Steve Hackett, the venerated guitarist and former member of the seminal progressive rock band Genesis, has struck a chord in the realm of rock with his latest live release, “Foxtrot at Fifty + Hackett Highlights: Live in Brighton.” This compilation, which has swiftly ascended to the number two spot on the British rock charts, is a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Genesis’ acclaimed album ‘Foxtrot’. The album, brought to life in the coastal city of Brighton, UK, showcases a nostalgic yet invigorating performance featuring classics such as ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ and the epic ‘Supper’s Ready’, along with a taste of Hackett’s solo material including ‘The Devil’s Cathedral’ and ‘Ace of Wands.’
“The interest in this is worldwide, and it’s kept me busy for a year or so,” Hackett shares, reflecting on the global enthusiasm for the ‘Foxtrot’ revival. “Now we’re bringing it to the States for the first time and Canada. So, it’ll be very interesting. We haven’t taken this set to them here.”
The inclusion of other solo works in his set signifies Hackett’s commitment to his entire oeuvre, with an emphasis on what is considered classic. It’s a move that resonates with a broad spectrum of fans, old and new.
The live recording not only encapsulates the musical proficiency of Hackett and his band but also serves as a historical marker for the longevity of Genesis’ influence. Hackett speaks to this influence, citing a surprising anecdote about the iconic John Lennon: “John Lennon gave an interview and said that he considered Genesis to be true sons of The Beatles. He got every album from ‘Nursery Cryme’ sent over to him in New York, and I’m glad it filled a hole for him, plugged something.”
This acknowledgment from one of music’s most influential figures underscores the significant cultural footprint left by Genesis and Hackett’s compositions. Moreover, Hackett delves into the experience of bringing these classics to a contemporary audience, some of whom may be hearing them for the first time.
“The most you’ll get is 50% who might be sons and daughters and partners and what have you,” he explains. “It’s difficult to know if there’s a new audience for something that’s vintage. But music can survive. This is classic or traditional stuff.”
The endurance of Genesis’ music, particularly ‘Foxtrot’, is a testament to its revolutionary approach at the time of its conception. The album was a creative leap for the band, pushing them into new territories of storytelling and sound.
“We were all throwing everything we had at the band,” Hackett recalls. “By the time we were doing ‘Foxtrot’, it all started with just two chords. Tony Banks had two chords on the Mellotron, and the whole thing seemed to broaden out from there. It had a science fiction feel from the word go.”
The influence of diverse genres and eras is evident in Hackett’s recount of the album’s creation, which ranged from the use of classical instruments to thematic influences such as science fiction, humor, and social commentary.
The live release, mixed by Chris Lord-Alge and mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound, also speaks to Hackett’s collaborative spirit over the years, working with renowned musicians like Roger King and Rob Townsend. Reflecting on his past collaborations and the importance of creative exchanges, Hackett offers a window into his musical journey.
“There have been a lot of bands that have been starting out and I’ll do that,” Hackett notes. “I always think people sound better if you pay them compliments and if you can collaborate, that’s often the making of a future great.”
Hackett reveals the thought process behind melding the legendary with his personal hits, “I do the stuff that I think is perhaps the most accessible. I kick off with ‘Ace of Wands.’ The important thing about ‘Ace of Wands’ was it had the import of the Genesis guys. And then I quickly go into ‘Devil’s Cathedral,’ which is from ‘Surrender of Silence,’ the most recent rock album. But I think of that sort of in a Genesis style, but it’s got some fast and furious ensemble playing.”
Hackett emphasizes the creative liberty and improvisational skills of his bandmates, pointing to the fresh and unscripted openings that set a distinctive tone for the performances, “Rob and Roger do a completely different improvised introduction when they kick off together, and all they’re agreeing is that they’re playing octatonics. So, in terms of sound, it’s completely different.”
The blend of sacred and profane is a thematic element Hackett relishes, especially in ‘The Devil’s Cathedral,’ “The idea of pipe organ and soprano sax, I’ve never heard that combination anywhere else. It’s a winning combo…that piece takes off like a rocket.”
While revisiting his own discography, Hackett selects pieces that resonate with fans and offer the band space to explore, “I’ve gone for things that have been favorites. ‘Spectral Mornings’ is a fan favorite…and a ‘Camino Royale,’ which also gives us room to stretch out and improvise. And finally, the ‘Coder,’ the end of ‘Shadow of the Hierophant,’ which is a long crescendo which shakes the building.”
Discussing ‘The Devil’s Cathedral,’ Hackett draws inspiration from classic suspense, “It’s a lyric that probably borrows from some of those Alfred Hitchcock TV shows…The idea of a guy who he’s the understudy for somebody and ends up killing the star…It gives me a chance to rev up throughout the whole thing and get more and more intense.”
Nad Sylvan’s vocal performance on the track holds particular significance for Hackett, who wrote it with Sylvan in mind, “NAD sings it, he acts it…for NAD it’s a bit of a metaphor for NAD’s position within my band because he does such a great version of Impressions of Peter Gabriel meets Phil Collins…he holds those final notes forever, in an operatic kind of way.”
The live experience is as crucial as the music itself, with Hackett discussing the vital energy of his performances, “I found that I could hardly keep up with the pace of it, even though I’d written it…So there’ll be another level of energy coming at these live shows that are already very energetic. I think I’ve got the best band out there at the moment.”
In addressing the authenticity of his live recordings, Hackett is a purist, “Usually, no. If there’s an obvious car crash, there’ll be something to rescue it, but basically I leave it untouched…I try to keep it real because that’s what live is all about.”
Brighton provided a special backdrop for the recording, with Hackett elaborating, “Brighton is a lively city and they are an extraordinary audience…It’s where my wife has spent time…It’s got the pavilion, it’s got the pier…It’s Britain today at its most alternative culture.”
As Hackett concludes the current tour for ‘Foxtrot’ this month, he has already announced plans for new dates in March 2024, promising fans more opportunities to witness the timeless resonance of an album that, five decades later, continues to captivate and inspire. The release of ‘Foxtrot at Fifty + Hackett Highlights: Live in Brighton’ is more than a commemorative bow to a bygone era; it’s a compelling continuation of a musical legacy that refuses to be confined by the passage of time. And like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going, and going, and going, and going, and going…
For upcoming tour dates go to www.hackettsongs.com