Steve Hackett talks about his new acoustic album ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, released on the 22nd January 2021.
John Wenlock-Smith: So how are you Steve, how’s lockdown been treating you and Jo?
Steve Hackett: It is a strange time, at least some of us will get vaccinated soon. I am okay, I have had a bit of kidney surgery recently, so am about 80 or 90% now able to play the guitar again now after leaving it for a month or so. My fingers are working fine, my hearing is working, oops better not jinx it all now though! How are you and yours doing in all this? I’ve not caught it yet so hopefully all will be fine.
JWS: We are both fine, staying in and avoiding contact with anyone as much as we can. We had a Tesco delivery this morning so, yes, we are both doing ok really. So, let us talk about this new album of yours…
SH: Yes, ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, it’s been ready for a while, Jo says it was ready by June last year but I think it was actually a little earlier. We started it around March or April and it took a couple of months to complete and then suddenly it was all done.
The thing that takes all the time on rock albums are the vocals. Drums and, strangely, guitars don’t take that long that, maybe because I have a degree of proficiency in that department.
I don’t have to hire anyone in to do those parts but when, it comes to something like this, it’s basically one guitar, which you have to get your tone right for (and be able to play it) and then there are orchestrations by Roger King, who is proving himself to be somewhat of a genius in his arrangements and his engineering and musical skills.
JWS: I have had a listen to it and I have to say that it sounds particularly good indeed.
SH: I must agree and say that It does sound mighty fine indeed.
JWS: I watched a couple of the videos for the album too.
SH: You know what I think? I think its good for those that like that sort of thing but, if you want Van Halen or Buddy Holly then stop right there. However, it is a bridge between what the prog people might like and what the classical types might enjoy.
It’s an audience that I’ be happy to connect with. When I started doing classical stuff with the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ album (1997) I suddenly had people writing to me who obviously would never deign to listen to any rock and roll, wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole actually, and they were saying nice things.
I thought this is nice, people who listen to Radio 3 or Classic FM and the occasional Tchaikovsky album and learnt the piano at some stage of their life, they’re listening to my music. I thought this is nice, it is a different thing, a different strata of listener.
JWS: A different type of listening too perhaps?
SH: Yes, less leather jacket more Laura Ashley I Think?
JWS: For the ladies at least, floral dresses on blokes does not work, well it does not for me at least!
SH: Floral Guitars and decorations?
JWS: You obviously have travelled extensively through those areas in the past/
SH: Yes, it’s a musical journey, I hope it will take people there in spirit even if we can’t go there at the moment. I get Production copies of the album today, I always await that with eagerness as you can actually see the finished article. I listen on CD as you get the full bandwidth of sounds on that.
I don’t think that this will be a big one for Vinyl enthusiasts, I think it needs the purity of CD rather than the snap crackle and pop that vinyl gives, if retro is your thing that is.
On this album there is a piece I have composed for Domenico Scarlatti who was born in Naples in 1685 and was an Italian composer. He was primarily a composer for the harpsichord. On this album I have composed a composition called Scarlatti Sonata as a way of tribute to him.
So that is me, if I want to play a bit of Beethoven then I will or Chopin, Muse could and Keith Emerson used to do that, we used to talk about that all the time. It does not have to be current to be good.
I used to have a friend who was an art Critic and I asked him how he felt about Avant-Garde and he replied that if he was interested in it, he considered it to be Avant-Garde.
I mean Bach was a radical really, anyone who wrote the Italian concerto that has been a ball breaker for keyboard players evermore since has to be, funny that!
JWS: On this album you have some interesting pieces like M’dina, in Saudi Arabia?
SH: No, it’s the other M’dina, the walled city inside Valetta, the capital of Malta. It’s quite a long piece, a sort of mini concerto that’s probably closer in spirit to the Warsaw Concerto by Richard Adinsell (written for the 1941 Film ‘Dangerous Moonlight’ which was about the Polish Struggle against the Nazi’ Germany in 1939.) being a short piece of about 10-minute duration. This song, M’dina, has echoes of that, reflecting the way that Malta has been affected its occupation many times through different wars over the years.
JWS: I also Like Scirocco.
SH: I particularly like that one too, I like how the classical meets the cinematic element of it, I was going to say something else about it, an attempt to pair the Middle East with music and recollections of travels in those places, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, fantastic places that I’ve loved.
When I go to such places I tend to write things in my notebook. I don’t carry an instrument with me really because it’s too valuable and puts you at the mercy of airport baggage handlers, which is not something you really want, so it’s easier to record impressions in a notebook for reference at a later point.
I first went to Egypt many years ago and spent 24 hours in Cairo and visited the museum and the Sphinx and the Pyramids, of course. It is the spirit of things really. We went back to Egypt a few years ago and took a Nile cruise where you can really feel the history and the culture of the area.
I usually write the chords and the top line and Roger comes up with the rest, I think I am at the stage where I am ready to call him a genius! We went to Petra in Jordan and saw Lawrence’s pile of stones, there is lots of history there, we also rode with the Bedouin in the desert too.
JWS: I like the Andalusian Sky track too.
SH: You like the orchestral ones?
JWS: I like that they evoke a feeling of a place.
SH: It is the interaction between us that makes it work.
JWS: Where did you find Roger?
SH: Originally, he was just a name in the phone book! He was a composer with a background in Film Music who had worked on the movies Cliffhanger and In The Name Of The Father, so that is where he came from. I think for much of it he was uncredited, often the way with folks like Michelangelo and his acolytes who painted much of the Sistine Chapel.
JWS: I was watching the video’s last night and thought that you would be good at doing one of those type of programmes.
SH: I really enjoy watching those type of programmes and had thought that I would like to do that, standing there talking about things that I know a little about.
JWS: Well, it has worked for Michael Palin and Steve Coogan!
SH: Yes, however I would rather be down with the locals finding out what they do, how they live and what they eat etc.
JWS: So what is next for You?
SH: Well, I have started work on the next album, although I have temporarily stopped due to this lockdown. I have got about 45 minutes done already, I have a shopping list of all sorts of things I want to do but it is not finished until it is finished.
There is quite a lot to live up to from recent albums, a house band, some great singers, it has been quite a big team of musicians from all around the world. some great singers and musicians all working together and I like to work as part of a team. It is a lot of fun to me, like a toy that I have never outgrown.
JWS: Yes, I think if you are not enjoying it then it is time to give it up!
SH: I agree and guitars in particular, I have only got to hear a guitar tone, it could even be someone else’s sound possibly from some time ago, the sound that I have heard in my mind and been striving to attain. When I find that tone then you have the vehicle to go anywhere you have imagine. This is the vehicle, the rocket, the boat, and that is the voyage that I want to take.