Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett brings his solo tour to the Robin 2 in Bilston next month. He talks to Ian Harvey.
"Trains are a part of my roots. I can't get away from them. They thunder through my dreams and through my albums," says Steve Hackett, as he explains why he's calling his latest solo tour 'Around the World in Eighty Trains'.
The former Genesis guitarist will be calling in at the Robin 2 in Bilston on Monday, November 29, 2010, a little over a year since he last played there to a packed venue.
This time he's shaken up the setlist and is promising a few surprises.
"It will be substantially different to the one that I did last time. As we're going back to a lot of the same venues, I want to make sure that people get their money's worth," says Hackett.
"There'll be a whole bunch of new things including old Genesis ones that I've not done in this country before, there'll be material of my own that I've never attempted before and a little bit of new stuff.
"I'm playing some stuff I've not done live for a long time, and some I've never attempted on stage."
Getting back to the subject of trains, Hackett explains: "My last album was called Out of the Tunnel's Mouth and there are many train allusions on it. Many of the tracks were based on train titles and there are various pictures of me jumping in and out of trains.
"Plus, over the years I've done several tracks which are depictions of train journeys. I did one called Overnight Sleeper back in 1980. There was one called The Golden Age of Steam, which I'm doing live for the first time, which was on album called Dark Town.
"I find trains very good for inspiration. I love steam trains. I was born in 1950 so I travelled on steam trains regularly and we had a flat that overlooked Victoria Station which was very noisy and smoky."
Out of the Tunnel's Mouth is notable for having been recorded in the living room of Hackett's Twickenham flat when he was unable to access his studio during his divorce proceedings, due to complicated legal issues surrounding his rights and royalties from his work with Genesis.
"Yes, it was all done in the living room and using virtual drums" he says. "The computer replaced the studio. It's like the box is mightier than the building, with artificial space and tiny little amps sounding like big ones screaming away. That really is the future of recording for everybody.
"For that particular test tube baby that was what was on offer, recording at home, because I couldn't access my studio at that time."
So the neighbours didn't complain about the noise?
"No, I didn't get the neighbours complaining because I choose not to fool myself with volume. We recorded at the same level as you would hear a domestic hi-fi while being able to hold a conversation over the top. Too many times I've been in the studio and I've seen people fool themselves with volume, because it's loud they think it sounds more powerful."
In his earliest days with Genesis, when the band was fronted by Peter Gabriel, and they were performing challenging, inventive, truly progressive rock, Hackett was known as a sometimes nervous performer, sitting hunched over his electric guitar. These days, though, he loves to play live.
"I always love touring," he says. "It's a place where I feel . . . useful. I like deafening people.
"Genesis in the early days was a little nervy because the equipment was a lot less predictable. The organ used to break down, the Mellotron used to break down and anything which had wheels and motors, which many things did, tended to let you down and you'd end up taking a shoe off and banging the stage with it, foaming at the mouth.
"These days, things are a little smoother and a lot more reliable but there's still that frisson with the audience. I love playing for other people it's still a thrill for me. I don't get as nervous as I used to, I go on and I just enjoy myself in front of friends."
It's impossible to talk with Steve Hackett without the subject of Genesis coming up, so closely is he tied into the wildly adventurous music the band was creating in his tenure from 1970-1977, a million miles removed from their pop hits in the Phil Collins-fronted years.
In many respects he remains the holder of the flame for the older material, still playing early Genesis songs on tour to this day.
"The idea of abandoning the eclectic approach - that owes as much to rock as it did to pop and to classical and big band all within one song often - in order to streamline probably created hit singles during a particular period," he admits.
"But the band doesn't exist anymore, we're in a post-Genesis world and it's up to individuals to reinvent. And I'd rather cast a wide net over the whole spectrum of music rather than say simple is best.
"I still play quite a lot of the stuff, particularly the stuff that was more 'guitary'. I was involved with those tunes, they were co-written. Sometimes there were things that I wrote that were specifically me. I still think those things are relevant and audiences go nuts for them.
"The early stuff is the stuff that engages musos. With the later stuff, I grant you that the production was more slick, but in terms of just the amount of ideas, with Gabriel as front man there was a lot of zany stuff, a lot of comedy, it wasn't limited to a three-minute song by any stretch of the imagination but we were able to do both. And in a way I continue that. Not everything I do is an opus, there'd be no point. I'm happy to do a simple three-minute tune."
To this day Steve Hackett is revered as a musician who continues to grow musically and experiment across a wide variety of musical styles, from acoustic to progressive rock, from classical to free form, jazz-like instrumentals.
"I always say the similarities between musicians are greater than the differences," he says.
"I make a noise for a living just like every other musician. I try and be selective but I've had this kind of pan-genre approach for quite some time, across the whole musical spectrum and that means I'll sometimes be doing something that's slightly more jazzy, or slightly more rocky or slightly more classical but it's all music at the end of the day.
"I think the similarities between Bach and blues are greater than the differences, though the purists would shoot me down in flames."
The idea of a Genesis reunion has been mooted and then shot down many times over the years and fans had hoped something might emerge after the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in America earlier this year.
"It was a fantastic evening,," says Hackett. "It was lovely to see the Genesis guys but desperately disappointing that we didn't manage to play something together."
Why was that?
"You tell me," he replies drolly. "I've always been up for it. Classic Rock magazine said Phil had said he was drawing a line under it so there won't be any more involvement from him with Genesis.
"I suppose it hardly surprises me. All I can say is that I do continue to play stuff that I was involved in with Genesis and I like to reinterpret it. It's classic material, it deserves to be heard."
* Steve Hackett will play at the Robin 2, Bilston, Wolverhampton on Monday, November 29, 2010. Tickets cost £18.50 in advance and £20 on the door.