TEJ: Well alright maybe one show in three.

SH: I’d have to use a really crap guitar, actually the fake blood tasted quite nice it had a peppermint flavour to it but it looked like you’d had a tremendous accident.

TEJ: Whoever dreamt up the idea of adding the peppermint flavour was a genius, how did it start?

SH: Well funnily enough I had seen Jamie Muir (ex King Crimson) using blood pellets and going at this Thunder Sheet with Chains and he’d bite this blood pellet to make it look like he’d been hit with one of these chains and then he’d be back on the kit like a Demon and I thought this is clever, once I heard they were fake I thought Ah there is something in this. I’m sure it would still work now but you’d need a crap guitar.

Laughter

Steve continues to noodle and he remarks how the piece he just noodled sounds like Jeff Beck 

TEJ: We were late to the party with regard to Jeff Beck’s work, we have a DVD Live at Ronnie Scott’s he does a lovely version of The Beatles track A Day In The Life.

SH: Yeah he did a few Beatles things didn’t he.

TEJ: Yes he appeared on the George Martin album In My Life (October 1998)

Steve continues to strum Beatles songs whilst continuing conversation, The start of A hard Day’s Night is discussed seems its actually a Piano and a Guitar.

TEJ: The Goldtop isn’t the only guitar you used on Wind and Wuthering, I’m sure one of us read that you had used a Black Fender Stratocaster.

SH: Yeah I used a Black Fender as well as this (Goldtop) but not in all cases or every track.

TEJ: The Goldtop is quite prominent in Robert Ellis’ photos of the rehearsals at Little Chalfont farm (Buckinghamshire) for the Wind and Wuthering tour.

SH: Yeah I think the Amps were Roland Jazz Chorus (160’s according to the tour programme) for the first time, a combination of that transistor amp and a Fender meant that the guitar sounds were a good deal brighter that they’d been in previous years.

TEJ: You also had a huge walloping great Pete Cornish multi board of effect pedals.

SH: Pretty much like that one there (Steve points to his recent board and pedals) which is a sort of up to date version of that.

TEJ: It’s more modular, has anything new been added to it

We all get up and we’re given a tour of the Pedal board

SH: I’ll show you whats on it, there’s a Micro Pog, which is quite interesting.

TEJ: There is a Line 6 DL4 that has been in your arsenal a while but there is a newer Line 6 box of tricks.

SH: It basically does fuzz box noises, whereas this is more like tube distortion and then the Sans Amp and there are different types of Treble booster, that’s the Beano Boost that analogue man and analogue mic, this one here is a Pete Cornish which is known as an Iron Boost, Nobody knows what’s in that one not even Pete you see I wanted to get a spare and he said oh send this one to me and I thought no!

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Pete Cornish – Iron Boost – One of a kind.

Laughter

TEJ: I see you have an EHX Freeze.

SH: I haven’t recorded with it, but I have got it.

TEJ: There is also a MXR EVH Phase pedal as well.

SH: Ah that’s because I used to have one (MXR Phase 90)

TEJ: Yes you starred in an advert for the Phase 90.

SH: Well back in the 70’s I was using them and they had a kind of phasiness I used it on a lot of things, Acolyte, Lamb Lies Down and quite a lot of things. Parts of Chamber of 32 Doors. It has a certain kind of sound mixed very nicely with the piano. We managed to get that again when we did the rerecord of that but nothing quite did that (like the phase 90). Modern devices just didn’t seem to make that sound and I just had to get one again, I went retro but then so much of this is retro of course guitars themselves are retro they don’t really change. The guitar that has really changed is the Fernandes.

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Wah Pedal Enclosure (could be modded), Analogman Sun Face, EHX Freeze and Sans Amp GT2 at the top , Line 6 DM4, Line 6 DL4, Digitech Whammy, SansAmp GT2, Boost Analogueman, Boss Harmonizer, MXR Phase 90 EVH, EHX Micro Pog, Boss Chromatic Tuner, Dunlop Volume Pedal, Fishman Aura Spectrum DI , Dunlop Wah Wah pedal.

With a very hasty equipment tour conducted, sadly our allotted time was over we thanked both Steve and Jo for their precious time and we made our way back home.

One Thought on “Steve Hackett – Interview – 2016

  1. Really enjoyed that. Thanks
    I found this interview in a Google search, because Pontus Akesson Just had his Epiphone Les Paul broken at the head stock on the plane back from London. I wanted to make sure I remembered the story of Steve’s Gold Top correctly.
    I saw Steve in Clearwater Florida on April 15 and you’ll be happy to know his cold was much better. LOL.