Review – John Hackett – The Piper Plays His Tune – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Hackett is the flute wielding, multi-instrumentalist brother of Steve Hackett and the two share a musical, as well as a familial, bond. They have worked together on and off over the years with John popping up on Steve’s albums, alongside this John also is the leader of his own group The John Hackett Band and has released several albums over the years such as 2015’s ‘Another Life’ about a faltering relationship and 2017’s ‘We Are Not Alone’, which was a 2 disc set of the album and a live concert recording of a Classic Rock Society gig in Maltby in 2016 (which included tracks primarily from his ‘Checking Out in London’, ‘Another Life’ and a few pieces from the ‘We Are Not Alone’ album.

This new album is a little different in that a) It was recorded in Lockdown 2020 and b) John plays all the instruments that you hear and produced and mixed it all at home. The result is a rather mellow but seriously tuneful set of songs with progressive overtones and embellishments, which are all seriously fine pieces of music.

The album lasts for around 45 minutes but, within that, you will find some fabulous music, all very well realised and performed. Unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount of flute playing but also some very fine guitar playing, in the style of brother Steve. The drums are all from a program, not that it matters really.

The quality of the songs is high and they all have strong memorable melodies. Any solos are brief but fit the song and are not showboating in any manner. There are even bongos on the album but I will leave it to you to discover exactly where they appear. There are a lot of pop elements on show as John gets in touch with the 80’s vibe on a few tracks like In Love, which has a very jaunty beat to it, others have a more melancholy or subdued air about them.

Crying Shame has a brief but satisfying guitar solo, it’s worth remembering that John was originally a blues guitarist in his teens before seeing King Crimson and taking up the flute after being inspired by Ian MacDonald’s playing.  

Another pleasing aspect to this album is the sparseness of the arrangements and how John uses that spaciousness to work for him, this also allows his bass playing to really make its mark, anchoring each song solidly. You especially notice this on Broken Glass which is a phenomenal song, slow paced but full of melodic touches and great harmonies. It’s probably my favourite track here along with Julia and Too Late For Dreamers, which has a lovely summery feel to it with some fine sweeping guitar chords and rhythm driving it along. John is very proficient on each instrument, creating layers of sound to achieve a full sound on the album.

Julia is a song John wrote many years ago that now gets its first outing on this album. This is a great little song, very evocative, with a driving guitar riff and has great lyrics to it. Another song that works well for me is the closer, There You Go Again, with its jolly guitar lines and sympathetic keyboards. The track is a bit of a love song really and the chorus is upbeat and memorable and will stay with you long after the album has ended. It also has some jolly flute and acoustic guitar interchanges and a penny whistle solo, all very merry and fine sounding. This closes the album out in strong style and you are left with the option to simply press play and enjoy it all again. I know I certainly want to, this album is brim-full of strong songs, energetic playing and good lyrics.

For an album recorded under some difficult conditions, John has really crafted a fine low-key release here and one that is most certainly worthy of your time and listening. I really enjoyed it and it gets even better the more that you play it. Please buy it from John direct as, like all other musicians now, they need all the help they can get and every album counts. So why not splash the cash and support John at this time, you will get a great sounding album and John will appreciate your support. As Hot Chocolate once sang Everyone’s A Winner!

Released 18th November , 2021.

Order direct from the artists here:

The Piper Plays His Tune – Hacktrax

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)

Review – Steve Hackett – Selling England By the Pound & Spectral Mornings Live at Hammersmith

This 2 CD / Blu Ray package is the latest release from the former Genesis guitarist who has, for the last 8 years, been repackaging and marketing his own version of his Genesis era history. Quite rightly so, when the rest of the original band are all doing decidedly different music these days.

This nostalgic revue is both commercially and musically viable and valid, people love these songs and Steve has both compiled a top notch supporting band and also tweaked the songs enough to bring their subtle tones and deep emotions to life. Steve’s tours invariably sell out and he has kept ticket prices to an affordable level thus making his shows accessible to many fans who may never have seen the original band. This latest release sees a return to Hammersmith after last year’s successful run of  shows under the ‘Selling England By The Pound‘ and ‘Spectral Mornings‘ banner.

What’s different this time is that Steve has a new drummer who has replaced the departing long term member Gary O’Toole. He had occupied the drum stool for nearly 20 years and, whilst this hasn’t changed the sound, it has brought a fresh power to proceedings. Craig Blundell is the new man behind the kit and he certainly makes his presence felt on this album, adding new flourishes and also forming a solid, reliable rhythm section with bassist Jonas Reingold and, in doing so, creating a platform for Steve’s guitar to soar freely.

The show is divided into two separate parts, part one being a mix of ‘Spectral Mornings’ tracks and including three tracks from Steve’s latest album, ‘At The Edge Of Light’, these being Under The Eye Of The Sun, Fallen Walls and Pedestals, and Beasts in Our Time. These add to the dynamics of the first half well, ‘Spectral Mornings’ being considered by many to be a crowning glory in Steve’s musical legacy or canon of recordings.

It’s an album that is certainly warmly received here at Hammersmith, the songs will be familiar to most so I don’t really need to comment on them to much except to state that all receive sterling performances here with contributions from both John Hackett on flute and Amanda Lehmann on guitar and vocals.

This section of the show is bookended with two of the tracks from ‘Selling England By the Pound’, namely, Dancing with The Moonlit Knight and an extended take on I Know What I Like, both of which are superb renditions, the latter giving Steve a chance to stretch out on the guitar.

The second part contains the remainder of SEBTP including an unreleased track, Déjà Vu, that was co-written by Peter Gabriel. Steve consulted with Peter who then gave his consent to a reworked, finished version and split the writing credits with Steve. As the track was omitted from the original album, its appearance here is most welcome indeed, it is a feisty and strong number that fits in well with the remaining tracks on SEBTP.

Also of note is the simply magnificent version of Firth of Fifth, a song that is as much about Steve as any other Genesis song. This is probably the best of the many live versions of this song that exist, somehow surpassing all the other versions including the orchestral version from last year’s Festival Hall recording, whilst that was great, somehow this is even better. I think that Craig Blundell’s drumming throughout gives the piece hitherto uncovered power, kick and bite and that elevates it above all the other takes released previously.

You could argue that every year brings a new release of old material and do we really need this one? My answer to that is a definitive Yes! These performances are from the heart and certainly satisfy demand and, whilst the original band are reluctant to perform these, Steve’s troop can certainly do so more than adequately and with conviction, power, dignity and grace. This set does that on every count, the blu-ray is a lovely addition and supplements the recordings with a crisp sound and sharp picture. The lighting used throughput the show is stunning and lighting operator Chris Curran certainly adds emphasis and dynamics in bringing his flair in making this a great visual show. This is made all the better with the sharpness that the blu-ray version delivers and the option of the 5.1 surround version that has been sympathetically mixed by Steven Wilson.  

If you have enjoyed any of Steve’s previous live sets, then I certainly recommend this one to you there is so much to enjoy and relive here.

Released 25th September 2020

Order direct from Steve’s website here:

http://www.hackettsongs.com/news/newsAlbum30.html

Ms Amy Birks announces debut solo album and single I Wish featuring guitar legend Steve Hackett

Ms Amy Birks is thrilled to announce her forthcoming self-produced debut solo album All That I Am & All That I Was which is to be released on April 3rd.

Winner of ‘Best Female Vocalis’ in the 2018 PROG Magazine poll and former lyricist, co-composer and lead vocalist of the 2017 Prog magazine Limelight Award winners Beatrix Players, the album which contains the singles Jamaica Inn and I Wish and features guest appearances from a raft of luminaries including Steve Hackett, John Hackett and Caroline Lavelle is available in two physical formats.

The second single to be taken from the album, I Wish, features Steve Hackett on acoustic guitar and a lyric based on the words of Christina Rossetti – poet, activist and the subject of some of the most famous paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The digital-only single is available now for streaming and download and also as an instant gratification track for fans making digital pre-orders of the album via iTunes.

I Wish is accompanied by a video featuring Amy and a mysterious Flamenco guitarist each represented in stunning origami stop motion piece, created by Susan Raybould (Origami Om) and pushed the boundaries of traditional origami design.

Amy produced most of her solo debut herself although the single was produced by Nick Wollage who is famed for his engineering on the soundtracks to dozens of major motion pictures including “Atonement”. He also worked on Tony Banks‘ “Seven (A Suite For Orchestra)”.
Birks recalls the process of recording the track and reflects on its unsettling lyrical undercurrents – 

“I feel very honoured to have worked with Steve Hackett & Nick Wollage. I wrote this song during a trip to Colombia where I was influenced by the classical guitar and percussive sounds of Bambuco. When I bumped into Steve at the Prog Awards, I asked him to play and he very kindly obliged. The Rossetti poem works perfectly as this is a dark lyric about the fragility of the mind and how the past can so very easily come back to tease and torment.”

For Amy ” this has been a really personal and full-on experience that has pushed me further, emotionally, technically and lyrically than I ever thought possible, which has enabled me to become the writer that I have been wanting to be.”

Pre-orders of special, limited edition All That I Am & All That I Was and vinyl formats are available now via The Merch Desk.Formats are: Limited edition CD package in a six panel 7″ gatefold sleeve accompanied by twelve page photo book available to mail order customers and from the merch stand at shows from 5th April while stocks last.

Vinyl album in 12″ gatefold sleeve. Initial copies of both formats ordered from The Merch Desk will be signed by Amy.

The album will also be available via all the usual download and streaming services.

The 2020 tour dates include a string of trio and quartet shows opening for That Joe Payne and the John Hackett Band and a rescheduled full band date in London celebrating the release of the album All That I Am & All That I Was. More dates featuring songs from both her debut album and Beatrix Players’ “Magnified” are to be announced in due course including an appearance at a major festival for fans of progressive music.

UK Tour Dates
Sat 7th March 2020 The Court Theatre, Tring (special guest of That Joe Payne), Sun 5rd April 2020 The Troubadour, London (Headline full band show), Fri 17th April 2020 The Acorn, Penzance (special guest of the John Hackett Band), Sat 18th April 2020 The Wharf, Tavistock Penzance (special guest of the John Hackett Band), Sat 25th April 2020 Hanger Farm Arts Centre, Southampton (special guest of That Joe Payne), Sat 23rd May 2020 The Met, Bury (special guest of That Joe Payne), Sat 30th May 2020 CCA, Glasgow (special guest of That Joe Payne), Sat 20th June 2020 Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (special guest of That Joe Payne), Fri 20th Nov 2020 Artrix, Bromsgrove (special guest of the John Hackett Band)

Since Beatrix Players’ final run of shows opening for Carl Palmer, Steve Harley and Big Big Train in 2017 – 2018 Amy has been recording her debut solo album and playing impromptu solo sets with the likes of Tim Bowness and That Joe Payne. Amy’s debut solo single “Jamaica Inn” was released on November 15th with a memorable video shot on location in Bodmin Moor.

Pre Ordershttps://themerchdesk.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=88_296
I Wish https://youtu.be/pf4F9jQVz_E
Jamaica Inn https://youtu.be/g_ji_1Sm2vE


Review – John Hackett Band – We Are Not Alone – by James R. Turner

Following on from ‘Another Life’ released back in 2015 this, the sequel by John and band (Nick Fletcher, Jeremy Richardson & Duncan Parsons) came out last year in a special two disc set, one featuring the new album and another featuring a bonus disc recorded live at the Wesley Centre in Maltby back in May 2016 for our old friends the CRS.

I will come back to Maltby and the live disc later (having family from Maltby I could tell you all sorts of stories!) but first..

‘We Are Not Alone’, adorned by a striking cover painting by Lizzie Spikes, and opening with bluesy and powerful Take Control, is an album that grabs you from the get go. John needs no introduction and, as you can imagine working with a guitarist like his older brother, John is used to powerful guitar work. With co-writer and collaborator Nick Fletcher providing said fantastic guitar, particularly as Take Control stretches it’s legs, and with some fantastically soulful vocals from John and some great flute as well, the whole band give it some welly and, at well over 8 minutes long, it has time to grow and doesn’t feel like it’s outstayed it’s welcome.

It’s a perfect opener to what is an excellent sequel to ‘Another Life’.

With some more of that wonderful guitar work and some great vocals and, indeed, lyrics on Never Gonna Make a Dime, also with his brother providing some wonderful harmonica (his only appearance on this record), it’s clear that musically and thematically John is his own man.

This album continues in its melodic rocky fashion as the tracks alternate between instrumentals that showcase the full range of this tight band’s ability, from Nick’s wonderful acoustic guitar work on the beautiful Blue Skies of Marazion, to Johns wonderful flute and keyboard work, whilst Jeremy Richardson’s vocals shine on his track Jericho.

The track by Duncan Parsons, Queenie & Elmo’s Perfect Day, is a fantastic instrumental as well and it showcases that the whole band are highly talented instrumentalists and musicians, each bringing something special to the table.

With songs like Summer Lightening and Castles, this album really shines, it has a real groove and chilled out vibe in parts. This is another fantastic and strong album.

Live on the second disc, the band treat us to a selection of great material from ‘Another Life’ with the title track and Life in Reverse getting an airing.

On stage, the band are taut and dynamic, their musical interaction spot on and their execution flawless. This must have been one hell of a gig (one I would have liked to have seen but, you know, it’s not like the old days when it was round the corner, I can’t just pop up to Maltby from Bristol for a gig these days) so it’s great that this is documented here and even nicer is the dedication to Stephanie Kennedy, someone I got to know really well throughout my CRS gigging days, and who I’m sure there’s lots of us out there who miss her.

This is a perfect combination, as I end so many reviews wishing I could hear the band live, and with this disc, well, you can! Win, win I say!

Released 29th September 2017

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

We Are Not Alone: 2CD Deluxe EditionJohn Hackett Band

 

Guest review – John Hackett – Another Life – by John Simms

Stepping into the chair and taking a break from his Flight of the Skypilot blog is my good friend John Simms.

JOHN HACKETT packshot

When someone steps out of their usual musical genre and produces something different, it can often spark some interest. John Hackett is well known in musical circles as an accomplished flautist, and has contributed to ambient and dance music as well as classical and progressive recordings.

The majority of his recorded output in recent years, in his own name, has been classical works – often self-penned and usually with classical guitar accompaniment. Indeed one of his biggest selling albums was ‘Sketches of Satie’ recorded with brother Steve in 2000.

The new album ‘Another Life’ is different in that it is a rock album – even a progressive rock album! Only once before has John done anything similar, with 2005’s ‘Checking Out Of London’, and here again he has called on the talents of Nick Clabburn to provide the lyrics for the 13 songs.

This is an album of contrasts: light and shade; rock, some quite poppy moments, and more quiet, meditative tunes. John plays not only his trade-mark flute, but also guitars, bass and occasional keyboards. His main collaborator is Nick Magnus, and this – along with the frequent appearance of Steve on guitar – gives the album, for me, a feel reminiscent of some of Steve’s earlier solo work.

The vocals are strong (without being overpowering) expressive and varied, with a good use of harmonies, and I couldn’t help feeling that maybe Steve should have used him in this capacity on some of his own solo albums, particularly when he was beginning to sing his own material.

John’s guitar work is not to be sniffed at, but it is with flute in hand that he really excels. In the opening song, Another Life, there is some haunting, swooping flute work which brought to mind his work on Tigermoth on Steve’s ‘Spectral Mornings’ album, and Life in Reverse, one of the quieter songs, uses the flute where others would put in another guitar solo, and does so to great effect. This song, along with Poison Town, has a definite sound of Tim Bowness about it, and I would love to hear Tim’s take on either of these tracks.

Satellite deserves some special attention, featuring as it does not only Steve – but on harmonica rather than guitar – and Anthony Phillips on 12-string. It has a blues-y, Neil Young vibe with a tinge of early pastoral Genesis that can only come with Phillips’ signature style.

For those who enjoy their music a little on the soft side, this is a collection which repays repeated listening: good, though not great, but still a worthy addition to John’s canon and repertoire.

Released 25th September 2015 through Esoteric Antenna

Buy direct from the artists website

About the author – John Simms

Welcome 5

John Simms is a long term Prog fan in his mid-fifties from Yorkshire, currently living in exile in Cumbria. By day (and sometimes at night too) he works as a Methodist clergyman, and when not doing that he scours the outer reaches of the Progressive universe searching for musical nuggets. This latter endeavour is slowly bankrupting him.

John’s blog ‘Flight of the Skypilot’