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Steve Hackett

A premier guitarist regarded by many as one of the all-time greats, STEVE HACKETT (born Stephen Richard Hackett, 12th February 1950, Pimlico in London) was an integral part of theatrical prog-rock band GENESIS. Taking over from the stage-shy ANTHONY PHILLIPS from early 1971 – his first appearance was on the remarkable `Nursery Cryme’ album – Steve continued to grow alongside Messrs GABRIEL, COLLINS, BANKS and RUTHERFORD in the classic GENESIS line-up until he decided on finding fame as a solo artist in 1977; the unit delivered several seminal LPs, namely `Foxtrot’ (1972), `Genesis – Live’ (1973), `Selling England By The Pound’ (1973), `The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ (1974), `A Trick Of The Tail’ (1976), `Wind & Wuthering’ (1977) and Steve’s bow, the double-live `Seconds Out’ (1977).
Pre-GENESIS, Steve cut his teeth in small-time outfits Canterbury Glass, Sarabande and the much-touted at the time, QUIET WORLD (aka The Quiet World of Lea & John), releasing two 45s and an album entitled THE ROAD (1970) {*5}, a set which also featured Steve’s brother, flautist John Hackett. The Lea and John in question were the Heather brothers, main songwriters of QW alongside other sibling Neil; the three went on to scribe the odd musical after two further singles flopped in 1971.
While still a GENESIS stalwart – but probably missing GABRIEL who’d left the group early in ‘75, HACKETT released his first in a long series of solo albums, the Top 30 breaker VOYAGE OF THE ACOLYTE (1975) {*9}. For GENESIS fans there was plenty to get their proverbial teeth into here: the elaborate imagery, the Tolkien-like sorcery and the inclusion of PHIL COLLINS on drums (and vocals on `Star Of Sirius’) and MIKE RUTHERFORD (the co-writer on epic finale piece `Shadow Of The Hierophant’ highlighting the angelic vocals of MIKE OLDFIELD’s sister Sally). The almost folky `The Hermit’ was nice enough without stirring the cockles too much, that accolade would go to `Ace Of Wands’ and the doom-laden `A Tower Struck Down’, two fast-paced pile-drivers squeezed either side of dual parts of `Hands Of The Priestess’.
Now concentrating fully on solo material, Steve’s sophomore set PLEASE DON’T TOUCH! (1978) {*6} struck a rather different chord, with prog-rock virtually taking a back seat to some AOR vocal touches. Opener `Narnia’ and track three `Racing In A’ were two such cuts, featuring as they did KANSAS chanter Steve Walsh and drummer Phil Ehart; other leading lights comprised RICHIE HAVENS (on `How Can I?’ and `Icarus Ascending’) and the jazz-infused RANDY CRAWFORD (on soulful number `Hoping Love Will Last’). HACKETT come into his own via intricate instrumentals `Kim’, `Land Of A Thousand Autumns’ and the kaleidoscopic title track.
Bolstered by a proper backing band of sorts, including his ever-faithful brother John, John Shearer, bassist Dik Cadbury (ex-DECAMERON), keyboards man Nick Magnus and vocalist Peter Hicks, SPECTRAL MORNINGS (1979) {*7} was another wide-range blend of pompous prog and pastoral pop, highlights on this occasion stemming from head-banging onslaught `Clocks – The Angel Of Mons’, the fuzz-fuelled `Tigermoth’ and his “Parisienne Walkways” of-sorts closing title track.
1980’s DEFECTOR {*7} was HACKETT’s first Top 10 entry, an underrated set by some pundits not of the prog mind-set. Many fans would hail and herald the new age of the former GENESIS axeman, the guitar licks on opener `The Steppes’ and `Slogans’ were indeed subliminal. While there was the usual melodic vocal pop-rock fodder in the shape of `Time To Get Out’, `Leaving’ and `The Show’, there was also room for a handful of JOHN RENBOURN-esque instrumentals `Two Vamps As Guests’ and `Hammer In The Sand’.
Retaining only Magnus from his turn-of-the-decade LPs, CURED (1981) {*5} kept Steve’s profile high, but apart from the odd trademark HACKETT-to-pieces snatches, highlighted by `The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’, `Overnight Sleeper’ and possibly the pastoral piece `A Cradle Of Swans’, the record seemed aimed at the ASIA, FOREIGNER and American market.
Although it was final outing for Charisma Records, the Top 20 set HIGHLY STRUNG (1982) {*6} was a slight improvement; even Steve’s squeaky vocals had taken a surprising upturn. But gone were the dark and nightmare-ish rockers, replaced instead by AOR-friendly `Camino Royale’, minor hit 45 `Cell 151’ and `Group Therapy’.
Insistent on releasing an acoustic classical-type set (his distinguishable fretwork had popped up since `Horizons’ on the GENESIS `Foxtrot’ LP), Steve re-invented himself on the self-financed BAY OF KINGS (1983) {*6}, a record not exactly going down too well with a large section of his fanbase. Follow-up TILL WE HAVE FACES (1984) {*5} moved the guitarist into the realms of Latin-rock music, although it’s all too glossy and synthetic to be taken seriously. Prog-rock probably died with this set.
Opting to smooth out his rougher edges and probably admiring how much dosh one could make on the arena rock circuit, Steve took the decision to join up with YES guitarist Steve Howe (plus singer Max Bacon, bassist Phil Spalding and drummer Jonathan Mover) in mid-80s pomp-rock supergroup GTR. Untypical of the post-prog brigade sparring for chart action, the hair-rock quintet only delivered one eponymous US Top 20 album, GTR (1986) {*5}; but nothing was gained on a critical front, although their was a major hit in `When The Heart Rules The Mind’. Thankfully, Steve succumbed to a lighter resume by way of MOMENTUM (1988) {*5}, a comeback solo work, albeit with a distinctly classical approach.
In the 90s, HACKETT combined mostly all elements of his guitar virtuoso by releasing three albums in quick succession, the introspective live in concert(s) set from 1981 and 1990, TIME LAPSE (1992) {*6}, another AOR stab on GUITAR NOIR (1993) {*4} and a mistimed roots set BLUES WITH A FEELING (1994) {*4}; the latter combined several fresh HACKETT-penned numbers with run-throughs of Nick Gravenites’ `Born In Chicago’, B.B. KING’s `The Stumble’, Marshall Paul’s `So Many Roads’ and `Little Walter’s title track; THERE ARE MANY SIDES TO THE NIGHT (1997) {*6} was basically another live document recorded a few years back in Italy, re-treading `Horizons’ and `Kim’, and changing his once brill `Ace Of Wands’ into something that could sit alongside material by Vivaldi or film giant ENNIO MORRICONE.
What HACKETT fans thought of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (1997) {*6} was anybody’s guess, neo-classicism in the form of a Shakespeare play backed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra had wiped out his prog enterprises in one fell swoop. But it was nice and relaxing in a Sunday morning type of way. To counteract his melancholy misgivings, HACKETT and a few of his prog-friendly pals (i.e. KING CRIMSON’s wayward Bill Bruford, John Wetton and Tony Levin) came up with an intriguing re-tread of sorts by way of GENESIS REVISITED (1997) {*6}, actually not a bad attempt to bring back to life lengthy old songs such as `Watcher Of The Skies’, `Dance On A Volcano’, `Firth Of Fifth’, `I Know What I Like’, etc.
It was a hard task to keep up with the indulgent and elaborate guitarist, but dedicated fans were still finding solace in ambitious non-classical studio albums such as DARKTOWN (1999) {*6}, TO WATCH THE STORMS (2003) {*6} – featuring Thomas Dolby’s `The Devil Is An Englishman’ – and his back-to-prog-life WILD ORCHIDS (2006) {*6}; the latter covered DYLAN’s `Man In The Long Black Coat’. Prog pundits would be ecstatic with the subsequent release of Steve’s mix ’n’ match double-live genre-busting extravaganza LIVE RAILS (2011) {*7}. Most of his best works were in here, including a handful of GENESIS classics on the second disc; his previous studio sets OUT OF THE TUNNEL’S MOUTH (2009) {*6} and BEYOND THE SHROUDED HORIZON (2011) {*6} were also worth the admission price.
One would’ve been forgiven to think that HACKETT was racing against the clock to pack in several albums before his time was called. Despite his soundtrack FIRE AND ICE (2011) only managing to join his busy release schedule via its accompanying film DVD, Steve was within a whisker of supergroup stardom again with SQUACKETT, a one-off project with YES man Chris Squire (and others including Steve’s band) that unveiled the impressive back-to-prog-basics set, A LIFE WITHIN A DAY (2012) {*6}.
What better a fitting tribute to his Hall of Fame induction accolade a few years back (alongside his former GENESIS buddies) than to subsequently assemble a super-group of backing players to perform on Top 30 sequel, GENESIS REVISITED II (2012) {*7}. Who better to take the early work of his “first love” finally into a fresh decade than classic-rock’s favourite guitarist STEVE HACKETT – and friends. Despite purist fans with a penchant for inverted snobbery baulking at the thought of NIK KERSHAW, Francis Dunnery (IT BITES), Ray Wilson (swansong GENESIS), John Wetton, Jakko Jakszyk, Gary O’Toole and Steve Rothery (MARILLION) taking on these treasures from a time-capsule perspective, the majority of prog’s extended acolytes were indeed happy to be taken on one mighty voyage; the gloriously high-pitched Amanda Lehman (on `HACKETT’s own `Shadow Of The Hierophant’) almost stealing the show. And talking of shows, almost all were present and correct when it came to recreating the “world tour” works for a triple-CD/DVD package, GENESIS REVISITED: LIVE AT HAMMERSMITH (2013) {*8}. In the absence of Messrs, GABRIEL, BANKS, RUTHERFORD and COLLINS, this was the closest to hearing GENESIS songs (including a 27-minute `Supper’s Ready’ and even `I Know What I Like’) in all their glory – and without a tribute act in sight. Better live than never. Take a bow Mr. Hackett.
Forget prog-rock, 2015’s WOLFLIGHT {*7} was HACKETT clawing back the years without as much as a “Ripple” from his old teamsters. Yes, it was a fusion of heavy and acoustic guitars overlain in orchestral/symphonic formation, but neatly co-penned with his wife Jo Lehmann, the rapacious concept served as euphemistic travelogue to a man chased around the globe by his demons. 40 years on from his first “Voyage”, Steve soared in the longer pieces such as the medieval-like title track, the gothic `Love Song To A Vampire’, the howling of `The Wheel’s Turning’ and the “Green Manalishi”-esque `Black Thunder’.
To commemorate and document his four decades as a solo artist, the all-encompassing THE TOTAL EXPERIENCE LIVE IN LIVERPOOL: Acolyte to Wolflight with Genesis Classics {*8} was the ultimate treat for fans of his works. Augmented by the PETER GABRIEL soundalike Nad Sylvan on vocals, and stalwart friends Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (sax, flute, etc.), Roine Stolt (bass, guitar, vocals) and Gary O’Toole (drums, percussion), HACKETT and his band shifted heaven and hell to recreate prog classics, `The Musical Box’, `Get ‘Em Out By Friday’, `The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ et al, while solo highlights revisited `Clocks’, `A Tower Struck Down’, `Ace Of Wands’ and many, many more.
These days of idolatry for all things prog-rock (early GENESIS top of the pyramid), the name of STEVE HACKETT had become synonymous with the genre. Thus when 2017’s THE NIGHT SIREN {*7} ventured into the Top 30, it was no big surprise. Helped this time around by Middle Eastern singers Kobi Farhi, Mira Awad, and a plethora of exotic musicianship (from Peru, Iraq, the USA et al), the guitar virtuoso shapeshifted another softer-side element through the likes of best bits, `Behind The Smoke’, `Fifty Miles From The North Pole’, `Inca Terra’ and `El Nino’.
And then there was the almost obligatory and self-explanatory 2017-recorded WUTHERING HEIGHTS: LIVE IN BIRMINGHAM (2018) {*8} double-set, which delved deep into GENESIS’ back catalogue to complement his own solo repertoire. An easy way then, the only way it seemed, to hear live in concert, updated re-vamps of pre-Wind And Wuthering “Genstones”, together with honourable HACKETT high spots from the previous 40 years or so (`The Steppes’ and `Shadow Of The Hierophant’ classics still), its only downside was its repeat prescription value. For SH completists everywhere, there was another chance to hear his recent collaboration guitar work with Djabe (on “Life Is A Journey: The Sardinia Tapes” – 2017).
Those HACKETT acolytes looking for past prog voyages to reoccur would not be disappointed in 2019’s AT THE EDGE OF LIGHT {*8}, as the opening coupling of `Fallen Walls And Pedestals’ and `Beasts In Our Time’ suggested. The former GENESIS giant duly donned his mudded MOODY BLUES-versus-STEVEN WILSON moccasins for `Under The Eye Of The Sun’, whilst the Top 30 album also gave his long-term fans a bit of southern blues a la `Underground Railroad’. The guitarist then switched points for the 11-minute classical/symphonic sojourn under `Those Golden Wings’, and also the Holst/”Planets”-esque `Descent’; indeed, he could not pass up a golden ticket for the Oriental Express in the search of the mystical `Shadow And Flame’.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2011-Jun2019

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