Steve Hackett Interview 12th December 2017
We met up with Steve Hackett again after a year of extensive touring, continued recording and working on various projects inside his solo work and outside. It was not long after the release of Richard Macphail’s book chronicling his life with Genesis until his retreat from the role. We were also conscious that with the new year on the horizon it would be a good chance to touch upon Steve’s album Please Don’t Touch which would be celebrating 40 years in 2018. Steve also had not long finished working on his latest Live Concert film and album. We decided to start there.
TEJ – The Evil Jam
SH – Steve Hackett
TEJ: We seen your brand new live DVD that is coming out on the 26th of January, which was filmed in Birmingham. What do you think of your new DVD?
SH: Well, you film a show, you start at the beginning, you’ve got once to get it right. I do like playing Birmingham very much.
TEJ: It’s a lovely venue, isn’t it?
SH: It is a lovely venue. And, I think something special happened that night. The concerns of the band are very different from the concerns of the audience. You know, the band will be thinking about, did they play in time? In tune? And remember all the rest? I think that from an outsider’s point of view, it’s very different, really. It’ll be about the songs, the venue, how did it come across, what Nad was wearing… *Laughs* Many of these things. And it all depends on your perspective. Having said that, I’ve been to the cinema in Kings Cross, where that [the live DVD] is going to be shown. We’ll be there with Ben Fenner, as Ben Fenner set the system, so that it was right, so that the surround [sound] really worked this time. When it was all working, which took about two hours to get to that point, suddenly, you could see what it’s all about. You know, the art of everything he does and that the band does, and getting the best out of the room and the sound system. And I thought, Wow! That’s what I thought. Knock out, actually. But, you know, from my perspective, I’m an idealist. I have to say that it met pretty much all the criteria that I would set for it.
TEJ: Yeah, of course. And for me, I think it’s many things. I actually think it’s probably one of the better ones in the recent years, if I’m being so bold. I mean, the way in which it’s been filmed, you’ve got everybody in all the right moments, I think, and enough of them. So, the drummer is on screen for the right amount of time, in regards to Gary. It’s really good because what you can see with a DVD is not what you can see when you’re sat in the audience, because you only have a field of view pertaining to where you’re sat. Whereas, suddenly you’re going, “Ah! It’s Rob that hits this MIDI pad, that helps Gary fill in this sound, because Gary’s not an octopus.” So, Gary’s what he’s doing, and then Rob’s adding that bit more to give it that extra piece on the tapestry.
SH: Yeah. Two drummers, one real, and one virtual in other words. Yes, Rob has drum samples on pads, but he’s triggering them. They’re single-hit things like a pair of toms on a regular drum kit. But the combination of the two when we first did “El Nino” in rehearsal the very first day, just as I was coming into the room, they were doing it, and it sounded mighty with the two drummers, never mind anything else! So I thought, Oh wow! That! Yes! I can see why those choices were made in the first place. It wasn’t necessarily designed to be done live, unlike the Genesis stuff that we did back in the day, where things were written with an intention of potentially doing it live. I don’t think of that. What I do is I try and do the best music imaginable, and figure it out later. It’s a terrible restriction thinking about, Oh I better not stick this sitar on because we won’t have a sitar player, therefore… I don’t want to limit an album in terms of what’s possible and doable live.
TEJ: If I must be so honest, that is the thing that gives it away, on the new live DVD – the fact that none of the new material really was designed to be played live. You’ve had to really sit down with Roger and others, and sort of almost rearrange it. You had to work out what realistically Roger can do, and then what Rob can do to assist Roger because Rob’s also doing some of that as well. And then where everybody else sits on top. Because even as a fan you get to sit there, and you go, “That’s not easy to do. There’s so much going on in that new track”.
SH: Well that particular track, if I may interject, El Nino, you’ve got an orchestra, a string orchestra, meets a tribe of drums, meets a rock band. So, they’re all three, distinct, separate energies. And yes, in studios and with computers, you can do anything. You can have real players, you can have samples, you can do all that. I think everyone wants heroes at the end of the day. But the fact is, everyone’s doing it live. I mean, when I first heard the idea of the Mellotron, I thought, Oh, that’s unethical, isn’t it. The fact that you can get violins at the touch of fingertips. But once you’ve seen one in action, and you’ve seen the miracle for yourself, you think all those ethical considerations go out of the window. And, I do like the way it [“El Nino”] came across tremendously.
TEJ: Yeah. It really does.
SH: It’s now become an old favourite. Even after a year, it just feels like, yes this was a really good idea to do it live because it keeps coming at you. It is all energy from the word “go”.
TEJ: So that’ll be sticking around then I’m guessing. I think there are some songs that do in Steve’s set that do sort of form an island. I mean, future set lists. Yeah. Amanda on stage is always a joy because again that gave you the chance to do the full-length version of the “Shadow of the Hierophant”, and that was a nice treat, whereas on other nights of the show that was shortened.
SH: I only do that with Amanda live. I haven’t done it with a male vocalist. And I think to do an instrumental version of the first part really wouldn’t work. I know we tried it in the very, very early days with Dik Cadbury singing it in falsetto with the Mellotron behind him and all that, but, I think it basically works as a girl’s song. It’s gotta be a girl’s song. And then it ends up with something more than human at the end by the time it’s all going on. Again it’s this collision of different worlds. You’ve got a human earthquake going on courtesy of Gary O’Toole against this very slow 3/4 [time signature] that sounds like it could have been written by Beethoven. So, it’s the combination of those separate schools and worlds of thought that make it work that brings the house down every time.
TEJ: Yeah. And on the DVD you get to see the kind of energy that’s involved. You’ve not just got Gary, as you say, generating his own earthquake and then maintaining that. You’ve got Nick Beggs on bass pedals, but he’s sort of sat down. Unlike when John [Hackett] did it with his hands, Nick’s sort of wrestling with it like he’s involved with a major fight with these bass pedals. But it’s so perfect. And as the song continues it obviously gets louder and it becomes –
SH: More, and more intense.
TEJ: Yeah. It does get more and more intense.
SH: It’s what this genre’s all about, isn’t it? This all-inclusive genre called Progressive. It’s what it’s all about. You get a crescendo. And a crescendo is a very old idea, but somehow to have it performed in front of you it becomes ceremonial. It’s just the idea of the increase of it and the spirit that runs through it. I remember the first record I ever bought, the first LP I ever bought was Ravel’s Bolero. And I just loved the fact that it was this wait for it, wait for it, this slow, slow crescendo – the longest crescendo ever! But that was part of it. And I used to see so many things in the music as it progressed. At 12 years old I used to memorise all sorts of stuff. Not just the orchestra, but it used to become pictures. My mind used to play tricks and I used to imagine that I was seeing ancient Egypt. I suppose it was an aspect of “Dance of the Seven Veils” about it, or Cleopatra’s Barge, I used to think, coming along the Nile very slowly and coming into focus. Again it’s this idea of ceremony and a march through time.
SH: So, I think “[Shadow of the] Hierophant” does that as well. There’s this sense of the arrival of something that you couldn’t quite put your finger on, but the fact that it goes from a whisper to a roar, the fact that it starts off with a glockenspiel first of all, or a sample of a Glock (Glockenspiel) played by Roger. I play the Glock on the original. It’s one of those things that really work. In fact, for the new album I’m working on now, I’ve just done another crescendo. And I’ve noticed playing it to people, that they were responding in a similar kind of way. There’s that kind of feeling that something grows and grows, and the aspect of an unstoppable machine, there’s something compelling about it. The inevitable.
TEJ: Yes, well, Ravel didn’t like “Bolero”, did he? He always moaned that it was too simple.
SH: He said it was something without music. It was non-developmental. Something with very little music in it, apparently.
TEJ: Yeah, but I think the thing that works by it, and the same with “Hierophant”, is the fact that the way that the instruments’ timbres are changing as they get louder. That in itself is music. But with the instruments, it’s not a notated thing. It’s distortion. It’s energy.
SH: Trance-like. And that’s fine. It’s however you perceive the arrival of whether it’s just music, but it does seem to stand right in front of you in the end. And the idea of it feeling just a little bit dangerous, and you don’t need to be on drugs to perceive that.
TEJ: No. And with “Shadow [of the Hierophant]”, all the performances this year, you feel like you’re entering a trance. And for me, the sweet spot is sort of the way in which you’re coerced in, is the glockenspiel moment. Because there’s that little bit of interplay between Roger and Gary, and you think, This is sort of nice and cute. Because Roger’s going to do the Glock, and he’s going to look across at Gary, and then Gary’s going to look across back, and hopefully Gary’s got some nice little finger cymbals and is just gonna go “cling!” at the right moment. And then it starts to grow, very slowly at first. And, because it’s such a slow growth, it almost feels trance-like because you’re sort of invested at that point. And then you remain fixated in this moment, especially if you’ve seen more than one show. It’s like “Bolero”, it’s going to hit that crescendo at that very end.
SH: It doesn’t owe anything to “Bolero” in musical terms, it’s just the crescendo. And in a sense, it’s the best form of light and shade really, the dynamics that accompanies this kind of pan-genre music. The idea of drama, the aspect of surprise, all of those things, they play a part in it.
TEJ: I haven’t checked, but how long is the version you’re playing live compared to how long it is on the record? On the record, it fades out.
SH: Well, there was a long version that was found. We had this monitor mix of it from 1975 that sat in my Dad’s shed for about 35 years. And then when he finally moved out of the flat in Pimlico, we found it. And at the time, because mixing was rather different in the seventies to the way it is now, I thought that the drums were a bit loud on that. And the funny thing was, everyone around me agreed. “Oh no! That can’t be the mix because the drums are a bit loud”. So it was mixed to be keyboard heavy because keyboards were really king in the seventies, and drums were to become king in the eighties. But when you look back on it now, the longer version is actually a better mix, because what Phil’s doing is much clearer on the monitor mix. And thank God that thirty-year-old version was unearthed. And so, I feel much closer to that in spirit because I always felt that it was a piece of music that deserved to go on and on and get louder and louder. That’s very difficult in a studio because if you’re making a record, and especially making a record for the days when sound itself was competing against the variance of vinyl. You couldn’t really afford to have things that were that held back. CD avoids that, but even more so live when you can start with a whisper and take it to a roar.
TEJ: It’s interesting how, in the studio, you have to have those limits in mind, whereas live you’ve got everyone stuck. They’re stuck to their seats and you can kind of take a liberty with it all and sort of push it to the absolute nth degree. You can be like, “We’re there, but we’re going to keep going!” and you get even further. You keep moving. Live, that works, especially with music these days. I would say, in the last three years, that this version has gotten louder.
TEJ: And it’s great! Because, he goes off for a break, and everybody’s sitting there going, “Yeah, my ears are ringing but it was worth it?”
SH: Also, Ben Fenner is mixing that sound, so I think that he warms to that. Usually, for the last two rounds, I take the guitar up the octave as well. And he says to me that I can get too piercing, but then I think, well, in a sense, he’s in control of that. I felt the need to do that. It’s a simple need to count.
TEJ: That cue for the rest of the band…that change of octave.
SH: Well, it goes around a certain number of times. It is possible to take it on further if somebody forgets something. It isn’t that critical. But it’s nice to know that, yes, we could keep it going for longer, but then everyone’s ears are affected.
TEJ: I think most venues will start grumbling at the foundation of those bass pedals.
SH: Yeah, bass pedals. Well, they are a very big part of this all-inclusive genre called “Prog”. There’s thunder in those pedals. They’re really such a good thing. Mike Rutherford used to use Vox bass pedals before the Taurus pedals were invented, and he used to put those through a fuzz box. And that’s what we did on [Voyage of the] Acolyte. That was a great sound, the MXR phase unit and a fuzz box. Then Taurus happened, but now we o something that sounds like Taurus, but actually it’s MIDI, but it’s more reliable because they have a certain delicacy and a certain shelf life, these Taurus bass pedals. They often don’t respond well to fluctuations in temperature. And after they’ve been fried for a few years in front of Italian summers on open stages… and also getting trodded on isn’t the best thing for them. Trampled underfoot by enthusiastic players isn’t the best thing for these things. So, in a sense, they often have to get rebuilt for a live gig. But we wouldn’t be without them, would we? It’s the mainstay of a certain small orchestra.
TEJ: Yeah there’s a lot of happy bass in them. And people go because they want to feel that bass.
SH: Immersed in it.
TEJ: Yeah. It sort of fills the picture, doesn’t it? You’re talking about how you imagine, for example, going back to Ravel, I think we all do that. We all try and create a film for the soundtrack that we’re hearing, rather than create a soundtrack for the things that we’re seeing, which is why people imagine, which is why people dream. So, in some regards, yes, things like the Mellotron, things like Taurus bass pedals all fit into that because if that’s the kind of music you like or the kind of music you listen to, then yes the mood sort of I suppose will give you the earthquake, but also the thunder. Whereas the Mellotron will give you an orchestra that just lives in a box.
SH: I know. It’s a bit like one gives you a living dream and the other one gives you the film for the ear, perhaps. When you see it for the first time, of course, it’s extraordinary. Rock is made for young ears. In other words, how can those four or five guys up there be making all that noise? How is it possible? It seems like a miracle. And in a way, it is, in terms of harnessing extraordinary invisible power.
TEJ: But, whilst you talk about the band who are as impressive as ever, the lighting has improved on this tour. Rather than somebody going, “Well we did the lights in rehearsals and they looked great, they’ll look great for the rest of the tour”, they’ve gone, “Well, hold on a minute, we’re playing a bigger venue tonight, we can do something more here. We can put more lights in, or we could change the colour cues”. And it’s just really nice that that all comes through on the live DVD. So, I’m sure, and I can’t be the only person that’s looking forward to it, but I think we’ve been exceptionally lucky in having a brief glimpse into what everybody else will be seeing at some point in January.
SH: Yes. And I can’t stress how good that is in surround. In fact, the studio mix of “El Nino” itself, when we first did that, Roger had already mixed “Behind the Smoke”, the first track on The Night Siren, I thought, Well, maybe what we’ll do is we might come back and remix it and make it more involving. But then I said, “For ‘El Nino’ it’d be nice if we went into this bravely where you have the idea of being in the eye of the storm. The centre of it”. And so he really went to town on that. And I said “Wow. This is a great mix”. Because basically, I sort of usually have a word with him, and then I say, “Well, this is how I see it”. And then he pushes the magic buttons and makes it like that. But it’s not a spectator sport. It can be as quick as watching paint dry, and so you really do have to go away and come back, or else you get stuck by the same limitations of the speed of technology that your sound mixer does, your engineer. And it’s important, I think to retain a sense of perspective. So after we did that, and I absolutely went ape-shit, “This is marvellous!”, he said to me, “You know I think we should go back and redo ‘Behind the Smoke'”. And I was so glad that he said that rather than me saying it. And again, what it meant was that the entire album had that fully immersive feeling, and I thought it was the best surround we’d done. Now watching the DVD back live, that was extraordinary in the cinema.
TEJ: From what we have heard so far, we can only agree.
SH: Again, the sense of involvement where it’s all going on around you. Again, it’s different because it’s a live performance. You’ve got that thing where it’s transcending the limits of the geography. I’m on stage making a noise over there, people hear it, I appear over there, but it takes away all that idea of “over there”. And suddenly you’re in the middle of the imagined orchestra, and I do imagine orchestras all the time. You’re surrounded by it. That must be as evolving as it is for anyone who’s playing in the middle of a symphony orchestra. Because I have had that experience live where you’re playing with an orchestra, and it’s an extraordinary feeling. When I worked with the London Chamber Orchestra just doing some Vivaldi live once, the feeling was absolutely gorgeous. The string players were doing these things where there’s a bed of soft, beautifully, wonderfully played strings. It is a luxurious moment to feel immersed in that. So I’m always trying to give that experience to people. And even with stereo I think you can do that to some extent.
TEJ: Yeah. There’s plenty of audio tricks isn’t there. Things like stereo panning. Yeah, and binaural.
SH: Binaural. Yeah. We did Till We Have Faces in ambisonic originally, which meant that you got 30% wider stereo, apparently. So yeah, that exists in that form. If you happen to have the old kit, you can play that back.
TEJ: Yeah. And the thing is, obviously you’ve auditioned this cinema where you’re going to have this preview event for the live DVD. And, I share a lot of what you’re saying, but what I’d like to add further to that is, having seen a live show that was beamed into the cinema with surround sound, is almost, there’s that little bit, but almost like you’re at the show, and that you’re in the same arena as the performance (Genesis Dusseldorf 2007, viewed from a Cinema in Leicester). The difference is, you’re at the cinema in Kings Cross. So, I hope that through yourself, and Ben and everyone else involved, that on the night in question they’ll feel like they’re in Birmingham, at the Symphony Hall, immersed in the show, but instead they’ll be in King’s Cross instead.
We take a break, a cup of tea and some cheese on toast. When we return we start by discussing the recent book written by Richard Macphail.
TEJ: We’ve recently finished reading Richard MacPhail’s book
SH: What did you make of Richard’s book? I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was really absolutely marvellous, wasn’t it?
TEJ: Having it read it, I came away with the thought he was almost like the missing Beatle.
SH: Yes. That’s great, isn’t it?
TEJ: The guy who was there back in the day.
SH: Everyone says nice things about Richard.
TEJ: If you’ve seen one Genesis documentary or fifteen, if you’ve read one interview with Genesis, or fifteen, or read every book that going, or even, God love him, Armando’s – then you should have an idea of who Richard is…
SH: I think that Richard probably has no idea of how deeply loved he was by everyone. And it wasn’t an easy team. None of us were easy, in our own ways, you know. We’re all caught up with our own issues, but he was the positive smile that launched the good ship, Genesis. I’ve got lots of time for Richard. And I’m so pleased that he got such a nice, really well-written forward from Peter. And I think that he was very even-handed in looking at everybody, instead of laying into the failings or talking about the weaker points. He came up with something very non-competitive and basically, he shone the light on everyone and said, “Yeah, you know, this guy was important because of this”, and it goes way back beyond all the stuff that happened, nevermind stars, I mean, it goes back to the day of the forbidden fruit of rock itself in a school that was designed to produce captains of industry and keep the British empire taking over. They weren’t designed to be rock and rollers, so I can only imagine how difficult that was for everybody. But, if there’s one thing that will ensure that it’ll become your profession, it’s having someone trying to beat it out of you. Whether it’s Nureyev [Rudolf] Mike Rutherford, if you’ve decided that’s what you’re going to be, and I imagine if you go back through history, I digress, there’ll be lots of times when people have done things flying in the face of all that opposition. But steely determination, and all the rest –
TEJ: Well, yeah. In the face of adversity, let’s put it into perspective. There are lots of versions of adversity. But if we’re talking about the concept of Genesis the band, many times at Charterhouse it looked like the band was never going to get started. It was always going to falter or they’d get pushed into their careers or something else. And, where Richard’s book takes it, is again he’s almost like the fifth or sixth Beatle. He’s the George Martin or the Neil Aspinall / Mal Evans almost where he’s seeing everything, he’s involved in everything. And he’s got this way of telling the stories though, he’s your friend, and you’re with him on this journey. Whilst, some of it is a little candid, I think that for some people, that’s a really good sign of their personality. Those things are fun when you’re in your twenties, but as you get older with more responsibilities you sort of mature out of that. But it gives an insight into the group here. I mean, the story of your first gig with Genesis where you were unsure the gig had ended, and he came along as a paternal friend and sort of went, “It’s over Steve”.
SH: Yes. He literally led me off stage by the arm. Yeah, I was a little bit like a shell-shocked victim at that point thinking, Have I remembered it all? I think it’s because the very first gig went so badly, and that was actually the third gig. The second one was a teacher’s training college in Bangor, in Wales. And then the third gig, the biggest you could do in the land, was Lyceum, and that was it. Yeah, for all sorts of reasons, I remember saying to him, “I don’t know if I’m up for this gig”. And he said, “No, no, no, you are. You’re the right person”. Because he said, “It’s your attitude. You want to improve it, and that’s what will take it further”. Hugely positive with everyone. You know, everyone had their demons that they had to deal with, and all the rest. And I’m glad it was Peter who said it because it pre-empted what I’d say in my book, which I’ll eventually get out there… What I was saying about Richard, that there was nothing that he wouldn’t do, in a sense, to make sure that things happened for the band.
SH: And it goes back to supplying the cottage, having talked his parents into that. So, they had somewhere where they could develop the research facility, but then, yes, he fed them, he cooked the food, he drove the van, he did all the rest. He fixed things, mixed the sound, did the lights at one point, and all these various roles that he did. But no more important than the sort of consigliere aspect, where everyone felt they could unload onto him. Father, confessor, agony-armed, whatever that was. And you’d go away from a talk with Richard, and your spirit would always be lifted. And you could see how emotional he was at the book launch when he thanked Peter for doing the forward. He was incredibly grateful, whereas I think it should be the reverse of that. We should all be incredibly grateful to him for being such a sweet guy, and still is. I can’t praise him highly enough. Whenever I see him now, it’s great. He’s met Jo, my wife, we’ve spent evenings together, with himself, with his wife Maggie who’s a sweet, very talented soloist herself. And I’m very pleased for Richard that, you know, finally credit where credit is due. And I don’t think he’s retiring at all, I don’t think he will. He’s just going from strength to strength. He’s doing hospital radio, he’s been involved in environmental issues. I remember doing a talk, one of these Italian things where he was on stage with me being interviewed, and they wanted me to talk about Richard and I said, “Well, he was very concerned with me doing all of this stuff for the band, but then he went on to do other things, which were to do with the environment, planetary concerns”. But that’s him. Whatever he does, I think is essentially altruistic. And I think it goes right back to standing aside and letting someone else become the singer.
TEJ: Yeah, that can’t have been easy.
SH: That can’t have been easy because he had a great voice himself. Who knows what happens in the future. We don’t really know. We’re here to find out stuff, but I don’t want to get too worldly or philosophical about that, but, you know, I suspect that we’re all souls in development, and spiritually there’s none higher in the ranks of Genesis than…
TEJ: And his book is evidence of that, I think.
SH: Yeah. It’s a great book.
TEJ: And it really did fill in a lot of the blanks.
TEJ: Even whether you’re a fan who found the band this week or a fan who found the band 10 years ago, or 50 years ago, you can have all the books, you can watch all the documentaries, but Richard’s book seems to be that big piece of the jigsaw puzzle that seemed to be missing. And now that it’s all out there and we can all have a read, you get the little bits that you thought you knew, but now you are finding out from the man himself who was there. It was a surprise to learn that he left. Well, we all knew he left, because on the back of Genesis Live he leaves. But some people thought, well, he had died. There was this big thing that he’d died and that was how they were remembering him on the back of the live album. But, obviously, that wasn’t the case.
TEJ: Because in 1974 he did the lights (covering for an absent Les Adey).
SH: Rock’s version of Lazarus, having returned to tell us what lies beyond the veil.
TEJ: Yeah. And he worked on the Trick of the Tail tour.
TEJ: And it’s great because he has a career forming with Genesis. I think there’s a quote given by Ed Goodgold that says “Stick around son, there’s a career here for you”. And he decides, “Oh, I’ll go off and try this thing instead”. And he comes back, and then does a bit more with Genesis, then does a bit with Peter, and then goes, “I prefer Peter as a friend rather than as a boss. I’ll go and do something else”. And he goes and does something else and is really involved in this really heavy-duty commune that had a few areas in London where they were trying to have these positive and forward-thinking ideas, and then he moves into this energy conservation thing. So, kudos to the man and the book’s just a fantastic insight.
SH: Yes it is, and I’ve known very few genuine renaissance men in my time, and he is one of those.
TEJ: I must say it would have been really nice to see you the other Tuesday at his book launch. I had a hint of it off a good friend that Richard and the guys would be there. But it was a tad vague so I didn’t go, unfortunately, that was a missed opportunity.
SH: He was thought of very highly. The fact that so many of the guys showed up for that was a testament to that.
TEJ: Astonishing, almost.
SH: Yes. Astonishing.
TEJ: BUT…eventually we’d like to see your book.
SH: Yep. There’ll be mine at some point. Yep. Not necessarily a Genesis book, wider than that, because there are people throughout one’s life who play a huge role. And there are many unsung heroes from the books that exist inside every one of us. So, there’ll come a moment when you’ll go public with something that’s hugely private.
TEJ: Yeah. For you, for example, that might include people like Mr Nick Clabburn and maybe your brother as well
TEJ: Meanwhile we think your working on a new album…
SH: …You mean the one that I’ve released or the one I’m currently working on?
TEJ: The one that you’re currently working on that we’ve not heard a note on. Is that following a similar production vein as your last work, in the sense of a diverse cast?
SH: Well, I can’t tell you until it’s all done. I’m not being evasive here…
TEJ: …This is like asking about a cake isn’t it? What is the cake gonna look like Steve? What exactly are the ingredients going to be?
SH: Exactly. I haven’t put all the ingredients in. It really depends. What I tend to do is when I make an album these days, first of all, I need to fully interact with myself.
TEJ: Of course.
SH: …He said pretentiously.
SH: And then I’ve got to interact with technology, at least to be able to do sketches of things, which become more human as we go along. So, first of all, we have the dream, we have the imagination, we have the brain, our most important instrument. Then we have the aspect of turning something into a cartoon. Then we fill it in with real actors doing…real actors is an oxymoron…we have humans playing as much as we can involve in the whole mixture where you get this sort of semi-permeable membrane aspect where one thing might end up being real, another thing might end up being sampled, or indeed the fusion of the two, which I’ve used so much. So, something Roger King has been fond of saying is that “The old definitions don’t really apply about what is a sample and what is a performance.
TEJ: Yes, because even if you’re hitting a sample in a live performance you are performing.
SH: Well there is that. Now many people might like their heroes to be real, and to some extent, I think that something that could be said to be holding back the progress of music is the idea that you invest your money in progressive music, the idea of virtuoso Olympian musicians giving Olympian performances. I think that can hold it back because it means that you’re investing too much in technique. I won’t say technology, but too much in technique at the expense of the imagination. Going back a few years, I can’t remember when, if it were 1967, how many years is that now? 50 years ago? Sgt. Pepper, doing the math that’s 50 years ago. There’s something about that. We’re all thinking about that and what was important about that. Manpower reins supreme at that time, but strangely for the beginning of what most people think of as progressive music, it was really a sideways glance at the British, perhaps through hash-coloured glasses at times, but Sgt. Pepper is the meeting place of George Formby and Chuck Berry, perhaps unintentionally, but the lovely thing is that you keep wandering into different rooms where other things keep happening. The military band aspect meets the classical thing, and suddenly you’re in India, courtesy of the two Georges and all of the people beyond that.
TEJ: It’s almost a gateway isn’t it?
TEJ: Sort of a crossroads between the old and the new, but also what’s happening. I mean, how many people in 1967 had heard a sitar? And then, we’re suddenly introduced to a sitar, we’re suddenly introduced to a tabla or other instruments. But without the Beatles, that might have been a much smaller number.
SH: Yes. But I think what this comes back to is that there are two ways to write a song or to craft any piece of art. You can either try and play the game and try and make your thing sound pretty much like every other hit that was out there, or you can look at it from the other point. You just go, “Well, I’ve got to avoid all of the things that everyone else does”. And I step outside that and involve all of the things that other people wouldn’t touch with a large pole. And you bring all of these audio untouchables in and lay them out on the table. I think it’s a far better way to go, rather than to try and sound exactly like everyone else. I mean, all musicians start out as imitators, and then perhaps they become geographers or archaeologists or politicians. Again, this is a stretch of the imagination, but I think that music has got the opportunity to fill the gap. Not just the generation gap, but to do what politics fails to do, which is to heal the divide between peoples. Music is forever a goodwill ambassador. It will travel anywhere. And the music that comes from those places has potentially got the chance to reach your village too, so the global village is complete and bound together by this big sticky tape, this big band-aid called music. It’s been done before and it’ll be done again in the future, and I’m very proud to be part of that. I started out when I was young and I hardly travelled apart from a trip to Canada where we attempted to live and failed and came back. As a seven-year-old-
TEJ: -But better to have tried it than to have never tried it at all.
SH: Ah, well, that’s right, you know. They had the dream, and then they realised that they missed England and wanted to come back, my young parents. Totally respect that, but the travel bug was there, and I thought perhaps, cut yourself off from that. But, the more you try to suppress that dream, the more it gnaws away at you, and life has a habit of throwing you curve balls. Luckily I did my part. In came Genesis when I was looking for something slightly different. But the lovely thing was that I was led like an innocent into so many areas, and that was extraordinary travelling to different places and finding out the way other people do things. It meant that I made the transition of being this introverted bespectacled soul who really thought about nothing else other than blues licks, to thinking about the most remote music imaginable, and a wider significance of music. As I say, the real idea of what harmony is all about, and is it also about healing? And all of those things. Certainly re-energizing people, if not healing them. So it’s a good thing to think of music as a doctor for people. It’s a very good thing.
TEJ: What better way to deal with a travel bug whilst in Genesis, when you first started out it was just going up and down that way and driving miles for one gig, and then driving miles the opposite way. And then within a year of that, you were suddenly in Belgium I believe, and then Amsterdam, and then you started to make forays into Germany and most certainly Italy. You saw a lot of Italy in the early days. And then Switzerland, and then back to the UK, and then an awful lot of America and Canada. Obviously, there was time off where you got to visit. There are a few stories where on the Selling England By The Pound tour I think in America that there were days off where you got to visit the grand canyon, which, in 1974, you were what, 24? That must have been astonishing to be able to do that, especially because you were starting to realise this travel bug that had been pent up inside you. And then by 1977, wow! You’re in Brazil! And that must have been a completely different experience.
SH: Christmas of 1974 actually was my first visit, and I realised that Genesis was getting played on the radio. Far more so than in England. And I came back and I said, “Look guys. We could do something here”. And then by 1977, we did. There was a market for it. I suspect there was something about Latin countries that embraced this kind of music. There was an adventurous spirit. I suspect religious suppression was part of it because you’ve got Catholicism, which is partly based on mythology in the first place. For some reason, they seem to get it. And, you know, the early roots of Genesis, songs had their roots in Greek, or Greek or Roman myths. So music functions like a time machine. It’s able to take people backwards, it can take people forwards, and I think for young, inexperienced ears, which is where you get your core audience or musicians, it’ as if they’re hearing it for the first time. Like you were saying, in the 1960s, it’s the first time people are hearing tablas and sitars and tamboras and shehnai and all the rest. It’s a heady mixture, but when you’re a kind of audio virgin, you have everything to look forward to. Music is still magic. I have these conversations with Jo, where we say, when you’re a child everything is new, but when you’re in your teens, if you’re lucky, music does for you what the toy shop used to do for you. It’s new. The magic is still there. There seems to be a cutoff point, or there was for me, at the age of 20, suddenly if I hadn’t realised it before, I realised that now it’s up to me. I’ve got to make my own magic. I’ve got to make my own entertainment, I’ve got to be a part of this. I’ve been knocking on the door, desperately trying to get in.
SH: But I realised that I had to do anything I could to get into the music business full time, and that meant breaking up, perhaps, the little clique that I had, which was the band that I was trying to form that had only played a handful of gigs and doing cover version of, what really turned out to be your school band mentality. And I realised I had to work outside of that, and I started to join other people. It’s part of the flowering process, and it seems strange at first. Other people are speaking Venusian, but you’ve got to learn to speak Venusian. You’ve got to do whatever you can to fit in and then try and add to the glossary of terms. Try to expand it and say, “Well, yes you’ve done all that, BUT, have you thought about this? Will you try this? And hit the mark with as many concepts as you can”. And when everyone else is just standing around and scratching their heads you go, “Ah! Well, I’ve got an idea and this might just go in here”. You’ve gotta wait for those moments of downtime or perhaps work on people like Chinese water torture going drip drip drip. And it doesn’t always work trying to approach the whole ensemble at the same time unless you’re a founding member and then perhaps if you’re lucky enough to be a founding member of the group that then goes on to do stuff internationally, you could say that’s the dream for everyone. Of course, everyone wants to be the Beatles. Everyone wants to be John Lennon and all the rest. Or some of us aspire to do music that was as great as Bach managed to do back in the day or Tchaikovsky. But still, they have to listen to other people. It doesn’t exist in isolation. We cannot afford to be isolated, whether we’re British politicians or musicians from anywhere. It’s not going to work. It could be you’re reading this, written up later, you’d be a Texan musician and this kind of down-home rock and roll stuff, and you go, “Why isn’t this getting anywhere”, you know? Well, maybe you can widen those horizons a bit. The over-subscribed club factor is the thing that you’ve got to avoid. I repeat myself, but there you are.
TEJ: There’s nothing wrong with that because people are comfortable in what they’re saying, so they will sometimes go back to the things that they’re comfortable with. People let you in as far as they want to let you in for a variety of reasons. And so, the time that you get with somebody and the things that they share with you, because it is a share I suppose, is just as important whether you’re hearing it for the first time or the second time or the third time, because the fact that they’re sharing their time and energy with you is something that’s quite specialised and a gift. It’s never a bad thing to hear the Mellotron because it’s such a crucial and important thing to you that you hold it in such great reverence. I imagine the road crew didn’t at the time.
SH: No, exactly.
TEJ: But for you, you continue to use it and you continue to play with it and tinker with it still in digital.
SH: Well, it’s beauty and the beast, the old MKII Mellotrons, but I noticed that when the synthesizer museum was inaugurated I think sometime back in the 1990s it was, the thing that drew the biggest crowd was the Mellotron. And people were just standing around it as people were going, you know, press this button and you get the presets, and on the right hand, you’ve got all the other stuff. And with those eighteen preset sounds and the very imaginative stuff that was there at the push of a button. You could still see its relevance today. In a sense, the Optigan had an aspect of that. But you know, these things are lo-fi. They are lo-fi heaven for the afflicted for its adherence, for its fans. And we love it for all its warts and all. To carry around an MKII Mellotron you’ve gotta have four pallbearers, one on each corner. But that’s what it takes and then it’s light work, but it does take four men to lift. I know, I have been one of those pallbearers.
TEJ: And then that’s certainly not necessarily what you want in the epitaph, but yeah, most certainly an experience I assume. And of course, with the Optigan that you fell in love with that you discovered in Holland I believe…
SH: It was Holland when we were making Wind and Wuthering, yes. Relight Studios in Hilvarenbeek.
TEJ: Near a zoo.
SH: Near a zoo. Never got to see the zoo, but I saw the [Optigan] and I thought, Oh! Great machine! And then I ended up buying one, one day. Unfortunately, I don’t own one anymore, but I’ve exploited it on a few things.
TEJ: You have! Did you know that they were made by Mattel?
TEJ: So it was made by a company that was more fashionable for making children’s toys. I think they went through a stage of making various things. And, unless I’m mistaken, it read the samples from an optical disc, much like a CD would now.
SH: Yes it did. And if you were a bit of a technophobe, you could take this disc and reverse it, put it in, and whatever you had was instantly a psychedelic version on what you’d just heard on side A. Side B could be actually more interesting at times because you could also slow it down with the use of a wheel. There was no such thing as it ever being in tune. There was no way of knowing if it was in tune or not. It was extremely flexible and extremely easy to work, so, the idiot’s guide to keyboard playing. I’ve spent many a happy hour on there and made all sorts of private joke records and things with that. *laughs*
TEJ: Fantastic a potential box set isn’t it?
TEJ: Well that’s the box set we’re waiting for!
SH: *laughs* The sacred and the profane! Believe me!
TEJ: But no, you’ve actually had… let’s see, we’re coming up to 40 years now anyway, next year in 1978. For the Please Don’t Touch tour, you actually took an Optigan on tour with you.
TEJ: Yes it appears in the live DVD filmed at Musik Laden in Germany. Whilst your an accomplished guitar player, suddenly there he is and he’s bold! He’s got this confidence about him and he boldly strides towards it (Optigan) and starts this sound
SH: -Did it work?
TEJ: Yeah it did man! You can see Nick Magnus going, “Why does he get to play that? I’ve just got this little bit… He gets to play and he’s up at the front of the stage…” But it looks really really great. For the time, it was doing exactly what you needed it to do, and he just looks so confident. You just confidently stride right towards it, then you appear to mess with the pitch wheel because it slides down. (The Optigan into A Tower Struck Down)
SH: Yeah I used to combine something. It was from the Sleigh ride, it did have a bell, and you could slow it right down and then I mixed two different presets together on it once it sounded really slow and spooky. I only wish I could access that right now, right this second. It’s an intriguing sound. It’s like two slowed down record players playing at the same time. It’s not just the past, but it’s doubly magic and doubly spooky. Yeah, it’s kind of horror film stuff, so yeah. Phil said Steve was dark.
TEJ: *laughs* And he weren’t far wrong.
SH: He wasn’t wrong, but I think there’s light out of dark. There is chiaroscuro. Not just with painting.
TEJ: Yeah. But there’s always a light-hearted and in-joke sometimes on some of the albums. It is the light and the shade really, I suppose. And then from the shade, we go to the slightly dark bit and back to the shade, so there’s always that kind of humorous in-joke or tongue-in-cheek kind of track.
We take a break for a cup of tea
TEJ: Please Don’t Touch is 40 years next year, isn’t it? That must have been an interesting album to make.
SH: It was.
TEJ: So, can you tells us about when Please Don’t Touch was released, and when you started to write and record Please Don’t Touch.
SH: Yep. It’s a long time ago now, but the perspective I have on it is very different to the perspective I had when I was doing it. If I look back on that time, I realise that what I was trying to do was to mix two separate kinds of music, two different schools entirely. You got the white Anglo-Saxon or European stuff, and you got the black American, Afro-American stuff. All of that. I didn’t want to just work with Americans. I wanted to work with people who’d been on Woodstock, who worked with Frank Zappa, worked with the Weather Report, to work with Randy Crawford who never had anything released in this country, who’s such a marvellous singer. And I thought, if I fuse this whole thing together, the idea is that no one can tell where it comes from. So, it’s influenced by so many things. The influences on that are far more wide-ranging than Acolyte where I, in a way, knew where I was going more. It didn’t feel like that at the time because with Acolyte, I didn’t know whether I’d come out with a bunch of outtakes or not. Whether it would be a cohesive album. So I worked within known parameters. Whereas, with Please Don’t Touch, of the whole thing was a huge experiment. I was working with instruments I had never seen before with people I had never worked with before. It was a huge risk. There was no band to fall back on. And, it’s funny how all these years later I end up knowing Steven Wilson, whose latest album I have here. And he tells me because he’s remixed Please Don’t Touch in 5.1 and in stereo along with Spectral Mornings, and he said that Please Don’t Touch he heard when he was 11, and for him, it was his Sgt. Pepper. What he liked about it was the fact that the influences were wide-ranging. He didn’t know what was going to happen next. And I think being young of course, this is the whole point of music, for young ears. Obviously he has very eclectic tastes, obviously, he’s hugely influential, and I’m very pleased that what I’ve done has been part of his development, and then it gets sold back again and you think, Wilson’s just done this. That’s interesting. So we listen to each other’s stuff and we’re very complementary to each other.
TEJ: That’s an album, as a whole, it’s very interesting how it jumps, but very logically from genre to genre. And the two tracks in the middle, the Richie Havens and Randy Crawford, one’s very folk and Richie’s voice is very folk, and then the next one’s very kind of smooth and jazzy and it’s very relaxed. It’s interesting to all sort of see how that all sort of works on an album with something like “Icarus Ascending” that it’s all bookends. It’s all completely…yeah, it’s sort of interesting but I understand where he’s coming from and his side of it. It’s an album that’s combining sort of George Formby to Chuck Berry and everything else afterwards and it was…yeah…it’s interesting.
SH: Yeah. I think if you look back at influences, I mean, I sometimes, I find myself recently listening to these early children’s records I heard in the 1950s. The amazing thing is, some of those records still sound amazing to me. They still sound amazing. They don’t sound like they’re of their time. If it’s Mel Blank doing the whole panoply of voices that he was able to do. Seems like an absolute genius to me. So I’m interested to hear what you said about that so if there’s anything else you want to ask me about that, it was, you know, a more difficult album to do. But there are moments on it where I think, Oh, I’ll never do anything like “Please Don’t Touch” again, the title track, because you’ve got something that’s a cross between oriental influence and, yeah it’s somewhere between jazz and fusion and many other things, and I started talking about collision years ago, as I thought, you know, worlds colliding, and a few people have picked up on that as a description of things instead of fusion, but collision was what it was all about. “Yeah, why not have this crashing into this and that into that?” And it doesn’t always need to be smooth. Sometimes you can butt-up edits together in order to celebrate the edit rather than to try and make the edit a case of invisible mending. You don’t need to so that sometimes. I mean, even on Acolyte that moment with the parrot and the cough and the newsreel and then it’s immediately expurgated. All of that was the influence of film.
TEJ: Isn’t that a bit Python-esque? You could be watching one of their little sketches and then suddenly it’s straight to the next sketch and that was the punchline.
SH: Perhaps. Yeah. I think the surreal juxtaposition of unlikely bedfellows if we can use that term, was what it was all about. You’re not expecting that coming next. As you say, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition! Or more of that kind of thinking. But the seeds of that were created long before the Pythons. My friend Steve Tobin who did an amateur film that he was desperate to get into the film business, and it was something I acted in first of all, and he brought the sound effects in afterwards. And then I said, “Oh do you mind if I use that because I really like that” so we edited that down again, so I’ve been an actor, I’ve been an observer, listener, and then eventually editor of something, which had been hugely edited, and then into the production. Yes, so abruptness can be celebrated. You’ve seen it with Python, you’ve seen it with Yes with “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, and there’s nothing wrong with it. You can do that. I think it’s all about being young and being brave.
TEJ: Yeah. One of the things that I suppose with the editing is, is when films would often just fade between scenes, as you were saying directors were trying to disguise the transition from one piece to another. But actually, it’s probably quite pioneering early on because it was sort of that…or hip-hop, what they were doing. They would get two different records and crash right into the next one, but as a stylistic thing, and then they would just crash back in and then they would sort of build these concrete rhythms out of things. So I suppose in that regard it’s quite a pioneering thing at the time.
SH: Yeah. Well, I think you can do that. You have to separate yourself off. What happens all the time is that really great drummers, for instance, have got an incredible imagination. And then by the time they’re 30 they’ve amassed all this technique. But they’ve been subject to masses and masses of producers saying to them, “Can’t you do less, and take those drum breaks out and just stick with the beat, stick to 4/4…” And so all of that detail, the very fire that they had at the beginning, it means they’re capable of all that, but they’ve had that all knocked out of them. The challenge for the rest of us, whether you’re an author, whatever you are, people can start saying terribly hurtful things to you when you’re trying to write a book, like, “Oh you can’t mix science fiction with fantasy, and you can’t have this and you can’t have that”. And for me, I think, well if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’ve just got to prove them wrong if it’s something that I want to do. And so, the difference between me and a number of people who are perhaps far more talented is that I won’t sleep easily until I’ve reawoken those apparently still-born brainchildren. Many people have the internal invalidator working overtime. You know, you want to be a singer, and say you want to dress up in a skirt, but for some reason you think, I better not because everyone’s telling me that’s not a good idea. But, a side of you that says, “I want to do that. I want to be a singer and be crazy enough to wear a fox’s mask and wear my wife’s dress, and I’ll do it with a beard as well, and why not, and I’ll do it in rubber”. Okay. There’ll be an awful lot of people that’ll say to you, “An awful lot of us want to do that, but very few of us actually go up on stage and do it”. So it’s the can-do factor isn’t it, you see. But if you listen too much to the still small calm voice of reason, there are so many reasons you shouldn’t. There are so many reasons why you shouldn’t get up off your ass and ever attempt that and just stay in the earth like a slug. But do not attempt to-
TEJ: The part of Icarus Ascending that starts around 2 minutes and 8 seconds that sounds like a glass harmonica or a really tightly strung guitar [it is in fact a bowed Psaltery], sounds beautiful almost like an ascent into heaven. You’re getting all used to this, you’re sat back in your seat, ah this is nice…
SH: But then it starts to step through genres.
TEJ: Then it starts to step through this massive…
TEJ: What was that. And then we get…
TEJ: But once we get over the shock of, “What was that and why did he place that in there?” You’re getting reggae. And that’s sort of…you lose all that moment of anger where you’re going, “Ah he spoiled it now” where you’re getting reggae and you’re sitting there going…
SH: Then it goes to dinner jazz. It steps through. That’s something where I could take it or leave it personally. Wilson said to me, you know, that’s the moment that really engages him because it’s taking those simple, child-like lines through a number of different arrangements, so it’s as if you could arrange it this way, you could arrange it that way, so it’s a whole different vase of flowers each time.
TEJ: We had it on in the car and I said, “This is my favourite bit” and it’s really loud, and I know the moment it’s about to change and I start to turn it down, and he says, “What are you turning it down for?” And I went, this isn’t the good bit. The good bit for me has been. And in the next minute, the reggae starts and I’m just laughing,”Yeah, yeah this is brilliant”.
We break for another cup of tea, we’re a little slow off the mark getting the dictaphone back on, but we’re discussing seeing Nad performing Icarus Ascending live in 2015…
TEJ: …Some people do say some unkind things about Nad’s singing. But when I saw Nad doing Icarus, I was floored because I was sort of sat there having just seen Nad do a really good version of “Star Of Sirius”, And then without a comfort break, he comes right in with “Icarus Ascending”, and you’re going, “I can’t believe this!” He’s going from the high kind of areas that Phil sang in when Phil was 24, 25, to suddenly going into his Richie Havens area, and you’re thinking, What was the price of the ticket? The man has earned his right to be there if he can do high voice, with no comfort break, and a low voice. And do it with a panache, and that cannot have been easy.
SH: Yes. I remember one night being on stage, and Richie Havens is a very unusual voice, and Nad sounded so much like Richie, it sounded as if he was channelling. The voice, it sounded unearthly. It sounded much like Richie and I thought, Good God. He must be having a visit. It was absolutely wonderful. He likes the song, you see, as he said because your speaking voice isn’t necessarily that deep, so you wouldn’t know. And he said he regarded himself as a bit of a chameleon in that he was able to do a number of voices, and he does a very, very good blues voice. He has a very accomplished blues voice, which he doesn’t use very much because he’s required to do this other stuff, the stuff that I’m most well-known for, let alone Nad. And so I think in future there’ll be more and more like that, it’s just great that he’s doing that. We’re gonna do that again. We’re gonna do “Icarus” again. It’s something that was great with Richie Havens singing it. I mean, I’m not talking about Richie at the moment, we’re talking about Nad, but Richie was wonderful to work with. Not just what a voice, but also, what a personality. He brought a lot to the album. He recorded both those songs after having flown from New York to LA, we got both of those performances out of him same day, I mean, by about three in the morning, I was ready to pack it in, and I’d say” Oh you must be tired by now after that long flight”. He said, “No, I don’t get tired. You got any more songs?” And I said, “Well I have this other one. You know, I was a bit embarrassed to ask you about this one”. He said, “Yeah we should do it, man. We should do it.” And he learnt the song on the spot. And what he said was, “What we should do is just lay the backing track first of all”. And he said, “I’ll play this”. Immediately he said, “I’ll play this”. I did the strumming guitar, he had maracas in one hand, tambourine in the other, cigarette in his mouth, a trilby on his head, and we did this stuff in seconds flat. And he said, “Oh when I do the vocal if you’re on the studio floor just a few feet away from me you can direct me”. And I’m hearing this amazing performance coming out of this guy, and he’s just a few feet away. It was like directing God. He was looking at me saying, “Is that alright?” And I’m thinking, It’s more than alright. It’s just wonderful. There was only one note I think he faulted over and I said, “Well, it could be a bit longer”, and it was the note right on halfway through “Icarus” just before the end. Before the end coda where he suggested that he could just improvise over it. And thank God he did because he sings so beautifully over the ending. It’s all just flowing out of him. And his one note… I said, “Yeah it could be a little longer”, and he said, “Oh, okay”, and he sang this note that went on forever, and then he backed away from the mic and he genuflected as he did it and we thought he was going to die. But I was told later by his keyboard player Dave Lebolt, which is where I met Dave is on that album Please Don’t Touch, he said, “Yeah, when I played with Richie live for the first time, he runs out of oxygen and he bends over like this and I thought he was going to die at first”, And I was seeing something of the same thing. Everyone thinks he’s going to die. Now because ironically he has passed on…
TEJ: But he lives forever. He’s been immortalised not only his own music, but in yours, and also the Woodstock film.
SH: But then I subscribe to that notion that we are all spirits living in not just the material world but in these bodies, but in spirit. People live on. There’s been lots of hard evidence for that. My discarnate friends I think have been sending me messages, all sorts of extraordinary stuff. Richie was something else…
TEJ: I’ve read a couple of stories. The first was that you were instrumental in getting Richie Havens on board to support Genesis during those Earls Court shows in 1977.
SH: I’ll address that one. Richard Macphail used to play Richie Havens tapes in the van. I sometimes used to travel with him with the equipment, and we’d listen to that and we loved it. We were fans. The rest of Genesis were also fans of Richie, so when it came to the Earls Court shows, we’d remembered that we’d done stuff with Richie in the States. I’d never actually met him. And, we put him on for three nights at Earls Court. And I said to Dave who introduced himself to me, “I’d like to meet Richie”. He stood up, he’d just done his set, and he shook my hand warmly, for a very long time. And I said, “I’m sorry that the reaction of the audience in no way parallelled the quality of your performance”. I think this was just before I was about to go on and do my thing, but I was a little embarrassed that people thought, Who’s this guy? We’re here to see Genesis, and everyone milling about. And so he had what many performers have to contend with, which is an indifferent crowd. But of course though, he worked with me, he was the man who opened Woodstock, he went on to work with Peter Gabriel, later with The Story of Ovo, so I’m very pleased that he got the sanction, at least from the two of us, if not from the entire band. But, you know, we were all friends. Very self-deprecating. He said then about my guitar playing, he said, “Well you know, we like your guitar playing, and Phil Collins, our drummer”. He said, “Yeah I’ve been scratching away for years, man” Scratching away for years…but it was the fact that, you know, powered by that, and he’s a guy that, although he worked with several gifted musicians, he was quite capable of holding the floor entirely on his own, and the reason why he was the guy who opened up Woodstock was the fact that he had a pal, who had a helicopter who flew him in. And so when he stepped out on that stage because he was the only performer who was there, that’s how well-organized it was, he said, “As far as the eye could see there were people. A sea of expectant faces.
TEJ: And that’s an awful sort of pressure.
SH: Huge pressure, but he’s one of the best things on that show.
TEJ: But humbling because, as a second story, you and your parents had him over for dinner, and he was the first to the sink to wash up.
SH: Yeah. My mother was there, and friends, I forget who cooked the meal. It might have been me, might have been my mother, and mother started to wash up, and he helped her wash up. Yeah, sweet guy. Also, he insisted on, when Dale [Newman] and Dan [Owen] (Genesis road crew) picked him up at the airport in Los Angeles to take him to the studio to work with me, he insisted on getting into the back of the van, not into the comfortable seats. And then, arrived and amazingly did those two songs. And so he was larger than life, incredibly talented, extraordinarily humble, and I remember seeing him at the Jazz Cafe. I tried to see him every year when he was over in London. The Jazz Cafe in Camden. He told a story about when he was young. His grandmother had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said, “I want to meet everyone. I want to meet everyone in the world”. *laughs* So, there’s that story and you think…
TEJ: He made a good effort of it at Woodstock.
SH: He made a very good effort. And that’s the thing. He got it at that thing.
TEJ: But again, Please Don’t Touch. You’ve got one minute it’s Richie Havens, then the next minute it’s Randy Crawford. How did you seek these people out?
SH: I saw her singing in a Chicago nightclub supporting Jaco Pastorius, the late, great Jaco Pastorius. I was there to see a show, having fallen in love with Jaco’s bass playing on Joni Mitchell’s album… no one knows how it’s pronounced, but the one that’s spelt Hejira. The act that I enjoyed more that evening was Randy Crawford. What was amazing was that every time she sang a vocal phrase, she embellished it with this trio that she was performing with, just piano, drums, and bass, I think it was. The endings that she did to every phrase, as she does with “Hoping Love Will Last”, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Applauding her like a soloist playing an instrument. She had that, and yes it was a small audience, hugely appreciative, respectful of what she was doing, easily switched on to what she was doing, and I thought, Oh. Perhaps I’ll phone her up and see if she wants to do this.
TEJ: Did you write the track in one with her, or did you go, “Ah I should have her!” and then wrote the track.
SH: I think it was partly written, but what consolidated it was the idea that I might work with her, and I believe she’d had her first album out on Atlantic, and I was signed to Atlantic at the time with Genesis, so luckily I was able to track her down. And we started to record the track. It didn’t actually work at first, because my melody line was too wooden, it was following the chords. It didn’t really work, it sounded too stiff. Tuning wasn’t great, all that. And at the last minute, I said to her, “Perhaps you should forget about the melody and make it all your own and improvise around it”. And then that’s when the magic happened and that’s when she started to sound not only like herself but also like Aretha Franklin when she belts it with the “How can I go on alone”. And you realise that she was two singers in one. She was quite capable of being someone else outside of herself. The chameleon-like ability that the great singers have, she’s one of the greats that I’ve worked with on that album.
Sadly with that our time had run out! We can gladly say thank you to both Steve and Jo Hackett for giving up a fair portion of their Afternoon in December.
For more information about Steve’s latest activities please click on Steve Official
We are eternally grateful for the exquisite transcription by Holly Quibell around the 18th to 25th of February 2018, in the location of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.