One for the road - Steve Hackett: "Songs only become classic with the passing of time"

(Image credit: Armando Gallo)

The ex-Genesis guitarist reveals hitherto unknown harmonica talents and outlines his eternal quest for a good cuppa while on tour...

What was your first gig and how did it go?

“It wouldn’t have been a professional gig. It might have been at a cricket ground in front of people who wandered in and then wandered out again. I was just sitting in with a band - we’d never played together before - there were a few old R&B standards, blues things; I’d had a few beers and I was quite relaxed and I actually really enjoyed myself.

“You can’t count the years when I was five or six playing harmonica in front of people, collecting money in my little cup. That’s what I used to do - fleece people for their money! I used to do tricks with the harmonica like playing God Save The Queen through my nose. I had an inkling back then that there was something to this music business.”

Describe your current stage rig…

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“It’s a couple of 1987X 50-watt Marshalls, they’re reissues, not classic, and they get trashed every time I go away on tour, not by me but by handling crews in various places. Then I’ve got a [Tech 21] SansAmp GT2, a Line 6 yellow box [DM4] for a fuzzy, honky, other harmonic-y sound. I’ve got a green Line 6 [DL4] which does echo and reverse echo; a DigiTech Whammy Pedal; a [Electro Harmonix] Micro or Mini POG - I can’t remember which one it is - and I’ve got a [Dunlop] Cry Baby wah-wah pedal, which I hardly ever use.

“I’ve got an MXR 90; that’s a reissue, I had one back in the day but occasionally I find myself doing 70s things and nothing else will do. I’ve got a volume pedal, can’t remember what make it is. I use a Fernandez gold top with a whammy bar - it used to belong to Gary Moore - it’s got the Sustainer pickup; I use a Zemaitis 12-string and a Yairi nylon string.”

What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?

“If I’m allowed to describe my wife as ‘an item’ because she is so very loving and helpful. I couldn’t do without her on tour, she really does make my life so much easier. It’s a great partnership. So, my wife Jo: hardly an item, more of a fixture.”

What’s on your rider?

“There are various things on the rider and sometimes they’re adhered to. There’s usually a bar of chocolate for my wife and a cup of tea - and that never materialises anywhere in the world! Wherever I go, other than England, they don’t understand that I need to have tea, a working kettle, milk and honey, a cup and a spoon. Getting all of that you’d think would be easy, but everywhere else in the world you can get some of those constituents, but not the whole thing. I don’t ask for that much food; sometimes we carry our own catering, but that’s a luxury.”

(Image credit: Rick Pauline)

What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?

“I think it’s a case of playing songs that are crowd-pleasers. The difficult thing for every act, is that songs only become classic with the passing of time. Familiar songs give the audience a sense of belonging, the idea that they may have been in on the ground floor of some of these numbers and that it’s part of their soundtrack as well as it’s been part of my dream life.

“New songs, unfortunately, no matter how good or how well they’ll be received down the line, tend not to have the same immediate effect as the oldies.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a gig?

“It was leaving Portugal in 1975 when we’d just played The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The government was toppled, they were having a revolution and as our plane took off the pilot aborted the takeoff and skidded for what seemed like a lifetime across the grass sideways and we thought we were all going to die. Luckily, it just lurched to a halt.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

I was pinned down between two monitor cabinets with my feet in the air like a dead fly with a heavy Les Paul on top of me!

“I fell over backwards on stage, how about that? It was in Sardinia, in a place in the mountains and the audience started to show up, we didn’t have time for a soundcheck, so I didn’t have time to check the sight lines on stage.

“At one moment there was a bass and drum solo from Hugo Degenhardt on drums and Doug Sinclair on bass. I used to leave the stage to let them do that and so I started moving backwards, didn’t see that there was a monitor cabinet behind me, fell over that and I was pinned down between two monitor cabinets with my feet in the air like a dead fly with a heavy Les Paul on top of me!”

What’s the best venue you’ve played in and why?

“Funnily enough, back in 1973 when we were doing Selling England By The Pound we could hardly get a gig in America. Then just as we were leaving New York we heard that John Lennon had said that we were one of the bands that he was listening to at that time. This wasn’t information that you could instantly tweet and I think, as far as publicity campaigns went, it was overlooked.

“But we were headed towards LA from New York with hardly anything in between and we did three nights at The Roxy - two shows a night for three nights, all of which were sold out. I think it was the same 500 people who came to all six shows and it really did feel like playing someone’s living room. The sound was great, the set was lovely and I really did feel that I was playing in the best band in the world.”

What’s your favourite live album?

“I think it’s probably King Crimson Live At The Marquee. It was 1969, and I remember I was there for the gig and it was interesting to watch that band up-and-coming at that time. I befriended them subsequently and got to work with a number of people who were in and out of the ranks of that band.”

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