Steve Hackett / Genesis And ‘Playing Guitar In The Best Band In The World’

Steve Hackett, who will release his new album The Circus And The Nightwhale on 16 February 2024 via InsideOut Music, is always happy to perform the classic Genesis songs live. In Part Two of an extensive interview with MetalTalk’s Adrian Stonley at Trading Boundaries, we asked if those albums still feel as strong to Steve, even now all these years later. Part One can be read here.

“It’s fifty years now, but I don’t mind that,” Steve Hackett said. “As I said, it’s also the era that John Lennon liked. In particular, from ’72 to ’73, that’s when he [John Lennon] called us ‘true sons of the Beatles.’

“Now we have this thing that is a bit of an abandoned place. I choose to celebrate two albums in particular, Foxtrot and Selling England. It’s what I think of as Genesis’ golden period. There’s not a weak track on either of those two albums.

“There are brilliant tracks from everybody on the rest of the other albums, but if I went for the two albums that I thought of as the strongest, then it is them. There isn’t a weak track on Foxtrot. There isn’t a weak track on Selling England By The Pound. I’m saying that now, all these years down the line, they still feel very close to my heart, very personal.

“It reflects a time when we were first touring in America and having to play to strengths. I think those albums were very strong. Even when we played to small clubs, 500 people.”

Photo of Steve Hackett at Cambridge Corn Exchange
Steve Hackett, Cambridge Corn Exchange. Photo: Steve Ritchie/MetalTalk

“It’s an extraordinary thing,” Steve says. “You say fifty years later, nothing should be relevant in the rock and pop world, but then if I listen to the work of wonderfully written stuff from the baroque era, starting as far as I am concerned in 1685 with the birth of Bach and Handel and Scarlatti something happens.

“They all arrived that year, and music suddenly began to become interesting. Before that, I would say in the 1500s, William Bird, an English composer, was important. That’s the first thing that made me prick up my ears and listen.

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“I’ve recorded some William Bird and some Bach over the years. So anything that’s unassailably good always feels contemporary or timeless, as long as there are always musicians in classical music, and also in jazz, to undertake interpretations of that stuff.”

Steve Hackett has released live albums of Selling England, Seconds Out, and now Foxtrot, recorded in Brighton in 2022. With Genesis now calling it a day, does he feel that the Genesis legacy now sits with him?

“There is a legion of tribute bands, and many of them are very, very good. All I can say is when I went to the launch of Mike Rutherford’s book, Tony Banks was there. I thought that he would berate me for doing the Genesis thing. You know, ‘Oh, back in the old routine, haha.’ But he actually said ‘You’re keeping the legacy alive.’

“It was the last thing I expected him to say. He’s very truthful, so you get it [his view] straight from the horse’s mouth every time. It sounds like a blessing. It’s funny with Genesis because it creates so many emotions. I think that it was a terrific band, let’s put it that way. I think the writing was what characterised it more than anything else.”

Steve Hackett Mike Rutherford - Photo Armando Gallo
Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford. Photo Armando Gallo

“Someone once said to me that progressive musicians may be just as happy in classical music as they are in rock, and of course, that calls to mind Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman and all the bands that had the classical influences like The Enid, they go very classical, and Procol Harum.

“They are not usually mentioned as a progressive band, but Matthew Fisher and Gary Brooker, in a way, had an endless spirit to create. If there is an English school, it would include them, and Tony [Banks] and those guys where there is a reverence for not just classical music but also church music.

“So, I’m privileged to get to work with guys who were that broad in their tastes as opposed to being in an ordinary rock band. However, I’m very happy to listen to an ordinary rock band if they are doing it well. I’ve got no prejudice. This is the thing.”

I asked, at the time of Genesis, if Steve had realised what sort of impact they were going to have. “I’ll tell you what I felt,” Steve says. “My mindset was one where when we were rehearsing to do Nursery Cryme, I knew then the band were something special. Then we were doing Foxtrot, and we were starting to make waves in places such as Italy and Belgium. So, we were starting to take on an international following.

“I remember when we were rehearsing Watcher Of The Skies in its unfinished form. The promotional team, the agents and promoters were there, and I could see they were transfixed. They were saying, ‘Wow, that’s absolutely marvellous. Why don’t you play it tonight?’. We were saying, ‘Well, it’s not finished.’

“But it was nearly ready to go and was then designed with Italy in mind. It helped to colour it romantically and with Sci-fi elements and all these sorts of things. By the time we had got to Selling England By The Pound, we were doing a set in America for the first time. These were still early gigs, and we were doing much of Selling England, much of Foxtrot and a bit of Nursery Cryme.”

“I thought this was my home,” Steve Hackett said. “I was very happy on stage. When I was on stage doing this, I felt this was where I was supposed to be. I’m playing guitar in the best band in the world at this point. I really felt that.

“There had been a message through just before we left New York, and it came from John Lennon, who said we were one of the bands that he was listening to. Latterly I found his comment about being true sons of the Beatles, and there’s no greater accolade than that.

“So, for all the things that happened, I think that Genesis of a certain period (early to mid ’70s) became an abandoned place. When you look at what Genesis became, something that was more commercially successful as they became more pared down.

“MTV were right behind it, and they got their commercial success. I still think that if you go right back, back to the drawing board, the blueprint for inclusive music starts with the Beatles. There was an influence of Dylan [Bob] there and an influence on us.

“There was also the likes of Jimmy Webb, again no higher accolade. I personally think he’s the greatest living songwriter and arranger currently.

“Once you’ve done MacArthur Park, that orchestral arrangement was something else. It was quite ahead of its time. So it was the blueprint for a lot of what Genesis did as it was long-form pop that became rock and it’s classical as well.”

Steve Hackett – The Circus And The Nightwhale – is available to pre-order in several different formats, including a Limited CD+Blu-ray media book (including 5.1 Surround Sound & 24bit high-resolution stereo mixes), Standard CD Jewelcase, Gatefold 180g Vinyl LP & a Digital Album. Pre-order now here.

All feature the stunning cover painting by Denise Marsh.

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