'The best band in the world' and why he quit: A conversation with Steve Hackett of Genesis

AZCentral | The Arizona Republic
AZCentral | The Arizona Republic

The last time Steve Hackett played Phoenix was on a tour that found the Genesis guitarist performing "Selling England By the Pound" in its entirety.

Three years later, he's revisiting another favorite from the years he spent pushing the musical envelope with the prog-rock pioneers under the banner of Genesis Revisited, a name he first used to title an album-length tribute to his former band in 1996.

"Seconds Out" was primarily recorded in June 1977 over the course of four nights at the Palais des Sports in Paris as part of the "Wind & Wuthering" tour (although one track was captured the previous June on a tour in support of "A Trick of the Tail").

It's the album they were mixing when Hackett announced that he was leaving to go solo.

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How Steve Hackett developed Genesis Revisited

Hackett started the process of focusing tours on particular Genesis albums several years ago, performing what he felt to be the strongest tracks on "Wind & Wuthering," his final studio recording with the group.

Performing "Selling England By the Pound" in its entirety was an obvious move. It's his personal favorite and the one on which he feels they really hit their stride as artists.

"Seconds Out" is a bit of a cheat in that it features highlights pulled from several classic albums. But that's partly why he chose it.

"Cherry-picking through these albums to do in their entirety, 'Seconds Out' is a live compilation of just about everything we did between the years 1971 and 1977," he says. "And it was a much-loved album, especially on this side of the Atlantic."

There's more than 95 minutes of music on that album, including such classics as "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," "Supper's Ready," "Firth of Fifth" and "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)."

He and the members of his touring band are also doing additional Genesis material and highlights of his solo years.

They're staying "very faithful" to the Genesis arrangements while fleshing them out with additional instrumentation.

"We've added brass and woodwinds and many other things in order to fill the sound out," Hackett says. "And I do it with a virtuoso team that can play the balls off the material. So it's done respectfully, but also not slavishly."

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'It's basically music without prejudice'

Hackett was 20 when he got the call from Peter Gabriel responding to an ad he'd placed in Melody Maker seeking "receptive musicians, determined to drive beyond existing stagnant music forms."

"I had been advertising myself for years," he says. "When I started out, I thought I was gonna be a straight blues player. But music started to change during those five years I was advertising myself."

He landed the gig, despite the tiny amplifier he'd been using in his bedroom being drowned out by the power of Phil Collins' drumming.

The appeal of the music Genesis set out to do was obvious to Hackett's ears.

"You had all these separate genres and once they started to cross talk and fertilize each other, you had what people would now call progressive," Hackett says.

"Back in the day, we were calling a lot of it fusion, and latterly, collision. So many different schools of thought colliding. But it's basically music without prejudice."

They even drew on comedy.

"When we were on Charisma Records, we were stablemates with Monty Python," Hackett says. "And of course, all of that was hugely influential. It was part of the British wave. You know, the British are coming — perhaps — again."

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'We were allowed to do exactly what we wanted'

As luck would have it, Hackett's time in Genesis coincided with an era in which artists were given the freedom it takes to arrive at albums as unique as "Selling England By the Pound" or "Foxtrot."

"In the wake of the Beatles, on the coattails of all that, we were allowed to do exactly what we wanted," Hackett says.

In 1973, that freedom of expression led to Hackett's favorite album, "Selling England By the Pound," which happens to open with what Hackett feels is Genesis' finest hour, "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight."

"You're starting off with the influence of Scottish plainsong — a cappella singing — which then becomes anthemic with references to Edward Elgar and all that stuff, and then it starts to change," he says.

"It's as if Mozart hits the electric chair. No two bars are the same after that, so it becomes truly progressive and then fades out on one of the quietest jams ever done by any rock band. But it still works. It keeps the tension going."

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'It's extremely experimental and yet it all comes off'

It also features some "truly incredible drumming" from a young Phil Collins, who comes at the song from what Hackett believes is "a jazz school approach."

His love of "Selling England By the Pound" goes well beyond that one song, though.

"Each track on that album had something to say," he says. "So it's extremely experimental and yet it all comes off."

He points to "More Fool Me," which he considers to be Collins' first attempt at a love song, and "The Battle of Epping Forest," which he says is basically long-form progressive comedy.

"It's closer in spirit to Gilbert and Sullivan than anything else," Hackett says. "It's different characterizations that Peter Gabriel was coming up with at the time — not just doing a vocal but being a number of different characters."

For Genesis, the album was still very much the thing. But "Selling England By the Pound" also featured their first charting U.K. single, "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)."

Hackett says he pushed the band to that song.

"I was working on them, like Chinese water torture, with the guitar riff that the song was based on," he says.

"So I was very happy when that song took off. I used to joke about it as our latest hit single, not thinking it was gonna be a hit single at all. I was just kidding."

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'It all just took off like a rocket'

There was a great deal of teamwork involved in producing those records.

Hackett points to "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” as a case in point.

"Pete — Peter Gabriel — had the song part written," he says.

"So we used that but everybody kicked in with ideas eyeball to eyeball. I said, 'Oh, I've got this bit of tapping that might work.' Tony came up with this incredible Mellotron cello meets distorted electric piano that sounded a bit like Prokofiev meets I don't know what. And it all just took off like a rocket."

As with any team, it didn't always come together without some degree of tension.

"I think that all teams that have a number of cooks, especially if they're good, there are gonna be tensions," Hackett says. "There certainly was that within the team, but I think the positives far outweighed the negatives."

He only left the group, he says, because they didn't want him making solo records.

"I did a solo album while I was in the band and that became a hit," he says.

"That kind of placed a cat amongst the pigeons. Up 'til then, I had been fairly passive. Although I'd been an active writer, I'd been passive politically within the band. But I wasn't prepared to have stillborn brain children."

'My allegiance had to be, first and foremost, to music'

He was tired of having what he felt were great ideas end up on the cutting room floor.

"Once you've done something on your own and you've seen it take off, you've been the captain of your own ship, it's very hard to go back to being a member of the crew, you know — subordinated to the whims of others," Hackett says.

"So, even though I think it was the best band in the world, sometimes you have to work outside the confines of a band in order to come up with the best within yourself. And my allegiance had to be, first and foremost, to music."

Hackett is, however, more than happy to revisit what they managed to accomplish as a team in these performances.

"I'm honoring the best of what we did at that time without the constraints of composition by committee, because it can be very, very good," he says.

"But just like the Beatles, when you listen to what Harrison was capable of when he left the band, I think that's a blueprint for so many band experiences."

Steve Hackett band members 2022

Hackett’s band members for the 2022 Genesis Revisited tour include longtime keyboardist, arranger, and producer Roger King, who also plays some guitar, bassist Jonas Reingold, singer Nad Sylvan, woodwind player Rob Townsend, who also plays keyboards, and drummer Craig Blundell.

Steve Hackett setlist

At a recent show in Boulder, Colorado, Hackett opened with a set of songs from his solo career — "Clocks - The Angel of Mons," "Held in the Shadows," "Every Day," "The Devil's Cathedral" and Shadow of the Hierophant." He then played "Seconds Out" in its entirety, slipping in "Aisle of Plenty" and the solo cut "Slogans."

Steve Hackett

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12.

Where: Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix.

Admission: $37-$57.

Details: 602-267-1600, .

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley .

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'The best band in the world' and why he quit: A conversation with Steve Hackett of Genesis

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