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Taken from AZCentral (Oct 14, 2019)

Steve Hackett of Genesis looks back fondly on the days of 'Selling England By the Pound'

by Ed Masley, Arizona Republic


Steve Hackett. PhotoCredit: Tina Korhonen
Steve Hackett. PhotoCredit: Tina Korhonen


Steve Hackett has a laundry list of reasons he chose "Selling England by the Pound" as the Genesis album to revisit live in its entirety on a solo tour that makes its way to Phoenix on Oct. 18 for a show at the Van Buren.


First and foremost, it's his favorite. But he also feels it's where they really hit their stride as artists.


"Musically, the band went up a notch," he says. "I think the first track, 'Dancing with the Moonlit Knight,' is the best Genesis track of all time because it goes through so many changes. It's prototype prog. We go through a Scottish plains song to something anthemic and Elgarian. You go through fusion. You get hints of Mozart, hints of Mahavishnu Orchestra. You get all sorts of stuff in there. It's technically demanding to play. But at the same time, I think the element of surprise is what defines it."


Phil Collins' drumming, Hackett says, was stellar on that track. "And I love the fact that at the end of the musical storm that is that song, it goes into one of the quietest jams that any rock band ever did. That song was different every time when we did it with Genesis and it's different every time I do it with this band."


Commercially, the album also signified a major breakthrough as their first release to hit the U.K. Top 10 and the U.S. Top 100 in late 1973.


As Hackett says, "We made a quantum leap in record sales."


And it's more than a little exciting that one of the people they managed to reach with that album happened to have been a former member of the Beatles.


"John Lennon said that Genesis was one of the bands he was listening to," Hackett says. "And that's a time when we were basically playing clubs in the States. So that was important for us. Of course, you couldn't tweet the news at the time. There was no social media as such. But for me and certainly for Peter Gabriel, we thought that was hugely significant, having been Beatles fans."


Steve Hackett. PhotoCredit: Lee Milward
Steve Hackett. PhotoCredit: Lee Milward


The making of 'Selling England'


Asked what he remembers of the making of the album, Hackett talks of rehearsing the songs in a rented house in Chessington until a complaining neighbor forced a change of scenery to Una Billings TV School of Dance.


"It was a place where not only Genesis rehearsed but Yes had rehearsed there as well," Hackett says. "I remember we used to rehearse in the basement, which was set up as a kind of refectory. And we used to hear the sound of these girls who were learning to tap dance upstairs. You'd hear about 20 of them all going very, very slowly - ca-clumpity, clump ca-clump ca-clump. It sounded like a herd of elephants every now and again, and we'd just burst into laughter."


For some reason, Genesis tended to gravitate toward unusual places to rehearse.


"Usually," Hackett recalls, "it was the idea of being out in the country somewhere in a cottage or something similar. We sometimes ended up rehearsing in derelict houses, and at one point we were working in a place called Headley Grange, which is partly were Led Zeppelin had rehearsed and recorded 'Physical Graffiti.' This place was falling apart. It had been a Victorian workhouse for the poor and it was very difficult to sleep at night. The sound of rats, the grills, the piping. It was very, very strange. I know Led Zeppelin thought the place was haunted."


For "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," the album that followed "Selling England By the Pound," they moved into a place in Wales that wasn't finished being built yet.


"It was typical Genesis to be at odds with the environment," he says, "instead of moving into a nice comfortable rehearsal room somewhere that was not falling apart and actually had been finished. And it was real tricky, you know, because people were starting to have children and it wasn't necessarily a suitable environment to have kids running in and out of these places that were basically unsanitary if not insane."


He and his bandmates were often at odds with each other when it came to such decisions.


As to overall relations in the band at that point?


"Obviously," he says, "there was a tremendous amount of cooperation. But there was a tremendous amount of disagreement as well - some of which was healthy, some of which was downright personal. But you know young bands. Everyone was very determined and thought they knew best. I guess basically being in any band is a compromise. For me, I think that 'Selling England' is less of a compromise than some of the other albums and I was just pleased there was a high level of musicianship on it and that the songs were interesting, that they weren't straight-ahead, they weren't formula. I still think of it as a friend. It's an old friend now, but somehow it still delights people live."


Genesis Revisited keeps museum open


In addition to presenting "Selling England By the Pound," this tour is celebrating the 40th anniversary of "Spectral Mornings," a solo album Hackett says he's playing "practically" in its entirety and selections from his latest solo album, "At the Edge of Light."


"For me," Hackett says, "it's important to keep the museum doors open for the glorious old exhibits. But I have to have the new stuff, too, or else I'd go insane. You don't have to see your own past as antiquity. It's in your DNA and there's no reason why I shouldn't go out and play 'Watcher of the Skies' if I wanted from 'Foxtrot.' The fact is that glorious Mellotron moments are always going to be there as monuments from people's past. So a certain amount of what we've got to do is to be historians, I guess. Better to do your own personal archaeology than other people's. I could be out there playing Gene Vincent."


Hackett feels the three albums he's chosen to showcase have been working well together in the live environment.


"I think it's the same spirit that runs through them," Hackett says. "The same spirit of experimentation and dynamics, the loud-to-soft thing, the dramatic moments. For me, that's important, and also to have some surprises and have challenging harmonies in there and bind it with this kind of orchestral spirit that I think runs through so much of what I do now and so much of what Genesis did at one time. Even though, back in the day, there was a refusal to work with other musicians and always try to do it in house. I don't have those sort of strictures anymore. I'm not confined to that."


Steve Hackett on his Genesis audition


Hackett was 20 when he got a 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."


Hackett laughs at the memory.


"When you say I placed an ad," he says, "actually, every week for five years, I placed an ad in Melody Maker. So it was at the end of a long series of dead ends. Sometimes, I met very interesting musicians and tried to form bands, but it was very difficult to keep them all together. I had made an album with a band called Quiet World a year before Genesis. But you know, my experience of playing live was pitiful. I had only ever done a handful of gigs. So Genesis was my big break, really."


Looking back on the audition, Hackett says, "I had this amp that was deafening in the bedroom. But as soon as we started working together in a rehearsal room, it just wasn't loud enough to cut it. I remember on the first day, I was being drowned out by the volume of Phil's drums. He was very powerful. And we realized that things were going to have to change. I mean, I'd been working in miniature up 'til then. It's one thing being deafening at home. It's another matter entirely working up against Phil's drums."


Hackett takes a great amount of pride in what they managed to accomplish after he went out and got a proper amp (a Hi-Watt stack).


"In the early days, what we were doing was trying to make music as original as possible," he says. "And as idiosyncratic as possible. That was the calling card. We weren't looking for hit singles in the early days. To have a hit single was a real concession for the kind of ethos that was around the bands that were making headway at that time, the album bands, the Jethro Tulls, the King Crimsons, the Yeses, the ELPs, the Procul Harums, the Pink Floyds. It was a time where people stopped what they were doing even at parties and just listened to the music."


Genesis and Hackett part


Hackett ended his initial tenure in the band in 1977.


"I ended up leaving because I wasn't really allowed to have a parallel solo career," he says. "I'd done one album when I was still a member of the band, and nobody expected - least of all me - for it to be a hit. But it became a hit. And that creates a problem in the band when someone's starting to take off in a solo sense. Suddenly, one is accused of not giving everything to the band. It's like 'I gave it to you before but you weren't interested.'"


Asked what he thought of the more pop-oriented music Genesis went on to make without him, Hackett says, "Well, I liked one or two things. You couldn't argue with their level of success. But there were lots of things that they were doing that I thought, 'I'm glad I'm not part of that.' Obviously, they had a machine that was built by all of us. And it just seemed to pick up momentum and the trajectory seemed to be unstoppable. But I think there's a price for it, you know. People say 'Wouldn't you have been happier making the billions with Genesis?' And I say 'Well actually, for me, the music is what it's all about. It's not really about what sells.' Music is its own currency. It's a force. Like electricity."


Will there be a Genesis reunion?


Hackett's tour arrives in Phoenix two days after Collins plays Phoenix.


"I haven't seen his tour," he says. "The thing is, it's been such a busy year for me. I haven't been able to catch up with pals. If there's a night when that happens, that's great. I wish him well with his and I'm sure he wishes me well with mine. Occasionally, we all get together, see each other. And it's great that most of us are all still doing it. The bonds of friendship are still there."


That doesn't necessarily mean there's any real hope for one last Genesis reunion.


"I doubt whether there's ever going to be a reunion of something that would involve the five-man team that comprised the bulk of those '70s albums," Hackett says. "And I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to ownership of the name. I certainly don't own it and whoever owns it today, 20 years after they've done anything as a recording entity, it's kind of difficult, isn't it?"


In the meantime, he's chosen to honor the work they did together.


"But it's a very competitive team," Hackett says. "So it's often the case that one of the guys will compliment me on something I've done. And then I'll read in the press that he's denouncing me for the same thing. It's like 'Hey, you're a pal but don't forget that we're competitors. All's fair in love and Genesis."


As to whether he ever misses what he had with Genesis, the guitarist is characteristically frank.


"Of course I miss it," he says. "At its worst, I used to feel it was like trying to melt an ice block. We all used to dread playing our individual ideas for the team. Because the team used to function like Russian ice skating judges, you know? Whatever anyone had done, there would always be just a sort of begrudging, 'Eh, yeah.' You'd be pouring your heart out and everyone would be going, 'Yes, Perhaps we can use that. Perhaps we can use some of that. Perhaps, yes.' Sometimes, it was like an aircraft that's weighed down with too much baggage and it's not quite taking off, not getting off the ground. But some days were extraordinary. I mean, we wrote 'Supper's Ready' in two weeks, and that was a whole side of an album. So that's not bad going. It was a brilliant band for great players and writers. And that's all you need to know at the end of the day."



 
 

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