Steve Hackett

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 reviews.

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 Foundation”.

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 Music'.

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 between them.

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 Gallagher.

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 this far.

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 fast".

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
Once Above a Time / 2004 GR-054
Sketches of Satie / 2005 GR-055
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

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