John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett

Steve Hackett is certainly a very busy man of late, on the day we talk, he has just returned from time in Borneo and a few club dates in Japan, amidst a wider Australian and New Zealand tour. Even so, he continues to be his usual self-effacing and courteous host,  he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from.

This interview is in advance of his upcoming season of shows entitled ‘Foxtrot At Fifty’, which will  see him delivering a complete set consisting of that entire album. The tour will see Steve and his band playing the album along with various other classic Genesis material and some of his own solo material from the ‘Surrender of Silence’ album from last year. It is looking to be a busy few months again for Steve.

John Wenlock-Smith: Good Morning Steve, so how are you sir?

Steve HackettI am all right, fine, it has been a busy time, how about yourself?

JWS: We have had Covid actually.

SH: Ooh, that is nasty!

JWS: With Sue having asthma, she had it worse than me but we are both on the back end of it now so, hopefully, will be back to normal soon.

SH: Well, next week we go to Germany and Italy as we are doing some outdoor shows, which should be good, I like festival shows, they are genuine fun.

JWS: Then, when you come back, you have ‘Foxtrot at 50’ starting?

SH: Yes, that is right, in the autumn. I am looking forward to it, it is an album that is worthy of a revisit, some of it I have not played in 50 years!

JWS: You have also got the ‘Seconds Out Live’ album coming out in September?

SH: Yes, it is the best live album I have ever done. It sounds good, much better than the original album, which was not a good production sadly, whereas this one really does sound good. The drum sounds are better plus we took the key down for Squonk.

I think Genesis did that as well because a lot of those songs were written by non-singers and they forget that voices change as people get older and they can’t reach the high notes as easily as they used to, I know Phil cannot do it now. This latest version is exceptionally fine indeed, I guess time will tell though?

JWS: Yes indeed, I was listening to a friend of yours last week, Nick Fletcher?

SH: Yes, he is great, an extraordinarily accomplished and amazing player, the best jazz rock player in Britain today.

JWS: I was also going back and listening to some early Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green.

SH: Well I saw Peter Green many times over the years, he was always a fabulous player.

JWS: I also heard an album by Ryo Okumoto that you play on as well, a track called Maximum Velocity.

SH: Yes, a friend of mine is also on that album, Michael Whiteman, who sings and plays bass on the album. He is part of a band called I Am The Manic Whale, he is particularly good too, it is interesting that he is also on the album.

I have not heard the finished album though, so I do not know if I even made the cut or if I am one of several guitarists on there but enjoy it anyway.

JWS: There are some great keyboard players out there now like Ryo and, of course, your own Roger King, about time he did a solo album.

SH: I keep telling him he should but he thinks anything he did would not sell so he is reluctant to try.

JWS: Well, maybe he ought to cover songs he likes himself or something?

SH: I will tell him, but he is happy just playing on my stuff, although he will tell me if it is not any good, he can be vocal about it too. But they are all talented players and play like demons at times.

JWS: So what is next for you?

SH: We have been so wrapped up in touring that I have not been able to record much. I have got three songs ready but not had a chance to record them so, hopefully, that will happen before long and then we will be touring ‘Foxtrot’ around the world too, so busy days ahead.    

JWS: Right then Steve, I had best let you get on but thank you once again for your time. Stay safe and well and we will hopefully see you in Buxton in September.

SH: Thanks John, take care of yourself and keep well.

Interview With Steve Howe by John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece I talk to Steve Howe about about both the forthcoming Yes UK live dates, why they are not playing ‘Relayer’ this time around and about the ‘Asia in Asia’ box set that is due out in June.

John Wenlock-Smith – Good afternoon Steve, are you keeping well?

Steve HoweYes I am, thank you.

JWS – You are in Devon today then?

SHYes, in a secret location! I moved here some 26 years ago from London and, whilst I still live in London, I visit as much as I can as my studio is here.

JWS – Fair enough. I have spent many happy times in Devon. It is a lovely area.

SHYes, well I certainly like the slower pace as opposed to the madness of London!

JWS – So the tour that you are doing in June, how come you are not going to do the ‘Relayer’ album, as originally announced and intended?

SHWell, with it being a shorter run of dates, as we cancelled the European leg, it’s now just the ten shows in the UK. We felt that it was better to postpone that particular album, especially as ‘Close To The Edge’ is 50 years old this year, and perform that in its entirety instead. We will also do a few other favourite songs and some of ‘The Quest’ album, although I’m not saying which we will play, keep it under wraps as it were. 

So that is the plan now, and save ‘Relayer’ till next year when we can give it the treatment that it deserves, so we chose to concentrate on playing CTTE this time around, to give it a good airing and celebrate the anniversary in this manner.

JWS – Yes, because you have had Patrick Moraz along for some shows doing ‘Gates of Delirium’ ?

SHWe had Patrick play Soon with us on a tour that Tony Kaye had joined us for, the celebratory tours. We like doing that sort of thing, although we have no plans on that as yet, not that to say that that it’s out of the window but, at the moment, we are concentrating on getting back out on the road after three years enforced time away.

Also, that is why coming back after 3 years away, we are doing what we are comfortable with and can do to the standard that is required and that Yes fans warrant and demand.

JWS – Yes, I can understand that way of thinking, plus it leaves the way open for a further tour with ‘Relayer’ being featured.

SHExactly…

JWS – I am glad that tracks from ‘The Quest’ will be featured, as I really enjoyed that album. I thought The Ice Bridge was exceptionally fine, reminiscent of Fanfare For The Common Man in the keyboard sounds, and also your solo Album ‘Love Is’, with Jon Davison on vocals.

SHThank you.

JWS – Well I thought it was a good set of songs, well performed.

SHYes, Jon did a wonderful job on that, didn’t he?

JWS – I also really enjoyed the ‘Homebrew 7’ album.

SHThank you, that was quite different for me in that it did not have the usual Homebrew story but was mostly unreleased tracks and ideas that I was able to work to fruition and completion. It was a retro album of music that was unreleased so thank you again for appreciating that.

JWS – I enjoy listening to latest music, especially music that you have released, so what are the chances of having your two original Atlantic albums (‘Beginnings’ and ‘The Steve Howe Album’) being re-released again?

SHWarner’s, Rhino, Atlantic or whoever have been so nice to me, they are officially releasing those albums, so I will investigate that. I think it’s marvellous to be part of the story of Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic label founder).

Howe Sound, the label that releases many of my albums, is quite diverse really and I feel comfortable with what they release for me, plus I like to do things differently and not be stuck in a treadmill way of things.

JWS – I do not blame you, variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

SHIndeed.

JWS – Now Asia, that new Boxset (‘Asia in Asia’) that is coming out in June (10th) is very impressive…

SHBMG have released the Reunion albums, with Fantasia releasing the DVD but this one is even nicer. That is, I especially like the diligence, I like detail anyway and this set really has an elevated level of detail to it, making it worthy of attention. When we did those shows some forty odd years ago, Greg (Lake) was really inspiring in that he was singing John’s (Wetton) parts, playing his bass lines too and doing it all with dignity and aplomb.

The Asia story is all told within those sets really, the two original albums, ‘Go’ and ‘Asia In Asia’ and then the years where Geoff was holding the banner, keeping the flame alive as it were, with various people drifting in and out including myself. Then there’s the reunion and subsequent albums and tours, it’s all in those albums and the ‘Asia In Asia’ especially shows a period where Greg really rose to the occasion magnificently as the set testifies in such a great way.

JWS – The only criticism I have, and it is a minor one really, is that, in the booklet, it mentions a documentary filmed around that time in which each member traces their Asia journey and, although mentioned, I cant see it on the Blu-Ray?

SHWell, I thought it was there, but I will investigate that and see. Although Blu-Rays are notorious for not being easy to find things on, I know that from experience, so I will check into that for sure.

JWS – I agree that Greg did an outstanding job. This is borne out in the remixed audio on the CD’s where he sings, albeit in a lower register on some tracks, but in a very accomplished manner and his bass playing is equally as inspiring too.

SHWhen I heard the audio for the mix, it was good until we got to the last two tracks, Heat Of The Moment and Sole Survivor, where they sounded awful. So I took it up with the label and they said Steve’s really on the ball, those two tracks hadn’t been remixed. I insisted that they were brought up to the same standard and I’m glad to say that they did just that and now they sound fantastic.  

JWS – Good, I am very much looking forward to seeing you in Manchester on the tour.

SHGood, well I love the Bridgewater hall, I played a solo concert there several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It reminded me of those early shows where I learnt my craft, like the one when I played support to Delaney and Bonnie along with Eric Clapton and George Harrison etc, remarkable times and music.

JWS – Have you heard Geoff’s Downes Braide Association stuff at all?

SHYes, I have heard that it is an exciting outlet for his music.

JWS – Plus Roger Dean participates in the artwork for that.

SH – Yes, well Roger is a big part of the Yes story, he will be on the tour too.

JWS – Well Steve, my time has gone, so may I just thank you for your time today and I will hopefully see you in Manchester next month.

SH – Thank for talking to me and for your interest in my music and of Yes too, thank you John.

Order the Asia boxset here:

Asia – Live At The Budokan, Tokyo, 1983 [VINYL] (lnk.to)

Foxtrot at Fifty – Interview With Steve Hackett – John Wenlock-Smith

Photo by Tina Korhonen, all rights reserved

It is always a pleasure to spend time talking with Steve Hackett, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from. This interview is about his recently announced uk tour that will see Steve and his band playing the Genesis album ‘Foxtrot’ in its entirety, along with various other classic Genesis material and some of his own solo material from the ‘Surrender of Silence’ album from last year.

John Wenlock-Smith – Good Morning Steve, so how are you sir?

Steve Hackett: Oh I am all right, I’m fine. How are you doing? We have just come back from a few days away on Dartmoor.

JWS – Dartmoor – bit cold for that surely?

SH: Well it was a bit nippy, yes but, what a fabulous place, very mysterious really. I have been in London mostly but we are off to see Jo’s sister (Amanda Lehmann) and her family in Norfolk at the weekend. I like Norfolk and enjoy going there really as I enjoyed Dartmoor too, all the standing stones and stuff, it’s all unusual really.

JWS: Very bleak?

SH: Yes, but you do not get the feeling of being alone or uninhabited, you can sense the spirit’s presence.

JWS: So Jo’s sister, that’s Amanda isn’t it?

SH: Yes, along with her Father. Where she is in Norfolk, there is a fabulous tearoom there does great cake too, so we will be heading there I think, it is in a place called Haven and I recommend it highly, its fabulous.

The last time I was in Norfolk I bought a Mandolin, so I have been dabbling with that in advance of the European leg of the ‘Seconds Out’ tour. I have also been finishing off a live album that captures the ‘Seconds Out’ tour that we recorded in Manchester at the O2 the old Apollo theatre. Then, later in the year we start the next tour, ‘Foxtrot at 50’.

JWS: How can it be that that album was 50 years ago? Barely seems possible really!

SH: Yes indeed, hardly bears thinking about that 51 years ago I joined Genesis on that journey and look where it taken me. It is incredible when I stop and think about it all.

JWS: I had always hoped I would be retired by forty after having had a hugely successful music career but, sadly, that was not to be.

SH: It’s never too late!

JWS: It is for me, after my stroke I can barely play the guitar these days. I have tried learning the piano, but I am nowhere near on that either.

SH: Did your stroke affect your ability to play?

JWS: Yes, I have weakness on my left-hand side. I have a friend who also had a stroke and he has the same difficulties and is very frustrated by it really. I am less so, but I would say check your salt intake and your sugars and check your blood pressure regularly. Strokes strike without warnings. Get the message out about the dangers of strokes.

SH: I think us men tend to be poor at taking care of ourselves, thinking that we are invincible when we are not at all, thanks for the warning.

JWS: The ‘Foxtrot’ tour is playing at Buxton Opera House?I think I might try and see you there. I have never been to a concert in Buxton, I was Going to see Asia there but that did not happen, although I did see a puppet show there many years ago with my children.

SH: I am trying to think of something witty to say about music and puppets but failing, it’s cultural gap between the two!         

JWS: So ‘Foxtrot’, that means we will get Suppers Ready, Watcher Of the Skies, and Can-Utility etc.?

SH: Yes, ‘Foxtrot’ is an incredibly special album, all killer no filler as it were. Certainly one I am immensely proud of still. I do not think there is a duff song on the album.

JWS: So, after that, what will you do next as you will have done most of those Genesis albums (apart from ‘Trick of the Tail’)?

SH: Well I have always tried to do the best and not any of the dross, so I reserve the right to do that still. I want to concentrate on the good stuff and not just do anything lesser really, keeping the flame alive as it were. We all know what the classics are, don’t we?

JWS: So, have you had chance to see your old colleagues this time around?

SH: No, I have not as I was on tour at the same time as they were doing the rounds sadly, I hear that they’ve have done well though.

JWS: Yes, we saw them in Liverpool in October and they were fantastic, so much so that we are going to see them again in London in March as a Christmas present to each other. A few days at a hotel in Tring then Genesis on the Friday evening, should be good.

SH: Yes, I hope you enjoy that then, last time I spoke to them Mike Rutherford thanked me for keeping the flame burning for them. I would like to think that that helped them decide to do this last lap, as it were.

I spoke to Peter (Gabriel) recently and asked him if he had heard that Ian Macdonald had gone and he said that he had not but that he was a fan of his work. Peter and I were born a day apart from each other and it is always good to catch up with each other.

JWS: It is getting easier now?

SH: Yes, touring was interesting but, as we were in a bubble, we could not meet anyone.

JWS: We have got to look after everybody as much as we can, those Lateral flow test s are a pain though.

SH: Yes, but we have got to do it really, the best for everyone.

JWS: So, have you been working on new material at all?

SH: Yes, I have been fiddling with a few things, refining, and polishing things a little. It is a balance between immediacy and a polished performance. Bill Wyman says that blues is the more emotional side of improvisation.

JWS: I saw your brother John in Bilston recently, he had Nick Fletcher with him, who was on fire, incendiary. They were incredibly good indeed, I really enjoyed them a lot.

SH: I will tell him that when I next speak to him.

JWS: Anyway Steve, my time has gone so I will let you go and hopefully see you in Buxton on the ‘Foxtrot At Fifty’ tour!

SH: Thanks John, take care of yourself and keep well.

 

Interview With Steve Hogarth – 29th September, 2021

Legendary British progressive rock band Marillion embark on a UK tour, ‘The Light At The End OF The Tunnel’, in November 2021, ahead of their recently announced 20th album ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ and I sat down to chat with frontman Steve Hogarth about the upcoming live gigs…

Progradar: Hi Steve and thanks for talking to me, I am coming to see the band play on the first night of the upcoming tour, Hull City Hall, on the 14th November and, in a strange kind of synergy, the first time I ever saw Marillion was at Hull City Hall on the 9th July, 1990, so you’re talking 31 years ago!

Steve Hogarth (SH): Blimey! Do you know, I think that was the last time we were there.

Progradar: I’m pretty certain it was too! You know what, I saw you twice before lockdown, at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019 and I also saw you at the York Barbican in 2018, I can remember the songs better, obviously, from the last two but the one that sticks out most in my mind was that one, going back all those years ago. I even remember that Little Angels were the support band, a local band from Scarborough.

SH: Yeh, they were good, I remember them.

Progradar: It’s funny how you can remember these things from all those years ago. Are you looking forward to getting back out there again and playing in front of a live audience?

SH: Yes, very, very much, I think it’s all the more precious because it’s been denied us, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I think, for the audience and the band alike, it will be quite something to walk back on stage in Hull. I’m looking forward to it immensely, yes.

Progradar: I went to see Keane at the open air theatre in Scarborough and it just threw it down with rain all through the gig but I just didn’t care, it was spine tingling to see live music again. I am so excited about seeing you guys in November, I’ve been a fan for over thirty years. The ‘Seasons End’ album and tour are where I really got into the band so, to actually think I’m going to get to see you guys where it all started for me, over thirty years ago is a quite a spine tingling thought actually.

Do you find that there is a difference in audiences in the UK and audiences when you go to the continent or all they all pretty much the same?

SH: Yes there is, audiences even vary from one part of the UK to another, to be honest. To be fair, about 18-20 percent probably travel, so there are people in the UK that are moving around. In that sense the geography is not as important but there are certain hotspots in the UK, Manchester, Liverpool are always terrific, Birmingham and London are usually good. Cardiff is a bit of a slow burner, they’re usually quiet but they go nuts at the end. You get used to the kind of dynamics of what to expect from a crowd, after a few years.

Across in Europe, again, certain parts of Germany, you know you are going to have an amazing show. We’ll have a great show in Cologne and Munich, we’ll usually have a great show in Hamburg. Not so much in Frankfurt and Hanover and, if you go over to France, we’ve always had amazing shows in Paris, it’s just about my favourite place to play on earth. Lyon will be good but not that same electric thing you get in Paris.

Over in Holland, it’s only a small country so it doesn’t vary quite as much there but playing Utrecht and Amsterdam is also special as well.

Progradar: I get a strong impression that Marillion fans have a real affinity with the band and you have a real affinity with the fans, do you agree and do you think it helps when you do the live gigs?

SH: Yes, absolutely, like a family. It’s not ‘us and them’ anymore, it’s very much ‘us and us’, we’re all in this thing together. Way back, at the end of the 90’s, when we (together) invented crowdfunding and we found a way to move forward by having fans pre-order the albums we hadn’t even finished yet, that’s almost become a commonplace thing now but it didn’t exist before we did it. That brought us closer together with the fans, it kind of gave us common cause, in a lot of ways.

The feeling of trust when somebody sends you their hard earned money, sometimes quite a lot of it! We are selling these packages where you don’t get much change out of fifty quid, they buy them with no guarantee at all that we won’t just go to Rio and have a party with their money. There’s a lot of faith and trust there and responsibility on us not to let anybody down, that’s pulled us closer together (with the fans) as well.

Progradar: I think for a lot of fans, you genuinely feel involved in what’s going on with a new album. A lot of bands involve the fans in what’s going on so they do feel invested and that helps when you come to the live stage. Fans feel they are going to see people they know, to a certain extent, play a gig. I feel you will have the goodwill from day one of a tour as 70-80 percent of them will have been fans from day one.

SH: Yes, I’ll probably recognise half of the front row just from all the years of doing it and seeing people. Bit by bit, we, as musicians, become conscious of who’s listening to us, I recognise people at the front and it is very much a family now.

Progradar: Do you get many fans who literally pay to go to every gig on a tour?

SH: It’s quite common to see and to get a message from someone to apologise for missing one like, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get down to St Austell”, and we’re like ” I’m not bloody surprised!”. We do, there are people that will travel to all of the shows and wear that like that a badge of honour, there are people who have even travelled around Europe as well! Similarly, Ive met people from all around the world who’ve travelled miles for a show, Americans who’ve just flown in for one gig and flown out again.

A few years ago we did a show at Shepherds Bush Empire and I met a couple of guys in the alley by the back stage door from Venezuela! I asked them what on earth they were doing there and they said we’d come to see you! So, when people are prepared to do that, it’s extremely mind blowing.

Progradar: I’d imagine it’s pretty humbling when you think they could have spent the equivalent of six months salary just to see one concert?

SH: It is humbling, it’s extremely humbling, it makes my head swim. I don’t think I’ve ever travelled more than sixty miles to see a band in my entire life! I can’t imagine getting on a plane and going to see somebody.

Progradar: Like I say, I saw you at the RAH in 2019 and, apart from having the most uncomfortable seats of any venue I’ve been to, it was an amazing gig, do you find that there is a difference in the atmosphere when you play the bigger venues to when you play the smaller ones?

SH: You can’t really generalise because you can amazing gig in a little club and you can have an amazing gig in a football stadium and every size in between. Each venue, and the space of that venue, has its own character. My job is to walk out there on the stage, get a feeling for it and wring it out like a cloth, get the very best out of that space that I can. That’s part of my job, although it’s not necessarily a conscious process to be fair, part of my job is to go, right, what can we do with this then?

Royal Albert Hall, November 2019, Picture is Author’s Own.

Progradar: I’ve been to concerts where they’ve really dragged and I’ve been to gigs, like the RAH and York Barbican gigs, where the time has flown by and I haven’t wanted to leave. We won’t call it working the audience as you say it is not a conscious process but, you certainly look like you’re enjoying it when you’re up on stage?

SH: Yes, to be honest, it’s dead easy to do when you’re meeting those waves of affection that I’m very fortunate to meet. It doesn’t make my job very difficult at all, all I’ve got to do is kind of bounce it back and see it for what it is, not take it for granted. Just go with what is special about a show from one moment to another, the vibration in the hall, I’ve kind of got to have my radar up, to pick that up and acknowledge it.

Progradar: I would imagine that, even if you played the same set list in two different venues, you’re still going to have two different events, two different concerts?

SH: Totally, yes!

Progradar: So, the new album, which you’ve had a bit of fun with, the fans guessing the album name, there were some quite interesting ones that came up in the Facebook group, some humorous ones as well!

SH: Yes, my favourite was ‘All Hard Bastards In Doncaster’, that really creased me up!

Progradar: You said that you are probably going to play one or two tracks from the new album, are you excited about giving the new music an airing in that live setting?

SH: Yes I am, because a lot of the stuff on this new album is really quite upbeat and will work really well live. In the end, we decided we would only play one track. When I say one track, it is about ten minutes long, it’s the equivalent of three of anyone else’s.

Progradar: Long gone are the days of tracks like Hooks In You, three and a half minute radio friendly stuff!

SH: Never say never but, we haven’t written a three minute song for quite a while now, it takes us three minutes to get to verse one these days. We’ve got a song called Be Hard On Yourself and I can tell by the nature of how we wrote it that it is going to be great live, it’s really going to kick arse! I’m looking forward to giving that an airing for sure.

Progradar: I’m really looking forward to hearing it, I have been prevaricating but finally got around to ordering the double vinyl today, especially when I saw it was the last day to get your name in the credits! I don’t know about you but, I grew up on vinyl and cassette tapes, then sold it all to make way for CDs and now we are buying vinyl reissues and remasters at ten times more than we we paid for them when they first came out in the 70’s and 80’s!

I have bought good quality pre-owned copies of ‘Holidays In Eden’ and ‘Seasons End’ and boxsets of ‘Marbles’ and ‘Brave‘. If you pushed me I would say that ‘Marbles’ is my favourite Marillion album, closely followed by ‘Seasons End’.

SH: Great, what’s your favourite track on ‘Marbles’ then?

Progradar: Funnily enough, I have just been listening to it in the car, it’s Fantastic Place, it’s one of my all time favourite Marillion songs. You played it live in York with a couple of my other favourite Marillion songs which are Seasons End and Easter but I absolutely love Fantastic Place.

SH: That’s a feather in my hat because I wrote two out of the three of those songs.

Progradar: There’s also Steve Rothery’s guitar in that song, it has no edges, do you know what I mean? It’s smooth and the solo just bleeds emotion. Leading on to the next question, you’ve also said you are going to play what you consider to be the best of your catalogue. With so many albums behind you, how do you pick the tracks on the setlist? Is it a democratic process, do you get a massive list and then just whittle it down?

SH: Yes, more or less. We all get a vote each, make a list, whatever wins gets chosen. We did decide for this particular tour that we would play what we all personally felt were our most important songs. Anyone who comes hoping to hear a couple of obscurities will probably be disappointed but anyone who’s hoping to hear the really big songs, they’ll be delighted because that is what they are going to get.

Progradar: So I can sort of live in hope that I am maybe going to hear one of my favourite three on the 14th November?

SH: You certainly can, for sure.

Royal Albert Hall, November 2019, Picture is Author’s Own.

Progradar: Not being a musician, I find this quite fascinating, are there songs that you like off studio albums that you think wouldn’t work in the live experience?

SH: There’s certainly a couple, yes. The Fruit Of The Wild Rose has always been very tricky live because, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, it kind of goes into a groove at the end that is set down by an acoustic guitar, playing a loop and then it kind of kicks off with a guitar solo overlapped and we just don’t have enough guitar players in the band to do both! I’m not a good enough acoustic guitar player to be able to lay that loop down while Steve solos, Pete probably is but then I’m not a good enough bass player to cover the bass duties!

So there are one or two that kind of came into the world as studio works and are a bit of a struggle. I mean, we have still done them but they’re trickier things to roll out.

Progradar: I don’t want to put you on the spot as there’s hundreds of songs you’ve written but, are there a couple of songs that you particularly enjoy playing live yourself?

SH: Yes, for sure, I really like to sing The Invisible Man, that’s one of my favourites to perform. What else would I look forward to doing? I enjoy playing Gaza, I enjoy playing A Few Words For The Dead, to be honest. Seasons End and Estonia, they’re both great to play.

Progradar: I remember Seasons End at York Barbican in 2018, my friend Iain Sloan came down from Scotland, he lives near Edinburgh and is a guitarist in an Americana band call The Wynntown Marshals. We were stood together, almost in tears, it was one of those moments you’ll remember forever.

You said you enjoy playing in Holland and that leads me on to my next question, are you intending doing Marillion Weekends again?

SH: Yes, we absolutely are, we had to keep kicking it down the road. The thing about Port Zelande is that we promote the entire thing ourselves and we’re about half a million quid in the whole before anyone turns up. If, god forbid, the Dutch government decided to lock the country down, it would cost us more money than we could stand to lose, to be honest. So we had to keep postponing it and we moved it to next spring and then we decided we couldn’t even risk that. We moved it again, I think it’s booked in for March 2023 now, it’ll happen but we’ve just got to get through this strange pandemic that seems to be a bit slow to leave.

Progradar: I’m 54 this year and none of us are as young as we used to be. You’ve been touring for donkey’s years, do you find it more tiring now or does just getting out on that stage just infuse you with energy?

SH: I can’t remember, it’s so long ago! I am two years older than the last time I did it so there is a part of me thinking I hope I’m up to this? I’d better get out on the bike and get myself sorted out a bit. I’m going to find out, it may come as a terrible shock!

Progradar: Do you keep fit before you go on a tour, do you do anything extra?

SH: I’ll do a little bit, I won’t do enough because I’m a lazy sod but I should really. I mean, I can’t just expect to remain fit, I’ve got to make the effort. I live in a three storey house so I’m up and down the stairs and get a few steps in but I’m going to have to do a bit more.

Progradar: I really appreciate your time Steve, it’s been brilliant talking to you, just one final question before we sign off. It’s a question I ask everyone who I interview, do you prefer writing and recording and album or do you prefer playing the material live?

SH: Playing the material live, night and day, for me. I hate writing, I hate most of recording, once you get beyond a certain point then it does start to become exciting but that takes such a long time. Whereas to play live is the point of it for me so, hands down, I prefer playing live.

Progradar: I’ll just tag a little bit on the end of that, when you’re on tour, can you hit the same level of enthusiasm at the last gig that you had at the first?

SH: Absolutely, no problem at all, I love it!

Progradar: That’s brilliant, I really appreciate your time and I am so looking forward to seeing you at Hull City Hall on November 14th!

SH: Thanks for your time and thanks for your support man!

Marillion ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ tour starts on 14th November at Hull City Hall.

Pre-order Marillion’s 20th album, ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ here:

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

Interview With Geoff Downes by John Wenlock-Smith

The release of the first new material from Yes since ‘Heaven and Earth’ has been a long time in coming. During that time there have been many changes to the world of Yes, most notably the sad death of Chris Squire in 2016. There has also been the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc with most people’s plans, a situation that Yes have also been affected by. Here’s what Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes had to say about this period.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day Geoff, thanks fore making time to talk with me, how have you been keeping during this time?

Geoff Downes (GD): I’ve not been too bad, I’ve managed to keep myself active. We recorded this new album remotely with Alan (White) and Billy (Sherwood) in the US, Jon (Davidson) in the Caribbean and Steve (Howe) and myself here in the UK, it’s a nice way of working I find.

JWS: Results Seem to be positive, you seem to bring out the best in each other somehow?

GD: Yes, I think it does, it also gives you the chance to sit back and look at it all. We’ve had to do that with this Yes album and I think that we’ve learnt quite a lot by doing it that way. It’s a different approach but, at the same time, it can be creative as well.

JWS: It getting interesting reviews (the album), isn’t it?

GD: Yes, obviously the days of the band being in the studio for months locked away doesn’t really exist these days, as they did in the ’70’s. It’s been difficult with having the rhythm section in California, they were sending us files to review on a regular basis. But, of course, we’re not alone in that we were all locked down for months on end and we’ve had to adapt and respond to that as best as we could. Without the benefit of being able to play any live shows it has put people on a different route forward. It meant taking a more flexible approach to things really.

JWS: I spoke to Steve Hackett recently and he was saying a similar thing, he has had to adjust to a new approach to his music, but at least he is able to go out on tour again now.

GD: Yes, I had an email from Steve asking if I wanted to see him in Cardiff tThe nearest place to where I am in Chepstow) but he was saying I can’t see you though, we do the show and move the whole bubble onwards. So I didn’t get to see him this time, but I’ve seen his show many times at various stages. He always puts on a great show. He really puts a lot into his shows, not just him and his band but in the staging and the lighting and the whole experience and performance really. I’m looking forward to catching up with him again when he comes back round.

JWS: Touring will be happening for Yes again soon though?

GD: Well, yes, we’ve got a tour booked for next May and June in the UK and Europe.

JWS: This is the ‘Relayer’ Tour?

GD: Yes, it’s been postponed twice so we’re hoping it’s third time lucky for it to go ahead.

JWS: Well, the album is very interesting, I’ve heard it all, and the bonus tracks, one of which is obviously a tribute to the Beatles. But the whole album is interesting lyrically, you’re not afraid to tackle some important and controversial issues like ecology and conservation?

GD: I’m not involved with the lyrics per se, Jon was stuck in Barbados for 5 months and I think that’s reflected in his lyrics, global warming, obviously, and I think The Ice Bridge reflects those concerns. There’s nothing worse than musicians standing on a soapbox telling people what they should be doing but, by the same token, it’s true that the band are all getting older which brings its own challenges.

JWS: So what’s happening with the Downes Braides Association? I loved the ‘Halcyon Hymns’ album and wrote a glowing review of it, I thought it was excellent!

GD: Well, Chris has moved back here now from LA and I’m hopeful that we can get together and work on the next one more directly, as opposed to being two oceans apart. So we will have to see how that comes about in due course.

JWS: You also had the Asia albums re-released recently (‘The Reunion Albums 2007 to 2012’) on BMG.

GD: The 40th anniversary of the ‘Asia’ album is in 2022, so those albums are being re-promoted again to mark that event. Those first three albums were very significant and its important to mark those events again fully.

I’ve still got unworked material from a session I had with John (Wetton) before he sadly died so there is potential there to craft something new. I feel that Asia has not run its course and that there is still some life left in the band. Again, we’ll have to see what emerges from those sessions.

JWS: What about a new solo album for you? Surely you must be due for another one soon?

GD: Yes, I have been thinking about doing something, although quite what that will be is very open. I think I’d like to do something in a similar vein to ‘The Light Program’ from 1987, a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ album of its time but worth revisiting again I think.

JWS: I also read recently that you wanted the keyboards on this new album, ‘The Quest’ to be more analogue than digital, more like earlier Yes albums?

GD: When I was growing up, I was hugely influenced by the keyboard sounds that Tony Kaye used on those early Yes albums. He was a monster on the growling Hammond and when we did the ‘Yes 50’ tour, Tony was a guest on some dates. He still commands the Hammond organ and we became good friends, so that was a big factor for me. Plus, I think the music Steve was making on the guitar leant itself to that classic type of sound, so that’s what I did, and I think it worked okay.

JWS: Tony Has a new solo album out, ‘End of Innocence’, have you heard it yet?

GD: No, but I want to hear it, it’s all about the World Trade Centre and 9/11 isn’t it?

JWS: Yes, it’s a good album.

GD: Does he play lots of Hammond on it?

JWS: Yes, throughout.

GD: I’ll have to ask management to get me a copy then.

JWS: You won’t regret it Geoff, it’s a fine piece of work, very worthwhile. Anyway, my time has gone, I’m afraid, thanks for talking to me.

GD: No problem John, thanks for interesting questions and for knowing your stuff, I’ve enjoyed talking to you, thank you!

‘The Quest’ by Yes is released on 1st October, 2021 and you can order a copy here:

The Quest (lnk.to)

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett

Photo by Tina Korhonen, all rights reserved

It is always a pleasure to spend time talking with Steve Hackett, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from. This interview is about his new album ‘Surrender Of Silence’ and his forthcoming tour celebrating the album ‘Seconds Out’ recorded whilst Steve was still a member of Genesis. This tour will see the album played in its entirety along with selected tracks from both his new album and from his extensive back catalogue of releases.

John Wenlock-Smith: So how are you sir?

Steve Hackett: Oh I’m alright, fine, how are you doing?

JWS: Yes, we’re ok generally, keeping alright with all this lockdown and stuff.

SH: Well it’s been an unusual time, an extraordinary time really. We’re just about to go out on the road with a tour, having not played a show (well, not properly) for about 18 months. Apart from the odd virtual thing over the airwaves, I’ve done a bit of that and I’m doing one tomorrow with the Hungarians, I haven’t done a live gig in front of an audience for a very long time.

JWS: I’ll bet you’re looking forward to that then?

SH: Well I am, yes. Once we get through rehearsals and everyone knows it, those rehearsals start on Monday.

JWS: You have a new album out soon too?

SH: Yes, ‘Surrender of Silence’ is the new album, the second one this year after ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, and it’s completely different to any other one, I really enjoyed making it.

JWS: I’ve heard the album and I like it, it’s very different.

SH: Yes, it’s different in places to what I’ve done before, I don’t think I’ve ever done an African themed song before, after our visit to Ethiopia. I’ve never done a Russian themed song either, They are journeys that became songs, having visited these places and, of course, a good deal of the influence comes to bear on some of the album.

One of the tracks, Shanghai to Samarkand, had the idea of trying to cover the whole of the east in a song with the odd instrument like the Vietnamese Dan Tranh (Zither), related to the Japanese Kyoto, and getting players to play in an oriental style. We got Christine Townsend to play her viola solo with those long bending, sighing notes at the end of phrases, I very much enjoyed that.

I enjoy the virtual travel that’s possible with music, although I am missing the real-world travel too, but that’s all about to change as we get out there again, visiting the British isles in the coming months.

JWS: Is it true that you are getting all over the place, you’re even playing in Stoke-On-Trent?

SH: Yes, I’ve got all the dates here, that’s on the 12th of September, I’m looking forward to that one. It’ll be good to play some places we’ve not been to in a while, it will be good to go anywhere and see anybody!  

It’s strange, lots of people have got tickets and we hope they all make the effort to come, but we can’t force people to come, so folks may decide to stay at home and wear a mask and only talk through the letterbox etc.

Obviously, we’ll be very careful, we’re not doing much interaction with the crowds, we are isolating and in a bubble much of the time. There will be no meet and greets this time around, the venues set the rules that we have to follow, but we’ll do what we have to to be able to play the shows and have a party.

JWS: I did notice that you have Phil Ehart of Kansas playing the drums on the track Shanghai to Samarkand.

SH: Yes, that’s right, I haven’t worked with him since ‘Please Don’t Touch’ back in 1977/1978. He’s one of the drummers on the album, we’ve also got Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train) and we also have Craig Blundell (Frost* and Steven Wilson). There are several people involved on the album from right across the globe, we have a guy from Azerbaijan, Malik Mansurov, on the Tar and a guy from Tajikistan on Dutar called Ubaidullev Sordirkhon Saydullevich, so right across the world really.  

JWS: You like your international collaborations don’t you?

SH: Yes I do, I like doing that. I like my local band but even that is spread across 4 countries now, Nad Sylvan is in Sweden, Jonas Reingold lives in Austria, Rob Townsend lives in Denmark now and we’ll all convene for ten days of rehearsals before being unleashed on the great British public.

JWS: So where did the album title come from?

SH: I prefer not to explain an album title, however, I would say all music flies in the face of silence. The surrender of silence is somewhat applicable when you make music for a living. Other than that, there are some aspects of social comments made in the lyrics where previously I haven’t been quite so vocal. I’m thinking of Fox’s Tango referring to Fox News.

There’s also social comment on the environment in Scorched Earth. Other things, Natalia is more of a story but there is social comment involved with that and then there are the instrumentals and the fun things, so it’s not all soapbox. As you scout around for subjects, I write all the time and my wife Jo writes certain things for lyrics too, we bat the ball back and forth between us and out of it all comes ‘The Surrender Of Silence.’

JWS: There’s an interesting first track in The ‘Obliterati’?

SH: Yes ,well that’s tapping with a kind of tongue in cheek title for all those familiar with certain books and certain writer. I thought it was a way to lead into Natalia but they are really the same tune in a way. I’ve separated them out so that you have a sort of mini overture or kind of underture at the front of the album and exposed tapping.

The last time I used that in isolation was ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ back in the early 1970’s when I was exploring that the guitar functioning on its own but I decided to add some orchestral backing to it to bring it in line with what was to come with Natalia, which was more of a nod to Russian composers and orchestrators. The song is about an ordinary Russian woman, it’s almost like South Park in that she dies in every scene, in every verse but it’s a different woman and a different time.

The difficulty is that there is lots of orchestration and not a note of guitar playing until we are well into the track and I thought I’d better claim identity so The Obliterati came up as something to kick off the album.

JWS: It’s a commanding start to the album, I was listening to it this morning and wondering if it was a homage to Eddie Van Halen, who I know was greatly influenced by your tapping in his early days?

SH: Well, it’s a funny thing, I’m sad about his passing and that we never got to meet, it’s great when you hear of a fellow professional you’ve been an influence on or they just listen to you.

Earlier this year I was talking to an American journalist who told me that Pat Metheny had been listening to the ‘Under a Mediterranean Sky’ album and I also think of Pat Metheny as an atmospheric jazz player. Then you realize that in the world of jazz you’ll have people like Bill Evans being interpreted by folk like John Mclaughlin, another guitarist of note of course, he also liked the music of Eric Satie, I did an album of interpretations of Satie with my brother John Hackett in the early 2000’s.

He is brave enough not to fall back on technique, jazz is largely technique based and I greatly admire his ability to seek a bigger picture or canvas for his music to be drawn against. So it was interesting to hear that about Pat Metheny, I must reach out to him and talk with him. Perhaps similarities between musicians are greater than we give credit to.

JWE: I had a conversation with your brother John a few weeks ago about the album he recorded solo during lockdown, ‘The Piper Plays His Tune’, he was a lovely chap.

SH: Yes, John is a very gentle man and doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. We’ve been working together on somethings beyond this album too. John has been playing some scat flute like Roland Kirk, most people think of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, but scatt flute goes back further than that to the Mid 1960’s and the Beatnik area in the USA. I’m all for revisiting those eras, wandering in and out of different genres, it’s all possible under the progressive banner. John also has an excellent guitar player in Nick Fletcher.

JWS: Yes, I interviewed him too, he is a fascinating guy as well.

SH: I was greatly impressed by him and his album, I wrote a comment on the album which appears on the rear sleeve. I think Nick is one of the great hopes for British guitar, if there’s a chair to fill with the departure of another musician, then there’s a chair for Nick to fill.

People ask me who I listen to and, whilst there’s Andrés Segovia and Jimi Hendrix who get a lot of publicity, there is also Nick Fletcher, a phenomenal guitarist. Something of Bach and Handel and at the same time they’ll be listening to Miles Davis.

JWS: Nothing wrong with a bit of Miles Davis.

SH: Yes, he’s very interesting and very out there but recorded albums that are very different and was not afraid to do those. At the top of his tree, as a band leader, the people he worked with or chose him, there is this central pivot that is Miles Davis. Logic isn’t always the best seam to wander when writing lyrics.

JWS: I’m part of a writing group and we were doing abstract poetry using lines out of other books to create different words and lines with.

SH: Well poetry is very challenging, you must have music in the words. Stand-alone poetry, if you can draw some music from it, that can be very inspiring. Someone said to me some years ago that it’s no good reading Shakespeare unless you have a good grounding in all the myths and a good knowledge of language. Rather that you should read it for its music first and or its sound.

Years ago, when I was doing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that’s how I went at it, I know diddly squat about Pyramus and Thisbe but I loved the music of it, you’re allowed to do that in poetry, you can do what you want. Peter Gabriel was very gifted at making up new words, as was John Lennon, some of us take longer to come up with new words.

JWS: Well Steve, my time has gone so I’ll say goodbye for now. Thanks for talking as always, good luck with the album and tour

SH: Thank you and good luck with the poetry too.

‘Surrender Of Silence’ is released on 10th September, 2021.

Pre-order the album here:

SURRENDER OF SILENCE – CD – SIGNED [Pre-Order] | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

John Wenlock-Smith interviews Ronnie Platt of Kansas

John Wenlock-Smith: Good day Ronnie, how are you doing?

Ronnie Platt: Hello again John, yes, I am very well thanks, how’s things with you these days?

JWS: All good here, we’ve both had our vaccinations and we can see things starting to open a little here now, which is good. We had our first coffee out on Tuesday which was good, no masks and almost normal even, have you had all your vaccinations yet?

RP: Yes I am all good, did you have any reactions, flu-like symptoms or anything?

JWS: No, all fine, my arm ached a little a few days after but, otherwise, nothing.

RP: So, is everything open again now?

JWS: It is getting there but not everything yet.

RP: What about travel, can you go freely yet?

JWS: Around the UK, yes but internationally, no. We still have a list of approved places that we can go to but everything is starting to open a bit. It will get much better in June when more restrictions are lifted.

RP: Yes, it is pretty much the same here. I am speaking from the suburbs of Chicago, from my den in the basement, which is full of old guitars and equipment, if you could see the mess that it is in!

JWS: Well this is my den (shows him guitars, CD’s and piano).

RP: Can you play John?

JWS: Sadly I am a one finger only type player. I can play most melody lines but nothing with the right hand really.

RP: Whether you are playing with one finger or are an established player, I always say that music is the best therapy, how long have you been playing guitar?

JWS: Years, however I cannot really play much, I can do chords and rhythm but nothing technical really.

RP: Well, keep at it, practice makes perfect I find.

JWS: So the new album is out next Friday?

RP: Yes, ‘Point of Know Return: Live and Beyond’, we could not be prouder of it.

JWS: Can I ask, why is there no live video of it?

RP: Into today’s world, when I kook out in the audience, I see everyone holding their phones up watching and it ends up on YouTube. It makes it all exceedingly difficult to do and compete really, hopefully, at some stage, we will be able to do something but right now our attention is focused on getting back out on the road and playing live again.

JWS: London next year for you (Kansas) isn’t it?

RP: Yes, hopefully we will get there next year as the last two times were cancelled. In the 7 years I have been in the band we have wanted to come, especially since ‘The Absence of Presence’ is doing so well there.

JWS: We are hoping to be able to get to it ourselves, my wife knows that I want to go and she is happy to come along with me. So how was it for you singing these songs from ‘Point of Know Return’?

RP: It is amazing to me to, and I will include the entire Kansas catalogue in this, these songs that I have just loved my entire life, being a huge fan for many years. It is really a dream come true and surreal to be doing it. For my generation, you would buy an album and memorise the entire sequence of songs. It is special how I bought these albums and also being such a huge Kansas fan for all my life. To play the album in its entirety in the sequence that it was recorded in is a real honour and privilege to do.

JWS: I grew up in the 70’s and first heard Kansas in 1975. I then got hold of the ‘Point of Know Return’ album and it was a favourite of mine for many years but I especially loved songs like Hopelessly Human and Closet Chronicles. Kerry Livgren was such an awesome writer, his material is always strong and good.

RP: So John, you are like me, you love the deep cuts, not just Dust in the Wind but the less celebrated tracks like Nobody’s Home, I love singing those deep cuts.

JWS: I used to have the album cover on a mirror but that has gone now, sadly. I like that this album has some rather obscure Kansas songs like Two Cents Worth which is completely different to Song for America. The only disappointment for me is that People of the South Wind does not have Phil Ehart’s fabulous drum fills on it but, even without the drums, you keep the groove going. Will it be the same set in London?

RP: We will possibly change a song or two but we will do all of ‘The Point of Know Return’ album but who knows what it will be? It’s one of the great things about Kansas, there is such a library of music to draw from.

JWS: I am really looking forward to that show, my wife is looking forward to seeing the band and she trusts my taste in music. We are also seeing Genesis in October this year.

RP: Another of my favourite bands, ‘Wind and Wuthering’ is one of my favourite albums along with ‘A Trick of the Tail’.

JWS: I spoke to Steve Hackett a few weeks ago, he has recorded three albums in lockdown!

RP: Wow, he has been a busy boy, that makes us look lazy! I believe that Genesis will be in Chicago sometime in November but we will be out on the road ourselves, so I will probably not be able to catch them.

JWS: I spoke to Tony Banks last year and he said that with Genesis, it is always a case of never say never, we are always talking about reconvening activities.

RP: I used to open with Dodo in one of the bands I was in during the 80’s, I even took my mother to see Genesis.

JWS: Well Ronnie, my time has almost gone.

RP: Thanks John, it has been good to talk to you again, keep practising the guitar and keep playing the keyboard and we will hopefully see you next year in London.  

Kansas – ‘Point of Know Return: Live & Beyond’ is released on 28th May, 2021.

Order the album here:

Point of Know Return Live & Beyond (burningshed.com)

Interview With John Hackett – John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece John talks to John Hackett about his latest album, a collection of songs recorded during lockdown in spring of 2020 in which John plays all instruments and produced and mixed the album on his own. The album ‘The Piper Plays His Tune’ is the result, released on his own Hacktrax label.

John Wenlock-Smith: Morning John, are you keeping well?

John Hackett: Yes, I have been doing quite a few walks with my wife trying to lose the lockdown tummy that has emerged because of watching Netflix at night whilst eating chocolates!

JWS: We have been doing that as well. The dog starts barking at a pigeon outside and is removed out of the way, lockdown, thank goodness it is coming to an end eh?

JH: Yes, it has been a tough time for many people.

JWS: Unfortunately it has, especially for people like yourself who have been without any income for over a year.

JH: I have been fortunate as my wife works from home, so I have been able to do a bit from home.

JWS: Well, I am retired now as the result of a stroke which has left me with vascular dementia but I get support from my local stroke survivors group. I have heard your new album and I like it, it is quite mellow though.

JH: Well, it is a collection of songs that I guess you would say is quite melody driven as I have spent most of my life as a flute player, which basically means you are following the tune.

JWS: So your wife works from home you say?

JH: Yes, she is an administrator for the church and she is particularly good with technology, which has been especially useful.

JWS: I have been listening back to some of the older stuff you worked on, starting with ‘The Geese and The Ghost’ and ‘We Are Not Alone’, then ‘Another Life’ and ‘Sketches of Satie’ with your brother Steve, I like the live CD that came with that album.

JH: Well, that was early days for the band, I think that was about the fourth show as a band, recorded at the Classic Rock Society who were very generous to us as a band, allowing us to record that show for posterity. I suppose that album is a bit more ‘proggy’ than some of the more classical stuff I’ve been involved with, especially the opening track Take Control and also the track Winds of Change, in which Nick Fletcher, our guitarist, gets room to play a little. My Brother Steve said recently that he thinks Nick is the best jazz rock guitarist in the country at the moment. High praise indeed, I do not know if you have Nick’s album ‘Cycles of Behaviour’ but it is a real testament to his playing.

JWS: Yes ,I have that album, I have just done an interview and album review that will be published on Progradar shortly. I especially liked Philosopher King, the longest track on the album.

JH: I am glad you like that one.

JWS: I like long songs, it gives them room to stretch and breathe a little, give me a longer song anytime.

JH: Sounds like a song title, I might use that in a lyric sometime.

JWS: Go for it, you can have that one for free.

JH: Good, I will look forward to reading that John, he (Nick Fletcher) and I have a lot in common. He has spent a lot of time as a classical guitarist and I have spent a lot of my time as a classical flautist, although we both love rock music and we both feel comfortable working in both fields. I used to think that I had to make a choice, one or the other, but Nick and I both feel that they can feed off each other, in that you can apply some of the techniques used in classical pieces in the rock stuff. Really, the rock stuff benefits from playing the classical pieces too, with the rock stuff you are always thinking about keeping it strong and I think that background can really help in with the energy and direction you create.

Nick and I worked together on the ‘Beyond The Stars’ album and he had a vision for the album. It has a fabulous long track, That Ship Has Sailed, on which Nick gets a chance to really stretch out, it is his Pink Floyd moment, his Comfortably Numb, as it were.

JWS: So what was your first love in rock music?

JH: Well I started off as a blues guitarist, my brother taught me House Of The Rising Sun and showed me a few bits, then we saw King Crimson with Ian Macdonald playing the flute and Robin Miller on oboe. That got me into learning to play the flute, which I did at University in Sheffield. In 1978 I joined Steve’s band as a flautist/bass player, recorded ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’, amongst his other earlier albums, and toured extensively with him as part of the band. Good times! we still work together occasionally, usually doing a Christmas show at Trading Boundaries in which I play flute, along with Roger King on keyboards and Rob Townsend on sax, that is always a good venue as the audience are at tables near the stage.

JWS: Yes, we have not got to Trading Boundaries yet as it is too far from where we are in Cheshire, although I do have a Downes Braide Association album that has a live show from Trading Boundaries with it.

It certainly looks like a great little venue; we have seen you with Steve Hackett a few times on his more recent tours in Manchester, often with Amanda Lehmann in tow too. I suppose Sheffield to Manchester is only about an hour away?

JH: Yes, not too far at all and it is always great to be a part of Steve’s shows, I really enjoy those appearances.

JWS: Obviously gigging is coming back slowly,

JH: We have our first gig in August at the 1865 in Southampton.

JWS: Are you playing in Bilston at the Robin 2?

JH: Yes we are playing there as part of an all-day festival.

JWS: Will there be a new John Hackett Band album soon?

JH: Yes, I certainly hope so, we need to do something soon, watch this space.

 JWS: Have you had your vaccinations?

JH: Yes, I had those at the Sheffield Arena, I am not sure if the others have had theirs yet, I guess we will find out soon enough. I had to take my shirt off and I was wearing a John Hackett Band T Shirt and the nurse said what’s your T shirt and I said it’s my band, I said I’d always hoped to get to Sheffield Arena as a band appearing, not as an OAP getting vaccinated! 

JWS: You have some nice guitar playing on the album.

JH: Thank you, I was listening to an old Tamla song and heard some bongo’s and I thought I could do with some of those. I went out shopping and I found some in Lidl, I thought that was a sign to get on with it!

JWS: Would you do another album in that way?

JH: I would not rule it out but not yet. 

JWS: Well I think that’s all I must ask you about, thanks very much for talking to me and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

JH: Yes, Thanks for your time John, I’ll drop you an email later, so you have my email too, nice talking with you.

‘The Piper Plays His Tune’ was released 18th November, 2020.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

The Piper Plays His Tune | John Hackett (bandcamp.com)

Interview With Nick Fletcher – John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith talks to Nick Fletcher about his new release ‘Cycles of Behaviour’.

1. What are the main themes of the album and why did you choose them?

That’s a good question John. The album has a thread which could be called a concept. The main idea was to have an album that reflected the current state of affairs in the world today. The title hopefully depicts the idea that humanity’s history seems to repeat itself, social and political ideas appear to come around time and again and we don’t seem to learn from the mistakes of the past.

2. Who are your main influences classically? rock, fusion and blues?

I have so many it’s very hard to pick just a few. I think Julian Bream was a huge inspiration for the classical guitar. David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth, Steve Hackett, Andy Latimer and a Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal for the electric guitar.

3. You have a fabulous set of contributors on the album. Were these previously known to you and, if so, how?

Yes I have been friends with all the collaborators for many years, the exception being drummer  Russ Wilson. Russ and I had never met before the recording of the album, he came recommended by John Hackett who had played with Russ in the Book of Genesis tribute band and mentioned to me what an outstanding drummer he was. He was correct! Russ is the perfect  fit  for my music, as he has both the prog-rock and fusion techniques well covered and he is very creative.

Dave Bainbridge is one of my oldest friends, we met in 1979 and have worked together off and on ever since on albums and in bands. John Hackett and I have been working together ever since we first met in 2009 either as a flute and guitar duo or in the John Hackett BandCaroline Bonnett has also been a friend for many years and is a great singer, producer, sound engineer and keyboard player. Tim Harries and I go back to 1983. Tim was Bill Bruford’s bass player in ‘Earthworks’ and having Tim on the album was fantastic.

4. You used to do some work for Integrity Music, how did that come about and would you have worked on anything I may have heard of?

I worked as a session guitarist and as a producer with Integrity Music. I produced a CD with Dave Bainbridge called ‘Breaking of the Dawn’ and recorded 4 solo CD’s for them. I also produced the Celtic Expression series of 6 albums with Nigel Palmer who was the chap who co-produced and recorded the Iona albums with Dave. Over the years I did many sessions and also worked with Dave Bilbrough in his band for about 10 years.

5. Will you be doing gigs to support the album?

In short, unfortunately, no! Some of the material may get aired as part of the John Hackett Band. It’s impossible to get gigs under my own name at the moment. Also, to put together such a band of great musicians would be very difficult for logistical and financial reasons. It’s a shame as some of the music would be great to perform live! But, unfortunately, that’s the reality.

6. What next from you – do you have any projects in the pipeline?

My next project  will be released in June. This is something very different as it is a ‘classical flute and guitar duo’ album with John Hackett. It’s the third in a series we have recorded and this one is the music of J.S.Bach, Handel and Vivaldi! The album is called ‘The Goldfinch’ and named after a flute concerto By Vivaldi.

John is the soloist and I play an arrangement of the orchestral parts….it’s a great work and very virtuosic for the soloist, revealing  what a fantastic flautist John is. I am also, on the classical side, currently composing new works for the classical guitar to be published this year.

I have already started writing for a follow up to ‘Cycles of Behaviour’. The plan is to get it released next year hard on the heels of Cycles! It will feature the same line up but with more instrumentals and also a couple of amazing singers who I need to keep under wraps at the moment.

7. Which guitarists do you admire and why?

I love the classical guitar and Ana Vidovic is one of my all time favourite players. Her ability to draw you into her performances is second to none!

With the electric guitar at the moment I don’t hear many modern players that inspire me. That said, there are some amazing players around who blow me off the stage any day!! I do think that Allan Holdsworth was a true genius, and is greatly missed, but most modern players don’t have the visceral quality I like in the instrument….too much technique and little emotional impact. Technique is very important but has to be at the service of the musical content. David Gilmour, Jeff Beck and Andy Latimer are my go-to players for that visceral quality.

8. Which musicians would you most like to collaborate with and why?

Well John, that’s a hypothetical question, all the players I would love to work with are very much above my abilities so even if it did happen I would be so in awe my fingers would never make the notes! However, Chad Wackerman is the most incredible drummer who inspires me with his creativity and amazing chops, Rhonda Smith is a great bass player who I admire greatly and Derek Sherinian, the keyboard player, is another favourite prog musician.

9. What guitar amps and effects do you use?

I use Blackstar amps and mainly Boss effects. I play PRS guitars and a customised Fender Stratocaster.

 10. Do you have a favourite piece of music?

Wow! That’s so hard to answer! I love so much music that encompasses so many different genres. Classical music it would possibly be Mahler’s 2nd symphony. Prog it would be ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and jazz, anything by Keith Jarrett.

‘Cycles of Behaviour’ was released March 26th, 2021 and can be ordered from:

www.nickfletcherguitarmusic.com  

Interview With Marc Bonilla – by John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece I talk to Marc Bonilla of The Keith Emerson Band about the recently released Tribute concert cd/DVD set celebrating the music of Keith Emerson, the composer and musical innovator.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day to you Mark, I trust you are keeping well in these strange times?

Marc Bonilla (MB): Hello John, Yes I am doing fine thank you for asking.

JWS: The CD/DVD set is fabulous, such a great cast and epic performances all round.

MB: I am glad that you like it, I think it has all come out well. I especially like the artwork by Joey LoFaro who has done remarkable job of re-imagining ‘Tarkus’ for the modern day.

JWS: Yes indeed, I was really impressed with that too. Apparently he is selling prints of the artwork.

MB: Yes and T shirts too, here is the link  https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jerry-lofaro

JWS: It all looks great and interesting, plus all profits go to Keith’s chosen charity, so everybody wins.

MB: Yes, Joey is an awesome artist. I had seen some of his earlier work with dinosaurs and thought what if he could reimagine ‘Tarkus’ for today? what would it look like? I think he is pulled it off very spectacularly.

JWS: The concert looks fabulous on DVD and sounds fantastic too.

MB: Thank you, we had cameras everywhere to capture it all. It was only a small venue with about 900 people in it, mostly musicians who wanted to pay tribute. there was no seating and it was a long show.  Everyone wanted to do their bit to honour the life of Keith as he had meant so much to so many of them. 

It was an exceptional event and there were no ego issues with anyone. It was all supportive and very joyous, although tinged with sadness for the loss of Keith. I was astonished at the outpouring of love and respect from the musical community in Los Angeles. Many of these people took the career paths they did because of the influence Keith had made on them when they were younger. Certainly folk like Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather (both of Toto) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) clearly acknowledge that influence, as they said during the artist interviews.

JWS: Yes, those interviews are fascinating, you really sense the appreciation, acclaim, and respect of Keith that was felt by those musicians. It was quite a set list too, although I was surprised that no one chose Jerusalem to do, that would have been epic.

MB: Well we had so much music to do, we could not do it all sadly. As I said, it was a small standing only venue and with folks all being of an age, standing for 3 hours is a big ask but we could have done even longer and covered more music.

JWS: How did you choose each player for each song?

MB: They did it themselves mainly, Steve Porcaro had seen ELP as a support for Edgar Winter in the early days and he was totally blown away by Barbarian so that was his choice. Jordan had similarly been affected by ‘Tarkus’ so he chose to do that one and so on and so forth.

Another remarkable thing was that we only had one day of rehearsals for the event, everyone was gathered backstage watching each other. It was very much a communal event with no ego’s whatsoever, it was like they were all auditioning for Keith really.

I lost my voice in the run up to the event and so much of the vocals were handled by Rick Livingstone and Travis Davis, although I did send a few prayers upward to Keith to help me get through it all. Thankfully he heard me and I was able to get through it all and even managed to hit the high note on Karn Evil 9 where I must hold the note at the end.

JWS: I really enjoyed the film, especially Jordan Rudess’ Tarkus and Rachel Flowers’ take on The Endless Enigma.

MB: Yes, I felt she really bought something incredibly special out of that piece, she was remarkable.

JWS: I think everyone give a great job, all playing at their peak.

MB: I Agree, we wanted to show Keith as the composer and not just as the keyboard master. I think some of those performances managed to capture that side of his personality, you have to remember that before Keith there was no one fusing classical with rock, making the classics accessible and inviting rock musicians in.

He was breaking fresh ground by doing so, literally carving his way through with his daggers! He also invited classical listeners to hear his work and see his skills and talents and his music.

JWS: I Interviewed Keith a few years ago, around the time of the ‘Three Fates’ album. That was a real treat, I can say. He was cooking his tea and called me back, he was a lovely man and very gracious to a Fanboy like me.

MB: We did shows in London at the Barbican and in Birmingham, I think, did you go?

JWS: Sadly not, I would loved to have gone, though I did see ELP on the Black Moon tour though, in Birmingham and that was special to me.

MB: I remember spending time on those tours with Keith laughing, he loved comedy like Victor Borges and Derek and Clive. He adored Dudley Moore (who was also a particularly good pianist actually). 

By that stage Keith had lost some versatility in his fingers so we wanted to show his compositions rather than his prowess. I think that project managed to do that really.

JWS: Well Marc, my time has gone but thank you for taking time to talk with me about this show and the memories that it has for you. Keep safe at this time.

MB: Thanks John and check out my latest release ‘Celluloid Debris’ at www.marcbonillamusic, my first album in 25 years, you will like it I am sure.

JWS: OK, thanks once again Marc, much appreciated.

You can read John’s review os the concert CD/DVD here: