Steve Hackett Twickenham at the home of Steve Hackett and his partner Jo Lehmann January 15th 2010
MK In our last interview together we were talking about your touring personnel and perhaps we could ask you more about them.
SH Yeah go ahead
MK Can we start with Rob Townsend
SH Well I worked with Ben Castle who is Roy Castle’s son and he is an immensely likeable guy and he is very talented, we played three out of four Italian shows. The final show was cancelled due to rain but I found him both immensely talented when he was playing my stuff in my band and also when he did an album with Ian Mosley called Postman Kind. I was one of three or four guitarists who were on that. When Ben wasn’t available he recommended Rob Townsend and he said he is very similar to me. I think the thing that characterises the two of them is that they can both improvise very melodically.
SH Rob is a fabulous improviser and very melodic. He has got that ability that the best jazzers have of being able to play in his own time so he can create because he is so fluent, using rhythms that he overlays on top of something else you think is perfectly in time but actually isn’t. He is going his own way through it and that’s extraordinary. Ok you can do that in Jazz and with the Blues. Sometimes to ignore the timing of the piece totally is the best way to go otherwise you tend to get those very metronomic solos that you get in so much swing jazz and so much be bop.
MK In 2003 when I saw my very first Steve Hackett rock tour, the song I really liked was Vampire with a Healthy Appetite and I really enjoyed the fact it gave all of the band a chance to perform solos which swapped about so that the solo you heard on a Monday would be different to the one you would hear on a Tuesday but on the Wednesday you would hear Mondays solo again etc and I thought that was fun especially as they were famous pieces.
MK Rob was able to solo on the Saxophone with In The Mood on some nights
SH In a way it’s in the old tradition of Mozart who wrote pieces where he left gaps for soloists to fill them with whatever they wanted. This is something that was accepted in Classical Music it just so happens that one night Roger (King) went into a piece of Mozart which was Sonata in C major, 1st Movement (allegro) by Mozart
MK It was brilliant and I did do a double take at first but it became quite an amusing nod that the song was going into a medley of sorts. (Which included Glen Miller’s “In The Mood” on Saxophone and Stevie Wonders “Superstition” on the Bass guitar other nights would have the theme tune from “Rhubarb and Custard” TV show in the Medley).
SH There may have been a version of that (Mozart) in the late 50’s or early 60’s called minuet mash but I remember always liking it having heard that melody at that time but he (Roger) did it out of the blue. So Rob’s very clever and all of us would love to be able to solo like him – I mean the kind of solo that he will come up with every night on Serpentine Song for instance is never the same. He’s got a joke about this, the regular joke is that Jazzers never play the same thing twice and he says I never play the same thing once!
SH it’s actually not a joke
MK It’s probably truer to form
SH So he is very funny as well and always up. I have great conversations with Rob where all things seems possible at all times. He is very positive in the same way as all of the guys in the band and they are all very up to talk to in different ways, so I get energy off of all of them which is the reason they are in the band. They don’t give me any grief and we have extraordinary conversations about everything under the sun. Gary is always extraordinarily enthusiastic about everything that he has been given to play. He just wants to get it better each time and that’s great and wonderful.
SH Nick Beggs is in a sense the same, I suspect it’s because he has played with so many people and I guess he is equally enthusiastic with all of them. He is just so positive I would imagine if he is playing with Kim Wilde where he gets the chance to maybe do some of that Slap Bass stuff that he hasn’t done with my stuff yet – I’m hoping that we will incorporate some of that. So they have all got facilities that are under exploited and I’m only ever scratching the surface of what this band can do because they are truly great.
MK If you take Gary O’toole as an example, in 2003 he didn’t sing from the drum kit at all except for a few background vocals. Then 2004 came along and he is singing the majority of Blood on the Rooftops which is just as you introduced it as a song for a singing drummer.
SH He is singing in it in entirety I may be singing along, but that’s him and he sings it really well. I think he does a particularly strong and emotional performance of that song.
MK You can tell that Gary has progressed because he is now at the stage where he is singing a lot more. As opposed to just doing one song in a show he is now doing two or three as I recall he did Blood on the Rooftops…
SH Firth of Fifth
MK Yeah Firth of Fifth, and Fly on a Windshield
SH Yeah Broadway Melody, Fly On a Windshield yeah he sings that and he sings it very well in a Blues inflected way that makes it really great in the line that starts “Howard Hughes in Blue Suede shoes”. The way he sings Shoes is great and nobody had thought of that but it’s a kind of modern approach – he is really clever and part martial artist
MK Really? I thought that was tongue in cheek comment in a former tour programme so he is really into martial arts
SH Oh yeah.
MK Tell us about Roger King who started out as your engineer and is now a performer on stage.
SH He was very much a backroom boy but he was trained originally as a Cathedral Organist and he is a brilliant engineer and producer, simply the best I have ever worked with. He has got an extraordinary understanding of artificial space, in other words what reverbs and effects can do. He is always surprising me with perspectives.
MK Well I found it quite surprising when you consider that Roger isn’t a drummer, yet he is able to programme drum parts that most of the time have the listener thinking is this a drummer or is it Roger and his bag of tricks?
SH On this particular album (Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth) we have admitted that is the case. I realise it divides people where some people will not listen to anything which is programmed. Then I suspect the same people might really love something if they thought a human was doing it and indeed a human is and at the end of the day even Phil Collins was using Simmons stuff on one or two albums wasn’t he?
MK As well as Linn Drums, and Roland stuff.
SH So I think the idea is that we like the idea of using men and we like the idea of using machines. We also like them to be able to talk to each other. I’m trying to quote Roger here “To delineate a between a performance and a sample is actually very hard to do these days because the old distinctions just don’t apply anymore once you start cutting something up.”
MK Well a good example would have been Roger’s performance of Watcher of The Skies on your 2003 tour with him playing a sample of the Mellotron (on his keyboard and effects rig) which is actually a sample of a String quartet.
SH I believe it was circa 1953 that three violinists who were women were recorded in their bedroom and that’s the basis of the most famous sound that the Mellotron produces. Those same samples are still being used by probably several dozen bands even to this day who might even be in a recording studio somewhere on a rainy day thinking yeah that’s have that, it’s a sound full of character.
SH It is still a great sound which is very slightly distorted and it mixes very well with guitar. It hasn’t got a lot of bottom to it, it helps if your using the original tapes or a copy of the original tapes rather than something that is going through the cheap machine heads that the Mellotron itself offers up because it means that when you play it back through a Mellotron all of those tapes heads are aligned differently. Some will sound a bit toppy and some will sound a bit dull and your getting the extra distortion of the tapes going round because they collect condensation and they start to shed oxide. At one time the only way to get that Mellotron sound was on the actual beast that you had to wheel in. Sometimes it took four guys to lift if it was the Mark two. You don’t have to have the pall bearers each time doing that if you have got a sample of it!
SH now to some people that is an anathema, like some people such as Ian Macdonald for instance who arguably came up with some of the best stuff that has ever been produced on the Mellotron. He would want to use the real thing because he would probably argue that it is never quite the same way twice. But for me I just want something to work and to be consistent I don’t want something to fall apart.
MK Yes it’s the practicalities of moving about an old instrument which requires lots of TLC as opposed to a sample of it.
SH It’s still a great idea, and they work wonderfully, but the idea of having a digital version of that is something I was trying to talk the Mellotron people into ages ago but then that wasn’t something in there remit.
MK Well Mellotron samples are getting better all the time, there is a guy called Dave Kerzner who runs a company called Sonic Reality that provides plug in’s for a company called IK Multimedia one of those plug in’s is called Sampletron which also includes samples of the opitgan all of which have been brought about by them sampling real Mellotron’s and Optigan’s amongst other instruments. This now means that for a fraction of the price of the real instruments, you can now have access to samples of them that unlike the real thing are not that fragile.
SH that doesn’t mean to say that given the choice between a Mellotron playing something and having a violinist play it that I would automatically choose the Mellotron. There is a richness of tone from a real player and there are a lot of other string samples.
SH Talking about Watcher Of The Skies you have got Mellotron Brass, mixed with the Mellotron strings as well and not being a keyboard player I couldn’t tell you how many notes are being held down via that. It is quite nice to have the sound of a Mellotron but it is also nice to smooth it off with some more modern samples as well. You gain something you lose that kind of nasal quality particularly as it creeps up. It is also nice to be able to tune each one of the notes separately so that they are actually playing in tune together.
MK When I saw Watcher Of the Skies performed on your 2003 tour every performance I saw of it seemed to be perfect. When it started with what sounded like a Mellotron but was in fact a sample all I heard was the right sound for the song. Of course that Mellotron sound is the foundation of the song and everything else is just the icing on the cake.
SH Funny that isn’t it? When we originally bought the Mellotron I went down with Tony Banks to the place where King Crimson where rehearsing in Fulham in the bowels of a Café and they had about three of them there. We were talking to Robert (Fripp) and their roadies about their stuff and they had one called “The Black Bitch” as opposed to the “Black Queen”
MK Is that because it let them down now and again?
SH you could draw your own conclusions from that, But Tony started immediately mixing the Brass with the Strings together and the sound that also characterised the beginning of Watcher Of The Skies was the bass part of the chord which was played on the left. As there were two sets of keys on the Mark Two, he is using a piano accordion to characterise the bass its all kind of distorted.
MK Quite a lot going on in that song then
SH Yeah quite a lot going on and given the right resonant room it’s a mighty sound when it starts up, But I have to say that even when we were playing to twenty two thousand people in Rome, which was probably the biggest gig I had ever done with the band in ’73, we never knew if the first note was going to work or not. You got all these people waiting there like guests at a wedding thinking will the bride say yes
SH Or I do!
MK I cannot imagine the kind of pressure that must have put the band under
SH Well we were extremely nervous at the beginning of every show, once you heard the first chord was actually going to work everybody took a sigh of relief. We used to mix the Mellotron with the organ and stick it through Leslie cabinets to get the swirly sound and when it worked it was one of my favorite moments, a lovely piece of music and a great idea a long time ago.
MK Getting things back to beginning of the interview with regard to your latest addition to your band, can you tell us more about Amanda Lehmann who is a first for your band as you have never had a female backing vocalist/rhythm guitarist on stage with you until the 2009 tour.
SH Well she plays lead guitar as well which is interesting, the first gig we did with her she had a sore throat through all the rehearsals and so I never really got to hear what she would sound like with the band harmonies until the gig in Paris which was one of the best ever from my side of the stage. It was absolutely lovely to hear that on top of the other singing – I thought it was a beautiful sound. I can’t wait to hear the live tapes myself. I haven’t really heard any of them back. I want to work with them and mix them but it is a lovely sound and we have got a lot of people who can sing at least as well as me if not better so that’s nice to be able to have that facility… its different I mean for some people they’re gonna say much like a pirate galleon at sea (Steve dons a cod Jack Sparrow “Pirates of the Caribbean” accent during this next passage)
SH Arrgghhh bad luck havin a woman on board captain, we’ll strike a reef!
SH But I think that it gives a whole new dimension to the band’s sound and not to mention visually as well. Again under the same heading as (sharp intake of breath) we don’t use samples and we don’t use drum machines. It’s ok that Prog (Progressive Rock) has got these rules – it seems you can have a sample of a violin but you can’t have a sample of a snare drum because that be sacrilege.
MK With regard to Amanda, her presence on stage makes the performance of some of the new material much more accurate with the likes of Still Waters and other numbers from the new album which Amanda is on in varying degree’s, as well as someone else to look at on stage!
SH well it is someone else to look at, I think that when I am on stage I’m usually concentrating so much on trying to play the difficult parts that I have carved out for myself I’ve always been basically head down and I’m possibly the most boring guitarist to watch on stage ever! But when Amanda plays and sings you can see that she radiates happiness. She just loves to be up there and to do that.
MK I think she rubs off on Nick Beggs quite well!
SH she does!
MK Nick seems to work in tandem with her in a sort of stage performance involving dancing which Gary or Roger couldn’t get involved in due to them being tied to their instruments, yet it brought more fun to the show and everyone was on stage having a good time.
SH In a way it goes back to something you said earlier, there is a thread here! When I met Roger he was an engineer but now he is also a performer. I had a band and now I have got a show it’s moved on that much and I hope that Amanda remains with us for the long haul. At the moment there is always the possibility that someone might not be able to make a show, Nick’s very committed to various artists whether he is working with John Paul Jones or Kim Wilde or Kajagoogoo or anyone of a number of projects, and of course he is a great stick player as well.
MK Which again is another dimension and a first for you having a Stick Player in the band
SH He’s not just a bass player he is also a fine singer and also a fine stick player and he’s a thinker so this is all good and I like this.
SH I realise that this band and I dare say that you could form five or six different bands just from the personalities that are within it I am quite sure that Rob and Gary for instance could spear head a Jazz band a trio or quartet a big band they’ve got all the chops that would accompany that, I have seen Gary playing with a big band he was just fabulous it was just extraordinary god the fire you know and it was just an acoustic kit in a pub and yet the drum breaks he managed to get in my god it was incredible.
MK Gary uses the traditional grip with the drum sticks.
SH that’s right he does play with traditional grip, he is from a showbiz background where his parents where involved with mounting the Hughie Green show and Opportunity Knocks so there is a playing and singing background that accompanies that. In many ways Gary’s background parallels Phil’s in a sense that I suspect he probably grew up in a trunk.
MK Yeah in the stage school sense
SH Exactly! I think from the word GO! He was probably always on earning a crust or contributing to the family.
MK Like all other members of your band Gary seems to bring warmth and humor into a room.
SH Exactly he does that, I mean they are all lovely to travel with when I am touring with the band and we’re in the coach or the van, the restaurant or the dressing room. The humor is fabulous its almost like the best bunch of people you could ever choose to go on holiday with because they are immensely entertaining. They’re very funny and very bright in they’re own way and highly idiosyncratic but sympathetic to each other. I’m in love with this band in the way that I’ve been in love with many of the other bands that have had.
SH I’m in awe of them and all the things that they can do that I cant and how each individual enables the others to straddle universes and to be able to play different styles. It’s perfect for me because I don’t actually have a style, I maintain that I have never had a style. I was only ever interested in content.
SH Yes of course there are things like when I am doing The Devil is an Englishman and following that by Down Street which is the same thespian voice. It’s the further adventures of the same character.
MK Well of course Down Street and The Devil is an Englishman are related due to that “Dark” and “Manic” Englishman gone mad character which is similar to the character that Noel Coward sings about in the song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, but your version is a more modern up to date character compared to Noel’s character from 60 years ago.
SH It might not be a nightingale sang in Berkeley square, but it talks about the sewers beneath it!
MK Well it’s a more edgy dark side, similar to the song Mechanical Bride it’s the same character narrating a more globally dark and edgy side in the form of things like Fox Hunts and the Electric chair. Especially with the line “Fox hunt, Bull fight animals cursed born again with the roles reversed”
SH Well people are divided about the Fox hunt issue, its one that I happen to feel passionately about because I have at times fed foxes every night. I think it started off because I was tired of the bins being ripped to shreds so I gave them something where they didn’t have to and then I started to feed the same foxes every night. It came to the point where one of the foxes would eat about three feet away from me and that was as close as it was ever going to come to having a conversation.
MK So you formed a connection
SH Yeah we formed a connection and there was trust built up, not necessarily for the foxes benefit because really they are right to remain wary of man. I have heard many arguments where they have been referred to as vermin but then looking back on the larger scheme of things what are we?
SH …that plunder the earth!
MK Well it is strange that across the world there are meals that could consist of anything that moves being cooked in a variety of ways even going to great lengths to make the inedible edible and what does that say about us as a species.
SH we are omnivores which means we can subsist on vegetables, fruit
MK Nuts and berries as well
SH But then we can also subsist on living things. Personally I am a failed vegetarian. I have tried it twice and I don’t actually like the taste of vegetables very much – I know that makes me sound a bit wet! I can keep it up for around three months and then I turn green because I have had too much.
MK Talking about touring, how is 2010 shaping up?
SH well there are a few dates kicking around and it promises to be an interesting year, each year that goes past I’m aware that the clock is ticking and I’m not getting any younger. So far I seem to have all of my facilities intact. I have had a few op’s (operations) recently for the odd thing that I would prefer not to discuss.
MK Of course
SH But its just like maintaining a car. There is going to be a point where if the technology is there and I need a service or a change of the odd spare part I’m going to get it done and we motor on.
MK I don’t imagine that touring gets any easy the older a person gets
SH No It doesn’t
MK there is an old adage that it’s a young mans game
SH Well it is a young mans game but then dogged determination counts for something too!
MK Touring around Europe must be easier than going back and forth across other continents and time zones and in all weathers
SH You have to be adaptable but it does feed you and fire you up. It inspires you and it is good to be alienated in strange places because you then find your own creative centre where as I often find if I am comfortably at home those melodies and ideas won’t naturally pop into my mind. It’s often when I am at a ghastly airport I’ll suddenly get the idea for a killer riff that I will scrawl down somewhere. If I stare at it the following day and it still seems like a Killer riff the chances are it will get made into something. I say killer riff but it’s the same with any musical figure that might end up in anything from a piece of skiffle to a symphony. They’re just a collection of little bits that get joined up down the line.
SH It’s the only way anyone can truly ever write anything that’s any good because it doesn’t come in one go like the immaculate conception. You know when the angel of the lord comes down and you’re going to give birth to the next messiah of a riff, it’s hard graft and you’re in there for the long haul. There are a thousand bits that are kicking around in my brain and I am always struggling to find them on bits of tape and bits of digital.
SH Occasionally I’ll find a bit that I’ll go “ah that will go with this and that will work”, and even though I have recorded that I think “why don’t I try a different chorus or a different time signature entirely!”
MK So constant adjustment and constant experimentation of the initial idea
SH Yeah that’s it and its being flexible and also not giving yourself too hard a time if something doesn’t come because the conscience brain isn’t really enough to be able to deal with it. You need all sorts of things. You need to be in altered states of consciousness the whole time and I am including being very tired last thing at night when the hour of poetry kicks in if you’re lucky you start to get good ideas that have nothing to do with logic. First thing in the morning I find is very useful for all forms of writing – logic doesn’t really come into it very often.
MK So rather than slavishly play or jam in a studio, you receive ideas for songs throughout your daily life.
SH I would say you need to be tired because that seems to be when the best ideas come along, and if you can be bothered to write them down or capture them in some way so much the better.
We take a break and off the tape we discuss the documentary film on the quintessential English rock band Spinal Tap
MK I personally think that even if you’re in the greatest band in the world, if you haven’t had a Spinal Tap moment then your not trying hard enough.
SH Well it happens – things will go wrong on stage. I’ll come back after the break (interval) like at the Renfrew Ferry when Roger had switched off my amps and he hadn’t told anyone. When I came back to play Spectral Mornings for the first 30 seconds there was nothing coming out of the guitar!
SH What I tend to do these days is just keep going until someone figures it out.
MK I remember one of your gigs at Leicester in 2003. During Spectral Mornings your guitar string broke but you seemed to carry on and manage with it perfectly fine. I think that is the absolute attribute that the band and performers knew how to cope with that issue so much so they just weather the storm.
SH I tell you what I think happens, you think what your watching on stage is perfect but it is almost like the nativity play effect! Where when I was seven or eight years old watching the kids at primary school who were ten or eleven just before they moved on to the secondary school, I thought they sang perfectly in tune and it was one of the most perfect performances of anything I had seen. When our year were in that position where we were the choir and we were singing and acting I was aware that everyone was terrible.
SH It’s the idea that the angels take over but of course that is a metaphor for the fact that I don’t really think that the angels took over. It is just the perception – the difference between heaven and hell, when you’re on playing and you have got the responsibility for being everyone else’s night out and things are going wrong or not quite right then its hell. But it might be heaven to somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an F# and a G and the mistakes or that isn’t right and the balance isn’t right and things are going wrong and this geezer’s just broken a snare drum and he’s just carrying on with his foot! It’s better not knowing all those things. If you know nothing about Shakespeare when the lead actor has forgotten what the F***’s happening next and he’s just gone off on a tantrum or diatribe until the memory has kicked in that’s fine! It’s weathering that storm and keeping the boat on the rails.
MK Having seen many amateur and professional bands when things go wrong you can tell if the band is professional through experience by how they cope or manage when things go wrong. A few amateur bands I have seen completely stop when something goes wrong yet the more Professional a band is the more you tend to find they just continue through that Storm.
SH You do carry on, on this last tour at Leamington Spa the keyboards packed up in Mechanical Bride so I sang one of the verses as if it was poetry or plain song. I thought I’ll just keep going eventually something will get fixed!
MK It makes the performance different and unique
SH I’ve just come to accept that there is no such thing as a perfect performance. I know it used to happen and go wrong with Genesis. We had moments where the power would cut out, especially during Italian shows when the generator used to go down and the lights went off at some gig for every band that played in Italy in the 70’s! It was just part of it but the warm Italians were great and no one minded. We kept going or maybe there was some little routine that would happen between Pete and Phil or there would be an over long intro. You have just got to weather it. If you play enough shows there will come a moment when you will fall over, break a leg, “literally” your trousers will fall down, you’ll fall flat on your face, the bloke on stage next to you will throw up, there’ll be wounds, fires … I haven’t played through an earthquake but you have got to adopt a literally blitz mentality and think that the show must go on.
MK Were there any in the Studio?
SH I remember falling asleep on a couch with a cup of coffee in my hand at Island Studios in 1972 when we were attempting a mix of Get ‘Em Out by Friday from the Foxtrot album. The coffee was boiling hot, the others heard a scream from the couch and found it very funny! We gave up late night mixing after that as it didn’t do my trousers or the mixing any good!
SH These days if I broke a string on Spectral Mornings I probably wouldn’t attempt to carry on because of a locking system that means all the rest of the strings will go out of tune so I just wait until I change over to another guitar and hopefully pick up where we left off and maybe the band will remember were they are maybe they wont, But then Hendrix (Jimi) used to break guitar strings.
MK That might be down to the fact he used his teeth some of the time!
SH Yeah that’s right!
Laughter MK An interesting thing that I have noticed is that you don’t appear to use a pick or plectrum to play guitar. You use your finger nails.
SH I do!
MK I always believed that with steel strings especially on an electric guitar that it was a no, no! Or even quite painful!
SH No its not painful I only recently learned probably in the last three years I think how to file my nails correctly to be a classical player I cut them at an angle and then smooth them off to stop them breaking.
At this point Steve opens a guitar case and pulls out one of a few nail files set at different grades so as to file his nails correctly starting with a rough or coarse file and then progressing to a fine file.
SH they are quite useful. It was Theo Chen who is a friend of mine that told me about these. What you need to do is smooth it off after you have filed them at this angle and mine are very short for most guitarists.
Steve demonstrates the filing and polishing of the nails!
SH yeah it makes such a difference!
MK Ah I imagine it’s all in the technique
SH Yeah it’s a bastard thing!
MK Well yes of course you play Nylon string as well which seemed to require an excessive use of talcum powder!
SH Well moving from Electric to Nylon is a no no! Because your hands are wet!
SH The only time I use a pick is if someone else has got a rhythm guitar part that they want me to power into. Funnily enough twelve string I have discovered actually benefits quite a lot of the time from using a pick because in order to give it that sort of real sharp harpsichord like sound unless you want something lighter I can play it with a finger style, but that doesn’t always get the two strings playing together. Then again, I don’t play much twelve string these days but it’s a great sound.
MK Its is a great sound
SH I don’t know how to write for it a lot of the time, well not anymore. We used to write loads of that stuff in Genesis and I think I’ve just had twelve-string damage!
SH doesn’t mean it isn’t a great sound
MK Maybe you were over exposed
SH Yeah over exposed
MK Talking about your guitar playing generally, it appears as though you have never made an instructional video of your playing and or demonstrating various chord shapes etc
SH Well I tell you what I ought to do is invent my own glossary of terms because there are loads of techniques that I have come up with that don’t have names and one day when I am confident enough I’ll accept that, but here’s something that I was working on the other day.
Steve proceeds to open his guitar case and pull out a Nylon string Yari Acoustic guitar, which he then plays a little bit of what he was working on. He then continues to demonstrate guitar playing to us.
SH To be able to do it is one thing, so you got an E chord, if you have got that going assuming you can do that or triplets.
Steve continues to play guitar
SH or tapping on and off so there is a lot going
Steve proceeds to play
SH so what would you call that for instance
Steve continues to play guitar in a rather expressive fashion
MJP It’s very mad isn’t it?
SH Yeah it’s very mad and there is a lot going on, you could it another way…
Steve continues to play guitar this time in a different way to the previous minute
SH it is possible to play with one hand, but not reliably
Steve continues to play guitar using the percussive technique of slapping the body of the guitar
SH But I don’t know what to call any of these things so maybe one day I will show them There are lots of things I can do in practise that I cant always do in performance because they require me warming up
Steve continues to play guitar
SH So, that’s what is going on. Apparently after working that out someone said to me “Oh that’s how Segovia does runs too” another self taught bloke whereas most flamenco players or classical players apparently do these sort of two fingered things
MJP Like a bass guitarist
SH Yeah, a bass player will do that and I thought; that’s hard work isn’t it if it’s easier to do that
Steve continues to play guitar demonstrating some flamenco style he has learned
SH why don’t you skip around the strings, you know there’s all sorts of variations on that, its annoying that in order to play a lot of things you need to be centred and warmed up, aligned and all that. There are other things like…
Steve continues to play guitar using a percussive technique similar to that used on the acoustic trio tour of 2005
SH A sort of drumming and playing after watching a lot of Brazilians were you get one man and one drum who has learned to do a solo on one drum, the things that one instrument can do on its own and the amount of sounds that one instrument can do.
Steve continues to play guitar this time holding the top string over the top of the fret board, of course the string sounds de tuned now.
SH Maybe you’re not going to use that, but an Alien might come down and think is that the best way to play it…
MJP sweep pick?
Steve continues to play guitar demonstrating in a flamenco style
SH Flamenco players might think that was the way to play a chord, there are lots of different ways.
SH My style is a sort of hotchpotch of things I have picked up from watching other people doing lots of things and the idea of some sort of pupil and master thing makes me think that I couldn’t stand to have someone slapping my wrists and telling me that’s the wrong way to do something. It’s a symbol of freedom the guitar… I’ve ended up with this sort of formal style a lot of the time but its only because I have allowed myself to jump through my own hopes at my own speed. There’s a lot I can’t do and there are lots of things I can do that other people can’t.
MK Michael (webmaster) learned to play the guitar and is still learning, he was doing fine until someone tried to teach him and they became quite strict. In the end Michael found the best way to learn was to teach himself. That way he finds he isn’t having the pentatonic scale forced upon him.
SH Yeah I think a lot of people go at it from the point of view of theory… you know, learning the scales and their names and all of that whether its pentatonic or dorian, but my theory is that as opposed to sitting down with someone else’s discipline as it were, you will do that naturally at some point. You’ll get an idea that it is a blues scale, or someone will show you a diminised run at some point and you’ll get a sense of that. You’ll also get an idea of what a whole tone thing is as well and they’re only two whole tone scales it seems. There is the one in E and the the one in E flat.
SH I have not got any theory. I have deliberately stayed away from that because I thought it would get in the way. I would love to have Roger’s (king) facility to be able to write fluently and to be able to arrange for strings. If you want to be able to conduct orchestras it’s like controlling the weather and to be able to operate on that scale then you do need to be able to at least notate conventionally. But then I learnt to do that lots of times and then often forgot it. I found that I couldn’t operate like that. We have all got to find our own level.
SH Yeah I could go off and start my own guitar school with all these things and say here’s a bunch of tricks that none of you have got here, tapping is only one of them but maybe one day I will do a sort of instruction manual. What I am worried about is that its complicated enough just to be able to do one of those things and it’s a very advanced thing you know.
MK I know from my experience on playing the drums that it would be much easier to start to learn 4/4 rather than sixtneenth’s and I suspect it would be easier for someone to learn a rhythm part on a guitar rather than a great lead guitar part as in Dancing in with the Moonlit knight.
SH I got infinitely more joy out of being able to play C, F and G, the rudimentary chords when I was fourteen, than any of the techniques that I’ve amassed since, because it seems that those fitted masses of songs that gave me the key to a whole musical universe where I was for instance able to do a perfect vibrato. Bending a note took me years. It wasn’t just the ‘60’s or just the ‘70’s it wasn’t even the 80’s or 90’s… It was only recently really that I think I really understood what would give me that sound. Before then I really didn’t understand it. I would tell people to do that as a bend up a tone preferably on the third string on a fret where it’s not going to give you any resistance at all with light gauge strings around about the twelfth fret.
SH But to do it slow and wide at first so that it sounds like an old fashion police siren and then to really make it sound fast, you do it wider than you think and really lay into it… try to make it cover the widest possible range and it seems to get faster of its volition… go at it with more energy than you think it needs.
MK On your 2003 and 2004 rock tours but not on the tour that’s just finished (2009) you appeared to have a tray on the mic stand what was on that tray?
SH Well in those days I might have had a vibrator which I used to use to make noises over the pick ups on the guitar. There may well have been a bottle neck on there in the old days, a series of picks and sometimes there used to be a drink!
SH But these days I just have the bottle neck in my pocket. It’s easier because if you have got a tray sometimes stages are small and you can’t always have the mic in the ideal position. Ideally I’d have it very near to the volume pedal because I am volume pedal dependant
MJP It’s a Korg isn’t it?
SH Yeah it’s a korg, I don’t think they make them anymore so when this dies I’ve got to find something else.
MK You also wear a ring on your little finger as well? When your playing!
SH I bought one in the 60’s and my brother had one because he used to use it as well and its an adjustable stainless steel ring. If you can find one these days the best way to use it is to have the adjustable bit of the ring facing outwards because the bit where it knits together and makes it adjustable I used to accidentally wrench out strings, so I learned to turn it around the other way a bit like turning the other cheek…
SH so yeah, it’s a cheap but useful stainless steel little ring that I get lots of noises from. Depending on what planet your from whether you’re a venusian again who might think the best way to use it would be to hit the strings (with the adjustable bit) and get individual notes from it or to rub it against the strings when its right off the fret near the bass strings. It’s not easy to tune with it but its quite good – I can get a very wide vibrato with it because it’s a very useful device. Again I can use it for techniques which I don’t have names for from shooting all the way down the strings or down and up, making it sound like a whistle. I started using it around the time of either Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot. I think it was maybe even on Watcher of the Skies, so it’s another noise a bit like using a bottle neck or a slide. Again I don’t know where you can get these things from anymore and I have got one left. I have been looking everywhere all over the world for a bottle neck that exists that’s light enough but also short enough so I take charge of these things now and I have got them with me with my nail files and if I lose them I’m F***ed !
MK We also saw you on stage with a violin bow on the tour just gone
SH Yeah it was a psaltery bow actually, it’s shorter than a violin bow. Again I have only got one of them so when that goes I’ll probably have to find a violin bow. Yeah its good for train noises.
MK Jimmy Page used one during his time with Led Zeppelin, but you were a lot more cautious and gentile with yours but as you mentioned it provided train noises which at Shepherds Bush (my first show on the 2009 tour) it was quite a spooky and powerful thing like a Spectral Steam Train was about to plough through the place
SH Funny that isn’t it? Sometimes it really works and other times it doesn’t. It will hit a harmonic and sometimes I’ll get too much from it but other times you swear you’ve seen the thing and the carriages. Sometimes for extra effect I go up and down the frets as well and it will really sound and clatter. But again it’s the angels taking over. It’s a funny thing – sometimes it’s really fantastic and other times it does all the things I don’t want it to do. It’s never quite the same thing once because it gets the thing ringing. Also with the sustainer pick ups I need to have those on full upper harmonic in order to make the thing I do with the whammy bar when I hit a chord. I also have it set on interval on a Digitech Whammy pedal which is part of the essential piece of kit
MJP Is that an essential piece of kit for you?
SH Yeah I think they are marvellous, have you got one? (he’s asking Michael)
MJP Not yet but I do want to get one because I have seen what you can do with them
SH Yeah they’re brilliant. It’s like having a harmoniser but on a pedal one of the wonderful things about it is it has got all these presets. It’s unfortunate that you have to bend down to change them and the writing is a little small but it will give you an octave above where you’re playing and it will also give you an octave above that as well which is extraordinary.
MJP Well I’m currently into a guitarist called Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine who uses a Digitech Whammy, and I saw on youtube what he was able to do with his pedal and he started doing all of this really crazy stuff, he plays this solo and at first you think its really complicated but because of his use of the Digitech whammy he is able to get it up to two octaves its much easier to perform than people would at first realise. He is the guitarist of the song that got to number one in the charts for christmas 2009.
SH Oh it’s two octaves? Well I don’t know that particular track but I do know that you can get the Digitech to sometimes sound like a flute or almost like a piccolo. It’s like you’ve got piccolo rock guitar all of sudden. It’s a great noise and I am thinking of using more of that particular sound which is way outside the range of guitar as we know it. But I have been a very pedal dependant rock guitarist for quite some time. There are lots of great things. For example if you’re doing tapping and you start messing with the whammy pedal that’s great in a way because you don’t necessarily need to move position. It’s a fabulous thing when you start spiralling up and down and it’s a great sound.
MK What other effects does your pedal board contain?
MK Well it has changed recently
SH Yeah it has changed over time but I still use a ring mod and sometimes with the whammy, and then every note is a surprise, especially when it’s up the octave. With the ring mod going as well I use it on the blues track and sometimes it’s just such a great new toy it really blows me away. The sound is absolutely lovely. I do use repeat echoes when I have the whammy up and an awful lot it goes really screamy. It means you really never have to worry about playing a note and getting an upper harmonic with it anymore. I just think that the digitech has got those areas covered if you want. It’s not particularly great at playing chords which is a shame but its got all sorts of nice things in there. Funnily enough I have just written a blog for my official website all about my equipment and I think some of those areas are covered with all of my effects mentioned and catalogued. It will be on the website any day now. ( Here is the link to the blog on his site)
MK Steve you appear on Nick Magnus’s latest album, Did you write and record your parts at your home or in Nick’s studio?
SH I recorded it at Nick’s studio and the melody is his with slight variations suggested by me. I was pleased with the way it sounded.
MK Would you say that your up for sessions work as such, As you also appear on Simon Collin’s latest album?
SH Every now and then I like to work with Friends
With that Michael and I leave Steve and JO whom have been wonderful hosts and we head off up through Twickenham and up the motorway home!