Interviewer: Adrian Hextall (Writer \ Reviewer \ Photographer – Myglobalmind)
Steve Hackett releases Premonitions – The Charisma Recordings 1875 – 1983 a Super Deluxe 14 disc (10 CDs & 4 X 5.1 mixes on DVDs ) box set. It features 135 tracks including Steve’s first 6 albums – together with a wealth of 67 previously unreleased recordings between old, new, live and remixes by Steven Wilson.
Adrian Hextall spoke to Steve during his recent UK tour to discuss the release and effort involved in building out a 3 hour set list covering decades of material.
MGM: Thank you for taking some time out to talk to us today in the middle of your tour.
Steve: Gladly. yeah I’m in Aberdeen right now.
MGM: So Steve, Premonitions. That’s an impressive collection you’ve pulled together there. That must have taken a lot of time to decide how to do it, what to pull together, the bonus material for example, aside from the 6 albums…
MGM: Is it 67 additional tracks that you’ve sort of pulled from the archives?
Steve: Yeah well, it was Mark Powell who approached me first of all. Who amongst things, well he liaises with Universal but he also runs Cherry Red, the esoteric antenna label within there, so. I’ve had connections with him with various things over the years. And he was the first one to suggest it when EMI were involved. Now this is a few years back and so we were busy trying to talk them into it. Universal took over and so far it’s gone very well. They were interested in the idea, ran with the bull, and Mark said, “Look, we’ve managed to find the following.” He’d already been busy going through the archives and not all of them artists were available but sufficient of them. And he’s been very busy with it. So between the two of us, and Steven Wilson, and Ben Fena, We’ve got 10 CDs and 4 DVDs. The DVDs have the surround mixes. So it’s been, yes it’s been an interesting exercise collecting all of that. We got hold of Roger Dean for the artwork as well. I’ve gotten to know Roger more and more in recent years and spend a lot of time with him. Very bright guy.
Roger designed a lot of things, not just album sleeves, many other things. And we set him a task, you know, “how do you feel like doing a cover for us?” and then he said, “Yeah, I’d love to.” And not only that, he kept liaising with us as he progressed you know, which colours we liked best. We have some of the books from him that looked gorgeous. And he really went to town on it. So already that seems to be a hit with fans and it’s looking like Universal is sold out of the first run.
It’s extraordinary really that it’s just taken off. It’s funny how time is a great leveller, I think. You know, what do you think? We know this album did better than that one, and that one did better than the other one. And it goes up and down with albums. But because there’s so much of it, it kind of provides that level playing field that I think is nice when you look back at stuff. And you think, “Well…” You know album sales at that time were dependent on the marketing budgets that were behind those things that gave us the short window or not at that time. Yeah how much touring you doing. I mean luckily I was doing a ton of touring during that period of ’75 to ’83, the Charisma years, which it highlights. So it is pretty definitive for those years. You get the original mixes plus some stereo mixes, remixes plus Steven Wilson did the surround sound work. Surround sound has become more and more— basically for me, all my new material I’m doing in surround. But we also use surround with the live shows now as well. So that’s sort of continuing trend. I like to think of it as the fight back of audio in face of everything else.
MGM: Roger Walters utilised surround sound to great effect with his Wall shows as well of course. Bringing the show to life.
Steve: Oh I think so, yes. I think the way you present the show, right back in the early days of Genesis, for me it was— I felt it was vitally important that we get ourselves a light show and keep working at it until we did. And we were owning the lights back in the day and owning. I mean the lights PA and as much as things as you possibly could. But presentation I think makes all the difference to a band. Otherwise, people just wander off as they did in the early days, 1971. They wander off to the bar and do something else. Unless you can capture an audience’s attention. You know this is a long time ago of course, this kind of thinking. But I still think it’s the case for today as well. You know the way it looks as well as it sounds. You just got to go all out there.
MGM: Absolutely, I mean the visual impact is as much part of it and in the end. Unfortunately, to some degree, your audience is almost expected to stand and just watch 4 or 5 guys on stage these days.
Steve: Well yes, I think so. People have been conditioned to do that. What seemed revolutionary in those early days when people didn’t possess their own, you know, light system and outfits to control of the way they look. It’s unthinkable now, of course. So I guess that’s really part of being part of the establishment with that, you know. The things that you achieved seemed revolutionary. I just say, standard practice now.
MGM: Yeah. And in terms of the timing for the release of Premonitions as well, you’re hot on the heels of a high charting studio album ‘Wolflight’ as well.
MGM: And is that just pure coincidence? Were you already waiting to get Premonitions out there? It just happens to be you’re on a great platform at the moment, in the public eye, with the latest album?
Steve: Well I think a number of things have coincided. It’s great that it’s out at the same time and that I’m touring. Concurrently, there are a number of products that are out there. From different companies, different sources, and I think everyone wanted to get their stuff out. And re-releases of various things. Things had been associated with GTR and re-released with that, a band with Steve’s help. The DVD, the man, and the music. We got a great chart position for the DVD, that went to number 5. And all this is quite by chance, to be honest, you know. Because you can only really concentrate on one product at a time. I spent three months head down learning the stuff required for the two sets that we play live. We do a 3-hour show. It’s solo stuff. Then there’s an intermission and we have a break. And then there’s the Genesis set. So we’re on-stage for practically three hours. So it’s, yeah it’s been kind of all going on in parallel. Yeah at the same time.
But, it does give people a lot of choices in terms of what they might want to get, you know, from— either from the shops or where they get albums from. It’s very nice to be able to provide all of that. And it’s nice to have hits. I never really sort of planned for it in the early part of my career. I don’t— if you did what you felt passionately about and you did it well and that gained an audience, that would be enough. Having hits was a nice bonus but it’s not what drives me. I just want to do the best shows that I can do live and continue to make albums. Like I have rebuilt a Genesis catalogue on more than one occasion. But you know, it’s a good way of relearning things. And in order to play them live…
MGM: Yeah I was going to say and presentably front because you’re covering such a broad expanse of your career now. With both the Genesis period and the solo stuff, you must be having to relearn music that you’ve not played in decades?
Steve: That’s right, yeah it’s decades, absolutely stuff like, “Get them Out by Friday” from Foxtrot and, “Can Utility and the Coastliners” also from Foxtrot. It takes 3 months to learn everything like this, for any individual including me. Even if I’ve written them and gone back to them. It’s not like jazz you can sit in and play, like blues you can sit in. In some ways, you know, even classical stuff, it’s got changes all the time and on mic for this and off mic for that and hand it to the other singer and back to the harmonies and all of those things that— you’ve got to be your own drill sergeant really, with this. With this kind of stuff but then there’s a reward at the end of it, you know. You go through horrendous balls ups to get it to the point where the band can do extraordinary things. And they do it.
MGM: Having to do all of that and then tour must be quite tough these days?
Steve: Yes, it is quite punishing but as they say, it’s rewarding and I love doing it. I love wrestling with the beast, is live performance every night. And I’ve got to combat myself as much as anything else. But it’s a different guy that leaves the stage, to the one that mounts it, riding it at the beginning.
MGM: Yes, sometimes in 3 hours that’s got to be pretty gruelling for you, I imagine.
Steve: Well actually, the funny thing is, as it progresses, something else happens. You know, at the beginning, you think, “oh well, I hope everything’s working.” everyone’s like that. Even, you know, if you listen to what Jagger’s saying about the first 2 or 3 numbers of a Stones’ show, he’s checking whether the lights are working. He’s hunting for the best, you know. As we all do, and then as it progresses and it seems to be going right. As it happens we got a great team, great crew and marvellous lighting guy and sound. So all that fires you up. I think throughout the course of the gig I get more and more fired up as it goes along and I’m best thinking about “oh that mic, everyone on that mic…” Everyone I’m thinking that, “Ah, I want to just tweak that bit that I was a little bit hasty on yesterday and slow down that run so I can actually make all those notes. Little adjustments, minor. Thousands of little adjustments that you make every day. And they’d all make for a really— for a great show at the end of it.
MGM: What about the venues themselves? I mean a lot of the venues you’re playing; you’ll have done throughout your career as well. Do any of them in particular bring you back memories of, you know, when that particular album was first released and you taught it first time around, would you be back there again?
Steve: Well indeed. Yes absolutely. Funny enough, we’re going to be doing Leicester, De Montfort Hall on this one. And that’s where Genesis Live was recorded way back in 1972. So yeah, it will be happy return to that. And of course Liverpool, we got to film Liverpool and release that as the entire show, with some special guests and with the surround and all of that. It’ll be a longer show than usual. So yes, I think it will be about the 3-hour mark. By the time we’ve done all that, Amanda Layman will join us on stage, and my brother John. And as I say, Liverpool Empire, lovely gig. Liverpool speaks for itself of course.
MGM: Given you have another interview Steve, one last question before you go. With all of your albums from your early solo period now laid out before you as one, what stands out for you? In terms of the item / moment that you’re most proud of, either song, an album, or…
Steve: Well I’m actually proud of it all but I have to say the surround sound mix of Special Mornings, I think, is stunning. And I’m allowed to say that because I wasn’t really involved with it. That must be the most.
MGM: That’s perfect, Steve. Thank you very much for your time, all the best.
‘Premonitions’ comes in a Super Deluxe box set featuring a total of 135 songs on 10 CDs and 4 DVDs (5.1 mixes), plus an extensive booklet; included in this version are 67 previously unreleased recordings between old and new tracks, live and remixes.
Hackett’s two most successful albums from the Charisma era, Please Don’t Touch and Spectral Mornings, will also be re-released separately in a deluxe expanded version with 5.1 mixes by Steven Wilson in 2016. Both records were previously reissued in 2005 as expanded single disc sets.