One of music’s most uncompromising and complex individuals, Steve
Hackett has earned the reputation of being one of Britain’s finest
composers and guitarists. In 1970 he joined Genesis, becoming an integral
part of the ‘classic’ lineup. His complex and distinctive
playing contributed heavily to their early success, developing an elegance
and sophistication which have since become his trademark. He has gone
on to achieve consistent chart success internationally, both as a solo
artist and with GTR, the band he formed with Steve Howe. In recent years,
running parallel to his rock career, Steve has discovered an equal talent
for composing and arranging classical and classically inspired music.
Born in London in 1950, Steve was already playing harmonica as a four-year-old
and by 12 was experimenting with his father’s guitar. During his
teens he played with various bands in his spare time and had already
started to place advertisements in Melody Maker in search of like-minded
musicians. One of those ads was answered by Peter Gabriel and Steve
gave up his day job to join Genesis for £15.00 a week.
Within a couple of years sell-out tours ensued across Europe and America
and they were on their way to becoming one of the best loved bands of
that decade and beyond. For most Genesis fans the Hackett years and
the albums they recorded together represent the definitive Genesis.
Some would even go further, saying that when Steve left, the true spirit
of the band went with him, reappearing only on his solo albums, now
totalling twenty one and covering a vast range from screaming blues
to the most refined classical.
In 1975 Steve's first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte, featured band
colleagues Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford and was greeted with rave
By 1977 Steve had decided it was time to diversify his music further
and move on from the band. Since then they’ve enjoyed a couple
of reunions, one at Milton Keynes to support Peter Gabriel's WOMAD project
and another at a charity concert for Tadworth Children's Hospital.
Please Don’t Touch (1978) was Steve’s next solo project
and included guests such as Richie Havens, Steve Walsh of KANSAS and
Randy Crawford - who Steve had discovered singing in a downtown Chicago
nightclub. "I wanted to get the most diverse and eclectic tracks
that I could together on one album; a style mix between a European,
structured approach to rock and a spartan Black American sound".
With his own regular team of musicians gathered, Steve started touring
and released two further albums, Spectral Mornings (1979) and Defector
(1980), both Top 10 albums in the UK and Europe. The strong lyrical
instrumentals combined with the cutting edge of his guitar style not
only received critical acclaim but were consistently used for many films
and TV programmes.
On his next album, Cured (1981), Steve abandoned the group feel for
a high-tech sound, though still working with regular collaborator Nick
Magnus. Ian Mosely joined on drums for 1983’s Highly Strung, another
very successful album which produced the hit single Cell 151.
During his time with Genesis Steve had become known for his intricate
solo passages on classical guitar - "I have always believed that
one half of me was born to be an acoustic guitar player, the other half
to play rock guitar and to do both with equal passion". Thus Bay
Of Kings (1983) with Steve on acoustic guitar accompanied by his brother
John on flute was a natural progression. Although not strictly speaking
a classical musician, Steve endeavours to enlarge the existing classical
repertoire by writing timeless pieces for acoustic guitar. One of these
was given the seal of approval by Yehudi Menuhin when he used it as
the theme to his television documentary “From Kew To The Findhorn
Steve and his brother enjoyed a hugely successful acoustic tour during
which the Financial Times reported that the only two concerts which
had sold out the Barbican that year were The London Symphony Orchestra
and Steve Hackett!
He followed this up in 1984 with another rock album, Till We Have Faces
- the first album to be recorded using surround-sound ‘ambisonic’ techniques.
The record was heavily influenced by time spent in Brazil and was recorded
there with local musicians, presaging the subsequent trend towards 'World
In 1986 Steve formed GTR with Steve Howe. The venture produced a Top
10 US single - When The Heart Rules The Mind - and a platinum album
as well as attracting immense media coverage from MTV and nationwide
press and radio. It was noted by TIME magazine and BILLBOARD that during
one two week period that August all of the current and past members
of Genesis had albums in the Billboard Top 20! A total of five albums
During this period with GTR Steve also found time to guest on the A
Box Of Frogs album with such greats as Jimmy Page, Ian Dury and Rory
In the Spring of 1988 Steve released a second acoustic collection,
Momentum, again recorded with his brother John on flute. They toured
extensively throughout Britain and Europe that year and in the Soviet
Union Steve entertained a record-breaking crowd of over 90,000 with
just one nylon strung guitar. It is precisely this ability to successfully
bridge the two ends of the musical spectrum that has earned him the
admiration both of rock contemporaries and leading classical players
and in 1992 he realised a long held ambition by collaborating with the
London Chamber Orchestra on a performance of Vivaldi’s Guitar
Concerto at London’s prestigious South Bank. Later that year he
assembled a brand new band and toured the United States in support of
his live collection Time Lapse.
1993 saw Hackett take yet another new direction with Guitar Noir, which,
as the title suggests, explores the deeper shadows of composition and
of the instrument. This inspired combination of layered textures of
sounds showed off some of Steve’s most adventurous soundscapes
In 1994 he produced Blues With A Feeling, his own interpretation of
some of the music which had originally inspired him. It’s little
known that Steve’s first musical adventures were as a jobbing
harmonica player and the ‘poor man’s trumpet’ is beautifully
showcased on this record alongside the soaring virtuoso guitar for which
he is best known.
During the same year Steve once again took to the road accompanied
by keyboardist Julian Colbeck and presented a series of ‘unplugged’ concerts
in locations such as Belgium, Austria, Germany, Holland, Romania, Estonia,
Venezuela and Italy where a live acoustic album, There Are Many Sides
To The Night, was recorded. The shows featured pieces from Steve’s
acoustic albums together with new arrangements of some old favourites
and a few forays into uncharted territory, all of which combined to
bring the acoustic guitar firmly into the `90’s and beyond.
Rearrangement was also on the menu the following year with Genesis
Revisited, Steve’s affectionate reimagining of the band of which
he had been such a key part. Featuring a host of special guests including
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Steve took the cream of Genesis’ classic
repertoire and, as he eloquently put it, presented it “as you've
never seen or heard it, but perhaps occasionally dreamt it ....”.
Encouraged by the album’s positive reception, Steve took to the
stage in Japan accompanied by John Wetton, Ian McDonald & Chester
Thompson to perform a selection of material from their collective back
catalogues. A double album and video of these unique performances was
captured and released as The Tokyo Tapes, much to the delight of fans
around the world.
Meanwhile A Midsummer Night’s Dream had been recorded for EMI
Classics, again with The Royal Philharmonic. It was Steve’s largest
classical work to date and his debut as an orchestral composer. A beguiling
tone-poem for Classical Guitar and symphony orchestra, it was quite
an audacious undertaking for an ex-blues harmonica player and self-taught
guitarist. The album spent several weeks in the Top 10 of the UK classical
charts and was described by Classic FM’s Nick Bailey as “the
best new classical album I’ve heard all year”. The cognoscenti
of the classical world had realised what many already knew …..
If there were any doubts that the cinematic dreamscapes of Genesis
Revisited and A Midsummer Night’s Dream had made a lasting impact,
1999’s Darktown would have swiftly dispelled them. In his first
all-new studio album since Guitar Noir Steve picked up where the earlier
album left off but proceeded to take it several thrilling and chilling
steps further into dusky phantasmagoria. Memorably described at the
time as “a thrilling musical journey through scenes, stories and
psycho-dramas … a theme-park ride through one man's consciousness” it
somehow manages to reconcile hi-velocity rock with classical orchestra
and lilting ballads with electronic soundscapes. A compelling statement
from start to finish, Darktown is one of those rare albums that demands
not only to be heard, but to be listened to.
Equally engaging, but in every other way a complete contrast, was Steve’s
next release, 2001’s Sketches Of Satie. Arranged solely for flute
and classical guitar throughout, Sketches is a connoisseur's selection
from the catalogue of French composer Erik Satie. Featuring some of
his most famous and beautiful works including the Gymnopédies
and Gnossiennes and widely praised in the Classical press, Sketches
Of Satie illuminates some of the 20th century's most beautiful and accessible
music, and was described, in a typically Satie-esque paradox, as "the
timeless folk music of a culture yet to exist".
Feedback 86 was released later the same year but came from a different
direction altogether. It was a vintage album in every sense of the word.
Though first recorded in 1986 it languished in the vaults for some 15
years until complex contractual problems were resolved. Still, the `80s
loss proved the `00s gain as Steve and a storming line-up including
Queen guitarist Brian May, Bonnie Tyler and Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas
of Marillion gives us a tantalising glimpse of what the second GTR album
might have been like.
As 21st century advances in recording technology became ever more amazing,
so it became possible to bring archive recordings from different decades
up to the necessary standard for CD release. To the chagrin of bootleggers
everywhere, the box set Live Archive 70/80/90s leapt from the vaults
in 2001, replete with the excitement of three of Steve's favourite shows
from across the decades. With the recordings legally available for the
very first time, this definitive 4 album compendium features great performances
of a hefty chunk of Steve’s 'greatest hits' and allows fascinating
comparisons between different versions across the years.
The early rays of the new millennium also found Steve contributing
the music for a documentary film entitled Outwitting Hitler. “Chris
Ward, the director, already knew my work and called up to pitch us a
film, which was work in progress at that point.” The finished
score included some material intended for a future guitar and orchestra
project, as Steve explained: “We plundered some of the future
and we plundered some of the past…they needed the soundtrack pretty
Steve continued to tour throughout 2000, 2001 and 2002, managing to
visit 3 different continents with both electric and acoustic shows.
The band's shows included tours of Italy and both South and North America,
going down a storm everywhere with the highlights being NEARfest in
New Jersey - headlining a two day sell-out rockfest - and Buenos Aires.
The New Jersey show has now been released as a 2CD addition to the Live
Archive series and the Buenos Aires show as a DVD and 2CD set. Oh, and
the band also managed to fit in time to open the Quebec City Festival
(just in case you thought they were getting lazy)…
The acoustic trio – comprising Steve, John Hackett on flute and
Roger King on keyboards – have travelled to Japan, Italy, Hungary
and Malta, where they became the first 'amplified' act ever to play
Valetta's beautiful and historic Manoel Theatre. However, it was Eastern
Europe that provided the setting for the the DVD/2CD set Hungarian Horizons
- Live In Budapest, which, along with Somewhere In South America - Live
In Buenos Aires, serves as a fine distillation of the Steve Hackett
live experience. 2002 also saw a remarkable series of appearances with
classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie, culminating in the premiere
performance of The City In The Sea, a semi-structured composition especially
written by Steve for the event and performed "without a safety
net" and full of improvisation, in front of a mesmerised crowd
at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
“The style of music that I have been working on with the current
band, particularly some of the ‘live’ work, I’ve been
calling ‘Collision’…as when worlds collide …”.
A quote from Steve Hackett referring to the line-up you are about to
hear tonight, but one which could also easily be applied to Guitar Wars.
This unique event, a celebration of Hard Rock Café’s 20th
anniversary in Japan, brought together “super guitarists” from
different genres and backgrounds. So it was that Steve shared the spotlight
for three nights with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Paul Gilbert
of Mr. Big and Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt. Completing the line-up
were drummer Pat Mastelotto from King Crimson, our very own Roger King
on keyboards and Mike Szuter on bass. A fabulous time, was, apparently,
had by all.
That brings us stumbling back into the light of 2003 and Steve's latest
album of new material, To Watch The Storms. This was largely recorded
last year with the band and sees the reappearance of many of the Hackett
compositional trademarks which graced earlier classics such as Voyage
of the Acolyte and Spectral Mornings. The album covers a diverse range
and is, I think, in the tradition of Steve's most enduring work - a
satisfying and subtle album which rewards repeated listening with new
levels of detail and insight. It's also redolent of a classic period
when an album could range through folk, acoustic, whimsy, jazz progressive
and heavy rock!
Steve himself comments:-
“A promenade through the seasons... happy memories of free concerts
in the ‘60’s... meeting up with friends who were starting
to make little films... our dad Peter selling paintings along Bayswater
Road on Sundays (still does) and recollections of hectic city life sweetened
by the odd meander around that oasis of tranquillity - The Serpentine.
This is my attempt to ‘paint’ some of the memories that
haunt me ....a travelogue that deliberately wanders into dreamland ....”.
As he enters his fourth decade as a professional musician Steve Hackett
remains true to his muse, someone who cannot be easily packaged but
forges restlessly onward in pursuit of his myriad artistic goals with
an unfailing ability to challenge and intrigue his audience. Often imitated
but never equalled, his reputation rests on sheer talent and a never
failing ability to challenge and intrigue his audience. He is an inspiration
to successive generations of musicians who applaud him the world over.
Hungarian Horizons, Live in Budapest / 2003 CAMDV30
Above a Time / 2004 GR-054
of Satie /
Out of the tunnel’s mouth / 2009 WWCD001
Live: Fire and Ice / 2011 WIN005
The Tokyo Tapes / 2016 EANTCD 31021
Blues With a Feeling / 2016 ECLEC 2553
The Bremen Broadcast / 2016 EANTDVD 1001
Squackett: A Life Within A Day / CD 2016 EANTCD 1002
Squackett: A Life Within A Day / CD+DVD 2016 EANTCD 2002
Steve Hackett & Djabe: Summer Storms and Rocking Rivers - CD+DVD / 2017 EANTCD21065
Official Steve Hackett homepage: http://www.hackettsongs.com