Steve Hackett tells Tim Hughes about hitting the road again to celebrate his prog-rock legacy – and why a reunion could be on the cards
FORTY years ago the stadium rock band Genesis released an album which became a classic of progressive rock.
Wind and Wuthering was a watershed for the band of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and, especially, its prodigious songwriter Steve Hackett, who quit shortly afterwards.
Heavy, adventurous and intelligent, and with a title inspired by Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, it is hailed by many prog-rock fans as Genesis' finest album – but also the final flourish of the band's golden age of fantastic fancy with Hackett as musical wizard.
Now Steve is back and celebrating the album's legacy in a two-part show, called Genesis Revisited. With hopes of a reunion still at the rumour stage, this offers the best chance for Genesis fans to experience something of the power of the band in its prog heyday.
"The music works surprisingly well live," says Steve. "And it is theatrical too."
I caught up with the 67 year-old virtuoso guitarist as he embarked on a tour which, on Saturday, touches down at the New Theatre Oxford.
"I am a complete masochist," he laughs gently. "Why else would I go off with a suitcase and go through all that stress and lack of sleep? But it's what I do and I love it – and the vagaries of it. And you meet real people who are really enthusiastic and that makes it worthwhile."
Steve Hackett comes across as thoughtful, whimsical, engaging and a little mystical – very much like his music.
His shows feature more Genesis gems too, including fan favourites such as The Musical Box, Inside & Out and One for the Vine – which had never been performed live by Steve until now.
"I like playing live," he says. "It doesn't matter what size the place is – it can be a pub, theatre, festival or arena – some kind of alchemy happens. A big place can seem very small if we are all on the same side, outwards and inwards. It's wonderful.
"You've got to be prepared to make an utter fool of yourself in order to get people on your side, though. It's a rouse – being an idiot.
"I've fallen over on stage and been wedged between two monitors with my feet in the air. I've broken a string and announced the wrong number. And once we were in Scotland and Phil Collins told the audience they were the best in England – and the crowd started booing."
Less amusing was the time he accidentally crushed a wine glass in his hand, severing a tendon – an injury which saw a tour postponed and shows cancelled.
"We all have those moments. I don't want people to think it's all perfect up there. We are all humans."
Steve found Genesis after placing an ad in music mag Melody Maker, seeking adventurous musicians willing to "strive beyond existing stagnant music forms".
Peter Gabriel answered and invited him to a show and an audition to take the place of founding guitarist Anthony Phillips who had left, citing stage fright.
He joined in 1970 and made his first recording with the band, Nursery Cryme, the following year.
Musically gifted, his 'tapping' guitar technique and sweep picking, as evidenced on 1973's Selling England by the Pound, became a trademark sound. His guitar solos to Horizons and Firth of Fifth are among his finest moments.
There were tensions, though, as Steve felt less of his songs were being used and, in 1975, he released his first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte – with Collins and Rutherford on drums and bass. It was a hit, reaching number 26.
He returned to write and rehearse for A Trick of the Tail, released the following year – with Collins on vocals, Gabriel having quit.
The 1976 epic Wind & Wuthering was to be his last.
His solo career was to prove productive, yielding 30 albums alongside his seven with Genesis, including tunes such as The Steppes, Serpentine, Every Day and Rise Again –all of which get a showing live, alongside tunes from new album, Night Siren.
So, looking back on his career, what has made him most happy? "I'm at my happiest now," he says. "I'm with the woman I adore [third wife Jo Lehmann] and have the perfect partner in terms of ideas and commitment. And I am going to amazing places – Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore...
"I'm having a really great time in the second phase of success. I have all my marbles and things seem to work.
"Things are on a steady incline for me and I'm selling more records when other people are selling less."
So might we see a Genesis reunion? "Every other day I read there's going to be one and that I'm going to be part or not part of it," he laughs.
"I'm up for it if they want to give me a call.
"Half of my show is Genesis tunes. I have nailed my colours to the mast. I'm the only one from the band who doesn't trash it."
And why does he think the music is so enduring? "It's the writing," he says. "We were a bunch of writers and all had something to say."
Steve says he is can't wait to get to Oxford, professing to be a big fan of our city. "It's quite lovely," he says. "A piece of the old world.
"It makes me very happy. I can't properly take in what Oxford represents but it's extraordinary and there's a sense of something special.
"I'm looking forward to coming back tremendously. Each gig gives me a chance to reacquaint myself with old fans and new ones."
- Steve Hackett plays the New Theatre Oxford on Saturday, May 13. Tickets from atgtickets.com