From Genesis to the 21st Century
In December 1970, the singer of a young band of former schoolfriends came across an advertisement placed in the Musicians Wanted section of UK music magazine Melody Maker – “Imaginative guitarist/songwriter seeks involvement with receptive musicians, determined to drive beyond existing stagnant music forms” – and decided he’d found the guitarist they’d been looking for. The singer was Peter Gabriel, the guitarist Steve Hackett and the band was Genesis.
A Genesis In My Bed
That was then… Now it’s two solo albums in one year. July 2020 saw the publication of Hackett’s autobiography, A Genesis In My Bed, by Wymer Publishing, which, he admits took him some 15 years to complete, written, as it was, between recording sessions, international tours and, as he puts it himself, “legal challenges”.
Since then he’s recorded not one but two new solo albums – a classical-acoustic instrumental “musical travelogue” titled Under a Mediterranean Sky, which was released in January and hit #2 in the UK Classical Album Chart, and, September 10, 2021, a fully electric rock album titled Surrender of Silence.
Under a Mediterranean Sky
Under a Mediterranean Sky is very much in keeping with Hackett’s entire career, whether his mere seven years spent in Genesis or his subsequent 41-year solo one – with the occasional aside like GTR that saw him team up with Yes/Asia guitarist Steve Howe – which he sees as making “little films for the ear”.
He certainly feels that, regardless of whether his music is accompanied by a video or not, “music should conjure some emotion or vista or both, and I’m always trying to pit myself against the best stuff I’ve ever heard, never mind the best players, the best writers, which is what’s concerned me over the years, exploring emotions with as much technique as you might choose to imbue it.”
Hackett has never been the type of guitarist for whom technique was all, never one for extended guitar solos for its own sake. After all, here he was in Genesis, for a start, sitting down to play – no grandiose posing despite playing some unforgettably grandiose music, nothing flash, no guitar heroics.
The Hackett Guitar Technique
“No,” he agrees. “The use of speed, in the main I leave it to other people. I came up with tapping on the electric guitar pretty early on (a technique later internationalised by guitarist Eddie Van Halen) and I realised you can play as fast as anything with that technique. But did you want to do it to death? And the answer was no, because I don’t want to treat music like sport. I want there to be contrast. I don’t want to shave nanoseconds off the sprint. Yes, you can build to fever pitch, and certainly on nylon guitar, to get it rattling from bottom to top in some sort of fast arpeggiation can be very satisfying. But contrast is what it’s all about. The age-old idea of a good song, like a good story that might engage… It’s terribly subjective isn’t it?
“I’m really not a great theorist. I’ve taken what I wanted from classical stuff and from jazz, from fusion and left behind lots of what I think can bog you down and get in the way. I’ve got great respect for people who’ve gone through the rigours of the Conservatorium and all the rest.”
From Genesis to Revelation
In the beginning, Genesis was already two albums old when Hackett joined in December 1970, though the four friends who’d met at English public school (private school on our side of the planet) Charterhouse quickly dismissed their debut, From Genesis To Revelation, which had, in some ways, been “forced” out of them by their first manager, radio disc jockey Jonathan King, who tried to mould them into the kind of quirky pop group that his next project, 10CC, became.
Having extracted themselves from King’s clutches, Gabriel, keyboards player Tony Banks, guitarist Anthony Phillips and guitarist/bass player Michael Rutherford began to find their feet with their first album proper, 1970’s Trespass, only to then lose Phillips, who found the whole constant touring thing too much, prompting the search for a replacement, along with a permanent drummer, whom they found in Phil Collins.
Nursery Cryme and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
What’s striking about the albums that followed – 1971’s Nursery Cryme, 1972’s Foxtrot and the aforementioned Selling England By The Pound, as well as the double-album, 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, after which Gabriel departed – is just how quickly the group developed as a unit, both musically and as songwriters – in a mere five years, and while pretty touring constantly.
Hackett had also recorded an album, titled The Road in 1970 with a now forgotten band called Quiet World, on which he’d contributed some ideas, before joining them but it was with Genesis that his songwriting really began in earnest, and it was on Selling England by the Pound that he finally found himself an equal partner in the erstwhile songwriting collective. A Hackett riff, for instance, is the core of I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), the band’s first UK hit single, albeit edited, which reached #21 and which some members originally felt sounded too like The Beatles!
Selling England By The Pound
The album itself reached #3 in the UK album charts. Though he himself left the group after two more albums – 1976’s A Trick of the Tale and 1977’s Wind and Withering – Hackett has admitted to having always held a torch for the classic Genesis’ music and in 2013 presented Genesis Revisited at the Hammersmith Odeon, a concert which took out Event of the Year at the prestigious Progressive Music Awards.
“I like to think that the band didn’t just sit still,” he admits, “that we all brought something to it; that I brought something to it. I think it pushed people initially in a more technical direction but we shared a love of all sorts of thing. There was a romantic side to us; some of us liked the heavier stuff as well, but it was a good combination of stuff such as Vaughan Williams meets Shostakovich meets Blind Lemon Jefferson or whatever.”
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
“If you’ve got access to all those things and you can throw them into the pot you can come out with things like Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, the opening track on Selling England by the Pound. I think that’s my favourite Genesis track. I think it doesn’t falter from beginning to end; it’s just full of ideas that come from anything from liturgical plainsong to Elgar to fusion to jazz to Big Band – all sorts of things going and all held together magnificently by Phil’s drums. Very clever – to make that swing! I just love the album. It’s my favourite Genesis album.”
The Second Solo Album
Surrender of Silence was recorded with regular touring band, which features singer Nad Sylvan, keyboards player Roger King, who’s also responsible for orchestral arrangements; saxophonist, clarinetist and flautist Rob Townsend, bass and 12-string guitarist Jonas Reingold and drummer/percussionist Craig Blundell, along with guests singers Amanda Lehmann, Durga and Lorelei McBroom, violinist and viola player Christine Townsend and drummers Phil Ehart and Nick D’Virgilio, as well as “World” musicians Azerbaijan’s Malik Mansurov on the Azeri version of the lute – the tar – and Tajikistan’s Sodirkhon Ubaidulloev on the traditional two-string dutar.
Peter Gabriel isn’t the only former Genesis member with a passionate interest in the sonic possibilities of World Music!
Keeping the Museum Doors Open
“Having a band,” Hackett explained to me, “having a touring band – we’d already been on tour together, getting to know each other – it was a band that had a lot to prove. I’m no longer the young rebel with things to prove,” he admits.
“It’s a case of maintaining a line really, honouring the early work and at the same time making new albums. That’s how I see it. Part of my job is to keep the museum doors open for glorious exhibits, but at the same time the challenge is to do stuff that’s equally engaging, so that people, if they come to the concerts never having heard a note of what I’ve done or Genesis have done, will notice very little difference in the standard, or the aspiration to write decent stuff.
“Emotion is the whole deal really and using dynamics, the art of surprise – one minute quiet, the next loud. Electric music, you can do that. You can go from a whisper to a roar, and that can be very, very effective indeed. I like all that aspect of the dramatic.”
Steve Hackett’s Surrender of Silence is released 10th September 2021, through Inside Out Music and is available as a Limited Edition CD+Blu-ray Mediabook in hardcover slipcase, Standard CD Jewel case, Gatefold 2LP+CD & LP-Booklet and Digital Album.
By Michael George Smith, former Associate and Contributing editor at The Drum Media and The Music, freelance music journalist for RAM, Juke, On The Street, JAMM, Sonics and way more, freelance book reviewer for Overland, Island and Quadrant, author of What’s Been Did (And What’s Been Hid): A Narrative History of Australian Pop and Rock, three volumes completed to date, Volume I covering the artists and acts that emerged between 1955 and 1963, Volume II those between 1964 and 1969, and Volume III those between 1970 and 1976. Bass player with Mushroom signing Scandal 1976-78, and legendary instrumental surf guitar band The Atlantics 2006-12.