Interview: Steve Hackett

Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett is returning to Norwich. MARK NICHOLLS spoke to him about Norfolk, being inspired by Egypt, guitars and his Genesis days.

It was Steve Hackett's departure from Genesis in 1977 that led to the band's album And Then There Were Three. Highly-acclaimed and well-received, it showed that Genesis could not only survive without the vocal eccentricity of Peter Gabriel but also without the guitar mastery of Steve Hackett.

For Hackett, a pioneering progressive rock guitarist, it saw him develop a hugely-successful solo career and collaborate with some of the world's great musicians while Phil Collins and co progressed as a trio.

To date, that has produced no fewer than 24 solo albums, including the most recent Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, which will be showcased during the current tour which ends at the UEA on February 27 with a performance that will delight fans across the spectrum. It includes the new single Til These Eyes.

Hackett explained: 'The show will feature music that covers four decades of me being in the business.

There will be quite a bit of nostalgia but new stuff too, so we will try to strike a balance.

'There will be music that goes right back to my Genesis days – a version of Carpet Crawl and Los Endos – and there are things from recent albums, plus an acoustic section.'

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His band features Lee Pomeroy (bass), Roger King (keyboards), Gary O'Toole (drums and vocals), Rob Townsend (saxophone, flute, whistle and vocals) and Amanda Lehmann – who lives in Norfolk – on guitar and vocals.

Hackett, who lists his influences as part folk music, classical, jazz and blues, confesses to being 'a kind of musical mongrel' but also acknowledges that much of his work is inspired from travels all over the world with his wife Jo, whom he married last June and whose family come from the Aylsham area.

'I find there is always something interesting about everywhere we go. We were in Egypt, seeing the Sphinx for the first time and I had the notebook out, writing music when I was there.

'It was so inspiring, being at the gateway to the ancient world and all the mysteries that entails but also horrifying at the same time by the dire poverty.'

That led to one of the tracks on the current album, Two Faces of Cairo.

Hackett is also renowned for pioneering the 'tapping' technique of guitar playing – now a mainstay of rock guitar work – where the musician uses two hands on the fret board rather than picking at the strings.

'It has become part of the language, or a mainstay, of the heavy metal guitarist but it was a technique that owed something to keyboard and violin; I tried to apply techniques that were available to other instruments to the guitar.

It enables you to play extremely fast on one string without appearing to move.'

Hackett also reflected on the confinements of Genesis that triggered his departure as lead guitarist from the band in 1977 after being a major influence on albums such as Nursery Cryme, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and A Trick of the Tail.

He said: 'I started to have solo success when I was part of the band but was not allowed to have a parallel solo career while in the band.

'I thought that my first allegiance was to music itself, so I left.'

The departure from Genesis saw Hackett embark on a solo career that has spawned numerous albums and along the way collaborate with many of the music world's leading lights; Steve Howe, Brian May, John Wetton and Chris Squire. In addition, he has linked up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, while a virtuoso recording of the Bach repertoire in 2007 helped to cement his position as a leading exponent of the classical guitar.

He said: 'Quite a lot of the music is essentially romantic in nature and when I did a foray into classical music and worked with orchestras like the Royal Philharmonic, that brought in a whole different kind of audience.'

In March 2010, he was inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York, a testimony and public recognition of his stature as both performer and composer.

In recent years, Hackett has undertaken hectic touring schedules and loves performing live.

'They have been the busiest years for me since I started out but live music is more and more important, particularly for players like myself who basically are thrilled at the whole concept of getting up on stage,' he said.

'It is the end of civilian life and multi-tasking for a bit; just to get up and do that one thing that motivated you to leave school in the first place.'

? Steve Hackett plays the UEA on February 27.

? Beyond the Shrouded Horizon is out now.

? Further listening: